Early vines in California came from two sources: shipments from New England, Connecticut and European imports.
During the decade from 1852 to 1862, California nurserymen, hopeful vineyardists, and potential winemakers brought in loads of vinifera cuttings and rooted vines to plant in Northern California. The economics looked very promising, and the demand was staggering. In 1855 alone, the annual total for still wine came to almost 14,000 barrels and 120,000 cases, not to mention 20,000 baskets of sparkling wine. Many of these imports were foreign, especially from France.
Mission varietals and wine grape growing were established in Sonoma in the 1850s. But the wine industry had not yet developed. Mariano Vallejo had a large vineyard and winery under the supervision of Victor Faure, and there were several other small farmers making a few hundred gallons here and there. They sold what they did not consume.
William Robert Prince came to California and commented on Zinfandel vines in California, drying to the perfect raisin.
Congress grants California statehood. In San Luis Obispo County, the US Census—which excludes Native Americans—records 336 white inhabitants in 60 families and 53 dwellings.
James L. L. Warren, a New Englander and close friend of Captain Frederick Macondray, acquires a large tract of land north of Napa.
Capitan Frederick Macondray brings a large collection of vinifera grapevines to San Francisco by ship from Boston, including Zinfandel. This is the first documented moment that Zinfandel entered California. However, Zinfandel enters as a delicious table grape rather than a wine grape. There was little talk about making wine from New England vinifera varietals. Although many people argued to make wine from these varietals, most people thought great wine would come from the European varietals.
The discovery of the Concord grape changes New England viticulture because it could be grown outdoors and made into wine that New Englanders liked.
Bernard S. Fox, superintendent of Boston’s Hovey and Co., establishes the San Jose Valley Nursery—the largest and most important source of grape vines in Northern California for many years. He accompanied a large shipment of nursery stock to California, and before long he was in print remarking on the wonderful way the Massachusetts vinifera took to the California environment.
Antoine Delmas, a French nurseryman, was the first to import French wine grapes to Northern California. His imports Cabrunet, Merleau, Black Meunier, La Folle Blanche, and Charbonneau. He planted a black grape called Black St. Peters – the very grape that was so similar to Zinfandel in New England in the 1840s. Two vineyards he planted in Black St. Peters survived into the 1880s.
Charles Kohler arrives in San Francisco and meets James Frohling; both are musicians and both decide to take advantage of California's established wine industry. They form a partnership, Kohler and Frohling, buy a 12 year old vineyard and begin making wine with the 1854 vintage.
Anthony P. Smith, who sailed from Boston in 1849, imports nursery stock for his historic Pomological Gardens near Sacramento.
Anthony P. Smith is one of the sources for the Zinfandel vines planted here and there in the Sierra Foothills from 1854 to 1860.
James L. L. Warren, known as the father of California agriculture, establishes the California State Agriculture Society. Captain Frederick Macondray became the first President, and J. W. Osbourne, the Vice President. To promote the kind of systematic and intelligent agriculture that Warren had known in New England, he helped local growers and breeders organize regional and county fairs, where prizes were awarded in a broad range of categories. Eventually, they organized a series of districts whose competitions led up to the State Fair, which in the early years were held in various parts of Northern California. These fairs invariably handed out medals, diplomas, and cash award and always held competitions for the best grapes, wines, and brandies.
Rancho Tepusquet was sold to Juan Pacifico Ontiveros and step daughter Maria Martina Osuma by Thomas Olivera. In 1857 they started construction on their home and moved in 1858. They raised cattle, sheep, grain and grapes for the production of wine. This is the land in the Santa Maria Valley that contained the land now known as Bien Nacido Vineyards.
James L. L. Warren promotes viticulture and winegrowing in Northern California and campaigns for people to plant vineyards now. In his newspaper California Farmer he prints, “Cultivators of California! Plant your vineyards! Begin now! No better investment can be made.”
During the first years of state and regional fairs, the awards all went to the Mission grape as it was the only vine bearing grapes in the area at the time. Soon the imported vines began bearing grapes, and distinctions were carefully detailed in the categories of competition. Native grapes (Mission grapes) did not compete in the same categories as Foreign grapes (vinifera grapes brought in after 1850). At first, the only varieties entered were the New England imports from Captain Frederick Macondray and others. European varietals seen were not seen until1855. Those include vines imported by from Antoine Delmas, James R. Nickerson of Folsom, Charles Covilleaud of Marysville, and Charles M. Weber of Stockton.
James Boggs’s red wine from Sonoma, made from Mission grapes, won recognition from James L. L. Warren.
J. W. Osbourne, a New Englander and close friend of Capitan Frederick Macondray, wins the medal for the best-cultivated farm in California at the State Fair in San Jose. Osbourne owns a large tract of land north of Napa he calls Oak Knoll. He is interested in all aspects of agriculture and is known to have the finest agriculture library in the state. Osbourne purchases most of his foreign varietals from Macondray and grafted them on to mature Mission grape vines. Thus Zinfandel enters Napa.
Antoine Delmas sent Black St. Peters cuttings to Victor Faure, General Mariano Vallejo’s winemaker in Sonoma.
The Los Angeles Vineyard Society, also known as the Anaheim Colony, was formed by Charles Kohler and other investors from Northern California to promote a large winegrowing cooperative to produce bulk wine from Mission Grape Vineyards. Grape growers were recruited from the German populations in San Francisco. It became a magnet for many of German heritage.
Hungarian winemaker Ágoston Haraszthy buys 560 acres east of the town of Sonoma including the Kelsey place which was called Buena Vista Ranch, whose wine he liked. He establishes the first Sonoma winery Buena Vista Winery.
An unnamed Boston grower is producing 20,000 commercial gallons per year of Concord Wine.
By this time a clear pattern of varietals has developed at Regional and State Fairs held around San Francisco Bay area, from San Jose to Napa and Sonoma. The winners are predictable: Frederick Macondray, Antoine Delmas, A. P. Smith from Sacramento area; and J. W. Osbourne of Napa. These four men won 70% of the awards between 1854 and 1860. Both Macondray and Osbourne exhibit their Zinfandel grapes at district and state fairs.
At the San Francisco Mechanics Institute Exhibition, Frederick Macondray exhibits his Zinfandel grapes. James L. L. Warren comments about Macondray’s collection of foreign grapes, calling them superb and remindeding him of exhibitions that he had attended in the “bay state.”
The California State Horticultural Society recommends Zinfandel for further trial.
A new entrpreneurial spirit emerges between Ágoston Haraszthy, Emil Dresel, and Jacob Gundlach, making this an important year for Sonoma. These men convince a number of locals and investors that Sonoma is the best place for the “new wine industry” to flourish in Northern California, but thay call for better grapes.
Ágoston Haraszthy buys a tract of land next to William Boggs and becomes very friendly with Boggs.
Charles Kohler and James Frohling (Kohler and Frohling) win the Best Wine Award at the 1858 State Fair.
Charles Kohler (Kohler and Frohling) sends his first shipment of wine to the East Coast.
Antoine Delmas makes wine from Black St. Peters grapes and wins a gold medal at the Santa Clara County Fair.
Hungarian winemaker Ágoston Haraszthy publishes Report on Grapes and Wine in California, the earliest treatise on viticulture and winemaking in the state.
Fifty families of German settlers have planted 1,000 acres of Mission grape vines in the Anaheim Colony on the site where Disneyland is currently located in southern California.
Antoine Delmas enters his wine from the Black St. Peters grapes in the California State Fair Competition and wins the first prize. The committee members are surprised that the French nurseryman had selected grapes used more as table fruit than for winemaking. The newspaper Alta California soon crowned Delmas’ red wine the best claret in the State of California.
The Sonoma Horticultural Society is established. Ágoston Harazthy is elected President, and William Boggs is elected to the Board of Directors and Secretary. At their first meeting on March 14 in Santa Rosa, Haraszthy and J. W. Osbourne call for better varieties of grapes for wine production. The Society buys cuttings from Osbourne to act as a base for propagation in the Society’s gardens. The cuttings are carefully labeled and driven in two wagon loads from Napa to Sonoma. The chief varietals include two kinds of Chasselas, Muscat of Alexandria, Reine de Nice, Red Lombardy, Black Hamburg, and “Zinfindal” (note the spelling). The Spring frosts in 1860 kill all the cuttings except the Zinfindal. Boggs recalls that it grew better in the nursery than any other variety. The Zinfindal vines are later moved from the garden and planted in the Sonoma Horticultural Society vineyards.