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by Fred McMillin

The founder of California winemaking, Padre Junipero Serra, complained bitterly that he had been at his headquarters in Carmel for a decade and still received no wine from his winemakers for mass. Finally, in October 1833, the friars at Mission San Juan Capistrano produced enough to fill a wooden cask. They lashed it to a mule and set out to Carmel. On the way the cask fell off the mule, breaking into a zillion pieces! History does not record who broke the news to Junipero.

Remembering California's First Wine

So, it was at Mission San Juan Capistrano that the friars made California's first wine, using the Mission grape. Yet when I visited the historic site, I found the Capistrano museum had no Mission wine or Mission vines. So, for their display cases I gave them three bottles of wine made from the grape. (I had paid the Story Winery to make it for me to use in my classes.) Then I spoke with Lee Sobon (Sobon Estate Winery) and he kindly sent Mission vines. They are now growing where it all started. One might say, Mission accomplished!

Best Winery Landmark

"Hops are used to give beer bitterness and character. They are picked at just the right time and then dried carefully [in a kiln] to conserve the delicate, fine aroma essential to choice brewing."      —Grossman's Guide, 6th edition

Solomon Walters built his three-towered, stone hop kiln 100 years ago six miles south of Healdsburg in Sonoma County. Today the press describes it as the "best example of its kind still standing in America." To see it, visit the Hop Kiln Winery...and enjoy the complimentary wine samples in the tasting room, open daily from 10a.m. to 5 p.m., phone (707) 433-6491. Note: For the record, the kiln is Registered California Historical Landmark 839.

1888—This Just In

Leland Stanford's two million gallon winery featured a newfangled gadget in its dim winemaking cellar...a string of electric light bulbs!

Pink Gets No Ink

Supple, finesse, explosive are all descriptors used to praise fine white and red wines. However, these terms of endearment are not applied to pink wines because they lack oomph. Thus, pink gets no ink... or more accurately, little praise. Yet, in supermarkets about one out of every five bottles sold is pink, according to my latest sales reports. So here are our favorites in my Fort Mason classes, where we don't ignore this big part of the market. The wines are current releases, with the highest scoring listed last, that is, the further you read, the more the oomph!

  • Sobon White Zinfandel, $6
  • Riverside White Zinfandel, $6
  • Sobon ReZerve Rosé, $10
  • Handley Pinot Noir Rosé, $15
  • Vixen Rosé, $19

What President Picked Pink?

It was Dwight Eisenhower. In fact, both President and Mrs. Eisenhower poured pink. At a luncheon for Indira Gandhi of India on December 17, 1956, Mamie served pink wine with roasted Cornish hens. At a stag dinner for 21 friends on February 24, 1955, Dwight served pink with broiled sirloin steaks.


And a Final Wine Smile

Some years ago I worked for Dr. Bob Kozlowski, winemaker for Kenwood. One day he came in with a huge smile on his face. I asked the reason. The answer. Several cases of his pioneering Dry Chenin Blanc had been ordered by the White House.


About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. For information about the wine courses he teaches every month at San Francisco City College (Fort Mason Division), please fax him at (415) 567-4468.


Copyright © 2007, Fred McMillin. All rights reserved.


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This page created June 2007

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