by Fred McMillin
for January 25, 1999


Gold Discovered In California:
Jan. 24, 1848


The Event: "This day some kind of mettle was found in the tail race [of the sawmill] that looks like gold."

...Diary of Henry Bigler, Mormon millworker, Jan. 24, 1848

The Wine: "The Mission is the oldest continuously cultivated grape in California...It is steadfastly adored and respected by a small cadre of aficionados."

...Prof. John Baxevanis, Wine Regions of America

The Gold Rush Atmosphere: "The earliest known (1851) grape grower in the Sierra Foothill's Amador County was a Massachusetts native named Benjamin Burt, selling his produce to the miners. Mr. Perkins, his partner, set out for Sacramento with $6,000, only to be robbed and murdered."

...Eric Costa, Old Vines

Malvadino Vineyards

The Rest of the Story

So yesterday was the 151st anniversary of the discovery that led to California being dubbed "The Golden State"...and it surely was. Fifty billion dollars worth of gold was mined (today's value).

Levi Strauss was there selling a new kind of work pants named denims. Wheelbarrows were sold by John Studebaker.

...Source: N.Y. Times

Vines were planted at a fantastic rate to meet the wine demand:
Vines in the State
1856— 1,500,000
1857— 2,265,000
1858— 3,954,000

What was being planted? Even though Zinfandel was the new, hot-button variety, the grapegrowers were very cautious about abandoning the Mission. They knew it well...reliable, high yields, resisted disease. Thirty years after the start of the Gold Rush, vineyards were still 80% Mission.

However, today it is an endangered species. Appropriately, in the Sierra Foothills there are still some gnarled old survivors, and Dave Adler of Malvadino Vineyards makes a full-flavored red from them. He (and I) hope sales will be sufficient to justify continuing the small production.

The Wine

1997 Sierra Foothills 100% Mission, 93 cases
Malvadino Vineyards, Mountain Ranch, CA.
Phone—(209) 754-1002, Price—$13


Another indicator of the size of the Gold Rush was the tons of earth moved...12 billion!

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.


WineDay Annex

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Fred McMillin


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