by Fred McMillin
for September 9, 1999


Happy Birthday, California
California Becomes 31st State, Sept. 9, 1850


Prologue—Gold and Grapes In A Brand New State

Hearing of the discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill, Captain Charles Weber set out from Stockton for the Sierra Foothills. In the spring of 1848 he was the first to discover deposits of gold in what would become Amador County...Many miners, when the precious metal supply petered out, planted vines around their diggings and turned to making wine. El Dorado County alone had more vineyards than either Napa or Sonoma by 1860. To the south, the Los Angeles area had many potential vineyard sites, but all the labor was up north. (Eric Costa, Leon Adams)

The Rest of the Story

The Sierra Foothills

The Sierra Foothills

Our nomination for the Sierra Foothills' most colorful miner-vintner is Madame Pantaloon. French-born Marie Suzie arrived in Amador county in 1852. In Old Vines, Eric Costa tells how she startled the men by donning their attire (pantaloons, shirt and boots) and wielding her own pick. She was so effective she soon was supervising her own crew digging at Humbug Hill. "She soon amassed considerable wealth that she used to enter the wine business." One of her ads in the AMADOR LEDGER read: "For Sale THIRTY-FIVE SPIRIT PIPES. Also, 9 Casks holding 600 to 800 gallons each. For particulars, apply at Madame Pantaloon's ranch, near Slabtown."

Wine of the Day

The first vines planted by the miner-vintners in the Union's 31st state were the Spanish friars' Mission variety. You can still buy Mission red wine from...

    Malvadino Vineyards
    7501 Sheep Ranch Road
    Mountain Ranch, CA 95246
    Phone (209) 754-1002
    FAX (209) 473-8177

1997 Mission Wine
Appellation—Sierra Foothills
Rating—When a Hudson's Bay rep tasted a Mission wine in those early years, he later wrote, "Politeness alone induced me to swallow it." The robust red is MUCH better today. My panel gave it a RECOMMENDED.
Price—Only $12 for a genuine sip of history.


While Madame Pantaloon's unconventional apparel charmed the mining community, it wasn't appreciated as much when she visited San Francisco. Because Marie Suzie was "masquerading in man's attire," she was ARRESTED!

Note: To buy Old Vines, A History of Winegrowing in Amador County, write Eric Costa, 11008 Quail Drive, Pine Grove, CA 95665.

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.


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