by Fred McMillin
for November 11, 1997

A Veteran and a Vintner


  • 1854—The U.S. government now held control of northern California but in the first emergency that arose,it was to former Mexican General Mariano Vallejo that they turned for aid. The son of Chief Yellow Serpent had been killed in a quarrel at Sutter's Fort. It was rumored that 900 Walla Walla warriors were heading south to avenge the slaying. Panic swept the area. General Vallejo was asked to handle the defense. (It all ended peacefully.)

  • 1860—General Vallejo, northern California's first commercial vintner, plants 4,000 bearing vines and 10,000 cuttings, including the new sensation, Zinfandel. Also, he made 8,000 gallons of wine.
The Rest of the Story: Thus, on this Veterans' Day, though not an official member of the U.S. Armed Forces, Mariano Vallejo is our nominee for California's first veteran-vintner. To further promote my case, the U.S. government earlier had asked his help in drawing up the first constitution for California, "since General Vallejo is the most intelligent and influential of the Californians, tall, grave, and with a commanding presence... furthermore, he has the best knowledge of the area's existing institutions and laws." He personally submitted the first draft of the document.

As to wine, Madie Emparan wrote, "General Vallejo was a regular exhibitor at the Fairs in Petaluma, Marysville, San Francisco and Sacramento, winning first and second premiums for his white wine, red wine and champagne. The awards of silver goblets, berry spoons and pitchers of silver must have delighted Senora Vallejo."

Today's Wine

So, on this day, we recommend a Zinfandel from the Sonoma area. Here's one based partly on vines planted only 15 years after General Vallejo's death in 1890.

The Wine:
1995 Mother Clone Zinfandel
Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County
Pedroncelli Winery
Tasting Notes—Rich cherry, light black pepper, medium body, Highly Recommended by my panel.
Contact—Julie Pedroncelli St. John, (800)836-3894

Postscript: Who's the lady who wrote about the General's wines? Her husband was Raoul Emparan, 36th grandchild of General Vallejo's, who celebrated Raoul's birth in 1885.

Note: For more about Pedroncelli wines, see the Feb. 28 WineDay.

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 and is Northern California Editor for American Wine on the Web. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.

Read more articles by Fred McMillin in the eGGsf

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