The start of California wineries

In the years before California became a part of the United States there were many important men who already exerted a large influence over the events to come. Among the most widely known were John Marsh, Thomas Larkin, John Sutter, Pearson Reading and John Bidwell, but there were others who added their own special talents to the evolution of the great state of California. One of these men was Jean Luis Vignes, born and raised near Bordeaux, France, he came first to Honolulu in what was then the Sandwich Islands and worked for a few years as a rum distiller. Then in June 1831 Vignes arrived in Monterey, California and soon after found himself in the pueblo of Los Angeles where he bought property and began the cultivation of grapes.

Mission San Juan Capistrano 1899

The mission variety of grapes brought to the state by the Franciscan monks and planted at the first winery at Mission San Juan Capistrano did not produce a satisfactory wine to a man from Bordeaux so Vignes imported Cabernet Franc and Savignon Blanc vines from his native France and had them shipped around the tip of South America with their roots buried in moss and potato slices to preserve them. He was the first to age his wine in casks and to produce a quality wine in California. He planted the first orange grove in Los Angeles. In only a few years he had the largest orchards and made both the most and the best wines in California. He believed that one day the state would rival France in not only the quantity of its wines but in the quality.

Los Angeles Plaza 1869

In 1840 Vignes made the first shipment of wine to Northern California and by 1842 his wine was regularly sent to Santa Barbara, Monterey and the San Francisco Bay. In 1843, after a visit by a number of American Naval Officers, he sent several casks of his finest vintages back east as a present for President Tyler. By 1849 Vignes had the largest and most productive winery in California with over 40,000 vines producing over 150,000 bottles a year. He also encouraged other enterprising and industrious Frenchmen to come to California. Twenty members of his family came from his hometown and settled near his estate, and the area became known as French Town. Vignes died in 1862 at the age of 82, a true California pioneer.



  1. Very interesting! My husband’s ancestors planted one of the first vineyards in Napa in the late 1850’s. Sigrist Bros, or JJ and Frederick Sigrist. Their parcels have been absorbed into what is now Hendry Ranch Wines. 馃檪

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