Life is good for wine lovers in Orange County. We have more than our share of top-tier retailers, discerning wine bars and restaurants where the hefty wine list could crush a small dog.
But here’s something you probably didn’t know: OC is home to more than 20 winemakers, some of them among the state’s elite. And there was a time when this county produced more wine than anywhere else in California.
You scoff? Read on.
Anyone who has driven up and down our fair state knows that grapes do pretty darned well here. Since the early 19th century, California has been one of the world’s principal wine-producing regions, and in the last generation the state’s output has exploded. In 2016, California wineries shipped $34.1 billion worth to the rest of the republic, up 4.6 percent from the year before. Last year our state sent off 285 million cases to a thirsty world.
For a complete list of Southland wineries, see ocwinetrail.com
Southern California used to produce a sizable portion of California’s wine. The missions concocted their own utilitarian product, of course, but many of the first major commercial wineries were scattered far from the Camino Real in what is now Los Angeles and Orange counties, and the Inland Empire.
European immigrants who settled here in the early 19th century brought cuttings and wine knowledge from France, Italy, Germany and other places where winemaking was a tradition. By the late 1830s there were vineyards the length of the Los Angeles basin, and by the 1850s you could count more than 100 vineyards – a time when LA County was home to fewer than 4,000 people.
What drove the growth? The Gold Rush, for the most part. Ironically, Southern California winemakers were shipping their product north to prospector country, not far from what is now the California wine industry’s hub.
Anaheim was an early center of wine production. In fact, the city owes its existence to wine.
Anaheim was born in 1857, when 50 German-American families from the San Francisco area paid $750 each to invest in the Los Angeles Vineyard Society. John Frohling and Charles Kohler, German musicians who dreamed up the plan, hired George Hansen, Los Angeles County’s assistant surveyor, to purchase land and plat the wine-making colony (still part of LA County, since Orange County didn’t yet exist).
Prospering from the deal, Kohler and Hansen planted 400,000 vines along the Santa Ana River. They started a healthy local industry – by 1875 there…