Mission (grape)

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Photo of Mission grapes growing around Santa Barbara, California, circa 1875.

Mission grapes are a variety of Vitis vinifera introduced from Spain to the western coasts of North and South America by Catholic New World missionaries for use in making sacramental, table, and fortified wines. It is grown in South American, particularly in Chile and Peru, under then names Criolla and Pais.[1] During the 19th century, the grape was known by several other names, including the Los Angeles grape,[2] and the California grape.[3]


The original European strain, until recently, had been lost, thus the grapes' being named "Mission grapes" since the Spanish missions are where they were generally grown. Prior to 1522, wine was made from grapes native to the area around Mexico City, however finding the wine produced lacking, it was decreed by Hernan Cortes that sacramental wine was to made using grapes grown from cuttings from the Old World, and that the grape was to be planted in every Spanish settlement in the New World.[4][5] Originally brought to Mexico from Spain in the 16th Century, they were planted in New Mexico during the early 17th Century.[6][7] Several decades later wine was introduced to present-day Baja California with the establishment of Misión de Nuestra Señora de Loreto Conchó in 1697 by Jesuit priest Juan de Ugarte.[8] While two grape varieties were native to California, Vitis californica, and Vitis girdiana, neither were used for wine production.[9]

The grape was introduced to present-day California in the late 18th century by Franciscan missionaries;[10] the first planting of the grape in present-day California was done by Junipero Serra at Mission San Diego de Alcalá in 1769.[11][12] The next vines to be planted in present-day California were at Mission San Gabriel Arcángel in 1771, cuttings from this vine would be used to start new vines at Pueblo de Los Ángeles around 1786.[13] Eventually vineyards and wine making expanded to each of the Spanish missions in California.[14] By the last decade of the 18th Century, Mission San Gabriel Arcángel was making 35,000,000 US gallons (130,000 kL) of wine.[11] In 1820, the wine made from Mission grapes began to be exported overseas.[5] A dessert wine made from the Mission grapes of the missions gained a reputation of quality in Europe, begin fondly remembered into the first half of the 20th Century.[14] Making wine was a leading source of revenue for the missions, but ceased after secularization in the 1830s;[15] eventually the vineyards of the missions began to be abandoned.[16]

Until about 1865, Mission grapes represented the entirety of viticulture in California wines.[5][6][17][a] As late as 1888, 4,000 acres (16,000,000 m2) of Napa Valley were used to grow Mission grapes.[18] Yet, back in Spain, the vines which the Mission grapes had descended from, were wiped out by phylloxera in all areas except the Canary Islands.[10][b] From 1880, to 1920, the amount of land which Mission grapes were grown on reduced from 30,000 acres (120,000,000 m2) to 5,000 acres (20,000,000 m2).[20] During the Prohibition era, the grape largely disappeared from California, with wine made in Mexico smuggled into the United States.[1]

Afterwards it has largely been replaced by noble grape varieties.[6] As of 2016, the oldest surviving living vine of Mission grape exists at Mission San Gabriel Arcángel, with the oldest vine still bearing fruit being at Avila Adobe.[21] In 2017, most of the state's remaining plantings of the Mission grapes are in the Gold Country, growing in about total 1,000 acres (4,000,000 m2).[18] By 2019, the United States Department of Agriculture estimated that Mission grapes are grown on about 400 acres (1,600,000 m2) in California.[1]


Early accounts of alcoholic beverages made using the Mission grape recall the use of simplistic methods utilizing cowhides, grape treading, and leather bags. The first pressing, producing white wine, later pressings producing red wine, and brandy distilled from the remaining residue.[5] During the 19th century, the Mission grape was used to make strong wines similar to port and sherry.[2]

Red and white wine, sweet and dry wine, brandy, and a fortified wine called Angelica were all produced from Mission grapes. Though Mission grape vines are heavy producers and can adapt to a variety of climates, table wine made from the fruit tends to be rather characterless, and thus its use in wine making has diminished in modern times. However, as both contemporary accounts and those of the last two centuries attest, Angelica, the fortified wine made from the grape, is sometimes a wine of note and distinction. The Mission grape is related to the pink Criolla grape of Argentina and the red País grape of Chile. Despite being almost extinct in California after a century of being maligned and put down as an inferior grape, recently interest has increased in Mission again. A lot of smaller producers are embracing its long history and the very few plantings still left in the state. Small producers like Bryan Harrington, Story, Hendry, Broc Cellars, Sandlands, and Sabelli-Frisch, have shown that the Mission grape can make excellent, world class wines.[18] It is a drought resistant plant.[22]

European antecedent[edit]

In December 2006, Spanish scholars from the Centro Nacional de Biotecnología in Madrid, uncovered the name and origin of the mysterious Mission grape, as well as which were the earliest European vines grown in the Americas.[10][c] Their findings are due to appear in the journal of the American Society of Enology and Viticulture.[10] The scholars determined that the Mission grape's DNA matched a little-known Spanish variety called Listan Prieto.[10] Listan is another name for Palomino, although not related to the white grape Palomino Fino used to make Sherry. Prieto means "dark or black".

See also[edit]


  1. ^ By the 1850s, plantings of imported European grapes were present in present-day Los Angeles County, due to the efforts of Matthew Keller, Jean-Louis Vignes, and others.[5][9]
  2. ^ Phylloxera infestation was first experienced in California in 1858.[19]
  3. ^ Another sources claim that the Mission grape is related to the Listán negro.[23][24]


  1. ^ a b c Parks III, Richard (9 May 2019). "The Mission grape is cool in L.A. again, thanks to the natural wine movement". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 10 December 2019.
  2. ^ a b Terry, Thomas D. (January 1975). "California Grapes and California Missions". Agricultural History. 49 (1): 292–293. JSTOR 3742141.
  3. ^ "California Fruit". Scientific American. 57 (22): 343. 26 November 1887. JSTOR 26089403.
  4. ^ Ausmus, William A. (30 June 2008). Wines and Wineries of California's Central Coast: A Complete Guide from Monterey to Santa Barbara. University of California Press. p. 11. ISBN 978-0-520-93183-1.
  5. ^ a b c d e McKee, Irving (March 1947). "The Beginnings of California Winegrowing". The Quarterly: Historical Society of Southern California. 29 (1): 59–71. doi:10.2307/41168117. JSTOR 41168117.
  6. ^ a b c Mobley, Esther (23 March 2017). "Mission revival: State's first wine grape, circa 1760, rides again". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 10 December 2019.
  7. ^ Kettmann, Matt (5 April 2018). "Santa Barbara's Ancient Wines, Then and Now". Independent. Santa Barbara. Retrieved 14 December 2019.
  8. ^ Hannickel, Erica (9 October 2013). Empire of Vines: Wine Culture in America. University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 157. ISBN 978-0-8122-0890-0.
  9. ^ a b Amerine, Maynard A. (April 1969). "An Introduction to the Pre-Repeal History of Grapes and Wines in California". Agricultural History. 43 (2): 259–268. JSTOR 4617664.
  10. ^ a b c d e Alley, Lynn (12 February 2007). "Researchers Uncover Identity of Historic California Grape". Wine Spectator. New York: M. Shanken Communications. Retrieved 10 December 2019.
  11. ^ a b Estreicher, Stefan K. (2006). Wine: From Neolithic Times to the 21st Century. Algora Publishing. p. 111. ISBN 978-0-87586-478-5.
  12. ^ Bedford, Ed (15 November 2015). "A grape mission". San Diego Reader. Retrieved 12 December 2019.
    Borg, Axel (5 July 2016). "A short history on wine making in California". News. UC Davis. Retrieved 12 December 2019.
    Agran, Libbie (16 September 2018). "The First Father of California Wine: Fray Junípero Serra". Wine History Project of San Luis Obispo County. Retrieved 10 December 2019.
    Pierce, Newton Barris (1892). "Introduction and Spread of the Mission Vine in Upper California". The California Vine Disease: A Preliminary Report of Investigations. U.S. Government Printing Office. pp. 26–27.
  13. ^ Pierce, Newton Barris (1892). The California Vine Disease: A Preliminary Report of Investigations. U.S. Government Printing Office. p. 28.
  14. ^ a b Pinney, Thomas (September 2007). "Winegrowing in the California Mission Period". A History of Wine in America, Volume 1. University of California Press. p. 237–243.
  15. ^ Wilson, Iris Ann (September 1957). "Early Southern California Viniculture 1830-1865". The Historical Society of Southern California Quarterly. 39 (3): 242–250. doi:10.2307/41169133. JSTOR 41169133.
  16. ^ Carosso, Vincent P. (June 1949). "Anaheim, California: A Nineteenth Century Experiment in Commercial Viniculture". Bulletin of the Business Historical Society. 23 (2): 78–86. doi:10.2307/3111042. JSTOR 3111042.
  17. ^ Walker, Andrew (19 June 2000). "UC Davis' Role in Improving California's Grape Planting Materials" (PDF). Proceedings. American Society for Enology and Viticulture. Seattle: University of California. pp. 209–215.
  18. ^ a b c Jim LaMar (15 February 2017). "Mission". Archived from the original on 6 June 2019. Retrieved 10 December 2019.
  19. ^ Davidson, William Mark; Nougaret, Raymond Louis (1921). The Grape Phylloxera in California. U.S. Department of Agriculture. p. 122.
  20. ^ "The Mission Grape: Its Remarkable Record in California". California Grape Grower. 1920. p. 18.
  21. ^ Levine, Allison (7 April 2016). "The oldest vine in California". Napa Valley Register. Retrieved 12 December 2019.
  22. ^ Clarke, Oz; Rand, Margaret (2007). "Mission". Oz Clarke's Grapes and Wines: The Definitive Guide to the World's Great Grapes and the Wines They Make. Harcourt, Incorporated. p. 138. ISBN 978-0-15-603291-9.
  23. ^ Garza, Lucia Mijares (18 May 2015). "Mission Grape, Listan Negro And The History They Share". Grape Collective. Retrieved 12 May 2019. The Mission grape, however, was finally identified in 2007 when The Centro Nacional de Biotecnologia in Madrid matched the genetic markers of Mission to a variety known as Listan Negro.
  24. ^ Schneider, Derrick (20 February 2011). "Canary in a wine glass: Drinkers flock to islands' distinct wines". SFGate. San Francisco. Retrieved 12 December 2019.

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