Spanish Mission System
The Spanish Mission System’s Influence on the California Wine Industry
In 1769, Father Junipero Serra was ordered by the Spanish Crown to bring Christianity to the Native Americans living in Alta California. The first Mission at San Diego was founded that same year. Following El Camino Real (The King’s Highway), other settlements were founded from San Diego to Sonoma.
The Franciscans used indigenous labor to plant a variety of agricultural products and raise livestock. This included cattle, sheep, orchards, grains and vineyards. In 1779, the first vines were planted by Father Junipero Serra at Mission San Juan Capistrano. Simple table wines were made using the Criolla varietal (also known as the Mission varietal). Angelica was an early fortified wine that is still produced in limited amounts.
Franciscan Padres typically made more brandy than wine because it was easier to preserve and ship. Because they lacked proper barrels for aging, their wines tended to be low in tannins and did not age very well. For these reasons, brandy and fortified wines were more successful products.
In 1810, the Mexican War of Independence erupted. Despite the hostilities, over the next decade, Mission life continued to flourish. However, the process of ecclesiastical decline and secularization began in 1821 when Mexico gained independence from Spain.
In 1824, there were several major Native American revolts at Missions throughout Alta California. These included Santa Barbara, Santa Ines, and La Purisima. Mission lands began to decay and some were sold.
In the same year, all people in Alta California were forced to sign an oath of allegiance to Mexico. In 1827, it was decreed that all Spaniards under the age of 60 must leave Alta California. In 1834, the Mexican Congress passed the Secularization Act which ended Franciscan control over the Missions.
In 1846, the Mexican-American War broke out. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the war in 1848. Mexico ceded Alta California to the United States as part of the treaty. California officially became the 31st state in 1850. The population boom due to the Gold Rush led to the formal entry of the state of California into the United States in 1850.
Joseph Sudoc Alemany became the first Bishop of Monterey in 1850. He won a major legal battle in 1855 when the United States’ Land Commission decreed that he had a legitimate claim to Mission lands. Many of the Mexican land grants were called into question in the early American years, and the Catholic Church regained control of several Mission properties. But times had changed, and the Mission system was not the same as it had been before Mexican secularization.
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