Father Junipero Serra
Father Junipero Serra had a profound impact on the history of wine. After signing up to be a missionary, he sailed Vera Cruz, Mexico in 1750 at the age of 36. He walked thousands of miles in his life and traveled by foot to Mexico City shortly after arriving in the New World. Serra was bothered by several health issues throughout his life including asthma and pain in his legs. But this did not appear to slow him down much.
After dedicating his service to the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, he spent the next 17 years of his life in Sierra Gorda working as a missionary. In 1767, the Jesuits handed over control of their 14 Baja California missions to the Franciscans. Father Junipero Serra was put in charge of these missions and was ordered to start new ones in Alta California.
Along with Gaspar de Portola, Serra founded Mission San Diego in 1769 and Mission San Carlos Borroméo del Rio Carmelo in 1771 near Monterey. Father Serra was in his late 50s at the time.
Serra would go on to establish a total of 9 spanish missions over the course of his life as well as administering the 14 ex-Jesuit properties. Another 12 missions were founded after his death along El Camino Real between San Diego and Sonoma.
Father Junipero Serra encouraged planting vines on these properties, particularly the Mission varietal. This robust grape was made into rustic table wines as well as being vinified into a fortified wine called Angelica.
After a long and eventful life, Father Junipero Serra died in 1784 at the age of 70. He was buried at Mission San Carlos Borroméo. Although he stood barely over five feet tall, he had an immense impact on the development of California. Serra’s friend Father Palu wrote his biography.