8 months ago

Destination Nevada County

Premium visitors magazine for Nevada County produced by the Grass Valley Chamber of Commerce

Sniff, Swirl, Sip &

Sniff, Swirl, Sip & Savor no Bay Bridge. Many took the southern trek around the Bay. One of the places they passed through was Mission San Jose. It became a common sight to see intrepid miners heading east with cuttings of Mission vines sticking out of their saddlebags. Another favorite spot was a nursery in Sacramento where they picked up Zinfandel cuttings. That was how both Mission and Zinfandel grapes dominated the early Nevada County vineyards. Nevada County’s first vineyard was planted in 1852, but there are few wine references to grapes or wine in the 1850’s. But by l862 a saloon owner on Broad Street was serving Nevada County wine by the glass, and the barrels started rolling. From that time on there are numerous references to grape growers, even records of the numbers of vines planted. In 1869 Frank Siebert of Nevada City produced a Zinfandel that was one of the first wines ever to win a medal in a California wine competition. By 1870 there were 450,000 vines in the county representing several hundred acres of grapes. But throughout time, the wine industry has been a cycle of boom and bust, and the 1870’s were one of the busts. There was an economic downturn creating a depression in the post Civil War years. In Nevada County, there was simply a surplus of grapes. In 1871 the county’s seven distilleries produced a record 4,000 gallons of brandy. Four times as much fruit went unpicked and growers couldn’t sell all the wine they produced. It was around this time that Nevada City Winery first appeared, operating as a cooperative, taking in grapes from many local growers who were having difficulty on their own. But then came the vineyard boom of the 1880’s. There was an economic upturn. It became fashionable to grow grapes. It was a time of the gentleman farmer where landowners planted vineyards. It was at this time that, E.G. White was quoted as saying that someday, “Nevada County’s wine would become more valuable than gold.” In 1887 Nevada County contained seventeen grape growers, ten of whom made wine. There were 220 acres of grapes. In 1889 Nevada City Winery produced 8,000 gallons of wine. 48 DESTINATION Nevada County Photo credit: Erin Thiem, Boom and bust. The high times of the 1880’s were quickly followed by a very severe depression in the mid-1890’s. The bottom fell out. The price of both grapes and wine shrunk to nothing. It was here the trail turned cold. All the records disappear, and there is no further mention of anything grape related including Nevada City Winery. If wine was being produced it wasn’t recorded; it was either being sold to the neighbor next door or the fruit packing plant in Newcastle. What happened? We’ll follow the trail in the next issue. To be continued. . .

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