Some Hands-On Wine History Education

Grapes before they become wine - from the Olvera Street vine
Grapes before they become wine – from the Olvera Street vine

When we started OddBallGrape.com, we did not want the blog to be about us. Frankly, we’re not that interesting. Well, we weren’t, until Michael jumped into a wine history project that seems to have gotten all kinds of people more than a little excited.

In Real Life, Michael is the archivist for the city of Los Angeles – an insanely cool job. And as part of that job, he’s been working with Chris Espinoza, who is the director of El Pueblo de Los Angeles, the oldest part of the city. The two have been trying to find ways to connect what they do, since Michael has the paperwork and the history in his vault and Espinoza has, well, a state park, in which is located Olvera Street and one of the oldest buildings (if not the oldest) in the city, dating back to 1818. And way back when the adobe in question was actually being lived in, someone planted three grape vines, one across Olvera Street which was then known as Wine Street, one in the adobe’s courtyard and one just outside the adobe.

And last year or so, Michael asked Espinoza if he could trellis and prune the vines and see

What makes wine happen - yeast and yeast food.
What makes wine happen – yeast and yeast food.

if he could get some grapes off of them. Espinoza said yes, and Michael spent all last year, carefully pruning the courtyard vine, keeping an eye on things and consulting with Wes Hagen, a professional winemaker, who for years made the truly awesome Clos Pepe wines out of the Santa Rita Hills. Clos Pepe is now gone and Hagen has moved on to another venture. But he and Michael did convince the nice folks up at University of California, Davis, to do the DNA analysis on the vines for free and it turns out that these three vines came from the one remaining vine at Mission San Gabriel, one of the 21 missions founded by Father Junipero Serra in the late Eighteenth Century. For the record, the vines are known as “Vina Madre” a cross of the European vitis vinifera and a local Southern California grape called vitis girdiana.

Then in September, as Michael was beginning to harvest the few grapes there, Hagen ratted him out to S. Irene Virbila, the wine critic for the Los Angeles Times. Well, Virbila, being the good reporter she is, smelled a story and wrote it up.

Now, everyone is checking in and offering ideas. What Michael did decide to do is make a wine called Angelica (which we just heard was named for the city of Los Angeles). It was what the winemakers in L.A. were making up through the late 1870s, when Los Angeles was the primary wine growing and making region in the state (take that, Napa). Angelica is a sweet wine that is also fortified by adding brandy or other alcohol to the mix. We have about 25 pounds of grapes, so we won’t be getting very much. But it will be interesting and we promise to add updates in this space as we get them.

We're on our way! The yeast and yeast food being added to the grapes.
We’re on our way! The yeast and yeast food being added to the grapes.

6 thoughts on “Some Hands-On Wine History Education”

    1. Yeah, I’ve been wanting to read that book. It’s going to be interesting, I’ll say that much.

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