Grape Culture and Wine Making in California

Jun 17, 2013 by

grapecultureGrape Culture and Wine Making in California by George Husmann was originally published in 1888. Really interesting read if you are interested in the early years of California’s wine making history.

From the preface:

“A book, specially devoted to “Grape Culture and Wine Making in California,” would seem to need no apology for its appearance, however much the author may do so for under- taking the task. California seems to him, at least, as ”the chosen land of the Lord,” the great Vineland ; and the industry, now only in its first stages of development, destined to overshadow all others. It has already assumed dimensions, within the short period of its existence, hardly forty years, that our European brethren can not believe it, and a smile of incredulity comes to their lips when we speak of vineyards of several thousand acres, with a product of millions of gallons per annum.

But, while fully cognizant of the importance of these large enterprises, it is not for their owners that this little volume is written specially. The millionaire who is able to plant and maintain a vineyard of several thousand acres, can and should provide the best and most scientific skill to manage his vine- yard and his cellars; it will be the wisest and most economical course for him, he can afford to pay high salaries, and the most costly wineries, provided they are also practical, would be a good investment for him. We have thousands, perhaps the large majority of our wine growers, however, who are comparatively poor men, many of whom have to plant their vineyards, nay, even clear the land for them with their own hands, make their first wine in a wooden shanty with a rough lever press, and work their way up by slow degrees to that competence which they hope to gain by the sweat of their brow.

Of these, many bring but a scanty knowledge to their task; and yet it is from these, who cultivate their small vineyards with unceasing interest, and are willing to watch their wines with the greatest care that we must expect our choicest products. To help and serve this army of patient toilers, in whose ranks I have labored for forty years, here and in Missouri, with hand and brain, is the object and aim of this little book; I can fully sympathize with them, because I had to gather what little knowledge I may have, piecemeal and by hard practical experience in an almost untrodden field, and I wish to save them some of the dear bought experience which I had to pass through. If its pages become a practical guide for them, by which they can plant and cultivate their vineyards, prune and train their vines, erect their wine cellars when they need them and are able to build them, and make good, drinkable and saleable wine, my chief object has been accomplished.

To do this, I intend to be as concise and clear as possible, use no high-flown language, and avoid scientific terms as much as possible; talk as the plain, practical farmer to his colaborers, and confine myself to simple facts, gathered from my own daily practice as well as from the practice and counsels of others who have labored long and successfully in the same cause. None of us are infallible, and the best way to gain knowledge is by exchanging ideas and experience among ourselves, comparing notes with each other. And this is especially necessary in each neighborhood, each valley and its surrounding hillsides in this, the brightest and most bountiful, but also the most diversified and variable State in the Union; where the climatic conditions as well as the soil change as quickly, according to each location as in a kaleidoscope.

This makes it all the more necessary, that the vintner select his climate and soil carefully; and again, that he chooses such varieties as are adapted to his soil and climate. Then the climatic conditions will also materially affect his operations in wine making, curing raisins, etc., in short no man can hold fast to one invariable rule in this State, but must vary his operations with the location, the soil, the product of each season, and the climatic conditions prevailing during his operations, and which may vary every day during the vintage. And therefore this will be a California book, first and foremost. I am fully aware that French and German, Spanish, Italians and Portuguese, have many eminent men who have compiled the experiences of centuries and from which we can learn a great deal, especially in making and handling wines.

But while I value it highly, and am willing to profit by it, yet all the conditions are so different there, that they can be no safe guide for us. Our rainless summers, the character of our grapes, which always ripen, and are heavier in sugar, while they may lack in ferment and sprightliness, will necessitate different handling, and I believe that three seasons of active experience here, will enable a man with good sound judgment to make a more perfect wine from California grapes, than twenty years of practice in France or Germany. He has nothing to unlearn, is free from prejudices and antiquated methods, and is therefore more likely to succeed, than the one who comes to the task with the preconceived notion that he knows everything, while in reality he has to take lessons every day.

Therefore, though I will gladly use some foreign experience, and give due credit for it, this little volume will not be a foreign compilation, but a practical record of California experience, in the vineyard and wine cellar. That this may be concise, useful, and offer such assistance as practical men may need is my highest ambition. The reader must not expect infallible doctrines, nor impractical theories, but plain rules, variable according to circumstances, and given in plain language, without poetic fiction or privilege. I shall try to deal with, and confine my- self to plain facts of every day occurrence.

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