The success of the current California wine boom has been a saga uniquely American in its complex combination of politics, entrepreneurship, science and unforeseen acts of God. Sometime around 1780, missionaries first planted vinifera grapes in California. After America annexed California in 1847, vineyards spread north from Los Angeles throughout the state. But in the 1880s phylloxera devastated the nascient industry. Just as California began to recuperate, prohibition struck and by the end of WWII, there were as few as 120 wineries in the state.
Worldwide recognition came with the surprising results of the 1976 Paris tasting when both Chardonnay and Cabernet wines bested esteemed Grand Crus and First Growths. However, many believe that the return of phylloxera in the late 1980's (and the resulting need to replant nearly all the vineyards in Napa Valley and Sonoma) should be credited with the unsurpassed quality found in California wines today. A new awareness of the importance of place and the subsequent delineation of California's individual AVAs promises further sophistication.