History of Criolla Grapes in California

Criolla represents a variety of grapes present in South American countries such as Chile, Uruguay, and Argentina. One can unarguably claim that Criolla grapes were the foundation of the  South American Wine industry. These were the initial grape variety cultivated in South America, stretching from Argentina to Chile. One of the Criolla’s varieties, i.e., Vitis vinifera.

It is a representative of South American Wine. In Latin America, around 150 Criolla varieties have been identified so far. It is the most common variety of grapes and is often used to make juices and table wines. It was the third most abundant planted grape variety in Argentina as of 2006 record.

The term Criolla comes from the Spanish word “criollos.” Generally, the term referred to the descendants of Spanish settlers in the Americas who were born in the colonies instead of those born in Spain. Contrarily, people in the US prefer the word “criollo” to a “native-born” person/food/music, etc.

However, in the Spanish-speaking world, the word means “descendent of a Spaniard and a native-born” person. There is a long history of the word “criollo” in the Spanish-speaking world. By the late 16th century, the word was being used to refer to a person of mixed European and Native American heritage from the New World.

Culturally, Criolla can be anything like food, a person, or music. However, in viticulture and talking about grapes, Criolla refers to the grapes which were first cultivated by Spanish Missionaries in South America and are therefore also known as mission grapes. Criolla grapes were productive and survived the unfavorable climate.

Tracing back the history of Criolla in California, it is recorded that in 1769 AD, the  Spanish missionaries planted the first vineyard in California. Before the Criolla’s plantation, there were native grape varieties in California.

However, their wine was of very low quality, and missionaries used grape varieties known as Criolla or mission grapes. After that, Mission San Gabriel first planted Criolla varieties at San Diego de Alcala. It is a  variety with thick pink skin. It is suitable for making deep-colored wines.

In 1771, the mission grapes were planted at Mission San Gabriel Arcángel, California. Later in 1786, it was planted in Los Angeles.

Criolla grapes were planted by all missionaries throughout California. They were used for winemaking, eating, and making juices. It was the most widespread grape variety across California.

1919 During Prohibition, the mission grapes cultivation was reduced. Some vineyards were torn out, and others were replaced by noble grape varieties. 

Also read:

This Day in History

December 2, 1547: Hernán Cortés died. His expedition resulted in the Fall of the Aztec Empire. Most of the area of Mexico Came under the rule of the King of Castile. He first introduced Mission Grapes to Mexico.

Want to read more? Try these books!

A History of Wine in America, Volume 2- From Prohibition to the Present Wines of South America- The Essential Guide


Share This Story, Choose Your Platform!