TO THE GROWTH OF THE CALIFORNIA WINERY INDUSTRY

Between the years 1868 and 1888 there was the largest mass immigration of Germans into the United States, with over two million having moved to the new land. Like many other Europeans, Germans were motivated to move to the US in pursuit of better opportunities. Included in this group of immigrants were the Beringer brothers from Mainz who brought their experience in winemaking from Germany to the new world.

When they heard about the good soil and perfect climate of the west coast, they decided to move to California and start their winery venture in a new location. One of the brothers, Jakob Beringer, was employed as a manager by Charles Krug, a pioneer in the Napa Valley wine industry. Krug did not last long before a disaster destroyed his winery, but as it turned out, the misfortune gave way to the evolution of the wine industry in the region.

Initial Innovations

In 1875, Jakob started his own business by collaborating with his brother to set up their own vineyard. They bought a 75 hectares of Helena vineyard, filled with vines. The first development they undertook was to build a “Rhine House” as a reminder of their homeland, which was designed with a traditional half-timbered style and 17 rooms. The building was a significant landmark as it placed their vineyard in the limelight. Even today, the house serves as a major tourist attraction.

The Beringer brothers became great pioneers of new things in their field, including underground tunnels embedded in their vineyard. The entire vineyard system contained an enormous wine cellar with the temperature maintained at 14.5 degrees Celsius, ideal for the storage and production of wine in Napa Valley.

Another significant innovation by the Beringer Brothers was the incorporation of gravity in their winery processing system. They would place grapes up in the hills and allow them to roll into the fermentation room. This technique proved to be crucial in the winery industry and is still used to this day. Winemakers have realized that one of the factors that make their wines superior is the avoidance of pumping grapes over long distances, a method that affects the quality of the products.

Jacob, along with his older sibling Frederick, founded Beringer Brothers Winery in St. Helena, California (Napa County) in 1875.

By using the traditional innovation of the Beringer brothers, the wine is maintained at a higher quality and the favorite California wine flavors are kept intact. The Beringers are also the pioneers of wine schools in the region, and they started their own school to introduce microbiological discoveries in winemaking. Other institutions later followed suit across the world.

Struggle for Survival

The late 19th century to early 20th century marked the most devastating period in the European wine sector. It is during this time that the phylloxera pest destroyed a large percentage of the vineyards in Europe. The disaster served American wineries well and the Beringer brothers, for instance, were able to conduct business abroad in the countries where wineries had been destroyed, as well as continue to grow their business full of customers at home in California.

This double benefit was short-lived, as the 1918 ban on the sales of alcoholic goods resulted in the collapse of most American wineries. The wine production in Napa Valley went down by 90%, leaving several well-established wineries operational and able to produce special products. The Beringers were given special permission to produce wine for religious consumption and were, therefore, able to survive the prohibition period.

The Emergence of Tourism as a Source of Revenue

Over the years, wineries in the California wine region started to open to tourism, allowing tourists and wine lovers from across the world to visit their vineyards and experience the unique winemaking process. Today, wine tourism is among the major sources of income for not only the Beringer’s but also other wineries across the wine country. Napa wineries offer the best tourism experience, allowing people to witness the region’s wine history and the great inventions of pioneers like the Beringer brothers.

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