Prohibition-era wine makes a comeback in the Valley

At one point Alicante Bouschet was the most popular wine grape in California, accounting for nearly a third of all grapes grown in America.
November 22, 2013 5:06:20 PM PST
At one point Alicante Bouschet was the most popular wine grape in California, accounting for nearly a third of all grapes grown in America. Most of it was produced in the Central Valley.

Along the Blossom Trail in Sanger in the fall there is a vine with a distinct feature. Only two varietals produce the ruby red leaves in the offseason, including the "forgotten grape" known as the Alicante Bouschet.

"It was the number one red wine in California in 1915 so a hundred years ago everyone knew about Alicante Bouschet," Jim Van Haun with Cedar View Winery said.

The grape, known for its red flesh and dark juice, was first cultivated in France in 1866 by Henri Bouschet. It is a cross between the petite Bouschet and Grenache.

During prohibition it was the number one wine grape in Calif. and was grown for export to the east coast. Fresno State winemaker John Giannini said it was especially popular in the Central Valley. The grapes thick skin could survive harsh train rides to places like New York where the grapes were sold at auction.

"When they were originally planted they were lot of Alicante planted and slowly other varietals started to come into on the scene," Giannini said.

Close to only 1,000 acres exist in Calif. and five of those at Cedar View Winery.

"We bought this property 15 years ago and these vines had already been planted here. They were planted back in the mid 70's," Debbie Van Haun with Cedar View Winery said.

The owners said they stumbled upon the rare grape variety after coming to Sanger to open up a bed and breakfast, and after doing more research on the Alicante Bouschet, they found a new niche

"We had never heard of the variety at all so people said, boy are you na?ve. Laughs. But we did some webstie research on it, we actually went to Sonoma just asking them about the grape and we got some pretty positive reviews on it," Jim Van Haun said.

One of the wineries they reached out to bought 24 tons of grapes in their first few years of business. This prompted the Van Haun's to begin making their own wines with its flagship grape.

"We've been making Alicante now for 14 years. We've won more awards with it than any other winery in California which is pretty neat here in Fresno County," Jim Van Haun said.

Cedar View Winery's rose won a silver medal at California's biggest competition in Orange County. The winery's full-bodied red took home a gold medal here regionally. And its port style desert wine earned itself the most prestigious award at the Pacific Rim International Contest, this year sparking a comeback in California of this vintage vine.

"We call it, usually after it's been bottled, brambly fruit so you can pick up boysenberry, blackberry sometimes a little plum," Debbie Van Haun said.


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