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Vignes Jean-Louis

The French-born Jean-Louis Vignes (1780-1862) is an almost forgotten, important wine-growing pioneer of the USA. He is considered the first commercial winemaker in California. In 1827 he emigrated from his homeland to the Sandwich Island, as James Cook called it, which is the island Kauaʻi today belonging to Hawaii. His wife (who never succeeded him) and his five children (three of whom also immigrated much later) stayed behind in Cadillac. There he was engaged in viticulture, growing sugar cane from which he distilled rum, and breeding cattle and turkeys. In the course of a ban on alcohol and destruction of the sugar cane fields by the Protestant missionaries there, he immigrated to California in 1831, in the Mexican era. Vignes bought 104 hectares of land on the banks of the Los Angeles River and began to cultivate vines on his vineyard named "El Aliso".

Initially, he made wine exclusively from the historic Mission variety(Listán Prieto), introduced by the Franciscans, which produced large quantities of grapes or wine, but insufficient quality. Therefore, from 1833 Vignes began to import European varieties such as Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. In order for the vines to survive the long journey by ship without damage, they were wrapped in damp moss and potato slices. From 1840 onwards, he was already selling his wines throughout California. From 1850 he had 40,000 vines in his inventory and produced around 150,000 bottles of wine. Samples were sent to the 10th US president John Tyler (1790-1862) and to France. From 1851 onwards, Vignes was also involved in the cultivation of oranges, apricots, apples, figs and walnuts. In 1855, he sold his business to his nephews for $40,000, and was now socially active by co-financing a hospital and participating in the founding of the first public school in California. Vignes and Aliso Street in Los Angeles today commemorate his significant contributions to California viticulture.

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