Mission grapes: origin and varieties

Surely you have heard of the “Mission” grape variety and you may have wondered why this grape is so called? What were its origins? Is it still cultivated today?

Today I want to discover several secrets of this grape, will you join me on the trip?

To talk about the Mission grape, we must always keep in mind two regions that, despite the distance, are closer than we think.

Yes, I am talking about California and Spain.

We all know the importance of Spanish winemaking and the influence it has had on the world. Now, however, it is time to talk about this state with which we have more links than we might think: California.


California accounts for almost 90% of US wine production and if it were an independent country, it would be the 4th largest wine producer in the world. As you can imagine, with so much extension, there are very diverse regions in terms of climatic conditions and differences.

As a curiosity, in the United States there are no appellations of origin as we know them in Spain, but they are called “viticultural areas” or AVAs. Specifically in the case of California they have divided them (fixing at the time on the French model) into five regions:

→North Coast

→Central Coast

→Central Valley


→South Coast


Here, at the very beginning, we have our first link with American lands. The Franciscan Fray Junipero Serra, a native of Majorca, founded several missions on the West Coast of the United States.

This Spanish philosopher and theologian was responsible for the founding of nine missions and presided over another fifteen in these parts. He traveled almost 20,000 km from Mexico to San Francisco and is the only Spaniard to have a statue of himself placed in the very capitol in Washington, D.C.

We have to place ourselves approximately in the year 1769, which is when Junipero Serra founded the first mission in San Diego; later he would follow in succession and as he passed through and met with the natives, he would found more missions such as the one in Pala in the year 1810. Thus, little by little, the so-called Camino Real was formed, which begins in the south of the state of California and extends to beyond San Francisco, to the north.

By now you are probably asking yourselves, why are they telling us a story about the Franciscans, and what does this have to do with the Mission grape?


Well yes, here is the crux of the matter; it was the Franciscans themselves, in their missions from Mexico to San Francisco, who were responsible for the introduction of the Mission grape in this vast territory and that is where its curious name comes from, in honor of the missions. It is also as a result of this grape that the beginning of winemaking in California took place.

Since then, grape growing in this region has spread throughout the length and breadth of the Camino Real where we will find a wide diversity of climates, from the most temperate and humid to the most inland desert and in almost all areas we find vineyards.

Of course, over the years many types of grapes have been introduced in California: those that need more humidity and irrigation, those that hardly need any water for their optimum growth, etc.

Undoubtedly, so curious and varied are each of the regions as well as the types of grapes that, as an example, in some areas near Los Olivos, the Zinfandel grape grows without water, only nourished by the humidity that comes from the sea and the difference in temperature between day and night. Yes, we are in an area where droughts abound but we can have grapes without irrigation, curious, isn’t it?


It would be impossible to list every single place where Mission grapes still grow in California today, but we will highlight two important wine growing areas within the state to give you an idea:


Very close to Pala and above San Diego, we find Temecula, a wine region par excellence that can boast of having a climate similar to the Mediterranean climate.

In this town we can find the so-called “tasting rooms” along the road where we can stop to taste exquisite wines from some of the wineries that are further away from the city. Not only can we taste it, but we can also buy it if we wish.

Undoubtedly, it is a very good way to bring wine closer to the consumer, make it known and facilitate the purchase process without having to take the car and travel several miles to the winery.

As a curiosity, in all the wine regions of California there are signs on the road that invite you to report drunk drivers with a simple phone call.

As we mentioned before, this region has climatic conditions very similar to those in some areas of Spain and, in addition to the Mission grape, other varieties such as Tempranillo and Garnacha are grown.

Nor can we leave behind the Palomino variety (one of those responsible for the wines of Jerez). With the combination of the Mission grape and the Palomino grape, unique wines are obtained, such as Angelica, with a certain toasted air and a taste similar to brandy.


Santa Barbara, located above Los Angeles and closer to the sea, was the most important of the Franciscan missions in California.

Today it is still in the hands of Franciscans and it is incredible, but they still have in their orchard called “La Huerta” original Uva Misión grapes, they still grow them!

In addition, they also have remains of vine shoots (of course, now dry but once very fruitful) that are believed to have originated in the Canary Islands.

This concludes our California getaway today, full of history, small towns, unusual regions for growing grapes and of course, knowing a little more about the Mission grape.


Have you visited this region and we would love to hear about your experiences!

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