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Latter 19th Century

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By 1877, at least 16 farmers were raising grapes in Dry Creek Valley, with total acreage  between 100 and 200 acres. The grape supply, however, soon began to exceed the capacity of the wineries, with falling grape prices the result. To cut their losses, in addition to growing grapes, Bloch & Colson had planted a tobacco crop (Florence 1993:24).

The industry was quick to rebound, however, for in the 1880s there was a dramatic surge in  wine production in the valley. By 1883, there were 54 grape growers, and acreage went from 200 to over 800 acres of wine grapes. Of that total, 395 were planted to the popular Zinfandel, 240 to the old Mission variety, 64 to Malvoise, 50 to Golden Chasselas, 18 to White Riesling, and 40 to miscellaneous varieties (Florence 1993:25; Russian River Flag, October 11, 1883).

It was during this period that Dry Creek Valley began to gain more public attention, both within Sonoma County and statewide. Articles were published in newspapers, winery and promotional publications. New wineries were being erected in the valley, the capacity of others increased, and distilleries added (Heintz 1985:36, 38).

By 1888, however, the boom had ended. California wine production had grown dramatically, numerous vineyards had been planted, and land prices were high. Some farmers ripped out their wine grapes and planted raisin grapes or prunes. At about the same time, the phylloxera, a root louse, was advancing up the valley, wiping out many vineyards. In Dry Creek many were ripping out the infested vines and replanting, some on resistant rootstock. This depression in the wine industry lasted about five years, but new wineries continued to be built. One of these, the winery of Victor Sioli, opened in 1892 at the end of Wine Creek Road, producing 2,000 gallons of wine a year before shutting down a Prohibition (Florence 1993:44-46).

Two years later wine capacity in Dry Creek reached close to 700,000 gallons, possibly the second largest wine producing area in the county after Sonoma. Interestingly, none of the pioneer winemakers, other than Paxton, entered their wines in competitions (Florence 1993:43).

Other wineries in the valley also expanded or opened. In 1893 the Galloway Bros. built a 20,000-gallon winery on the later Cuneo Ranch, and Pierre Bourdens opened a 1,000-gallon winery at Skaggs Springs. Charlie and Nicolai Thomsen built a 13,500-gallon winery, now under Lake Sonoma. The Thomsens sold their wine to Italian Swiss Colony or Geyser Peak, a red mixture of Zinfandel and Mataro. By 1895 vintners were gearing up for another boom, one that was soon to burst from overbuilding and overplanting yet again (Florence 1993:46-47).

In 1894, however, seven large wine firms in San Francisco combined to form the “California Wine Association,” an entity that soon controlled more than half of all the wine produced in California. The organization bought up much of the wine in Alexander Valley, as well as Dry Creek and other regions, and, because they did not sell at retail and ignored wine competitions, local wineries were not recognized individually or statewide (Heintz 1985:40).