Mission grapes, redux
Unlike the Mission fig and the Mission olive, the Mission grape hasn’t been as successful of late. This variety produces pinkish table wine lacking in structure, and as California’s wine industry grew increasingly competitive, the Mission grape lost its reputation and its relevance. It became an anonymous blending grape, and many vineyards vanished.
At least a few Mission vines are getting back into the game. Napa Valley winery Swanson Vineyards has spent 13 years experimenting with 4 acres of Mission vines in the Shenandoah Valley, using the fruit to make a blended-vintage sweet wine called Angelica. This historical style, first made by the California Spaniards and later favored during the gold-rush era, smells and tastes something like a tawny port, but there is a chief difference: Port is fortified wine, whereas Angelica is fortified, unfermented grape juice; all the alcohol comes from the brandy.
Swanson’s Angelica is rosy brown, nutty, thick and complexly flavored, like many old and oxidized wines. Swanson’s dessert winemaker Marco Cappelli says he has made variations of Angelica using several other well-respected red-wine grapes, but with lackluster results—and that means that after long years as a second-class citizen in the California wine country, the Mission grape could see a rebound.