Mission grapes are a variety of Vitis vinifera introduced from Spain to the western coasts of North and South America by Catholic New World missionaries for use in making sacramental, table, and fortified wines.
The original European strain, until recently, had been lost, thus the grapes' being named "Mission grapes" since the Spanish missions are where they were generally grown. The grape was introduced to the Las Californias Province of New Spain, present-day California, in the late 18th century by Franciscan missionaries. Until about 1850, Mission grapes, or Criolla, represented the entirety of viticulture in California wines. At the present time, however, Mission represents less than 1000 acres (4 km²) of total plantings in the entire state as more coveted European grape varietals came into vogue and displaced it. Most of the state's remaining plantings are in the Gold Country, the Central Valley, and Southern California.
Red and white wine, sweet and dry wine, brandy, and a fortified wine called Angelica were all produced from Mission grapes. Though Mission grape vines are heavy producers and can adapt to a variety of climates, table wine made from the fruit tends to be rather characterless, and thus its use in wine making has diminished in modern times. However, as both contemporary accounts and those of the last two centuries attest, Angelica, the fortified wine made from the grape, is sometimes a wine of note and distinction. The Mission grape is related to the pink Criolla grape of Argentina and the red País grape of Chile. Despite being almost extinct in California after a century of being maligned and put down as an inferior grape, recently interest has increased in Mission again. A lot of smaller producers are embracing its long history and the very few plantings still left in the state. Small producers like Bryan Harrington, Story, Hendry, Broc Cellars, Rajat Parr, Sandlands and Sabelli-Frisch have shown that the Mission grape can make excellent, world class wines.
In December 2006, Spanish scholars from the Centro Nacional de Biotecnología in Madrid, uncovered the name and origin of the mysterious Mission grape, as well as which were the earliest European vines grown in the Americas. Their findings are due to appear in the journal of the American Society of Enology and Viticulture. The scholars determined that the Mission grape's DNA matched a little-known Spanish variety called Listan Prieto. Listan is another name for Palomino, although not related to the white grape Palomino Fino used to make Sherry. Prieto means "dark or black".
- Jim LaMar (2002). "Mission". Retrieved 2007-07-06.
- Alley, Lynn (February 2007). "Researchers Uncover Identity of Historic California Grape: Spanish researchers solve mysteries surrounding the Mission variety and viticulture throughout the Americas". Wine Spectator Online. Retrieved 2007-03-30.