Look back to the future

Look back to the future

Al Cribari

The May 1934 edition of the California Grape Grower (Wines & Vines) is billed as the “Special Sherry Number” The cover is mostly occupied by a photo of the huge, 3,000 acre Guasti vineyard, at one time billed as the largest vineyard in the world. The picture shows a vast field of knee-high vines (I believe the shortage of water limited the growth). The caption reads, “The Palomino and Pedro Jimenes Sherry Grapes are extensively grown at Guasti.” The vineyard is now mostly under the tarmac of the Ontario, Calif., International Airport.

“Fruit Industries, Ltd., Announces that the Famous Sherries Originated by the great Old California Sherry Houses are Available to the Trade under these Brand Names: Guasti, C.W.A., Balboa, Old Constitution, Imperial and Community.” No wonder they folded them all–and others–into 11 Cellars! And I wonder how Mario Minetti and his brothers are doing?

It was only six months or so into the era of Repeal, but already our industry was adjusting to the fact that dessert wines would reign supreme for almost 40 more years. We even had to fortify and/or distill some of our table wines to make the adjustment.

Despite the difficulties, the year was, in general, a good and profitable one for all of us.

The big part of the May, 1954 edition is devoted to the “technical” section. Before ASE’s bulletin, W & V provided a great forum for technical news. They did us a great service.

On the editor’s page:

“Hitting the restaurant trail with ‘standard’ wines.” Published as a “hot tip” for wine men, this was an almost impossible task. The way to do it, if at all, was to have a premium-priced wine or a label just for the restaurant trade–not an easy task. But then, you all know that.

“Seven months of 50-cent wine.” This, of course, was for bulk dessert wine. Our cost at the time, for grapes and “conversion,” was about 38 cents per gallon. So that after adding interest, overhead, etc., etc., we had a slight profit. But no matter how slight, oh, how welcome it was. Since 1947, we had had to sell at or below cost, and we were about at the end of our rope. W & V chortled at the price being steady at 50 cents for seven months. Why, I don’t know. At 50 cents, there was no real money to set aside for repairs and improvements or the like. But I guess we can’t expect a wine writer to know about such things.

“Calif. Winery Workers’ Wages Up.” A new pact was signed, raising wages by 3 cents per hour to $1.29 to $1.93 per hour.

“April Wholesale Wine market in Representative U.S. Cities.” In nine major markets, the news was rather mixed, but at least it was not all bad–as it had been.

“New Vermouth Type Offered.” This was a new one to me. It was sweet vermouth containing Angostura bitters. Sounds like a great idea. Did it sell? It was marketed by the United States Vermouth Corp. of Brooklyn, N.Y. Never heard of this company, either.

‘Gallo Buys Cribari Winery, Inventory.” This was about the bottom of our (Cribari) financial woes, but it was also the beginning. We were now about debt-free, and could give full attention to selling at a profit. The Gallos wanted a winery in the Thompson growing area for their big Thunderbird sales, and they got it, and we got rid of a dessert wine winery (bought in ’24) that we no longer needed. All in all, it was a satisfactory solution, and we continued to have very cordial relations with E. & J., even though they did come out with their Vino Paisano in direct competition with our Vino Rosso. But I’m glad I never had to go through such times again (so far!).

“11 Cellars Enters So. Calif. Market.” This, I believe, was to replace the hodge-podge of brands inherited by the Perelli-Minetti family from Fruit Industries. Never thought much of the name. What consumer cares about “cellars?” But then, it does sound catchy, I guess.

Overall, 1954 was turning out to be a difficult year, but one full of promise.

The “five/1974” is the way the Hiarings labeled their May issue. It is much to do about the “Uneasy Farm Labor Front.” And properly so. Cesar Chavez was fighting a civil rights battle as well as a financial one, and he was disturbing a major mechanical improvement in the farm labor front–the mechanical grape harvester. It was one thing to have it in the East, where farm labor seemed to be in short supply (we had to use local housewives to harvest), but another in the West, where waves of migrant workers toiled dawn to dusk to bring in the crops.

Editor Hiaring’s editorial was about the Agricultural Marketing Act. This was established in 1937 to help publicize and advertise California wines. It was paid for by the processors (read: wineries) and spent by their boards as overseen by the state Department of Agriculture. However, a politician (I think it was Jerry Brown, who would become governor in 1975), wanted a consumer representative on all such boards. Our industry more or less stonewalled the idea, and this very valuable program (in my opinion), was voted out of existence. I think our industry was wrong.

“Handel Dies at 73.” A.J. “Art” Handel was one of the founders of The Wine Growers Guild and several other pioneering organizations. He was also a very nice guy.

Henry Sonneman Dies at 69.” Mr. Sonneman was also one of our industry’s leading pioneers. He was president and, I guess, founder of Meier’s Wine Cellars, Inc., of Ohio.

“Colorado embarks on vinifera planting program.” This article was written by David Nixon of Ivancie Wines, but I no longer see Ivancie listed in the Wines & Vines Directory/Buyer’s Guide. However, I have followed the Colorado plantings somewhat over the last 30 years, as I was surprised and happy to see such an unlikely area to become a wine producer. It must be a tough struggle, but no doubt is worth it as they continue to plant more and more. (Ed. Note: As reported in our February Vineyard issue, Colorado now has 50 wineries.)

“First Vine is Planted at New Masson Sherry Cellars. Stan Wolf and Ted Yamada set out the Chenin blanc cutting with a gold shovel.” The vineyard of about 500 acres, and the winery, of some .75 million gallons, was to be built near Madera, a popular area for new wineries. I feel that poor ol’ Paul Masson would be aghast with “his” winery marketing sherry. But then, the world does change.

“A.S.E. to be serious and social at Coronado.” The American Society of Enology (and now Viticulture) will meet at the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego. As they say, “where the elite meet and eat.”

“The Unhappy Champagne Merchants of France.” They cannot resign themselves to “sell only 4 million bottles (less than a million gallons?) in a country of 200 million.” They had a survey taken, and learned that it is very hard for the American public to identify French Champagne among other wines similarly presented. No wonder the French are so hot to disallow the word “Champagne” to be used by others. Ah well, the price of success. And–imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

1974 was turning out to be a very good year for most of us.

A subtle but important change occurred in May of 1994 at W & V. Ms. Dottie Kubota-Cordery, longtime general manager, became president and CEO. If you like the look of the mag, I think it’s Dottie’s doing.

We might also mention that this is the 14th annual Export/Import issue.

“John McClelland is GM at Alderbrook Winery.”

“Cornelius S. Ough is ASEV Merit Award winner for 1994.” Corny was one of my heroes.

From P.E. “Aldo” Hiaring’s Wise & Otherwise column comes a great bit of humor. “I recently came across a rating scale that I can live with: 95-100, would prefer to sex. 90-95, would drink during sex. 85-90, would serve to friends. 80-85, would pay to drink. 75-80, would drink at a friend’s home. 70-75, would drink on an airplane trip. 65-70, would prefer a soft drink. 60-65, the dog refused to taste it. 50-60, wouldn’t serve to an enemy. 0-50, would serve to an enemy.” Will it ever replace the Davis scale?

“Andre T chelistcheff 1901-1994. The wine world lost one of its most gracious luminaries in April.” He was a giant among winemakers at a time when scientifically and/or well-rounded practical winemakers were as rare as hen’s teeth. Our industry owes much to Andre.

“Weibel reorganizes.” The court has approved the Chapter 11 plans of Weibel to relocate from its Mission San Jose property land to its new winery in Mendocino. It has been a very rough row for the Weibels to hoe, through no fault of their own, but I think they are well on the road to success.

“USDA or BATF.” I believe we should have gone with USDA supervision, but most believed in sticking “with a devil we know.”

“A Fresh Look at Young’s Market Co.” Daniel Wilson writes an in-depth account of this very large distributor, one of the two remaining state-wide wholesalers left in California.

“U.S. is World’s Seventh Largest Exporter of Wine.” Old buddy Joe Rollo, who is Wine Institute’s export chief, said the outlook for growth was still very good. So onward we roll.

There were clouds on the horizon, but ’94 seemed to be a good year for most of us.

“Honor Yahweh–then your barns will be filled with barley and your

vats overflowing with new wines.”

–Prov. 3:10.

RELATED ARTICLE: Napa Growers Take Sustainable Message Public

The Napa Sustainable Winegrowing Group (NSWG), formed in 1995, is bringing its message to the wider public, in hopes that the community at large will adopt its techniques for home gardens and other projects.

“We are trying to include the community in the common effort of preserving our watershed and also informing them of the good things our local farmers are doing,” Astrid Bock-Foster, NSWG coordinator, told the Napa Valley Register. The group plans five warkshops on different topics throughout 2004, all of which the public may attend, and one of which will be geared specifically toward the lay public.

RELATED ARTICLE: Wrap-it Transit Handles Tasting Orders

Wrap-it Transit, Inc., American Canyon, Calif., is offering a new service in response to an amendment to the Alcoholic Beverage Control Act, allowing wineries to take orders at charity tastings.

Under the new program, tasters can fill out a single composite order form and consolidate purchases from various wineries at events sponsored by private, nonprofit organizations. Wineries must still process credit card payments, then Wrap-it Transit will provide winery pick-up, storage and shipment of the orders. For more information, visit the Web site winepacking.com.

RELATED ARTICLE: Bottleneckers Tout California Grown

Two major grocery chains in Northern California recently began stocking wine bottles decked with bottleneckers promoting them as “California Grown.” The neckers were installed on more than 30,000 bottles of Meridian Santa Barbara Chardonnay at Safeway stores and Gallo/Frei Brothers Redwood Creek Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon at Albertsons stores.

The California Grown program is overseen by the Buy California Marketing Agreement. The neckers, which bear the “old style,” blue and gold California license plate, were designed specifically for wine bottles, but may be adapted for use on other bottled products.

RELATED ARTICLE: Air Conditioner Fights TCA

Testing of an innovative air conditioning system shows promising results in eliminating traces of TCA contamination in wineries. The Vineo air conditioner, developed by the French company CIAT and its partner Ahlstrom Corporation, was tested in 2001 and 2002 in independent laboratories and in two French wineries. “In 2002, (producer A) received no complaints at all for reasons of cork taste,” according to Christer Pihl, Ahlstrom’s senior vice president for innovations. The previous year, that producer had received customer complaints about cork taint in some 12,000 bottles.

The Vineo system utilizes Ahlstrom-developed filtration media to prevent cork taint from developing in wines during the pre-bottling phase. It also incorporates a UV light and an air ventilating system. The Vineo was awarded a silver medal at the biennial SITEVI wine industry exhibition in Montpellier, France. For more information, visit the Web site ahlstrom.com.

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