Look back to the future

Look back to the future

Al Cribari

Big Surprise (to me, anyway). The cover of the Sept., 1934 issue of California Grape Grower (now Wines & Vines) has a photo of our old “Cellar-in-the-Clouds” NYC winery, hosting a meal for the restaurant and hotel men of NYC. This was a simple dinner among the casks of our winery at 26th Street and 11th Avenue in the Starrett-Lehigh Terminal Building. On the third floor. Hence the cloud reference. Great PR hook.

“The Food and Medicinal Qualities of Wine.” This brochure was translated from the French by H.E Stoll, Jr. It was a sincere scientific attempt to prove the value of wine in health, but I think it was seriously flawed. Just one sample: The author states, “The mineral phosphates of wine, which are living, do not act like commercial phosphate, which is a dead medicine.” It would be about 55 years before our industry could obtain solid scientific evidence and persuade the general public and government that we had a healthful product. For that, I think, we have to thank the likes of Bob Mondavi and friends. Meanwhile, we had to struggle with “red wine makes good blood.” Even as a teenager, I was skeptical about that.

However, now we seem to be getting some fine endorsements. We read in a magazine for and by diabetics, Diabetes Forecast, more or less “that there are benefits to moderate amounts of alcohol,” and it enumerates the usual reasons for the decreased risks of heart disease and, of course, (and properly so) the dangers in drinking any amount of alcohol.

“Champagne for Battleships.” Of course, the editor means California sparklers for warships. He is campaigning for the use of American product to launch these American ships and concludes, “Good American wine ought to bring good luck to any American vessel.” Which brings back an old memory for me–and I hope I am not overly stretching your patience–as I left for active duty in ’43, I had been making all our sparkling wine for more than a year (and before that, for a year with my cousin Ted). As I took leave of the winery, I was told that we had received, or would receive, a contract from the federal government for the production of California sparkling wine to launch Henry Kaiser’s Liberty and Victory ships from their Marin yards. The bottles had to be scored and wrapped in wire mesh for ease of breakage and safety. All this I missed out on, after spending years in after-school drudgery!

But getting back to 1934, we began a somewhat new era as we started to get some real competition from easterners, who were beginning to flock to California, not only for the movies but also for the wine business.

The Sept., 1953 issue of Wines & Vines complains–and correctly, in my estimation–that vintners have “only a limited concept of what the public likes in wine,” and further, “there may never be (a practical method to obtain this data) on the scale on which it should be done.” That’s pretty sad, but probably true. All we can do is keep trying. And I do believe that over the years we’ve made some significant progress in this matter.

“The Wine Corporation of America (founded in 1933 as California Wine Co. and formerly best known as a bottler of dessert wine) producer of Mogen David, has changed its name to Mogen David Wine Corporation.”

“Veteran Winemaker Retires.” E. Brown will retire as chief chemist and chief winemaker for Italian Swiss Colony. He has been active in our industry for more than 20 years. It is amusing to note that they were still calling us “chemists,” albeit they did start to add “winemaker.”

“Cresta Blanca Winemaker Named.” Myron Nightingale, formerly with .ISC, moved to Cresta Blanca as “winemaker and chief chemist.”

August wholesale wine market in selected cities: New York: “Wine sales are generally very bad.” Washington D.C.: “Locally bottled and popular priced goods (55-60 cents) doing three-quarters of the volume.” Phoenix: “Low priced, locally bottled goods selling very well.”

“Two Step Up at Schenley.” Gen. J.K. Herbert is newly appointed vice president in charge of all plants and production for Schenley (and moves to NYC). He hands off his former position as production head for Schenley’s West Coast properties to his assistant, Col. Albert H. Burton.

“Ad Agency for Penn. Winery. Wilen Brothers, Inc. of Philadelphia appointed Gray & Rodgers to handle its advertising.” Wilen was one of the big eastern bottlers for California wine.

“Wine gets boost as Germ Killer.” A research student, John Gardner, of UC college of pharmacy, discovered a germ-killing antibiotic substance in wine. This was about the first scientific information we had received which said “wine is good for you:” and was a solid beginning for a steady flow of proven facts that the industry could gradually use.

“Cella Markets New Wine.” This was Betsy Ross, “sorta” a vinifera Virginia Dare.

Chef on Air for Padre.” Chef Milani, noted radio and TV personality of Los Angeles, is shown with one of his new sponsors, James L. Vai of Padre Vineyards Co.

“Vintners Greet Missouri Bottler.” Joseph Bardenheier, Sr., head of Bardenheier Wine Cellars, is shown with two of his suppliers, Kerby Anderson of East-Side Winery and Harry Baccigaluppi of California Grape Products. Ol’ Joe was a tough buyer in a tough market. But they owned Missouri, until the Gallos determined to end their regime in what? The late ’60s?

So the industry continued in a rocky fashion, hoping that a cool summer might just reduce the crop enough to allow a profit to be made. Hope does spring eternally in the human breast.

The editorial for the Sept., 1973 issue of Wines & Vines is about the projections of the Bank of America for our industry. For the past 50 years, I have shuddered whenever the good ol’ B of A forecast the wine industry future. In this case, they predicted sales of 650 million gallons in 1980. We actually sold about 480 million gallons. So now you know why we have a surplus.

“Parrot Moves in S.F.” They were still the distributor for Wente (white wines) and Martini (red wines). It seemed to me to be a great arrangement at the time.

“Bardenheier Wine Selected.” It was their Rhine wine that was official for the German-American festival known as the Strassenfest (street festival?) The Bardenheiers were struggling mightily to become producers rather than just bottlers.

“Kern’s ‘World’s Largest Grapevine’ has 9-foot Girth.” It was (or is) at the 4,000 foot level, behind an abandoned ranch house in southwest Kern County. It was planted in 1892.

“Turrentine is Wine Broker.” Dan recently retired as manager of the Wine Advisory Board.

“A 20-Year Chairman Tells the Wine Advisory Board Story.” The chairman, of course, was Ed Mirassou, a good neighbor and fine business buddy. Wonder how Gallo is using their labels now?

“An expert’s insight into the wine distribution business.” This was a study by Lou Gomberg into the use of beer distributors for the wholesaling of wine. His report took up most of seven pages. We at Cribari made very good use of beer distributors wherever practical, but especially in California. On the whole, they did a fine job.

“S.F. State Survey Shows People Need More than Advertising to Buy Wine.” Well yes, I suppose so. But what the article is really about is the fact that the students in a taste test really could not distinguish among three California Burgundies, etc., etc. But I understand. It took me years to grasp that “most people” really do not have very good tasting ability. In my nonscientific experience, about 50% of the population seemingly cannot taste very well (i.e., distinguish between, say, lamb and beef.) Another 25% can tell the difference but don’t really care. About 5 to 10% have excellent palates. The remainder also do, but to a varying extent, and usually with one or two blind spots. As an example: I was always very sensitive to V.A. (vinegar acid), and not to SO2, but my cousin was just the opposite. Compounding all of this is that people seldom tell the truth and do not hesitate to give false reports! So how do we find out what people really like? I don’t know.

On the whole, ’73 was turning out to be a good year for our industry, even though I could see many cracks appearing in our edifice of prosperity. But then, I’m a worry-wart.

The cover of the Sept., 1993 Wines & Vines is a painting by artist Marco Sassone, who created the dramatic scene for the Ferrari-Carano Reserve Red Wine label. In my opinion, it is one of the most interesting and spectacular covers of all. Sorry, I cannot describe it.

In this issue we have an essay by Phil Hiaring Sr., then editor-at-large. Phil tackles the problem of how to increase wine consumption and the twin problem–how to overcome those “who would judge wine as an evil product.” He uses the remarks of a John Theobald. Mr. Theobald is a media analyst and teacher. His proposal–to be very brief–is to tackle the proposals of the Drys and demonstrate their impeachability, and to link wine to other products which can cause harm if improperly used, such as beef, autos, football and milk.

“Beringer Winery named new PR manager.” This would be Carolyn Denholm. Wasn’t too long ago in my mind (but, ofcourse, it was some 57 years back) that cousin Fred Abruzzini left his job at Cribari’s Madrone Winery to become general manager of Beringer Bros. I suppose many of you know what happened. Fred invited Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman, stars of the movie “Saratoga Trunk,” which was being shot nearby, to the cool old caves of Beringer. I think I can say that the rest is history. The wonderful tours of the Napa Valley wineries were created. Good show, no?

“Why not ship wine, not guns?” So inquires a Rene Bondeau. This is one of the questions that have bothered me for these long 65 years

or so. We can ship guns all over the country–at least that is what I am told–but not wine. But then what can one expect, when our regulatory agency was the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms?

Dr. Wells Shoemaker is one physician with a keen sense of humor. He submitted a photo of an oil well derrick in the middle of a vineyard, with the caption, “How to make a lot of money in the vineyard.” It was near Edison, Calif., a former major oilfield now prime vineyard land.

“Is ‘wine by mail’ just a dream?” This article is by Wendell Lee of Wine Institute fame, and it addresses the fact that we can order Belgian sunscreen, Chinese silk and so forth from the numerous catalogues that cram our mailboxes, but not wine. Well, as Wendell points out, among the many reasons given is the desire of the states to protect their source of revenue, which in my mind gives the various legislatures a damn good reason to support the distributors and retailers in their protest against this free commerce. Ah well, I am ambivalent about this matter, too.

We also have a refreshing PR release for a Napa restaurant, “A Toast to Meadowood Napa Valley–where every bottle of wine in the cellar is now available by the glass.” The wine pour is 6 oz. (180 ml.) and the price is one-quarter of the bottle price. For bottles priced at more than $100, there is a two-glass minimum. This isn’t history, but it may be a start, and I hope the idea spreads far and wide.

1993 was proving to be a difficult time for most vintners, but the premium producers were still raising prices. At least that’s my memory.

“The factor that advanced the California wine and grape industry the most was the introduction of outside money.

COPYRIGHT 2003 Hiaring Company

COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group