Look back to the future

Look back to the future

Al Cribari

The consumption and production (called “manufacturing” in the pre-Leon Adams days) of wine in the good ol’ U.S. of A was a topic that occupied much of the August 1934 edition of our predecessor, California Grape Grower. But there is much of interest. For instance, the article “California Production of Wine and Brandy, 1933,” shows that we produced about 32 million gallons of dry wine and 20 million gallons of sweet wine. Of course, in the vintage of ’33, we were still of the opinion that Americans would continue their pre-Prohibition habit of drinking mostly dry (i.e., table) wines. It will be interesting to read, in future editions, how quickly production will change in ’34 and ’35 to meet the realities of the day.

“Preliminary Forecasted Consumption of Wine in U.S. 1934-1944.” In ’34, our editor predicted that Americans would consume 0.266 gallons per capita. For ’44, he predicted 0.754 gallons. Let’s see how accurate Mr. Stoll was. As you may have noted, I am always interested in forecasts–mostly because they are usually so very inaccurate, even if we exclude those made for sales and PR purposes. So far as I can evaluate, E. Gallo and his team have always been pretty much on the money, but only four or five years ahead. But 10 years? No way, except by sheer luck. How many, in ’34, predicted the huge war of ’44?

Lodi is to stage a grape festival on Sept. 7, 8 and 9. “We hope to give our readers full details” on the contest for queen, for which there are 41 entries.

“Choosing a Brand Name for Your Wine.” I find it charming, to a history buff such as myself, to see the names–about 75 of which were suggested by Mr. Stoll himself–that were recommended to the industry, way back in them there olden days. A few of the more unsophisticated are: American Red, Old Constitution, Palais Royale, Pre-war and Queen. Of course, I should also mention that a few of our Cribari brands are on the list.

“California Growers Wineries Inc.” was organized by Dutch Leonard, A. Setrakian, Cameo Vineyards and Charles F. Clapp. They leased the Great Western Winery at Watoke, Calif., and they “made 1,030,000 gallons of sound wine.” Which makes me add the uncharitable, uncalled for and snide remark, “How much unsound wine did they make?”

“The Federal Land Bank will sell a one-man farm that should please anyone who can pay $2,500 in 10 years time.” Home, barn, poultry buildings, underground cement pipe (for you Easterners, this was for irrigation) gravity water. Times have changed!

“Conditioning Wine Containers by (Prof.) Frederic T. Bioletti.” This very thorough article on the subject was another illustration of how the California Grape Grower, and then Wines & Vines did the industry a great service with their technical and practical articles on all phases of our industry, long before there was any professional organization or even widespread technical advice available.

As the crush of ’34 began, there was great optimism among the industry, and the dark clouds of the Great Depression seemed to part for those of us in the wine industry, praise be.

Somehow or other, I seem to have missed all the news and information given in the August 1954 edition of Wines & Vines. But the reason is not hard to fathom. It was crushing time in the San Joaquin Valley, and with a big hi-proof brandy program and big Vino Bianco needs, I was hard at work crushing Thompson seedless, both fully ripe for brandy and with as low a sugar as I could get for the Vino Bianco. Believe it or not, it was very hard to get the farmers to deliver “green” Thompsons. They apparently thought the winery was pulling some sort of fast trick on them–like green fruit weighed less than ripe, but we got more sugar per ton! I wanted the grapes at 16[degrees] Balling, but these were few and far between. I was lucky if I could get them at 18. My father, who died in ’42, always insisted that Tokays were best for this type of wine. But Tokays were unavailable to me except as “strippings and culls.” Such were always too ripe.

More “noise,” as the industry considers another “program.” It is an update on the then-current Wine Marketing Order. The real discussion, as I recall, was not so much the merits of the order itself, but that it was the occasion of the battle between the semi-socialists on the one hand, and the capitalists on the other. I believe the former won.

“McColly on Job at Wine Institute.” Don was formerly secretary/treasurer of the California Farm Bureau Federation. He started his position at WI July 20. A good man.

“July Wholesale Wine Market in Representative U.S. Cities.” Some interesting extracts: Buffalo–Low priced dessert wine sells best; Wilmington–Low priced wine getting most of the volume; Dallas–Volumes of very cheap wine very good; Albuquerque–Good demand for cheap wines. Etc., etc. Depressing report, no? but then, we were in a deep wine depression, yes.

“Contest Winner Named.” Kenneth Knapp, president of Selma Winery, submitted a guess only 330 tons away from the official forecast figure and thus won “the First Wines & Vines Annual Crop Forecast Award” of $100. There is also a great photo of Knapp and Irv Marcus (then-editor of W & V). Yours truly guessed 2,500,000 tons (I’ve always been a round figured guy), only 1 ton away from the official July 1 estimate of 2,499,000 tons, but I got nothin’. Ain’t no justice.

“Thinking It Over,” by Louis R. Gomberg, is an interesting collection of thoughts, but isn’t of great value as it sums up what we already know, i.e., as a nation, wine drinkers we ain’t. Interesting thought: Lou refers to the big drinkers of 20% wines (the consumers of “street wines”) as he writes, “Eventual elimination of this group would save a lot of problems.” And it did, but how we eliminated this group has always puzzled me.

“Howsomever,” as my friend Snuffy Smith would observe, we were doing it as Lou was writing his article. Dessert wine shipments declined from almost 9 million gallons in April ’53 to a little more than 7 million gallons in the same month of ’54. And they would continue to decline.

“Fermentation Products and Flavor Profiles of Yeasts,” by John Castor of UC Davis. This has always been a favorite area of interest to me. I would have liked to research this subject in depth, but “tempus kept fugiting.” It was also my hope that by the time I retired from the industry, we would have several yeast strains that would give different and commercially acceptable flavors and bouquets, as in cheeses.

The year of ’54 was very tough, but some of us were beginning to see a very faint glimmer of light. And indeed, in 1955, we began to have a real turnaround, which lasted for, what? Forty years or more.

This 1974 was a year of much excitement, as the industry continued to enjoy prosperous times, and thus had money to spend on new ideas, new equipment and captivating ads.

“The Wine Writers Visit Beaulieu.” “We want you to see how much we’ve changed, and how little we’ve changed,” said GM Legh Knowles about his company, as he and ol’ Fred Cherry lifted their glasses.

“Cardinal Visits Buena Vista.” Joseph Mindszenty (‘member him?), Primate of Hungary, traveled to Sonoma to bless the winery and vineyards founded by his countryman Agostin Haraszthy. The cardinal was the one who opposed the communist government of that time.

“Mondavi ’69 Cabernet Fetches $125 at KQED Auction.” This was quite a sum for ’74. It was before the big “Johnson” inflation took hold, and prior to the current prestige of California wines. I would guess that the equivalent to the above $125 would be about $1,000 in today’s money.

In Wise & Otherwise, we read that Peter Friedman, president of Sonoma Vineyards, has proposed “that 75 to 89% of a varietally labeled wine be of that variety.” He makes a good point. “The present 51% rule can permit identical labeling of a 100% Chardonnay and a 51% Chardonnay blended with 49% Thompson Seedless.” But don’t his proposed percentages–and the current regulation, which requires varietal wines to contain 75% of the named varietal–permit the same dilution, but only to a lesser extent? Granted, he proposed an improvement, but in my opinion, he should have proposed something like a requirement that all varietal wine have the percentage of all varieties of grapes used in the blend (above, say, 3% or so). This would prevent “cheapening” the blend without consumer knowledge, which, I believe, was Mr. Friedman’s intent.

Also in W & O, Mike Elwood of Llords & Elwood matched his sherries in a blind tasting against such famous names as La Ina, Dry Sack and Bristol Cream. His two dry entries won, and his cream tied with Bristol. Unfortunately, Mike found himself in a cul de sac of sales: dessert wines were declining about 10% per year, and that was about all the Elwoods had to offer.

It was a good year, ’74, but we were having quite a bit of trouble in securing pickers for the harvest, so I contracted for a mechanical picker. What a relief. Made a good year better!

And, as editor Philip Hiaring wrote concerning 1974, “I have never seen in this country … even in the back-waters where nothing but beer and bourbon ever penetrated before … so much interest in wine.”

With the July 1994 issue of W & V, we see a change in the masthead. The new president of The Hiaring Co. is Dottie Kubota-Cordery, as Phil Hiaring (the senior) assumes a less active role. It was sad to watch this vibrant and snappy guy gradually lose his power of speech. For a PR type, it was like speed typists losing their fingers, one by one.

“Commonsense Winemaking,” by Richard G. Peterson, is one of those fine articles on wine, winemaking and grapegrowing that one finds in Wines & Vines. This is on the use and treatment of barrels for wine. Very elucidating.

“Check Out The Coupon.” The Gallos are going with a checkout coupon. This was a great idea, and much better, in my opinion, than the mail-in coupon.

“Canandaigua Wine Co. added new product manager.” He is Jim Kordenbrock, and is product manager for Paul Masson, Cribari, Taylor and St. Regis (the dealcoholized wine). I must confess that it is still odd for me to read that someone else is in charge of Cribari wines. But then, I presume, there is no more Cribari wine to cry over.

“Directors elected Michael, Tim Mondavi to new posts.” R. Michael is now president and Tim is winegrower. My, how fast the kids grow up.

Oral historian Ruth Teiser died of pneumonia June 27. She was in charge of the UC Bancroft Library wine-notable oral histories. She knew most of the notables, and had completed 31 volumes of their oral history transcripts and had five in progress at the time of her death at 79.

“Kirby T. Anderson died at 80 on June 5.” A member of a pioneer California family, he was general manager of Lodi’s East Side Winery and later (with me) a veep at Guild. A fine man, but a bit straight-laced! Nonetheless, a great worker and co-worker.

For the industry, ’94 was a good year; for me it was full of sadness. My wife of 50-plus years died.

Tasting note: Beringer’s 2000 Stone Cellars Shiraz (55%)/Cabernet (45%). My brother-in-law brought this wine over because he was confused by its varietal designation and wanted my explanation. This blend is about all a red wine can be, in my opinion. I do not care for Shiraz alone, and I am not always a big fan of Cabernet Sauvignon, either, but this wine shows how good a blend can be, and I hope that it begins to dispel the consumer prejudice (and winemakers’, too) against blends.

Dissipat Euhius Curas Edaces.

Latin: “Baccus dispels growing cares.”

–Horace (born Quintus Horatius Flaccus), last century BC. A Roman


RELATED ARTICLE: Geyser Peak Strengthens Alexander Valley Image

Geyser Peak Winery, Geyserville, Calif., seeks to reinforce the “central position” it has held in the Sonoma County’s Alexander Valley for more than a century with new packaging for its entire line, renewed focus on Cabernet Sauvignon, the AVA’s dominant varietal, and eventual Alexander Valley designation of all its red wines, beginning this year with the release of 2001 Alexander Valley Cabernet. All Geyser Peak red wines will bear the Alexander Valley appellation by 2005.

The winery has invested more than $30 million in vineyard and winery improvements in recent years, according to Stephen Brauer, president of Geyser Peak’s parent company Peak Wines International, a subsidiary of Jim Beam Brands, Worldwide, Inc. The revamped image is intended to represent “the fruit of those investments….”

The new packaging includes a new label, logo and wood outer-shippers for single vineyard and reserve wines.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Hiaring Company

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group