Look back to the future

Look back to the future

Al Cribari

The March 1932 edition of The California Grower (Wines & Vines after Repeal) is designated as the Special Mission Grape Number. As such, it is full of articles praising this variety. And well it should. The Mission performed a most noble role in the development of our industry and California as a whole.

It was a wonderful and serendipitous event when the Franciscans from Spain brought this variety with them. In a pioneer setting, what grape could they have chosen that was more suited to the pioneers’ purposes than the Mission? It made a good eating grape, a passable raisin, a decent white wine grape (ditto for red wine) and a fine brandy grape. What else could be asked of a single grape variety? Was this choice one of luck or studious search?

Even as late as the early 1900s, a grower, Mr. Henry Lachman, had this to say about the Mission grape: “The Angelica made from this grape has never been excelled; the white wine produced from it developed qualities equal to some of the finest German types, the saccharine [sic] in these grapes maturing at not less than 24 degrees.” While I certainly don’t agree with Lachman’s statement about the German type wines, I surely do agree that the Mission did (and does?) make a wonderful Angelica. I say so because it was, and probably still is, the most popular Sacramental wine, especially among the Irish-American R.C. clergy (it doesn’t stain the altar linens or spoil easily). And I made plenty of it.

“Looking ahead at the California Grape Industry.” This article is a rather dismal review of the state of the 1932 grape market, which, of course, was just a reflection of the state of the national (and world) economy. In a word–scary. Could it have been prevented?

“Features of April issue.” This article will be about the Mataro (Mourvedre), which, in 1932, was “one of our best known black juice varieties.”

“Federal Government’s Display at Chicago.” President Herbert Hoover has signed the bill providing a million dollar government exhibit at “A Century of Progress” exhibition (World’s Fair) in Chicago in 1933. A million went a long way in ’32. It was a great show.

“Concord Grapes Sold as Alicantes.” Bartholomew Pio (he of the famous brand of wine in Pa., bought by the Gallos in–what?-the ’60s) calls our attention to an abuse that must be corrected. He says, “In 1931, the Alicante had a new competitor and that was the Concord grape…. That grape started to come to Philadelphia packed in Sanger lugs lidded…. A good many of them were sold by unscrupulous peddlers for Alicantes.” Hard to believe, but I’ve seen similar “switches” performed in “modern” times. The tragedy is that most Westerners and Italians would spit out any wine made from a Concord.

“Junipero Serra’s Chain of 21 Missions.” I was surprised to see such an extensive article about the California Missions in The California Grower, but, of course, this was the “Mission Grape” issue, and such an article was not misplaced. The article is a reprint of a Mr. Louis Allen’s article in the magazine Motor Land, which, I believe, was at the time the publication of the California Automobile Association. Fr. Serra, a Franciscan, founded the Mission chain in the mid-1700s and brought winemaking to California using the Mission grape.

“Nationwide Prohibition Poll. What is the present opinion of the people of the United States on prohibition? You may soon know. Literary Digest is polling the nation on this one.” As I recall, Literary Digest, the leading news mag of the day (similar to Time), conducted many polls until it ceased publication when it predicted a Hoover win over Roosevelt.

“Prunings from the Press” (from The California Grower) or 1930s humor: Lawyer: “Was your car under complete control at the time?” Defendant: “Yes, my wife was sitting in the rear seat.”

Lousy joke and lousy times. Our industry, the state, the country and most of the world saw nothing but fear ahead.

The March 1952 issue of Wines & Vines–combined with The Wine Review–has a sound suggestion; that is, to have the “Post Office to put out a commemorative stamp honoring some facet of grape growing and wine making.” I think this is a grand idea for Wine Institute to promote.

This edition is much about the sorry state of the industry. Prices are not only unstable but are again lowering. However, by summer, prices had just about stabilized, as I recall. The relief that is around the corner, of course, cannot be seen by any in the business, at least as far as I can remember. But it was there, and we only had to wait another year or so to find we were on a climb to unexpected respect and profits that would last 30 to 40 years. What a ride.

“Basic Fair Trade.” Congress is being asked to pass a bill that would make a contract between one distributor and one retailer binding on all retailers in that area. I guess it didn’t pass.

“American Society of Enologists holds Meeting, Election” in Fresno. Old Timers maybe get a kick out of the list of officers: President, Dale Mills (Gibson); Vice-president, Hans Warkentin (Twining Labs); Secretary, Walter S. Richert (at liberty); Treasurer, Roy Mineau (Cresta Blanca). Knew them all.

“Franzia, Senior, Dies.” He was 81, and the founder. He leaves the winery to his sons.

“Welch’s Wines Sign Eddie Cantor.” I had forgotten all about Welch’s Wines.

“Kosher Brandy Offered.” A Schenley affiliate is now offering it under the L’Chayim label.

“Sweet Wine Producers Meet” in Fresno. They elected Ted Cribari president, succeeding Gordon Bordson, with Al Burton as first VP; Joe Gazzara, second VP; and Andy Frericks, treasurer.

“Fair Trade Price Enforced.” Wine Corp. of America, producers of Mogen David, obtained injunctions against two Chicago retailers who were selling the brand below Fair Trade price.

“Cook’s Champagne Names Agency.” Now a Celestial brand, it was then a division of Schenley.

“Wine at The Table–And Plenty of It,” as shown by a shot of the dinner table literally littered by wine bottles. Ed Rossi, manager of the Wine Advisory Board, suggested that the industry show more faith in its own product by consuming it more frequently. At the next wine function after Ed Rossi’s article, the Sweet Wine Producers Association came up with 109 bottles of their wine for the 69 guests. OK? And, as far as I can remember, very little of it was Sweet (Dessert) Wine. This was still the era that when ordering a wine at the leading hotels of the area, the cus-tomer was lucky to get the wine by dessert time! Times have changed.

As noted before, our industry was mired in a deep depression that would take years to overcome. But overcome we did, and it began, I guess, about the fall of ’54.

On the cover of the THREE/1972 edition of Wines & Vines, we see a smiling Richard Nixon toasting a very serious Chou En-Lai in American champagne on his historic visit to the Communist world. (I believe it was Schramsberg–Ed.)

“Guild Has 8-Year-Old Brandy.” It’s the Old San Francisco brand and a very good one it was, too. Packaged in a circular” bottle with three different labels depicting San Francisco scenes, it was packed six bottles to the wooden case. I thought it was a winner. But again, I suppose it was the cost and difficulty of introducing a new brandy in a declining “brown goods” market.

“National Elects Dieppe VP.” He was president of Almaden Vineyards and was elected a vice president of the parent company. He joined Almaden in 1955.

“Widmer Profits Up.” It continued to plant on its 500-acre vineyard in Sonoma County.

“Apple Wine in New Hampshire.” More on the Canepa family White Mountain Vineyards at Laconia, N.H. They have brought out their Lakes Region Red and White, and their Canepa Estate Bottled Foch. Hope they did well.

“Hawaiian Wine? It’s Being Talked About on Maui.” Seems that an unidentified reader of W&V is planning to plant a vineyard at the 10,000-foot level. He reports that apples do well at that elevation and so should grapes. Did they? I don’t know.

“Press mention of possible ownership changes for two California wineries–E. & J. Gallo and Charles Krug–brought emphatic turn-downs from winery principals.”

“Franzia Brothers Winery of California filed a registration statement for an offering of the first public sale of its stock” estimated to be between $10 and $20 a share.

Unlike 1932 and 1952, 1972 does not have to be labeled a depression year for our industry. It is doing just fine. In fact, 1971 saw sales of California wines total 226 million gallons–a record. And at a profit, by and large.

Editor-at-Large, Phil the senior Hiaring, writes in the March 1992 issue of W&V about the recent receivers of the WITS awards–Julius Fessler and Phil Posson and their predecessors. They do indeed read like a roll call of the industry’s great winemakers and their colleagues. To name a few–Skofis, Nightingale, Petrucci, Martini and Mondavi. Notice the Italians?

“Don Ladhoff was promoted by Canandaigua Wine, Ltd. (now Constellation Brands) to group product manager for champagne, kosher and specialty brands.”

“Gordon L. Bordson, 85, died Jan. 8 in Delano.” He was with Roma Wine Co. from 1954 to 1970, when he retired. He then became GM of the old Muscat Co-op in Delano.

“Almaden Vineyards introduced Light White Zinfandel.” It has 24% less calories and 35% less ethanol than the “regular” White Zinfandel. Almaden is a division of Heublein.

“B. and G. invoked its founders to laud its ’91 Chardonnay and Beaujolais.” Yep, B&G means Daniel Guestier and Thomas Barton-as founders, that is.

“Grocers’ varietal wine sales jumped 22% after ’60 Minutes.'” And then the “blurb” goes on to say that sales of red wines were up 45%. Why would the “60 Minutes” program boost sales of all varietals rather than just all red wines, both varietal and generic?

“Birthday Greetings to Andre T chelistcheff, who turned 90 in December” (1991). Nope, I didn’t go, but it was a fine affair.

“Mondavi tops the field in Fredrikson ratings.” This winery’s volume growth was 23%; no one else came close. Also, this was the year that Robert Mondavi turned the winery over to his sons, Michael and Tim. Likewise, this was the year of the big drop in wine cooler sales–due mostly to excise tax increases, I believe. This lead to the demise of Messrs. Bartles & Jaymes by Gallo.

“W.I. gave a hand to ’60 Minutes’ TV show.” This via collaboration with Dr. Curtis Ellison of the Boston University School of Medicine. Surely, this was one of the industry’s big PR triumphs.

“Phil Posson honored at WITS.” In the article there is a superb photo of Phil and Max Goldman.

“WITS gets the word on the Spinning Cone.” Seems like a wonderful tool, but where is it now?

So, thankfully, 1992 was turning out to be another fine year for the industry.

“Wine was created from the beginning to make men joyfully and not to make men drunk. Wine drunk with moderation is the joy of the soul and heart.”

Ecclesiastes, 31:34

COPYRIGHT 2002 Hiaring Company

COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group