Look back to the future

Cribari, Al

The February 1932 edition of The California Grape-grower (now Wines & Vines), features the Thompson Seedless (Sultanina). And with good reason. The Thompson, at the time, was grown on one-third of the vineyard acreage in California. The supply–due to a faulty WWI food program, as I understand it–was superabundant and the prices super low. As a result, growers were seeking outlets other than raisins, and so they began to ship fresh. I had the feeling that the Thompson grower saw the prices being paid for good, sound, ripe juice grapes and not only began to drool, but to act. Thus, the market was flooded with early, unripe and sour Thompsons. One taste or one purchase and the housewife was finished for the season with our little Sultaninas. What was needed was to educate the farmer and shipper so that the grapes would be as ripe as the-then current shipping methods would allow. Next, an attractive pack was required and then an education of the trade and the housewife so that all would know that the Thompson w as ripe when it was touched with a golden hue. Yeh, we farmers know that when Sultaninas are golden they are truly ripe, but I don’t think that such ripeness was possible in those days in the markets east of Reno. At that time, I believe that Thompson/Sultanina would have ruled the fresh grape market, if only they could have teen shipped ripe. It was seedless, juicy, sweet, thin-skinned and even a bit pretty.

“Forty countries are now connected by telephone with the United States.

“Motor trucks are hauling approximately 15 percent of the total shipments of fresh fruits and vegetables transported 20 miles or more to market.” So sez the USDA.

1930s humor–“I can’t marry him, mother. He doesn’t believe there’s a hell.” “Marry him, my dear, and between us we’ll convince him that he’s wrong.” As quoted by The California Grower (W&V) in their “joke” page.

In the February 1952 edition of Wines & Vines, combined with “The Wine Review,” we read that the French are again complaining about U.S. policy on French imports. This time it is about the fact that French brandies are taxed at $10.50 per wine gallon while American brandies are taxed at $10.50 per proof gallon, resulting in an extra $3.53 per case of 86 proof French brandy. In my opinion, this was nitpicking and was counterproductive. If my arithmetic is correct, the “penalty” amounts to about 30 cents per bottle. The French should learn to quit bitching about inconsequential matters and get down to negotiating ways to let American wines into France with the same facility we allow French wines into the good ole US of A.

The wine depression was still on as reflected in the reports of the wholesale wine market in several cities. To wit: New York City–Low priced locally bottled wine moving well. Washington–Good volume on locally bottled goods, which enjoy about 75% of the market. Chicago–Large movement of cheaper wines, particularly in pints. Etc. Sickening.

But the market was changing, albeit few could recognize it. We were on a roll in all respects–profits, prestige and growing volume in moderate and premium priced table wines. As Wines & Vines expressed it, “Things are looking up.” This would last for about 40 years. Unprecedented.

“A Wines & Vines Report on Franchise Bottling, by Irving Marcus.” This was an important article historically, as it reflected what was to prove to be a dead-end development in our industry. Interestingly, as franchise bottling grew, due to several cost advantages, a Roma Wine Co. official said, “The current situation is an unhealthy one for California-bottled (wines).” Naturally, the Gallos, determined to bottle only at their winery, found a way to overcome the cost advantages of franchise bottling. As I recall, they instituted (applied for) a special rate (at this time the ICC sent railroad rates) for what we termed “10 car multiples.” In other words, if 10 freight cars were loaded at a winery with cased goods for one destination, the freight rate was very especially low. Again, leave it to Uncle Ernie. Who else could do this but Gallo?

But I can’t let this idea rest here as ISC came up with counter measure–“The Ship.” Yep, Bob Ivie, of Guild fame, found a way to send bulk wine to eastern franchise bottles via the cheapest possible way–the tanker SS Angelo Petri.

“Consumer Taste Preference.” Again, this is of historical interest. At the state fair in Sacramento, UC Davis personnel conducted a series of public wine tastings. The object, I presume, was to determine the public’s preference for various degrees of sweetness in wines. To over-simplify, the fairgoers were asked to taste red, white and sherry wines at two levels of sweetness, one dry and the other a bit sweet. The public chose, overwhelmingly, the sweeter wines. But these tests are not of much value. If the general public is asked to come out of the typical summer heat of Sacramento into a cool atmosphere and is presented with some sweet drink, whether it be sweet wine, a cola or orange juice versus a dry wine, what do you think the average weary, thirsty, hot, unsophisticated “traveler” is going to prefer? I know. I did it.

“The Borangno Grape Stabilization Plan.” This was a stratagem to gradually prevent nonwine grapes from being used to make wine. I didn’t think too much of the plan, and I guess it went nowhere. But it does indicate how bad things were in our industry and how hard people were trying to solve the surplus grape problem.

“Grower Cooperative to Make Concentrate for Non-Wine Use.” A new coop of growers was organized as the Lodi Grape Products Cooperative Association. It was dedicated to finding markets for grape products outside the current market. It would produce concentrate and sell to firms specializing in making nonalcoholic grape products. Good idea, I suppose, but probably 15 years or so ahead of its time. Don’t remember anything about this venture.

“New Book on Table Wines.” Reviewed by (the late) Walter S. Richert who writes, “This book is as close to a must for anyone in the wine industry as any wine publication can possibly be.” I agree, and I’m sure most of you all do too. It is, of course, “Table Wines” by Amerine and Joslyn ($4.50).

“Pressure Tank Fermentation of Wine, by H.P. Olmo.” This seemed to me to be a great idea, but I was never able to experiment with it, as we were too busy running a business. I felt it had truly great potential, but apparently not much has come of it. Am I wrong?

“Charmat Expert Dies. George Paul Darcy, who introduced the Charmat process of sparkling wine production to California, died last month.” He was head champagne maker for Roma Wine Co. from 1940 to 1947. At our “cellar in the clouds ” in NYC, I was learning the trade of Charmat champagne making beginning in the summer of 1937 or so. Wine buffs may be interested in the process. We would take the wine, shipped in tank cars from our winery in Madrone, Calif., (now Morgan Hill) and process it as follows (we had difficulty stabilizing the wines, so my uncle and dad believed in doing everything twice!):

First, we heat stabilized the wine by putting it through the pasteurizer. Then, we added bentonite (as indicated by a bench test), filtered into the pressure tanks, added the yeast (and yeast food, as I remember) and fermented until dry. At this point, we added tannin and gelatin. Then we chilled to 28[degrees]F for 10 days, rough-filtered off the lees and added the dosage. This was a blend of brandy, sucrose and meta-bisulfate (sufficient to bring the free [SO.sub.2] to, I believe, 150ppm!). We produced two types–Brut, at about 0.0 Balling, and the Extra Dry, at about 1.5 Balling. And lastly, we polish filtered to the bottling tanks. Poor wine!

“Supply a Demand of 1 Billion Gallons, by Louis R. Gomberg.” “Lucky” Lou also got all swept-up with the great wine market and euphoria of the ’70s and postulated an USA wine market of a billion gallons by 2000. But, to his credit, he didn’t predict it. Merely said it as possible, and, yes, California could supply the demand. A reasonable assumption.

“In Chill New Hampshire A Vineyard Industry Has Been Born.” And I was surprised to see this. My father’s great friend, a baker from the Greenwich Village neighborhood of NYC, dreamed of such a thing but never pulled it off. So now his much younger brother, John Canepa, does it. But I doubt it survived.

Anyway, the industry was prospering as it seldom did before. Happy Times.

Editor-at-Large, Philip Hiaring, Sr., reports in the February 1992 edition of Wines & Vines that DISCUS (Distilled Spirits Council of the United States) is quoting government statistics to refute the belief that underage drinking is out of control. This is the kind of propaganda that is needed to throw at the DRYS. By that I mean using solid statistics to lay low the erroneous statements used by the opposition.

“Writer Hank Rubin is staying put in San Francisco.” He will no longer maintain NYC office.

“J. Patrick Dore wines added a southeast manager, Robert J. Kennedy.” Both are old buddies.

“Wente exports 35% of production to 46 foreign countries.” John Schwartz, director of exports, said that Wente recently sent to Greece the first California wines available in that country. This is some sort of record. It is hard for me to believe that Wente has developed such a huge export business. But they deserve it.

“Is Drinking a Sin?” So asks “The Plain Truth,” published by the Worldwide Church of God. The church noted, “But God doesn’t condemn all alcoholic beverages under all circumstances.” This is another “hard-for-me-to-believe statement.” Of course, the church, being based in Pasadena, Calif., does make the statement somewhat easier to believe, but, nonetheless–WOW!

From “Wise & Otherwise” by Philip E. Hiaring–“For sure the ’60 Minutes’ TV report on the French paradox was good for red wine sales. Wine Institute indicated…sales jumped 524,000 gallons” in the month following the show. This settled the argument over whether TV advertising pays. Too bad we can’t keep it up.

“A $2 million expansion of the Viticulture and Enology Research Center at California State University, Fresno is underway-financed by private industry with no taxpayer money.” Prof. Vincent E. Petrucci, director of VERC (Viticulture and Enology Research Center), told W&V that a capital campaign will be launched early in 1992 to endow research. Prof. Petrucci is a dynamo in this sort of thing. I am very proud to be connected with CSU Fresno and “prof.” Vince, who started the enology course practically on his own and seemingly financed in the same way.

“Concord still #1.” In New York, that is. Wonder what the figures are now. Or course, most Concords are used fresh and for juice. To an Easterner, grapes mean a “foxy” Concord.

But as I write this on New Year’s Eve 2001, I feel we now have a truly solid industry, surviving as it is a recession and WTC/9-11. Could we have done this 20, 30 years ago? I think not. A great time to be a wineman.

And, of course, a Happy New Year to you all!

“And Noah, he often said to his wife, when he sat down to dine, I don’t care where the water goes, if it doesn’t get into the wine.”

G.K. Chesterton

COPYRIGHT 2002 Hiaring Company

COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group

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