Look back to the future

Look back to the future

Al Cribari

The skinny issue of the February, 1934 California Grape Grower (now Wines & Vines) has little of interest for this column. However, much to my surprise, there is a full-page ad from Owens-Illinois and a full-page picture of Franklin Delano Roosevelt upon the occasion of his 52nd birthday, honoring his effort to bring about Repeal of the 18th Amendment (Prohibition).

“The Dry White Wines of California,” by E.M. Sheehan. This is a report on the status of these wines. Sheehan states, “Frankly, there is a dearth of matured dry white wines in California at this time.” Naturally, as most of the producers were of Mediterranean extraction and to them, “it was the duty of every grape to make red wine.” On top of which we–by which he means nearly all wine men–felt that “mature” meant three or four years old. Almost undrinkable, by today’s standards.

My father was the exception. He especially wanted our San Benito Riesling, of which we had a fair amount growing near Tre Pinos, San Benito County, to be crushed a bit before full maturity and then “finished” and bottled quickly, so as to retain a greenish-gold color and a fine Riesling aroma. But it was tough to get my uncles to do this, as they had been taught to get full sugar in the grapes. My dad (who was hot to sell to restaurants) was coached in his ideas by an old German restaurateur by the name of August Jensen, of Jensen’s Hofbrau (his slogan was, “Jensen Wants To See You”). I was raised with this bone dry wine, and yearn for it still.

Most of the remainder of this issue is taken with explanations of the myriad wine types, grape varieties, steps for production of various winegrapes, and wine types and ways to serve wines.

There is also a fine article on “Native Grapes for White Wines,” by a Mrs. Hedrick of the N.Y. Geneva Station. I wish I had read it before I went to the Finger Lakes and our 100-acre vineyard there.

The 1954 edition of W & V is also a rather slim one, and is more full of technical papers than news. However, the House Ways and Means Committee did approve the recodification of IRS laws and regulations that affected our industry. For most of us, this was solid news.

“Missouri Winery Moves to Calif.” The American Wine Company of St. Louis will be moved to Roma in Fresno. Both are Schenley subsidiaries. The “core” brand was Cook’s American Champagne, which Bob Ivie & Co. resurrected so brilliantly.

“Bordson Gets Schenley Post.” Gordon Bordson, GM of Muscat Co-op, will join Roma Wine Co.

“So. Calif. Distributor for Betsy Ross Wines.” So announced J.B. Cella, president of Cella vineyards. The distributor was McKesson & Robbins, Inc. Remember them?

More old names: “Penna. Wine Assn. Election.” Abe Waxman of Superior Wine & Spirits was elected president. Other officers were Albert Pio, Stephen Gelona, John Margolis, Harold Laden, Joseph Spatola, Max Keyser, Ray Kasser and Lee Hinds. Knew most of them. Pio was a sometime customer. He sold to Gallo a few years later.

“Franzia Mellow Wine Special.” The Franzia Bros. put a deal on for its Vino Rosso da Famiglia.

“Berrycup Cut-Out Display Carton.” Quality Fruit Wines Corp. of Yonkers, N.Y., is the marketer.

“Mission Bell Ad Agency named.” The firm of Donahue & Coe has been named advertising agent for Mission Bell Wineries. Mission Bell was in the Leigh-Starrett Bldg. with Cribari in NYC.

“TV Show for Eastern Wine Corp.” Chateau Martin was their flagship brand, Martin Lefcourt their president and Chateau Martin a really big-selling N.Y. sparkler in the New York market.

“Almaden Sets Merchandising Program.” Almaden Vineyards is doubling its merchandising efforts this year, said H. Peter Jurgens, VP and GM of the winery.

“Vintner Group Re-elects Officers.” These were Henry Krum, A.H. Burton, Joe Gazzara, A.G. Frericks and Bert Gilbert. Also, Andy Frericks presented Sam Harkleroad with a gift to celebrate his election as a lifetime director, and at the same time, E. Pusey Cain was elected a lifetime member. Brings back big memories (most of them crummy!).

“Turmoil in California.” This was a long article about the hearing for the continuance of the Wine Marketing Order. For you youngsters, this was a method of advertising and promoting wines under a federal law, in which wineries could be assessed to pay the costs.

Naturally, the most successful and largest companies opposed such assessments, figuring they could do a better job advertising their own products than an industry-wide program. The smaller and more numerous wineries disagreed. Thus, the “turmoil.”

Dessert wine was outselling table wine by about 4-1, and there was scant hope for a rise in prices. Things were tough, and weren’t about to get better for a while.

The “TWO/1974” edition of W & V is the Vineyard Issue.

“Jacobs does Concannon PR.” They selected Julius for their new program.

“B-V promotes Two.” Browne Vintners moved Stephen Kaufman and ol’ buddy Richard Leland to product managers on Paul Masson wines. Rich was with me at Guild/Cribari.

“Cribari Joins Cresta Blanca.” No, not me. It’s K.W., aka “Sonnie Boy,” who came back to the “family”–sorta–by marketing Cresta Blanca, which was operated as a subsidiary of Guild. Yep, Ken’s doin’ fine. Just married off his last daughter!

“Meyer Opens Silver Oak Cellars.” Together with Raymond Duncan, Justin took a bold step.

“Wis. Drops Wine Tax Stamps.” This was a significant milestone on the road to “hassle-free” interstate wine commerce. I think we can thank the Gallos and Wine Institute for most of the work.

“A record $671 million vintage.” Very modestly, for some unknown reason, this headline was set in lower case. Howsomever, it was BIG news, and as W & V says, “It is not often that a grape grower …. comes up with both a bumper crop and a high price.” ($156 per ton for almost 4 million tons.) Not bad. But the farmers deserved it. They had it coming. After almost 30 years of truly less than break-even prices, they came up with winning tickets. And so did the vintners. Plus, the latter got plaudits and prestige and profits. A mighty good year, mighty good.

“Canandaigua Wine Company acquired Southland Wine Co. of Richmond, VA” and went on to more and bigger acquisitions into the ’80s, and then into beer, spirits and Lord knows what else.

“In Oregon, the 40-year-old Salem winery, Honeywood, was sold” by the Reinkes for $750,000. Mary Reinke was a gracious woman. I used to try to sell her wine.

“The Wine Museum of San Francisco Opens Its Doors.” This is the first institution in the Western Hemisphere exclusively devoted to the story of wine and its enjoyment. Sadly, it closed its doors in the ’90s as Seagrams closed theirs.

Table wines were outselling desserts about 3 to 1, and our industry was enjoying a good time.

The February, 1994 edition of W & V has on its cover a beautiful close-up color shot of a vine with brand new, 6-inch shoots. Just magnificent. It was taken by a Sue Vanderbilt of Birmingham, Mo. Why I can wax so enthusiastically about this photo, I do not know. Memories, I guess.

Phil “Aldo” Hiaring, Jr., in his Wise & Otherwise column, reminds us again that we should take a survey of the 89% or so of Americans to find out why they don’t drink wine. I agree.

“Urban sprawl: the vine’s worst enemy.” Or so they say. Or at least, so sayeth Larry Walker. Why does ripping out a vineyard to make way for industry or housing seem bad? Sad–true, sometimes. But in the long run, housing and industry mean more customers for our industry, and usually, large capital gains for the farmers. Vines’ worst enemy? I think not.

“A Wines & Vines Special Report–The nation’s vineyards in 1993.” It is a nifty, eight-page article giving the status of vineyards in all the vine growing areas of the good ol’ U.S. of A. Sadly, there is no report on Santa Clara County. The closest they come to my home area is Santa Cruz and San Benito. Yep, urban sprawl done did us in. Sad (c/f above!).

“The Sangiacomos blend tradition and technology.” This is a warm and enjoyable account, by Richard Hinkle, of the family that grows some of the best grapes in California, if not the world. The vineyards are in the Carneros district of Napa and Sonoma counties.

’94 is the time that I began to see in the future a repetition of the overproduction of grapes and wine as in the years past. Thus, ’94 is sorta a benchmark, in that it begins the decline of the four decades of rising prosperity that lifted the wine business to new heights of profits and respectability. Let us give thanks for those 40 years!

Tasting Note: It is times such as this that make me feel sorry for the true wine buffs living outside the San Francisco Bay Area or even California. A friend delivered a case of his own, “hand made” wine to us for Thanksgiving. It is an absolute delight. Surely one of the best wines–red or white–that I have ever tasted. It is Frank and Marilyn Dorsa’s La Rusticana Santa Cruz Mountains blend of Cabernet and Merlot. I give it a nine-and-a-half out of 10. Unfortunately, I doubt if it can be obtained outside the Santa Clara-Santa Cruz area, but if you would like to try it, there is no reason that I know of that it cannot be ordered from a friend or acquaintance and shipped.

Book Review: The Spirits of America by Eric Burns. This is the history of the drinking habits of America since colonial times, and the causes of our repeated Dry spells and finally Prohibition. For someone like myself, who was raised in a Wet family (who never drank spirits and little beer) and believed that Drys were not only anti-Catholic but also anti-almost-everything that was good and joyful and sensible, this book has finally explained to me in a clear and simple fashion what I always suspected after I reached high school: that the drinking habits of Americans, especially in rural America, were dreadful and deadly. In short, it documents the huge amount of alcohol that was consumed by Americans prior to Prohibition (up to half a pint per day per capita!) and the stupidity of the beer and liquor people to stonewall the Drys. In my amateurish opinion, I think this book is a must for anyone in our industry who wishes to keep our country Wet in a civic, practical and moral way, and to realize why the good ol’ U.S.A. went Dry–legally.

“It (wine) does of a truth moisten the soul and lull our griefs to

sleep.”

–Socrates.

RELATED ARTICLE: Expansion Approved, Use Restricted

Deerfield Ranch’s proposed winery expansion to 46 acres adjacent to Highway 12 in the Sonoma Valley was approved by the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, but owners Robert and Pat Rex will not be allowed to build a 250-seat amphitheater. The winery will grow from its current 10,000 annual case production to 45,000 cases to be vinted in a new, 14,000-square-foot structure.

Bowing to pressure from neighbors concerned about added traffic and noise, the supervisors limited Deerfield Ranch to 30 private wine tastings per year for a maximum of 35 attendees, and 20 special events per year for a maximum of 250, according to a report in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. Event hours will also be strictly controlled, to avoid congestion on the winding, two-lane highway.

RELATED ARTICLE: Barrels Roll In Central Coast Quake

The 6.5 magnitude earthquake centered on California’s Central Coast Dec. 22 killed two, injured 40 others, and left several of the 85 wineries in the Paso Robles area awash in wasted wine.

Dover Canyon Winery lost its chimney and an estimated 200 gallons of its 2,000 case per year production, which had been stored in pyramid-stacked barrels. “In some areas, it ran out the front of the winery, 2 to 3 inches deep,” owner Dan Panico told the San Jose Mercury News, which also reported tasting room damage at Harmony Cellars, Edna Valley and Carmody McNight wineries, where wine bottles and olive jars crashed to the floor.

A barrel room worker at Wild Horse Winery received minor injuries when she was buried beneath tumbling barrels. Co-workers emptied the barrels and rolled them away, at a cost of some 1,500 gallons of wine, according to the San Luis Obispo Tribune.

Turley Wine Cellars owner Larry Turley told the Chicago Sun-Times that 700 barrels “toppled like dominoes,” and estimated his losses at more than $1 million, including a barrel of port valued at $24,000.

Like most California residences and businesses, few wineries carry earthquake insurance because of high premiums. Pasquale Mastantuano told the Sun-Times it would cost $2,000 a month to insure his Mastantuano Winery, with a $100,000 deductible. For earthquake damage control measures, please refer to Wines & Vines’ October 2003 feature, “Home Security–make your winery a safer workplace.”

RELATED ARTICLE: Bronco Turns 30

The ever-controversial and formerly publicity-shy JFJ Bronco Wine Co., Ceres, Calif., sent out a press release to mark its 30 years in business. Owned by the Franzia family, part of the California wine industry for more than 110 years (and not connected with Franzia boxed wines), Bronco found itself in the international spotlight in 2003 when its Charles Shaw line of varietals, sold exclusively through the Trader Joe’s chain, became the darling of the press and the marketing phenomenon of the year, selling multimillions of bottles at a $1.99 price tag which spawned the nickname Two-Buck Chuck. Many industry pundits credited Charles Shaw’s unexpected success with pulling the plug on the California wine glut.

The company began in 1974 as a negociant, and began buying up vineyards and labels. It constructed a facility in Napa in 2001, where it recently added a second bottling line. JFJ Bronco ranked No. 4 in Wines & Vines’ 2003 survey of largest wineries in the U.S.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Hiaring Company

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