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Look back to the future – overview of wine industry history – includes related article on Nickel and Nickel and Trinchero Family Estates wineries

Look back to the future – overview of wine industry history – includes related article on Nickel and Nickel and Trinchero Family Estates wineries – Column

Al Cribari

This is supposed to be a Wine Industry history column–and I hope it is–but writing the column on October 11, I just cannot help reflect upon the events of a month ago. So God bless the innocent victims.

The December 1931 issue of The California Grower (now Wines & Vines) is mostly about the Christmas season, but there are a couple items of current interest.

“Chicago’s 1933 Exposition.” This was a grand affair, and I remember it fairly well. The magazine is hawking the World’s Fair as a “marvelous opportunity” to advertise California grapes.

“The Future of the Wine Grape. This is a somewhat pessimistic projection of the sale and use of wine grapes, due to the decline of the immigrant (foreign born) population. This decline was, and is, due to the severe restriction on immigrants, particularly from Southern Europe. The author, an H.W. Wrightson, concludes that the

native American population won’t make wine at home as they really don’t know how and really are not given to wine drinking. He does hold out a ray of hope, however. “…If the American home can be provided with wine grape juice or concentrate, then it becomes possible to develop the use of this beverage in the diet…and the culture of the juice grape in California may not decline as…predicted.” A sage comment, no?

The Depression was continuing to spread, grow and terrify. In fact, there was genuine cause for alarm over the possibility of vast civil unrest. Scary.

The December 1951 issue of W&V (combined with The Wine Review) is much about technical matters. This was usual format before the American Society of Enology was formed and began to issue its own technical journal. W&V was always a good

business partner for our industry, and its technical section was always carefully read by me as a winemaker.

“Non-Table ‘Table’ Wines.” This was regularly a problem in the “old days”; that is, in what classification do we put light, sweet wines, kosher (specially sweetened) wines and berry wines? Since we classified wines (right after prohibition) as either sweet, i.e. 20% wines or dry, 12% wines, we obviously were oversimplifying the classification. So then we (actually Leon Adams) came up with the idea of “dessert wines,” including aperitif wines and “table wines.” The latter were to be consumed with food. But how does one fit kosher and berry wines into this class? I never worried much because many of my friends, acquaintances and companions drank beer, scotch and martinis with their meals (as an aside, I would like to say that in those days I might be served a port at dinner by my friends of Northern European extraction!). But the statistics worried me because they could nor track the growth of table wines accurately enough.

We knew true table wines were growing in sales, but by how much? As it turned out, it was more than we thought at the time. The problem more or less cured itself–kosher wines, light sweet wines and berry wines are, apparently, no longer statistically important.

But then in the very rough times (for our industry) of the ’50s, many of the big marketers started to worry about homemade wine. They even started to call it “basement wine” to denigrate the producers and product. W&V estimated that in the year of 1951, about 20 million gallons of wine were produced by home winemakers from about 7,600 cars of juice grapes shipped East. This does not count grapes shipped within California. Our magazine reports that about 13,000 people applied for permits to make wine at home in California alone. So the table wine business was growing, but it didn’t show up in the statistics.

And while we’re speaking about home winemakers, I might add that I was invited, as usual, to a harvest festival by one of the biggest and most professional home winemakers I’ve ever known. Gabriel Patin, by name, in the old winemaking center of Santa Clara Valley, produces some of the best wine obtainable. Davis trained, he knows what he is doing, and what he is doing is what I have always hoped our industry would do commercially–produce table wines without clarifying, or filtering or chilling, thereby keeping maximum flavors and aromas. He makes only reds and has a steady flow of “tasters.” He sells nor a drop and makes his wines available to various fundraisers, churches and charitable events of all kinds. He says he has about 400 vines as of this date (2001) and uses no sulphur compounds in his production. Naturally, he is scrupulously clean. As a traveling companion, and chauffeur, with my father and uncles, I’ve tasted all kinds of home wine from the undrinkable to the sublime, and Gab’s vintages rate a t the top.

“Grape Juice from California.” Nifty article about the Celia operation producing a grape juice from California to compete with Welch. Called “Betsy Ross,” it was a smart merchandising idea but, as usual, was not successful. Consumers like California wines but not its grape juice.

“Control of Grape Phylloxera.” Scientists from the USDA report on the successful treatment of Emperor grapes infested and stunted by root phylloxera. They used a DDT-dichlorethyl ether mix suspended in water and applied to the roots. So what happened to this treatment?

“ATU changes name, head, future program.” It has become the Alcohol, Tobacco and Tax Division of the Department of Internal Revenue; a.k.a. ATTD.

With 1951 drawing to a close, the industry had to lick its financial wounds and tighten its belt for another year.

Twelve/1971 is the designation for the December issue, surprisingly showing a photo of a statue of Sr. Genevieve as “patroness of Wine Growers” on the cover. She lived a long time ago-about 500 A.D. Reputedly, she saved Paris from the Huns by her prayers. How she got into the wine business, I don’t know, but anyone who could save Paris from the Huns by prayer alone deserves all honors-no?

Editor Irving Marcus wrote a whole editorial about Zinfandel-the wine. Seems that he liked it but it didn’t seem to “get no respect.” I’ve never run across such a viewpoint, but I do know that many wine buffs tell me that they just don’t like Zinfandel. Why?

In a full-page ad Leon Peters delivers a message to wineries that should cement them to Valley Foundry forever. But the company only lasted a few years more. Sad.

“Canandaigua Hits Sales High.” They reported that during fiscal ’71 sales exceeded sales for fiscal ’70 by 20%. Nothing much new here; they’ve been doing it for years and still are.

“Gamay Beaujolais-Mirassou likes the Ladies.” That’s ’cause Dan and company have described their varietals as women-she’s “warm, high-spirited and spicy. With her you may discover the truly good life.” Sounds as though Dan is describing some of his best dates.

“TAC Honors Cash.” He invented the Cash volatile acid still and was founder of the TAC in 1942. “Spot” was about our second technically educated “wine chemist” at B. Cribari & Sons.

“Beaulieu Proud of British Week.” B.V. was served exclusively at two gala affairs headlining British Week in San Francisco; so said Legh Knowles, VP/general manager.

“Gallo At Yalta.” In a well-publicized (for Gallo) trip to the Soviet Union, “Uncle Ernie” seemed to have a good time and a well-deserved diversion (if not a rest). He also brought along a bottle of Hearty Burgundy–one of my favorites. Reminds me, I’ll have to try it again, soon.

“Swedes Vote Wine 1st; for the first time ever, wine sales have exceeded those of spirits in Sweden.” A very good sign and cause for much rejoicing in our industry.

“Weibel Has Sparkling Wine Fountain.” A champagne wine fountain capable of retaining the full effervescence of the wine was announced by Huntington & Rice, marketing agents for Weibel. I thought it was a very good idea at the time. But where is it now? Fred? Oh, Fred?

Nifty picture of my bygone buddies of the old National Association of Wine Producers and Bottlers. All but John Bardenheier are gone now, but the Sands outfit is still growing strong.

This year may be the high point of the Cold Duck craze as “Wise & Otherwise” reports that Korbel and Great Western have introduced their versions of Cold Duck–with TV ads yet.

“The New Look Is The Young Look….” Yep, at the Wine Institute meeting in Palm Springs I recognize almost nobody in the photos. Even the guys I know more than somewhat–Joe Franzia, the Mirassou brothers, et al, are too youthful in the pictures for me to recognize immediately. Tempus does fugit.

“Extension for another three years of the marketing order under which the WAB operates was recommended without dissent… at the Wine Institute meeting.” Interestingly, this probably was the year in which our industry began to obtain a wonderful and impressive prestige in the press and particularly the Eastern press. It was also another year of prosperity for most of us in the business.

The December 1991 edition of W&V is the Champagne issue, and a nifty cover photo it has. The scene is right out of my memory from my second Eastern sojourn–beautiful winter-brown vines standing against an inch or so of snow. Double curtain (two trunks) put it in Upstate N.Y., as I remember it. Unfortunately, I could not see any photo acknowledgement.

We begin-appropriately–with a discussion of “sparkling Wine” vs. “Champagne.” Rather boring to me, but I do know it is vital to the big exporting wineries (as quoted by Carolyn Wente, one of my favorite Ladies of Wine) plus the wine writers who bow to the pleas of the foreign wine producers and importers.

Deja vu: the U.S.A. strikes back. Just heard of the combat action in Afghanistan. How can one write a column with all this action taking place?

“The submerged flor sherry process.” A fine presentation by Wineman of the Year, Phil Posson. His sherries were great, but I think that most California producers have found that most Americans do nor like the flor taste. Our Elie Skofis produced some great flor sherries, but while they obtained critical excitement, they just did not sell–not even in a blend.

“Robert Mondavi Released its First Bubbly.. .finally. . .after more than a decade of experimentation to coincide with winery’s 25 anniversary.”

And… “Robert Finigan, executive director CM/CV has a shot via a letter on the use of the word champagne on California wines.” Well, as I’ve always said, “Let’s ‘do it’ as long as, and as soon as, La Belle France lets American wine into Gaul as easily as we allow French wine into the good ole U.S. of A.”

So we end 1991 with a good and optimistic mood in our industry. Now, in this war year of 2001, we can stew as to whether Americans will go out and enjoy dining or stay home and drink fine wines or just stay home. Let’s go out, even if it hurts a bit.

“Canandaigua: We’re #2.” Now Constellation Brands, the outfit is currently #2 and still growing. Oh yes, it’s now listed on the Big Board at about 45 and weathering the 9/11 event quite nicely.

“FORBES’ Picks.” That is, the Gallos. The Bros were listed in Forbes mag. as 25th and 26th richest Americans ahead of Robert Haas of the Levi Strauss family at 28th. Not bad for a pair of grape growers from Modesto. Which reminds me, haven’t heard much of Rep. Condit since the Sept. 11 terrorist attack.

“More Ch. 11.” Hanns Kornell Champagne Cellars Inc. has filed for bankruptcy protection. Melancholy ending for a hard working Nazi refugee and all around nice guy.

“Prison for fraud.” Yep, that’s what a coupla’ brothers got (as W&V so delicately put it) for “passing off lower quality varieties as premium wine grapes.

“TV coup.” That’s the “60 Minutes” story on the French Paradox, which got our industry so much fine publicity. If you remember, it was about how the French eat so much fat (pate, etc.) and yet get fewer heart attacks. It’s the wine-of course!

“Korbel bought Master Cellars from Anheuser-Busch.” This was a major expansion for Gary Heck’s outfit. Master Cellars is the old DiGiorgio facility near Bakersfield, and a fine one it is.

And in conclusion, ’91 was another pleasant year for most of us in the industry.

RELATED ARTICLE: Nickel & Nickel Breaks Ground On Winery Construction

In June, Nickel & Nickel broke ground on the first phase of a winery building and historic restoration project. Located adjacent to Nickel & Nickel’s Sullenger Vineyard in Napa County, the winery’s custom design will enable the handcrafted production of small-lot, single vineyard wines. Plans call for completion of the barrel cellar and part of the winery’s fermentation facility in time for the crush of 2002.

Nickel & Nickel will eventually produce up to 25 single vineyard wines from several varietals. Production facilities will include four sizes of jacketed tanks, bladder and basket presses, and a barrel room that will encompass separate, temperature-controlled bays, allowing for supervision of the microclimate within each bay.

Trinchero Family Estates Debuts New Brand

Trinchero Family Estates, the Napa Valley wine company that owns Sutter Home, M. Trinchero and Montevina wineries, as well as the Fre, Soleo and Sutter Home Food brands, has introduced a new entry in the fast-growing super-premium wine category.

The new brand–Trinity Oaks–features Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Zinfandel vinified from a blend of Central Coast and Lodi/ Sacramento Delta region grapes. The wines retail for $10 and are available nationwide.

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