Look back to the future – wine history – Statistical Data Included

Al Cribari

The May 1932 issue of The California Grower (now Wines & Vines) costs 15 cents each or $1.50 per year, and this copy is The Malaga edition. Naturally, the lead article is “Present Malaga Possibilities.” Overall, there was much praise for the Malaga, and, as usual, the standard complaint was poor quality, immature grapes and careless packing. Surely not the fault of the variety, but I never did think much of this cultivar. In a companion article, the author reports that late Malaga shipment prices are rising slightly due to a decline in the availability of the Muscat– an interesting bit of information about which I was completely unaware. We are advised that the June publication will feature the Petite Sirah– always pronounced “petty SIR-eh” by my family and acquaintances.

“Carlot Unloads of California Grapes.” The sad economic state of the nation is starkly presented with a listing of the “Unloads” (read shipments) of grapes for the years 1928 through 1931 in 66 cities across the nation. Here is a sampling:

Akron–from 278 cars down to 39

Boston–410 to 2,972

Cleveland–1,353 to 506

NYC–13,558 to 10,364

San Antonio–159 to 110

In general, the big industrial cities unloaded about half the number of cars in the above stated period, while the small, nonindustrial cities shipped about three-quarters as much.

The total cars shipped in 1928 was about 52,000, and in 1931, it was about 32,000. Sad.

“Precooling in Warehouses and in Cars.” This article, by an F.W. Allen of the University of California, was about the first to detail the “ins & outs” of precooling and its benefits. This was, apparently, an enormous step forward to getting better fruit to the Eastern consumer, a process that has continued up to the present, making grapes one so the nation’s favorite snack foods.

“Angelica Wine.” A favorite topic of mine, as Angelica was (and, I believe, still is) the most popular wine for Sacramental use. I guess Petri was the last to produce an Angelica for the beverage wine trade. Incidentally, the directions in this article on how to produce a California Angelica is not now used and is illegal (and in the Roman Catholic Church illicit and invalid) because they specify using unfermented grape juice “spiked” with sugar.

“Wine for Foreign Athletes.” This article is a “gasser” in view of our recent Salt Lake City games. Remember, this was prohibition. “Prohibition Administrator Woodcock has made it clear that the foreigners will not be permitted to bring beer and wine along with them.” (How about whiskey?) Sayeth The California Grower, “We have a sneaking suspicion that some kind-hearted residents of Los Angeles will see to it that those foreign athletes… will get their daily rations.” How about “those apples”?

“Roosevelt on Prohibition.” This was a letter (probably “open”) to U.S. Senator Robert F. Wagner of New York. In it, he states several pertinent facts, but the one that is of most interest to us is his philosophy favorable to Repeal and the best means to secure it. This was, “The force and effect of the Eighteenth Amendment can be eliminated… only by a new constitutional amendment.” In light of the disastrous defeat of that Happy Worrier, Alfred Smith, upon the basis of Rum, Romanism and Rebellion, it is remarkable that FDR could so openly espouse the cause of the Wets. But it is plain to see now that he was grooming himself for the presidency, and he was probably busy analyzing the campaign of Al Smith to see what could be salvaged. The situation in 1932 was vastly different than in 1928.

The desire for Repeal was assuming tidal wave proportions due partly to the need for new tax revenue to fuel the Federal and State governments; the sorry state of the economy, which was ushering in a desire to sweep away all old ideas; the realization among top quarters that the Smoot-Hawley Tariff and its corollary, Isolationism, was causing much of the economic distress; the rise of a new generation tired of tying the Rebellion (read Civil War) to the Democratic Party; and the rampant violence of gang wars over bootleg beverages and a desire to try anything to get us out of the economic mire. And last, but not least, was the farm depression that swung the Midwest from the Republicans to the Democrats. I could go on, but you get the idea!

Meanwhile, business was fairly good, collections were lousy and the country was in turmoil.

In the May 1952 Wines & Vines (combined with The Wine Review), we see evidence of the post war wine depression. We select two quotes from the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America survey of the wine market: “New York-Good market in pint of cheap wine; Boston- Big volume is in cheap wines.” Enough said.

“Quality Wine–Why not specific categories?” The article was by a retail wine salesman, a Mr. Edgar Millhouser, and is very well thought out. The main gist is that California should adopt the French system of “Appellation d’origine” and suggested “Estate Grown” pure varietals and “County or District pure varietals.” The man was either very perceptive or a plagiarizer.

“The Industry Goes After Hot Weather Business.” This was a noble effort, but not much was achieved until after the “wine boom” was well under way. When we were in NYC, during the ’30s and ’40s, the summer months were so slow that my dad gave serious thought as to how we could shut down. We turned a profit only in the last three months of the year.

The rest of this issue was the Technical Section, and the lead article, by ol’ buddy Hans Warkentin of Twining Labs, was titled “Analytical Evidences of Improvement in (CA) Brandy.” This was the era of high hopes for a robust brandy business. Sadly, it softened with other “brown goods,” but I do think it will revive over the next 10 years.

“Hanns Kornell Buys Sonoma Wine Co.” Thus began a fine but rather short-lived champagne enterprise by a wonderful gentleman who was also a refugee from Nazi Germany.

If my memory serves me, this spring of 1952 pretty much saw the end of the worst part of the wine depression. From 1952 on, we saw a steady economic improvement.

The May 1972 edition of Wines & Vines features a famous face in a classic (if not trite) pose. It is of the well-known “Professor” Edmund H. Twight, who died in 1957. I put his title in quotes as my uncle, Arthur C. Carmichael (the first college grad we had in the company, that I know of, and even he was a pharmacist) said, somewhat jokingly, that “Prof.” Twight never taught in any school. Be that as it may, the “Prof.” Did great work in a time when educated, scientifically trained winemakers were as scarce as hen’s teeth in our industry. I met him several times but my sharpest memory is of he and my two uncles standing in the little lab we had carved out of the outside wall of our main cellar at Madrone, circa 1932/33.

They were discussing the setup of lab benches and equipment and then shifted to tasting of the wines and the blending thereof. This was right up my alley, as I was always interested in blending. Further, my father in NYC, anticipating Repeal, had been looking for a new and modern premise in which to move our winery and set up a bottling room and lab. I was very excited about the future and my role in it.

In a full page ad, we see the Franzia Brothers advertising common stock in their company at $18.50 per share. I received quite a lift when I read this notice. It seemed that the ad was our industry’s entry into the world of high finance and the respect that would descend upon us. Congratulations, Franzias.

The May 1992 edition of Wines & Vines is the 12th Annual Export/ Import Issue. In it we see a photo of, yet again, another award for my favorite old time wine expert–Andre Tchelistcheff. He is shown receiving Decanter magazine’s annual award. I wish I would have heard him order merchandise by phone. I wonder how long it took him to get his name entered correctly?

From “Wise & Otherwise” by Phillip E. we read that a Madeleine Croteau has this to say about some California wines judged at a French tasting: “I’m sorry to say these wines struck me as ‘transvestites'”! Sad. I have enough trouble with plums, raspberries and figs in wines and now transvestites? No wonder our single malt quaffers and beer guzzling critics think we’re nuts.

“Fresno’s Valley Pipe: shades of Foundry,” i.e., Valley Foundry. Industry veterans remember, fondly, the old Fresno, Calif., firm of Valley Foundry & Machine Works and its principals–the late Leon Peters and his (still kicking) brother, Pete. Sold to Ametek, they let Valley Foundry slide into liquidation. Now Valley Pipe & Supply has purchased all Valley Foundry’s patterns and molds and continues to represent Gates winery hose as well as the Marzola horizontal membrane press people.

“Wente Bros. Developed a Unique Program for Japan.” This enables Japanese tourists in the United States to send Wente wines to their homes. A special three-bottle pack is sent to Tokyo where Wente’s distributor, Marubeni Foods Corp., handles delivery to the homes. Neat, no?

“Cinzano company…has been sold to International Distillers & Vintners.” The latter owns Heublein, and Heublein owns Beaulieu, Inglenook, Christian Bros., Almaden, et al.

Fortunately, our industry was on a roll, and while the mergers went on and on, the prosperity of the wine business seemed to be continuing into the far future. For the first time in many years.

Tasting Notes

Getting over my cold/flu, I was able to taste the other Fetzer wines from their Five Rivers Ranch.

The 2000 Pinot noir was very good wine for its type. I love to taste the various Pinots noir that come to my attention because we grew about 40 acres of the variety at our Evergreen property. In my humble opinion, it’s a rather difficult grape to work with, and I do not think it is always worth the effort. But Fetzer’s medium bodied (which it should be) version went very well with our light meats and will pair nicely with heavier fish such as salmon.

The 2000 Merlot is almost a “great wine”; in my opinion, it’s about what most people would like in a Cabernet Sauvignon. But then I’ve always been a fan of the cultivar. Way back in the ’40s, upon my arrival from “overseas,” I accidentally read very discouraging reports from Davis as to its flatness, etc. But I was able to taste a few experimental batches of Merlot from, I believe, Martini and/or Beringer. I was impressed. Recommended usually to tame the big Cabernets, I found it a delightful replacement all on its own and I think the public now agrees. With the pork cutlets and Swiss Chard, it was a delight to my wife and a treat for me.

But the real surprise is the 1999 Barbera from the Fess Parker Los Olivos, Calif., winery. It’s only a California appellation, but this Barbera was a very supple and well-balanced wine of medium body with a long aftertaste and fine aroma that bodes well for further bottle aging. It was to my guests and me a wonderful preprandial wine with cheeses. How it was with the roast beef I don’t know, as we consumed all with the cheeses! Good stuff, Fess.

“We don’t put no g-ddamn pH in our wines; they’re all natural.”

Salty, old time, North Coast Winemaker as quoted by Dick Peterson, Ph.D. in Wines & Vines.

RELATED ARTICLE: On-Campus Vineyard Established At Allan Hancock College

In March, a large, vacant lot on Allan Hancock College’s Santa Maria campus was transformed into an organic vineyard. The vineyard makes Allan Hancock College only one of three community colleges in California to maintain an on-campus vineyard, according to college officials.

Students will plant more than 80 varieties of vines, culminating a two-year effort to create the 3.8-acre “outdoor lab.” Establishment of the vineyard has been backed with support including donated equipment, supplies, vines and fencing material that surrounds the viticulture/enology laboratory.

Kendall-Jackson (K-J] Wine Estates has been a major contributor to the college’s viticulture and enology program, and K-J Nurseries, along with Lamer Vineyards in Solvang, Calif., donated vines and cuttings. Dick Hoenisch, manager of the campus vineyard at UC Davis, also donated vines.

Pacific Ag Water of Santa Maria, Calif., donated the drip irrigation system and sprinklers for frost control; Jim’s Supply Co. of Bakersfield, Calif., donated posts, training stakes and wire used in construction of trellises; Cambria Winery and Vineyard donated chain-link fencing; and Zaca Mesa Winery has offered a donation of 6,600 dormant vines.

COPYRIGHT 2002 Hiaring Company

COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group

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