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Wines & Vines

Look back to the future

Look back to the future – First International Beer and Wine Show

Al Cribari

The (one and only?) 1933 bound edition is apparently missing, so we’ll jump ahead–to January, 1934. This is too bad, because for history buffs–to whom, I hope, this column appeals–the transition years of ’33 and ’34 (from Prohibition to Repeal in December of ’33 and the following year) are most interesting. This Jan. ’34 issue is still titled The California Grape Grower, now, of course, Wines & Vines. The first page is an ad for “California’s Largest Winery–Roma Wine Company” of Lodi, Calif. Indeed it was large for its time–7 million gallons. Apparently they were bottling only under the Celia brand.

The first two articles are on red wine production. As said before, most of our industry believed that the wine drinking habits of Americans would continue as in pre-Prohibition days. That is, dry wine would be 80% or so of our sales, and of that, 80% would be red wine. We could not have been more wrong. In the first several years after Repeal, dessert wines constituted 80% of our sales, slowly tapering off to about 75% until the ’60s, when again dry (i.e. table) wine would begin to assume its rightful percentage.

Nostalgic ad for the First International Beer and Wine Show at the Grand Central Palace in NYC. It was either here or the next year that my dad had brother Ken (10 years old) dress as the picture of our “Sonnie Boy” grape label and “host” visitors to our booth. A photo taken of him at the show was put on a wine label, and thus was born Sonnie Boy Wine. Yep, my dad, who went only to the third grade, did not spell “Sonnie” with a “y.” The 10-year-old was kept patient at the show by dint of being next to the White Horse Scotch Whisky booth. They had a live white horse as their show attention-getter. Ken and “Scotty” the horse made quite a combination. Great memories.

“Federal Wine Taxes.” It lists 10 cents per gallon for wines not over 14%; 20 cents on 14% to 21%; 40 cents for wines 21% to 24% and above 24% (wonder what that was?), $2.00 per gallon. For champagne and other naturally sparkling wines, 40 cents per gallon and–note this well–brandy used for fortifying, 20 cents per gallon. Until this regulation/law was repealed, about 1936, as I recall, this was a really big headache for my family.

“The California Medicinal Wine Co. Inc. announces that it has changed its firm name” to the Padre Vineyard Company, with their winery located at Cucamonga, James L. Vai, president.

“A New Era in Wine Advertising” by Harry A. Caddow, secretary, Wine Producers Association (now Wine Institute). Harry advocated advertising soon and as extensively as possible, to be aimed mostly at women. It was the women who opposed “ardent spirits” and were most inclined to favor the serving of wine. But the spirits people are well aware of this, and are off to a strong start in national advertising. How true and how right was Harry in his predictions.

Incidentally, I counted eight ads from as many wineries. Of these, none exist today as corporations, and only two or three labels are still bottled (barely). They are Cribari (maybe), Swiss Colony and Almaden. There are many old names, long forgotten, in this issue that stir my memories.

Happily, business was very, very good and we enjoyed a couple years of superb profits. And then the crash came, when a flock of “outsiders” entered the business to make a quick buck out of cheap grapes and cheaper wine (fortified). In looking back, I think we would have been much better off with the “fortifying” tax, as it would have prevented much “plonk” from being produced.

In the January ’53 edition of Wines & Vines combined with the Wine Review, we find that editor Irving “Brick” Marcus has instituted a policy of publishing abstracts from technical papers previously published. This is the province of Walter Richert, formerly technical editor and now GM at Mayacamas Vineyards. Walt was at Madrone Vineyards when I knew him.

James Vai, president of Padre Vineyards Co., fears that the current sales boom, “might be a harbinger of bad times to come.” Well, thank God he was wrong, as ’53 was the beginning of a long-term upward trend of profits and prestige in our industry, as I recall.

And, lo and behold, a surprise. Cousin Ted had authored an article titled “Dessert Wine Prospects for 1953.” I vaguely remember him talking to me briefly about this assignment. He wanted to know if he should write anything about “sweet wine,” as we were launching the Famiglia Cribari brand, which was only table wines. I can’t remember, but I guess I said, “yes,” as we were deeply in the dessert wine business despite our best efforts to promote table wines. Anyway, he predicted a “better year in 1953.”

“Getting the Public into the Act,” by Irving Marcus. Irv reports on the growing habit of having public tastings of wines. Public tastings were barely beginning in ’53, but they did begin to roll a few years later, especially when people such as Jerry Mead and Bob Balzer began to host such tastings on a grand scale, and in a very professional (and profitable) manner. I think it did, and does, a great deal of good in introducing people to wine in general and varietals in particular.

“The Disintegrator in the Winery,” by Frederic “Fred” Perelli-Minetti from, of course, the old PerelliMinetti Winery (California Wine Association/11 Cellars) down Delano way. It was a great idea, and we at Cribari Las Palmas (Fresno), installed one about 1943 or so. The next step was a pomace still. We put the disintegrated pomace (mixed with liquid) into a Krenz still and out came brandy. Trouble was, to my nose, the brandy had a pomace character, which was OK in grappa (for which we had no use) but certainly wasn’t what we would want in beverage or fortifying brandy. But it did a good job of extracting all the alcohol from the pomace.

Incidentally, I see that Mario Perelli-Minetti is still marketing his wine. Congratulations!

For old timers: Dean Johnson replaced Bernard Davitto as director of Italian Swiss Colony and sales manager of “open” states, and Donald I. Rich was promoted to assistant sales manager, as announced by the company’s president, Adolf L. Heck.

’53 still rated as a pretty good year for our industry, although it has that rating only because prior years were so poor! However, business would continually, if slowly, improve for 20 years or so.

The One/1973 edition of W&V was the Brandy Issue. The front cover has a replica of an old woodcut of what looks like an ancient Roman brandy still. But of course, distillation was not invented until the Middle Ages (c. 1300) by the Mohammedan Arabs, no less. However, the Arabs did not distill wine or beer, but distilled flowers and fruits to extract what we now call “essential oils.”

“Canandaigua Honors Four.” They each sold 1 million cases of Richards Wild Irish Rose

And United Vintners honors three: R.D. “Bob” Rossi promoted to VP grower relations; Pete Holloway to VIP operations, and J.G. Gott to VP North Coast wine operations.

“Beaulieu Visitor Center” is scheduled for mid-1973 completion at the winery on Rte. 29 and Rutherford Rd. in Napa County. And a beautiful one it was (and is).

“New Quebec Winery” opened at St. Hyacinthe and makes 13 kinds of wine, mostly out of California grapes. I generally followed Canadian wine news, but missed this one. The Cribaris began selling altar wine to the Quebec Liquor Commission about 1926 or so, and later on, after Repeal, beverage wines. I got to know the province somewhat. Odd market, in my opinion.

’73, as I recall, was a good year for our industry, but inflation was killing us with 20% interest.

“A national wine market of approximately 345 million gallons–is a reasonable expectation in 1973,” according to Lou Gomberg, (of what is now Gomberg Fredrikson) as quoted in Jan. ’73. The cover of the January, 1993 issue of Wines & Vines is a full color announcement of the 2nd Annual Wine Tech to be held in Oakland, of which Phil Jr. “Aldo” Hiaring was so proud. The issue is pretty fat–55 pages–but much of it is taken up with the ads, etc., for the tech show.

One of the intriguing articles is “The Back Page,” by Larry Walker. Seems that he is all for everyday wine at everyday prices, but much in favor of some really top prices for world class California wines. I’m all in favor of such, too, even though I don’t want to pay more than $15 to $20 per bottle for a premium wine (oh, maybe $50 tops, once in a while). My reason is that my excursions into some really fancy prices–$100 and $150 for a couple of world-class wines many years ago–have been very disappointing. “Price a great wine does not necessarily make.” I drink mostly $4 wine.

Apropros of which is the latest market update from Turrentine Wine Brokerage. “One third of the wine sold in the United States goes for more than $6 per bottle. Two thirds goes for less than $6. The under $6 business is a train wreck. On the other hand, the over $6 category is one of the fastest growing pieces of business of any kind in the United States right now!” Interesting news. So, let’s everyone raise prices to $6.99, minimum!

“Korbel Has Grappa, Too.” However, it is sold only through their winery retail room. But, as I recall from my investigation of grappa recipes, Greg Gessner, Korbel winemaker, cheated a bit. He added to the Pinot noir pomace some Pinot press wine. Doesn’t that spoil (lessen) the “musty” grappa taste? I cannot understand the interest in this lowbrow product anyway. Yes. I know that “white goods” were doing well and “brown” not, but grappa? My dad, who would produce and try to sell anything made from grapes, disdained grappa. ‘Nuff said.

A definitive article by Larry Walker on corks and cork quality. Seems that our own Bruce Scott of Scott Labs, and Curt Goodsill of Lafitte Cork and Capsule met with the Portuguese cork producers to investigate ways to control and improve the quality of cork closures. Corks were always a big headache to me (both as a consumer and winemaker), and I had always hoped that screwcaps would take over. But then, I’m not much of a romanticist about wine.

“Steve Cousins: the next Robert Mondavi?” Wow! As a fellow Santa Clara University alumnus, I’m all for Steve (of Buena Vista Estate) to fill Mondavi’s shoes, but it will take much more than a lot of wishing. Robert M. is one hell of a PR genius, and he has 50-plus years of experience.

There is also a fine article on “Pinot noir’s special requirements,” by David W. Graves. The variety seemed to cause much deep thought. Strangely but happily, we at our Evergreen vineyard had no problems with our particular clone, except when my uncle insisted on leaving the grapes hang until “the bees started to invade.” It made a great wine (one of my very favorites) and one that Paul Masson deemed very desirable, even though they did not want to bottle it as a varietal.

Again, there was an article by Elisabeth Holmgren of Wine Institute on “Health Issues.” While there is nothing much new in the article, it is the kind of carefully documented scientific opinion that the Drys cannot refute or beggar. In short, great stuff.

Tasting Note: Having been sent a bottle of Grey Goose “Le Citron” lemon-infused vodka (in a beautiful package), I saved it to taste with our buddies at my wife’s club’s annual beach party. Unfortunately for the Goose, by far most of the people drank wine. Of the 10 who had a preprandial drink of spirits, six had vodka. But the Goose was well received. I found it a terrific product. It makes a great martini if you like yours up and with a twist. And I do.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

George Santayana.

Sooooo, remember to read this column!

RELATED ARTICLE: Bronco Tax Decision Established Precedent

In a precedent-setting move, the California Board of Equalization (BOE) published its decision to allow Bronco Wine Co. to claim a tax credit for large fermentation tanks. The ruling reversed the State Franchise Board’s prior decision, which disallowed the credit because the 215,000 gallon tanks were deemed too large to be moved and were not considered manufacturing equipment.

The BOE’s decision opens the doors for other wineries to seek retroactive credits for similar equipment. Bronco’s attorneys had argued that the tanks in the Ceres winery qualified as “tangible property” because they can, in fact, be moved. Bronco was allowed $35,000 in tax refunds for the tanks.

Scan Shows Spoilage In Unopened Wine Bottles

A new scanner designed by UC Davis chemists can detect spoiled wine without opening the bottle. The nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) scan uses the same technology used for medical MRI scans.

NMR wine scans use powerful magnets to show distinct peaks for water, ethanol and acetic acid (vinegar), according to Matthew Augustine, associate professor of chemistry at Davis, who developed the technology with graduate student April Weekley.

Augustine and Weekley tested the method on bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon from 1950, 1956, 1960, 1968, 1970 and 1977. They found no relationship between age and alcohol content or likelihood of spoilage, nor did examining the corks for apparent leaks give useful clues about the wine quality.

The chemists have applied for o patent on the technology, which they believe could be useful for auction houses and buyers specializing in high-end wines. It could also be adapted to look at other components of wine. Contact Augustine at (530) 754-7550 or e-mail augustine@chem.ucdavis.edu.

Divide-And-Conquer Saves Water

Australian plant scientists say a new irrigation system could halve agricultural water use while supplying tastier fruit and vegetables. Partial root drying has been commercialized on Australian grapes and is gaining popularity in Europe.

Five years ago, scientists from the Australian research organization CSIRO began experimenting on vines in the Murray-Darling River area of Southern Australia, splitting the vine roots between wet and dry soil. With only half the roots irrigated at any one time, there was no reduction in yield, water use efficiency doubled and the grapes improved in flavor and color. Alternate-side irrigation in a three-week cycle was equally effective.

Research performed at England’s Lancaster University revealed that the success of partial root drying (PRD) is based on the release of abscisic acid in plants with dry roots. The acid is a stress hormone that signals the plant to inhibit leaf growth, redirecting sugars to the fruit.

One of the Lancaster researchers, plant scientist Bill Davies, commented, “PRD is a low-tech way of manipulating crop yield and can be applied to many systems. in an ecological context, given that 70% of water goes to agriculture, PRD has significant social consequences.”

Built-In Breathalyzer Has Some Bugs

A new sensor no bigger than a silver dollar can detect blood-alcohol levels in a moving vehicle, but is so sensitive that a passenger’s perfume can trigger an alarm.

The device, engineered by two University of Texas, Arlington professors, attaches to a windshield and sends a wireless signal to a remote receiver. It could send a signal to a cell phone or disable a car engine if alcohol is detected.

Because of its sensitivity to perfume, which has an alcohol level of .02, the system is not considered practical for law enforcement because it would “systematically discriminate against half the population,” according to Sia Ardekani, one of its inventors.

Instead, an Arlington police sergeant suggested, it might be useful for parents and employers.

San Joaquin Farmers Make Anti-Development Deal

The American Farmland Trust has made a deal with eight farm owners to protect some 600 acres of land in California’s Central Valley from development. The farmers will receive a total of $4.6 million in return for preserving a one-mile by one-half mile strip of land bordering the city of Madera. This agricultural easement allows the farmers to continue to cultivate the land, while providing an infusion of cash for improvements. The easements trade the development rights into perpetuity.

According to Greg Kirkpatrick of the American Farmland Trust in Visalia, this is the first time eight landowners closed easements at once. “It is a real tribute to their spirit and desire to see this land protected.”

Grapegrower Denis Prosperi lead the movement to protect the agricultural zone, when he realized that although he could sell off a section of his properly for housing to pay for replanting his vineyards, his long-term neighbors objected. It took three years of meetings, but eventually the pact was made, welcome news to nearby wineries including Canandaigua and Quady, who feared the rural atmosphere of their tasting rooms would be destroyed.

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