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Wines & Vines

Looking back to the future

Looking back to the future – the 18th amendment

Al Cribari

The question in May, 1920, was “Who to support”-Johnson or Hoover? (We’re talking here of the presidential primaries of 1920.) It is odd, as of 1990, to think that there would be any debate about the two. We know that Hoover was a dedicated fence-straddler on the prohibition matter. Johnson, while, not exactly a full-blown public “wet,” none the less had been supportive of the grape growers, more so than most national politicians. But of course, no national politician seemed willing to espouse the cause of the vineyardist or vintner. This made it difficult to determine just who our friends were, who was neutral (almost as important) and who was agin’ us.

The Harris Act, California’s prohibition act, was to be on the November ballot, as a proposition. A vigorous campaign was still being waged for it. This is interesting for us now as it shows the extent that the dry forces were going to go to in order to drive the maximum number of nails in the wets ‘coffin. They knew that they had a minority of votes nationally, but they also knew that the only way to reach their goals was to keep up the drum-beat for prohibition whenever and wherever possible.

We must also say this about the oletime prohibitionists: they were a truly-dedicated lot, and in my opinion must have invented, or at least made practical, many vote-getting tactics that we see practiced today. Like it or not, their strength was of ten because their hearts were pure.

As best as I can recall, the main reasons for the 18th amendment were:

(1) the failure of the licensed beverage industries to take the threat seriously; (2) the apparent absolute refusal of the brewers and distillers to acknowledge the abuses in the sales to the public; (3) the almost complete lack of awareness on the part of the wine people to even contemplate that a prohibition law would apply to them; (4) the complete failure of anyone in the business to mount any sort of intelligent and serious campaign to counter the crusading course of the drys; (5) the very intelligent and timely efforts of the drys in which they took advantage of the supposed shortage of food-stuffs-especially grains – to promote “war-time” and then permanent prohibition. Plus, of course, their ability to take advantage of every mistake of the wets as outlined above.

Today, we may not be doing everything correctly but I don’t think that we are making the above mistakes this time – and we’d better not ! The editorial was about the formation of the exciting Grape Exchange and how it could rival the Coca-Cola Co.! Of course Coke was about to enter a most glorious age and it, along with many, many soda pop works were to reap great harvest during prohibition and were, in my opinion, about to change the tastes of the North American people. I still remember when many, if not most, people “hated” the taste of Coke.

Grape syrup was still being plugged as a great commodity for the housewife. Never did understand, myself, as to why vinifera syrup never captured the American taste. Too bland, I guess, and especially so after one is accustomed to labrusca, which of course most North Americans were at that time. It was a frequent question at eastern wine tastings as to why our California wines did not taste of the grape as did Virginia Dare.

A most interesting paragraph in the editorial-has to do with “Dangerous Labels.” Editor Stoll was fulminating about a paper label for a lug box which was to show a ballet girl kicking a bunch of Zinfandel grapes skyward. Get the connection? I didn’t until Mr. Stoll pointed out that the label insinuated that Zinfandel grapes had a kick” to them. Therefore, this label would attract the attention of the prohibition officers!! Once shot, twice shy.

PERSONALS -Paul Masson sailed for France on the 14th of April. Mr. and Mrs. Georges de Latour sailed on the 15th. Rats deserting the ship? Seems like it, but as we know now they were really only relaxing during a quiet time in their businesses and they would return.

The May, 1940 editorial was on how the wine industry was producing better wine. It was, but soon the “Winds of War” would be blowing a gale, driving quality out the window and profits in. But then, as I’ve said, it was nice to discount the bills instead of seeking extensions. Too bad, because we were at the threshold of using the new technology and technicians that had been developed during the depression. In a few years we probably would have merited world recognition, not for just a few premium wines but for the whole industry. Quality counts. May 1965 … it was reported that table wines continued to gain over dessert wines. In January of 1965 table wines zoomed” to a big 33.4 %. WOW; but then every Journey of 10,000 paces begins with one small step, and this one sure did. The May, 1970, issue was almost a yearbook of the wine industry with pictures of all the stars” of the day. Bob Arnold, of Guild at the bottler’s convention; Kirby Anderson, also of Guild, as winner of the Vintners Golf Tourney; Lee Peters of Valley Foundry; Irv Marcus of Wines & Vines; Bob Mathias of Olympic fame; Jeff Peyser of W. I.; and at the WSWA convention, the bros. Bardenheier, John, Joe and George; the Sands, Max and Marvin, of Canandaigua; C.W. Carriuolo, then prexy at Beaulieu; Carp and Reveal of Widmer; Rod Strong with the opening of his new winery at Windsor and almost black hair, plus many more and last but not least, California’s Governor, Ronald Reagan, and his wife. This was the year actually 1969 but the figures were just now available) that table wines finally “made it.” In Januar 1969 they were 48.9 % of the total, while in January, 1970 they had climbed to 53.9 %. And away we went! May 1980

The May, 1980 editorial, by Phil Sr., is on the “patchwork of state laws” that govern we who are in the licensed beverage industries. While we may rile against these nuisances, I believe that we must treat them as just that-nuisances that must be borne whilst we fight them on a relatively low priority basis.

Why do I say this? Because, not being as active in the business as I once was, I can be more philosophical. But also because I have seen how much irritation we cause when we mount too vigorous a fight against what is usually the will of the majority. I was in New York when that state was voting on the liquor store monopoly.” More importantly, I was upstate at that time and I could see how much animosity was being aroused by the stand of the pro-super market people. “We” lost and I think that we probably set ourselves back a generation or so. I believe that the same thing is true of the Pennsylvania monopoly. Pennsylvania is seemingly dry between Philly and Pittsburgh and New York is not wet between Albany and Buffalo or almost so, (I think!). So let’s be cautious when it comes to local options”; sometimes they have a lot more going for them than may first appear, especially when it comes to the established interests, e.g. liquor store owners, retail clerk unions, etc.

Table wines were still gaining on dessert wines, now up to 78 % of the total. But what really began to surprise me was the continued gain sparkling wines were making. Just as surprising was the continued decline of dessert wines. I really thought that they would stabilize at the 20 to 30 % level and surely would not be outsold by the sparklers.

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