Looking backward into the future

Looking backward into the future – column

Al Cribari

The November, 1940 editorial chortled over the success of Wine Week. No doubt it did much good, coming as it did at the right time. Money was coming into people’s pockets and, even more important, the war was bringing, finally, a feeling of financial confidence to the American businessman and his consumer. Also, it was one of the first concerted drives for California wine sales (I can’t help but add that this month also marks the end of the battle of Britain; Hitler now had to call off his invasion and turned to attack Russia. We didn’t know it at the time but this was a real turning point in WW II.)

Again – I think we could use a “Wine Week” these days. Why keep looking for a magic potion? It is not a perfect solution, but while we seek the perfect, why not try some sort of concerted sales drive for the whole industry?

But – aha; The big “changer” was in print. Frank Schoonmaker, ex-foreign wine impresario now a devotee of the California potable was ready with a list of instructions to make the industry more better! What a guy; one minute he was telling us in detail what was wrong with our product, plus how inferior it was and the next, he was extolling its worth. His conversion was as instantaneous and as complete as a reformed smoker. “But, hey,” as john Madden likes to say, the guy was an entrepreneur, i.e., he liked to make money even when his supplies were cut off completely. Who doesn’t? So me – I was just as greedy, although just a kid – I wanted some of the good things too. Thus even as I was annoyed at this cynicism, I was an immediate convert to the Schoonmaker Philosophy of selling California wines; i.e., sell varietals. A great new concept, at least to me in the very early 40s and I still think so today. So anyway, Frankie Boy writes this article which says, more or less, that California should stop selling burgundy, sherry, c. and start being honest. I always greed; I thought that we were always honest and obeyed the law.

While, like Frank, I wanted to make money, one could not, in the ’40s, do that by selling varietials exclusively. At least not to my knowledge. Of course, Frank and his friends did not and do not advocate California varietals for their intrinsic truth or for philosophic purposes but to protect their “home” markets. Much as he seemed to so advocate, his was not an eleemosynary enterprise. But so what? I have always felt that Schoonmaker’s idea was a great one and that his article very definitely marked a turning point in California wine history. I suppose that Frank was not the first to propose selling VARIETALS on a grand scale and in complete substitution for all our foreign place names but he was, at least to me, the most vociferous, constant and visible. And smart.

Nor was Frank’s idea unknown; we at Cribari had-among many other products – varietal wines in the 1930s. We discontinued them for a while because of supply problems and marketing plans. But in those days, no one that I knew, was advocating a complete or even a major switch to varietal wines.

I even remember a restaurant menu from the mid-’30s, that listed a Cribari “San Benito Riesling” – I believe – and a Beaulieu Claret – made from the “Cabernet Sauvignon Grape.” This was not a fast-food place either but a black tie affair at one of the top hotels.

So I tip my hat to Frank Schoonmaker and hope he gets the recognition that he deserves, for even if his efforts were solely due to grubby commercialism, the results were at least as important and long-lasting as the efforts of Haraszthy, Bioletti & Co.

What is the new idea for the ’90s? None that I can think of, to compare with Schoonmaker’s idea. But we sure as hell need it. We’ve tried m any – Light Sweet wine in the late ’40s, followed by Kosher wines and Vinos, next was Cold Duck and then Flavored Wine succeeded by Coolers and now?

Since none of these seemed to work over a long period of time (although I will be the first to admit that the final score is not yet in on coolers) perhaps we should just go back to our “core” business-producing and selling the best wines we can make and under as many varietal and non-varietal types as the consumer wants.

Personnels: Paul Masson dies. They say he always carried a case of his champagne in his car and drank only it. My father-in-law knew him and tried to sell him cars (“Pop” sold Cadillacs). Masson was a large man and drove large cars.

Alfred Fromm wrote a piece that seemed to say that California wines would not benefit greatly from the cutting-off of imports. Also that California was not interested in the “few who will buy expensive imported wine.” But he did say that “I can see a bright future for the large producer” if they continue “to deliver to the middle-class, skilled worker, good sound wines in a dignified package.”

Since foreign wines were of small volume and little consequence in those days – except to those of us in the Northeast Corridor-Fromm’s remarks and forecasts were quite accurate.

But much of the issue was still devoted to the problems of bottling bulk wine and the shortages that were developing (“Nylon Washing Brushes Boon to Wine Bottlers”).

There are some gems in the November, 1965 issue – like: – an article by Gerald Brown of Safeway Stores. “Due in a large part to a strong interest in health and diets, – there has been a decided trend toward more proteins and fewer fats and starches. During the last 20 years – the consumption of potatoes-is down to 20 %, wheat flour about 25 % – red meat is up – 30 % – eggs up 20 % cheeses 40 %. ” I don’t have the latest figures before me, but I’ll bet that they are just about reversed since then.

Can we hope that wine will do the same thing over the next few years?

Signs of the Times: “Ben” Wiernik, president of Mogen David (and ex-Cresta Blanca) gave an in-depth interview about his company and how they were expanding; one new item was a Dry Sauterne and the other a Cream Sauterne. Well, they weren’t quite into varietals but they were apparently leaving Kosher wines.

Personnels: El Supremo, aka Leon Adams, has an article and a damn good one, taken from a speech before the Ohio Wholesale Wine Dealers Assn. He did a little predicting. Let’s see how he did. ” – What has happened to table wine (consumption)? From 1959 to 1964, it has climbed – more than 47 %, while dessert wines – are up relatively little. – In the 1970s, although my friend’s computer predicted a decline in – dessert wines, – I disagree. – I believe that – dessert wines will achieve new highs in popularity. As for table wine – it inevitably will become your industry’s giant. ” He goes on to say that by ’75 consumption will be 325 million gallons or 1.4 gallons per capita. The actual figure are 368,028,000 gallons and a per capita figure of 1.7. Howzat for callin’ ’em.

Not bad – especially if you discount his dessert wine figure as being boosterism spoken to an “internal” audience (i.e. industry customers).

Of course, I have been sincerely predicting the end of the decline of dessert wine sales since 1975 ! Per the November, 1970 issue, the York Mtn. Winery was sold to Max Goldman. Max has more brains than I. We both had eastern winery experience; he invested in California, while I invested in New York City. Robert Setrakian takes over as president of California Growers Wineries. Ed Haynes, is promoted to v.p. at Widmers as the latter begins a large-scale merchandising drive. Brother justin of the Chris. Brothers teaches a class on grape growing and winemaking. Keller moves to United Vintners from Hamms Brewing. Maurice Greenberg, co-owner of Chateau Martin of New York died, more or less marking the end of an era of wine bottlers in New York City.

SIGNS OF THE TIMES. Again, the Wine Bottlers meet, but this time they vote to admit those who did not bottle; i.e. distributors. As said before, of the many, only Canandaigua survived and thrives mightily (as a bottler and winery – others have made the transition to distributor status such as ItalianFrench in Buffalo).

Mogen David had a two page-article mostly centered about its crush in Western New York. The brand was still very big then and the company was favorably compared with Taylor and Canandaigua in New York and Roma and Guild in California. Times do change. A “mechanical picking aid” was demonstrated in Lodi at the Klauer vineyard. Haven’t heard much more of this device.

Signs of the Times “Dutchess Fetches $800” said a headline for November, 1980. This refers to the price of the Dutchess grape in up-state New York. I don’t know what they are now but I assume that such grapes bring about $200/T.

FTC admits that Heublein’s purchase of United Vintners is not anticompetitive. It seemed to me at the time that this paved the way for Gallo’s biggest competitor to slide downhill – and it did. Sad, ’cause the suit by the Feds was supposed to have opened up the market place, yet all it did was to hand the Gallos an opportunity to pick up a greater share of the “every-day” wine market. Ain’t our gov’mint wonderful?

Two pages on the voiding of the New York minimum price law for wines. The article was much more optimistic about the fate of the small bottle shop owner than most of us felt was warranted. Many, many small shop owners were elderly people either from the days of immediate Repeal who held what was almost a public utility license or those who had retired during the sixties and seventies and felt that a liquor store was a grand way to spend their golden years. Neither group was equipped, either mentally, financially or physically for the demands of a somewhat free market place (remember super markets cannot yet sell anything stronger than beer in the Empire State). Typical is the story that was told me by one of our New jersey field men. Seems that when Fair Trade went out in the Garden State, industry people at all levels (wholesalers, wineries, field people, etc.) were swamped with phone calls from bottle shop operators asking how to figure markups, gross profits and such.

The Brothers (Christian, that is) mark 300th year’ says the headline. In late years, many people thought that the brand name “The Christian Brothers” represented a group of siblings with family name of Christian. Once a proud symbol of practicing christians in favor of moderation, it became just another also ran, without any special meaning to the current generation-mainly nonreligious.

COPYRIGHT 1990 Hiaring Company

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