Looking backward into the future – wine industry

Looking backward into the future – wine industry – Industry Overview

Al Cribari

Heavy September Shipments Affect Grape Prices” screams the October 1927 edition of the Grape Grower (Wines & Vines after Repeal). Again, the growers were shipping too much, too soon and so prices began to drop. Also, editor Stoll comments that when the weather is “too hot, the ‘foreign element’ (!) does not want to use our grapes,” but of course, the farmer here in California paid little attention to such marketing problems. When the grapes were near ripe, he picked. Especially if prices were weak and or falling.

“Passing of Secondo Guasti.” A truly great pioneer, “he transformed the Cucamonga Desert”. His vines in this desert grew roots 25[feet] and more to reach the underground water table. This allowed his Italian Vineyard Company to cultivate 5,000 contiguous acres – the largest in the world, I’m told. By WWII, the wines and vines were not of the best as urbanization took over and were showing the result of heat and insufficient water. But I was very proud to be part of the company that bought this vineyard towards the end of its life. Incidentally, Margaret Shahenian was the last manager of this winery and the first female winery manager, in our industry, that I know of.

As with many, many Italian-Americans of this period (including my dad), Mr. Guasti was a great initial admirer of Benito Mussolini; he got “the trains to run on time”.

“Second Grape Crop Grapes” by L.O. Bonnet. Three columns of stuff about this. Seems to me that in the old days the second crop was much bigger than it is these days and warranted a second picking, in many cases.

“Airplane As A Pest Carrier.” Long-distance transportation of agricultural products by air is no longer a theory, and the airplane is a factor in pest distribution.

“Wayne B. Wheeler, general counsel for the Anti-Saloon League and for many years the leading proponent of prohibition in the United States, died suddenly at the Battle Creek Sanatorium” (Kellogg’s?). Wheeler was one of my family’s favorite hate objects, of course!

“The Quarantine Against Spanish Grapes.” California grape growers are insistent that the quarantine against Spanish grapes (Almerias) be maintained as long as there is danger of introducing the destructive Mediterranean fruit fly into this country.

Part of the interest in reviewing these old issues is the quaint ads featuring such items as steamship lines, railroads, saccharometers, hotels and, of course, grapes (Sonnie Boy among them!).

But the grim truth was that many growers, their agents and customers, would find themselves in great financial trouble before the season would be over – a very tough time for many.

A fat issue of some 60 pages and full of ads, the October, 1947 issue of W&V is full of interesting history.

“Will Distillery Shutdown Aid Wine Sales?” I had forgotten all about this proposed shutdown ostensibly to aid in supplies for foreign relief. Actually, I always thought that this was to halt the overproduction of product, something that the wineries never seemed able to do. And yes, W&V did not feel that such a shutdown would aid wine sales simply because there was apparently too much whiskey anyway.

“Time Reviews Wine Competition.” Seems as though the magazine wrote up the California State Fair competition in a somewhat sarcastic and ironic manner. Never recall reading the article as I was too busy minding my own business in the most literal sense, but also because in those days I never did expect the press to write anything good about California wines.

“New Cooperative Interest Evident.” There was quite a movement, in this era of the great wine depression, for growers to feel that the answer to low grape prices was to own their own winery and thus get a “fair” price for their grapes. Also, there was a strong, liberal, farmer, labor atmosphere nationally as a result of the Great Depression and WWII. Many co-ops were built and, since most had little marketing skills, more wine was dumped on the market, resulting in a continuation of the wine depression. And to add insult to injury, co-ops got a bad rap for crushing culls and undesirable varieties. Nonetheless, no less a leader of the industry than Sam Harkleroad predicted that the end of the “commercial” winery was near.

As I recall, Thompsons were bringing $25 to $35 a ton versus up to a $100 a ton in 1946. What a mess.

“Unitizing Shipments With Retaining Paper.” This was a wonderful “break-thru”. By using the retaining paper to “sorta” wrap the load in the car, our breakage dropped dramatically. This after a disastrous load of wine arrived at a PLCB warehouse with over 50% breakage and a pool of wine on the floor.

“Building Wine Sales In Monopoly States.” Since the monopolies were formed by Drys to limit consumption, such talks at that time were, to me, useless.

Another (and final) chapter in the story of Haraszthy’s life by Paul Fredericksen. Well worth reading.

Ellena Brothers have a full-page article and are chortling over their new bottling room at Etiwanda. Cost? $22,000.

Also, an article on champagne corks. According to the article, there are only three types: one-piece, two-piece and four-piece. We’ve come a long way, no?

“The Chemists’ Real Function.” by an anonymous author, is a genuine treat, and this was a time when most winemakers were not chemists, had no technical training and didn’t take kindly to a young college kid giving advice. They were to stay in their labs and analyze wine so that no laws were broken. Among other things, the article suggests that for a college-trained chemist just out of school, a “starting salary of around $250 may be in order,” and for a fully-trained and experienced man the absolute minimum for salary should be around $400 per month.”

“Stillage Research Under Way.” Albert M. Paul, chairman of the W.I. Disposal Committee, announced that Coast Labs of Fresno had been retained to conduct additional research on winery waste disposal. This was a “hot subject” for a while as we attempted to cope with the solid residue of winemaking (skins, seeds, stems, tartrates, etc.). Our good buddies in this matter were Profs. George Marsh and Reese Vaughn of U.C., Davis. We owe much to them and here’s a belated thanks.

“Winery Head Expects Upswing.” The “head” mentioned is B.C. “Larry” Solari, general manager of Wine Growers Guild. The upswing he mentions is volume of wine shipped; wisely, he said nothing about an upswing in prices.

“Carl Bundschu Dies.” Long associated with the original Inglenook Vineyard Company, Mr. Bundschu was a member of the first W.I. Board of Directors.

“Rossi Brothers, Sbarboro Resign” effective October 1, from Italian Swiss Colony. Their selling contract with National Distillers stipulated a five-year employment contract and the five years were up. Thus passed an era, and even though their sons continued in the business, the “outsiders” soon began to slowly dismantle their consumer franchise. But the twins, Bob and Edmund, continued to be active in the industry, Bob as a wine broker and Ed as head of the old Wine Advisory Board. Son Bob has retired from the business and his place taken by another old buddy, Jim Beckman.

As the crushing season advanced, we were going through the same scenario as 20 years previously; more and more red ink started to flow. Prices weren’t much better in 1948, either, when I think the industry hit bottom and began a very slow return, not to be reached until 1960 or thereabouts.

Yes, this month of October, 1967, is rightly dubbed a “Millennium” by editor Irving Marcus. Reason? Because in this year of 1967, for the first time since repeal, Americans will have consumed more table wine than dessert wine.

Believe me, this was a joyous occasion for me, too.

“Wait Staley Joins Fritz Kyer.” They were a wine brokerage firm specializing in dessert wines.

“The Bartholomews: Double Exposure.” Seems as though Mr. and Mrs. B. were photographed hosting a bunch of UPI (his former employer) personnel and serving Bartholomew’s Buena Vista wines. Good show.

And another name from “the long ago” – Guild names Maxwell Lerner as brandy manager.

“Calif. Crop Smallest Since ’60.” This was one reason as to why our modest wine boom was able to continue into the ’70s. Most of us were receiving very fine prices for our bulk table wines, and soon this good news would spread all over the industry.

But I still don’t know how the industry was able to weather the production storm caused by the switch from dessert wine to table wine production. But it did.

The editorial in the October, 1987, edition was by Phil Hiaring, The First, and the occasion was about the symposium (Vintage 2000) at the Buena Vista Winery (Haraszthy’s own) and hosted by Anne and Marcus Moller-Racke. Must have been quite an affair with lots of big-wigs such as Dick Maher, Frank M. Woods, Bob Mondavi, Allen Shoup, David Whitten, Harvey Steiman and Congressman Robert Matsui. Quote of the event – at least as repeated by W&V – was by Gerald Asher. “In the year 2000 we’ll be drinking something fuzzy and something pink.” Of course we will. Always have and always will (taxes and pricing allowing). Just like death and taxes.

And there also is Jim Beckman, Bill Crowley and Randal Clifton, all getting promotions at Guild – just as I left the company.

John Parducci was shown posing with Nate Chroman, chief judge at the L.A. County Fair. John was voted “Winemaker of the Year”.

“Hanns Kornell’s 35th.” Yep, after going through all that Hanns had suffered (prisoner at Dachau, hitchhiking across the U.S. to work in California wineries and finally establishing his own firm), it was sad to see all that toil and suffering go down the drain as he was forced to close his champagne winery a year or so ago. But not before he was voted a “Living Legend” by the Napa Valley wine industry.

“Ground-breaking took place this summer for the Murphy-Goode winery near Geyserville.” Good to have a few more Irishmen in the industry.

“Is Pinot noir the wine of the future?” The article concludes that. “All in all, in the right hands, Pinot noir is viable, assuming the hands are sufficiently ‘hand-son’.” In my opinion, having grown a considerable tonnage at our Evergreen Winery, Pinot noir is best made as a medium light red wine; but such red wines do not seem to meet with favor in the Americas. And now we have a new darling – Merlot (which people can pronounce more easily).

“What’s the outlook for Chardonnay?” by George Schofield, a professional research reporter. Mr. Schofield’s article concludes with a very cautious prediction, as “All concerned in Chardonnay grapes and wine may have to watch emerging trends carefully to protect their interests”. Always interesting to see how predictions turn out.

The industry did stumble a bit during these years but soon went on to bigger and better days. Now the worry is, how long can it last (the boom, that is). And that is a $64,000 question.

TRAVEL NOTES: Down to “the Coast” (for Easterners read “the Shore”) to wander around in some salt air and wineries. First was the family of my old bench-mate (Larry) in chemistry at Santa Clara – the Bargettos. Wife Beverly was not in, but son Martin was and, by golly, so was the old brickmaker and buddy from San Jose, a Gus Gladding by name, and now a bartender (aka a Tasting Room docent). We had a good time reminiscing and tasting some of Bargetto’s products, which incidentally have improved remarkably over the last several years when we had the Bargettos bottle some of our wine. So I guess we need to toast Paul Wofford, winemaker, for a job well done. Larry, my bench-mate, is honored by having their main brand titled “Lawrence Bargetto”. Sorta brought a tear to me eye. Larry died a few years back, leaving Beverly with 11 (I think) children to raise, which she has done with dramatic aplomb. Anyway, they now have a wide assortment of fine wines, of which my favorites are their Dry Gewurztraminer and Chaucer’s Apricot. If you don’t like Mead, theirs is one that you’ll rave over.

“Why can’t we get across the truth that wine is a healthful, temperate, meal-time drink, a liquid food praised for 6,000 years. We have such an inferiority complex; it’s about time we woke up.”

Robert Mondavi, board chairman of Robert Mondavi Winery.

COPYRIGHT 1997 Hiaring Company

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group