Looking backward into the future – wine industry

Al Cribari

The lead article and editorial for the March, 1923 edition was on the desirability of F.O.B. sales of shipped grapes. This was something my family always wanted. The auction markets–at least according to my uncle Fiore–were always suspect. Too many times they were, according to Fiore, run by charlatans and “hibinders”. Even as late as 1948, when we had considerable acreage of table grapes (which we crushed during the war), he would not hear of shipping such grapes to the auction markets. He fortified his position with a few horror stories beginning with the time my dad had to go back east to “handle” the 22 cars of unsold grapes.

Gov. Richardson’s budget for the year had eliminated totally the amount of $15,600 appropriated to the California Dept of Agriculture for the Viticultural Service–U.C. Davis–and you think times are tough now!

In Pennsylvania (the Erie district), it was reported that, “the juice factories |sic~ ceased to pay a premium; then came the prohibition act– –the demand for concords for home manufacture of wines has boosted prices to three times their usual value–“. Also, “the Pennsylvania grower can sell his grapes at a profit for what it costs the California grower to” ship them to Pennsylvania. So how could California compete? Well, if you have ever had a non-easterner sip, unknowingly, a glass of Concord red wine, you would know why. Worse still for the Pennsylvania grower was that such wine, at least in all of the circles in which I moved, Concord was definitely “declasse”. Like talking to a small super-premium North Coast vintner about Thompsons–except one cannot taste Thompsons as one can Concords.

The raisin growers–especially Sun-Maid–are beginning to get into deep trouble financially. Wyllie Giffin urged his growers to “work in the fields themselves, practice every economy and ride in cheaper automobiles”. The problem was the deepening world-wide agricultural depression. Food was encouraged to be raised at almost any cost for World War I and the post war collapse of many traditional markets (especially dried fruit for Germany), caused a glut.

A note about Sacramental wines: The Brotherhood Corp.–which I used to know well–of Washingtonville N.Y., bought all the wine remaining in storage at the Jesuits’ Villa Maria winery. This I never knew–I thought that Novitiate had sold Sacramental wine all through prohibition.

The Sante Fe RR announced that it was ordering 59 locomotives and 2,000 refrigerator cars for the ’23 harvest. I wonder if they ever got them in time?

Also the California Grape Grower gave instructions in this issue on how to figure one’s income tax. Remember, this tax only became legal in 1913 and was only supposed to “soak” the rich–just like we were promised that Social Security numbers would never be used for identification purposes!

Meanwhile, the farm depression marched on. Yet the juice grape market prospered. Naturally, my folks felt it was God’s own reward for the confiscation of our businesses and suitable punishment for the Dry propaganda of the raisin growers!

The March, 1943 edition had an interesting ad (at least to me) by GATX (General American Transportation Corp.). Above a picture of a couple of their tank cars was the caption, “The car that carried fine old wines–now carries alcohol for ammunition”. I remembered the ad vaguely and often wondered how much fine wine GATX carried. We would have run out of ammo in a day if we used only tankers that carried fine old wine! Why do ad people and their customers persist in saying such bunk?

I don’t think I see these kind of ads very often in our industry lately. This is all to the good. We must not lose the goodwill and respect of our customers–much less our enemies–with false, phony or misleading advertising. And believe me, good, solid advertising and PR will lead us out of our present economic slump. Too bad we don’t have an industry-wide program.

A Eugene Jackson is appointed Administrator of the Tank Car Section for the Western District by the ODT (Office of Defense Transportation). Here again, why “Defense” and not “War”?

More Alphabet Agencies: The Office of Civilian Supply of the WPB (War Production Board), in preparing preliminary estimates for James M. Byrnes, Director of the Office of Economic Stabilization says “—that wine would be cut to 65% of 1941s consumption figure (or 65 million gallons)”. However the report also added that “–wine and beer have a value in sustaining morale both to civilians and to the armed forces.”

Louis Wetmore writes an article — “Will Post-War Wine Shipments be Made in Tank Steamers?” In it he says that he, just before WW I spent a day in the shipyards of Camden, N.J., designing a tank steamer. The war immediately stopped further work. In 1914 shipping wine–from coast to coast–by water cost about 1|cents~ per gallon, by RR tank car 7|cents~ and by bbs. in box cars, 10|cents~. He adds that shipping by John Rosenfeld’s Sons clipper ships the cost was 4 1/2|cents~ and the “long trip around the horn gave time for aging and improving wines”. He adds, incidentally, that George West & Sons shipped wine in box cars containing six 1,000 gallon redwood tanks; I remember seeing these or pictures of them many years ago. Also, that Mr. Rossi, of ISC, used the first regular steel tank cars lined with a composition of beeswax! These two events apparently took place just after WW I. So move over, R.M.I and Louis Petri. The SS Angelo Petri was a late comer! Soon thereafter, California Wine Association built the first insulated steel tanks cars as sketched by a design drawn on the menu card of the Cliff House (famous S.F. eatery on a cliff over the ocean); said sketch by Louis (himself) Wetmore and the president of General American Car Co.

Herman Wente was elected president of the Wine Institute.

A graph showed wine production declining from about 105 million gallons to 65 millions and wine inventories from 160+ millions gallons to 122 millions. At the same time consumption increased from 100+ million gallons to about 110. This pleasant situation laid the foundation of the industry’s post-war depression; we just could not get over the habit of producing all we could. Also, we had no idea of how much wine was “in the pipeline”. Well, we found out. I was being asked to take back wines as late as 1958 and 1959.

Schenley Distillers has taken over the Greystone Winery and it has been named the “Cresta Blanca Winery.”

The Krug Ranch at St. Helena, California was purchased by C. Mondavi, president of St. Helena Wine Co. (and father of Robert and Peter).

Louis Golan pops up again–he has acquired the Colton Wine and Distilling Co. in Colton, California. Wonder where he came from and where he went? Al Davis of NDC probably knows.

The OPA (Office of Price Administration), with the D. of A., will place ceilings on prices of California grapes–table, raisin and wine types.

The NABCA (the association for “control” or “monopoly” states) meets at the Brook-Cadillac Hotel in Detroit. Whenever possible the NABCA never assembles in a monopoly state! The main agenda was the de facto rationing of distilled spirits. This was quite a blow to these administrators who were used to being “King of the Hill” as far as supplies and prices were concerned. Rationing was a real slap in the face to them, as I remember.

We were pounding away at our enemies and doing well. Gradually we “poloi” began to appreciate that fact and our old American enthusiasm began to assert itself. Meat was rationed (for no good reason that I could see except to give more people jobs–a hangover from the depression–and to keep “hoi poloi” war spirit going). However my recently widowed, 50-year-old mother was given to understand that for her meat was always available, especially if she would like to go dancing, etc. She was saved from this temptation as we had several hundred acres of range land behind our Evergreen Vineyards upon which our friends and neighbors ran cattle for us. Both my grandmothers and my aunt (and other relatives) still raised chickens in their San Jose backyards. Gasoline was rationed but for homebodies dealing with friends, relatives and the like, it was no real problem. The refineries, I was told, were overflowing. Rubber, was tight however and for the traveler (as myself) getting extra gasoline was not easy. Our trucks were using propane etc. and I think, natural gas. If I were sure that I could find gas (propane) when I needed it, I would have converted my car.

Things were going so well that I was beginning to wonder if I would see combat. However, about this time, the War Department issued orders for ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Camp/Cadets) to be sworn-in as privates in the Army Reserve and then to be promoted to corporal in the USAR-inactive. The reason for this is that they were no longer commissioning upon graduation. Everyone in the ROTC had to go to OCS (Officer Candidate School) to get commissioned. However, to go to OCS, a soldier had to be at least a corporal.

In March, I believe, we all (Class of ’43), were driven down to Camp Ord in Army trucks to get our shots, etc. As classmate Eddie Forest said, “this is getting serious”.

These orders sent a bit of a “zing” through us as we realized that our hectic, but still rather bucolic campus life, was to soon be over. For our girlfriends (most of ’em fiancees by now) and our parents it was also a time for a few tears and worry. None of them really understood what a Reservist was nor the difference between AD (active duty) and IA (inactive duty). All they saw were the very official-looking orders from headquarters.

For me it meant another few months of training and a whole new kind of life. I looked forward to it–with some trepidation, of course–but nonetheless with excitement, confidence and curiosity.

The March, 1963 editorial by Irv Marcus is about the Spirits magazine editorial. Seems Spirits wants the feds to repeal the law that allows the head of the household to make 200 gals./year of table wine. Irv’s agin’ such a repeal. So am I. The more people are exposed to wine, the more the industry can grow. The mystery, to Irv and myself, was why Spirits was so hot to repeal the 200 gal. law and why we still sometimes come across such bitterness.

THE PASSING PARADE: Ohio drops Table Wine minimums to 74|cents~ from 75|cents~! As far as I know Ohio still sets minimums.

Mogen David goes heavy on TV. Taylor announces sales and profits up. ISC has a new sales gimmick for store shelve. Christian Brothers sales up. Bardenheier has ads in Life’s regional editions. Widmer has new labels. Paul Masson eyes far east.

Wise & Otherwise said Playboy printed 2,000 words on foreign brandies and cognac but only 50 words on California brandy. “Sox” Setrakian is still talking about the Grape Crush Administrative Order and the Federal Raisin Advisory Board (I once teased Sox as to whether state raisins had their own Board. I got an evil eye). A heritage of the war no doubt.

The Gallo winery started a big ball rolling when they announced that they were willing to contract $75 a ton for certain grape varieties in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties. This is the northern end of the San Joaquin Valley, where Tokays do very well yet too far north to dry raisins. In other words a rather cool climate (as compared to Fresno and Bakersfield, that is!). The contracts were to be for 15 years.

Remember this is in the big wine country. San Joaquin Co. (Lodi) is the heart of the Zinfandel world.

The white varieties needed were Colombard, Emerald Riesling and Chenin blanc. The reds to be considered were Ruby Cabernet, Barbera, Zinfandel and St. Macaire. Interesting group, no? Good solid wine varieties but not premiums.

I had just moved back east, so I was not fully aware of this move. I had many more pressing personal and business problems to consider; like what to do with 20 or so acres of vinifera that never ripened.

About two years later, I believe, the Gallos came out with their first varietal wines.

I suppose we can say that if it weren’t for this action by the Gallos, we would not have been able to support the totally unexpected–at least to me–white Zinfandel wine boom 10 years later on. Which reminds me of one of my famous predictions. When I first heard and saw white Zinfandel in the Twin Cities area, “There never will be a big demand for this–it’s just a quick fad”, said I. My excuse is that the wine was Chablis-white and as such, it never did catch on. It had to be turned pink.

Irving Marcus, editor and publisher, predicts a 100 million gallon table wine market by 1970. He also says, “If you get big enough odds, you might even take a chance on 1969”.

In 1968 we sold 96 million gallons and in 1969 we sold, yep, Marcus’ 112 million gallons. Not a bad projectionist.

In 1991 we sold 317 million gallons. In 1992, I presume we sold about 325 million; however; the figures are not yet available.

Major change at the Robert Mondavi winery. Sicks’ Rainier Brewing Co. of Seattle bought out the non-Mondavi stockholders and, surprise to me, my old schoolmate Charles I. Daniels, Jr. was elected to the board.

Guild goes “direct” in the L.A. area. Guild used the old Guasti winery property as headquarters and distribution point. Also, Margaret Shahenian became the first female winery manager, as far as I know. Of the Guasti winery, that is.

The Grape Products Order is curtailed. This order prevented wineries from selling dessert wine below cost. Cost had been calculated as industry cost but the Director of Agriculture (Calif.) stipulated that henceforth cost must be the selling wineries’ own cost.

The California Table Grape Commission is getting started. I believe that this commission, unlike so many such organizations, has really been the primary cause for the current prosperity and volume of table grapes. I am told that such grapes are the #1 snack food in the U.S today. Hard to believe. How’d they do it? By strict control of quality–mostly by shipping only ripe grapes.

Phil Hiaring, the Senior, editorializes in the March ’73 edition about organic food. He says “that he hopes it never has anything to do with wine”. Well it did. About the same time as he was writing his piece, I was discussing with a NYC restaurateur a method by which we could produce for him an “organic” wine. When I told him I didn’t know of anyway to produce grapes or wine without the use of sulfur, our discussion slowly wound down. Too bad, as I would have been interested in the project.

Mike Bo dies. A good industry friend, a dynamo of a business man, a solid winemaker, and fellow alumnus, Mike burned himself out, I guess, at 54.

Well, here’s a little-known fact. Our very own editor’s father, Phil the Senior, was the one that named one of Harold Olmo’s new varieties, the Carnelian. How about that? Now, Phil, if you can come up with a name for Gewurztraminer that Americans can pronounce and love, you will have made a great wine deservedly popular.

As for Dr. Olmo, his record is cast in bronze as being one of the world’s foremost viticulturists. Wonder how many varieties he has perfected?

Pennsylvania to drop stores? So says a March, ’83 article. Since then, I believe, the climate for such privatization has grown worse.

Mark Gabrielli becomes manager of Cresta Blanca Winery at Ukiah and now he is V.P.-Production West Canandaigua (Guild).

Jeff Peyser, co-founder of Wine Institute and its attorney for many, many years, is honored at a WITS dinner. He deserved everything.

And now for a few predictions. As most of you know I love these things if for no other reason than to show how wrong we can be if, (1) we are not very careful, (2) we don’t stick very closely to what we know very well, (3) we don’t venture too far out into the future and most important of all, (4) if we don’t let emotion sway us. For this reason, forget the predictions of salesmen; we can’t even predict our own company’s future over one year–were too involved with optimism, favor-currying and wishful thinking.

But at the American Wine Society convention, November 5 1982, Leon Adams pulled out all the stops. Sez he, “I predict that the state monopoly systems–will be abolished as soon as the public comes to realize that these systems exist to maintain their inefficient bureaucracies –“; “within the next few years–NY, NJ, PA, CT, RI and MA will–allow sales of wine in supermarket chains”. As a corollary to such increase in sales, Leon predicts that “the vineyards so far planted in this country will be insufficient to supply the demand”. However, his other predictions have turned out well–new grape varieties that are superior in flavor and pest/disease resistance; “iffy” future for light and soft wines; return to lower alcohol content and others. All in all, a good show, Leon.

“Evolution of the Wine Bottle” by John Morrison gives some interesting facts (British version). One is the origin of the “push-up” or “punt”. It seems that after the bottle was blown, it was held for finishing by pushing an iron rod into the base of the bottle (still soft and sticky). This rod was called the pontil or punty. When the bottle was finished, the punty was snapped off, leaving a sharp scar. Thus the bottom was “pushed up” to prevent damage to the handler and/or table top. This is a version I’ve not heard about.

“Bank (of America) Sees Economic Recovery Ahead”. They seem to issue these reports every 10 years or so. I have always counted on these reports to plan just the opposite. Whether it’s because the bank has a new, enthusiastic, young forecaster who is allowed to send out a PR release every so often, or whether B of A feels that it has to churn up some excitement every decade, I don’t know. In any case, at least if the past is any prophet of the future, whenever the bank enthuses, run for shelter. But their stock is doing very well, thank you.

An article on “how to prevent malolactic fermentation”. I surely tried hard to do this in my Fresno winemaking days but never could prevent MLF. Of course, I was a lot younger and more inexperienced and the tools available were not what we have now. Nor, I might add, was the winery well-equipped!

Ed Everett’s column is about the reaction of the non-California retailer to the new idea of a Viticultural Area. It was all negative. But as my buddy, (the late) Ray Kasser, used to say, “when it comes to wine California is a whole “other world”. Another problem is that wine is complicated and the retailer, be it restaurant or bottle shop, has great difficulty to keep up with us–particularly because so many of these people were not raised with wine as part of their lifestyle. But they are interested and I think we should try to pay more attention to them and the rest of the trade. In my opinion, one of the big reasons for the decline of the U.S. auto industry was its disregard of their press, i.e. auto magazines. The big three were too haughty to talk to these “young kids” much less lend them cars to test and write about. So the “kids” turned to the foreign makers who were most happy to tell the baby boomers all about Volkswagons, MGs et alia and lend them a car for the weekend. So the kids read and listened and wrote and foreign cars became a cult and then a fad and then a habit. To build for the future we need a good press and through it and our own efforts we can establish a solid rapport with the trade and our consumers.

A truly evocative article by Bill Heintz on the history of brandy in the U.S. and Britain in the last two centuries. I had always thought that the reason the British and Americans switched from brandy to whiskey in that period was the power of advertising. According to Bill, I am at least somewhat wrong. It seems that the phylloxera killed so many brandy vineyards in France during the 1870s that brandy production fell from 18 million gallons of brandy to less than 900 thousand gallons by 1885. This was bad enough but then the French panicked. They began to manufacture “brandy” from German potatoes! Plus, believe it or not, from “Indian corn juices and the same from beets”. There is a lesson (actually two) here of course, and I am sure that I don’t have to point it out!

CRYSTAL BALL GAZING: The new Clinton administration is about to be sworn in, as I write. What does it hold for us? My guess is that it will tackle the economic problems first. But since there is solid evidence that we are recovering slowly and selectively, it will be difficult for the administration to tinker with this recovery. The underlying problem is still there–we no longer need the factory workers we once did, we no longer need the immense supplies of arms we once did, we no longer need the people with strong backs and under educated minds.

So what can be done now? Well, I suppose to tackle the social problems as Democrats are wont to do anyway. Now, I have no problems with such; we have many social problems but I do think there are more pressing issues. However, this will keep the country occupied for a while and take people’s minds off the basic economic problem of what to do about the budget, etc. I suppose the best thing about this approach is that it will take some of the intense heat off the wine and associated business. I presume our new v.p. is a dry. An imbroglio with Congress and others will help keep his mind off our industry. Meanwhile, I thoroughly believe that our industry will make strong strides in the direction of answering many of the false accusations and statistics of our Dry foes. In other words, I believe the next year will be a good or at least improving one for the wine business.

For me, this election was a benchmark; for the first time a president is younger than I. It is time, too, for this to take place. Mr. Bush was seemingly tired, possibly a bit ill and perhaps had lost touch with his constituents; very sad but better for him in the long run. Someone said that Bush and Kennedy were like two book ends, both war heroes, both of the same generation that built the world as we know it now, both battling communism to the bitter end. Now that’s all past and we must begin anew.

COPYRIGHT 1993 Hiaring Company

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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