Saturday, October 22, 2011

Viejo California

Being laid up for awhile, it is as good a time as any to go through the mish mash library of wine books I have here at the house. I enjoy thumbing through these old volumes because they take me out of the debates of today (Natural Wine, Indigenous Regionality, Pricing) and the debates of yesterday (Point Scores, Barriques, Pricing) and lead me into a vantage point on wine all their own. And because I find that as I learn more about wine, I am also able to learn more from the written words that I once may have skimmed. A palate is formed by the memory of wine, but discretion is formed by the memory of what is said about wine.

One of the books I like to return to now and again is California Wine, edited by Bob Thompson, and first published in 1973.

"A Sunset Pictorial"

This is a book that tells stories I have found it hard to find elsewhere. Ostensibly the book chronicles a single vintage from new leaves on the vine to new wine in the bottle. But I think what I like most about the book is that it doesn't seem to already have its mind made up about the story it wants to tell. And because it captures a particular moment (1972) in the history of California wine where all routes led forward, but with unknown terminus. For example, there is this quote from the introduction:

"With change a daily fact of life, this is no time to make lasting judgements on what California wine is. Likely it will be something different by tomorrow."

California's forgotten wine history, from California Wine, page 51. The caption reads: "The Biggest Winery. In the 1830s the Franciscan missionaries at San Gabriel produced as much as 50,000 gallons of wine a year, the greatest amount made at any mission. Their winery was the 14 by 20-foot building almost hidden by the cross in the mission cemetery. Indians trampled the grapes on the floor; the juice ran into a well at the lowest corner, from where it was scooped into cowhide bags or barrels for fermentation and aging."

Something else I like about this book is that it happens to contain photographs of many several of my personal California wine heroes. These are the people that made or caused to be made the wines that have served as the benchmarks in my appreciation of California wine. I thought I would share some of those people with you. Maybe you have heard the name, but never seen the eyes of the person who crafted one of your favorites. Here is a chance to know them better.

J.D. Zellerbach, founder of Hanzell winery. Old Hanzell wines are a gift.
from California Wine, page 117.
John Daniel of Inglenook, underappreciated in his own time, underappreciated in this one as well.
from California Wine, page 144.
Louis M. Martini, as tall in my mind as a redwood. Thank you for the '59 Mountain Barbera, Sir.
from California Wine, page 145.

Joe Heitz wasn't everybody's cup of tea, but it is hard to argue with '85 Bella Oaks.
from California Wine, page 9.

Fred McCrea, in his Stony Hill vineyard. This picture is my kind of Old Time Religion.
from California Wine, page 134.

Bob Travers of Mayacamas, pictured at about the age his son is now.
from California Wine, page 149.

Donn Chappellet, who has yet to receive the real recognition he deserves for wines like the '77 Pritchard Hill Cabernet Sauvignon.
from California Wine, page 147.

The Robert Mondavi Winery. It is amazing to think that at the time it opened, this was the first new winery construction that Napa Valley had seen in over 30 years. Thirty.
from California Wine, page 147.

Napa as it was, circa 1972, from California Wine, page 137.

Thanks for listening.


Morgan Harris said...
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Morgan Harris said...

Levi, thanks for this. Reminds me I should bust out my Victor Hazan 1984 edition of "Italian Wine".

Also good, but more modern is "Wein" or "Wine Genesis" by Peter Oberleithner and Karl Mayer out of Austria, which also catalogs (much more technically than this California book) the season of the vine. But I'm sure you already knew that.