About The Author:

"Roger, The Wine Guy" is Roger Yazell, CWS. He is a member of the International Wine Guild and has had a long time admiration of wine. After careers in broadcasting, advertising and marketing account management, he explored his love of wine in hospitality, wholesale and retail sales. The intent of Roger's Grapevine is to share stories, history and information that will add to the reader's love, enjoyment and appreciation of wine and sake'.

Questions, requests for topics and comments are always welcome via email: rogerthewineguy@gmail.com.

(Note: The Wine Guy is currently undergoing chemotherapy and this blog will be on hiatus for the duration and into a recovery period. The Wine Guy is planning to celebrate his recovery with a trip to the two wine producing regions in Argentina and that should provide for some interesting new blogs. Meanwhile please enjoy the archives and feel free to email in the interim.)

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Two American Wine Pioneers

This week, The Wine Guy has decided to regale Grapevine readers with a little bit of American wine history. Let’s begin with a short summary of some important milestones then move on to the background of two important figures in the American wine industry.

Compared to the old world origins of winemaking, we are comparative newcomers. Wine making in what is now the United States dates back less than 450 years ago. The earliest record of wine making occurred near Jacksonville, Florida in the early 1560’s. The grape utilized was a native varietal called Scuppernog, which would later become the informing grape in America’s first major brand name table wine (more on that later in the blog). While Texas often challenges Florida’s claim to being home of the first U.S. produced wine, it appears Texas wine was first produced in the 1650’s by Franciscan missionaries near what is now El Paso. An Italian immigrant established Texas’s first commercially viable winery in 1833 at Del Rio. The first wine production in California occurred in 1796 near San Diego at a Father Junipero Serra mission. The first commercial winery in the U.S. was established in Kentucky late in 1799 by a Swiss colonist, John James Dufour. He utilized an American-European grape hybrid called the Alexander. Crop failures resulted in a movement of the winery to Indiana where first sales to the public occurred in 1806. Today, the oldest still-operating winery in the U.S. is the Brotherhood Winery (founded 1839) in Washingtonville, N.Y. By the middle 1800’s, the states of Ohio and Missouri dominated U.S. wine production and by Prohibition, the U.S. Winery industry grew to over 700 wineries. At the turn of the millennium, the United States ranked 5th in the world for total vineyard acreage (surprise…Turkey ranked 4th...remember, not all vineyards are dedicated to wine!). The United States now has viable wineries in all 50 states. The top 4 states, California, Oregon, Washington and New York account for more than 90% of U.S. produced wine. In 2008, New Hampshire and North Carolina were the states with the most new wineries. The U.S. consumes roughly 30 billion dollars of wine a year with just over 80% coming from domestic sources. Despite importing less than 20% of what it consumes, it is the largest importer of wine in the world. Italian wines count for over 40% of our imports, by far the largest share. In 2005, red wine edged past white as America’s top wine choice and wine edged past beer as the number 1 alcoholic beverage in the U.S..
The U.S.A. is also now the world’s 4th largest wine producer.

It may come as a surprise to readers that the two family names I want to cover in this blog are not Gallo or Mondavi. These two families DID have a substantial and pivotal impact on the U.S. wine industry. However, the family names The Wine Guy regards as legendary pioneers of American wine, are Guasti and Garrett.

Secundo Guasti was an Italian immigrant who came to California via Mexico. (see photo) He started his first vineyards near Cucamonga, California in 1883. He built and opened his first winery in the same area by the turn of century. His Italian Vineyard Company readily became California’s largest. In addition to the vineyard and winery facilities, the growth of Guasti’s enterprise resulted in his building a complete town for his workers including homes, church, schoolhouse, inn and more. It even included a small gauge railroad to handle movement of his products. Under the leadership of Secundo Guasti, Jr. and his son-in-law, Nicola Giulli, the Italian Vineyard Company because the world’s largest vineyard and winery. By 1915, it had over 4,000 planted acres and its on-site cooperage was producing over 200 new wine barrels per day. During Prohibition, to stay viable, I.V.C. combined resources with several other large California vineyards to form Fruit Industries, Ltd. This group later became the California Wine Association. After prohibition I.V.C. returned to independent production until its acquisition in 1945 by Garrett & Company. It remains to this day, the forefather and early model for large-scale vineyard and winery development in California. One of its early signature brand lines, Guasti sacramental wine, is still produced today by the Joseph Fillipi Winery in Cucamonga.

Meanwhile, back on the eastern seaboard, Medoc Vineyards had become North Carolina’s first commercial winery in 1835 and came under the ownership of brothers Charles and Marion Garrett in 1865. Marion’s son, Paul joined the firm as a salesman, became the winery’s sales manager and stayed with the firm after his father and uncle sold out. In 1877, a commission dispute caused him to leave and form his own venture and it was then that the Virginia Dare wine brand was born. Taking the name of the first English child born in America at North Carolina’s Roanoke colony and utilizing wines primarily based on North Carolina’s native Scuppernong grape, Virginia Dare wines rapidly became the first national wine brand in America. In 1904, Virginia Dare Sparkling White won the Grand Prize at the Louisiana Purchase Exhibition. In 1908, North Carolina became the first Southern state to undergo prohibition and as a result Garrett & Company moved to Norfolk, Virginia. Garrett & Company added facilities in Missouri and in 1911, bought their first Pacific coast vineyards in Cucamonga California. Vineyards followed in the Finger Lakes district of New York and with Prohibition advancing to Virginia in 1917, a move of the company’s headquarters to New York followed. With the advent of National Prohibition, Garret & Company turned to alcohol extracted beverages and the pure alcohol by-product became the basis for food flavoring extracts and a new company, the Virginia Dare Extract Company was formed with a Boston chemist as its head. (That company still exists in New York today!) Upon the repeal of prohibition Garrett & Company was best poised for a return to wine production and Virginia Dare again became the prominent wine brand in America.

Over the years, Paul Garrett’s company proved to be an innovator in wine marketing. It can be credited with innovations in labeling, point of sale, promotion, print advertising and even creating the first radio jingle for wine. (see samples) “Captain” Paul Garrett’s death in 1940 resulted in stewardship of the company’s many wine resources being divided among three sons-in-law and other company executives. These assets included the 1945 acquisition of the aforementioned Italian Vineyard Company, then the world’s single largest vineyard and winery. By the early 60’s, internal disputes led to dissolution of assets and brand rights being sold off to other companies. In 1965, Canandaigua Wine Company of New York acquired the flagship Virginia Dare brand with royalty rights. This company grew through acquisition and with the many changes in wine products, Virginia Dare, as a product, faded and disappeared. Canandaigua Wine Company was later to become Constellation Brands. Today, it is the largest producer of wine and one of the largest distributors of alcoholic beverages in the world. Included among its vast stable of product names are Mondavi in California, Inniskillin in Canada and Kim Crawford in New Zealand.

Today, you can take almost every major trend development in U.S. wine production or marketing and trace it back to some connection, interaction with, or impact from, one of these two family names in American wine history. They truly are among our greatest wine pioneers and worthy of reflection as you enjoy the next glass of your favorite American wine!

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