Plus ça change…The hunt for terroir was already underway. “It looks the same, but,” runs the caption for a panoramic photo of Napa, “veteran winemakers in the valley swear they can identify a dusty taste imparted to wine by these soils around Rutherford town. There is a geologic difference from other Napa soils.”
The French! “Livermore… started out to be a little corner of Bordeaux. Before Prohibition, Frenchmen dominated winegrowing there, having been attracted by the similarity of its rocky soil to Graves.” There’s that terroir again… “Louis Mel was…the most lasting contributor (Mel had obtained cuttings of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon from Chateau D’Yquem…)”
Plus ça change… “Most early wineries snugged into hillsides. Grapes could arrive at a door on the high side and wine could depart from a door on the low side, having been moved through the fermenting and aging processes by gravity.” Today, gravity-feed wineries are cutting-edge again — gentler than the gentlest of pumps on tender grape skins.
Like Carelian, however, some things seemed destined to fade, even some aspects of smart marketing: “Brookside first found the most effective of the current keys to prosperity in the Los Angeles basin: direct sales from winery to consumer. Between 1952 and 1972 Philo Baine and his family built a rambling empire of winery-owned tasting rooms-cum-retail stores all over California. With these, Brookside outstripped everybody else whose grapes grow in California.” It’s hard to imagine a winery ever managing this kind of market penetration again.
Speaking of Brookside, the book includes a hopeful note — as fine a place as any to conclude this meander into the past. “New hope: Rancho California. Some 1,100 acres of pioneer vineyards dot the rolling hills east of Temecula and US 395. The potential exceeds 10,000 acres, all within reach of irrigation, all washed by sea air flowing through a gap in the coast mountains. Fittingly, the much-traveled Brookside Vineyard Company is the major owner of vineyards, and the almost exclusive user of the crops from half a dozen independent growers.” The other great hope for Los Angeles–regional winemaking? Santa Barbara.