Two snapshots of the California Wine Industry, one taken at the repeal of Prohibition (1933) and the other in 1958, would look almost identical despite a twenty-five year age differential. Both would show old, moth-eaten wineries buying common grapes and bottling dreary wines – then scrambling to sell them to an uninterested public.
I entered the wine industry in 1958 to see surprising new beginnings at every turn. New vines were planted replacing older, non-wine varieties; soon, new wine types and new labels sprang up on wine shelves (some in grocery stores) without any visible connection to the past. Unlike a few years earlier, table wines suddenly became worth drinking. They added flavor and complexity to everyday meals; it was a time to eat not merely for survival, but for enjoyment. An aura of excitement, slow to begin, eventually exploded into view until the wines of America were often seen as equals of those in old Europe. Within ten years, a wine sea change created its own identity as it flowed onto the world stage.
It was fun to watch and to help lead it, but that carried an obligation. I began to keep notes, noticing that the wine industry’s complex story was often more interesting than most fiction. Twenty years later, I had drawers full of haphazard notes; each was important, but who could sort them into usable form? Each winery had its own story and some were quite exciting. At the end of one of his visits to Salinas Valley and Monterey, Burgess Meredith, brilliant actor and Steinbeck history buff, gave me his personal tape recorder with an order to record my views of winery happenings every day. It was more precise than crumpled notes and, most important, it guaranteed that my notes would give accurate accounts of real events.
Occasionally, I added credibility by reading selected memos onto tape, knowing that people should be seen as they were, even if some might not like seeing it in a book. To record events, I had to make notes as things happened, especially since some might seem improbable in later years. My assistant at the time, Sharon Archer, typed the recordings into ‘Random Notes’ in her spare time for me to organize into book form at a future date. Three years ago, my granddaughter, Remi Barrett, was captivated by the notes and persuaded me that the time to write had arrived. She sorted the notes into preliminary order and I started writing at breakneck speed. This is the result: My personal account of a fascinating time in a fascinating industry. If I’ve done it justice, you will enjoy the reading, while gaining insight for your own life.
© 2015 Richard G. Peterson. All Rights Reserved.