Crush: The Triumph of California Wine
Reviewed By: Susan Keefe
Susan Keefe reviews novels, poetry and non-fiction books for TheColumbiaReview.com
John Briscoe, the author of this very interesting guide to the history of the Californian wine industry, is not only a well-known author and poet but has also practiced law in San Francisco for over 45 years. He has called upon his comprehensive knowledge of San Francisco, living there, and serving on the board of three historical societies, and other organisations, to write this entertaining and informative book.
He begins with the arrival of the Spaniards who settled in South Carolina, in approximately 1568, and explains that they were the first to plant grapes for wine, although the wine was principally used in the Sacrament at Mass. Then later, in the early 1770s, the Franciscan missionaries planted the first wine grape vineyards in California and began making wine there, again principally for sacramental use. However, as the story progresses, we learn that European settlers in Los Angeles, one in particular so aptly named Jean Louis Vignes, took the missionaries’ wine-making skills ( rudimentary at best) to ever-higher levels. In fact in the early nineteenth century Los Angeles was known as “the city of vineyards.”
Throughout the book there are many examples of how the vintners were influenced and gained experience from the wine makers in Europe, and how California’s wonderful climate and soil attracted emigrant wine makers to the country. The sons of two such emigrants from Italy are the Gallo brothers, Ernest and Julio, who established their first winery at Modesto on 22nd September 1933. From there their business flourished and expanded, and today is recognised as one of the leading provider of wines in the world.
Of course the industry has also had its fair share of disasters, and these are well chronicled too, giving the reader a rare insight into the incredible problems both natural and man-made which have arisen over the years. These have been many and varied, from the San Francisco earthquake, war, prohibition, and the dreaded tiny phylloxera (almost microscopic pale yellow sap-sucking insects, related to aphids, that feed on the roots and leaves of grapevines), which caused immense devastation to many vineyards, to the heated politics of the large vineyards and those who managed them.
This fascinating book really is packed with snippets of priceless information, wonderful pictures of wine labels of bygone eras, and interesting excerpts from experts in the field. Whether you are a wine connoisseur, native of California, or interested in human history, this book will enthral and educate you.
In Summary: Crush: The Triumph of California Wine by John Briscoe delivers a comprehensive history and a fascinating read; it is a true celebration of the persistence of the Californian vignerons throughout the ages, their battles with adversity to make the region’s wines some of the best in the world today. Highly Recommended! – Susan Keefe for TheColumbiaReview.com