Archive for August, 2014

Wine’s California Comeback: The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and its impact on the industry

August 29th, 2014

Wine's California Comeback: The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and its impact on the industry.
By Joseph Temple

On Sunday morning, a 6.0-magnitude earthquake hit the San Francisco Bay Area and the surrounding region, injuring hundreds of people and leaving thousands without water and electricity.  There have thankfully been no deaths due to this natural disaster, but an area hit particularly hard is Napa, home to a $13 billion dollar a year wine industry.  According to one report, 33 buildings have been declared unsafe to enter with another 600 properties experiencing water and sewage problems.  The biggest earthquake to hit the Northern California since 1989, the total economic damage is estimated to be in the billions.

For anyone living in the areas affected by this earthquake, two Red Cross evacuation centers are open to those in need – one at the Crosswalk Community Church in Napa at 2590 First Street and another at the Florence Douglas Center at 333 Amador Street in Vallejo.  For those in the wine industry, you can visit Napaearthquake.com, where numerous individuals have offered their help and assistance.

At the International Wine & Food Society, our best wishes go out to the people of the Golden State.  And if history is any indication, we are confident the region will only emerge stronger from this disaster.


One hundred and eight years ago, the epicenter of California’s wine industry was not in the vineyards of Napa or Sonoma, but in the city of San Francisco. With its close proximity to both railroad lines and shipping routes, the Bay Area became an important hub during a time when merchants were in control of both production and distribution.  Firmly entrenched in the city was the powerful California Wine Association (CWA), which controlled nearly 75% of the market as  “the distinction between winegrower and wine merchant was not sharply drawn.”  According to  historian Thomas Pinney, “their [the CWA’s] produce was sent to central cellars in San Francisco where the wines were stored, blended to a uniform standard, bottled, and then shipped for sale … as a monopoly, or rather, near-monopoly, it belonged to the rapacious business style of the late nineteenth century, and, no doubt, if the full record could be known it would show a long tale of sharp practices and dubious moves.”

However, this dominant organization would be rendered helpless on April 18, 1906, when a 7.8-magnitude earthquake rocked San Francisco to its core. With over 28,000 buildings destroyed, 3,000 deaths and half the city left homeless, it is to this day one of the worst natural disasters in American history.

And while some people tried to save their wine from the destruction, in some cases, it was wine that was saving them.


Silent film documenting the aftermath of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.
Courtesy: Prelinger Archives

With fires spreading throughout the Bay Area and the water supply shut off due to the intense shaking that ruptured nearly 30,000 city pipes, wine became an important weapon to combat the roaring flames.  Luckily, thousands of recent immigrants who successfully fought against statewide prohibition, had homemade wine operations that proved useful in saving San Francisco from total ruin.  “In those days, many Italian immigrants fermented wine in their basement and there are stories of old-timers getting them out and pouring them on the fire,” declared one resident.

At CWA headquarters, efforts were made to salvage whatever they could of its enormous stockpile.  Using a city-owned fire engine, a million and a half gallons of wine was pumped out from one of their still burning cellars and placed into a barge where it was then distilled into brandy.  Still, the CWA lost approximately 10,000,000 gallons due to the earthquake, while its competitor, the Italian Swiss Colony (a company also located in the area) lost over 12,000,000 gallons and roughly $3,500,000 (over $88,000,000 in today’s dollars) in damages to their building and the equipment inside it.

Wine articles about the earthquake
Newspaper articles reporting on the disaster.
Credit: California Digital Newspaper Collection.

In the aftermath of this devastating disaster, the wine industry learned a painful lesson on the dangers of centralization.  W. Blake Grey of the San Francisco Chronicle writes, “With their headquarters and most of their wine destroyed, wineries moved their operation closer to the grapes, and thus what we now think of as Wine Country was also changed forever.”  Remarkably, after just a few years of restructuring, the California wine industry successfully rebounded from this devastating loss.

Whether an earthquake, phylloxera, numerous droughts, two economic depressions or thirteen painful years of prohibition, the Golden State and its wine have clearly faced numerous challenges over the past century.  Yet after each of these catastrophic events, California fights back, becoming an undisputed leader around the globe for quality wine.  If history is any indication of the resilience of Californians and their wine industry, they are sure to overcome this most recent devastation and maintain their world class designation.

Ask Sid: Toasts?

August 27th, 2014

Toasting

Question: Would you share your top 10 toasts? I could also use one for a rehearsal dinner for my son’s wedding too.

Answer: Not big on memorized rigid toasts. Prefer to personalize something to the actual person or specific occasion. I would suggest you do the same for your son’s wedding. However there are hundreds of proven popular ones on the web that you could use or adapt by just googling wedding toasts. When I practised law I used Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew: “And do as adversaries do in law, strive mightily, but eat and drink as friends”. Now older and more philosophical I like Robert Louis Stevenson: “A bottle of good wine, like a good act, shines ever in the retrospect”.

I often finish with a short one word toast in a specific language so my top 10 go to are simple:

1. Cheers  English
2. Chimo  Eskimo
3. A Votre Sante France
4. Prost German
5. Cin Cin (Chin-Chin ) Italy
6. Skol Sweden
7. Kampai Japan
8. Salut (Sah-Lud) Spain
9. Gan Bay China
10. Yass-Ooh Greece

Have you ever given a toast?

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Yeasts and other additives influencing your wine

August 25th, 2014

Yeasts and other additives influencing your wine?
I, Tomas er [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or FAL], via Wikimedia Commons

Lots of new information out there recently on what is actually influencing the aromas and flavours in your wine. Used to be just mainly the grape variety, the place where those grapes were grown and the winemaking. No longer. Allegations abound as to which of many possible additives are being used by various wineries. Lack of the ingredient labeling usually found on packaged food is becoming a problem for the wine consumer. Really admire what some wineries like Ridge & Bonny Doon are doing to raise awareness of this problem. Excellent article on August 19, 2014 by John Tilson in the Underground Wine Letter “Caution! What’s In Your Wine?” Yeasts are another important influence on your smell and taste sensations. Benjamin Lewin MW on August 1, 2014 in Decanter presents a thought provoking analysis of “Yeasts: Do You Know What’s Flavouring Your Wine?” Specialized cultured yeasts have been developed to enhance specific aromas and flavours from the grapes. To what extent is debatable because clones and canopy management can also be important factors. However if you “want your chardonnay to taste more like Meursault … use Lalvin CY3079 yeast , which increases the impression of hazelnuts and brioche, and mouthfeel.”  “Reduce pyrazine quantity or perception of cabernet sauvignon herbaceous character in the glass by using Enoferm CSM.” Using just the native or indigenous yeast let’s nature take its usual course. I am against manipulation. I am a strong advocate for wanting as much information and disclosure as possible so I know what is in my wine and what is influencing those aromas and taste flavours I am experiencing!

What about you? Are you concerned? Do you want more information?

Are you concerned about what is in your wine?

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A Look At 5 Iconic Florida Restaurants

August 22nd, 2014

Florida Restaurants

By Joseph Temple

With an economy based largely on tourism, it’s no surprise that Florida has a strong culinary history.  As people from around the world began flocking to the Sunshine State after completion of the Florida East Coast Railway, it was only natural that the number of restaurants would grow exponentially.  From the panhandle to the keys, numerous eateries have left an impact not only on the palates of Floridians, but on the country at large.

Below you can read about five of these iconic establishments.  For those looking to learn more about the restaurants and unique dishes of Miami, you can read IW&FS members Vicki and Joe Garrigo’s excellent article titled Cuisine of the Sun. Special thanks to FloridaMemory.com for providing most of the photos for this piece.

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Silver Slipper Restaurant in Tallahassee
Opening its doors for the first time in 1938, the Silver Slipper became famous for both its juicy steaks and a first class clientele that included JFK, Ronald Reagan, and numerous movie stars visiting Florida’s capital city.  Of course, with its unique floor plan consisting of several alcoves that could be curtained off, one can only imagine how many backroom deals were brokered by state legislators inside this restaurant.  “There was a saying … some of the significant bills of a legislative session were first passed, or defeated, in one of the curtained rooms at the Slipper.”

Private alcove in the Silver Slipper  private room at the Silver Slipper restaurant

The private alcoves inside the Silver Slipper, circa 1961 and 2009. (click to enlarge both)

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Bisers Jacksonville

Known for its legendary red snapper and a neon sign in the shape of this most iconic dish, Biser’s became a mainstay for Jacksonville diners until its demise in 1968.   With several locations throughout its existence, the most profitable period came during its time at 211 Forsyth Street where the owner Howard Biser served “sea foods cooked by old Southern recipes, which preserve the tang of the sea and satisfy the appetite.” This, in addition to pouring “the best cup of coffee in the state of Florida,” turned Biser’s into a River City landmark.

 Bisers Restaurant Jacksonville 1920 Bisers Restaurant Interior

(Left) Biser’s Restaurant, circa 1920s. (Right) Interior of Biser’s, circa 1940s.

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Mai Kai Fort Lauderdale

Beginning in 1956, this Polynesian tiki-themed restaurant featured  “a troupe of flame-throwing, hip-gyrating, ukulele-playing performers [that] wow the well-fed, rum-soaked dinner crowd.”  But its greatest publicist was legendary late-night talk show host Johnny Carson who promoted the restaurant on the air many times, especially the grass-skirt wearing “Mystery Girl” who delivered a mystery drink to the many guests of the Mai-Kai.

 Mai Kai Restaurant Fort Lauderdale  Mai Kai restaurant

Polynesian dancers at the Mai-Kai, circa late 1960s.

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Columbia Restaurant Ybor City

Since 1905, this Spanish restaurant has been the gem of Ybor City, Tampa’s historic cigar rolling neighborhood.  Designed to resemble an Andalusian courtyard, its mosaic tiled fountain and a three-hundred seat showroom has featured various Latin talent to central Floridians for decades, becoming both a culinary and cultural hotspot.  Whether its Chicken Alicante, Spanish Omelets, gazpacho, or its signature dish, Arroz con Pollo Valenciana, there’s something for everybody at this landmark establishment.

 Columbia Restaurant Ybor City Tampa  Tampa Columbia Restaurant

(Left) Spanish performers at Columbia Restaurant, 1968. (Right) Courtyard.

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Garys Duck Inn Orlando

If you were ever driving along the South Orange Blossom Trail in 1950 with $3.65 in your pocket, then all the lobster you could eat was waiting for you at Gary’s Duck Inn – the inspiration for the multi-billion dollar Red Lobster chain of seafood restaurants.  Before interstate highways, this Orlando institution was a favorite for locals and tourists who wanted to enjoy a broiled mullet dinner complete with biscuits, coleslaw and hush puppies.


With branches in Jacksonville, Miami, Orlando, Naples & Palm Beach, the International Wine & Food Society is strong across the entire state of Florida. Perhaps these locals can chime in on their favorite restaurants in the Sunshine State?

Did you ever dine at one of these restaurants?

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Ask Sid: Chablis vineyards

August 20th, 2014

Vineyards in the Chablis wine region
By CocktailSteward (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Question: I have been reading your thought provoking weekly blogs and notice you drink Chablis so am wondering what is your favorite vineyard there?

Answer: Difficult question but I like it. Producers and price are also very important factors to consider.  At Premier Cru level I admire the two vineyards that directly adjoin the Grand Crus:

Montee De Tonnerre continuing the line East from Blanchots with shallow calcareous soil over kimmeridgean sub facing S/SE

Vaulorent (within Fourchaume the largest 1er) at the other end adjoining Preuses with marl facing mainly W/SE

Enjoy all 7 Grand Cru with their distinct characteristics from the floral delicacy of Vaudesir to the body & structure of Valmur  but if forced to pick one I choose:

Les Clos (the largest Grand Cru) faces south on a mix of soils including stones & paler clay (not much marl) but special   limestone providing acidity, power and amazing ageing ability!

Do you drink wine from Chablis?

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