There’s something so special about Italian food. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I find it impossible to dislike Italian food. The ingredients are so, incredibly wholesome and versatile. Italian dishes are just plain comforting and delicious.
Vintage after vintage, our C. Tarantino Cabernet Sauvignon continues to be one of my absolute favorite wines we produce. I can always count on it being fruit-forward and drinkable as soon as it’s released. My favorite vintage was the 2013 and despite being so drinkable when it was released, this wine is aging beautifully. I’d say the 2017 vintage is quite similar to the 2013. Consistently, the C. Tarantino Cab has gorgeous acidity, which makes it the absolute perfect wine to pair with Italian dishes. I’m not sure if it’s the soil the grapes are grown in, if it’s the grape clone (337, which is different from what we have on our estate and our Lucky 8 Vineyard), or if it’s even the way the sun hits the vines in the summertime, but something about this wine is simply magical.
If you were lucky enough to receive this fabulous wine in your most recent club shipment, whip it out and try this pairing for yourself. We are a few bottles shy of selling out of the 2017 vintage of this Cab, so if you want to try this pairing, don’t wait. Get a bottle now. I promise you won’t be disappointed by this pairing!
Feeling bummed out because your months of planning a fabulous trip abroad, across the country, or even in-state were proved unavailing due to the shelter-in-place order? If you’re currently sheltered-in-place, it probably seems like you have a lot of time on your hands. That time doesn’t have to be spent sulking at home. Take a trip without leaving your couch! There are so many great international and national films available with just the push of a button through streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video.
I’m a huge believer in the idea that wine can be paired with anything. Grab some popcorn, a cozy blanket, and a bottle of McGrail wine, because we’re about to take a (virtual) trip, while drinking delicious wine!
Don’t worry if you don’t have any of these wines at home at the moment. We have several ways to get you some tasty McGrail wine to enjoy with these fantastic flicks! We are currently offering:
Local home delivery at no additional cost for new orders
One cent shipping to anywhere in California for new orders
Drive-up service at the winery (receive wine without leaving your car)
International Movie & Wine Pairings
New Zealand – What We Do in the Shadows (2015) and 2016 A Jó Élet, “the Good Life,” Cabernet Sauvignon
This vampire mockumentary was directed by and stars New Zealand’s two most well-known movie actors and directors–Taika Waititi and Jermaine Clement. You might know Waititi as both the guy who plays Hitler in Jojo Rabbit and the director of the satirical film, for which he won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay in 2020. He’s also directed and acted in a few more notable movies and series, including Disney Plus’s The Mandalorian, Thor: Ragnarok, and another great New Zealand-based movie, Hunt for the Wilderpeople. You might recognize Jermaine Clement from the Grammy award-winning comedy duo, Flight of the Conchords, but he also has an extensive brag sheet of voice acting, writing, directing, and producing. Together, these guys created a comedy dream (or rather, nightmare) that is as spooky as it is hilarious. Rotten Tomatoes’ Critics gave this comedic flick a 96% rating and said it is “smarter, fresher, and funnier than a modern vampire movie has any right to be,” and called it “bloody good fun.” FX recently released a show with the same title name, based on this film, because it was that good!
Ireland – Waking Ned Devine (1999) and 2017 Sláinte Red Blend
When old pals Michael and Jackie discover someone in their teeny Irish village has won the lottery, they embark on a mission to find that person and get a share of their winnings. Upon uncovering the winner, a lad called Ned Devine, has passed from the shock of having won the lottery, they contact the lottery authorities and devise a plan to convince them that Mr. Devine is alive and able to collect his winnings. Rotten Tomatoes said, “A heartwarming comedy with a delightfully light touch, Waking Ned Devine finds feel-good humor in some unexpected — and unexpectedly effective — places.”
To get the full Irish experience, open a bottle of our 2017 Sláinte Red Blend and a bag of Irish crisps (potato chips to us Americans), preferably Tayto’s Cheese and Onion, to enjoy with this wine. American potato chips work fine, too.
Catch Waking Ned Devine on Amazon Prime Video for $3.99 to rent or $14.99 to buy.
Australia – Muriel’s Wedding (1994) and 2018 Peyton Paige Sauvignon Blanc
Social outcast Muriel, played by a young Toni Collette, is obsessed with marriage, fitting in, and being accepted, not only by her peers, but also by her local politician father. This was Collette’s fourth-ever acting credit, for which she gained a whole 40 pounds in just seven weeks, in order to truly embody Muriel. The movie has its fair share of both good-humored and tragic moments, as well as feathered 90’s hair and funky 90’s garb, and is an Australian classic. Rotten Tomatoes said, “heartfelt and quirky, though at times broad, Muriel’s Wedding mixes awkward comedy, oddball Australian characters, and a nostalgia-heavy soundtrack.” If you’ve never seen this movie and are in the mood for trying something wistful and new, watch this.
This film is best paired with our 2018 Peyton Paige Sauvignon Blanc, as it’s quite lovely, but has a bit of a bite to it (from the acidity), kind of like Muriel does. Enjoy with a side of Fairy Bread (white bread with margarine and sprinkles, or hundreds-and-thousands as they’re called in Oz), a disgustingly popular Australian snack in the 1990’s.
Find Muriel’s Wedding on Amazon Prime Video for $3.99 to rent or just $5.99 to buy.
China – The Farewell (2019) and Gracie Sparkling Brut
Billi, a 30-year-old Chinese-American, and her adorably sweet grandmother, whom she refers to as Nai Nai, have always had a close relationship, despite the fact Nai Nai lives in China. When visiting her parents, Billi is told Nai Nai, her father’s mother, is dying of lung cancer and has just three months left to live. Given the news, Billi’s father’s family plans to gather from all over the world to see Nai Nai one last time, under the pretense that Billi’s cousin is getting married, as no one, including Nai Nai’s doctors, has told her she’s dying. Rotten Tomatoes’ critics gave the movie a 98% rating and said it “deftly captures complicated family dynamics with a poignant, well-acted drama that marries cultural specificity with universally relatable themes.” This film demonstrates what it truly means to be a family, but it doesn’t end the way you think it might. With a perfect balance of both tragedy and comedy, The Farewell will make you laugh out loud, but it will also make you weep.
Enjoy a bottle of our Gracie Sparkling Brut and take out dim sum from your favorite Chinese restaurant or grocery store as you watch this heartfelt film. That’s what Nai Nai would want you to do.
England – About Time (2013) and 2017 Austin James Cabernet Sauvignon
This movie, starring Rachel McAdams and Domhnall Gleeson, follows the romance between Tim and Mary, who first meet on a blind date through a pitch black dining experience in London. Though this sounds like the most genuinely interesting way to meet someone, this isn’t the most intriguing thing about the couple, as Tim has a huge secret: he can travel back in time. This romantic comedy was not at all what I expected it to be, as it twists and turns, unapologetically touching on heartache and true, unconditional love. Nevertheless, the English screenwriter of this film is Richard Curtis, who also did rom-com classics Love Actually, Notting Hill, and the later mentioned Four Weddings and a Funeral. You are guaranteed to fall in love with both the relationship between McAdams’s and Gleeson’s characters and the relationship between Tim and his father (played by Bill Nighy). You are also guaranteed a good, healthy cry. Rotten Tomatoes said “Beautifully filmed and unabashedly sincere, About Time finds director Richard Curtis at his most sentimental.”
Enjoy this film with our 2017 Austin James Cabernet, a robust, but a velvety and romantic wine and something slightly dark, slightly sweet, but satisfying (akin to this film), like dark chocolate peanut butter cups with sea salt.
South Korea – Parasite (2019) and 2016 James Vincent Cabernet Sauvignon
If you haven’t seen this film yet, you’re missing out. Korean director Bong Joon-ho nearly swept the 2020 Academy Awards with Parasite and it won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film. Joon-ho deserves every bit of recognition he’s received for this movie. Parasite follows an impoverished, but resourceful Kim family through their means of infiltrating the home and the lives of the wealthy Park family. Due to it being classified as both a comedy and a thriller, and because of its truly alluring aesthetics, you won’t be able to stop watching this film. Rotten Tomatoes’ critics gave Parasite a rating of 99% and said “An urgent, brilliantly layered look at timely social themes, Parasite finds writer-director Bong Joon Ho in near-total command of his craft.”
It is only fitting to enjoy Parasite with a bottle of our 2016 James Vincent Cabernet, a dark and mysterious wine, but also our top-of-the-line, award-winning Cabernet. Cook up a bowl of hot ram-don, this film’s most noteworthy dish, to enjoy, as well.
Rent this film for $5.99 on Amazon Prime Video or buy it for $14.99.
Solvang and Central Coast, California – Sideways (2004) and 2016 McGrail Merlot, Picazo Vineyard
An essential watch for wine lovers, Sideways captures the essence of the true California wine snob. Published writer Miles is kind of a depressed mess, but one that possesses a deep enthusiasm and respect for wine. With just days remaining before the wedding of his friend Jack, Miles takes his soon-to-be-wed pal on a last fling trip through Solvang and the Central Coast wine country of California. Along the way, they meet beautiful lady friends, Stephanie and Maya, both of whom are blissfully unaware that Jack is only a few days away from being a married man. The trip quickly turns sour when Miles lets Jack’s secret slip to Maya. Sideways flaunts a talented cast, consisting of Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Sandra Oh, and Virginia Madsen. Rotten Tomatoes gave this film a score of 97% and said “Charming, thoughtful, and often funny, Sideways is a decidedly mature road trip comedy full of excellent performances.”
You can’t watch Sideways without a glass of wine, but due to the way this film influenced wine drinkers’ perception of the varietal, you have to watch it with Merlot in your glass. Pair this film with our 2016 McGrail Merlot from Picazo Vineyard and a classic wine country charcuterie plate with the works–olives, salami, grapes, nuts, carrot or bell pepper sticks, a baguette, and wedges of stinky cheese.
Catch Sideways on Hulu or Amazon Prime Video ($3.99 to rent or $14.99 to buy).
Surprisingly, a movie that was meant to be set in Nazi Germany, was actually filmed in Prague. Like most WWII films, Jojo Rabbit has its painfully solemn scenes, but being a satire, this movie is mostly laughs. With it taking place at the end of the war, you get to see the Nazis defeated, which makes it that much better. The cast is composed of mainly A-list actors and with Taika Waititi as the director, you won’t be disappointed. Rotten Tomatoes said “Jojo Rabbit‘s blend of irreverent humor and serious ideas definitely won’t be to everyone’s taste — but either way, this anti-hate satire is audacious to a fault.” Buy it for $19.99 or rent it for $5.99 on Amazon Prime Video.
England – Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)
Four Weddings and a Funeral is a brilliantly dark-humored English film, starring several A-list actors of the 1990’s, including Andie McDowell and Hugh Grant. The movie was directed by seasoned English Director Mike Newell, who also directed several other well-known films, like Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Mona Lisa Smile. Rotten Tomatoes’ critics gave this comedy a 96% rating. Rent this movie for $2.99 or buy it for $14.99 on Amazon Prime Video.
France – La Vie en Rose (2007)
This French film was the first movie in which an Academy Award for Best Actress was awarded for a French-language role. Marion Cotillard portrays brothel-born, charismatic entertainer Edith Piaf in this visually stunning biopic, which puts Piaf’s addictions, relationships, and losses under a microscope. Rotten Tomatoes said “the set design and cinematography are impressive, but the real achievement of La Vie en Rose is Marion Cotillard’s mesmerizing, wholly convincing performance as Edith Piaf.” Rent La Vie en Rose on Amazon Prime Video for $3.99 or buy for $7.99.
Germany – Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Like Jojo Rabbit, this movie can be categorized as both a comedy and a war film. Director Quentin Tarantino knows how to create excitement organically and make an audience laugh through suspense and gore. He uses an ensemble cast to depict Germany’s occupation of France (even though this was mostly filmed in Potsdam, Germany), as Brad Pitt’s character gathers an army of Jewish soldiers to employ vicious tactics against the Nazis. Rotten Tomatoes said, “a classic Tarantino genre-blending thrill ride, Inglourious Basterds is violent, unrestrained, and thoroughly entertaining.” Watch Inglourious Basterds on Netflix.
Germany – The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
Yep, the movie containing “Budapest” in the title wasn’t actually filmed in Hungary at all, but rather in Dresden, Germany. The film boasts an amazingly talented cast, with names like Bill Murray, Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, Saoirse Ronan, Jeff Goldblum, Willem Dafoe, Jason Schwartzman, and more! Don’t let me tell you how grand this movie is. If you haven’t seen this quirky Wes Anderson film, do yourself a favor and rent it for just $3.99 on Amazon Prime Video. Rotten Tomatoes’ Critics gave it a 91% rating.
India – Lion (2016)
Based on a true story, Lion follows the life of Saroo, a five-year-old boy from a poor Indian family who one day falls asleep on the train and wakes to find he has traveled thousands of miles across India, away from his family. He learns to survive on his own in Kolkata, but is eventually adopted by an Australian couple. Twenty-five years later, Saroo leaves to find his family, using Google Earth to help him find his way home. Rotten Tomatoes said “Lion‘s undeniably uplifting story and talented cast make it a moving journey that transcends the typical cliches of its genre.” Rent Lion on Amazon Prime Video for $3.99 or buy it for just $4.99.
Ireland – P.S. I Love You (2007)
I almost never have the guts to turn this movie on when I see it playing on TV, because it never fails to make me cry. If you’ve ever been to Ireland, you know it’s an incredible country. This mostly melancholy romantic comedy does a really excellent job of showing off all of Ireland’s most stunning aspects. You can find this tear-jerker on Netflix.
Italy – Murder Mystery (2019)
As is to be expected of any Adam Sandler movie, Murder Mystery is slightly hokey, but he and Jennifer Aniston make a great pair. Still, this movie effectively builds up the whodunnit mystery throughout the film and does so in a manner that isn’t blatantly obvious. It also really shows off some of the most magnificent parts of Italy and other European destinations. I am excited to say I was actually staying on Lake Como in the same village, at the same time the last few scenes were being filmed. I even caught a glimpse of Sandler’s stunt double! Find this movie on Netflix.
Italy – Life Is Beautiful (1997)
A charming Jewish-Italian man romances a beautiful, but engaged school teacher, who eventually falls in love with and marries her new suitor. The couple have a son, whom they clearly adore more than anything. When Nazis invade Italy, the father and son are taken to a concentration camp and heartbreak follows. The father does all he can to keep his son from realizing the true horrors of WWII by providing comedic relief. Though it is somewhat predictable, the movie uses comedy to be as lovely, but as realistic, as any war film can be. Rotten Tomatoes said Life Is Beautiful “offers the possibility of hope in the face of unflinching horror.” Rent it on Amazon Prime Video for $3.99 or buy for $7.99.
Japan – Isle of Dogs (2018)
Being Wes Anderson’s second animated film, Isle of Dogs does a wonderful job of using incredibly detailed stop motion animation to convey sound, movement, texture, depth, and emotion. When Mayor Kobayashi declares all dogs are to be quarantined on Trash Island, one Japanese boy sets out to retrieve his lost dog “Spots” and Trash Island’s residents, both stray and previously owned, assemble to help him. Isle of Dogs is quirky and adorable. Rotten Tomatoes’ critics gave this film a 90% score. Watch it on Amazon Prime Video–$3.99 to rent or $14.99 to buy.
Mexico – Roma (2018)
Roma takes place in Mexico City in the 1970’s and follows young caretaker Cleo. Cleo, who cares for four children, is stunned when she finds out the children’s father has run away with his mistress and that Cleo, herself is pregnant. Rotten Tomatoes’ Critics gave it a 95% rating and said “Roma finds writer-director Alfonso Cuarón in complete, enthralling command of his visual craft – and telling the most powerfully personal story of his career.” Watch Roma on Netflix.
New Zealand – Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)
When rebellious Ricky Baker is taken to his most recent foster home, he and his new mum quickly form a bond, though his new dad is not so quick to latch on. Tragedy strikes Ricky’s new family and he runs away into the New Zealand wilderness, only to soon be accompanied by his foster father. Ricky and his new dad become the subjects of a manhunt after getting lost. Rotten Tomatoes’ critics gave Hunt for the Wilderpeople, directed by Taika Waititi, a 96% rating and said it “unites a solid cast, a talented filmmaker, and a poignant, funny, deeply affecting message.” Rent it for $2.99 or buy it for only $6.99 on Amazon Prime Video.
Northern Ireland – Derry Girls (2018-2019)
Though it’s not a movie, Derry Girls, a brilliant British comedy series, is definitely worth mentioning. Set in Londonderry, Northern Ireland in the 1990’s, this show follows the lives of a group of mischievous, misfit Catholic school girls. It offers historical accuracy in touching on the bloody sectarian conflict between the unionists and nationalists, but keeps you laughing through it all. Rotten Tomatoes’ critics gave it a score of 98% and said it “makes frenetic light of teen life” in its setting. Watch Derry Girls on Netflix, but don’t forget to turn on the captions, as Derry accents are hardly intelligible to the American ear.
Sweden – The 101-Year-Old Man Who Skipped Out on the Bill and Disappeared (2016)
Notorious and widely-disliked Allan Karlsson has lived a long, remarkable life. On his 101st birthday, Allan is reminded of his time working as a spy, during which he had stolen a soda recipe from the Russian government to give to American President Richard Nixon. He remembers he still has the formula for this highly revered Folksoda hidden somewhere in the world and he, his pet monkey, his dimwit caretaker, and his best pal embark on a journey to find it. Hilarity and frenzy ensue, as details of Karlsson’s wild life emerge through old memories during his new adventures. This movie is most certainly silly, but it also has its sweet and sentimental moments. I don’t know how better to describe it than being like a Swedish, geriatric version of The Hangover. Watch it on Netflix.
Notable American Destination Films
Hollywood, California – Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood (2019)
Amazon Prime – $9.99 to rent or $19.99 to buy
Napa Valley, California – Bottle Shock (2008)
Free on Amazon Prime Video
Napa Valley, California – Wine Country (2019)
Available on Netflix
New York, New York – The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
Amazon Prime Video – $2.99 to rent, $9.99 to buy
New York, New York – You’ve Got Mail (1998)
Amazon Prime Video – $3.99 to rent, $9.99 to buy
Rhode Island and East Coast, United States – Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
Amazon Prime Video – $3.99 to rent, $11.99 to buy
Seattle, Washington – Sleepless In Seattle (1993)
Amazon Prime Video – $2.99 to rent, $12.99 to buy)
What did you think of these wine and movie pairings? Did you try any? We’d love to hear your feedback!
By Mark Clarin, Heather McGrail, and Laina Carter of McGrail Vineyards
If you’ve ever been to a McGrail Vineyards Release Party or Barrel Tasting Weekend at McGrail, you’ve likely spoken to or seen Mark Clarin. You’ve probably even seen him jamming downtown, at other wineries, or local breweries, in one of the various bands he belongs to. Mark, standing at approximately 6′ 4″, is known for rocking a horseshoe mustache, tie-dye tees, cargo shorts, flip flops, and a ponytail. He is nearly impossible to miss. His unmistakable style isn’t even the thing that makes him stand out the most; his wine is pretty extraordinary, too.
We asked Mark to answer some questions about himself, as well as about what he’s got going on in the vineyard now and what happens in the vineyard at McGrail in the early springtime. Allow us to introduce you to our winemaker, Mark Clarin, through some quick Qs and As. We hope you find his answers both humorous and valuable, as we did, and we hope it gives you a better understanding of why we love our talented, but goofy winemaker so much.
Question: Can you tell us just a little bit about yourself? Are you married? Do you have kids?
Answer: I am married with children–a boy and a girl. The girl has a girl, so I am a grandpa called Poppy.
Q: What is your background in the wine industry and how did you get into wine?
A: Winemaking found me! I got a job at a local winery when I was 20 years old. Prior to that, I was in construction. I grew up in Livermore and sort of fell into the business. I have always been drawn to hard work and art. I’m a musician as well, which has an interesting correlation to winemaking. In music, you have to learn when not to play. With winemaking, you have to be patient and learn when not to panic. Wine is a living thing and is constantly changing. Knowing what to do when is the key, which is similar to music.
Q: When did you first start at McGrail?
A: I started consulting in 2006, before crush.
Q: What is your favorite McGrail memory?
A: While giving a tour a few years ago, I had a customer ask me what I do all year, because I only have to work, like, two weeks per year. It was insulting, yet funny. I work at least four weeks a year. Sheesh.
Q: What do you love most about working at McGrail Vineyards?
A: There are so many things to like. Number one is the team. When we first started producing wine, we made a plan to focus on making great wine. Our primary focus has been Cabernet Sauvignon, which is the king of wine in my mind. We have added a few varieties over the years, but our original goal remains the same–to make great wine.
The property is amazing with spectacular views which I get to visit every day. The estate vineyard is world class and we added the Lucky 8 vineyard in 2015. This affords us the unique opportunity to control our farming, in order to make the best wines possible. This circles back to the original plan.
I cannot forget our club members. We have the best club members, many of whom have been with us from the beginning. Without them I have no reason to make wine.
Q: What is the most interesting thing you’ve learned at McGrail so far?
A: How to install a giant flagpole on release Saturday with a bunch of high school kids.
Q: What is your favorite thing about working with Cabernet Sauvignon?
A: It is the king of wine. It grows exceptionally well here in the Livermore Valley. It is a small berry with thick skin and loose clusters that afford good air flow to minimize disease. Cabernet can take a little rain in the fall, as long as it doesn’t rain for more than a couple of days and we get wind to help dry things out. Other tighter cluster varieties don’t have that luxury. Cabernet is very consistent year to year for us. This is important, as we try to make sure the wines stay consistently great. I do like to drink it, too.
Q: What is going on in the vineyard during bud break and what does it signify to you as a winemaker?
A: During bud break, the dormant vines show the first green growth of the year. The buds unfurl small leaves that continue to grow (up to 1” per day!), as shoots, tendrils, and tiny pre-clusters develop. Bud break signifies a new vintage on the horizon and another opportunity to make some amazing wine. It is always an exciting and optimistic time to be in the vineyard, as it confirms the circle of life.
Q: Why is Lucky 8 usually the first vineyard to show bud break each year?
A: In 2016 we planted Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Since that time, our Chardonnay pushes buds first, followed by the Sauvignon Blanc. This is common throughout the valley. Our hillside Cabernet Sauvignon is usually the first of that variety to break bud. The Lucky 8 vineyard is a bit cooler than our estate vineyard, but Chardonnay is an early ripener, and therefore, an early bud breaker.
Q: What does a typical day in early spring look like for you?
A: Springtime is time for blending, which requires a fair amount of sampling and tasting. Topping off barrels is a continuous task throughout the year. It is also time to review the barrel order to take advantage of any early order opportunities. Keeping an eye on the vineyard as the buds begin to push and we begin a new year. I am fortunate that I am in the vineyard every day, if only for a brief moment. Usually, we have some sort of reason to get together and taste with our club members. We also bottle quite a bit of our production in the spring.
Q: What is your favorite winemaking memory?
A: Barrel fermenting Cabernet Sauvignon in a cave. Very labor intensive, but fun.
Q: If you could make wine anywhere else in the world, where would it be, and why?
A: Douro Valley, Portugal. The vineyards are grown on steep slopes made up of shale. Everything has to be done by hand in the vineyard. The people are very nice and the weather is similar to California. The soil comes through in the wine with lots of minerality. I have not been to the Rhone, which I could probably get used to quickly.
Q: What would you like people to know about you?
A: I am generally happy. I am very tolerant, but once you lose my respect you will never get it back.
Q: Would you care to share an embarrassing story about yourself?
A: While visiting another winery, a staff member named Joy handed me a glass of what I assumed was their Rose and asked my opinion. I responded with something like, “well, it doesn’t suck”. It turned out to be my Rose because she tricked me.
Q: What is your favorite movie and why?
A: The Wizard of Oz. I love the songwriting. Very clever.
Q: Is there anything people would be surprised to learn about you?
A: I sometimes talk in my sleep and I hear that I snore, but I haven’t caught myself yet.
Q: What is your favorite wine & food pairing?
A: Beef tenderloin and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Get a taste of Mark’s winemaking abilities yourself! Purchase McGrail wine here.
By Laina Carter and Mark Clarin of McGrail Vineyards
February was an incredibly busy month in the vineyards, but unseasonably so, as our vines are currently dormant and February tends to be a pretty uneventful month for our vineyards. There are countless facets to grape growing and external factors affecting grapevines that no year and no season are ever the same.
Dormancy & Pruning
Grapevines, like most perennials, undergo a dormancy stage, which is essentially a hibernation period for these plants. The vines have stored all of their nutrients in their roots, leaving the once vivacious, fruitful shoots dry and void of leaves and fruit. Dormancy allows grapevines to tolerate winter weather and gives them time to prepare for budbreak in the spring. Like hibernating animals, the vines are waiting for warmer temperatures before once again using the energy they have stored up to become active and begin growing again.
The most critical vineyard practice that occurs during dormancy is pruning. For us, pruning usually happens around February, when the vines are completely bare and nearing the end of their dormancy. This year, we began pruning our estate vines at the end of January and continued with our Lucky 8 Vineyard through the beginning of February.
Each year, we prune last year’s growth back to the cordon. Our vineyards are currently pruned to two bud spur positions. These positions are kept approximately a fist apart along the cordon in order to keep the new shoot growth separated for later when the fruit sets.
Pruning is important because it gives us the ability to determine the number and position of shoots on the vine, and will therefore determine cluster count and quality of wine. The reason we prune back is to control consistency in production and to make sure we can still walk down the rows and properly manage the vineyard. There are many tasks throughout the growing season that require hand manipulation. Since grapevines are vines, they seem to have a mind of their own and want to grow in wild directions. Our trellis allows us to control the vines so that we can manage yields and quality.
Our estate vineyard was originally planted in 1999 and is now at the end of its ideal productive life. We have sixteen and a half acres planted to Cabernet Sauvignon and it has, and still continues, to serve us well. At some point, the need to replant is fast-approaching, so we are taking out a section of approximately three acres this year to be replanted again in 2022. Since we have our new Lucky 8 vineyard coming into full production, it affords us the opportunity to re-develop our estate vineyard.
It takes about three years for new plantings to come into full production. It’s about a five-year process when you have to remove a vineyard, because you want to leave the ground fallow for a year. If we have to remove all 16.7 acres at once, we would lose production for five years. By doing it in small quantities, we will still be able to produce our cherished Patriot, James Vincent, A Jó Élet “the Good Life,” and Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon through the re-development phase. This February we began our vineyard re-development by removing about three acres of Cabernet vines at the front of our estate property. It will take up to ten years for us to replant the whole vineyard and up to twenty years to get back into full production.
We are currently at the beginning of March, 2020 and we haven’t seen significant rainfall since early January, which is quite a bit different from what the last few winters we’ve experienced. December was fairly wet and we were on course to having a “normal” winter when the new year decided to change all that. We tried a little irrigating this past week to trick the vines into thinking it’s still winter. The windy weather has really dried things out and the hills are turning brown, which is very unusual for this time of year. We’re hoping this month brings rain again and more importantly, a decent snow-pack in the Sierra mountains, but time will tell. Until then, we will continue to irrigate as needed.
Unseasonably Warm Temperatures
On February 26th in 2018, there was snow on Mt. Diablo and snow on Mt. Hamilton, which is wildly different from the weather we experienced on the same day this year, with sunshine and a high of 76˚F.
Although we have had some warm late winters in years past, these temperatures can be of concern for grape growers. Air temperatures of 50°F are the threshold of below which grapevines refuse to grow. This means that enough days with a mean air temperature of 50°F or above could cause budbreak in the vineyards. Since an earlier budbreak during a warm late winter hasn’t really happened for us before, we aren’t too worried; however, an early budbreak could result in damage to the vines if spring frost occurs. We are keeping our fingers crossed that our vines don’t come out of dormancy this week!
Grape growing is definitely not for the faint of heart.
Who doesn’t like to treat themselves every once in a while? Pour a glass of our 2019 Kylie Ryan Rosé and keep reading.
Whether you do or don’t have a sweetheart this Valentine’s Day, it’s always important to shower yourself with affection. Like Justin Bieber, I’m a firm believer in loving yourself. After all, you are the most important person in your own life, and really, you can’t love someone else full-heartedly if you don’t love yourself first. Taking a moment for yourself every once in awhile is imperative in being able to truly appreciate life.
I’ve created a simple recipe for a nourishing face mask you can do at home with just what’s in your pantry or fridge. I’ve exclusively chosen ingredients that have antibacterial, antiseptic, and antioxidant properties. Not only will this make your skin feel super soft and smooth, it smells and feels incredibly luxurious, AND it requires just a tiny bit of Rosé, so you can have the rest for yourself!
Pour yourself a glass of our 2019 Kylie Ryan Rosé if you haven’t already.
Warm the honey so it’s a little runny. I put it in a small microwaveable dish and microwaved it for just ten seconds to get the perfect consistency.
Combine the Rosé, honey, yogurt, sugar, and essential grapefruit oil. Mix well. It will be a little watery.
Stick the face mask mixture in the refrigerator for 15-20 minutes.
Steam your face by wetting a folded wash cloth and sticking it the microwave for 30 seconds, then holding it on your face for 2-4 minutes. Make sure the wash cloth isn’t too hot before putting it on your face.
Pull the mask out of the refrigerator and use clean fingers to apply liberally to your face, taking care to not to get the mask in your mouth or eyes.
If you’re anything like me, you live for spring and summer. Not only do these seasons bless us with incredible fresh fruits and veggies, the warmer weather just makes me feel alive. Still, the best part of spring and summer is that I can finally sip on chilled wine comfortably.
There’s truly nothing like that first sunny, 75˚F day of the year. You inexplicably begin to feel relaxed, allowing the sunshine to warm your skin and taking in as much vitamin D as your body will allow. The sweet smell of blooming jasmine sailing through the air subconsciously tells you that springtime is here.
Unfortunately for those who live in California, it’s sometimes difficult to pinpoint exactly what season it actually is. According to “the Twelve Seasons of California,” we are just at the beginning of our second winter. Our recent fool’s spring was the inspiration for this sunny pairing.
Aside from the deceptive seasons, living in California is fabulous! We have access to the freshest produce in the country, and obviously, the finest wine as well. I combined the best of each of these things to create this lovely pairing!
The first notes you get from our delightful 2019 Kylie Ryan Rosé are gorgeous notes of bright grapefruit, which is why I began with citrus as the main star of this dish. Right now, you can find all sorts of exquisite citrus fruits at the grocery store–mandarin oranges, Cara Cara oranges, blood oranges, grapefruits, navel oranges, and more. I decided on a nutty, peppery baby arugula and creamy avocado and burrata as the secondary attraction to the salad, to complement the citrus and to sort of balance out one another. Since these ingredients are all so light and refreshing, I thought pistachios would add a nice crunch and make a great additional source of protein. I love the little bit of kick you get from chives and green onions, which is why it was a no-brainer for me to choose them to spice this plate up. I decided to go with a lighter-bodied dressing, so as to not overpower the main ingredients. Lastly, I threw in some deliciously spicy shallots and fresh-cracked rainbow pepper to add a nice bite to the finish and balance out the slightly creamy finish on the Rosé.
7 oz. organic baby arugula
2 pink grapefruits
3 Cara Cara oranges
3 blood oranges
4 mandarin oranges
2 navel oranges
8 oz. burrata cheese (2 pieces)
⅛ oz. chives, minced
3 green onion stems, thinly sliced
⅓ cup roasted, unsalted pistachios, chopped into small pieces
1 medium shallot, peeled and thinly sliced
¼ cup white Modena vinegar
⅓ cup pasteurized orange juice
¼ cup virgin olive oil
¼ tsp. pink Himalayan sea salt
¼ tsp. fresh cracked rainbow pepper
Enjoy with a bit of garlic sourdough bread or ciabatta toast on the side.
Using a small, sharp knife, peel and remove skins from grapefruits, navel oranges, cara cara oranges, blood oranges, and mandarin oranges. Cut into ⅓” thick round slices.
Evenly divide the baby arugula onto 4 plates to create a bed on each. Evenly divide the citrus fruit between four plates.
Slice the avocados and add ¼ to ½ of each onto each plate. Cut each piece of burrata in half and add one half to each plate.
In a small dish, combine the shallot slices, white Modena vinegar, orange juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Stir well to create the vinaigrette dressing.
Drizzle a bit of the vinaigrette over each plate.
Sprinkle the minced chives, green onion slices, and pistachio pieces over each salad.
Just like the Super Bowl, the Oscars are another pompous American display of money and image, but a slightly more polished one we all so excitedly buzz about in the months leading up to the one-night awards show. If you’ve never watched the Oscars, they are quite a production. All of Hollywood’s hottest actors, producers, directors, screenwriters, and editors are gathered in one place to pat one another on the back for making movies just marginally different or better than those released the previous year. Everyone is dressed in gowns and suits costing thousands of dollars, only to be scrutinized on the pages of People magazine, landing on the “worst dressed” list if they weren’t able to snag an Alexander McQueen gown. Some are snubbed for the Best Actor award year after year *cough cough* Leonardo DiCaprio *cough*, while others are first-time Oscar goers and take home the award for Best Supporting Actress. At its worst, the event is one giant, hoity toity celeb get-together with its fair share of letdowns and surprises. At the end of the day, the Oscars are a beloved, fundamental component of American culture.
I know I sound cynical, but I love the Oscars, really. There’s laughter, tears, and everything in between. Plus, it’s all so unbelievably glamorous and beautiful, it’s hard not to watch. Although I’m still bitter Greta Gerwig was passed up for Best Director for Little Women, I can’t wait to see what wacky remarks Taika Waititi will make on the red carpet and what Saoirse Ronan and Emma Watson will wear. I’m especially looking forward to watching Keanu Reeves host the event. Hopefully Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood wins Best Film, but just like the 49ers losing the Super Bowl, anything is possible. With so much uncertainty as to what will happen, the Oscars are exciting to say the least.
Like most nationally televised events, the Academy Awards are best enjoyed with drinks and snacks. Really though, if Scar-Jo wins Best Actress for her less-than-stellar performance in Marriage Story, I’m going to need a big glass of wine. I’ve produced and self-awarded some truly chic wine and appetizer pairings (with recipes) to enjoy when Tom Hanks makes a heart-warming speech and to comfort you when Leo is once again snubbed for Best Actor.
BEST APPETIZER IN A LEADING ROLE:
2019 Kylie Ryan Rosé with Shrimp and Citrus Ceviche in Endive Spears
Makes about 16 servings, with 2 endive spears per serving.
Not only is ceviche downright delicious and unquestionably refreshing, it can also be a gorgeous dish if you use the right ingredients. I love fresh shrimp, avocado, and grapefruit and any combination of the three is always a win for me. A little jalapeño always adds a nice kick to anything and it goes without saying, garlic and onion make everything just a little tastier. Not only does the endive look great holding the ceviche, the endive leaf makes the perfect one-bite edible vessel for this sophisticated shrimp cocktail. Throw a fabulous Rosé into the mix and the result is delightful. The citrus notes in the wine complement the grapefruit and mandarin orange remarkably well, while the heat from the jalapeño is softened by the slight creaminess on the palate.
This appetizer and wine pairing has so much grace and beauty, but is also satisfying, self-contained, unexpected, balanced, and simply delicious. To me, this pairing is more than deserving of the “Best Appetizer in a Leading Role” award. It really just steals the show.
Nibble on this refined refreshment when Saoirse Ronan receives the award for Best Actress.
2 large grapefruits
2 large satsuma mandarin oranges
½ jalapeño, seeds and ribs removed, minced
¼ cup yellow onion, minced
¼ cup chopped cilantro
½ tsp. minced garlic
1 lb. cooked shrimp, deveined, peeled, chopped into ½” pieces
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. lime juice
cracked rainbow peppercorn
pink Himalayan sea salt
6 endive bulbs, leaves separated
2 large hass avocados, thinly sliced
4 green onion stems, chopped thinly
fresh kale for a garnish
Peel and remove seeds and skins from grapefruits and mandarin oranges. Break apart into 1/2″ pieces.
In a medium-sized bowl, combine grapefruit, mandarin oranges, jalapeño, onion, cilantro, garlic, shrimp, olive oil, and lime juice. Toss gently. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Place a small spoonful of the ceviche into each endive spear. Add a small slice of avocado into endive spear and sprinkle green onion on top.
The endive spears might have a bit of trouble sitting up once filled with ceviche, so use a bed of fresh kale as a garnish and to prop up the endive leaves if you need to.
2018 Charlie Rae Chardonnay and d’Anjou Pear White Balsamic and Butter Popcorn
Serves about 9, with 1.5 cups of popcorn per serving.
Picture this: it’s the evening on Sunday, February 9th (AKA Academy Awards night), and you’ve just come home from McGrail’s Quarterly Wine Club Release Party. You indulged in some incredible Smokin’ Hot Meats and Treats nachos, so you’re not feeling all that hungry, but you’d like something to snack on while you catch the Oscars. We’ve all been in a Smokin’-Hot-Meats-nacho coma, so there’s no need to feel alone. If you’re finding yourself in this situation, I’ve got the perfect lightweight and simple Oscar-worthy hors d’oeuvre for you! This popcorn isn’t super sweet or over-the-top buttery, but it is just the right amount of tangy and salty. With the pear balsamic and just a bit of butter, it pairs so well with our Charlie Rae Chardonnay.
Whether you’re enjoying this hors d’oeuvre on the couch by your lonesome or at an Academy Awards party, this pairing is sure to become a classic! Because of its unexpected, but simple brilliance, we have awarded this tangy treat “Best Original Hors d’oeuvre.”
Munch on this during Taika Waititi’s red carpet interview.
12 cups unsalted air-popped or store-bought pre-popped popcorn, sans butter
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
¼ cup d’anjou pear white balsamic (I used Gourmet Blends’ version, but Amazon has some highly rated alternatives)
pink Himalayan sea salt
Air pop the popcorn if you’re not using pre-popped popcorn.
Melt the butter in a small bowl or measuring cup.
In a large bowl, drizzle the butter over the popcorn. Gently mix the popcorn so it is evenly coated with butter. Drizzle the white balsamic over the popcorn. Again, gently mix the popcorn so it is evenly coated with the white balsamic.
2016 Shamus Patrick and Prosciutto Apple Balsamic Flatbread
Serves about 16, with 1/4 flatbread per serving.
Have you ever had fresh garlic naan? If not, you’re missing out. If you have, imagine all things that taste good with wine on top of that mouthwatering naan. Then imagine that with a glass of the most delicious Red Blend you’ve ever had. That’s what I’m about to throw at you. This appetizer is flat-out delectable and paired with our Shamus, it’s even better. The Shamus Patrick Red Blend is fruit-forward with beautifully balanced acidity, which makes this sweet, nutty, and savory balsamic-prosciutto-Honeycrisp-pecan combo such a suitable pairing.
While I feel like the whole prosciutto, balsamic, arugula flatbread thing is done maybe a little too frequently, I’m not about to overlook it. I believe it’s a tried-and-true staple of the American palate and it tastes so good with our Bordeaux-style Red Blend. Because I know you can’t have appetizers paired with wine without some sort of yummy carbs, I’ve awarded this one “Best Supporting Snack.”
Snack on this when Tom Hanks receives only his third Academy Award.
4 pieces or about 12 oz. of Tandoori garlic naan (I used Trader Joe’s brand)
By Mark Clarin with Photos and Illustrations by Laina Carter
The Importance of Pruning
It’s that time of year again in the vineyard, when we prune last year’s growth back to the cordon. Our vineyards are currently pruned to two bud spur positions. These positions are kept approximately a fist apart along the cordon in order to keep the new shoot growth separated for later when the fruit sets.
The reason we prune back is to control consistency in production and to make sure we can still walk down the rows and properly manage the vineyard. There are many tasks throughout the growing season that require hand manipulation. Since grapevines are vines, they seem to have a mind of their own and want to grow in wild directions. Our trellis allows us to control the vines so that we can manage yields and quality.
Our estate vineyard was originally planted in 1999 and is now at the end of its ideal productive life. We have sixteen and a half acres planted to Cabernet Sauvignon and it has, and still continues, to serve us well. At some point, the need to replant is fast-approaching, so we are taking out a section of approximately three acres this year to be replanted again in 2022. Since we have our new Lucky 8 vineyard coming into full production, it affords us the opportunity to re-develop our estate vineyard.
It takes about three years for new plantings to come into full production. It’s about a five-year process when you have to remove a vineyard, because you want to leave the ground fallow for a year. If we have to remove all 16.7 acres at once, we would lose production for five years. By doing it in small quantities, we will still be able to produce our cherished Patriot, James Vincent, A Jó Élet “the Good Life,” and Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon through the re-development phase. It will take up to ten years for us to replant the whole vineyard and up to 20 years to get back into full production. Grape growing is definitely not for the faint of heart.
Whether you’re rooting for the San Francisco 49ers or the Kansas City Chiefs, or even if you’re just watching the game for the multi-million dollar commercials, every American knows the most important part of any good Super Bowl party is the food and the drinks. Is the game a total dud? Well, at least you have something delicious to snack on. Is your team destined for defeat? Luckily, you’ve got some yummy wine to sip on. Even if the commercials are the best you’ve ever seen and your team is headed toward victory, having an excellent spread at your Super Bowl party makes you the real winner. We’ve got three incredible pairings for your Super Bowl party that everyone will enjoy!
The Super Bowl has always been a huge deal for the McGrail family. This is especially true for the late Jim McGrail. Historically, we have always been closed on Super Bowl Sunday, because Jim liked to invite all of his friends to the winery to watch the game on the big screen T.V. As an avid football fan, he loved any excuse for a party with great food and wine.
Enjoy these easy, but killer Super Bowl appetizer recipes paired with some of our favorite McGrail wines!
Crispy Stuffed Parmesan Pesto Crimini Mushrooms Paired with the 2018 McGrail Family Chardonnay
Makes 18 to 24 stuffed mushrooms; 1-2 stuffed mushrooms per serving, depending on size and number of mushrooms in a pack.
I know not everyone at your party is going to eat meat, but I also know that a plain ol’ veggie platter can get really boring, really fast for our herbivorous friends. These Crispy Stuffed Parmesan Pesto Crimini Mushrooms are sure to please your plant-eating pals, and even your meat-eating mates will love this healthy option, too!
Serve these with our 2018 McGrail Family Chardonnay for a touchdown of a pairing! This full-bodied, barrel-fermented Chardonnay perfectly complements the buttery texture and creaminess of these delectable, bite-sized morsels.
If you’re thinking you’re not going to make these, because not everyone likes mushrooms, or because of the mushroom flavor or texture, don’t doubt these delightful delicacies! Admittedly, I really wasn’t expecting these to be as amazing as they were. When I made these and fed them to our tasting room staff, they were blown away, not only by the flavor, but also by how surprisingly pleasant and crispy the texture was.
16 oz. organic whole Crimini mushrooms
8 oz. fresh prepared pesto (I used Trader Joe’s Vegan Kale, Cashew & Basil Pesto)
1 cup yellow onion, minced
1 tbsp. garlic, minced
1 1/2 tbsp. olive oil
1/3 cup unsalted, roasted pistachios, chopped
1/2 cup grated Parmesan (replace with nutritional yeast or another dairy-free alternative to make the recipe vegan)
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. pink Himalayan sea salt
Pre-heat oven to 350˚. Line a baking sheet with foil.
Remove stems from mushrooms and mince.
Heat one tablespoon olive oil over medium heat in a medium-sized pan. Sautée onion, garlic, and mushroom stems in olive oil until slightly browned. Set aside.
Brush mushroom tops with remaining olive oil. Spoon and spread prepared pesto onto insides of mushrooms. Bake mushrooms upside down (pesto side up) at 350˚F for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the mushrooms have become a slightly darker shade of brown.
Pre-heat oven to 400˚F.
Stuff the insides of the mushrooms with sauteed garlic, onion, and mushroom stems. There should be at least a little bit of room left inside the mushrooms when you are finished.
In a medium sized bowl, combine the chopped pistachios, grated Parmesan, panko bread crumbs, salt, and pepper. Mix well.
Stuff mushrooms with Parmesan and panko mixture. Push the mixture into the mushroom using the back of a spoon, then evenly distributed the remaining mixture over the tops of the mushrooms. It’s okay if the mixture is overflowing from the mushrooms.
Bake stuffed mushrooms at 400˚ for 6 to 8 minutes, or until the stuffing has reached desired crispiness.
Marinara & Ricotta Meatball Poppers on Toasted Garlic Bread with the 2016 C. Tarantino Cabernet Sauvignon
Serves about 20.
Have you ever met anyone who doesn’t like Italian food? Not only is it comforting and delicious, but with such wholesome and versatile ingredients, it’s also pretty difficult to make Italian food that just doesn’t taste good. I can say with great confidence that at least 95% of Americans like toasted garlic bread, spaghetti and meatballs, and lasagna, which is why I created the ultimate Super Bowl app: Marinara and Ricotta Meatball Poppers on Toasted Garlic Bread.
Pair this appetizer with our 2016 C. Tarantino Cabernet Sauvignon and you’ll have a match made in hors d’oeuvre heaven! This Cabernet is super fruit-forward and big enough to not be overpowered by an ultra delectable appetizer. It is also extremely drinkable and has gorgeous acidity, which is why this wine pairs so well with meatballs in tomato sauce. I also chose this wine because it has a red foiled label, the perfect color for 49ers fans and Chiefs fans alike!
24 oz. organic French baguette(s)
4 tbsp. roasted garlic & herb butter spread
1 cup yellow onion, minced
4 oz. sliced Crimini mushrooms, minced
1 tbsp. garlic, minced
1 tbsp. olive oil
20 oz. frozen party size mini meatballs (about 42 meatballs)
26 oz. roasted garlic marinara sauce
16 oz. whole milk ricotta cheese
Pre-heat the broiler to high. Line a large sheet pan with foil
Slice baguette(s) into 3/4 to 1 inch slices. Spread the roasted garlic and herb butter on the sliced bread liberally. Broil the buttered slices on high for 3 minutes or until desired toastiness is reached.
Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large pan. Sautée onion, garlic, and mushrooms in olive oil until slightly browned. Add frozen meatballs and marinara sauce. Simmer for about 20 minutes or until meatballs are warmed thoroughly, stirring occasionally.
Spread the ricotta on the toasted bread slices.
Spoon each meatball with a little bit of sauce onto each slice of toast. Secure with a toothpick.
Bacon-Wrapped Filet Mignon Bites with Sriracha Horseradish Dipping Sauce and the 2016 Austin James Cabernet Sauvignon
Serves about 8, with 2 bites per serving.
If there are any foods that are sure to please a Super Bowl party crowd, it’s bacon, steak, or some combination of steak and bacon. You obviously can’t go wrong with anything bacon-wrapped, but the steak really adds that superfluous extra layer of juicy American glutton that every Super Bowl party needs. I think the general agreeability of this appetizer speaks for itself, but just to add a little extra flavor, try the bacon-wrapped steak with our Terrapin Ridge Sriracha Horseradish dipping sauce.
A big, manly app requires a big, manly wine, which is why I have paired it with our 2016 Austin James Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine does have some fruit and acidity, but it was primarily built with velvety tannins and balanced structure. A buttery Filet Mignon is big and bold enough for this wine, but just soft and silky enough to complement it. With another red foiled label, this wine is also great to bring along as a hostess or host gift, no matter if you are a 49ers fan or a Chiefs fan!
1 lb. filet mignon or beef tenderloin
12 oz. uncured apple smoked bacon (about 8 slices)
1 tbsp. garlic, minced
cracked rainbow peppercorn
pink Himalayan sea salt
4.5 oz. Terrapin Ridge Sriracha Horseradish dipping sauce
Preheat oven to 450˚F. Line a baking sheet with foil.
Over medium heat, cook sliced bacon in a large pan until bacon is cooked thoroughly, but not crispy.
Cut steak into small, bite-sized pieces. In a medium bowl, combine steak, garlic, and salt and pepper to taste.
Cut bacon slices in half. Wrap bacon slices around steak pieces, secure with a toothpick, and evenly distribute on lined baking sheet.
Cook bacon-wrapped steak for 8 to 12 minutes or until desired crispiness (for bacon) or done-ness (for steak) is reached.
Pour Terrapin Ridge Sriracha Horseradish dipping sauce into a small dish for dipping.
This Friday, January 17th, 2020, at precisely 12AM, marks 100 years since the Volstead Act was put into effect, making it illegal for the American people to produce, sell, or transport alcoholic beverages. Coincidentally, this date has been named “National Bootlegger’s Day,” but primarily due to the fact that it is the birthday of famous bootleggers Al Capone and Meryl Kerkhoff.₇ The 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified in 1919 and the alcoholic beverage industry, in the Livermore Valley and across the nation, appeared to be headed toward total eradication. This week we will celebrate what is now National Bootlegger’s Day in the Livermore Valley because our beloved industry ceased to die, despite efforts made to eliminate it a century ago.
The Volstead Act: A Brief History
In the year 1917, Andrew Volstead, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and after whom the act was named, along with members of the Anti-Saloon League and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union joined together to champion the bill behind prohibition.₁₁ The bill was vetoed by President Woodrow Wilson, but Congress overruled his veto, and the National Prohibition Act was ultimately passed in 1919.₁₀
At a glance, prohibition’s primary driving factor was that it appeared to be a solution to a few of the problems America was facing at the time. Alcoholism was rampant in the United States in the early 1900s. It is estimated that people were consuming a whopping ten to fourteen times what the average American drinks today, in terms of volume of pure alcohol. Even more astounding is the fact that any person over the age of 15 years could legally drink alcohol.₉ Advocates of the temperance movement believed the resources being used to make alcohol would be of better use elsewhere. With WWI taking place from 1914 until 1918, some prohibition supporters argued it would be advantageous to take the wheat utilized in beer production and use it to make bread to feed soldiers instead.₁ Supporters of child labor laws also became proponents of prohibition, as the Prohibition Party was the first political party in American history to denounce the employment of children in industrial fields.₆ With so many clear, concise arguments for prohibition, there were bound to be a few that were not as agreeable.
In addition to the obvious benefits of prohibition, some supporters had blatantly outlandish beliefs and downright prejudiced principles that drove their support of banning alcoholic beverages. Some dry advocates believed the origin of all crime in the United States was alcohol consumption. A few American towns were so persuaded by this, they went as far as to close down and sell their jails just a moment before prohibition was put into effect. Others were brainwashed into believing frequent alcohol drinkers had the ability to spontaneously combust due to a high blood alcohol content. A certain temperance writer, who was considered “scientific authority,” wrote that even a sniff of alcohol could lead to three generations worth of birth defects.₂ We now know these statements to be so brazenly false, they are laughable, but, amazingly, there were actual Americans who believed them to be true. Those who disapproved of the permeation of European immigrants through the American population in the early 1900s found themselves in favor of prohibition, as several European customs involved the production and consumption of alcoholic beverages. The Irish brought their whiskey, the Catholics brought their wine, and the Germans brought their beer to the United States, but xenophobic Americans were not fans of such traditions, or, rather, they were not fans of immigrants.₁ Other groups known for being prejudiced were champions of the temperance movement as well. The Ku Klux Klan were known supporters of prohibition. KKK chapters across the nation were revived to support and enforce temperance, which became one of the group’s main purposes at the end of the 1910s. As was to be expected, opponents of prohibition, especially bootleggers, were often victims of violent attacks at the hands of the KKK.₃
By the time prohibition had taken effect, a large population of the American people, even members of Congress, who voted in favor of prohibition admitted to feeling tricked into doing so, because they were led to believe or had naively assumed only hard liquors would be banned.₉ The 18th Amendment implicitly stated intoxicating liquors would be banned with its passage, but it fundamentally failed to define the term “intoxicating liquors.” Meanwhile, the Volstead Act defined intoxicating liquors as any beverage that contained just above “one half of one percent alcohol.”₁₁ Even with some beers at the time containing an insignificant 2.75 percent alcohol, an amount so tiny it would be virtually unmarketable in today’s America, such beverages were to be banned.₁₂
Did Prohibition Work?
“The Noble Experiment,” also known as National Prohibition, saw a specific type of success. According to a study done by economists at Boston University and M.I.T. in the 1990s, alcohol consumption in the United States declined by 70 percent in the early 1920s.₁ Even though support for prohibition had dwindled significantly by the end of the 1920s and 74 percent of voters were in support of the repeal of the 18th Amendment by 1932, alcohol consumption at the time of repeal was still down 30 percent from what it had been prior to the Volstead Act taking effect.₄ If the only thing America was trying to do by banning alcohol was decrease alcohol consumption, prohibition worked.
If you take a step back and look at prohibition in its entirety, it was a massive failure.
Crime didn’t just take a break during prohibition. Crime flourished during prohibition and it flourished because of prohibition. Smuggling alcohol into the U.S. over the Canadian border was a frequent and lucrative business for organized criminals throughout prohibition. It wasn’t uncommon for alcohol smugglers to fall victim to murder or having their boats hijacked while moving alcohol into the U.S. Alcohol smuggled across the border was even more desirable than that made illegally in the United States, because it was more likely to be coming from a legitimate distillery and not from someone’s bathtub, decreasing the odds of it being tainted and probably ensuring a higher quality of taste. Speakeasies, or secret, illegal bars, were everywhere around the country and encouraged dangerous activities, like binge drinking.₄ New York City was estimated to have an insurmountable 30,000 of them in the 1920s.₉ The Ku Klux Klan was torturing and killing bootleggers and alcohol drinkers during prohibition, enforcing their ideal that it was a sin to drink alcohol.₁₂
Public officials and officers of the law became increasingly corrupt as prohibition progressed. The term “blind pig” was coined in reference to police officers who would turn a blind eye to the operation of speakeasies upon payment from speakeasy owners. Many public officials engaged in the illegal activities themselves. The Speaker of the House of Representatives was the owner and operator of an illegal distillery during prohibition.₂ The nation’s respect for public officers and members of law enforcement quickly waned as incidents of corruption continued to come to light. Between the years 1921 and 1923, in New York City, the conviction rate was one to every 260 arrests, as prosecutors really struggled to obtain convictions due to lack of trustworthiness from arresting officers.₄
Regrettably, it is estimated that more than 10,000 people died during prohibition as a result of drinking alcohol that had either been accidentally tainted by bootleggers or had been purposely poisoned by industrial alcohol companies, per the request of the federal government.₁ Some alcohol was still being produced in the United States during prohibition, but solely for industrial purposes. The federal government realized that this industrial alcohol could be manipulated to create alcoholic beverages. The Prohibition Bureau required these alcohol-producing companies to contaminate the alcohol with poisonous substances to make it unfit for drinking.₄ Folks still drunk the industrial alcohol, causing many to be stricken blind, become extremely ill, or die.₁ Even illegal distillers were accidentally poisoning people with their hooch. Some alcoholic beverage recipes called for the use of lead coils, iodine, and even embalming fluids, all of which are toxic to humans.₄
In addition to the multiple obvious, aforementioned reasons as to why prohibition failed, the country also lost out on what would have been a great deal of money in taxes paid on alcoholic beverages and the country’s taste for genuinely good quality wine and spirits was lost because of prohibition.₉
As we know now, prohibition was a complete disaster. Surprisingly enough, there are still chapters of the Anti-Saloon League that exist in the United States, as well as over 100 counties across the states that are completely dry.₂ When wineries today are asked to ship wine to other states, they are often jumping through hoops to obtain the correct permits, while some states don’t allow wine to be shipped to them at all. It is amazing that one hundred years later we are still feeling the effects prohibition had on the alcoholic beverage industry.
Prohibition’s Impact On Grape Growers In California and the Livermore Valley
One of the most interesting facets of the Livermore Valley is its claim to being one of the first winegrowing regions in California. With that being said, it is both fascinating and valuable to take a closer look at just how this American Viticulture Area was impacted by one of the most controversial laws in American history–prohibition. As someone who belongs to the sixth generation of a long-time Livermore family, whose family owned vineyards in the Livermore Valley in the late 1800s, and who currently works in the wine industry in the valley, this history is captivating to me.
With the first systematized plantings of grapes in the Livermore Valley taking place in the late 1870s, the valley already had a rich history in wine growing by the time prohibition reared its ugly head. The first men to establish both vineyards and wineries in the Livermore Valley had done so just after having esteemed the 1884 vintage as being of supreme quality. Just a few years after having first planted vineyards in the valley, two Livermore Valley wineries were awarded prestigious awards at the 1889 Paris Exposition. Cresta Blanca Winery was awarded the Grand Prize and the Mont Rouge Winery was awarded gold for their Livermore Valley wines. Vineyards began popping up around the valley at a remarkable rate, with over 156 of them pervading more than 5,500 acres by the year 1893. Sadly, many were devastated by the sweeping of Phylloxera through the Livermore Valley in the late 1890s and the acreage of vineyards had been diminished to just 2,500 by 1911. Subsequent to the cessation of the spread of disease throughout vineyards across the valley, a glimmer of hope appeared for the once-again prosperous Livermore Valley wine industry. The demand for wine and the quality of wine began to experience significant growth in the valley, which, in turn prompted an expansion in vineyards planted, increasing to nearly 4,000 acres at around 1918. With the news of the passing of prohibition, acres of vineyards planted in the Livermore Valley returned to its plummet, with approximately 3,000 acres planted at the beginning of 1920 and another downturn to a measly 1,500 acres planted just shortly after.₈
Even before the 18th Amendment was passed, the future looked grim for the industry. In June of 1918, the Livermore ECHO, a local, weekly newspaper at the time, published an article discussing a couple saloons in nearby Stockton, California, that were planning to close their doors in preparation for the November election, during which two prohibition measures would be voted on. In the months following the publication of this article and leading up to the November election, the Livermore Herald published several articles with menacing headlines such as, “Reports Unfavorable for the Wine Industry,” and “Final Vintage Now In Progress.” Though the first World War did not end until November 11th, 1918, the future of the alcoholic beverage industry, and more specifically the wine industry, was of utmost importance for the people of the Livermore Valley Wine Country and reports on the war were often superseded by reports on prohibition in local publications.₈
In the months leading up to January 17th, 1920, there was a mad rush among producers of alcoholic beverages to either sell their inventory of alcoholic drinks or dispose of it.₈ Although American people were prohibited from making and selling alcoholic beverages, it was not illegal to drink alcoholic beverages, and many Americans resorted to constructing cellars in their homes to store their wine and spirits.₁ There was almost a year between the passage of the 18th Amendment in January of 1919 and the Volstead Act taking effect, but sales of “beer, wine or other intoxicating malt or vinous liquor,” was forbade after June 30th, 1919.₁₂ In a three month period following the ratification of the 18th Amendment, an estimated 141 million wine bottles were sold in the United States.₉ Not only was wine sold in unprecedented volumes, wine that was once sold for 35 cents per gallon was now being sold for as much as $1.50 per gallon!₈ Smart business men were getting rich by buying gallons upon gallons of wine and marking up prices as the people of America were scurrying to buy whatever alcoholic beverages might remain before sales became illegal.₉
Following the Volstead Act taking effect, the Livermore Valley’s winemakers, vintners, and vineyard workers left to look for work elsewhere or found work in fields they might not have been skilled in. Vineyard equipment was either sold or disposed of. On January 17th, 1920, the Livermore Herald published a headline, “PROHIBITION ENDS GREAT INDUSTRY – WINERIES OF VALLEY DISPOSE OF STOCK AND CLOSE THEIR DOORS.” Three days later, on January 20th, the Herald published another headline: “CRESTA BLANCA CLEANED OUT… C.H. Wente, C.L. Crellin, A.C. McLeod, Garatti Bros., and several other valley men, made no wine this year. … The wine industry is doomed!”₈ Indeed, the state of the industry appeared bleak for many Livermore Valley winegrowers.
Hard times call for innovation in the wine industry, and for those who possessed this quality and were able to use it to their advantage, the difficult times could be forded through. While vineyard owners and wineries were no longer permitted to produce wine to sell to consumers and distributors, they were not prohibited from producing and selling sacramental wine to the Catholic Church. Livermore Valley’s Concannon Winery had established a market for sacramental wine with the Catholic Church many years prior to prohibition and they were able to use this relationship to remain afloat through prohibition.₈ Several California wineries, including Beaulieu Winery, Beringer Winery, and previously mentioned Concannon Winery, were able to remain open and in production through prohibition, under the stipulation that their singular purpose for remaining active as a winery was to produce sacramental wine to be used during Catholic service. Even still, prohibition officers were wary of these wineries, shutting some down for exceeding the production of one million gallons of wine in just two years.₉ Like it was legal to drink wine at home, it was also legal to make up to 200 gallons of wine per year at home. Other grape growers found business through innovation by creating and selling “wine bricks” through prohibition. Wine bricks were blocks containing all that one needed to make wine at home, except for one or two simple ingredients, like water or soda. This was huge for California winegrowers, as wine bricks became wildly popular on the east coast and could be shipped there in exchange for a pretty penny.₉
With the majority of Americans voting against prohibition in 1932, change was on its way for California winegrowers.₄ Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected President of the United States on November 8th, 1932 and one year and twenty seven days later, the 18th Amendment was repealed with the passage of the 21st Amendment.₅ On Repeal Day, December 5th, 1933, FDR declared, “what America needs now is a drink!”₂ On November 30th, 1933, good news came to California, as an announcement from the State Equalization Board said sales licenses for alcoholic beverages would soon be distributed. On December 7th, the Southern Alameda County News published an article stating “activity among the wineries of the Livermore Valley has gained greater impetus. All plants are being worked to capacity as orders for the fine wine for which this valley is famous for come in.” By December 21st, the Livermore Herald had full page ads for Livermore wineries.₈ The Livermore Valley had restored its vigor, though there was still much to regain in terms of vineyards, winemakers, production equipment, and vineyard workers.
Today, the Livermore Valley is home to more than 50 wineries and continues to grow. It is humbling to know the history of what the wine producers in the valley have experienced over the years and to get to live and work in their footsteps.
Bootleggers In the Livermore Valley
Did you know there were bootleggers in the Livermore Valley? Me neither. While I knew it was possible for the Livermore Valley to have had bootleggers, some history is just so cool you can’t imagine it happening where you live.
To give some background on “bootleggers,” the term was first coined in the 1880s when Midwestern traders would hide flasks in their boots when making a trade with the native people. The term “bootlegger” eventually evolved to signify a person who made, transported, or sold alcoholic beverages after Congress passed the 18th Amendment and before the passage of the 21st Amendment, becoming a permanent part of American vocabulary.₇
An article published in the Livermore Herald in 1978 discusses an institution called the Yosemite Club, located on Second Street in Livermore, which was a bootleg establishment during prohibition. The carpenter who constructed the building, Everett “Gab” Garbini, recalls a twenty foot hole underneath the floor of the building, where empty bottles were thrown when finished. During prohibition, the hole served a different purpose, allowing full bottles, or “evidence” at the time, to be thrown and destroyed when federal prohibition officers came in.₈ While the Yosemite Club no longer exists, the building still stands, though it has undergone renovations. A Vietnamese restaurant currently exists at the Yosemite Club’s former address and we are unsure if the twenty foot hole still exists under the floor. One thing we do know is Livermore has a little piece of bootlegging history and I think that’s pretty fascinating!
At McGrail Vineyards, we are so proud to be a part of the continued history of the Livermore Valley! We hope this has given you some insight into and appreciation for how far our hidden gem of a wine region has come.