McGrail Vineyards and Winery wines pair perfectly for Thanksgiving Dinner!
As the leaves change and a crisp breeze fills the air, we find ourselves reflecting on the year that’s gone by and expressing our deepest gratitude for your unwavering support. Your loyalty to McGrail Vineyards has been a driving force behind our passion for producing exceptional wines. We’re truly thankful for each and every one of you.
With Thanksgiving just around the corner, we want to invite you to celebrate this special time of year with us. Whether you’re hosting a grand feast of sharing an intimate meal with loved ones, our wines are the perfect accompaniment to your Thanksgiving dinner.
Our Shamus Patrick Red Blend is a Bordeaux style red blend, and an exquisite, limited-production wine, known for its rich, velvety texture, and complex flavors. It pairs beautifully with the traditional flavors of Thanksgiving.
As you gather around the table for the main course, the Shamus Patrick Red Blend is a splendid choice to enhance the flavors of roast turkey, cranberry sauce, and savory stuffing.
Don’t forget to save room for dessert! Our McGrail Vineyards Merlot is the perfect pairing for pumpkin pie or chocolate desserts.
To make your Thanksgiving celebrations even more memorable, we’ve put together a special offer for you. Use the code “GRATITUDE2023” to enjoy a 35% discount on your order of our Shamus Patrick Red Blend. This offer is valid until November 30th, 2023.
Thank you for being a part of the McGrail Vineyards family. We wish you a joyous and grateful Thanksgiving season filled with love, laughter, and, of course, exceptional wine.
Cheers to you and to the memories we continue to create together. For further pairing ideas for your Thanksgiving dinner, join us for Gather, Gobble, and Cheers on Thursday, November 16th. More information here.
The Livermore Valley Luxury Wine Weekend is next month: March 24th – March 26th at the Purple Orchid Resort and Spa featuring McGrail Vineyards and Cuda Ridge Wines. This unique weekend experience was brought to life with the partnerships between Cuda Ridge, McGrail Vineyards, and Purple Orchid Resort and Spa. Our goal is to provide an extravagant wine experience highlighting quality wines from Livermore Valley and showcasing the amazing region we live in.
Livermore Valley is largely a day trip for visitors to the Livermore Valley wineries. “The Luxury Wine Weekend is our first attempt to show that Livermore Valley Wine Community is an ideal weekend destination spot for wine lovers”, says Heather McGrail. “We have something special here where the community of growers and vintners in Livermore Valley have created a place where you can find incredible wines and unique experiences with family style hospitality”. With our proximity to San Francisco, San Jose, and Oakland we are the perfect weekend getaway. You get to leave the city and escape into a relaxing country lifestyle.
Livermore wineries have continued to raise the bar on quality year after year. The Livermore Valley Luxury Wine Weekend showcases several of our top-quality wines of the region and brings together the family style hospitality we are known for. “Livermore Valley had another great showing at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition winning 174 awards, with 79 of those being Gold, Double Gold, and Best of Class”, say Larry Dino. “And there is no better place to host the weekend experience than the Purple Orchid Resort and Spa, a Luxury Boutique Hotel in Livermore’s wine country”.
Details about the Weekend
This exclusive weekend includes a two-night stay at the Purple Orchid. Friday night reception with the winemakers and proprietors of McGrail Vineyards and Cuda Ridge Wines hosted at the resort. Off-site Vertical and Library tastings at each of the wineries. Lunch in the vineyards, wine dinner with LB Steak capped off by an evening of live music, and much more. This is an exclusive experience, you will not want to miss.
Contact the Purple Orchid Resort and Spa at (925) 606-8855 for more information and reservations.
Happy New Year! We are thankful for 2022—a year of incredible blessings, new friends, some sort of new normalcy, and wonderful memories that we won’t soon forget. As we take a moment to reflect on the past year, reminiscing on the hardships, the joyful moments, and everything in between, we remember how truly fortunate we are to have such supportive friends and family. All of us at McGrail Vineyards thank you for your enduring devotion and championship in 2022. We approach 2023, our fifteenth year, with the same enthusiasm and passion we’ve had throughout our journey and look forward to the new experiences it delivers.
Join us as we look back at the past year and remember a few of the great memories!
From Chardonnay in our Sparkling program to Touriga Nacional in our Slainte, we harvested from August 15th to November 1st. Of our longest harvests in Mark’s 40+ years of Winemaking. Mark gives a full harvest recap HERE.
Wine Club Release Parties
We celebrated our fantastic members all year long with Release Parties in February, May, August and November for our Quarterly Members and in September for our Annual Members! The release parties were a favorite of ours as we got to catch up with our friends, enjoy live music, and taste the newest vintage of some of our favorite wines!
Wine Education Events and Classes
While we love all things wine, we also LOVE learning more about the intricacies of wine, wine with food, wine with music, and wine with fitness. Some of our favorite events are the classes we host with our local friends that include cheese and wine pairings, cheeseboard making classes, chocolate truffles and wine, and fitness classes that are savored with wine following! When we aren’t pairing the wine, we love to see how the wine ages by offering comparative tastings of multiple vintages.
The views from the top of the Greenville hill are breathtaking. Whether you are tasting from the patio or picnicking on the front lawn, you can’t help but enjoy those beautiful views. As the sunsets in the west, the views become even more spectacular and make our Sunset concerts some of the very best events we offer. In 2022, we offered several concerts from our local live musicians as well as a few larger names including Pasquale, the Italian tenor.
We are truly honored to have received so many awards in 2022. Our wines have continued to grow and evolve and we have been fortunate enough to received some third party endorsements with many of our wines. Here’s a few of our favorites!
As we celebrate the past year, we are so blessed to have each and every one of our customers in our lives! From the tasting room to the crush pad, the people we have met through the winery, make it the very best! We look forward to a fantastic 2023 and look forward to many great memories to come!
We are thrilled to welcome our Holy McGrail Wine Club Members to our brand new lounge, located in the barrel room at McGrail Vineyards.
Holy McGrail Wine Club Members
The Members Lounge has been updated with farm-style tables for you and your family to enjoy McGrail wines
Members Lounge is open to Wine Club Members and up to 5 guests at any given time. Our farm tables are communal and available first come, first serve. Please note that the Lounge is setup to enjoy wine by the glass or bottle.
For wine tasting, please book a reservation on the patio or taste at our front bar before or after enjoying the lounge.
Our members lounge is located in our barrel room and is open on non-event, weekend days. We have communal seating at farm tables available on a first come, first serve basis. This room is open to Holy McGrail Wine Club Members. We do not make reservations for this room as it is designed for those on property before or after their tastings. Please make sure to book a tasting on the patio or at the front bar before or after you enjoy the lounge. While we love your furry friends, only service animals are allowed. Children are welcome to join their parents in the members lounge, but must remain seated.
Heather McGrail shares our February release wines from the Livermore Valley!
Winter Wines getting us through the Cold!
As the temperatures are cool, picking up a nice glass of Cabernet warms you from the inside out. In February we release three Cabernets and our Cabernet based Rosé that is definitely a fan favorite!
Kylie Ryan Rosé
Named after my oldest daughter, Kylie Ryan, the Rosé is refreshing, easy sipping, and a great wine to pair with all kinds of food! Our 2022 Kylie Ryan Rosé was fermented in both stainless steel and experienced red wine barrels, with about 10% fermented in oak and the remaining 90% fermented in stainless steel. A complex wine with a bouquet of raspberries, clover honey, green apple and watermelon jolly rancher. The palate is light and bright with notes of lemon verbena, hint of strawberry, and a cherry candy finish. This wine is fermented bone dry and pairs nicely with a meal or poolside! Pair with chicken and waffles, garden salad with oranges and beets, or a pulled pork slider with apple and mango slaw. This is a red wine lover’s rosé.
C. Tarantino Cabernet Sauvignon
Our 2020 C. Tarantino Cabernet is a beautiful garnet red. This wine opens with boysenberry taking the lead and aromas of bright cherry, black plum, cassis, and violet following. The palate is layered with boysenberry, cassis, cigar box notes, and butterscotch. The wine finishes with a hint of anise and the wine is beautifully blanched with great acidity and tannins. This wine is the most drinkable now and will continue to age well. Pair this with BBQ pork nachos and pickled onions, pulled pork sandwich, or a delicious pot roast.
Timeless Cabernet Sauvignon
Our Timeless Cabernet is dark burgundy red. A rustic wine with a bouquet of cherry, blackberry, vanilla, and chanterelle mushrooms. Hints of black pepper and vanilla linger with cassis and sweet night jasmine. The palate is complex with plum, tobacco leaf, and spiced nutmeg married with the dark fruit notes of blackberry and cherry. The finish is long with dark roasted coffee notes. This wine pairs nicely with steamed dumplings with a ginger hoisin sauce, grilled chicken with a black mole sauce, or roasted duck.
A Jó Élet – The Good Life Cabernet Sauvignon
Our A Jó Élet, The Good Life Cabernet, is a deep, dark burgundy red. This elegant California Cabernet offers bold and ripe aromas of cherry, red plum, blackberry compote, baking spices all with a subtle hint of sweet roses. The fruit is balanced by earthy characteristics including black pepper, oregano, thyme, and winter baking spices. As this wine opens, the complexity of flavors arise and the ripe fruit is complemented with cocoa, dried tea leaves, fennel, nutmeg, clove, and vanilla. The tannins are bold and leave an exceptionally long finish with luscious, mouth-coating tannins. Pair this wine with brisket based beef bourguignon, hanger steak and asparagus, or meatballs.
Heather McGrail shares our newest released wines all from the Livermore Valley!
Our Family Release
We are so excited to share the family series of wines with you. Each of these wines are named after grandkids, besides the James Vincent, which is named after my Father, the co-founder. We hope you enjoys these as much as we do.
Charlie Rae Chardonnay
A favorite of mine! The Charlie Rae Chardonnay is named after my sweet and spunky niece, Charlotte Rae. The California style Chardonnay is rich, creamy, buttery, but balanced by bright fruit. This wine stands alone, but I recently enjoyed it with baked brie wrapped in phyllo dough, apple slices, and candied walnuts.
Austin James Cabernet Sauvignon
Charlie’s older brother is Austin James and he is the 2nd oldest Grandson in the family. This fruit driven Cabernet has black cherry, boysenberry, and blackberry. The fruit elegantly blends with the milk chocolate and vanilla notes and is decadent! I recently paired this with the most delicious Chocolate Cherry brownies, try this one!
Chocolate Cherry Brownies paired with Austin James Cabernet
Cook time: 40 min
½ Cup Unsalted Butter
1 ¼ Cups Sugar
1 tbs Canola Oil
2 large eggs
2 tsp Vanilla Extract
½ Cup Flour
½ Cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 Tbs Cornstarch
¼ Tsp. Salt
1 Cup Dark Chocolate Chips
1 Cup Frozen pitted cherries
A handful of fresh cherries
1. Preheat oven to 350°F & line a 9 x 9-inch square pan with parchment paper.
2. In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter, oil, and sugar with a hand mixer on high until the mixture is smooth. Next, add the eggs and vanilla extract and mix all together.
3. Add flour, cocoa powder, cornstarch, and salt and mix again until well-combined, making sure your batter is smooth and free of clumps.
4. Fold in your chocolate chips and frozen cherries *Reserve a handful of each to add on top
5. Use a spatula to transfer the batter into your lined pan, smoothing it out to spread the batter evenly throughout the pan. Place reserved cherries, fresh cherries, and chocolate chips on top
6. Bake for 30-35 minutes. Allow to cool completely before slicing. Pair with our 2020 Austin James Cabernet! Enjoy!
Shamus Patrick Red Blend
Shamus Patrick is named after the oldest grandson. This Bordeaux style blend is a gem! Perfect food pairing wine that starts with purple fruit notes such as plum and blackberries. Rose petal, sandalwood, and mulled wine spices are all evident if you have the patience to allow this complex wine to open up. I love to pair the Shamus Patrick with fettuccine pasta with beef and mushroom ragout!
James Vincent Cabernet Sauvignon
The James Vincent is named after my later father, Jim McGrail. This was the first vintage after his passing and I truly believe he had a hand in it from up above. It is one of my favorite vintages, elegant, bold, and velvety tannins. This wine opens with dark cherry, cassis, violet and vanilla. As the wine opens a bit you get more complex flavors and the toasty notes start to shine. Year after year, James Vincent continues to be one of our favorite wines! Pair this wine with a delicious filet mignon or a ribeye steak.
Winemaker, Mark Clarin, shares an insiders view of the 2022 Grape Harvest in the Livermore Valley!
The 2022 vintage has been a classically different vintage from the other 43 I have lived through. I had hopes in January and the preceding December of having a decent rainfall year, but February came along and dried out and this trend continued through spring and into summer. We managed a few classic April showers but that didn’t really make up for the deficit. Then, we had frost after bud break on the Lucky 8 Vineyard which affected primarily the Grenache Blanc and Cabernet Franc.
The growing season was warm but not really hot for the most part. And then, Labor Day weekend showed up with a heat spell that broke records. We hit 114 degrees in Livermore and had about 5 days of extreme heat. In a matter of a few days, vines that normally ripen over several weeks, were ripe and ready to go. And, the vines that were behind, began stalling out.
Heat wave ends, rain follows
As the heat wave ended, things seemed to be going back to normal, and then we had a rain and hail storm September 18-20th. Fortunately, our two vineyard properties managed to miss the hailstorm and the weather finally mellowed out. With the weather normalizing, it gave us a little break between the early and late ripeners and allowed us to wrap up the last ¼ of our vines calmly for one of the craziest vintages I have seen! Even though September proved to be challenging in the vineyard, the fruit is tasting delicious.
CBS came by for a visit and had a quick interview with our team picking. Check out the interview HERE
9-19-22 The weather cooled down and we actually have rain for the past two days. We harvested most of the Estate Cabernet before the rain and will finish on the 21st. The rain and cool weather have helped us keep the fruit from drying up. At this point, it seems as though we will finish harvest by the end of the following week.
9-21-22 We had a crazy scare last night as we were heading out to pick the last of the estate vineyard. I was at home cooking dinner and a torrential rain cell came through my neighborhood. I panicked and called my viticulture partner and we raced out to the vineyard to halt the picking. By miracle, the vineyard was dry and in great condition for harvesting. We processed the fruit from there and the clone 30 from lucky 8. I think Jim was watching out for us.
9-26-22 I checked the remaining vineyards as we were scheduled for Wednesday harvest on a couple blocks. I called it off. The cool weather and the rain from the prior week seems to have put those blocks back to “normal”. We will continue to pump over our fermenters and possibly press some before the next harvest day.
10-5-22. We started pressing off our Cabernet fermenters this week. The wines are spectacular with intense color and flavors. The vineyard continues to progress at an excruciatingly slow pace. So, we are taking advantage of the situation to get a head start on barreling down wines.
10-19-22 The tale of the 2022 vintage is the continued struggle to get pickers, so we organized our own group of pickers utilizing tasting room staff and family members. This turned out to be the hottest day of October hitting 95F. I thought I was going to die and am in awe of the professionals that do this everyday. It took us until 1:30pm to pick a whopping 1.3 tons. I think there were 6 of us to start and 4 for the duration. Not ideal but we managed.
10-20-22 Heather rallied about 15 people for pick day 2 and we picked 2 tons before noon. Things are looking up. We just might finish harvest yet. Only about 25 tons to go. Oh my! We really are so fortunate for our great community. We had wine club members, tasting room team members, friends, neighbors all show up to pitch in and help.
10-21-22 We filled barrels with our Cabernet that we pressed last week. In the meantime, we are continuing our sampling of the vineyard and coordinating the next harvest dates.
10-23-22 I’m starting to feel like we will never be done with this crush. We pressed off the Touriga and Souzao grapes and put that to barrel on the 24th. On Wednesday we had about 15 people in the vineyard to pick the Petit Verdot form Lucky 8 and I also found pickers to pick the Merlot, Malbec and Cab Franc from Lucky 8 on Thursday the 27th.
10-28-22 PICAZO Merlot came in on Friday leaving 2 blocks to go and now I feel like we are going to make it. As my friend and colleague Randall Grahm told me when I went to work for him; “with winemaking we are in a constant state of flux”.
10-31-22 It’s Halloween and I reminisce about being finished with harvest in years gone by. We harvested 4.4 tons from the C. Tarantino Vineyard today. All in all a beautiful day and we were finished long before donning our masks and costumes for the evening’s festivities.
11-1-22 LAST DAY of harvest 2022. We harvested 17.25 tons of Cabernet Sauvignon Clone 15 from the Lucky 8 property. The vintage has presented many challenges so far, with hot weeks, cold weeks, rainy weeks and cool months. Of course the last day has to start out warm, switch to cold and windy and then dump a bunch of water on our heads. Except we were able to pivot and move the sorting equipment into the building, out of the rain and reasonably dry. We started harvesting at 4:30 am and wrapped up the processing by 5pm. I was waiting for brix and color. We got 25.4 brix coming in. I’ll let you know how it colors up but I’m confident.
A Tale of Two Vintages – 2022
We managed to still have great phenolics, good acid, and we are optimistic about 2022’s harvest. The yields on a few varietals are light, but the quality is present. 2022 Grape Harvest in the Livermore Valley is like none other.
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 bootlegger Al Capone and Meryl Kerkhoff, the son of another prolific prohibition era bootlegger.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 its appearance of being a solution to a few of the problems America was facing at the time. Alcoholism was rampant in the United States in the early 1900’s. 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 World War I 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, absolutely absurdly, was considered “scientific authority” at the time, 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 1900’s 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 1910’s. 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 1990’s, alcohol consumption in the United States declined by 70 percent in the early 1920’s.₁ Even though support for prohibition had dwindled significantly by the end of the 1920’s 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 1920’s.₉ The Ku Klux Klan was torturing and killing bootleggers and alcohol drinkers during prohibition, enforcing their ideal of it being 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 seriously 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 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 of prohibition 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 1800’s, 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 1870’s, 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 1890’s 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 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 commercial 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 1880’s 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 I’m 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.