As we continue with our new shelter in place conditions in this country, there are a few fine folks who are working to ensure the 2020 vintage, and vintages beyond, will be spectacular. We recently removed about three acres of our estate Cabernet Sauvignon and put the vines into piles to dry out. Today is the perfect day to light the piles on fire and send them back to the earth to become part of the circle of life. The ashes will be spread throughout the soil and the rain will replenish the soil.
We will leave the ground fallow for a year. This tradition dates back centuries and we will celebrate the year by frolicking around the fallow ground with flutes and percussive instruments to chase away the soil pests like nematodes. This is how it was in the beginning and this is how it will be (Mark 2020 v. 17). Once we have successfully chased away all the pests, we will put our clothes back on and replant the vineyard with Cabernet Sauvignon. Clone TBD.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably noticed the shelter-in-place has increased the need for hobbies and has brought out the best of the population’s creativity and resourcefulness, especially when it comes to culinary and mixology creations. I’m pretty sure I’ve spent more time preparing food and beverages in the past three weeks than I did for the entirety of 2019. With it becoming more dangerous to leave the house and to even go to the grocery store, I’ve got to be innovative with what I already have at home. Still, I know how important it is to support locally owned restaurants and I have been getting take out as much as my budget will permit. With a restricted budget that unfortunately won’t allow me to drink takeaway negronis and eat ahi nachos and rib eye for every meal, I’ve been making do with what I’ve got in my garden, my wine closet, and my pantry.
During my time as a Wine Business Strategies student at Sonoma State University, I was required to participate in a mixology project, in which students designed recipes for wine cocktails that would make the wine seem less stuffy and more sexy. Aside from this being a requirement for my Intro to Wine Business course, the projects would be entered into a competition amongst all course students at both Sonoma State and Texas Tech, judged by several Masters of Wine and other impressive wine industry professionals. For this project, my partner and I agreed on a lavender lemon mimosa cocktail, which was feminine, fragrant, and refreshing. With this recipe, our project was voted into the top three cocktails in our class, but went on to win first place in the competition between all Intro to Wine Business students at SSU and Texas Tech! While the recognition and the $250 cash award were exciting, the best part of this experience for me was learning about mixology. Since doing this project, I have been intrigued by the way wine interacts with other ingredients and how the combination of certain flavors can result in an absolute masterpiece or a total dud.
With lots of time at home and few ingredients to work with, I’ve come up with some completely innovative, yet chic cocktails, incorporating one of my favorite McGrail wines at the moment–the Gracie Sparkling Brut. Using fresh flowers, fruit, and herbs from my garden, a few ingredients from my pantry, and the adult beverages from my liquor cabinet, I’ve found a few delightful ways to complement my favorite bubbles.
Don’t worry if you don’t have any McGrail Gracie Sparkling Brut at home at the moment. We have several ways to get you these bubbles! 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)
Through my mixology research, I’ve discovered one of the ingredients that can be found in a vast assortment of cocktails is simple syrup. Made using equal parts water and sugar, it really is simple. Although sometimes simple is best, simple usually isn’t flavorful or interesting, which is why I decided to make some herb and floral-infused simple syrups with what I have at home and base each cocktail around these flavors.
Before you turn around and decide you don’t want to make these cocktails because the simple syrups are too much work, let me tell you, they’re NOT. It took me less than ten minutes to make each simple syrup. Every one of these recipes can easily be doubled or tripled to produce more and these tasty syrups are so versatile, they can also be used in coffee, tea, lemonade, and really any other beverage, not just cocktails.
If you don’t have all the ingredients to make them right now, ask your neighbors! I would be honored to give up some of my ginormous rosemary plant to someone who just needed a delicious cocktail to get through another day of shelter-in-place.
Lavender-Infused and Rosemary-Infused Simple Syrups
I first became acquainted with lavender simple syrup during my wine cocktail project at SSU and I fell in love immediately. I know floral flavors aren’t for everyone, but OMG, this stuff is special. Not only is lavender revered for its healing and medicinal properties, it also combats anxiety, depression, and insomnia. I think everyone could use a little bit of some relaxing lavender in their lives right now. I was excited to find my French and English lavender in bloom this past week, so I decided to dry a bunch of it. If you’ve never dried a bunch of lavender before, here‘s a quick how-to from HGTV. If you don’t have French or English lavender at home, dried buds can be purchased online through Amazon or Cost Plus World Market.
Another herb I tend to have a ton of in my garden is rosemary. I love the way it smells and tastes, especially when it’s fresh. Although it’s normally used in savory foods, it’s pretty versatile and can also be used in sweet drinks.
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 tbsp. dried lavender buds or 1/4 to 1/3 cup fresh rosemary leaves
In a small saucepan, heat water, sugar, and lavender buds or rosemary leaves over medium, stirring frequently. Allow syrup to boil for two minutes, then remove from heat.
Once cool, use a mesh strainer to strain away any excess debris from the syrup. Pour syrup into a container (I used mason jars) to store and place in the refrigerator.
Enjoy in your Gracie Sparkling Brut cocktails or in coffee or tea. Store in the refrigerator and discard if not used within 30 days.
Rose Petal-Infused and Mint-Infused Simple Syrups
Though it isn’t really the season for roses to be in bloom, I was happy to find one of my rose bushes blooming this past week. Since this variety of rose is quite fragrant, I thought I could use some to make a simple syrup. I also chose to use some fresh mint to infuse into another simple syrup because it’s always plentiful in my garden. Since the rose petals and mint leaves aren’t as potent as the other herbs and flowers I used, these simple syrups were made a bit differently.
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1/3 to 1/2 cup rose petals of a fragrant variety or fresh mint leaves, packed
In a small saucepan, heat water, sugar, and rose petals or mint leaves over medium, stirring frequently. Allow syrup to boil for two minutes, then remove from heat.
Once cool, pour syrup into a container (I used mason jars) to store and place in the refrigerator. Allow the rose petals or mint leaves to sit in the syrup for 12 to 24 hours, in order to maximize the flavor extraction.
Once the rose petals or mint leaves have sat in the syrup for long enough, use a mesh strainer to strain away any excess debris from the syrup.
Enjoy in your Gracie Sparkling Brut cocktails or in coffee or tea. Store in the refrigerator and discard if not used within 30 days.
Gracie Sparkling Brut Cocktails
Now for the fun part–the cocktails! I’ve based four cocktails around each of the aforementioned simple syrups I made. Albeit each cocktail is unique and interesting, all contain one very important ingredient: McGrail’s Gracie Sparkling Brut. This wine was made from a combination of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, using methode champenoise. It is dry, bubbly, and delicious, and with a lower percentage of alcohol than our other wines, it is great to use in cocktails!
Blueberry Lavender French 75
Okay, so obviously I have a thing for lavender-lemon drinks. I really loved the lavender-lemon wine cocktail I had created before, but I also want to change it up a bit for the sake of Gracie Sparkling. French 75s are one of my favorite cocktails, as they typically contain lemon, sugar, gin, and champagne–all tasty things. I’ve combined the lavender-lemon idea and the French 75, added some blueberries, and decided on botanical gin to coincide with the floral flavors of lavender. I love this drink.
About 15 organic blueberries
1 oz. lavender simple syrup
1 oz. botanical gin (I used St. George Botanivore, but I’ve heard Sidewinder Spirits has a killer botanical gin, too. Both distilleries are local.)
In a shaker, muddle blueberries. Add lavender simple syrup, gin, lemon juice, and ice. Shake well.
Over a small-to-medium-sized cocktail glass, use a mesh strainer to sift out blueberry pulp and ice.
Fill the rest of the glass with Gracie Sparkling Brut and garnish with a sprig of lavender. Enjoy!
Rosemary Grapefruit Mimosa
This one was tough. Fresh rosemary can be so potent it overpowers almost anything else you pair it with. At first, I tested out pear puree with the rosemary simple syrup and they tasted nice together, but the rosemary overtook the pear. Fresh grapefruit juice seemed to be pungent enough to match the rosemary simple syrup and the combination of the two is lovely. The rosemary makes this drink unlike any other.
In a shaker, combine rosemary simple syrup, vodka, grapefruit juice, and ice. Shake well.
Remove top of shaker and pour into a champagne flute or a small cocktail glass. Fill the rest of the glass with Gracie Sparkling Brut and garnish with a sprig of rosemary. Cheers!
Blackberry Ginger Sparkling Mojito
What’s not to love about a mojito? They’re cool and thirst-quenching, but the same ol’ drink can get tiresome. I added spicy ginger, yummy blackberry, and sparkling wine components to this classic bevvy. YUM.
Slice of fresh or candied ginger and/or a sprig of fresh mint for a garnish
In a shaker, muddle blackberries. Add mint simple syrup, rum, lime juice, and ice. Shake well.
Over a medium-to-large-sized cocktail glass, use a mesh strainer to sift out blackberry pulp and ice.
Add the ginger beer, fill the rest of the glass with Gracie Sparkling Brut, and garnish with a sprig of mint. Enjoy!
OPTIONAL: If you are able to get your hands on fresh ginger, I recommend fresh-squeezing that ginger over this cocktail for a bit of an added health benefit and extra heat.
Rose Petal Raspberry Sparkler
Last, but certainly not least, the rose petal raspberry sparkler is probably the prettiest of all the cocktails, but also the simplest. The color is gorgeous and the flavor combo is both fruity and floral. The sparkling wine adds just the right amount of yeast and the end result is incredible.
A rose petal and/or an organic raspberry for a garnish
In a shaker, muddle raspberries. Add rose simple syrup, vodka, and ice. Shake well.
Over a small-to-medium-sized cocktail glass, use a mesh strainer to sift out raspberry pulp and ice.
Fill the rest of the glass with Gracie Sparkling Brut and garnish with a rose petal or an organic raspberry. Cheers!
I know you’re probably ready for a cocktail at this point, but the last thing I wanted to share with you is a playlist of bubbly tunes that never fail to make me feel happy! Enjoy.
I hope I’ve inspired you to take advantage of what you have at home during these difficult times and I hope you enjoy these cocktails! Please let us know if you make any of these cocktails and if you have any feedback. We’d love to hear from you!
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. 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. Because we are a Cab house, our Merlot is built like a Cab, but still has Merlot’s classic characteristics, which is why we think even Paul Giamatti’s character would be happy to drink our take on this ill-famed varietal. 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!
Have you ever tried something that is so extraordinarily flavorful that you just can’t get enough of it? This is how I feel about McGrail wine… and chimichurri sauce. Accordingly, this pairing has a TON of flavor.
What Is Chimichurri?
Wondering what the heck chimichurri is? Basically, it’s an herb-based sauce made primarily using raw or uncooked ingredients. It can be red (chimichurri rojo) or green (chimichurrri verde), depending on what kind of herbs are used. It pretty much always contains garlic, parsley, oregano, and vinegar, but there are countless variations of this scrumptious sauce.
No one seems to be totally sure about chimichurri’s origin. Some believe it derived from the Basque region’s “tximitxurri” sauce, as the pronunciations are very similar, though the ingredients are not. Others think it was loosely based off of Sicily’s salmoriglio sauce, as both typically contain parsley, oregano, and garlic. Since the English always seemed to stick their head in everyone’s business back in the day, there are some people who insist it was called “Jimmy’s curry,” “Jimmy Curry,” or even “Jimmy McCurry,” after an English lad who joined in the fight for Argentina’s independence, and some who believe it was the result of an English prisoner asking for condiments to season his meat, after England’s attempt to invade Argentina failed. There are many myths as to where chimichurri sauce came from exactly, but at this point in its history, it is most commonly found in Argentine or Uruguayan cuisine.
A Jó Élet, “The Good Life”
“A jó élet” is a Hungarian phrase, which roughly translates to “the good life” in English. This bottle of estate-grown Cabernet Sauvignon is aged for nearly 30 months in 100% brand new Hungarian oak barrels. These barrels are sourced from two different coopers, both of whom use tight grain oak from the Zempelén Forest. This wine demonstrates a classic Cabernet Sauvignon bouquet of dark cherry, cassis, and vanilla, but also offers the notes of baking spice and bold tannins that you would expect from a wine that has been aged for over two years in brand new Hungarian oak. The Good Life is rich and full-bodied with notes of leather, herbs, and white pepper, which makes this the perfect wine to pair with a chimichurri rib eye steak. When you pair this wine with this dish, there is no doubt you’re living the good life.
I hope you’re excited to try this recipe at home, because I seriously can’t wait to make this pairing again! This is probably my favorite food and wine pairing so far.
In a medium-sized bowl, whisk all rib eye marinade ingredients together, except for the salt, pepper, and rib eye.
Place the rib eye in a gallon-sized ziploc bag and add the marinade to the bag. Make sure the meat is completely covered by the marinade and place in the refrigerator for 3-6 hours, depending on how thick the meat is (longer if the meat is thicker).
When ready to place the rib eye in the skillet, liberally season it with salt and pepper.
To make the chimichurri sauce:
In a food processor, add all chimichurri sauce ingredients and blend until smooth. Set aside.
Store chimichurri sauce leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator. It will last several days without browning.
To prepare the sides:
In a large pot, bring 4 quarts of well-salted water to a boil.
Add the fingerling potatoes and boil until soft, about 15 minutes.
Strain the potatoes and set aside.
To cook the rib eye and sides:
In a 12-inch cast-iron skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat.
Add garlic cloves and halved shallots. Cook until slightly browned.
Add sliced crimini mushrooms. Cook mushrooms with the garlic and shallots, stirring occasionally, until they become soft.
Using a spatula, move the mushrooms, garlic, and shallots to one side of the pan. Add the rib eye steaks and about half of the marinade in the ziploc bag. Add the fingerling potatoes over the mushrooms, garlic, and shallots, and stir, so they are evenly covered in marinade. Add the optional sprigs of rosemary or thyme.
For medium-rare steak, cook the steaks for about six minutes on each side, flipping after about three minutes (twelve minutes total, four intervals of three minutes). Add about 3-5 minutes to total cooking time if you like your meat well done.
Once cooked to desired done-ness, plate the steaks and vegetables. Spoon the chimichurri sauce over the steaks.
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. 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)
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.