You may or may not know them by their proper names — The Volstead Act (as the Eighteenth Amendment was commonly known) and the Twenty-First Amendment (commonly recognized as Repeal) — but you more than likely are familiar with the colloquial term by which the period they bookended is most often known; Prohibition. The Volstead Act created it, Repeal ended it. And today, the 5th of December, is the anniversary of the day the 21st was ratified; the end of Prohibition.
Prohibition is an important piece in the puzzle that is Ridge Vineyard’s extraordinary history. This is how the early timeline runs:
1885: San Francisco Doctor Osea Perrone buys 180 acres on Monte Bello Ridge.
1886: Dr. Perrone plants vineyards and begins construction on the stone and redwood Monte Bello Winery.
1892: Construction completed on the Montebello Winery and the first wine under the Monte Bello label is produced.
1920: The original vineyards are abandoned due to the enactment of prohibition in the United States.
No viticultural work would occur on the mountain again until 1949. But Prohibition was more than just an interruption in service; it would prove to be the inadvertent instigator of a veritable sea change in wine-production philosophies in California. Consider the following excerpt, which is taken from a Ridge Vineyards document offering some perspective on our own winemaking techniques:
In Bordeaux, in Burgundy, or in California, most fine producers use the same techniques as others in their region. Ridge is an exception, differing fundamentally from most California makers. These differences go back to Prohibition, which severed California’s connection with its winemaking past. The post-Prohibition generation turned to the agricultural universities to learn how to make wine. Chemists re-invented winemaking technologically, independent of traditional techniques developed over centuries in Europe—and later pre-Prohibition California—which were based on empirically acquired knowledge.
Though born in the sixties to this new world of California winemaking, Ridge turned to the natural rather than the technological. The approach is straightforward: find the most intense and flavorful grapes, guide the natural process, draw all the fruit’s richness into the wine. Ridge wines are fermented using wine yeasts naturally present in the vineyard.
There likely aren’t very many people left with us who actually lived through Prohibition; to have experienced it as an adult of drinking age (by current standards at least; meaning, 21 years old), you’d have to have been born no later than 1911 or so. And even if you were born the year Repeal was enacted, you’d still be at the back end of your septuagenarian years. So most of us really don’t know what it was like. And I for one am glad for that!
To live without Cabernet. Unimaginable! To live without Petite Sirah. Ghastly! To live without champagne. Horrid!
John Fante, one of my all-time favorite authors, called it “The Brotherhood of the Grape” (something I have long aspired to be a part of!). Fante’s storyline is certainly ripe with tragedy, conflict, doubt, pain, and trauma, but it has at its heart a core of passionate unity founded on the bonds forged when people come together over wine and tell stories, unintentionally making connections that may turn out to be stronger than any born of marriages, religions, histories, or locales. In my heart of hearts, I extend both term and concept to think of it as gender-neutral, or perhaps more specifically, gender in concept if not in physiology. I think we all know what we mean when we talk about, for example, being “culturally” of a race, as opposed to being “physically” of a race, and this is sort of the same thing; we may not all “physically” be flawed and cranky old Italian men whiling away passionate hours at a winery arguing out the fundamental truths of life and all its mysteries, but “culturally” we are.
So today, on this very special anniversary, I urge you all to go discover your inner old curmudgeon man, your hidden Walter Matthau, your secret W.C. Fields, your private Groucho Marx, your previously suppressed Becket, Mencken, and Levant. Call some friends, break out some dominoes, open some wine, talk some S*&t with each other, tell bad jokes, rank on friends far and near, argue politics, music, the economy. And at some point, at some point, raise a BIG toast to REPEAL!