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Nostalgia 1972

Around 40 years ago, I bought my first wine book, the 1972 second edition of Alec Waugh’s Wines and Spirits, part of the Time-Life food series.  I picked it up the other day for perhaps the first time in 30 years, and it provided an amusing and nostalgic tour of the wine world back then, particularly in the United States.


Most of Waugh’s discussion was about California, as the rest of America, he noted, was mainly making wine from “foxy” native grapes.  California, on the other hand, was making progress; it was beginning to vintage date its wines and starting to label them by the grape variety rather than using European rip-offs such as “Burgundy,” “Chablis” and “Sauterne” without the second “s.”  He correctly reported the primary white grape was “Pinot Chardonnay,” which I also remember it being called and labeled in the ‘60s and even into the ‘70s.


Most of the good stuff never made it out of the state, Waugh said, because production was so low.  His map of northern California was spare, not separating Sonoma from Napa and listing less than 20 wineries on it – Kornell, Souverain, Heitz, Krug, Martini, Beaulieu, Mondavi, Stony Hill, Christian Brothers, Inglenook, Mayacamas, Beringer, Sebastiani, Buena Vista, Korbel and Italian Swiss Colony.


Waugh made an impassioned plea for Americans, especially the American government, to stand up for their wines.  He noted that President Johnson had ordered American wines to be served in American embassies abroad, but complained the one time he had been invited to an embassy event in England, “The ambassador in question ignored the President’s fiat, and a worthy Bordeaux (was) followed by a delicate Moselle... I was disappointed.”


It seems almost unimaginable today, but on my trips to Napa Valley in the 1970s, San Francisco restaurants carried almost exclusively French and German wines.  (At the time, not much was thought of Italian and Spanish wines, either, with a few exceptions.)  Waugh further noted that, “I did draw great hope from the White House’s concern over California wines.  Could it not go one step further and add the search for a truly great wine to its many other projects?”


Of course, Waugh gave due attention to European wines, but – does this sound familiar? – complained “it is sad that my grandchildren will be able to afford only an occasion the third- and fourth-growth Bordeaux.”  Waugh noted along the way that his own wine consumption was a liter a day, probably normal for an English gentleman, which Waugh – Evelyn’s brother – certainly was.  My internist would think a bottle and a third daily a tad excessive, much more than his approved “two glasses.”  (I often ignore my internist’s advice.)


A final note about history repeating itself.  On a recent trip to Spain, a fellow writer from Texas was bemoaning to me the fact that some San Francisco writers on another trip were bragging that they never drank California wine.  Too fruity, too alcoholic, it seems. 


Perhaps they would prefer a Bordeaux, followed by a delicate Moselle instead.

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