Here are two fascinating reads about the development of the wine industry in the United States and the early days in California wine country. Both Mondavi and Gallo have had tremendous lasting impact on wine, the domestic and international wine business, and how wine is perceived by the American public. Their tales are of immigrant families working in an agricultural business that evolves, in the course of one generation, into a glamorous, international business.
The House of Mondavi: The Rise and Fall of an American Wine Dynasty by Julia Flynn Siler (Gotham, $15)
This New York Times bestseller is the story of four generations of the Mondavi family. From Italy to California in the early 20th Century, the family patriarch, Cesare, purchased Charles Krug Winery in 1943. The tale of the family up to purchasing and winemaking at Charles Krug, Robert Mondavi’s ousting, and his own family wine endeavors encompasses all the drama, rivalry and betrayal of a Shakespearean drama. From its inception in 1966, the Robert Mondavi Winery was ground breaking. Early on inventing California “fume blanc,” later a partnership with Baron Phillippe de Rothschild of Chateau Mouton Rothschild in Opus One, to innovation, promotion and international renown, Robert Mondavi was a visionary wine maker. He broadened fine wine’s appeal in the domestic market and California’s wine internationally. In 2004, the Mondavi family lost control of Robert Mondavi Winery in a buyout with Constellation Brands. Based on more than five hundred hours of interviews, House of Mondavi offers an in-depth, firsthand view of Napa Valley and the people instrumental in the development of the modern fine wine industry.
Blood and Wine: Unauthorized Story of the Gallo Wine Empire by Ellen Hawkes (Simon & Schuster, $34.95)
Published in 1993, Blood and Wine is a history of the Gallo family and its wine business, E & J Gallo. It is a tale of an immigrant family coming to California in the early 20th Century to work in agriculture. They grow grapes, survive Prohibition through the home wine making business back East, and end up in the wine business after Repeal. The book covers the development of the United States wine market, consumer preference for hard liquor, and how Gallo works to develop products to match consumer preferences, while widening wine’s appeal. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, in 2005, E & J Gallo Company accounted for 25% of all wines sales in the United States and was the second largest producer of wine in the world. The author presents an unromanticized picture of the family and business decisions resulting, over time, in a lengthy, bitter court battle. Overall, this offers the Gallo’s story and an engaging historical context to wine in North America.
Two other books on the Gallos are the authorized story of Gallo, Ernest & Julio: Our Story (Times Books, $45) and the recently released Gallo Be Thy Name: The Inside Story of How One Family Rose to Dominate the U.S. Wine Market (Phoenix Books, $22.95) The latter is on my holiday wish list, however, reader feedback has left me believing Blood and Wine is the more thorough, well written option.
One more note: If you think only of Boone’s Farm or Night Train when you think of Gallo, think again. Gallo has many wines bottled under separate brands. Here are some brands that may surprise you.
Anapamu, Andre, Ballatore Spumante, Barefoot Cellars, Bella Sera, Black Swan, Bridlewood Winery, Burlwood, Carlo Rossi, Copperidge, Da VINCI, Dancing Bull, Ecco Domani, Frei Brothers, Gossamer Bay, Indigo Hills, Liberty Creek, Livingston Cellars, MacMurray Ranch, Marcelina, Louis M. Martini, McWilliams Hanwood Estate, Mirassou, Napa Valley Vineyards, Peter Vella, Rancho Zabaco, Redwood Creek, Red Bicyclette, Sola Vista, Tott’s, Turning Leaf, Twin Valley Vineyards, Whitehaven, Wild Vines, and William Wycliff
Email me with your favorite wine books and why you like them. A good wine book recommendation is always appreciated.