Days Of Wine And Roses

9 Feb

Actually, there is nothing about roses in this post. I have been trying to find a way to steal that title for a while and finally figured out a way to do it. This post is entirely about wine and the growth of its popularity in the United States.Wine

Wine is everywhere. We have a wine fridge in the bonus room. There is a new store in town that focuses on wine. I have friends who are proud to wear the moniker of Wine Snob. I know a guy named Dave who makes homemade wine. Doctors tell us that drinking wine is good for our hearts. Restaurants have wine lists that match the wine that goes best with a meal. As I said, wine is everywhere.

I understand the love of what. However, I do not understand when that love began. Historically, the United States has been a nation of people who desire alcohol that is made from grain. Whiskey. Rye. Beer. Those types of things. This history springs, I think, from two places.

One, the United States was birthed from Great Britain and its tradition of grain alcohol. I am not an expert in the history of European agriculture, but I think grapes have always grown better in southern Europe. Great Britain was in a non-grape zone.

Two, Americans did not run into proper grape growing areas until someone figured out that it could be done in northern California. I am not sure when that started, but it was long after Americans had created a tradition of drinking something else.

I suppose that wealthy Americans have always consumed wine and saw it as a symbol of success. However, regular folks stayed mostly with the grains. This even became the focus on a presidential election. In 1840, William Henry Harrison was portrayed as a whiskey drinker who connected with the common voter. His opponent, Martin Van Buren, was portrayed as a drinker of wine and champagne, which meant that he was out of touch. Harrison won.

This is just one example of how American has generally been a grain alcohol nation, but there are probably others. As a student of the American West, I cannot imagine a cowpoke walking into a saloon and saying, “Give me a bottle of your house red.” Instead, I can imagine him saying, “Give me a shot of red-eye.”

Prohibition was a big event in American history. Alcohol was made illegal, but organized crime made sure it was available. I have read that an underlying reason for Prohibition was to take wine away from immigrants from southern Europe, but I have never seen a film of G-Men hacking through barrels of wine. It was illegal beer and whiskey that they were after.

This love of grains can also be seen in popular culture. Think back on some of those film noir movies. How many times did the detective or dame pour a glass of wine? How many times did they put some ice in a glass and pour some whiskey over it? I think about a movie called A Face in the Crowd when Patricia Neal goes to a bar and has a cocktail sitting in front of her.

It happened on television, as well. In the 1960s, a bunch of television homes had bars, and they were all filled with whiskey bottles. I can remember Darrin, or Derwood, getting a drink whenever the antics of Samantha and her fellow witches were driving him crazy on Bewitched.

I write all of that to say that wine is a relatively recent phenomenon in the United States. When did this happen? Why did this happen?

Did the economic boom of the 1990s make people want to grab wine as a symbol of success? The wealthy have been drinking it forever. What better way to prove economic success than to adopt a tradition sign of that success?

Was it the marketing of wine producers? Did they follow in the footsteps of the Ernest and Julio Gallo campaigns?

I know that people have always drank wine, but, at some point, it became the drink of choice for a vast number of people. Like with a lot of things, I have my opinion as to how that happened. It was not a booming economy. It was not an ad campaign. It was these women.Sex and the City

I know that the women of Sex and the City drank martinis and other types of cool drinks. However, the show also provided the idea that a stylish, successful woman about town knew her wine. This popular show introduced wine to a segment of the population that drives our sense of style, and that sense filtered to other segments of our society. Then, we Americans figured out that we liked wine. Apparently, we are not as crass as we are sometimes made out to be.

Am I crazy? Probably. However, the mass love of wine by Americans is a recent development, and it had to start somewhere.

13 Responses to “Days Of Wine And Roses”

  1. El Guapo February 9, 2014 at 19:56 #

    I am by no means an oneophile, with little interest in the stuff besides cooking with it.
    But I believe in recent history, California was finally able to start making “good” wine, as opposed to just “passable”.
    I think that had something to do with it, and making it cheaper also made it more accessible.

    • Rick February 9, 2014 at 20:02 #

      That is probably true. However, there are vineyards everywhere, now. A lot of crops can be grown in my state, but I don’t think quality grapes is one of them.

  2. Marilyn Armstrong February 10, 2014 at 02:54 #

    I read a book about this … and I don’t drink. At all. But I know it exploded after 1976 when California wines took top honors — gold medals — in Paris. It was huge in the wine industry. American wine “came of age” internationally… and wine took off. Meanwhile, there were a lot us who were not hard booze drinkers. Many of us were pot smokers who had begun heading towards a more main stream lifestyle. There were SO many of us. We were the boomers … the biggest wave of humanity ever. With us came change. Whatever we liked was “it” … not because we were better, smarter or something like that. Merely because there were so MANY of us. Wine suited us … not that there weren’t plenty of hard drinkers, too. But I think we were the first big demographic in the US to take wine seriously. Many of us never moved on to anything harder. TMI?

    • Rick February 10, 2014 at 03:34 #

      I like it. That’s a lot better than my Sex and the City theory. In my 20th Century class, I explain the significance of the Baby Boomers. It’s so massive that it is difficult to cover it all.

      • Marilyn Armstrong February 10, 2014 at 03:54 #

        I read that book as part of category (history) I was judging for … well … let’s just say — a contest. I would never have read it otherwise … but you know, no knowledge is wasted 🙂 The influence of my generation is hard to overstate. I think we are the reason why health care is the biggest domestic issue now … We boomers are all getting old and it’s OUR issue. Meanwhile, on my TV Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr are playing. Together. After all these years.

      • Rick February 10, 2014 at 04:10 #

        I watched that. It wasn’t the same without all of them. Paul lived in my town for a while. My music loving students like that bit of trivia.

      • Marilyn Armstrong February 10, 2014 at 04:46 #

        No, it wasn’t the same. It was for me a bit melancholy. But it’s as good as we are going to get.

        Paul live in your town? That is very cool 😉

  3. Marilyn Armstrong February 10, 2014 at 02:54 #

  4. Andrew Petcher February 10, 2014 at 05:38 #

    Good post. I guess it has a lot to do with ethnicity. Most of the early immigration was from northern Europe or non-wine growing countries. Germany has some wine growing areas but German wine is not great, neither Ireland, England or Scotland have a wine heritage either. Likewise the Scandinavian countries. The wine tradition most probably arrived with the Italians, and the French and then the Spanish via Mexico.
    Interestingly most French vines were destroyed by the phlylloxera blight in the mid nineteenth century caused by an aphid introduced from America. The solution was to graft French vines onto American rootstock which was resistant to the disease and so although the French deny this almost all French wine is part Californian!

    • Rick February 10, 2014 at 15:41 #

      I didn’t know about the blight. That is interesting information. I am sure the Spanish took wine to their colonies, and I know Italian immigrants brought a wine culture to the United States. I would guess that the French brought wine to their colonies, too.

  5. jcalberta February 10, 2014 at 15:32 #

    In my drinking days price was more important than vintage. Heh heh. But I do recall that a lot of American and Canadian wine was just swill compared to European brands. Then suddenly things changed – almost overnight – and North American wines started to win at international competitions – as you say. Now there are many excellent NA wines.
    But alas, I don’t drink anymore.

    • Rick February 10, 2014 at 15:43 #

      The improvement of American wine must have be part of the surge in popularity. I don’t drink that much. Usally one glass of whatever is good enough for me.

      • Marilyn Armstrong February 10, 2014 at 15:47 #

        During those years from 1976 to the beginning of the 1980s, California wines really went world class. At least some of them did. The rest — plus the remainder of the country, was and is still creating swill. Sometimes, so bad it’s hard to believe anyone has the gall to sell it.

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