Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Around Town: La Canada and wine-making

The holiday of Thanksgiving perpetuates the myth that all of our founders were serious Puritans who worked hard and obeyed all laws, both secular and holy.

That’s what they taught us in school. So it must be true that the Puritan ethic was directly transported from Plymouth Rock to La Cañada Flintridge, at least until 1893, when a drunk arsonist attacked La Cañada’s one-room schoolhouse.

Another myth: Between 1919 and 1933, the great vineyards of La Cañada went dormant because alcohol was prohibited in the United States.

Local historian Yana Ungermann-Marshall (“La Cañada,” Arcadia Pub. 2006), discusses the local wineries of La Cañada. Between 1900 and 1930, our founding families grew grapes and made wine. The Kirsts made wine. The Pizzos made wine. According to Ungermann-Marshall, wine-making in La Cañada took place before and after, but not during, Prohibition.

No wine-making during Prohibition? How then can we reconcile the observations of apiculturist Constance Root Boyden, a regular reporter to the journal, “Gleanings of Bee Culture”? Boyden’s travels around the country ultimately took her to the La Cañada valley, where she observed the local harvests.

Two comments by Boyden are noteworthy. First, La Cañadans liked peaches.

Boyden wrote, “A California peach, unless peeled and sliced into a place and eaten with a fork, should be enjoyed in private, for it is the largest, juiciest and finest-flavored article of the name I have ever eaten.” (Oct. 1922)

Second, La Cañadans liked wine.

She wrote, “In the place of barren brown vines, pruned back to little more than stumps, vineyards are all luxuriant, green leaves with bunches of green grapes showing among them....” (Sept. 1922)

Luxuriant vineyards? In 1922? Wasn’t the year 1922 during Prohibition?

It is true that the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prohibited alcohol, was ratified in 1919 and repealed in 1933, but the enabling legislation (the Volstead Act) contained exceptions for medical and religious uses.

Obviously, the luxuriant vineyards of the La Cañada valley were planted for grape harvest, or planted for wine, for the sole purpose of producing wine for sacramental purposes.

My friends Dee and Mark Martinez alerted me to this issue last summer. Mark told me that La Cañada was famous for the Alicante Bouschet grape, an easily-cultivated red grape that is good for three or four wine pressings. It was widely used during Prohibition and grown all over the La Cañada valley.

The Alicante Bouschet is still grown locally in La Crescenta by Stuart and Marie Byles for the Stone Barn Conservancy. Or, as this newspaper had it, “Alicante Bouschet grapes are grown at the city-owned vineyard at Deukmejian Wilderness Park and these are made into wine and bottled under the Stone Barn Dunsmore Creek label.” (Wining allowed at Deukmejian, Sunday Valley Sun, Nov. 13).

Some people prefer chardonnay, but sacramental wine goes well with turkey and pumpkin pie. Take some to your next board meeting.

Happy Holidays!
Around Town: La Ca�ada and wine-making

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