The Bancroft Library University of California/Berkeley
Regional Oral History Office
California Wine Industry Oral History Project
Otto E. Meyer
CALIFORNIA PREMIUM WINES AND BRANDIES
With an Introduction by
Maynard A. Amerine
An Interview Conducted by
1973 by The Regents of the University of California
Photograph, Courtesy of the Wine Institute
Otto Meyer, President, Paul Masson Vineyards
SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
March 8, 1994
Otto E. Meyer
Vintner and Patron
Of Arts, Education
Otto E. Meyer, a noted vintner
and patron of Bay Area arts and
education, died yesterday in his
home in San Francisco. He was 90
and suffered from a heart condi
Mr. Meyer was born into a
wine-growing family in Germany.
He was president and later board
chairman of Paul Masson Vine
yards from 1959 until his retire
ment in 1974.
He devoted a major part of his
life to community service. He was
long active with the San Francisco
Opera, serving as president of
Spring Opera in 1975 and 1976, and
as board chairman for the next
four years. He was a founding
member of the Merola Program
Board in 1963 and a member of the
Opera Association Board from
1974 until his death.
He also helped initiate the Mu
sic at the Vineyards summer con
cert series at the Paul Masson
Vineyards in Saratoga in 1958 and
then oversaw its operation. He was
a founding trustee of San Francis
co Performances in 1979 and a
board member of the Performing
Arts Library and Museum starting
In 1991 he established an en
dowment fund for the string quar
tet program at San Francisco State
University to ensure the residency
there of the Alexander String
Quartet. He was given an honorary
doctorate by San Francisco State
Mr. Meyer also played a leading
role in memorializing the work of
photographer Ansel Adams, as a
founder and trustee of the Friends
He emigrated to the United
States in 1938 when the Nazis seiz
ed his family s firm. Joining the
Christian Brothers firm hi 1940, he
developed its brandy production.
Five years later he took over pro
duction and development of Paul
Masson Vineyards. He directed the
building of its champagne cellars
and a new winery in Soledad in
Monterey County, developed new
vineyards and initiated the export
of Paul Masson products into 40
In 1989, Mr. Meyer was award
ed the University of California at
Davis Centennial Citation.
He also served as a director of
the California State University
Foundation and Chancellors Asso
ciates and was a trustee of the
World Af f airs Council of Northern
Mr. Meyer is survived by his
wife, Susan; a son, Thomas of San
Francisco; a daughter, Ursula
Cropper of Sausalito; two grand
children, two great-grandchildren,
All uses of this manuscript are covered by a legal
agreement between the Regents of the University of
California and Otto E. Meyer, dated 14 March, 1972. The
manuscript is thereby made available for research
purposes. All literary rights in the manuscript, including
the right to publish, are reserved to The Bancroft Library
of the University of California at Berkeley. No part of
the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the
written permission of the Director of The Bancroft Library
of the University of California at Berkeley.
Requests for oermlsslon to quote for publication
should be addressed to the Regional Oral History Office,
486 Library, and should include identification of the
specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the
passages, and identification of the user. The legal
agreement with Otto E. Meyer requires that he be notified
of the request and allowed thirty days in which to respond.
TABLE OP CONTENTS ~ Otto E. Meyer
INTERVIEW HISTORY v
EARLY YEARS IN GERMANY AND PRANCE 1
BRANDY MAKING IN CALIFORNIA 6
BRANDY FLAVORS AND BRANDY TYPES 11
THE PAUL MASSON WINERY AND CHAMPAGNE CELLARS 13
NEW GRAPE PLANTINGS 18
GROWING AND BUYING GRAPES 24
NEW GRAPE VARIETIES AND NEW WINE TYPES 29
PAUL MASSON ORGANIZATION, DISTRIBUTION AND SALES 34
ADVERTISING AND PUBLIC RELATIONS 37
PUBLIC TASTE IN PREMIUM WINES 44
WORLD MARKETS 4?
PROMOTING CALIFORNIA WINES 55
APPENDIX I Fact Sheet 58
APPENDIX II UC President Kerr at State s New Wine
District Opening 6l
APPENDIX III Paul Mas son Wins Presidential Award 65
(For Wines and Grapes see pages 70-71)
The California Wine Industry Oral History Series, a
project of the Regional Oral History Office, was initiated
in 1969, the year noted as the bicentenary of continuous
wine making in this state. It was undertaken through the
action and with the financing of the Wine Advisory Board,
and under the direction of University of California faculty
and staff advisors at Berkeley and Davis.
The purpose of the series is to record and preserve
information on California grape growing and wine making that
has existed only In the memories of wine men. In some cases
their recollections go back to the early years of this
century, before Prohibition. These recollections are of
particular value because the Prohibition period saw the
disruption of not only the industry itself but also the
orderly recording and preservation of records of its
activities. Little has been written about the Industry from
late in the last century until Repeal. There is a real
paucity of information on the Prohibition years (1920-1933),
although some wine making did continue under supervision of
the Prohibition Department. The material in this series on
that period, as well as the discussion of the remarkable
development of the wine industry in subsequent years (as
yet treated analytically in few writings) will be of aid to
historians. Of particular value Is the fact that frequently
several individuals have discussed the same subjects and
events or expressed opinions on the same ideas, each from
his own point of view.
Research underlying the interviews has been conducted
principally in the University libraries at Berkeley and
Davis, the California State Library, and in the library of
the Wine Institute, which has made its collection of in
many cases unique materials readily available for the
Three master indices for the entire series are being
prepared, one of general subjects, one of wines, one of
grapes by variety. These will be available to researchers
at the conclusion of the series in the Regional Oral History
Office and at the library of the Wine Institute.
The Regional Oral History Office was established to
tape record autobiographical interviews with persons who
have contributed significantly to recent California history.
The office is headed by Wllla K. Baum and is under the
administrative supervision of James D. Hart, the Director
of The Bancroft Library.
California Wine Industry
Oral History Series
1 March 1971
Regional Oral History Office
^86 The Bancroft Library
University of California, Berkeley
This Is a valuable addition to the history of the
California wine industry. Coming to California in 1939,
Mr. Meyer made a number of special and unique contributions.
His first venture, brandy production, was long overdue. He
notes particularly that the bottled-in-bond syndrome dominated
the Industry at this time. Mr. Meyer shows how important
controlled distillation of brandy and blending can be. The
fact that his competitors did not succeed as well as he may
mean that they were less clever in distillation, blending, or
promotion. At present, we do not know the relative importance
of those three factors. Furthermore, the demands of World
War II are an unknown factor not touched on here. Probably
the real lesson that Mr. Meyer teaches us about brandy is the
critical importance of distillation and blending. (A curious
footnote, Thompson Seedless is not a California variety. It
is widely grown under other names In the Middle Bast.)
Meyer is certainly the expert on the development of
Salinas Valley as a wine grape producing district. He tells
the story from the beginning. Urban encroachment was the
villain and he gives credit to the University at Davis as the
His observations on how long it takes to develop demand
for premium quality wines are valuable 10 to 15 years!
Careful observation of the market is recommended. He also
makes the very good point that it is not the size of the winery
that controls quality per se but rather it Is the quality of
the decisions made by top management vltioultural and
Meyer is not a believer in European generic appellations
for California wines though he recognizes the necessity of
using them. However, he does say that the Emerald Dry "is
like a Moselle" in fragrance. His Justification of "Rubion"
and "Baroque" as coined type names is Interesting. One wonders
what would happen if all California wineries used coined names
for all of their wines.
The story of "Music at the Vineyards" la well told. It
was good public relations for Paul Masson, and it was good for
young composers, performers and for the public.
Mr. Meyer again makes a plea for honest labeling of
imported wines. He also believes it important that
California wines sell on the International market without
undue tariff restrict ions. However, he recognizes the
chilling effect of European Common Market regulations on this.
In the final analysis, Otto Meyer s contributions to the
California wine industry are primarily related to good public
relations. One sees now that in his California career he has
been trying to create a better image for the wines of his
company and for the wines of the whole state.
What one misses in this interview is Otto Meyer* s
cordiality and helpfulness. He is a great friend of the
College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences of the
University of California, and a personal friend of many of
Maynard A. Amerine
21 February 1973
101 Wickson Hall
University of California at Davis
As he recounts in this Interview, Otto E. Meyer was born
In 1903 In Blngen on the Rhine. In 192?, after college and
a brief time In the banking business, Mr. Meyer entered his
father s wine and brandy firm, and In 1931 he became Its
general manager. Because of Hitler and the war, the business
was destroyed, and In 1938 Mr. Meyer and his family came to
the United States. His Introduction to American wine and
brandy production came in 1939 with K. Arakelian at the Mission
Bell Winery. The he became associated with Picker-Linz
Importers, later Promm & Slohel. Through this firm he came
to work with Christian Brothers on establishing their brandy
business. When Promm & Slohel acquired an interest in the
Paul Masson winery In the 19*1-0 s, Mr. Meyer began working with
that organization. He became president in 1959- In May, 1972
he became chairman of the board.
Mr. Meyer has been a member of the board of the Wine
Institute (elected chairman in 1965) and the Wine Advisory
Board. He has also served as a government advisor on exports
and imports, and led Paul Masson into exporting its wine,
winning the Presidential "E" flag for "an outstanding contri
bution to the Export Expansion Program" In 1965
A book of text about and photographs of the Paul Masson
Vineyards, sponsored by the company, was published in 1970t
THIS UNCOMMON HERITAGE by Robert L. Balzer, with an Introduc
tion by Professor Maynard A. Amerine (Los Angeles: Ward
Ritchie Press, 118 pp.).
The interview was held in three sessions on August 10,
11, and 13, 1971, in Mr. Meyer s pleasant, bright office in
the International Building In San Francisco. The interviewer s
editing of the transcript consisted principally of rearranging
a few passages for improved continuity. The transcript went
to Mr. Meyer on March 3, 1972. He made numerous small changes
in wording, some deletions, and valuable additions of
explanatory material, returning the text on September 1, 1972.
He later re-read the final typescript, making a few minor
Mr. Meyer s cordiality and helpfulness, mentioned "by
Professor Amerine in his Introduction, were also apparent
to and appreciated by the interviewer.
California Wine Industry
Oral History Series
16 March 1973
^86 The Bancroft Library
University of California at Berkeley
(Interview #1 - August 10, 1971)
EARLY YEARS IN GERMANY AND FRANCE
Teiser: Because, as I explained, we re interested in your
perspective on the California wine industry and its
position in the world, I think your own personal
background is of considerable importance in
indicating where you gained that perspective. So,
may I start with where you were born?
Meyer: I was born in Bingen on the Rhine, the geographical
center of the major wine -producing area in Germany,
in October of 1903- After formal schooling, young
people in Germany at that time went through various
phases of business experience. My first apprentice
ship was in a bank in Frankfurt. After that I Joined
my father s business, which was the making of wine
and brandy. As a matter of fact, the brandy part of
our business was larger than the wine business, but
there is a relationship, as there is here. The only
difference was that in Germany, brandy was made from
imported wines. Imported fortified wines are less
expensive and more suitable for the production of
brandy than German wines, which are produced in
relatively small quantities and are more suitable
for consumption as wine. Our wine business consisted
primarily of wine from the local area, particularly
the Rheingau, Rhlnehessen and Nahe districts.
Teiser: When had your family firm been established?
Meyer: It was established by my grandfather Josef Meyer in
Blnfcen on the Rhine, about 1850. His business
was then split into three companies each owned by
one of his three very active sons, who felt that they
Meyer: could do better on their own. My father s company
was Oscar Meyer. After World War I he acquired a
French brandy distillery in Jarnac, Texier & Co.,
as a supplier of wines for the distillation of brandy
in Germany. The duty situation enabled one to import
raw materials practically duty free while there was
a high duty on the finished product. We made a
brandy very similar to French Cognac.
I joined my father s company in 1927. The
business developed very well, and particularly the
brandy business under the Texier brand, until we got
into the Hitler period.
Teiser: Before you get onto this (which we want to know about)
let me ask you, what functions did you serve in your
father s business? This was your apprenticeship in
the wine business, was it?
Meyer: After my apprenticeship in the banking business, I
had to go through the apprenticeship in the wine
business, and this was from making barrels, to the
cellar work and the vinlfl cation and particularly the
tasting and blending of wine and brandy. The greatest
emphasis in our family, and in most family-built wine
businesses in Europe, was the tasting. It was a daily
practice. We had one to two hours set aside somewhere
around eleven o clock in the morning for tasting.
And this, of course, was even more essential then
than it is today, when you have more controlled
The people who tasted made the final decision of
what should be done with the wine; this has not
changed. In wine making you must always know your
objective. One must know the characteristics and
taste that a particular wine should have. No techniques
or laboratory tests can replace the judgment of how a
wine should taste, or what improvements can be made
in blending to enhance the characteristics and the
pleasantness of a wine.
Teiser: Back to the Hitler era...
Meyer: Well, the first two years under the Hitler regime
didn t bring about much change, except that one could
begin to see the handwriting on the wall.
Is your entire family Jewish?
Practically, yes. We were slow in recognizing what
was coming, which was the case with many families
who were settled in the wine region and had vineyards
for generations. They Just couldn t conceive that
these insane threats could become a reality.
But of course after a couple of years things
became quite clear. Our first step was to spin off
Texier, which was a French corporation, from the
Oscar Meyer company. The Oscar Meyer company was
confiscated by the Nazis. My parents went to
Switzerland to live and I decided to come to the
United States, and did so in 1938. Because of our
involvement in the French company I spent some
time in France before coming here.
You left Germany and went to France?
Yes. This was rather foolish because, looking back,
there was no reason to delay things. It would have
been much wiser to forget the past and look only to
the future. Of course, it took some time to get a
visa to the United States in those days. My family
and I applied for a visa in 1936, but it took a
couple of years to get it. We finally left, and when
we arrived here I was still involved in the French
operation and had to go back from New York to France
trying to liquidate the Texier company.
Was this after France was occupied?
No, no. In the spring of 39* And when things got
hot in the eastern part of Europe, I went back to New
York without accomplishing my mission.
Just to make sure that I understand you in effect
became the manager of your family property in that
That s right. We still had a controlling interest In
the French corporation and its branch in Germany.
Well, let me tell you an interesting story. Our
former sales manager became the president of the
German branch of the French corporation. During the
German occupation of France in World War II, he was
appointed commissioner for the Cognac and Bordeaux
Meyer: districts. Although he became a German captain, he
was neither a military man nor a Nazi, but a great
opportunist, and he knew the French well. Before
he came with us, he was export manager for a
Bordeaux house, which qualified him for the position
as commissioner for the most important wine and
brandy producing areas. During the German occupation
of Prance, he set the machinery in motion to become
the owner of the Texier company by liquidating the
parent company in Prance and buying its assets with
the funds of the company in Germany.
All these transactions were, of course, set
aside after the war in the restitution process. In
the last days of the war, the brandy warehouses at
Bingen with their valuable inventories were destroyed.
When the war was practically over and the American
troops were Just coming in to occupy the town, some
wizard started to shoot at the American tanks with
rifles, so they pulled, out their artillery, and what
they hit was our brandy warehouse, which blew up.
Consequently, the values were greatly reduced.
Teiser: But, after the war, restitution was made then?
Meyer: Restitution was made, but I negotiated a settlement
very early because I really wanted no part of any
business there, and. the new man made a pretty good
In the meantime we had established ourselves
here. I had Joined my brother-in-law, Alfred Promm
who, before my arrival in California, had already
established a relationship with the Christian Brothers
in the wine business.
Teiser: Perhaps this is the place to explain something of
the Promm and Sichel enterprise.
Meyer: Yes, because it is closely connected with my first
activity; Paul Masson came later.
Teiser: You had married Mr. Promm 1 s sister in Germany?
Meyer: In Germany, yes. His step-sister Margaret.* Alfred
and I were old friends before I knew his sister.
*Margaret Promm Meyer died in 195 3
Meyer married Susan Colby.
In 1959, Mr.
Meyer: The Promm family moved to Bingen where I was born,
I think it was somewhere around 1926 or 2?. They
were in Kitzingen on the Main River, which is the
Pranconia wine district in northern Bavaria.
The Promms had been exporting wines to the
United States since the repeal of Prohibition.
Alfred had a partnership in the importing company
in New York, and when he left Germany he decided to
make himself independent of importation of wines
from Europe. He then suggested to his partners that
they get interested in a premium quality wine from
California, although there was very little production
of better wines in California at that time.
Teiser: Was that the firm that had earlier been known as
Meyer: Picker-Linz Importers, yes, that s correct.
Now when I came here for the first time in the
fall of *39 I had to learn about production and the
supply situation here. Each wine district is different,
not only because of the distance between Europe and
this country, but within Europe as well as within
California. I had very little experience In the
sweet wine and the dessert wine production because
this was not our field.
Teiser: What about red wines?
Meyer: Red wines, yes. All kinds of dry wines and brandy.
Of course, the first thing I did was look for a Job
in production to get acquainted with production
methods in California. I met Mr. K. Arakelian of
the Mission Bell winery in Madera, and after I had
a little chat with him, he hired me. That was my
first Job. I went through a whole production season,
in the lab, in the fermenting cellar, and ended up
running the still. I had the real practical
experience of how things were being done here as
compared to my previous experience.
BRANDY MAKING IN CALIFORNIA
Meyer: At that time I became particularly interested in
brandy because I recognized that very good brandy
could be made from the grapes which were available.
The industry and the consumers in general regarded
brandy as a kind of a salvage product and a side
line. Whatever could not be used for wine was
distilled into brandy, which, of course, was contrary
to my previous experience.
Teiser: You don t have the raisin situation in Europe?
Meyer: Only in Greece. In countries where the native wine
is relatively expensive, like Germany, the distilling
material is imported, either from Prance, from the
Charente district to get closest to the Cognac
character, or from other districts and other countries
like Hungary and Greece and Italy, wherever suitable
wine happened to be available in large quantities and
cheap enough for distillation.
In the process of distillation, a very important
factor is the elimination of the undesirable and
retention of the desirable characteristics, a technique
in which I had very good experience.
Teiser: Was it entirely pot stills that were used?
Meyer: Not entirely. We primarily used pot stills, but
also continuous stills. Pot still operation depends
very much on the skill of the operator. In order to
get a good brandy on a pot still, skilled operators
are needed but hard to find in this country. You
find very good engineers and mechanics, but trained
people who are able to use good judgment and are
careful of what they re doing are scarce. You
find, for Instance, in France that the little wine
grower who has a still and distills his own wine
actually sleeps by the still. This, of course very
obviously, is not the method of production in this
I made a very careful study of the brandy
situation in California because I saw that a very
good brandy could be made from the grapes available
here, but nobody really believed in it.
Teiser: Was this after the prorate brandy had been produced?
Meyer: Yes, the prorate brandy had been produced, but it
was sitting in warehouses with no place to go. This
is part of the story of the beginning of the
Christian Brothers brandy business.
I called on several people, amongst them A.R.
Morrow who was at that time considered the authority
on brandy, and had a long discussion with him.
Because Mr. Morrow was the leading factor in the
brandy business, I wanted his response to my i.dea.
His response was quite negative, because Mr. Morrow
was of the opinion that nobody in the United States
would buy a brandy which wasn t 100 proof and bottled
in bond. He did not believe that people would have
confidence in any other brandy. I knew that you
cannot make a good brandy 100 proof, bottled in bond,
not a brandy which people can really enjoy. You
have to blend; you have to be more flexible.
I also discussed It with Mr. Arakelian, and he
was much more open-minded, but he wasn t quite ready
to get into the brandy business. The natural thing
for me to do, of course, was to discuss it with
Alfred Promm and his partners. And Jointly we
convinced the Christian Brothers to agree to go into
the brandy business, which they first resisted because
of church policies. Some of the superiors were
opposed to the Brothers going into the distilled
spirits business, and finally we reached an agreement
which satisfied them.
My next Job was where to produce the brandy.
I found a tremendous Inventory of prorate brandy
which nobody wanted. [laughter]
Teiser: Just there waiting for you!
Meyer: Yes, it was really ready-made. We could never have
gotten into the brandy business as quickly and with
as little investment all of us had so little if it
weren t for this reservoir. I also found that one
could buy very selectively there. The original
distiller of these brandies was really not doing it
for his own account. It was financed by the banks,
with some government help, as a grape price stabiliza
tion program, to utilize the surplus grapes. That
Meyer: was the purpose of it. Not enough consideration was
given at that time to the fact that once the grapes
were converted into a distilled spirit, it was going
to be forced out of bond within a certain period of
time and the distilled spirits tax would have to be
paid. After eight years, it had to be withdrawn
from bond, whether it was sold or not. And this
really scared a lot of people.
Teiser: Was there one distiller for...?
Meyer: No, no. Practically everybody who had a still
participated in the program. Andy [Andrew G.]
Frericks was the first man to tell me about that.*
I hadn t read the contracts of the prorate at that
time. He said, "Well, you know the original
distiller has the first option on that brandy. So
if you buy these options you have your choice."
Consequently I went to work and tasted each lot of
those millions of gallons of prorate brandy to get
acquainted with the inventory and classify it by
quality and type. It took me about four or five
months to do that. As a result I had a complete
record of which brandies would be desirable.
We then bought the options from the producers
which was not very difficult because they were only
too happy to see that somebody had some interest in
the brandy; one of the old-timers I don t want to
name names when we approached him for the option,
interrupted Immediately and said, "I m not going to
pay anything for it." [Laughing] They thought they
even had to pay something to get rid of the tax
Teiser: They d already been paid something!
Meyer: Yes, they were paid for the grapes and the distilling,
but they had the excise tax obligation hanging over
We then went to the Bank of America and told
them of our plans; to go into the brandy business,
a business which required more working capital than
we had at our disposal. .This was one of the most
impressive business experiences of my life, a story
which I have told to many people in the Bank of
America, and which couldn t happen anywhere else: We
*See also an interview with Andrew G. Frericks in
The Wine Industry During the Depression , a volume
in this series completed in 1972.
were told, "You fellows come up with ten cents and
we will loan you ninety cents on each dollar at
2-3/4$ interest, and you fellows go to work." This
was the answer which Alfred Promm and I got from the
Bank of America in spite of the fact that our English
wasn t very good at the time. [Laughter] Much is
talked about the opportunities in this country, and
so many generalities are offered, but this is a
concrete, specific case of what it really means.
Who in the bank were you dealing with?
It was mainly Fred Ferroggiaro. He was at the head
of the credit committee. He had to make the decision.
Well, we came out with Christian Brothers brandy
and It was successful right from the start. And
then, of course, the war came, and with the war came
shortages. With that, of course, came a problem of
supply. We had plans to construct a distillery, to
make brandy the way it should be made, but because
of wartime restrictions we had to be content to
modify existing facilities.
Where were you making the first brandy?
The first brandy was made by the Brothers up in Napa.
During the war it was impossible to get sufficient
help, and Brother Timothy and the late Brother John
did the manual tasks; it was really very challenging,
and a far cry from the well -organ! zed production
set-up of today. But this was the start of a business
I remember that the first rectifying plant, so
to speak, at Mont La Salle was built and equipped
in 194-0 at the total cost of $24-00!
Teiser: If you were starting today, what would you pay?
Meyer: $24-0,000. [Laughter] It was a little corrugated
shed with a couple of used tanks and a pump and a
few hoses and a dumping rack filter, bottling
machine, et cetera.
Teiser: I remember the Christian Brothers brandy of those
days, and it was very good.
Meyer: It certainly was! This is something that very few
people realize today, that a good job can be done in
a simple way.
After the early and primitive beginnings, the
Mount Tivy Winery now owned and operated by the
Christian Brothers was acquired. At the same time,
Paul Masson Vineyards was purchased with the intent
to build and and develop this prestigious brand into
a nationally-distributed wine and champagne on the
highest quality level. The Mount Tivy winery and
distillery was completely modernized. For the first
time in California precision stills were installed
to make a quality brandy with automatic controls,
with instrumentation and engineering which was
unknown in the wine industry until then.
Teiser: I was about to ask about Mount Tivy s background?
I can t remember who owned it.
Meyer: It was Fred Veith and Jim Riddell s father, Samuel
Teiser: How did they happen to decide to sell?
Meyer: They got a good enough offer. [Laughing]
Teiser: Were the stills you installed the first such stills
used in the wine industry?
Meyer: It was the first time the more primitive brandy
still was replaced by a more versatile, precision
Instrument. I usually don t mention the oil industry,
but most of the engineering was done by engineers
of the oil industry, which also has the problem of
separating the distillate into fractions.
Teiser: The University at Davis has done some work...
Meyer: They never did very much work on engineering. The
University analyzed the brandy components, fusel
oils, aldehydes, et cetera, and determined which
ones are valuable and which ones are dispensable.
And from their work the engineers had to learn how to
construct the equipment and the instrumentation to
make it possible to eliminate what you did not want
and to keep what you wanted in the final product.
Meyer: This for the first time was accomplished at an
expensive installation at Mount Tivy with the help
of the Seagrams engineers who had an interest in the
project, particularly the late Fred Willkie who was
in charge of production for Seagrams. He was a great
idealist. When he had an idea, he went all out to
test it at all cost. He, for instance, was the first
one to experiment with vacuum stills on a large
BRANDY FLAVORS AND BRANDY TYPES
Meyer: When we experimented with making brandy in vacuum
stills, the results were very interesting. We got
a very fruity product, but so different that nobody
liked it. In a vacuum still you can distill a wine
at about 100 degrees against 225 degrees; under
atmospheric pressure the difference in the product
is almost like the difference between fresh fruit
and canned fruit. Heat has a great influence on
Flavor is a very interesting field because it
is so complex and flavors are difficult to analyze
which I think is a great blessing, because if all
the flavors in a wine could be analyzed and con
sequently be made synthetically, we would really have
a problem in the wine business. [Laughter]
Teiser: I think work at the University at Davis is being
done on analyzing the complexities.
Meyer: That s right. This is really Important. You must
have learned a great deal or you must have studied
at Davis.* The complexities of taste characteristics
are really the important thing. This is where the
old-fashioned wine man has the upper hand over the
pure technician. The wine man knows that sometimes
one per cent in a blend can make all the difference
*I had learned of it primarily from an interview in
this series: Maynard A. Amerine, The University of
California and the State s Wine Industry, completed
in 1972. R.T.
Meyer: and really change the character of a wine. It is
the complexity that does it. Varietal "purism"
isn t the solution for the best results. This
principle applies to wine as well as to brandy.
Sometimes you have two or three brandies, which each
by itself is unpleasant and has excesses of one or
the other flavor. If you blend them in the right
proportion, you will come out with a product usually
better than any one of the components in the blend.
And that is the art of the Cognac business. A
French Cognac is a pretty heavy distillate which
really isn t pure in the scientific sense. It has
some fusel oils and aldehydes and components
in it which as such are not very desirable. However,
there is enough skill there to blend the different
brandies so the result will be a brandy of a specific
and pleasant character which appeals to many people.
Teiser: In the Christian Brothers brandy, what were you
aiming to achieve? Which type of brandy?
Meyer: You ve put your finger on the most important decision
which had to be made. Our first impulse, of course,
was to come out with something as close in character
to a French Cognac as possible. Actually our first
blends were made that way, and it could be done today.
We found that this is not really what most people
like in this country. As an after-dinner drink, a
cordial or a Cognac are fine, but over 9Q% of the
drinking in this country is done before dinner.
We decided to make the brandy suitable for
before as well as after dinner drinking. That means
a lighter brandy, pleasant as a long drink or in
mixed drinks, as well as straight. That is harder to
do, and that is the reason we made such great efforts
to install more sophisticated equipment: so that the
brandies would have the characteristics of a Cognac,
but to somewhat lesser degree not as heavy. They
are very low in aldehydes, but they still have a
pronounced brandy character. Although there are no
statistics on how much is consumed before dinner and
how much after, one must assume that there is a
considerable before-dinner use of brandy; otherwise
the volume couldn t be what it is.
Teiser: What you achieved, was it in effect a new kind of
Meyer: In a sense, yes, that was the objective. This
development of the American brandy business is a
pretty deliberate thing. It s not an accident.
We set out to do something different, and it happened
Teiser: What is the distribution of this type of California
Meyer: You find it in all distilled spirits markets. The
volume is relatively small compared to whiskey
except in areas where brandy is traditionally popular
like Minnesota and Wisconsin. Many changes in
preferences for distilled spirits have occurred over
the last 30 years. People drinking alcohol Just for
the sake of alcohol without a specific taste, prefer
vodka. As Howard Gossage claimed Paul Masson said,
"If you can t see it or taste it or smell it, why
Teiser: I think someone was suggesting the possibility of
making a colorless brandy to compete with vodka.
Meyer: It s like a man dressing as a woman. Most things
when they become a gimmick are short-lived.
Teiser: That s a fascinating story, the brandy story.
Meyer: We ve got to talk about wine which is the subject
closest to my heart.
THE PAUL MASSON WINERY AND CHAMPAGNE CELLARS
When did Seagrams finally acquire major interest in
It acquired a controlling interest in 1950 *
But before that...
In 19^4-6 we started, slowly developing and building
inventories of champagnes and wines on the highest
possible quality level at the Paul Masson winery.
At the famous "vineyard in the sky" at Saratoga
we started to produce our own grapes, and made some
*For a brief general history of Paul Masson Vineyards,
see Appendix I.
Photographs by Catherine Harroun
Otto E. Meyer being interviewed.
Meyer: contracts with growers in Santa Clara County.
Teiser: Had Paul Masson himself made champagne?
Meyer: Yes, always. He really had a fine selection of grape
varieties up on "the hill," although the quantities
We started to make champagne and wine to be
ready for the market in 19^8. Then slowly we began
building inventories, and by around 1950-52 we began
to open up a few more markets. Until then sales
were mostly local. We started to sell in Los Angeles
and New York, and from there on market by market until
we had national distribution. We leased a winery in
Cupertino with enough space for the champagne
production. The wines were produced in the old winery
on the hill. Once things started to roll, Paul Masson
wines were sold by Promm and Sichel. That was fine
as long as quantities were limited. As time went on
and we tried to develop more markets we found a
conflict within the sales organization selling two
brands, and that was in the mid- fifties.
It was decided to spin off Paul Masson from
Fromm and Sichel. Inasmuch as my involvement with
the Brothers was no longer necessary, as they had
developed a very competent brandy production team,
in 1955 I took over management of Paul Masson
production as well as sales, and became president of
Paul Masson in 1959.
Teiser: How, after your great success with Christian Brothers
brandy, did you decide to take Paul Masson* s in a
Meyer: There are different tastes characteristics in brandy
as there are in wine. Brandies are by no means
identical. Paul Masson brandy has a little more of
the Cognac characteristic, while Christian Brothers
brandy is a type of its own, as I have described it
before. There is plenty of room for variation.
Teiser: Yours is also a blend of course?
Meyer: It s a blend also. There is no basic difference,
as you would have it between a Scotch and a Bourbon.
But they are different, and this is typical with
Meyer: most consumer goods. In general, variations are
desirable because people have different tastes.
Telser: When did you start making brandy under the Masson
Meyer: You know, actually It goes back to the old man,
Paul Masson. He had made brandy before Prohibition.
There was no Masson brandy after Prohibition until
we started again in the mid- fifties.
Teiser: You have your own distillery?
Meyer: The brandies are distilled at Vie-Del in Fresno,
which is an affiliated company. They distill the
brandy for us and also produce some dessert wines
Teiser: Am I right in thinking that the Thompson Seedless
grape is a California grape? Does it occur anywhere
Meyer: I don t think so. I don t know much about the
history of the Thompson Seedless grape, it Just
occurs to me; I never found out where it came from.
It is certainly a grape which has many good features-
for instance, as a material for brandy. Aside from
Thompson Seedless, there are Grenache, Palominos,
and a number of other varieties of grapes which are
excellent material for brandy.
Teiser: Does the Thompson give California brandies a
character of their own as distinct from European
Meyer: Well, really not. Because we make our brandies
lighter, and because Thompson Seedless if properly
handled in fermentation is a very clean neutral
material. The characteristics of a brandy are much
more determined by the process of distillation, and
it is more important for distilling material to be
sound than to have varietal characteristics, many of
which would get lost in the process of distillation.
On the other hand, if you have a grape which
has a pronounced character like Muscatel, you have
a carryover of the Muscat flavor into the distillate.
So a sound wine made from Thompsons and distilled
immediately after fermentation makes a very good
Teiser: Well, back to Paul Masson wines...
Meyer: We decided in 1957 to build a brand new winery and
champagne cellars in Saratoga I don t know if
you ve seen them. They were built in 58 and opened
in 59- This winery had a capacity at least twice
what our business required at the time, but it
enabled us to build up inventories of aged wines
and champagnes, to always stay ahead of sales.
Teiser: How did you happen to decide to go that deeply into
Meyer: There are very few California champagnes on the
premium level on the market. It was Korbel,
Beaulieu and Paul Masson, and that was about it.
Then you had Taylor and Great Western as the leading
New York State champagnes. We thought if we could
do as well as they, why shouldn t we make a better
champagne? We also felt that the champagne business
had a great potential in this country. As you know,
this has proven to be correct.
We decided to stay with the bottle fermenting
process, but to go with the times in the techniques,
to do the disgorging not by riddling individual
bottles, but by using the transfer process. This
has no effect on the quality of the champagne, as it
is solely the mechanical means of removing the
sediment after the secondary fermentation. As a
matter of fact, filtration in the transfer process
has proven to be beneficial, and it is of course
a labor-saving device, which becomes more important
Teiser: New techniques have developed?
Meyer: Yes. The techniques really are perfect today.
There are many beverages being bottled under high
pressure today. You can buy excellent American
machines because of the soft drinks and beer and
similar applications. In the beginning only
European machinery was available, but today you
really buy better machines here. Some of the equip
ment is not being made here because the market isn t
big enough, like transfer machines. There are only
one or two people in the world who make them.
Meyer: As long as you can do no less or even better in
quality by mechanization, there s no excuse not to
mechanize. A lot of people hang onto the idea that
if you plow a vineyard with a horse, it s better than
a tractor. And we hear this remark constantly: Why
don t you have a horse anymore up on the hill? Well,
it looks attractive and is more romantic. The main
point is that one really can do a better job with
modern equipment and installations than with old-
Before the champagne cellars were built, we
made several trips to Europe to see what progress
had been made there. Our champagne master, the late
Hans Hyba,* who had never seen the transfer process,
was of course very skeptical. I took him to some
prominent champagne producers, and he came back with
great enthusiasm for it. Hans Hyba actually had his
apprenticeship with Henkel in Germany.
Teiser: When you started at Paul Masson did you bring over
Meyer: They were here already. Kurt Opper was our first
wine master. He worked for Pountaingrove at the
time. Kurt Opper was one of the best wine tasters
I have ever known. He determined everything by
taste and had that certain sixth sense. He had the
whole inventory, his library as he called it, in his
head, as every good wine taster should have. But he
knew also that J% of that wine in tank number so-and-
so would do the trick to overcome a certain weakness
in the wine in number 2J. This was the method when
the organization was small and we didn t have a large
group of chemists, bacteriologists, quality control
people and research people. Today it s a different
story. In those days we were really dependent on
that kind of ability. Then we had the old experienced
people in the champagne field like Karl Ickerath and
Hans Hyba. After a few years we decided we would
take the next step to build a new winery, after
giving up the idea of remodeling and trying to
modernize out-dated installations.
*Hans Hyba died on November 23, 1968.
NEW GRAPE PLANTINGS
Meyer: Then the next step of course was that we started to
run out of good grapes, in Santa Clara and also up
north. Then we looked for new vineyard land. This
is where the University helped us greatly. We knew
what we were looking for. We were looking for not
just good soil that is one of the factors, but not
necessarily the most important one. We looked for
the right kind of climate. We know that grapes
need a lot of sunshine and dry climate to keep them
sound, but not heat. You can not have these delicate
Rieslings, Pinot Chardonnays, Pinot noirs, et cetera,
develop their best flavor and aroma in hot areas.
The University today is developing some new varieties
from certain crossings to make them suitable for
planting in the Central Valley, but the famous old
varieties were not meant to grow there. So we looked
for cool air.
Salinas Valley has a climatic condition similar
to San Francisco. It Is open to the Monterey Bay,
and the cool ocean wind comes in every afternoon and
blows away the hot air. And that s exactly what i*e
need. People told us, "It s much too windy. How
can you grow grapes in that strong wind?" I come
from an area where we have the same kind of winds
at times, and I knew it didn t do any harm to the
vines, except for the first tender years when some
may have gotten a bit damaged. Once they are vigorous
enough, the wind is only good because it dries up the
moisture, and, of course, cools the area.
We started the first plantings jointly with Ed
Mirassou, with whom we had dealings before. He also
was anxious to find land to replace his vineyards in
Santa Clara County and to expand. The Santa Clara
area has become residential and Industrial, and the
smog is creeping in. It was not a joint venture in
the true sense, but we worked together and a little
later Karl Wente followed us into the Salinas Valley.
This was the beginning of a new grape district in
California for the best varieties of grapes known.
You will hear much more about this new quality district
in years to come.
Meyer: We started with 800 acres, and Mirassou with
270 acres. Once we were over the critical period
of the young plants supposedly being damaged by
winds and we saw it wasn t true, we started on a
really large scale. We have about *K)00 acres now,
which will be expanded to 6000 acres.
Teiser: We re coming to the end of this tape, and I ve kept
you talking for quite a while, and I wonder if we
could start at that point in the next interview
and go into some detail on this new planting and
also go back to your still wines.
(Interview #2 - August 11, 1971)
Teiser: Yesterday you were telling about the decision to
make the plantings in the Soledad area. What were
the alternatives you had when you made that
Meyer: The alternatives were to Just continue in the
already established coastal areas that is, Napa
and Sonoma or to try warmer coastal regions south
of Salinas Valley. In Napa and Sonoma the desirable
acreage is limited, and there are lots of spots
which are not ideal for the best and most delicate
white varieties. Some parts in Napa, Sonoma and
Mendocino are subject to frost; in other parts the
weather gets quite hot at times, which can cause a
lot of damage to the more delicate grapes in spite
of the fact that it is an historical area for fine
grapes with many excellent conditions.
We wanted to find an area which is ideal from
a viticultural point of view, where climate, weather,
soil and water conditions are most favorable. We
looked into many areas. We even went into the
Sierra foothills to see if that was a possibility.
There may be other areas which are suitable, but
after everything was checked out over a period of
a couple of years, by ourselves as well as by the
University, we all came back to the Salinas Valley,
which is undoubtedly the most ideal in every respect,
and where you even have a choice of climate within a
30-mile radius. The further north you are, the
closer you are to the Monterey Bay, to Salinas, the
cooler it is. As you go south in Salinas Valley
it slowly gets a little warmer, which makes it
possible to plant grapes according to their individual
needs. In other words if you have a late-ripening
p;rape, you would plant it a little further down in
the valley, and. if you have early-ripening grapes,
Meyer: you plant them in the northern part of the valley.
Teiser: Are you in more than one zone?
Not really; it is all within the same zone. The
finest grapes, whether here or in Europe, grow in a
kind of border-lime climatic condition. This is the
case also in Salinas Valley. In a warmer climate like,
let s say southern Italy or Spain, wines will never
be as fragrant and aromatic as German wines from the
cooler, more northerly regions. Again then, in the
same area in Germany, you cannot grow any black grapes
very well, which need a longer period of sunshine and
warmer weather. This is the reason why there are
hardly any red wines made in Germany from German
grapes with the exception of some small areas.
All these varieties in climate that we need,
we really have in this one area here in Monterey
County, in addition to the very suitable soil and
good water supply. That s the reason why this
worked out so well and why this area is attracting
a lot of other people. The new plantings are
enormous in Salinas Valley today.
You re down as far as Greenfield,
that. That s warmer?
I didn t realize
It is warmer than Soledad. The distance between
Soledad and Greenfield is about 15 miles or San Lucas
about 25 miles.
I was Just trying to remember earlier vineyards in
There s one very small vineyard called Chalone up in
the hills between the Pinnacles National Monument
and our Pinnacles Vineyard. There are quite a few
mostly new vineyards as far south as San Luis Oblspo
and Santa Maria, which are 100 to 150 miles further.
This area is close to the coast but considerably warmer.
Which of the vineyards on this map (Locations of Paul
Masson Vineyards] did you plant first?
It s right at the edge of the town of Soledad. We
call it the Pinnacles Vineyard because the Pinnacles
National Monument is right above it. Metz Road,
adjacent to the vineyard, is the road you take to
Vir?ei/arct Jlfo. /
Meyer: the Pinnacles National Monument. There are two
roads to the monument preserve one comes from the
west side and the other comes from the east from
San Benito County where Almaden is, near Paicines.
The two roads do not connect. There seems to be
little interest on the part of the counties to
encourage tourist traffic. If these roads would be
connected one could drive from Soledad directly to
Paicines through the Pinnacles National Monument.
Teiser: You don t have any visitor facilities down there?
Meyer: No. Our only visitor facility is in Saratoga,
closer to populated areas.
Teiser: Your first plantings you said were started in 1961.
How long before you felt that you had enough results
to know that they were successful?
Meyer: I would say after the second year of growth we were
decided, and then we started to expand, acquired
more land for plantings of red grapes, Cabernets,
Pinot noirs, Gamay Beaujolais, Merlot and other red
varieties in the Greenfield area as well as white
varieties in the Soledad area. We have a considerable
number of varieties,* but, of course, the recognized
ones are the larger part of the plantings, like the
Johannlsberg Riesling, the Pinot Chardonnay, and
Pinot blano. We have also some Gewurztraminer, which
developed characteristics of a strength which I have
never experienced before. As a matter of fact, Dr.
[Maynard A.] Amerine tasted the first wine from these
grapes and remarked that outside of Alsace in a good
year, he has never tasted a Gewurztraminer with so
much character, the particular character of that variety.
*The list of white grape varieties growing at the Paul
Masson Pinnacles vineyard as of 1972 was: French
Colombard, Pinot blanc, Chenin blanc, Sauvignon blanc,
Emerald Riesling, Semillon, White Riesling,
Gewurztraminer, Sylvaner, Pinot Chardonnay, and Flora.
The red grapes were: "mixed varieties," Cabernet
Sauvignon, Ruby Cabernet, Gamay Beaujolais,
Pinot noir, Pinot St. George, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel,
Malbec, Merlot and Souzao.
For an account of the 1966 celebration of the new
wine district, see Appendix II.
Teiser: There were two factors that I wanted to ask about
in these new plantings that might be of interest.
One was, did you install sprinklers throughout?
Meyer: Yes. All the new vineyards have complete sprinkler
systems (not portable pipes) , all underground pipes
with risers, which gives us an advantage, not only
in labor but in better control of application of
water. Even in one area you may have soil which is
heavier and soil which is lighter, with different
requirements for water.
Teiser: Was it a fairly new concept when you first used it?
Meyer: No. In vegetable growing in Salinas Valley many
types of sprinkler systems have been used for many
years. But in vineyards there was very little of it.
And, of course, this was Just about the time when
significant technical improvements were made in
sprinkler systems. Aluminum pipe, which eroded
very badly, used to be the principal material, and
now it has been replaced by plastic. Also, the
sprinkler heads are much improved.
Teiser: The other factor I believe was that you planted the
varieties on their own rootstocks?
Meyer: Yes, we have in most of our plantings. The reason
for that is that we are in a virgin area for grapes.
The types of crops which were planted there before
created no problems with direct rootings. There is
no danger of phylloxera, for 20 years at least.
Secondly, there really was not enough and still
is not enough certified wild rootstock available
which is free of virus diseases. You may protect
yourself against phylloxera by using wild rootstock,
but you re not protected against virus diseases unless
you have certified stock. Therefore, we took the
risk. A good, sound and vigorous direct rooting is
just as good for production as a wild rootstock, or
Teiser: Are there any other advantages?
Meyer: I don t think there are advantages or disadvantages.
The only purpose is protection against diseases.
Teiser: Does the vineyard come into bearing earlier?
Yes, a little. You do not get the setback in growth
which you get by grafting of budding. That makes
a difference of between one half year and a year.
If we have an area where there is any doubt about
the condition of the soil, we do use wild rootstock.
There are many other important things to be observed
in new plantings, but I don t want to get technical
Some of your land had been pasture land?
Oh yes. Not all of the land had water; there is
quite some dry farming and pasture in the area.
GROWING AND BUYING GRAPES
Teiser: This brings up the question: Should the winemaker
grow all of his own grapes; should he grow none of
his own grapes; or should he grow some of his own
Meyer: I don t think that it is necessary for a winery
producing all types of wines dry wines, red and
white, champagne, appetizer, dessert wines, brandy
to grow all the grapes as long as grapes are grown
and as long as they are obtainable in a free market.
The reason why some premium wineries went into
planting so heavily is the dramatic development of
dry wine sales and the shortage of the top varietal
wines like Cabernet, Pinot noir, Riesling and Pinot
Chardonnay. These grapes are quite a risky invest
ment for a man who is only in the business of growing
and selling grapes, because the yields are very
small and the market is limited. There is no other
outlet for these grapes but a very few premium
wineries. Most of them use small quantities and
only two or three use these grapes in larger
quantities. Because growers were reluctant to plant
these varieties the premium wineries had no choice
but to plant these grapes themselves. In order to
balance out the grape-growing part of their activity,
they also planted some other desirable wine-variety
grapes to reduce their own risk to some degree. I
Meyer: see no need for a winery to invest large amounts of
capital in vineyards for grapes which are obtainable
on the market.
You have different market tendencies. You
have, for instance, at this time in the premium
wine business, a strong demand for red wines. It
used to be that white wines were two thirds of the
sales and red wines one third. Red wines are growing
at a higher rate than white wines because of the
popularity of wine with meals. This is a meat-
eating country, and the "experts" say you have to
have red wine with red meat which I never ascribed
to because I like white wine Just as well. [Laughing]
This results in a great demand for red grapes, which
has driven the prices out of proportion during the
last few years. But that will adjust itself again
when the new plantings come into bearing.
Teiser: Have you made contracts with growers, as Gallo has?
Meyer: Yes, we have made contracts, but it s more limited
on the coast than it is in the Central Valley. If
you have a contract based on market price, you have
to know that there will be a market price. Today s
prices for black grapes are out of proportion to the
production costs, and therefore it is more advantageous
for us at this time to plant them rather than to
contract for them.
Teiser: In a year when the market was just wild, could you
Just depend upon your own grapes, pull in your
production to that point, and continue?
Meyer: I wish we could. But as much as people think the
wine business is booming, it still is a very
competitive business, and if you do not keep up your
sources of supply and your inventories, you are not
in a position to supply your customer with what he
wants to buy, and, therefore, weaken your market
position. The fact that we have been building, at
Paul Masson, inventories always ahead of sales works
to our benefit now. We have a very large Inventory.
Even so, we have had to pay very high prices for
grapes last year and this year, and this may go on
for another year or two. Of course, this is not
very satisfactory from n. profit point of view, but
these are the business risks which you have to take.
Teiser: You mentioned yesterday the choice of going into a
premium wine rather than a volume wine market.
How was that decision made?
Meyer: I think I can explain that. Alfred Promm was always
in the premium wine business, as I was. We were
never in the bulk wine or in the popular price wine
business ; we knew it better than the other
part of the industry. In addition to that, when we
started in California, 80$ of the wine business was
in low-priced appetizer and dessert wines and only
2Q% of sales was in table wines in all price classes.
This was still the period when angelica, muscatel,
sherry, port, white port, et cetera, were the bulk
of the California wine business.
We were convinced that there was a place for
premium table wines from California. As soon as the
public would become more wine conscious and not
look at wine as a substitute for distilled spirts,
table wines were bound to follow. We were fully
aware of the fact that it takes ten, fifteen years
to really develop such a business, but we had a one-
track mind. This was the only route we wanted to go.
And when we saw that it finally did develop, we made
the decision to plant our own vineyards, while before
we depended on the open grape market to a large extent.
Recently the demand for grapes has almost outrun
production. At the moment production of grapes has
not caught up with this demand, but this is only a
matter of time because large acreages of grapes are
being planted, not only by wineries but by people
who are entirely new to the industry and by outsiders
who consider vineyards an attractive investment.
Teiser: Did you do market surveys, or did you Just observe
Meyer: We relied mostly on Informal observations and
statistics. I think if you go around the country
and you are alert to what goes on and talk to the
trade, to retailers and consumers, and look at your
own statistics, such a trend is not too difficult
Teiser: At that time, the other wineries who would have been
in the same field were Beaulieu, Louis Martini...
Meyer: Also Inglenook, Krug, Mondavi and Wente.
Teiser: All small then.
Meyer: We were all small. Of course, what is big and what
is small is relative. When do you call a winery
"big"? Once you get into a commercial operation
beyond the "one man" type of business? There is one
type of "small" winery which is different from a
winery producing a full line of wine and establishing
a brand with state or nation-wide distribution: the
man with a few acres of vineyard producing a couple
thousand gallons of wine and selling it locally.
All true premium wineries in California produce
on the same principle, namely: selected North Coast
fine wine variety grapes, skillful and sophisticated
production methods, aging of all wines, particularly
red wines, and even bottle aging. The difference
in the size of the winery is of no Importance. A
Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Chardonnay grape grown
on a 200-acre plot is not different from the same
grape grown on a 20-acre plot. A cellar with 5000
oak barrels of aging red wine is just as good for
its development as a cellar with 50 barrels of the
same wine. And the same holds true through all stages
of production. It is a peculiar thing, originating
from conditions prevailing in Europe, that many
consumers think a fine wine can only be made on a
very small scale. Nothing could be further from the
truth in California. Good grapes, qualified people,
good facilities and the right policy are the decisive
factors. Under present economic conditions, you can
probably do a better job on a larger scale than if
you are limited in size.
This applies also, of course, to the distribution.
If you can have national distribution and a large
enough volume, you get better qualified personnel
and wholesalers. The important factor is that those
who make the decision on what quality level their
brand should be must stick to it, and volume must
never be at the expense of quality. This is a matter
of size of investment rather than size of operation.
If you have enough vineyards with first-rate grape
varieties, if you have the best possible facilities,
if you carry large enough inventories and age them
properly, as I said before, it makes no difference
whether you make that Cabernet from 200 acres of
Cabernet grapes or from 20 acres.
That gets into romanticism, doesn t it?
Yes. The same story that I told, you about the
plowing horses, that people can t really understand
why we don t use them any more. But the strange
thing is that even my children aren t thinking of
the horse any more,
It s the older generation that
Can a small organization today survive or compete?
Yes. It s possible but within certain limitations.
A small organization can be very successful if it
does not engage in activities which require organiza
tion and a lot of manpower. The mechanics of business
today are, of course, such that a sufficient volume
of business is necessary to carry the investment and
the overhead. Even if somebody has a small supply of
fine wine, it can still be marketed very successfully
on a personal basis.
Under his own label?
Under his own label, Just in certain channels. We
have quite a few small wineries emerging like Heitz
Wine Cellars, Hanzell Vineyards, Stony Hill Vineyard,
Plcklin Vineyards, Hanns Kornell, Schramsberg
Vineyards, Simi Winery, Preemark Abbey, Mayacamas
and others. The Mirassou family is a good example.
Of course, Edmund and Norbert Mirassou have a number
of young sons to assist them in all phases of their
operation. The days are not gone where a new business
can be started in the wine industry.
Could you distribute in New York from California if
you had a small company?
Not at a reasonable cost. First of all there is
very strong competition from imports. A retailer,
particularly a restaurateur, in New York wants to
work on long mark-ups. They can buy imported wines
cheaper than California wines, and can sell them
higher. In California I think there is a much better
chance for a small winery to get started.
NEW GRAPE VARIETIES AND NEW WINE TYPES
Teiser: When you made your new plantings in this area, did
you at this same time plant some of the University
of California s new varieties?
Meyer: Yes. We first planted Emerald Riesling in quite
substantial quantities, and planted also some Flora,
one of the newer white varieties. We have not
planted, so far, any of the new red varieties which
are at the stage of being developed. There are some
promising varieties, but nothing has been finalized
yet. Most of the work done at the moment is to get
better varieties and rootstock for the warmer regions,
for the San Joaquin Valley. So far the coast is
very well taken care of with the traditional grape
Teiser: How did you happen to get interested in the Emerald
Meyer: We experimented with this type of wine. The first
Emerald Riesling was planted at what we call our
San Ysidro Vineyard near Gilroy. We experimented,
with these grapes in the fifties, and for a few
years really didn t succeed too well. It was always
my objective to produce a wine in California which
has the lightness and the fragrance of a Moselle wine
because Moselle wines are really the most popular
type of white wine in Europe. People who like a
light wine (you know a lot of wine is consumed at
lunch time) which doesn t have the heaviness and is
not as bland as many white wines are, but also not
too sweet. There were very few grape varieties from
which such a wine could be made in California. The
Rieslings, the Johannlsberg Rieslings as they re
called or White Rieslings, really didn t develop
enough character. They re good, but they were not
This new crossing which the University called
Emerald Riesling was very promising. When you ate
the grapes you could detect what the possibilities
were. But when we made wine from them in the
traditional way, we ended up with something that was
not satisfactory. But we did not give up. Finally
we found out by experimentation what had to be done
Meyer: in vinifi cation to obtain the freshness and the
fragrance and the lightness we were aiming for. We
finally succeeded. The wine needed also a little
bit of blending with some other grape varieties to
bring about the proper balance. When we finally
came out with "Emerald Dry" it became very popular
immediately and is still growing in popularity.
Teiser: That leads into the whole question of naming dry
wines and creating them, I suppose. Your Emerald
Dry is a creation actually.
Meyer: It bothered me always that a wine growing area
as important as California, with so much promise
for the future, borrowed the names for the wines
from other countries. This is not the fault of the
present-day winemakers. The early vintners in
California were people who came from Prance and
Germany and Italy and gave the wines the names which
were familiar to them: Chablis or Rhine wine for
dry white wines, or burgundy for a full-bodied red
wine. There is one change: "sauternes" became "dry
sauterne," which is unknown in Prance. Some names
like claret disappeared. White Riesling a name of
a grape variety was changed to Johannisberg Riesling,
which is really gilding the lily, as it isn t even
known as such in Germany.
This borrowed nomenclature bothered me, but it
is not so easy to find good names, names which are
appealing and which at the same time tell the con
sumer what type of wine it is. A fantasy name like
Emerald Dry comes closest to being meaningful.
"Rubion" is also filling this requirement because
ruby is a color indicating it s a red wine, and it
comes in a claret bottle.
Teiser: You introduced the Emerald Dry before the Rubion?
Meyer: Yes, but the first "proprietary" label we introduced
was "Rhine Castle." Rhine Castle, as a type, is in
character like one of the most talked about German
wines , Liebfraumllch, and we certainly didn t want
to use a word typical for its origin in Liebraumllch.
We did not even like to use "Rhine," but at that
time we Just weren t courageous enough to give it an
entirely unknown name, and called it Rhine Castle.
Was that by analogy to the "chateau" wines?
"Chateau" has a French connotation as well as Haute
Sauternes, and was known in California as a
sweeter Bordeaux type white wine.
What is the character of the Rhine Castle?
Rhine Castle is more like a German Liebfraumilch,
which has some degree of sweetness, while the
Emerald Dry is like a Moselle and has that fragrance
and freshness of a wine from that region.
Then, the next one was Rubion, which is a claret
type of wine. The next one was to be a burgundy
type. We had all kinds of good names which could
not be protected. Most of the names we could think
of had already been registered for some other
products. Finally we thought of "Baroque," which
is really quite good, because it is associated with
music, and a romantic and elegant period; the richness
of the name is equivalent to what the wine really is.
It has worked out very well.
Did you set about developing these as special wines,
or. . .
Yes, I think I know what you want to ask. We were
not Just trying to give a regular wine a different
name, but had a clear objective, what the wine
should taste like, as I explained to you in connection
with Rhine Castle. The most important step was with
Emerald Dry, a type of wine which was not in existence
in California a wine typical of a Moselle. We didn t
come out with the Emerald Dry label before we had
the right wine for it. For a red wine we also had
definite ideas what it should taste like.
To test public reaction to our blends, we did
not ask research institutes; we did it ourselves.
As you know, we do a great deal of entertaining up
at the Paul Masson chateau. We frequently have as
many as 250 people as dinner guests. We present
sometimes, with the dinner, experimental wines without
telling the people what they are. They are labeled
with a traditional label of that type of wine. We
may have two or three wines on a table, under two or
three different labels but of the same type. After
Meyer: the party we check which "bottles are empty and which
aren t. The test will indicate of which wine people
poured that second glass or maybe the third and the
fourth. A wine may be a good wine, a great wine, but
if all people can drink is one glass, there is some
thing not perfect. This is the case with many even
very expensive red wines of old vintage and famous
geographical background. They could either be too
harsh or rough, or somehow not palatable or pleasant
Red wines also have to have distinctive charac
teristics and at the same time be palatable, drinkable,
without the sweetness. Young red wines in the lower-
priced category often are sweet to overcome the
harshness which is characteristic to young wines.
There are also a lot of people who like wines sweet.
But a premium wine should appeal to the more experienced
wine drinkers who like wines dry but still want them
to be smooth and elegant and easy to drink. This is
the objective with each of our "proprietary" wines.
This can be done by skillful blending. Many people
think that if you use only one grape variety, then
the wine has to be perfect. The contrary is true.
It s the complexity in the taste of wines and the
proper balance which can only be achieved by blending,
and, of course, by aging (for which there is no
substitute). This is what we tried to accomplish
with both Rubion and Baroque, and I think that is
why these wines, in a relatively short time, have
become very popular.
I strongly believe, as I always did, that it is
important to keep the loyalty of a. consumer once he
comes to like your product. There is a tendency in
many industries to come out with a product with much
fanfare, and then it kind of levels off, at which
point they come out with another one, while the
first one is being neglected and eventually disappears.
I think in the fine wine business it is more important
to make all your wines of superior quality to gain
consumer following and confidence in the brand. That
is really our policy.
Teiser: Do you see your consumers as people who consume
your wines regularly every night, or on occasion,
Meyer: I think in any consumer product on a higher price
level, you have many people using the more expensive
product occasionally rather than daily depending on
their pocketbook. There is nothing wrong with that.
People do a lot of entertaining at home today. People
have guests to whom they like to offer the best
wine they can afford, and on many other occasions
they like to look for a better bottle of wine in
their cellar. This, hopefully, will lead to people
keeping a wine cellar, particularly to improve red
wines by aging, while they buy popular priced wines
for their daily use. By the way there is nothing
wrong with the leading brands of California s popular
priced wines. But it is like with anything else: if
you want something better, then you have to spend a
little more money. Wine cellars are becoming popular,
and this can only help consumption.
Teiser: Unless they put down the wrong ones.
Meyer: Well, this is the advantage of most of the reputable
California wines, thai; they can rely on these brands.
This is much better than to have a wine which may be
a great wine one year and a poor one in other years.
This is inevitable with many imports.
Teiser: I know there is a tendency, even among some premium
winemakers, to shorten aging time in certain wines.
Meyer: Not in general. More Inventories are being built
by many premium wine producers. We constantly expand
our storage facilities. This year we added two and
a half million gallons of redwood tanks and oak
barrels, and we will continue to add aging facilities
as sales grow. We purchase the redwood two years
ahead of time. And we age a great deal of red wine
in small 50 gallon oak barrels. That becomes, of
course, a matter of sizable capital investments.
Teiser: The maintenance of cooperage is expensive, isn t it?
Not so much the maintenance as the acquisition.
redwood tanks, if you build them new we re not
using old ones last for a long time if they re
properly maintained. Sure, they have to be cleaned
and even that is quite mechanized today; not too
much crawling inside anymore.
PAUL MASSON ORGANIZATION, DISTRIBUTION AND SALES
Teiser: Your relationship with Seagrams it changed somewhat
over the years, did it not?
Meyer: As of January 1971 the distribution of Paul Masson
wines is in the hands of a Seagrams subsidiary,
Browne Vintners Company, whioh also distributes
imported wines. In other words the Paul Masson sales
organization was absorbed by a Seagrams wine sales
organization which also distributes imported wines.
Teiser: So the winery continues to be owned by Seagrams,
plus some individuals?
Meyer: Yes, but Seagrams will eventually own all of Paul
Teiser: Is it unusual for a winery I m Just trying to think
back in my knowledge of California wineries to be
owned partly by a national corporation and partly by
individuals who are involved?
Meyer: Well, temporarily I would say. If a large company,
particularly of the size of the ones that are
involved, has the majority stockholding, they will
eventually end up with total ownership. It s a
matter of internal organization, because as long as
there are minority stockholders, it has to be
organized as a separate business in order to determine
profits and losses. Once the majority stockholder
wants to incorporate the company into their own
organization, then there is no point for the minority
stockholders to retain shares, unless on the basis
of special agreements. This is not typical for the
wine industry. It is something that goes on all
through our economy today, that you have mergers and
combinations and take-overs by large companies.
Teiser: The national companies have had such a curious history
here in the California wine industry.
Meyer: It happened during the war and went sour. After the
war some companies went out of the wine business
again. You know that Italian Swiss Colony was then
sold to Louis Petri, and then he started United
Meyer: Vintners and Allied Grape Growers, and then only a
oouple of years ago Heublein took over United
Vintners. National Distillers, who previously had
sold Italian Swiss Colony, came back and bought
Almaden. So we have different times and different
situations. Roma and Cresta Blanca, as you know,
were bought by Schenley, who kept them for a number
of years and sold them recently to Guild.
Teiser: So that came back into a local cooperative. Very
You mentioned the distribution system of your
organization is now different. As you grew, as you
built up the plantings and inventories, did you
also build your own distribution organization?
Oh yes. We had our own distribution organization,
selling only Paul Masson products. We grew very
Did you early envision your market as beyond
Oh yes. We went to New York in the early fifties.
This was still at the time when Paul Masson was
part of Promm and Sichel, who already had a sales
organization for Christian Brothers in New York.
But later on, after the separation of Paul Masson
from Promm and Sichel, we started a national sales
organization of our own.*
Dr. Amerine suggested, that I ask you about your
sensitivity to public relations. One minor aspect
was your development of small bottles.
Oh yes, we have the heart-shaped bottles for sherries
and ports that we called "rarities"; we have
miniatures of those. That was a relatively minor
thing. It s a kind of a sample bottle which the
stores have for people who want to taste a relatively
high priced product. But a lot of people collect
these miniature bottles.
Teiser: You ve had many special mold bottles haven t you?
*See also pages 1^ and 37
Meyer: Well, not too many. In addition to the heart-shaped
bottle, we have a special mold bottle for crackling
rose, which is a special product. Up to now crackling
rose" had to be bottle fermented. The law is about
to be changed to allow bulk process also. We have
had crackling rose on the market for quite a number
of years, and it has developed into quite a sizable
item. But we have to pay the champagne tar on it
so it s not a low priced product.
Teiser: Yours is the only domestic one?
Meyer: We developed it as a special item to compete with a
similar imported product.
Teiser: Will the change in regulations bring you some
Meyer: Yes, but we developed a market. Competition is not
necessarily a disadvantage. If more crackling roses
come on the market it may even stimulate the sales,
and it s up to each brand to get their share. So I
see no particular disadvantage in It. We have
competition in everything we do.
Teiser: The present cold duck situation this is something
that boggles my mind.
Meyer: I really am as puzzled as you are. It developed in
the Midwest with somebody who made a sparkling wine
combination of white and red and called it "cold
duck." Obviously somebody who is familiar with the
German language, or of German background, and knew
"kalte Ente," which really means something entirely
different in Germany. In Germany it means that at
the end of a party whatever wine or champagne was
left was put in a bowl with some ice and was called
kalte Ente. This Midwest man had the idea of calling
it cold duck. It caught on immediately. Our sales
people insisted: We Just have to have cold duck!
With some reservations we agreed to try it out in
one area. We made a good product. We sell it at
the same price as our champagne, at $5 a bottle,
and it caught on immediately. We then introduced it
nationally, and it became one of the biggest sparkling
wine items of the company.
Teiser: Certain kinds of people here used to like sparkling
burgundy, not necessarily champagne drinkers.
Meyer: We always had sparkling burgundy. It was a small
item. Since a similar product is called Very Cold
Duck, it sells much better.
Teiser: You call yours "Very Cold Duck"?
Meyer: Of course we do. We had to go beyond "cold duck."
It almost looks like it isn t a fad because it has
been growing for a number of years and therefore I m
inclined to think it s here to stay, although at
one point it will level off.
ADVERTISING AND PUBLIC RELATIONS
Teiser: Well, this then goes on from your marketing program
to your advertising program, and I think that perhaps
your public relations are what Dr. Amerine had in
Meyer: Well, when we really got into advertising, a man
appeared on the scene in San Francisco; that was
Howard Cos sage. You probably heard of him. He
passed away several years ago. He was a highly
imaginative man, a rebel in the advertising trade.
And we were really too small to have the kind of
advertising distillers or the large-volume wineries
could afford. On the national advertising scene, people
are Just overwhelmed with campaigns in the millions
of dollars. And, therefore, we had to do something
which would have a special appeal to people who are
important to us. We decided with Howard Gossage
that we would Just do a brand-building type of
advertising; not just pick certain type of wines or
jingles or any gimmicks but Just tell the public in
a humorous but dignified way what Paul Masson is,
the sophistication that is behind its products.
This was Gossage s special talent. He had a fabulous
sense of humor. Even today, 15 or 20 years later,
his copy makes good reading. You could go through
those ads and be quite entertained, amused and
We were told, "Well, that won t sell anything."
This may appear to be so in the sense of hard-hitting
advertising, or if, as an example, Macy s has a special
Meyer: on a certain icebox for $199-95 and wants people to
come in and get it. But it made the name Paul
Masson known to the wine-minded public and made it
known in a special way.
Then when Howard Gossage died, a very fine large
advertising agency took over, Doyle Dane Bernbach.
They are known for their Volkswagen advertising, and
they are the ones who did the famous Avis -Hertz
campaign (We try harder, we are only number two.).
They are very talented people, but much more hard
hitting. And our advertising took on a little
different direction. In the meantime, we had grown,
so there was good reason to change the tone a little
bit. What intrigued them was our success in exporting
our California wines, and that we could succeed in
the old traditional wine-consuming countries of
Europe with a product which was completely unknown.
Their first campaign was built around that story.
They started also to advertise single items like
Emerald Dry, to bring out the uniqueness of that
Our main effort was in the area of public
relations, to associate the winery with cultural
activities, Music at the Vineyards and other events.
Teiser: When was the series of concerts you call Music at
the Vineyards started?
Meyer: It was started 1^- years ago [in 19573 and has been
very successful and has gained national and local
recognition as an important summer festival type of
musical event. First of all, the idea behind it is
that we only engage first-rate performers and
musicians. We engage, for example, the top members
of the San Francisco symphony. Or prominent guest
artists from all over the country. The selection of
the program is always of special interest to knowl
edgeable music people rather than the usual box
office type, because we do not have to worry about
box office because we sell out every time. The
seating capacity is about a thousand. Performances
are on Saturday and Sunday, three weekends each
season, usually the end of June, end of July, and
end of August each year. Music at the Vineyards has
Meyer: been so very successful because of the selection of
the programs, outstanding performances by first-rate
professionals, and the unique setting at the
"Vineyard in the Sky." Music critics from all over
the country have taken an interest in Music at the
Vineyards and have given the performances outstanding
Teisor: Have you often commissioned compositions?
Meyer: Starting in 1970 with the work of Richard J.
Pelciano, which was commissioned by the late
Norman Fromm, the man responsible for the development
of Music at the Vineyards. We continued this policy
in 1971 with a commission for Heuwell Tircuit, for
David Del Tredici in 1972, and for Andrew W. Imbrie
in 1973. All these men are contemporary composers
well recognized but rarely performed in concert
halls. This gives us an opportunity to support
composers during their creative years. The surroundings
and the outdoor setting lend themselves very well to
the performance of contemporary music.
In 1967 at the tenth anniversary of Music at the
Vineyards the California Legislature passed a
resolution commending us for this contribution to
the cultural life of the San Francisco Bay Area.
In 1969 we received the coveted "Business in the
Arts Award" from the Business Committee for the Arts
in New York. One award is given yearly to an
organization which has made significant contributions
to the arts and we were particularly flattered by
this recognition because only very large companies
had received this honor in the past.
In addition to Music at the Vineyards we have
two opera performances by the San Francisco Opera
Company under the Merola Program. Every year the
Opera Company conducts auditions for singers who have
won local auditions in the Western and Southwestern
states including Hawaii, and recently including New
York City for singers from California. The winners
of the final auditions are offered a training program
and the culmination of this is the performance of
an opera at the Paul Masson Vineyards. At the same
time awards for further studies are given.
Meyer: Both the Merola Program and Music at the
Vineyards have given singers their original start.
Many of them have received engagements here and
Teiser: All of you who have been involved in this organiza
tion have been interested in music yourselves,
haven t you?
Meyer: This is correct. We enjoy opera and symphony music.
I am a director and vice president of the San
Francisco Spring Opera Theater and am also on the
board of the Merola Memorial Fund.
Teiser: I shouldn t ask if you have any other general public
relations activities because this is so great, but...
Meyer: We are entertaining many groups and prominent people
at the winery, and also make the facilities available
to worthwhile groups for their fund-raising activities,
Teiser: I know you sponsor tastings because at the national
Oral History Association meeting in 1970 I first
tasted your Baroque.
Meyer: This is Just one good example of this activity.
Then, of course, we have regular tours through the
champagne cellars, concluding with the tasting at
the tasting hall there. We have quite a number of
trained guides and hosts conducting these.
Teiser: You mentioned the murals there.
Meyer: The first impression a visitor has entering the
champagne cellars is the contemporary style of the
reception building. In order to relate to the old
history of wine we had a mural designed all along
the ramp leading into the cellars. The artist was
the late Jose Moya del Pino, who was once a painter
at the court of Spain, and lived in Marin County.
The mural starts with Noah and goes all through the
Biblical times and the Middle Ages; the planting of
grapes in California; Dom Perignon, the inventor
of champagne; Paul Masson, one of the first men who
produced champagne in California; and the use of
champagne for weddings and christenings. By the
time you are at the level of the ramp, you have
learned a great deal of wine history.
Meyer: And then you come to the reception area where
we now have a valuable collection of wine-related
objects starting with Luristan bronzes, 900 B.C.,
and all kinds of very Interesting pieces which today
are difficult to find. They are displayed in the
waiting room. There is also a color slide projection
of the vineyards, grape crushing, and historical
scenes. The guides take you through the winery on
an elevated walkway so you can see the operations
without walking through the rows of barrels and
tanks. At the end of the tour the visitors find
themselves in the tasting hall and are offered a
taste of any wine they are interested in.
Teiser: Who was the architect for the building?
Meyer: John Bolles of San Francisco, California. We didn t
want to copy 19th or 18th century structures and we
didn t want to have a cold, purely modern building.
In discussing this problem with the architect, he
came up with a design for the winery itself to have
a series of round roofs which look cave-like, and a
reception building and tasting hall in front with a
rotunda containing a ramp, a pool and a fountain to
symbolize the effervescence of champagne. This
combination of styles leaves the impression of a
solid, even traditional structure combined with all
the flair the product has in the eyes of the
consumer. That was the idea behind the design of
Teiser: It was designed with the idea of having visitors
Meyer: Yes, it was. Practically all phases of the operation
can be seen and the guides explain the wine and
champagne making processes and answer questions. The
tasting at the end of the tour is, of course, of
great interest to the visitors.
Teiser: Yesterday we were at the Christian Brothers at
Mont La Salle, and we went on one of their regular
winery tours. Almost all the people were from out of
state. I asked a woman from Washington, D.C. how
she learned of it, up at the end of that road, and
she said, "Oh, we had some literature about it."
Meyer: Yes, I think this operation is also important. If
Meyer: people are curious enough to come and see a winery
and go through, this is an indication that it is a
worthwhile thing to do. Sometimes you hear a
remark, "Well, only free-loaders come." I don t
think that s true. Maybe a few, but this is
Last year we had almost 200,000 visitors at
our champagne cellars, although it is certainly
off the highway. Napa Valley is much more of a
tourist track than Saratoga is. And we don t promote
it more than Just having one billboard on [highway]
101 going south from San Francisco, and one near
Saratoga. We have a little pamphlet which is
distributed by some travel agents and a few people
who promote bus tours, but the main interest is on
the part of the public without special promotion.
Teiser: The Wine Institute has put out tour books and there
are the Sunset book, and others. Do you believe
that those are helpful?
Meyer: Oh yes, I m sure that people who are interested in
seeing a winery will find it helpful.
Teiser: I mean do you think that s helpful to the industry?
Meyer: Yes, I think it s helpful to the lnd.ustry but taking
care of visitors is a costly thing for the wineries,
unless combined with retail sales.
Teiser: The wine museum that is being planned here in
San Francisco, will that Just be Christian Brothers?
Meyer: Yes, this is a different collection from ours.
Both Fromm and Sichel and the Christian Brothers
have good collections, particularly the Fromm and
Sichel wine glass collection is most magnificent
and very valuable. Franz Siohel really spent many
years collecting it. It was shown here at the
[California Palace of the] Legion of Honor. Ours
is a much smaller collection which I started about
20 years ago, and which is not Just confined to
glass. It has all kinds of wine related objects,
Etruscan, and pokals of silver for ceremonial uses,
and old glasses, quite a few Roman and even some
Syrian glasses. So it is a great variety of things
but not too many of each kind. It is a very
Meyer: interesting addition to the winery tour, not too big
to allow enough time for people to see all there is
Teiser: I should think a wine museum here in the city in the
Ghirardelli Square area would have good results for
the whole industry.
Meyer: It will be a reality soon, at the corner of Beach
and Hyde Streets. You have these things [elsewhere].
In Lisbon, in Bonn, Turin, several in Prance. This
is just a sign that this industry is growing up in
California and engaging in these activities which
are new to this country. The Promm and Sichel
exhibit has been in the making for many years, and
a large amount of money is being spent to create the
most attractive building for this important exhibit
in this spot, which is a tourist location, while ours is
at the winery for our visitors waiting to make the
(Interview #3 - August 13, 1971)
PUBLIC TASTE IN PREMIUM WINES
Teiser: There are some wines that you have I don t know if
you were interested in them as such or you felt it
advantageous for your sales effort to have a full
line. Your sherries, port.
Meyer: V/ell, Paul Masson, basically, is a champagne and
dry wine producer, but for marketing reasons it was
necessary to have a complete line. There is an
opportunity to produce sherries and ports on a very
high quality level, particularly to age them for
long periods of time. Because there was a need for
such high quality appetizer and dessert wines, that
was the main reason why we did it. Aside from unique
and selective production processes, we age these
wines over extended periods. All this well Justifies
a higher price level. As a matter of fact, it has
proven to be a very steady business. While the
appetizer and dessert wine consumption in general has
gone down in relation to total wine consumption, in
our case sales show a steady increase. Consumers of
a high-quality sherry or port are buying these products
because they like them for their own qualities.
In the early period of the California wine
industry after repeal of Prohibition, the appetizer
and dessert wines the sherry, port, muscatel and
angelica were mainly purchased as a low-priced
alcoholic beverage, and you know the history of that.
This passed, of course, with greater affluence. Today
people who want an alcoholic beverage buy distilled
spirits, and will not buy wine as a substitute. The
wine industry was imaginative enough to develop other
fortified wines with added flavors. This has become
Meyer: a new field and has made up the volume for the decline
of the standard fortified wines.
There are only a few wineries in this business
of premium dessert wines, and their sales have not
Teiser: I see. We often talk with people who say, "Public
taste is becoming more sophisticated, so people drink
more dry wines instead of..."
Meyer: Well I would say this is correct too. It has become
more sophisticated because many people who were
drinking fortified wines with their meals have
graduated to drinking table wines, light table wines,
with their meals but use appetizer and dessert wines
as cocktails and after-dinner drinks instead of
Teiser: Do you yourself see in the future any possibility for
premium flavored wines?
Meyer: Well, there are products like that, like Dubonnet.
There are such specialty items widely used in France,
like San Bafael and Byrhh, as well as vermouth. In
this country this type of wine has become popular in
the lower price category. Very few have been developed
on the high or premium price level, but as we become
a wine drinking nation, we will have more expensive
Teiser: We don t have a premium vermouth, do we?
Meyer: No, but this is mainly a marketing problem; there is
no reason why there shouldn t be some. Such firmly
established international brands as Martini and Rossi,
and Cinzano dominate the higher priced market. That
doesn t mean that we will eventually not be able to
have either a premium vermouth or other premium
specialty wines. This is something which can be
expected to happen; it s just a matter of somebody
doing it. There is no great problem to produce such
a wine. Actually we experimentally made wines of
that kind, but the problem is strictly a matter of
economics. This market is still a limited one, and
the cost of introduction is high.
Teiser: This brings to my mind and I m taking you to subjects
Teiser: that I hadn t intended to, but since you speak so
knowledgeably of them. . . When a winery is controlled
by a large company that also deals in other alcoholic
beverages, is there a fight for the advertising
dollar? Is there a conflict if you want to introduce
a product that might bring Americans over to an
appetizer wine before dinner instead of a whiskey
and soda or something?
Meyer: Absolutely not. If these people make an investment
in a wine company, they are not doing it with the
intention of handicapping their development. They
take the position: if we are not doing it, somebody
else will do it. On the contrary, we are encouraged
by the people in New York to expand and to invest
as much money for the development of new product s^
as we can afford. If there is a trend towards aperitif
wines, it would not be wise for any company to fight
it instead of developing such a product for themselves.
Therefore there is no handicap at all.
You have seen similar situations in other
industries. Take as an example General Motors. They
have many competing items, but they leave each division
alone to compete against their sister companies the
same as they would compete against somebody else.
How else can you do it? Even if the people at the
head wanted to exercise certain restraints, it is
impossible to control sales efforts down the line
because the salesman on the street will always do his
best to sell his product and really doesn t care if
the competitor is affiliated with his company or not.
Company sales policy will, of course, avoid promotions
which are directly aimed at other company products,
but otherwise everybody is out on his own.
Teiser: Seagrams distributes Dubonnet, for instance, does it?
Meyer: No^ Schenley has Dubonnet. Seagrams has no such
aperitif wine. In the Browne Vintners Division,
which now also distributes Paul Masson, they have
Mumm Champagne; B&G wines from Prance; Brolio and
Ricasoli wine from Italy; and Kayser wines from
Germany. They re adding new Imports all the time.
Teiser: In your personal activities In the wine Industry
you have taken the position that there was no rivalry
between American wjnes and European wines...
Meyer: There Is, of course rivalry, but I ve always been of
the opinion wine movements should be a two-way street.
If you want to create Interest In wine, it should not
be a fight by California against Imports, or by
importers knocking California wines. I feel that
close contact with European wineries and making them
understand that we are, Just as they are, more
interested in building a larger consumer market in
this country is better than calling one wine inferior
to another. This would only make consumers suspicious
of any wine they buy. There are some people coming
from abroad that say something unkind. Here and
there some narrow-minded men say, "Yes, California
wines are honest wines, but..."
There will always be some remarks of this kind.
What is important, however, is the need to break
down the trade barriers against our wines, particularly
In Europe, and better controls by foreign countries
to stop misleading and false labeling of wines
exported to the United States. Imports of high
quality and labeled correctly are fair competition
and have their place in this market. Inferior wines
with labels showing high grade grape varietal names
or old vintage dates which are not. true to fact are
unfair competition. We pay very high prices for top
grape varieties and we have strict vintage date
controls in this country and, therefore, cannot
compete with cheap imported wines which do not deserve
Up to now, we could say that for between two
and three dollars a bottle, the California premium
wineries really offered a better wine on the average
to the consumer for this money, because these finer
wines in Europe are also scarce and high in price.
But now because of the very high cost of grapes we
are moving to a price level where we may find our
selves in a less favorable competitive situation.
Teiser: There is one factor that I f ve heard mentioned about
imports and American wines, and that is bottle size.
The imports can come in odd sizes and smaller
quantities in bottles that look to be the same as
standard American ones.
Meyer: I think this is a Just complaint but not significant
enough to be made into a major international trade
issue. Furthermore, few consumers pay attention to
whether there are 24 ounces or 25 ounces or 26 ounces
in a bottle. In addition, we will have great
difficulties in convincing the French, the Germans,
the Italians and our own importers to agree to adopt
American bottle standards. Eventually we ll probably
have metric standards world-wide. It s an old subject
for many people in the wine industry who Justly feel
that that is not right and that a fifth is not the
same fifth for all people.
Teiser: Do you really see metric standards coming here?
Meyer: The whole world is converting to it, and over the
next ten years I, m pretty sure we will. It s a big
Job. I m not an expert in that field, but it s not
quite logical to me to continue to have complicated
computations when there is a decimal system.
Teiser: Did you take Paul Masson into the export field ahead
of other wineries?
Meyer: Yes, I think we did that. For two reasons. I always
wanted to try it because I was so convinced that as
soon as we had reached a quality level for our wines
we could successfully compete with French and German
wines in Europe. I felt that this would be a great
asset to the reputation of California wines in this
country. If traditional wine-drinking countries
import our wines, it should mean something to the
Americans who so lightly downgrade our wines Just
because they are not imported.
Looking for possible export markets, I discussed
this with a good friend who was a prominent exporter
with a successful international organization. They
started to do some business in the Orient. I went
on a trip to Japan and to Hong Kong and met the
manager of their Far Eastern office in Tokyo who
became very much interested in wine. The company
Meyer: changed hands, my friend passed away and his Far
Eastern manager wanted to change also. We engaged
him as our export manager. He built up a very
respectable business in the Orient, and then we
started to look around in Europe.
Teiser: You mean you were selling in Japan?
Meyer: Yes. Japan at that time had very strict import
restrictions and still has a very high tariff. Our
sales in the Orient expanded to Hong Kong, the
Philippines, New Zealand, Australia, Korea and other
And then, of course, we turned to Europe, where
the big wine consumption is. We started in Switzerland.
We found a man there, a wine importer, who really
took an interest in our wines. And then the next
country was England. Today we are also in Germany.
It s not easy because of the many restrictions, really
trade barriers. There s a quota system. The Common
Market countries have preferential agreements amongst
themselves of course. There are many labeling restric
tions; we cannot use any of the generic wine names
which have a geographical significance in Europe. V/e
are at a disadvantage in the countries which have
preferential duties for wine imported in bulk and
bottled in that country. We ship in the bottle, and
therefore in some countries like England we are on a
much higher price level really than we should be, and,
therefore, sales are not as large as we would like to
see. It could of course be remedied by shipping in
bulk, but that has other disadvantages. So it is
significant in that respect, that it is developing
and growing and that our wines are accepted and very
much praised by Europeans, which I think has done a
great deal of good in this country amongst the people
I mentioned before who are so likely to downgrade our
quality in comparison to European wine.
Teiser: Do you see it as a growing market, as a market which
is also beneficial financially?
Meyer: Yes, it certainly is. We try to use as much as
possible our proprietory labels, like Emerald Dry,
Rubion, Baroque, because they are unique names for
wines and are not copies of European names. They are
distinctly California wines.
Teiser: What of the California wine industry in relation to
the eastern United States wine industry? Do you
see it as competitive?
Meyer: Oh yes, particularly in New York. The competitors
of significance in the premium wine field are
Taylor and Great Western, and they are very successful.
They are by far the largest premium champagne
producers in the country. They did something which
one can only respect and, that is they have educated
their consumers to the taste characteristics of their
products. The Concord character of their products is
accepted by the people who for many years have been
exposed to it. Of course, it is not accepted as
easily by people who are used to the characteristics
of the traditional European wines. So, their business
will have certain limitations, but they certainly
have created a very profitable market for themselves.
Teiser: I ve heard California wine men quoted as saying that
the best champagne in the United States is made in
New York State.
Meyer: I don t think that s true. It s a champagne which
has a distinctive flavor. There are many people who
like products with a distinctive flavor. Let s nut
it this way: many people like sweetness in a product.
Now if sweetness is the dominating thing without being
balanced by a strong flavor, then it is objectionable
like anything that tastes too sweet. Concord needs
sweetness; a dry Concord tastes awful. But Concord
with sweetness, similar to Welsh s grape juice, is a
widely accepted taste.
Teiser: Do they export any New York champagne?
Meyer: No, there would hardly be a foreign market for it.
We had a very interesting experience at some wine
tastings in various embassies in Europe, where the
Eastern brands participated. The rejection was
vehement. Of course, the people in Europe are used
to the traditional vinifera type grapes. As a matter
of fact, it has even created an obstacle for us,
particularly in Switzerland. Many Swiss travel to
New York and buy a bottle of American wine in a
restaurant and very often get a New York State wine.
They think that s the way American wines taste. So
we run into a great deal of rejection of American
i leyer: wines because they are identified as New York State
wines. We had to do a great deal to overcome that.
Teiser: You apeak of the tastings in the embassies. Is that
a go od way to Judge something of the markets?
Heyer: Well, it is a way to get the people to taste whom
you want to buy your wine. If they get an invitation
by an ambassador to a wine-tasting and a buffet
dinner afterwards, you will have people coming who
would otherwise be hard to reach. And we have gained
quite a few importers in this manner. They came and
liked the wine and we could sit down and talk with
them then. Of course, you have to realize that for
anything that doesn t have a market yet, very few
people are interested. They do not like to be pioneers
and spend their time and money on something less
profitable than what they already have to sell.
Teiser: You gave us an article on the E awards, so I think
vie 11 perhaps Just nut that in the interview* if we
may, but would you Just mention it?
Heyer: Yes. All administrations since President Eisenhower
felt that there were not enough people and industries
in this country interested in building export markets.
Exports were left to a few large companies like the
aircraft industry, but there are many industries which
could succeed in finding foreign markets for their
products if they would make an effort to do so. As
long as business was going strong here, you found a
tendency, of course, by many people, not to bother
about a small export market if they could sell anything
they wanted to sell much easier in this market. Our
effort to export American wines was recognized as an
excellent example by an industry which has strong
competition abroad to prove that it could be done.
And when we succeeded and the State Department got
reports back through the embassies that American wines
are suddenly being heard about, we were suggested as
a recipient for the E award.
Toiser: I wonder if part of the success of your wines in the
European market was the knowledge that you have of
*See Appendix III.
Entrance to Paul Masson Cellars, Saratoga
Telser: Europe and that perhaps Europe has of you.
Meyer: Well, those things play some role. I. knew the
markets pretty well, and I have the advantage of
knowing quite a few people to whom I could say,
"My friend, I know this is not a big thing for you,
but do me a favor and try it." And this has something
to do with it because you cannot build sales at a
reasonable cost if you don t have somebody there of
some prominence to get behind it.
Teiser: I often think how many valuable men America gained
when they left Germany because of the Nazi regime.
Meyer: People who were successful over there, either in the
field of science or business or whatever it may be,
would never have left the country if it hadn t been
for these compelling political reasons. And if you
have successful people coming to this country at an
age where they still can adjust, they are very likely
to be successful here too. I think that is quite
Teiser: Is there any reason to think that the United States
would ever import wines for blending?
Meyer: Possibly, but not likely.
Teiser: Under what circumstances?
Heyer: Only price. I would say if the competition from
imports gets rough and if grape prices here should
not adjust to it.
Teiser: Is it possible legally today to blend an American
and a European wine in the same bottle?
I-Ieyer: You could not call it California wine, but it could
be done. It s most likely not to be a blend though.
But there is a lot of raw material which theoretically
could be imported. It s common practice in European
countries. Germany, for instance, imports all base
wines for dessert wines and all base wines for
vermouth and all base wines for brandy and most of
its wine for champagne. They are all imported as
raw material and then processed in Germany. Theoreti
cally a thing like that could happen here too. There
are tankers around the world that could carry wine
Meyer: I hope it will never come to it, but if we price
ourselves out of competition, theoretically it could
happen. But it s less likely that California
wineries or wineries of the east coast will use
foreign raw material. The competition will be in
the market by imported wines. There is no reason
why these cheap foreign wines would not be sold as
"imported wine," without being blended with American
Teiser: Are there possibilities that wine from grapes grown
in other uarts of the United States than California
the Northwest I understand is now experimenting
would be used as raw material?
Meyer: Yes, but under present laws we cannot use in California
any wine or graces grown in other states and call it
California wine; it could be called American.
Teiser: Are there quality factors that might play a part In
Meyer: I don t think there s great advantage in planting
grapes outside of California. You really have the
best climatic conditions right here. There is some
possibility. I think there may be some competition
in varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, which are
planted in the state of Washington now and could be
produced cheaper there than here. These wines made
in Washington or Oregon could be marketed as such.
I could see some minor competition there, but that
is about ten years away. Nothing has been planted
in large quantities there; it s experimental at
Teiser: California exports to the East some wines for
blending, doesn t it?
Meyer: Yes. Well, a lot of California wine goes east for
bottling, as well as to New York State and other
areas for blending with their own.
Teiser: Did I understand you to indicate that. the European
Common Market might be a problem for California
Meyer: Yes. The Common Market has a machinery to protect
their markets without losing their advantages for
Meyer: their exports. Sight now they are subsidizing even
processed agricultural products other than wines
without having to fear much of a retaliatory move.
This is something which could be of great concern
to California agriculture. Agriculture in Europe
is subsidized heavily. Prices are kept high. And.
therefore it s not a free market in that sense, that
we could export anything we want to because with
that we would put them out of business in the
agricultural field. But these are the international
trade problems which have to be solved. The problems
are fully recognized by our government, and efforts
will be made to improve our position. Where the wine
is concerned, we keep an eye on it to be sure that
our interests are safeguarded. That s why I have
taken quite an interest in the preparations for the
1973 trade negotiations.
Teiser: You re a member also of the San Francisco Chamber of
Commerce. . .
Meyer: Well, I was a director of the Chamber of Commerce
for a three year term, which ended last January.
I am the Chairman of the U.S. Department of Commerce
Regional Export Expansion Council here, and I am a
member of the National Export Expansion Council,
which meets regularly with cabinet members and other
policy-making people of the departments as well as
the White House.
reiser: You ve also been on, I believe, the University of
California Extension Advisory Council.
Meyer: Yes. We had some meetings of University men with
people who are active in business to exchange ideas
and for the University to learn about the needs of
the business community.
PROMOTING CALIFORNIA WINES
i eiser: In your work with both the Wine Advisory Board, and
the Wine Institute, what interested you especially
Meyer: Aside from the continuous problems to improve on the
laws and regulations governing the production and
distribution of wine, which are still too restrictive
in this country, I was always interested in building
a better image for California wines. The development
of the Wine Institute - Wine Advisory Board r>ublic
relations program, and also the program to convince
the medical profession to speak favorably about the
health values of wine rather than to think of wine
as an alcoholic beverage, were important steps
towards achieving today s favorable public attitude
towards wine. This did, of course, not come easily
and quite a number of people contributed in these
I was amongst a small group many years ago to
start this public relations activity, rather than
nutting the emphasis on advertising. The late John
Daniel was one of the prime movers in this. We
started a premium wine public relations program,
which first was kind of smiled at or tolerated by
the rest of the industry. At that time sweet wines
were the dominating factor still, while the premium
producers from Napa, Sonoma and Santa Clara represented
a very small sector of the industry. Lou Gomberg was
the one who had the Job of coordinating these things
with Wine Institute and W.A.B. We engaged, a public
relations agency to promote premium wines only and to
tell the public that in California there exist the
same conditions as in any other country that produces
premium wines. The promotion was extremely successful.
For the first time wine writers from all over the
country, and others who write magazine articles and
columns, began to notice us and to say something nice
about California wines.
Then it became so successful that fears
developed that we could give the impression that
there are good California wines and bad California
wines. This resulted in some opposition to the
by some members of the industry. Now, of
Meyer: course, there was never any intention to downgrade
anybody s product, but to put our best foot forward
for the benefit of all. As a matter of fact, one of
the basic policies was that there is no bad California
wine and that there is no bad vintage in California
but admitting that there are differences which are
in the nature of the grapes and whatever makes wines
of different levels everywhere.
Nevertheless, the industry by vote of the majority
decided that the public relations program should cover
the industry as a whole.
As time went on, I don t think that the industry
members got the impression that premium wines had
the greatest benefit from it. Even if this were the
case, it would not hurt anybody. The overall effect
was that California table wines as such became
recognized as amongst the finest in the world. There
has been a dramatic upsurge in acceptance of California
dry wines in all price categories. Lately the rate
of growth of the premium wines has not been greater
than the growth of the less expensive wines. This
was foreseeable, and the fears of members of the
industry that this whole approach would be to the
advantage of the premium wineries proved to be
Teiser: Speaking of this same campaign, one of the other
premium winemakers said it was kind of embarrassing
to them; all of a sudden they were glamorized.
Meyer: Well, publicity is a necessary part of marketing
today. Even politicians have discovered that they
need Madison Avenue. Not that this is all good, but
[laughing] in the case of wine it fills the need of
a public anxious to learn more about it. I think in
our efforts to interest more people in wine to
eradicate the old terrible stigmas of the "wino"
and other negative aspects, we should continue to
present wine on the highest possible levels , to
associate wine with the arts, old cultures and even
the Bible, o.s it has been for centuries. There s
hardly an opera where wine doesn t play some part.
I think this image is important. And, as you know,
we are quite heavily engaged in this kind of
activity at Paul Masson. You cannot say you get a
certain result from an activity of that kind, but
Meyer: the association creates an impression in the minds
of people which is on a level you want. That is,
it s an elegant thing to serve wine with a meal or
to use champagne for a festive occasion. This, I
think, is more important than hard-hitting advertising.
You have to have the public in a receptive mood if
you want to create any impression.
That is something which in European countries
has grown over many generations in many ways, even
without the help of radio or television. If we want
to create the same habit of wine usage in this
country, we have to present the product in the most
favorable light. I think more people should sponsor
artistic activities which can be related to wine.
Teiser: I can think of a volume wine producer who takes
great pride in his office building and opens it to
Meyer: This is a fine example, and, of course, there are
activities which should have an effect beyond the local
community. Of course, you have to start locally in
order to get it recognized nationally. That is the
reason why for our music at the vineyard, we always
engage nationally known artists .and have programs
and commission new works which create interest among
the national critics and music writers. That is, of
course, more difficult to do and it is also more
expensive, but it is an important function.
APPENDIX I 58
PAUL MASSON VINEYARDS
330 Jackson Street
San Francisco, California 94111 FACT SHEET
History of Paul Masson Vineyards
Director of Public Relations
For 119 years, since the Paul Masson Vineyards had its begin
nings in the Santa Clara Valley, its fine wines have spread the fame
of the Valley throughout the world. The colorful story of this
winery, California s oldest wine producer, and of the gentleman
vintner and bon vivant whose name it bears is told and retold in
many volumes of connoisseur wine lore.
It began in 1852, when Etienne Thee, a vigneron from Bordeaux,
first planted grapes on the original Narvaez land grant south of San
Jose and pioneered commercial winegrowing in the region. Th^e was
succeeded by his son-in-law, Charles Lefranc, and in turn by the
latter s son-in-law, Paul Masson.
Born in 1859 at Beaune in the Burgundy district of France,
Paul Masson came to California at the age of 19, when the Phyl
loxera vine pest had devastated the vineyard on the Cote d Or where
his family had made wine for three centuries. At that time the
eyes of Old World vintners were attracted to California because of
its climate, the most ideal for winegrowing found anywhere.
The young Burgundian emigre* first enrolled at the University
of the Pacific, which then was located in Santa Clara, to continue
his scientific studies, begun at the Sorbonne in Paris. While a
student, he became acquainted with his compatriot, Charles Lefranc,
who then was adding to the vineyards inherited from Etienne Thee.
Paul Masson became interested in the vineyards, and also in
Lefranc s pretty daughter, Louise. He went to work for Lefranc,
married Louise, and planted his own vineyard the "vineyard
in the sky" atop the lofty Santa Cruz Mountains above Saratoga.
After Lefranc died, the vineyards were merged and became the baroni
al domain of Paul Masson.
On periodic visits to his native France, Paul Masson brought
back cuttings of choice European wine grape varieties. Some he
planted to make his wines, champagnes and brandy; others he gave
to neighboring growers who agreed to let him select the cream of
the grape crops they produced.
He built a great stone winery at his mountain vineyard, with
its foundations deep in the hillside to maintain constant cool
temperatures in the wine aging cellars throughout the year. When
the 1906 earthquake destroyed St. Patrick s Church in nearby San
Jose, he purchased its 12th century Romanesque portal, originally
brought around Cape Horn from Spain, and erected it as part of the
winery facade. Today this famous winery, damaged by fire in 1941
and restored as Paul Masson designed it, is officially designated
by the State as California Historical Landmark No. 733.
In 1892 he perfected the first Paul Masson Champagne, which
promptly began winning awards for quality in national and inter
national competitions. One of his greatest triumphs was when his
wine was awarded a prize for quality in the international competi
tion held at the Paris Exposition of 1900.
Many legends about Paul Masson relate his talents as a gourmet,
bon vivant and patron of the arts and music, his activities as a
member of the California State Viticultural Commission, and his
philosophy of fine wines. Volumes have been written about his en
tertainments for noted guests, including the famous occasion when
he granted the wish of the beautiful actress, Anna Held, to take
a champagne bath at his villa near Los Gates.
For nearly half a century Paul .Masson continued personally
making his wines until his retirement in 1936, four years before
his death at the age of eighty-one. His estate passed through the
hands of intermediary owners until 1945, when it was acquired by
Alfred Fromm and Franz Sichel, who, like president and co-owner Otto
E. Meyer, are members of eminent European winegrowing families.
For more than 20 years these proprietors have diligently maintained
here the quality traditions of their Old World heritage and of the
gentleman vintner, Paul Masson.
In 1959, the champagne making, aging, bottling and packaging
and the blending and bottling of brandy were brought together in
the new Paul Masson Champagne Cellars in Saratoga. Departing from
traditional winery design, the cellars are a distinctive example
of modern winery construction and contemporary architecture with
every skill and facility that twentieth-century research and ex
perience have contributed to the ancient art of winemaking. Ad
joining the Champagne Cellars is the company s Certified Mother
Vineyard, which is maintained under the supervision of the California
State Department of Agriculture and the University of California
to provide certified varietal planting stock for future vineyards.
To supply the growing world demand for Paul Masson wines, which
by 1966 were being imported by 28 countries around the globe, more
vineyards have been planted with pedigreed wine grape varieties.
Across the Santa Clara Valley in the foothills of the Coast Range
east of Gilroy is Paul Masson s 330-acre San Ysidro Vineyard,
planted in 1948 under the direction of University of California
viticulturists. Ranch San Ysidro is part of the original land
grant to Don Ygnacio Ortega, the son of Captain Jose Ortega, who
with Don Caspar de Portola discovered San Francisco Bay in 1769.
Fn 1 1 362 and 1963, to assure a continuing supply of choice wine
i|tap^s loi the? oven greater demand for fine wines anticipated in
future decades, the 1,000-acre Paul Masson Pinnacles Vineyard was
planted in Monterey County, near Soledad in the northern part of
the Salinas Valley, and yielded its first harvest in 1966.
Each year, adhering to the quality traditions maintained by
the owners since 1852, Paul Masson wines, champagne and brandy
continue to win highest awards at fairs and expositions throughout
the Western Hemisphere, and to spread the fame of the Santa Clara
Valley, the home of Paul Masson.
Paul Masson Vineyards
330 Jackson Street
San Francisco, California
Ernest G. Mittelberger
FOR RELEASE OCTOBER 29, 1966
UC PRESIDENT KERR AT STATE S NEW WINE DISTRICT OPENING
SAN FRANCISCO, Oct. 29. Successful opening of California s new
coastal fine wine grape district, the upper Salinas Valley in Monterey
County, was celebrated yesterday by county officials, wine industry
leaders and University of California scientists who gathered for the
event at the 1,000-acre Paul Masson Pinnacles Vineyard near Soledad.
The celebration, marking the first harvest of 14 premium grape
varieties from 425,000 pedigreed vines planted there four years earlier,
was a tribute to the University s viticulturists whose research inspired
the multimillion-dollar venture in the valley long known as "the Salad
Bowl of America. "
Present to be officially honored by the Monterey Board of Super
visors and by the industry were U.C. President Clark Kerr, Chancellor
Emil Mrak of the College of Agriculture at Davis, Viticulturist Dr. Albert
J. Winkler, Enologist Dr. Maynard Amerine and members of the University s
Department of Viticulture and Enology. It was Dr. Winkler and his staff
who, in a search begun 30 years ago for new areas in the State capable of
producing the shy-bearing delicate grapes for fine table wines and
champagnes, found the Salinas Valley climate ideally suited and recommended
grape planting there.
The successful harvest of Chardonnay, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon,
Pinot Noir and other rare "varietal" grapes represents the first time in
more than a century that a new vineyard area has been added to the coastal
Paul Mas son Vineyards
fine wine district of California. For 130 years, while Santa Clara,
IAlameda, Sonoma, Napa and other counties neighboring San Francisco Bay
were winning world fame for their superior wines, owed to their ideal
climate, Monterey County was bypassed completely because of its sparse
10-inch annual rainfall.
When the University s years of research proved by precise temperature
measurements that the upper Salinas Valley possessed the same sunny but
cool climate as the other coast counties, three leading California wine
growers, Paul Masson Vineyards of Saratoga, Mirassou Vineyards of San Jose
and Wente Bros, of Livermore, became interested. In 1962, convinced by
their own studies that the University was right, and looking for new vine
yard land beyond the Bay Area where urbanization threatens existing farms,
these producers acquired large acreages in the valley and began planting
grapes there. They installed more than 100 miles of overhead sprinkler
lines to supplement the valley s infrequent rains.
"Our company s multimillion dollar investment in planting this vine
yard depended entirely on whether the University s findings would turn
out right by this year, " Paul Masson President Otto E. Meyer told yester-
day s gathering. "Now, after four anxious years spent watching the young
vines develop, this first harvest of perfect grapes shows in tests the
same flavor and high acidity in balance with sugar content that we get
in our Santa Clara vineyards. It more than justifies our highest hopes
and assures us a continuing supply of premium table and sparkling wines
for the growing world market in the 1970 s and for decades to come."
Wine Institute Past President Harry Baccigaluppi of San Francisco,
presiding at the luncheon celebration, said the new Monterey County vine
yards have made history as the world s first fine wine district to be
established as the direct result of scientific temperature research, and
Paul Masson Vineyards
that the University of California, which gets credit for the achievement,
now leads all other wine countries in the sciences of viticulture and
The vineyards which promise to transform the region "from Salad Bowl
to Champagne Bowl" are located 132 miles south of San Francisco on El
Camino Real (the King s Highway), which is US Highway 101. At this point
the Salinas Valley is eight miles wide, sheltered from ocean fogs by the
Santa Lucia Mountains on the west. On the east is the Gavilan Range,
whose lofty crags and ancient caves comprise the Pinnacles National
Measurements of the district s climate, in terms of "degree days" of
cumulative warmth above 50 Fahrenheit during the growing season, April
through October, place it in both Districts I and II, similar to Santa
Clara and Napa Counties in California, and between the climates of the
Bordeaux and Burgundy districts of France.
Added advantages of the region are that the vineyards are on sloping
bench land, high above the valley floor with adequate drainage and freedom
from frost. The soil composition is principally Chular and Greenfield
coarse sandy loam, consisting of decomposed granite washed down from the
Gavilans through the centuries, gravelly and low in lime content like the
vineyards of the Medoc and Graves districts of Bordeaux and the better
vineyards in the Palatinate.
The grape varieties in the Pinnacles Vineyard, important for both
varietal and generically-labeled wines, are Pinot Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc,
Johannisberg Riesling, Franken Riesling (Sylvaner) , French Colombard,
Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Gewurztraminer and Flora, all of
which are white grapes, and Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Camay
Beaujolais, all reds. Flora is a new University of California variety of
Paul Masson Vineyards
great quality promise for white wines. The varietal wines are especially
important in the steadily growing export trade in California wines, which
Paul Masson Vineyards in recent years has pioneered in 28 countries
around the globe.
Visitors yesterday also inspected the crushing facility built by
Paul Masson to press and ferment the grapes from the Pinnacles Vineyard.
It incorporates many advances in the handling of delicate premium grapes
and wines. In order to minimize handling, grapes arrive at the crushing
in the same shallow bins in which they are brought from the vineyard a
short time earlier. This assures that the bunches will reach the crusher
in perfect condition with each berry intact. A new type of equipment
separates the grapes from their stems without bruising either, which
heretofore was possible only if grapes were picked off the stems by hand.
Storage containers of stainless steel and wood provide a total capacity
of 2,600,000 gallons. The Pinnacles Vineyard wines, after preliminary
aging, will be transported to the Paul Masson cellars at Saratoga for
final aging, blending, bottling and binning before shipment to markets
in this country and abroad.
From Voice of Paul Masson
PAUL MASSON WINS
IT WAS A Kill) I.ETTEK DAY November l()ll. lor all the
Kig "E" flying from (he flagpole was bright blue. Paul Mas-
son Vineyarils hail been honored with the President s "E"
(or Excellence in expanding export trade and Judge Koy I..
Morgan. Director of the Office of Field Services for the De
partment of Commerce, had come from Washington to Sara
toga to present the banner and citation. Paul Masson s presi
dent. Otto E. Meyer, accepted the honors for the company
at the champagne luncheon commemorating the auspicious
occasion. Distinguished guests paying tribute to the 113-
year-old winery for its success in pioneering the introduction
of premium wines into foreign wholesale and retail channels
during the past three years included governmental officials
from Washington. D.C., Sacramento, San Francisco and San
ta Clara County; representatives of finance and industry,
letters and arts; and other fine friends of Paul Masson.
In designating Paul Masson Vineyards for the highest
honor the United States government bestows on a business
organization, the Department of Commerce stated, "Com
peting on the basis of quality with the best Furope has to
offer, this company has won trade and consumer acceptance
in key overseas markets for its California wines. For the
first time, consumers in 22 other countries have been made
aware that fine wines are produced in America. As a result,
permanent export markets have been opened for our Nation s
The Department further cited Masson for its assistance in
solving numerous trade barrier problems such as labeling
and import regulations, for holding scores of wine tastings
attended by wine merchants, restaurateurs and the public
in man\ countries, for exhibiting its lines in United States
overseas exhibits and trade centers and for efficiently utiliz
ing the Department s business development facilities abroad.
Surveys into export opportunities in Japan, Hong Kong,
the Philippines and Europe, all made primarily by Mr.
Meyer, were the basis of establishing Paul Masson s export
department (headed by Kay Baldwin) three years ago. Rec
ognition of the strides made in gaining acceptance for Cali
fornia wines abroad come not only from the governmental
honors so recently bestowed, bill in the fnrls of the increas
ing number of countries being added to the original list and
the projected distribution of Paul Masson and other Califor
nia wines by ihe Prisunic chain of 250 department stores in
Krnurr early next year.
Paul Masson not alone accepted a challenge and blazed
new trails to its own credit but. in this instance, to the benefit
ol fellow members of the industry and the American image
abroad. For Europeans with first hand knowledge of the
favorable comparison between American and foreign pre
mium wines can only have an impression of a people dedi
cated lo the finer things in life.
(JOVKKNOK Edmund G. "Pat" Brown sent his regrets at
not being able to attend the luncheon, but sent his hearty
congratulations and warm good wishes.
Eugene Braderman. Deputy Assistant Secretary for Com
mercial Affairs and Business Activities. U.S. Department
of State, sent a wire reading:
"The Department of State congratulates you and your
colleagues on achieving the "E" Award. You are to be con
gratulated on your initiative and success in developing ex
port for American Wines."
R. A. Peterson, President, Bank of America, wired:
"The Bank of America takes pleasure in congratulating
you and the Paul Masson organization upon being awarded
the Presidential "E" for your efforts in tin- Export Expan
sion of our country. This is particularly significant inasmuch
as 1 understand it is the first award made to the wine indus
try. Sincere congratulations."
As president of the San Francisco Port Authority,
Cyril Magnin wired his regrets at having to be in Wash
ington. D.C. and continued:
"... I want to take this means of congratulating you on
receiving the President s "E" Award for Excellence in pio
neering the export of American wines around the world.
We of the Port Authority know what a fine job you have
done and congratulate your organization and yourself on
receiving this coveted award."
There were many others too numerous to reproduce
but all are warmly appreciated.
INDEX Otto E. Meyer
Allied Grape Growers, 35
Almaden [Vineyards], 35
Amerine, Maynard A., iv, v, 11, 22, 35, 37, 6l
Arakelian, K. , v, 5, 7
Baccigaluppi, Harry, 62
Baldwin, Ray, 65
Balzer, Robert L. , v
Bank of America, 8-9, 65
Beaulieu [Vineyard], 16, 26
Bolles, John, 41
bottles, 35, 36
"Business in the Arts Award," 39
Browne Vintners Company, 34, 46
California State Department of Agriculture, 59
California State Vlticultural Commission, 59
Chalone [Vineyard], 21
champagne, see under Wines Mentioned in the Interview
Christian Brothers, v, 4, 7, 9, 10, 12, l^f, 35, Ifl, k
Cresta Blanca [Wine Co.], 35
Daniel, John [Jr.], 55
del Pino, Jose Moya, ^0
Del Tredici, David, 39
Doyle Dane Bernback (advertising agency), 38
E Award, v, 51, 65
European Common Market, Iv, 53
Felciano, Richard J. , 39
Ferroggiaro, Fred, 9
Ficklin Vineyards, 28
Fountaingrove [Vineyards], 17
Freemark Abbey [Winery] , 28
Frerioks, Andrew G. (Andy), 8
Fromm family, 5
Fromm, Alfred, 4, 5, 7, 9, 26, 59
Pronun, Norman, 39
Fromm and Sichel, v, 14, 35, 42, 43, 59
Gallo [Winery, E. & J.], 25
Gomberg, Louis [Lou], 55
Gossage, Howard, 13, 37, 38
Great Western (label), 16, 50
Guild [Wine Company], 35
Hanzell Vineyards, 28
Heitz Wine Cellars, 28
Held, Anna, 59
Heubleln [Inc.]* 35
Hyba, Hans, 17
Ickerath, Karl, 17
Imbrie, Andrew W. , 39
Inglenook [Vineyards], 27
Italian Swiss Colony, 34, 35
Jennings, Dean M. , 58
John, Brother, 9
Kerr, Clark, 6l
Korbel [& Bros., Inc.] 16
Kornell [Champagne Cellars], Hanns, 28
Krug [Winery, Charles] , 27
Lefrano, Charles, 58
Le franc, Louise, see Masson, Mrs. Paul
Martini, Louis M. , 26
Masson, Louise Lefranc (Mrs. Paul), 58
Masson, Paul, 14, 15, 58, 59
Masson Vineyards, Paul, ill, v, 13-46, 48-52, 56-65
Masson winery, see Masson Vineyards, Paul
Mayacamus [Vineyards & Winery Co.], 28
Merola Memorial Fund , 40
Meyer, Josef, 1
Meyer, Margaret Fromm (Mrs. Otto Meyer), 4
Meyer, Oscar, 2
Meyer, Oscar, Company, 3
Meyer, Susan Colby (Mrs. Otto Meyer, the 2nd),
Mirassou, Edmund, 18, 19, 28
Mlrassou, Norbert, 28
Mirassou Vineyards, 62
Mission Bell Winery, v, 5
Mittelberger, Ernest G. , 6l
Mondavi [Robert, Winery], 2?
Mont La Salle, 9
Morgan, Judge Roy L. , 65
Morrow, A. R. , 7
Mount Tivy Winery, 10, 11
Mrak, Emil, 6l
museum, wine, 42, 43
"Music at the Vineyards," ill, 38-39, 40
National Distillers, 35
National Export Expansion Council, 54
Opper, Kurt, 1?
Petri, Louis, 34
phylloxera, 23, 58
Picker-Linz Importers, v, 5
Pinnacles Vineyard, 21, 22, 59, 6l, 63, 64
Prohibition, 15, 44
Repeal, 5, 44
Riddell, James L. (Jim), 10
Rlddell, Samuel L. , 10
Roma [Wine Company] , 35
San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, 54
San Francisco Opera Company Merola programs, 39, 40
San Francisco Spring Opera Theater, 40
San Ysldro Vineyard, 29, 59
Sohenley [Distilleries, Inc.], 35, 46
Schramsberg Vineyards, 28
Seagrams, 11, 13, 34, 46
Sichel, Franz, 42, 59
Simi Winery, 28
Stony Hill Vineyard, 28
Tasting, wine, 2, 4-0, 41, 51
Taylor [Wine Co. Inc., The), 16, 50
Texier & Co., 2, 3, 4
Thee, Etienne, 58
This Uncommon Heritage, v
Timothy, Brother, 9
Tircuit, Heuwell, 39
U.S. Department of Commerce
Regional Export Expansion Council, 54, 65
United Vintners, 34-35
University of California at Davis, iv, 10, 11, 18, 20, 29,
University of California Extension Advisory Council, 54
Vessels, wine, 41, 42
Vleth, Fred, 10
"Vineyard in the Sky" 13, 58
Wente [Bros.], 2?, 62
Wente, Karl, 18
Willkie, Fred, 11
Wine Advisory Board, v, 55
Wine Institute, v, 42, 55, 62
Winkler, Albert J., 6l
Wines Mentioned in the Interview
Angelica, 26, 44
"Baroque", ill, 31, 32, 40, 49
Cabernet, 24, 28
champagne, 13, 14, 16, 40, 42, 44, 50, 58-60
claret , 30
cold duck, 36
crackling rose, 36
dry sauterne, JO
"Emerald Dry", ill, 30, 31, 38, 49
Emerald Riesling, 29
Haute Sauternes, 31
Johannisberg Riesling, 30
Liebfraumiloh, 30, 31
Moselle, ill, 29, 31
Muscatel, 26, 44
Plnot Chardonnay, 24
Pinot noir, 24
port, 26, 44
"Rhine Castle", 30, 31
Rhine wine, 30
Riesling, 24, JO
"Rubion", ill, 30, 31, 32, 49
sherry, 26, 44
sparkling burgundy, 36, 37
"Very Cold Duck", 37
white port, 26
Grape Varieties Mentioned in the Interview
Cabernet Sauvignon, 22, 27, 28, 53, 6l, 63
Chenin blanc, 22, 63
Emerald Riesling, 22, 29
Flora, 22, 29, 63
Pranken Riesling (see Sylvaner)
French Colombard, 22, 63
Gamay Beaujolais, 22, 63
Gewiirztraminer, 22, 63
grenache , 15
Johannisberg Riesling, 22, 29, 30, 63
Petite Sirah, 22
Pinot blanc, 22, 63
Pinot Chardonnay, 18, 22, 2?, 63
Pinot nolr, 18, 22, 6l, 63
Pinot St. George, 22
Riesling, 18, 6l
Ruby Cabernet, 22
Sauvignon blanc, 22, 63
Semillon, 22, 63
Sylvaner, 22, 63
Thompson Seedless, ill, 15
White Riesling, 22, 30
Born in Portland, Oregon; came to the Bay Area
in 1932 and has lived here ever since.
Stanford, B. A., M. A. in English; further graduate
work in Western history.
Newspaper and magazine writer in San Francisco since
1943, writing on local history and business and
social life of the Bay Area. ,
Book reviewer for the San Francisco Chronicle