(navigation image)
Home American Libraries | Canadian Libraries | Universal Library | Community Texts | Project Gutenberg | Children's Library | Biodiversity Heritage Library | Additional Collections
Search: Advanced Search
Anonymous User (login or join us)
Upload
See other formats

Full text of "A career in the wine industry in New York and California : oral history transcript / and related material, 1970-1976"

University of California • Berkeley 




This manuscript is made available for research 
purposes. 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 permission 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 Bancroft Library University of California/Berkeley 

Regional Oral History Office 



Victor Repetto 



A CAREER IN THE WINE INDUSTRY IN NEW YORK 
AND CALIFORNIA 



Sydney J. Block 



SELLING CALIFORNIA WINES IN NEW ORLEANS 



Interviews Conducted by 
Ruth Teiser 




1976 by The Regents of the University of California 



PREFACE 



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 
purpose. 

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. 



11 



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 Willa K. Baum and is under the 
administrative supervision of James D. Hart, the Director 
of The Bancroft Library. 



Ruth Telser 
Project Director 
California Wine Industry 
Oral History Series 



1 March 1971 

Regional Oral History Office 
^86 The Bancroft Library 
University of California, Berkeley 




California Wine Industry Oral History Project 



Victor Repetto 
A CAREER IN THE WINE INDUSTRY IN NEW YORK AND CALIFORNIA 



An Interview Conducted by 
Ruth Teiser 



(c) 1976 by The Regents of the University of California 



"MUM 




Victor Repetto at time of interview, 13 March 1970 

Photograph by Catherine Harroun 



TABLE OF CONTENTS - Victor Repetto 



INTERVIEW HISTORY 



CALIFORNIA GRAPE PRODUCTS COMPANY 



1 



THE PROHIBITION PERIOD 5 

JOSEPH DI GIORGIO AND THE GUASTI FAMILY 7 

THE REPEAL PERIOD 10 

SINCE 1942 12 



INDEX 17 



INTERVIEW HISTORY 



The interview with Victor Repetto was held at his home at Redwood City, 
California, on March 13, 1970. A preliminary discussion had been held in San 
Francisco at the interviewer's studio the previous week; a mutual acquaintance 
brought Mr. Repetto there to reminisce about Joseph Di Giorgio and other wine 
men of his period. 

Mr. Repetto, then aged 75, was still in fairly good health at the time of 
the interview and, although unprepared to answer some specific questions about 
matters long past, enjoyed recalling his part in wine industry affairs over the 
years. By the time the transcript of the interview was sent to him some months 
later, however, his health had declined, his eyesight was poor, and he was unable 
to undertake a careful reading of the text. He indicated, however, a desire to 
delete certain sections which he had intended as simply informal conversation 
with the interviewer. A shortened version was then prepared by the interviewer, 
but his health prevented its being read to him. Finally, following the death of 
Mr. Repetto on August 31, 1973, his attorney and friend Angelo Scampini made the 
final editing of the interview as it appears here. He made a few minor changes 
and formalized some of the wording. 

Victor Repetto had, as he indicated in the interview, played a part in 
industry negotiations and operations that are discussed more fully in Horace 0. 
Lanza and Harry Baccigaluppi, California Grape Products and Other Wine Enterprises, 
a Regional Oral History Office interview in this series completed in 1971. Mr. 
Repetto also mentioned in this interview his early experiences with Italian Swiss 
Colony, an organization discussed at greater length in Edmund A. Rossi, Italian 
Swiss Colony and the Wine Industry, another interview in this series completed in 
1971. Other matters upon which Mr. Repetto commented and shed light are discussed 
in other interviews and can be traced through the series index. 

Following Mr. Repetto 's retirement from the wine industry he was active 
for some years in the real estate business in San Francisco. 



Ruth Teiser 
Interviewer-Editor 



3 March 1976 

Regional Oral History Office 

486 The Bancroft Library 

University of California at Berkeley 



Obituary Notices, Victor Repetto 



From San Francisco Chronicle 



REPETTO. Victor — In Redwood 

City, August 31. 1973, Victor Re- 
potto, beloved husband of Myrtle 
Repetto. Redwood City, loving fa 
ther of Mrs. Elena Gannon of 
Tempe. Ariz, and Victor Repetto 
of Santa Clara: also survived by 
nine grandchildren and four great 
grandchildren; a native of New 
York City, aged 78 years; a mem 
ber of San Mateo County Sheriff's 
Mounted Patrol: Redwood City 
Elks Lodge No. 1991 B.P.O.E. and 
Il-Cenacolo of San Francisco. 

Funeral services will be held 
SJH?_SM SNEIDER & SULLIVAN 
FUNERAL HOME. 977 So. El Ca- 
mmo Real, San Mateo, on Tues 
day, September 4, at 10:30 a.m. 
thence to St. Matthew's Catholic 
Church. San Mateo, for a Requi 
em Mass commencing at 11 a.m. 
Recitation of the Rosary Monday 
evening at 7:30 o'clock. Private 
entombment. Holy Cross Ceme 
tery. Colma. 



VICTOR REPETTO 

Victor Repetto, 78, of 839 
Blandiord Blvd.. Redwood City, 
died yesterday at Sequoia Hos 
pital in Redwood City. He was 
the former owner of the Califor 
nia Grape Products Co. 

A native of New York City, he 
had retired some time ago. 

Repetto had lived in San Ma 
teo County for 33 years. 

He was a member of the San 
Mateo -County Sheriffs-Mounted 
Patrol, the Redwood City Elks 
Lodge No. 1991. andll-Cenacoio. 
a- San Francisco organization. 

Surviving is his widow. Mrs. 
Myrtle Repetto of Redwood 
City, a daughter. Mrs. Elena 
Gannon of Tempe-, Ariz., son, 
Victor of Santa Clara, nine 
grandchildren and four great 
grandchildren. 

Sen-ices will begin at 10:30 
a.m. Tuesday from the Sneider 
?nd Sullivan Funeral Home. A 
Reouiem Mass will start at 11 
a.m. at St. Matthew's Catholic 
rhurch. The Rosarv will be re 
cited at the mortuary chaoel 
Mondav ni?ht at 7:30. Private 
.entCTibment'wiH follow at Holy 
Cro?s Cemetery. 



(Date of Interview - March 13, 1970) 

w 

CALIFORNIA GRAPE PRODUCTS COMPANY 

Teiser: We are looking at a California Grape Products Company brochure 

you had made up after Repeal* and it shows the various locations 
of its wineries and New York facilities. Was the "Victor" label 
named after you? 

Repetto: Yes. It was an easy name to remember. My partner, Horace Lanza, 
said, "That means victory." This [referring to photograph in 
brochure] was our little lab in San Francisco. This was our 
bottling operation. Of course, now they've improved bottling 

operations, but this was at that time already partly mechanized. 

** 
This was in 1933. This picture is in San Francisco, on 

Third Street. This was in New York. We had oak casks. We used 
to move wine then by barrel. This was really before the tank car 
operation. These pictures are in Elk Grove and Ukiah. 



*Victor, The Pride of California. A Good Guide to Good Wines, 
California Grape Products Company, San Francisco and New York, 
A copy has been deposited in The Bancroft Library. 

**Photograph with caption, "San Francisco General Office and 
Warehouse. 



Teiser: And here are your bottles. 

Repetto: The Owens-Illinois Company made these molds for us. 

Teiser: They're special molds, with the state and grapes in relief. 

Here's a clipping headed "Repetto Sells His Winery Interests." 
December 1, 1942. Let me just read it, may I? 

"San Francisco, California .- Victor Repetto, one of the 
best known figures in the American wine industry, announced 
the sale of his interest in the California Grape Products 
Company to Horace 0. Lanza, President of the company. Repetto, 
who has been Vice President of the company since 1921, is taking 
over the ownership and management of a 640-acre vineyard from 
the California Grape Products Company. It consists of choice 
wine grapes and is located in Southern Tulare County near 
Delano. For the past three years Repetto has resided in 
California. During eighteen years prior to this he managed the 
New York branch of the California Grape Products Company, dividing 
his time equally between the New York and California offices. 
He is a member of the board of directors of the Wine Institute, 
and was the organizer and chairman of the New York chapter of 
the Wine Producer's Association, predecessor of the Institute, 
in 1935. His start with the grape and wine industry came in 
1915 when he joined the Italian Swiss Colony. He was also one 
of the organizers and a director of Fruit Industries, Ltd." 



Teiser: I think you told us when we met the other day the date of 
your birth. 

Repetto: December 27, 1894. 

Teiser: And how did you happen to go into the wine business? 

Repetto: Well, I started with Mr. Louis Profumo, assistant manager of 
the Italian Swiss Colony, New York City branch. It was on 
Washington and West Eleventh Street. Earl Severance was the 
manager. He was a nephew of [Andrea E.] Sbarboro. 

We had a five or six story building there, and Mr. Sbarboro 
used to come there maybe two or three times a year. He was 
Secretary of the Italian Swiss Colony under P.C. Rossi. He 
would visit us unexpectedly. He was a very agile individual. 
I remember him coming up the steps two at a time, without any 
one of the management knowing that he was showing up. 

Louis Profumo later went with Gel la Brothers, and I also 
went with him to Cella Brothers. The Italian Swiss Colony had 
decided to close its New York headquarters. 

Teiser: Did you have a special interest in the wine industry? 

Repetto: No, it was just a job. I had had business school training. 
In the Italian Swiss Colony I was credit manager. 

Teiser: Do you speak Italian? 

Repetto: I understand it. My association has been with Italians, but we 
did business with many Germans, and there were a lot of German- 



Repetto: Jewish people back in the East through Pennsylvania, and New 
York. We had a number of salesmen that represented that line. 
In those days they used to travel around and had their certain 
areas and territories. In fact, Congressman Emanuel Celler's 
father was a salesman whose territory was parts of New York 
and Pennsylvania. He lived in Brooklyn. Emanuel Celler himself 
was then a young man going to Columbia University, and when his 
father died he took over his route to put himself through NYU. 
When he finished studying law and started practicing, he became 
the attorney for the Italian Swiss Colony, New York branch. 

Teiser: After Italian Swiss Colony ceased business in New York, you were 
with Cella Brothers two or three years? 

Repetto: Not for long. Mr. [Mario P.] Tribune, who was one of the owners 
of the California Grape Products Company, offered me a better 
job. That was in 1921, and California Grape Products was started 
only in 1920, so it was rather a young organization at that 
time. Before that the name was Tribune and Garrish. Garrish 
separated from it and Tribuno took it over. 



THE PROHIBITION PERIOD 

Repetto: The company had the vineyard in Ukiah, and we brought over 

Professor Monti from Conegliano, Italy, who had a vacuum pan 
process for making concentrate, which we called "Caligrapo." 
It would not ferment. People could put back three parts of 
water to one part of concentrate and ferment that. The law at 
that time* permitted an individual to make in his own household 
two hundred gallons of wine per year. 

Teiser: In what kind of containers did it go out? 

Repetto: It was sold in little oak kegs of five and ten gallons. In the 
beginning, though, before that, we had Continental Can make a 
number ten tin from re -enameled sheets, and sold it in cans. 

Teiser: When did you become associated with Mr. Lanza? 

Repetto: In 1929. Business was in trouble all over the country, you 

remember. Mr. Mario Tribune wanted to get out of the company 
and asked me to go to California. I did, and got in touch with 
Horace Lanza. I said, "I think I've got something to offer 
you that's a bargain: Mario wants to get out of this business." 
I invited him to come in as a partner. He finally agreed to 
come into the California Grape Products Company, and then I 
had to go back and complete the deal with Mr. Tribuno. That's 



*During Prohibition, 



Repetto: how Horace Lanza and I became partners.* 

Teiser: By the time that Mr. Lanza came into the company then, the 
company owned quite a few properties besides the Ukiah one? 

Repetto: Yes. We had Ukiah and Delano, as you'll see in the booklet, 

and Windsor, St. Helena and Napa; a little distillery up in the 
city of Napa. St. Helena was the old Schilling ranch. Beautiful 
location. They grew all of the white grapes. 

Teiser: Let me ask you--I have no idea what Mr. Mario P. Tribuno looked 
like, or acted like or was like... 

Repetto: He stood about 5 1 8" to 9". He was born in Asti, Italy, and his 
uncle, Pietro Rossi, had him come over as a young man, and put 
him to work at Asti. Mario was a chemist--not by schooling, but 
by experience. He developed one of the very well-known vermouths 
on the market today, the Tribuno vermouth. 

That vermouth was developed at our West Broadway address in 
the Pisano-Montresor Building. He would come in the little lab 
there, and he would say, "Victor," (he called me out of my office) 
"Come in and taste this. See what you think of this." He 
would import these different herbs to make these various types 
of vermouths, and he would keep making mixtures. Mario always 
liked to blend different things together. He also developed the 
"Americano." They tell me that in Italy they've also got what 
they call the "Americano, with Campari." 



*Horace 0. Lanza and Harry Baccigaluppi recalled the year the 
agreement was signed as 1932. See that interview, pp. 9-10. 



JOSEPH DI GIORGIO AND THE GUASTI FAMILY 

Teiser: You were acquainted with Joseph Di Giorgio? 

Repetto: Oh sure. 

Teiser: When did you first meet Mr. Joseph Di Giorgio? 

Repetto: I met Joe Di Giorgio when A. P. Giannini started with the 

Bancitaly Corporation, around 1920 or 1921. I think that was 
my first contact. I know A. P. came to New York to set up the 
Bancitaly Corporation, and asked different prominent Italians 
to buy stock in the company. Di Giorgio was a great friends of 
A. P. Giannini. He introduced A. P. To many prominent Italians 
back east. 

Teiser: Was Mr. Di Giorgio a commanding man, dominating? 

Repetto: Oh, yes. He was very domineering, but he knew what he was 

talking about. He had set up the Di Giorgio Fruit Company and 
he took his two or three brothers into it. He didn f t have any 
children, and he schooled all of his nephews, who are prominent 
in the firm today. 

Mr. Di Giorgio had a terrific business sense. He usually 
got what he went after. He had a home in Bakers field, and one 
in New York, and then he would always have a suite at the Mark 
Hopkins . 

Teiser: Did he always speak with an accent? 

Repetto: Yes. 



Teiser: Was he difficult to understand? 

Repetto: No, he wasn't. 

Teiser: Did you know any of the Guasti family? 

Repetto: Yes, Secondo was the father. They had their summer home down 

at San Bernardino. It was a beautiful one that they built there. 
Their other home was in Los Angeles. I went there a number of 
times. He had marble shipped over from Italy, from Ferrara; I 
remember especially the center hall--it was so fabulous. 

Mrs. Guasti 's name was Louisa, and after Mr. Guasti 's 
illness she ran the business. I was at her home with Dr. A.H. 
Giannini, A. P. 's brother, who was then head of the Bank of 
America* in New York. A group of us came out from New York with 
Will Hayes, who was the head of the motion picture industry 
association, and Eddie Robinson, the actor. We had a private 
railroad car all the way from New York City. It was during 
Prohibition. We were all invited by Louisa Guasti to a dinner 
party, and it was a very swanky affair. Believe it or not, the 
table service was solid gold. 1 

I remember one thing especially. She said, "Victor, I want 
you to take this jar of olives." She prepared green-ripe olives 
each year. She'd do it herself; she enjoyed doing those things. 

I always called her "Mother." She was just a charming lady. 
She handled the office details and negotiations down at San 
Bernardino and also ran the house after her husband became ill. 



*Then still (until 1930) the Bank of Italy. Dr. Giannini headed 
a New York bank owned by Bancitaly Corporation. 



Teiser: You mentioned that you called Joseph Di Giorgio "Uncle." 

Repetto: I always called him "Uncle." All of his nephews would call 

him "Uncle," so I told him, "Joe, I'm going to call you Uncle. 
I seem to get along better with you calling you Uncle than 
calling you Joe." We used to go out together socially a lot. 
He liked movies, and the theatre, and liked going to good 
restaurants whenever he was in town. 

Teiser: In New York? 

Repetto: Sometimes in New York, but mostly in California. 

Teiser: He must have been good company. 

Repetto: Yes, he was. He was very much alive and he liked good company. 

Teiser: You hear of him as a businessman, but you rarely hear about 
him as a social man. 

Repetto: I enjoyed him socially as much as I did as a businessman. 

California Grape Products owed his Earl Fruit Company 
which later became the Di Giorgio Fruit Company, a substantial 
sum, so I came out to California and sat down with him, and he 
was very fair. He said his directors were criticizing him for 
keeping this debt on the books; that not enough was being paid 
against it. Well, we made a deal to liquidate the debt at a 
reduced figure. 

Di Giorgio left the next day for New York, and he called 
up Mr. Tribune and said, "That young man that you sent down 
there—he's a little quicker than I am. 1 " [Laughter] 



10 



Repetto: Then I went to the Bank of America* and I saw A. P. Giannini 
and one of the executive vice presidents. He was the reception 
man at the time. A. P. said, "Show him in." He brought me into 
his office, and I suggested a plan to pay off our loan to the 
bank. (This was in '29, during the Depression period.) A. P. 
said to me, "I'm very glad to go along." A. P. had an ability 
of judging the human individual, and he apparently did that very 
plainly with me. He called in Bill Blauer, who was executive 
vice president, and said, "Bill, anything this young man wants, 
give him." Just like that.' All I could say was, "Thank you." 

THE REPEAL PERIOD 

Teiser: We mentioned the other day Donald Conn, and you said that you 
had known him. 

Repetto: He was a very fast-moving individual, very alert, and a very 

good politician. I think he might have been good material for 
the governorship of the state of California. If I saw him today 
I wouldn't be able to place him, but I was quite impressed with 
him in the associations that I had. He brought Harry Caddow 
into the picture, and Walter Taylor. We had a terrific freight 
car tie-up, and Donald Conn was sent out of Washington by the 
government to undo this scramble, and he did the job. After that 
he became very active in the grape industry. 



*Then still the Bank of Italy. 



11 



Repetto: We had a lot of problems with Repeal. That's why I started 
the Wine Institute, New York Chapter. I started it up in our 
office at 26th Street. I had a meeting of the California grape 
growers and wine producers that had offices in New York. Harry 
Baccigaluppi was then in California on a business trip; he was 
then associated with Colonial Grape products. I said, "We'll 
make him the Chairman of the Board." When he came back, I said, 
"I would like you to take over the chairmanship." He agreed, and 

we set up our offices, and that's how we established the Wine 

I 
Institute, New York Chapter. 

We would meet about every week at lunch. Some of the boys 
felt that they had been in a financial bind for all of the 
Prohibition years and they wanted to set up a good price. But 
A. P. Giannini told me, "With Repeal, don't you fellows price 
yourselves out of the market." So I told them, "We want to keep 
up our production. If we raise the price too high, we'll make 
it impossible for ordinary people to buy wine." 

Teiser: Did you know Mrs. Willebrandt? 

Repetto: Yes. Mabel Walker Willebrandt was an assistant U.S. Attorney 
General during the Hoover administration. After she left that 
job she became attorney for Fruit Industries Inc. She was a 
very intelligent, charming lady. I had dinner with her at her 
home. She lived in Alexandria, across from Washington, and she 
had an office in Los Angeles and one in Washington. When we 







TCH YOUR CREDIT.., 50 I 6 |9 
INTERNATIONAL Nt JSREEL PHOTO 
5LUG(MRS. 



ILLEBRAhDT VISITOR AT 
HOUSE ON MYSTH^IO'JS 



'1ASH.D.C. £L VALKER 

ASSISTANT 

ATTORNEY OEMhHAL ii\l CHARGE OF 
PROHIBITION, PICTURED AFTER 
HER CONFE^fcXt YESTERDAY VtTH 
P^ESIDE'IT HERBERT HOOVER. 
UEITHLR MRS. '^ILLE3RANDT r,IOR 
'MITE HOUSE OFFICIALS 'VOUtD 
DIVULGE THE 4AT'JRE OF HER CALL. 
-20 A3* AH. 



12 



Repetto: had meetings with her at her office, she was just as mannish 
as any man could be--I mean in her appearance, her dressing. 
But socially at home, she was the most feminine person that 
you'd want to meet. She had a very charming home. When she 
would come to New York, she would call up and we would go out 
to dinner, and she would be just charming company. Very 
interesting girl. She was a pleasing person to look at, a very 
personable woman. She also had a date ranch down at Indio, 
and her father then lived with her there. He was a very fine 
gentleman. 

I remember President Hoover was an ardent Prohibitionist, 
but his sons owned a large ranch down at Wasco, southwest of 
Delano, where they had vineyards, and we would buy their culls 
for making high-proof. We had a Prohibition Department permit, 
of course. 

SINCE 1942 

Teiser: You continued with California Grape Products until 1942? 

Repetto: Yes. 

Teiser: This clipping I read in the beginning says that you were taking 

over management of a 640-acre vineyard from the California Grape 

Products Company. 
Repetto: That was part of the assets I received when I sold my share to 



13 



Repetto: Lanza. He paid me so much in cash and I took the 640 acres of 
vineyard down in Delano which, after a few years, I sold to 
Schenley. They still call it the Repetto Vineyard. 

Directly after that, I helped Schenley buy the Di Giorgio 
Vineyard in Delano. It had also purchased the Roma Winery. 
I said to Uncle Joe, "I think they are interested in some of 
your vineyard, because 640 acres is too small for J.t." So he 
sold to Schenley, I forget how many hundreds of thousands of 
gallons of wine, plus the Delano acreage. It was a cash deal. 
Later I helped Schenley arrange some financing with the Bank of 
America, and Fred Ferroggiaro became a director of Schenley. 
He was executive vice president of the bank at that time. 

A little before that, A. P. Giannini was having dinner one 
night with the group of us, and he said I was too young to 
retire. He asked me to come into the Bank. This was on a 
Saturday night, and he said, "Monday morning come in and I'll 
have an appointment set up with Mario." 

So I went there, and A. P. ushered me into the office and 
Mario offered me a desk on the eleventh floor [the officers' 
floor of the Bank of America] and a vice presidency. He said, 
"You'll start with so much, and you'll be in charge of wine, 
liquor, and kindred industries—cooperage and other things that 
pertain to the wine business." And I said, "Mario, look, if I 
accept this job at this salary, it's going to send my tax bracket 



*L.M. Giannini 



14 



Repetto: up. I'm very grateful to you and your dad for this offer, 
but let me make an offer. I'll take the job for one dollar 
a year." And he said, 'Victor, you think this over for a few 
days, and come back and we'll talk it over again." So I went 
back to the second meeting, and he said, "Have you changed your 
mind?" And I said, "No, I'm still the same." I couldn't 
figure it out any other way. He said, "Then, Victor, that 
won't work out." I said, "Why? All you have to do is pay me 
my expenses for my traveling and one dollar a year." And he 
said, "No, we've got one man at a dollar a year, your good 
friend A. P. [laughter], and we don't want any more." I said, 
"Well, I appreciate that, Mario. You can rest assured that I 
will always work for the Bank of America." In fact I've just 
finished seventeen years on the Advisory Board of the A.P. 
Giannini Branch down here in San Mateo. 

Teiser: Well, you've certainly had an interesting career. 

Repetto: It's been a wonderful life. I mean there have been no heartaches 
with it. If you think right, and handle things right, the right 
thing has to come. 



Transcriber: Helen Kratins 
Final Typist: Keiko Sugimoto 



ca 
ra 



W V * 



1 



iorna 



roducts 



prodiu 
Icompanu 

J ! WINES 




CALIFORNIA GRAPE PRODUCTS COMPANY are owners, growers, producers and bottlers. 

Our vineyard properties are ideally located in the State of California. From the vineyard pictures you will 
notice the great difference in the typography of the land. 

In the northern part of the State the soil and climatic conditions are ideal for the production of dry red 
and white wines. This area is mountainous and depends entirely upon the natural elements. Our northern vine 
yards are located at UKIAH, Mendocino County, WINDSOR, Sonoma County, LA PERLA and SPRING MOUN 
TAIN, Napa County. 

In the southern part of the State, through the San Joaquin Valley, the vineyard properties are ideal for the 
production of sweet wines. This area is as flat as a billiard table and mostly irrigated; the climate is warm through 
out the year. Our southern vineyards are at DELANO, Kern County. 

The CALIFORNIA GRAPE PRODUCTS COMPANY has imported wine-grape cuttings from the vineyards 
of the most famous wine producing areas in France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Germany and Austria, and consequently 

has in its vineyards the varieties of grape which produce the individual types of wine that are recognized in 
this country. 

At our vineyards we have located six wineries with a total storage capacity of FIVE MILLION GALLONS 
and two distilleries for brandy production. These wineries are located at UKIAH, WINDSOR, NAPA, ST. HELENA, 
ELK GROVE and SAN FRANCISCO-— the distilleries at UKIAH and ELK GROVE. 

At UKIAH we produce dry red wines as Claret, Burgundy, Zinfandel, Barbara, etc.; also brandies. At WIND 
SOR, dry red wines; at ST. HELENA, dry white wines as Sauterne, Riesling, Chablis, etc.; at NAPA, dry white wines; 
at ELK GROVE, sweet wines as Port, Sherry, Muscatel Angelica, Tokay, etc.; also brandies; at DELANO, sweet wines, 
and at SAN FRANCISCO we have our storage winery warehouse, bottling plant and general offices. At the latter 
location our wines are stored, blended and bottled for the world's markets. In New York a quarter of a million gallon 
storage winery warehouse, bottling plant and branch offices are maintained. 

In the preceding pages we have tried to give you a brief set-up of the organization of the CALIFORNIA 
GRAPE PRODUCTS COMPANY. 

We believe the method to be fundamentally sound for serving the public the finest types of each variety 
of California wine produced. BECAUSE EACH WINE IS FROM ITS NATIVE REGION. 

Glance at our wine awards since repeal: 

1934 GRAND PRIZE AND GOLD MEDAL Florence, Italy 

1935 GRAND PRIZE AND GOLD MEDAL London, England 

1934 GOLD MEDAL Sacramento, California 

1935 GOLD MEDAL Sacramento, California 



ca 
Ira 

H I W YORK 


*r ^». ie 

• 1 >rf3Ofrv 

irornia &OI& 
>e products WH.? 
com pan u ^^ 

II 1 lV/yV£V 



5,000,000 Gallon Capacity 

Wineries 

SAN FRANCISCO - UKIAH 
NAPA - • -ELK SROVE 

ST. HELENA WINDSOR 

2,700 Acres of 



Vineyards 

UKIAH LA PERLA 

DELANO . WINDSOR 

SPRING MOUNTAIN 



OWNERS 
GROWERS 
PRODUCERS 
BOTTLERS 



SACRAMENTO 



KE R.N •Delano 




UKIAH, Mendocmo Co. 
DRY, RED and WHITE WINES 
and BRANDIES 

WINDSOR, Sonoma Co. 
DRY RED WINES 



ST. HELENA, Napa Co. 
DRY WHITE WINES 

NAPA, Napa Co. 
DRY WHITE WINES 

ELK GROVE, Sacramento Co. 
SWEET WINES and BRANDIES 

SAN FRANCISCO 



Storage Warehouse 
General Offices 

DELANO, Kern Co. 
SWEET WINES 



o COUNTIES 
• Cities • • 



900 "'' 



ca 
ara 


•f • 
itornla 

>e products 
IcomDani 







WINES 




San Francisco General Office and Warehouse 




New York Office and Storage Warehouse 



ca 
ra 



• AN FRANCISCO 
N ( W T O • K 



1 



tf. 



>e 



orma 
products 
company 




WINES 



J 

DESSERT 

CALIFORNIA WINE 





1 





A Comprehensive and Dependable Line of Wines 






Back 



Front 




Shipping Activities At Ukiah, Calif. 




Shipping Activities At Elk Grove, Calif. 



17 



INDEX - Victor Repetto 



Americano (label), 6 



Baccigaluppi, Harry, 11 
Bancitaly Corporation, 7, 8 
Bank of America, 8, 10, 13, 14 
Bank of Italy, 8, 10 
Blauer, Bill, 10 



Caddow, Harry, 10 

California Grape Products Company, 1-4 5 9 11 12 

Caligrapo, 5 

Cella Brothers, 3 

Celler, Emanuel, 4 

concentrate, 5 

Conn, Donald, 10 

Continental Can Company, 5 



Di Giorgio Fruit Company, 7, 9 
Di Giorgio, Joseph, 7, 8, 9, 13 
Di Giorgio Vineyard, 13 



Earl Fruit Company, 9 



Ferroggiaro, Fred, 13 

Fruit Industries, Ltd., 2, 11 



Giannini, A.H., 8 

Giannini, A. P., 7, 8, 10, 11, 13-14 

Giannini, L.M. See Giannini, Mario. 

Giannini, Mario, 13-14 

Guasti, Louisa (Mrs. Secondo) , 8 

Guasti, Secondo, 8 



Hayes, Will, 8 

Hoover Administration, 11 

Hoover, Herbert, 12 



18 



Italian Swiss Colony, 2, 3, 4 
Lanza, Horace 0., 1, 2, 5, 6, 13 

Monti, Professor , 5 

Owens-Illinois Company, 2 



Profumo, Louis, 3 
Prohibition, 5-6 



Repeal, 1, 10-12 
Repetto Vineyard, 13 
Robinson, Eddie, 8 
Roma Winery, 13 
Rossi, Petro C. , 6, 13 



Sbarboro, Andrea E. , 3 
Schenley Distillers, Inc., 13 
Schilling ranch, 6 
Severance, Earl, 3 



Taylor, Walter, 10 
Tribuno and Garrish, 4 
Tribuno, Mario P., 4, 5, 6, 9 



Victor (label), 1 



Willebrandt, Mabel Walker, 11 

Wine Institute, New York Chapter, 11 

Wine Producer's Association, 2 



The Bancroft Library University of California/Berkeley 

Regional Oral History Office 

California Wine Industry Oral History Project 



Sydney J. Block 
SELLING CALIFORNIA WINES IN NEW ORLEANS 



An Interview Conducted by 
Ruth Teiser 



1976 by The Regents of the University of California 



TABLE OF CONTENTS - Sydney J. Block 

INTERVIEW HISTORY i 

THREE GENERATIONS OF BLOCKS 1 

THE CALIFORNIA WINE ASSOCIATION'S SECRET DOMINATION 6 

"SWEET VINO" 12 

LACHMAN & JACOB! AND OTHER PRE-PROHIBITION SHIPPERS 15 

THE ROSSI BROTHERS AND A.R. MORROW 23 

NEW ORLEANS CUSTOMS 25 

MORE CALIFORNIA WINE MEN , 30 

THE POST-REPEAL PERIOD 34 

THE NEW ORLEANS MARKET IN 1969 37 

WINE MERCHANDISING 40 



INDEX 44 



INTERVIEW HISTORY 



Sydney J. Block of New Orleans was interviewed during a visit in San 
Francisco in 1969 at the urgent suggestion of a California wine industry consul 
tant who had known him for many years. An affable southern gentleman, who enjoyed 
recalling the past, he took time during that visit to meet the interviewer at the 
Wine Institute, which allowed the use of a conference room for the taping, on the 
afternoon of August 11. 

As Mr. Block indicates in the interview, he is a third-generation member 
of a New Orleans family that started selling California wines there in the early 
1880s. He himself had been in the business for 61 years at the time he was inter 
viewed, having started working with his father at the age of sixteen. Thus he 
knew the entire span from the pre-Prohibition period to the present, for he has 
continued working actively as a New Orleans sales representative for California 
wineries . 

In September 1974 a decision was made to transcribe the tape, which had 
remained on deposit, and after preliminary editing, mainly deletion of minor 
repetitions, it was sent to him to check. Questions regarding clarification of 
certain points were sent with it. On July 17, 1975, he returned it with replies 
to the questions, and in the following month the editing was completed with the 
aid of some further correspondence. 



Ruth Teiser 
Interviewer-Editor 



3 March 1976 

Regional Oral History Office 

486 The Bancroft Library 

University of California at Berkeley 



(Date of Interview - August 11, 1969) 
THREE GENERATIONS OF BLOCKS 

Teiser: To begin the interview, Mr. Block, when were you born? 

Block: August 12, 1892. 

Teiser: And where were you born? 

Block: New Orleans. 

Teiser: And your occupation is... 

Block: Sales representative for wineries. 

My grandfather brought his first barrel of wine into the city 
of New Orleans approximately in 1880, and my father continued as 
a winery representative after my grandfather's death, and I am the 
third generation--! having started in 1908. That's approximately 
sixty-one years. 

Teiser: Did your grandfather import wines from Europe? 

Block: No. California. In those days the name of the firm was Eddinger 
Brothers & Jacobi, later changed to Lachman & Jacobi.* 



*The Blocks were apparently dealing with the New York affiliate of 
Lachman & Jacobi, Eddinger Brothers & Jacobi, which was bought by 
the California company in 1891. 



Teiser: And your grandfather was their representative in New Orleans? 

Block: That's right. 

Teiser: He represented them exclusively? 

Block: Oh yes, exclusively. 

Teiser: I see. How did he come to make that connection? Do you know? 

Block: No, I don't, except that I think in 1878 we had the yellow fever 
in New Orleans, which was quite an epidemic, and a few years 
after that someone I think suggested, due to the malaria we had 
in the New Orleans area, that he bring in some wine from California 
for drinking purposes, as well as pleasure, naturally. 

Teiser: Was wine supposed to be a protection against yellow fever and 
malaria? 

Block: Yes. 

I can recall the names of various firms that were in business 
here in California, like George West & Sons. They were a wine 
company here, shipping east. And B. Dreyfus & Company. And 
Eddinger Brothers & Jacobi were shipping to the New York market 
as well as to the New Orleans market. 

Teiser: This is your grandfather's time? 

Block: That's my grandfather's time. 

Teiser: I see. Do I remember that the New Orleans market was the second 
largest in the nation (outside California) for California wines? 

Block: Yes, it was at one time. That's correct. In the New Orleans 

market, when we represented the various wineries, just on one brand 



Block: we sold over two million gallons of wine.* In those days it was 

mostly claret and burgundy and white wine, and not so much of the 
dessert wines because of the predominantly French and Spanish 
extraction of the people there. For that reason they were drinking 
a lot of the low alcohol wine in those days. 

Teiser: Did your father and grandfather feel themselves to be very much 
in competition with European wines? 

Block: Yes, at that particular time. That is a very good question because 
you must remember that we had a lot of the French and German 
immigrants who settled in New Orleans, and there was a great deal 
of wine brought into New Orleans from Europe in hogsheads in those 
days. 

Teiser: How much do hogsheads hold? 

Block: Sixty-one gallons. And the wholesaler would bottle for the 

wealthy French families. So there was competition--a great deal-- 
with the sale of California wines in that particular time. 

Teiser: The buyers wanted wine bottled? 

Block: Yes. Well, the wholesaler would bottle it for them free, you see, 
and then send it to the home in those days. 

Teiser: Were California wines bottled also? 

Block: Yes. That's very interesting, because we had what we call family 

delivery services. To my memory there were approximately seventeen 
companies that were delivering wine to the homes that had standing 
orders every day or every week for their red wine and their white wine 



*Each year. See p. 26. 



Teiser: Not in barrels but in bottles? 

Block: It would be brought in in barrels, and then it would be bottled 

by the wholesalers into the gallons, half -gallons and fifths—well, 
I should say quarts. In those days we didn't have fifths. 

Teiser: Were both European and California wines handled this way? 

Block: Yes. 

Teiser: When did the fifth come in, incidentally? 

Block: Well, the fifth came in at the time of the war, of the last war,* 
by the distilleries, and we finally followed suit, so as to 
conserve the sale, frankly, of wines due to the shortage. 

Teiser: You were starting to say how your grandfather happened to get in 
business with California wine. 

Block: Yes. I'm pretty sure (and I heard it said) that due to the 

yellow fever which we had a lot of trouble with--mosquitoes and 
malaria down in our section due to the poor sewage --some one 
recommended that he get a California wine account for drinking 
purposes instead of the water being used by the families. And 
that's how he got into the business. 

Teiser: What was his name? 

Block: Leopold Block. My father was Joseph Block. 

Teiser: What was your grandfather doing before that? 

Block: Well, he had come over from Germany and was with my father's father- 
in-law in the clothing business. And my other grandfather, Calme 



*World War II 



Block: Lazard, came over from France. So I am really French and German 
descent, you see. 

Teiser: And he found that there was a good trade for California wines... 

Block: Oh yes. 

Teiser: Were they cheaper than European wines? 

Block: Yes, they were. And frankly, competition was very keen. I would 
like to step up a little bit to tell you about the competition 
not so much from my grandfather's time but from my father's time, 
because in 1906 (if my memory's correct, that was the time of the 
earthquake here) I can recall this vividly, that wine was selling 
very, very cheap. Extremely so. 

Teiser: In New Orleans? 

Block: In New Orleans, out of California. In those days we had competi- 
tionfrom a firm called French -American Wine Company, which I don't 
know whether you've heard about, from Oakville. 

Teiser: Yes. Louis M. Martini rented the building in the early '30s. 

Block: Then Arthur Lachman finally went into the business --Arthur Lachman 
& Company—who was a relative of the Lachman & Jacobi's. And then 
we had in competition companies like the Seven Brothers--! don't 
think you've heard of them—that's the Rosenblatt brothers. They 
were doing business in New Orleans from here. 

Teiser: Did they produce wine here? 

Block: Oh yes, yes, the Old Abbey brand, and shipped it into New Orleans 
in barrels, incidentally, right from California here. And they 



Block: also produced cordials. 

Teiser: Where were their vineyards? 

Block: Up north. And they were very active. 

THE CALIFORNIA WINE ASSOCIATION'S SECRET DOMINATION 

Block: I think I better tell you about the time between that period of 

1906 and Prohibition, which I think is very interesting. Finally 
the firm was changed from Eddinger Brothers & Jacobi to Lachman 
& Jacobi.* My father was the agent for Lachman & Jacobi, and I 
worked with my father starting in 1908. Now we had as competitors 
Italian Swiss Colony, C. Schilling & Company, Brun & Chaix, and also 
the California Wine Association, which had their own brand. (What 
I am going to say to you after is about these firms.) Then our 
main competitor was Secondo Guasti down at Guasti, and also Mr. A. 
Mattei down at Fresno, who was quite a competitor of ours, and I 
should say of all the winery representatives in the New Orleans 
area. Now, I am telling you this as I see it in an informal way, 
and I think that's the way you'd like to have it. 

Teiser: Exactly. 

Block: Well, this is going to sound. . .well, it's realistic in its sense 

and at the same time, why it's hard to understand: I didn't know 

who I was working for. I had Lachman & Jacobi, but frankly Mr. [A.R.] 



See note page 1. 



Block: 

Teiser 
Block: 

Teiser 



Block: 



Teiser 



Block: 



Morrow was my superior officer; we were all in a combine in those 

days and I did not know it. 1 

Oh, yes. 1 The California Wine Association. 1 * 

[Laughter] I don't know whether you would like to hear a few 

incidents that happened to me about that. 

I certainly would. Do you mean to say that this was after the 

California Wine Association was formed but you were not informed; 

you didn't know about it? 

Well, we were informed and we were not informed, because of a trust 

deal, let's put it that way. Now, there was Swiss Colony, and C. 

Schilling, and Brun & Chaix (incidentally the name of their winery, 

Nouveau Medoc, was very interesting; they copied it after the 

French commune. I don't know whether you knew that or not. They 

shipped from Oakville.) Well, frankly, we were all in this deal, 

and all acting as independent brokers in the New Orleans market, 

and everybody out here as well. 

You mean there were other brokers in the New Orleans market 

representing all these other wineries which were all actually part 

of California Wine Association? 

Yes. 



*The reference here and in the account that follows is to the fact 
that the wine companies mentioned had, without making public announce 
ments, become part of or dominated by the California Wine Association. 
A.R. Morrow was general superintendent and later general manager of 
the California Wine Association. See material on file in the Wine 
Institute library and also Ernest Penihou and Sidney Greenleaf, Wine- 
making in California, III. The California Wine Association, [ San 
Francisco] : The Porpoise Bookshop, 1954. 



8 



Block: Well, as I say, Mr. Morrow was my superior officer, and we 

had a little disagreement one time relative to an amount of money. 
Instead of calling Mr. Morrow or sending him a wire, I waited 
until I got to Lafayette, Louisiana, and I sent him a wire that 
I was on my way to San Francisco. And when I got here, Mr. Morrow 
said, "They're very sore at you, Syd. You'll have to go over to 
see Mr. Sutro at Pillsbury, Madison & Sutro." 

So I said, "Well, who is Mr. Sutro?" I had never heard of 
Mr. Sutro. 

"Well, he's the chairman of the board."* 

I said, "Well, all right. Have you got an appointment with 
him?" 

And he said, "Yes." 

"What time?" I went over the next morning and I walked into 
Mr. Sutro 's office. Mr. Sutro looked at me and he said, "You've 
come a long ways." 

And I said, "Yes. There's a little disagreement about money- 
commissions strictly, and frankly I'm ready to leave you." 
So he said, 'Vhere are you going?" 



*Alfred Sutro was for a time a member of the board of directors of 
California Wine Association and may well have been chairman for a 
period; the organization's records for this period are incomplete. 
Pillsbury, Madison and Sutro were its attorneys during the years 
under discussion. 



Block: And I said, "Well, I'm going with Mr. Guasti.* In fact he 

saw me before I left New Orleans." 

And he said, "Wait a minute." And he rang Mr. Morrow and he 
said, "Give that kid $2600 and send him back home." [Laughter] 
Actually that's the way it happened. He said, "Never mind about 
Guasti. You stay right where you are." Well, I was doing a 
tremendous business, as I say, for Lachman & Jacobi. 

Teiser: About what year was that? 

Block: I don't recall exactly the year. But anyway, I went home, and it 

wasn't very long after that when this other incident came up. I was 
in my office. My father had passed on,** and I was representing 
Lachman & Jacobi--you really want to hear these various incidents? 

Teiser: I do indeed. 

Block: ...and the government man walked in and he said to me, "You Mr. 
Block?" 

And I said, "Yes." He showed me his credentials, and he said 
to me, "I want all the letters that are in your possession that 
were written to your father and to you by Lachman & Jacobi," and so 
on and so forth. 

I said, "Why?" 



*Secondo Guasti, head of the Italian Vineyard Company in the 
Cucamonga Valley, Southern California. 

**Joseph Block died August 5, 1914. 



10 



Block: And he said, "Well, I don't know. You'll have to see the 
district attorney." 

I said, "Well, let me get in touch with my lawyer." 

He said, "No, this is supposed to be incommunicado." 

So I said, "Well, what have I done?" 

He said, "I don't know." 

So I went over to the district attorney's office and they 
asked me some questions: "Why is it that you had the same price 
as your competitors on such-and-such a day?" I said I couldn't 
answer, which was true. And finally they paid me a dollar and a 
half for being a witness against my own firm, [laughter] which made 
it very embarrassing. So I rang Mr. Morrow, and I said, "Mr. Morrow, 
I've got a dollar and a half in my pocket and I'm scared to clear 
the check." [Laughter] 

So he said, "Syd, what's the trouble?" And I told him. And 
he said, "Sit down and don't worry about it." 

I said, "Veil, I am worried about it. They got all my letters. 
They got my father's letters, copies of my letters over in the 
district attorney's office." Well, it wasn't long after that when 
the barrels were all marked "capital stock owned by California 
Wine Association, Lachman Jacobi Brand," "C. Schilling & Company 
Brand," or "Italian Swiss Colony Brand," and it was all clarified. 
And I don't mind telling you I felt very good. 
Teiser: I'll bet so. They finally acknowledged C.W.A. ownership of them. 



11 



Block: We continued right from there, and I represented Lachman & Jacobi 
until the time of Prohibition. 

Teiser: Did you then continue representing them in competition with the 
other labels of the California Wine Association? 

Block: Yes. However, one or two pulled out of the market, but C. Schilling 
remained; Italian Swiss Colony remained; and California Wine 
Association remained in the market. And then we had, as I said 
before, Mr. Guasti and Mattei, who were very large factors in the 
market, very large competitors. 

Now we were shipping in those days naturally in barrels, and 
the fifty gallon barrels were costing in those days $3.75 per 
barrel j* We used to ship a lot of wine from Petaluma, Lachman & 
Jacobi. And then we had a depot over here at Winehaven f* and very 
often we shipped by boat until we had trouble with fermentation 
due to the wine being placed by the boiler. So, you see, we dis 
continued the use of the boat. I can recall one shipment we had 
fifteen hundred barrels of wine that just absolutely fermented. 
As you know, an oak barrel is very, very hard --oak is very hard wood- 
and it just blew the heads right out of the barrels. 
After that we went into tank cars. 

Teiser: About when was that? When did you go into tank cars? 

Block: Well, the California Wine Association formed a company called the 




12 



Block: California Dispatch Line--CDL-- and these were very improvised 
cars. It is very interesting, because they were very hard to 
unload. They originally had placed six tanks, one thousand gallon 
each, in a PFE (Pacific Fruit Express) car in which the tanks were 
very close to the sides of the car, and we had a very hard time 
coupling the hose to the tanks to unload. 

Teiser: The CDL cars were better? 

Block: No. They were nothing more than the PFE cars under another name. 

I was a manager of this line at a dollar a year, which 
enabled me to get on the trains for nothing and to come out here, 
you know, which made it very nice. But anyway, we used those tank 
cars for many years.* 

Frankly, the wine business — and I'm giving you this primarily 
for the New Orleans market --has always been very good. 



"SWEET VINO" 

Block: We had a wine that is now just beginning to find its way around 

the country in proper form, or, I should say, in its true state -- 
as to the real name of the wine. Many years gone by at Petaluma, 
Mr. Sam Ciprico,** who was the manager of the Lachman & Jacobi plant 



*See also p. 40. 
**Eugene S. Ciprico 



13 



Block: up there, had some wine up there that he didn't think possibly 

could be used in other sections of the country. He sent us down 
a sample, and it was a light pink wine. It resembles the Italian 
wines that we used barrel brands on such as 'Vino Sicilia," which 
is Sicilian type, and 'Vino Seel to," which means good wine, and 
'Vino d'Asti." We sold these to the Italian trade for years and 
years. And, funny as it may seem, and I want to say this about my 
good friend Leon Adams--he came to New Orleans one trip (he was 
making a survey for Mr. Ernie Gallo) and he came to my office and 
he said, "Syd, I'm making a survey for Ernie Gallo on rose*." 

And I said, "Well, Leon, I'd be very happy to bring you a 
rose 1 that I've been selling down here for years and years and years 
and years." 

He said, "You have?" 

And I said, "Yes." 

He said, "What is it?" 

"Sweet vino." And when I brought it to him, he was amazed at 
the sample. He was amazed. 

He said, "Well, I'd never have believed it." Now this vino is 
practically the same as the blend of rose* that's made today. I 
don't mean the high premium wines, now; I'm talking of vin ordinaire 
So I've been selling that, and we're still selling it in the New 
Orleans market. 
Teiser: And you're still calling it...? 



14 



Block: "Sweet vino." 

Teiser: It was being blended here all the time? 

Block: Yes. 

Teiser: But never coming onto this market? 

Block: Oh, no. Not only that, but frankly, 99 per cent of the markets 
of the United States don't know "sweet vino." However lately 
Mr. Gallo has started a "sweet vino" label in my market. However, 
he's got a different wine. And Swiss Colony's got a "sweet vino." 
But the "sweet vino" was really primarily a New Orleans deal that 
was sold to the Italian trade sweetened up a little bit, and it 
was the equivalent, really--if you were drinking rose" today you 
couldn't tell the difference. In fact Leon was surprised. 

Teiser: Was it sweeter than our ordinary rose"? 

Block: Well, just about one degree in sugar sweeter, that's about all. 
Not very much. 

Teiser: Do you think that it's a wine that goes well in warm climates? 
Has that had something to do with it? 

Block: Well, yes, I think so, because being light in those days... 

They're now saying rose" is an all-purpose wine; it's a light wine. 
And we sold that as far back as pre-Prohibition days. So Leon Adams 
thought that was very interesting, and he said, "I can't believe it," 
when I brought into my office two bottles to show him. 

Teiser: Have you historically had other wines in the New Orleans market that 

have been peculiar to that market? That haven't been distributed here? 



15 



Block: No, no. That's the only one, frankly. We had been predominantly 
a red and white wine market before the Prohibition era. And we 
sold a lot of muscatel. Of course since Repeal, why it's changed 
somewhat. We're selling a lot of white port now, and muscatel 
isn't as popular, but the "sweet vino" still continues to go, and 
I think it's a matter of being predominantly a New Orleans deal 
which has been handed down. 

LACHMAN & JACOBI AND OTHER PRE- PROHIBIT ION SHIPPERS 

Teiser: And Lachman & Jacobi had... 

Block: They were the ones that started it. So I really say openly that 
I think Lachman & Jacobi, while they didn't call it rose", they 
turned out a wine which I'd say is the next thing to rose". 

When Prohibition came into effect, I came out here to buy the 
L&J label, Lachman & Jacobi label. And Mr. Jacobi said, "Syd, 
don't do that. Buy the common stock of the California Wine Associa 
tion." Because it controlled the land and so forth. And the stock 
did go up. But I did make a mistake that I didn't buy the L&J label, 
I wanted to a great deal for sentimental reasons --my family put it 
into the New Orleans market. And, too, I thought maybe one of these 
days (and that was the purpose of my visit) that Prohibition would 
come to an end. But he talked me out of it, in a very nice way, 
I don't mean anything distasteful; and naturally it became a part 



16 



Block: of the Fruit Industries.* So when Repeal took place, the first 
thing they did at Fruit Industries (I did not go with Fruit 
Industries; however Mr. Morrow did want me to associate myself 
with them, but I went with Mr. Rossi**and the Swiss Colony) and 
the first thing that they did was to place that old Lachman & 
Jacobi, or L&J label, back into the New Orleans market, and it's 
still a good seller. [Laughter] Isn't that very interesting? 

Teiser: I should say. 

Block: Yes. I think it is, because it shows you that that brand was 

embedded in the minds of the older people who handed it down to 
the children, and the label is still good in New Orleans. And 
Perelli-Minetti of California Wine Association, who owns it, is 
still shipping L&J wine into the New Orleans market. 

This will be of interest to you. I think it is. Mr. A. 
Leonard Jacobi, the son of Jacob J. Jacobi, used to come down to 
New Orleans. In fact he spent about a year with me in New Orleans. 
Lennie now lives over at a place across here called Belvedere now.*** 
I was here on one trip and I wrote him that I was at the St. Francis, 
and I felt sure he would call me, but I didn't hear from him. He 
was a son. He was in the business, and as I say, he spent a year 



*Fruit Industries, Ltd. was the successor to the California Wine 
Association. It is discussed in other interviews in this series 
The name was later changed back to California Wine Association, 
which has been owned by the Perelli-Minetti family since 1971. 

**See p. 23. 

***He died in 1968. 



17 



Block: with me and I enjoyed it. The reason he spent this year down 

here is that Mr. Jacobi thought it would be a good idea to have 
him in the New Orleans office with me--I was a young individual-- 
and between the two of us we'd hold business after my father passed 
on. I was very happy to have Mr. Lennie Jacobi with me. I'll 
tell you who he was related to — I know him so well — the MJB Coffee. 

Teiser: Oh, Brandenstein. 

Block: Yes. I think it was the brother-in-law. Jacob was a man with a 

sort of full beard, and a very excellent gentleman and looked upon 
me like a second son. 

Teiser: Was he primarily a distribution man? 

Block: Well, I think there for a while Sam Ciprico, up at Petaluma, 

handled most of the business for the blending and the handling of 
the wines. That's where we shipped from for L&J. Now, with the 
California Wine Association, as I told you, I had wines shipped 
from Winehaven, which was over by Richmond. 

Teiser: But the one in Petaluma was their winery? 

Block: Yes. That's right. 

Teiser: And Mr. Jacobi, then... 

Block: ...was in San Francisco. 

Teiser: Did they have storage facilities in San Francisco? 

Block: In Petaluma. I don't recall any here at all. No, they didn't. 

Teiser: Did you know Mr. Abraham Lachman also? 



18 



Block: No. No, Lachman wasn't active. I never did understand that. And 

frankly, I think Arthur Lachman may have been the son, and maybe 

there was a little disagreement there. All my dealings were with 

J.J. Jacobi. 

Teiser: Did the New Orleans market make up a large part of his total volume? 
Block: Yes, it did. That and the New York market. And of course from 

New Orleans I used to go to Tampa, Florida, and I did business down 

there. But primarily the New Orleans market and the New York 

market were the best markets that he had. 

Now, [Italian] Swiss Colony did business a little differently 

around the country. 
Teiser: Yes. Let me ask you a little more about these early people that 

you mentioned. 
Block: Yes, go ahead. 

Teiser: B. Dreyfus. Did you know them? 
Block: No, that is my grandfather's time--B. Dreyfus & Company. I did not 

know them. 

Teiser: Did you know Arthur Lachman? 
Block: I met him only once. I don't recall. He came into New Orleans one 

time looking for someone, but I don't recall even what he looked 

like, frankly. 

Now, there was another firm that I forgot to give you that 

just came to my mind. Possibly you've heard their name mentioned -- 

it's Gundlach-Bundschu. 



19 



Teiser: Yes, I was going to ask you about them. 

Block: Yes, they did business down in New Orleans, and they were very 
good. Had good wines too. 

Teiser: Did you know the people in that firm? 

Block: No, I did not. I knew their agent pretty well in New Orleans, 
Mr. Armand Desangles. 

Teiser: How about the Rosenblatt brothers? They sound fascinating.* I 
never heard anything about them. 

Block: Well, I had a very peculiar thing happen. I have been a collector 

of wine decanters for many, many years, especially Baccarat crystals, 
and I went into an antique store on Sutter Street on one trip, and 
I made a purchase. And a gentleman said to me, "I see you're 
sending this to New Orleans." I said, "Yes." And he said, "I used 
to do business in New Orleans." It was one of the Rosenblatts. He 
was the gentleman who waited on me, and he was working in this store. 
But they were in business here, and they did very good. They did 
all right. 

I think this is very interesting. We never had any trade 
barriers in those days, so if Mr. Rosenblatt decided to ship five 
barrels of wine to a hotel or a tavern or a retailer, he did it 
right from here. So their business was not with a wholesale 
distributor. Rosenblatt did his business with the retailer. 



*See p. 5. 



20 



Block: Hotels, restaurants and taverns. Entirely different. No, my 
business was with the wholesale distributors. 

Teiser: Where was the Rosenblatts' winery, do you know? 

Block: I never did know, frankly. I know they shipped from here, and 
they were very active in my market. 

I thought you were going to ask me one question about prices, 
which you haven't as yet. 

Teiser: Well, answer it, will you? 

Block: I sure will. [Laughter] Well, it's very amazing. I was down in 
the valley recently, and I said, "I've seen grapes out here at six 
dollars a ton, and I've sold red wine for eight cents a gallon, and 
I have sold port wine, when we took one item in a little fight we had 
going on in the dessert wine business, for twelve and a half cents 
a gallon, which is hardly believable. Eight cents a gallon for 
good red wine." 1 

And I want to say this to you that I think is very interesting. 
The wines that French-American and Brun & Chaix and Lachman & Jacobi 
turned out in those days—now we're talking primarily of red wines, 
not dessert wines—were just par excellence, really and truly. They 
were matured without pasteurization. There was no refrigeration. 
It was strictly by nature. And I think that the body of the wine 
was really far superior to possibly some of the wines we get today. 
Nov, not that the wines are not good today, but they are using all 
kinds of methods and maybe stretch it a little bit. Well, in those 



21 



Block: days the people didn't do that. They went out to establish a name, 
and they tried to sell wine, and frankly I do think the wines were 
a little bit better. Now, we're not talking about varietals; we're 
not talking about premiums; we're talking about the low end of the 
deal. 

So, at the time, wine was shipped into my market at $3.75 for 
the barrel, 7 1/2 cents freight a gallon, to the wine sellers as 
we called them in New Orleans. There were seventeen that delivered 
to the home. Wine was also sold to the grocers in barrels. You'd 
come with your bottle and turn on the faucet and pay ten cents a 
quart. It was very interesting. So my days have been wonderful, 
and frankly I'm very happy to be able to tell you this. 

Teiser: You remember details that nobody has written down. 

Block: Well, I've had the experience, and frankly when I came back from 
school, I got the experience. My wife complains bitterly because 
she says everything costs us double. My father laid the law down 
that I had to be home for dinner at six o'clock, and eight o'clock 
in the morning for work. He handed me a bottle of wine, and he 
said, "Here it is, the price is so much." And I said, "Where am I 
going?" And he said, "I didn't send for you. You said you wanted 
to sell wine. The city is large; there is a lot of wine being 
sold, so take the bottle and go out and sell." And that's how I 
started in the wine business. Now, when I said my wife says 
everything costs us double --my father never gave me anything but a 



22 



Block: wine bottle, never a saw or a hammer or a chisel, so I can't do 
anything with my hands. [Laughter] And my wife sometimes gets 
a little provoked about it. It sounds funny, but it's really true. 
But I've been in the wine business ever since. 

Teiser: Lachman & Jacobi wine was comparable in quality to what wine we 
have here now, would you say? 

Block: Well, I don't think I'd like to answer that question properly, 

but I'd say this—that I think the wines that we had in the barrel 
in those days, like claret, which was primarily the wine that was 
sold in the New Orleans marketr-I think that the red wine was 
heavier bodied than we're getting today. And the reason for it is, 
you must remember that in the New Orleans market we had a lot of 
the French that settled in New Orleans and we had a lot of the 
Spanish. We've gone through two periods there, French and Spanish, 
as you know. And I think for that reason instead of the light -bodied 
wines that they're calling for today we had heavier-bodied wines, 
which to my way of thinking is better because we're accustomed to 
it, that is all. You can get accustomed to the light-bodied wines 
as well. 

Teiser: You said that at the time of Prohibition you bought some stock in 
the California Wine Association. Did you go into the shipping 
and receiving of grapes during Prohibition? 

Block: No. No, I did not go into that. At that time a lot of the land 

was sold to K. Arakelian down at Madera, which was the old Swiss Colony 



23 



Block: deal, and he made a lot of money out of raisins, because they were 
being used for making wine. But I did not go in. And then the 
Fruit Industries was formed,* and they had the Guasti juice for 
home making purposes, but I didn't handle it. I didn't go in at 
all. I did try to do one thing which I wasn't successful in doing 
in the New Orleans market, and that was to handle wines for various 
members of various congregations, and the government didn't give me 
any permit. Now in the Chicago market and New York market, a good 
many individuals did go into that and followed right on through. 
But I didn't; I wasn't able to get a permit in the New Orleans 
market. So I really had to get out of the business. 



THE ROSSI BROTHERS AND A. R. MORROW 

Teiser: You just waited it out until after Prohibition? 

Block: Well, I did and I didn't. I'll tell you what happened. I waited 
it out for many, many years, and then finally I knew something was 
going on, and I had written to Mr. Rossi and also to Mr. Morrow, 
and when I came out here, which was prior to 1933, Mr. Rossi said 
to me, 'Veil, Syd, I hope you'll go with us and be associated with 
us." 

Teiser: Which Mr. Rossi are you speaking of? 

Block: Oh, Ed and Bob both. They were starting to make the "tipo" bottles 
in a little corrugated shed in San Francisco. And they had some 

*In 1929 



24 



Block: wine up at Asti. And I just waited, and on December the sixth 

they sent me down a good many cars of wine for distribution, and 
I had their power of attorney so I could sign checks for rents, 
labor and my entire operation in New Orleans, and I was with them 
for many years. Fine people, excellent. I enjoyed my association 
with them. 

Teiser: What was Mr. Morrow like? 

Block: Morrow? Oh, I thought Al was a very fine gentleman, and of course 
I knew Al when he got older, and I knew him as a young man. He 
was very, very active and very progressive, and I thought he was 
an excellent wine man and a good sales manager. I thought he was a 
very good man. 

Teiser: He was said to have had a very precise and perceptive ability to 
taste wine. 

Block: Oh, without a doubt. I think that's right. 

At that time I came out here (at the time of my experience 
with Mr. Sutro) they were selling a champagne put out by Italian 
Swiss Colony, and it was just excellent champagne. And, frankly, 
I stayed around for two days extra enjoying myself, and then finally 
Al sent me home. You couldn't travel by air in those days, and we 
had to go by train, which took quite a while. 

Teiser: They didn't put out champagne after Repeal, did they? 

Block: No. 

Teiser: This was before Prohibition? 



25 



Block: Before Prohibition, yes. 

Teiser: Mr. Edmund Rossi told about how they happened to make that 
champagne.* 

Block: Oh, did he? I never did know. It was excellent champagne, very 
very good. 

Teiser: Compared to today's champagne? 

Block: Oh, I think so, yes, I do. I think up at Asti they made that wine 
special. And Mr. [Enrico] Prati was a wonderful production man, 
who I knew very well. 

Teiser: What was he like? 

Block: Well, Prati was a dynamic individual, and I think he was a man who 
I wouldn't say wanted his own way, but he knew what he wanted, 
let's put it that way. And I always thought that Prati was a man 
that was quality-minded. And frankly, to my way of thinking, he 
was an excellent production man, especially on the dry wines. Very, 
very good. 



NEW ORLEANS CUSTOMS 

Block: Now I want to tell you those were very interesting days, because 
frankly, there was a lot of loyalty, a lot of friendship, and in 
my market particularly, the New Orleans market, wine was a by-word 



*Edmund A. Rossi, Italian Swiss Colony and the Wine Industry. A 
Regional Oral History Office interview completed in 1971. 



26 



Block: I don't think there was a table that didn't have a bottle of wine 
for dinner, for the youngsters as well as for the elderly people. 
The only way I can express it--in that New Orleans market with 
just Lachman & Jacobi, we used to sell over forty thousand barrels 
of wine a year. That is over two million gallons. 

Teiser: How much of the total market in New Orleans do you think you had? 

Block: Well, we were the leading brand there--L&J. I have no way of 
telling you that. 

Teiser: Do you have any of your old labels, incidentally? 

Block: No, I don't, frankly. I don't have any labels at all. But, you 

see, we were not so much in labels in those days. We were shipping 
in bulk, and everything was sold out of the barrel into bottles. 

Teiser: When you bottled it, did you put a label on it? 

Block: I didn't bottle. They bottled, the retailer. 

Teiser: What did the retailer put on it? 

Block: Oh, people would come in with an empty and they'd fill it up for 
ten cents; no label, just a cork in the bottle. But there was a 
lot of wine sold. 

Teiser: How did you establish the name, then, of Lachman and Jacobi, if 
you didn't have a label? 

Block: Well, that's a very good question, and frankly, I can only answer 
that one way. My father and my grandfather were instrumental in 
putting a lot of people in business, as, for instance, Uddo-Taormina 



27 



Block: which just sold out to the Canadian tobacco company that bought 

S&W. My father put Mr. Uddo in business; he put the Taorminas in 
business. We had approximately fifteen Italian wholesale houses 
who were distributing wine, especially this 'vino that I was telling 
you about—the "sweet vino." And then the wholesale grocers used 
to handle wine. And of course in those days travel was very hard 
for a salesman who had the old drummer's buggy, who would go up 
and down the river. And they would ship barrels of wine by 
Southern Pacific all through the state — they had the railroads, you 
see. 

There were no other wholesalers up in the northern part of 
the state of Louisiana at all. They were all concentrated right 
in New Orleans. And the brand became very popular. They never 
called it Lachman & Jacobi; they called it L&J. And the brand is 
still good in New Or leans --L&J. It's rather remarkable that it's 
gone right on through all these years. 

Teiser: During Prohibition nobody stopped drinking very much in New Orleans, 
did they? 

Block: [Laughter] You're right. That's a very good question. You're 

right, of course, there was a lot of liquor that came in from the 
Bahamas, you know, some good, some bad. But they continued to 
drink, that's true. 

Teiser: Did the Mafia have a hold on the liquor bootlegging in New Orleans 
at that time? 



28 



Block: Well I wouldn't say the Mafia. However, let me say this to you, 
(I was going to leave this out) we had a lot of murders in our 
town with the Mafia in those days, which possibly you heard about. 

Teiser: It's where it first came into notice in the United States... 

Block: That's right. And there was a firm there that was making wine 
out of raisins, by the name of Giacona. I used to sell them a 
wine for Lachman & Jacobi. We called it a Mokelumne blend. I 
think it was named after the Mokelumne River. They took any name 
and called it a blend. It was very, very dark wine, and they 
blended it with this raisin wine which was very light, to give it 
color. I used to sell them this wine. And the Giaconas had trouble 
with the Mafia. And incidentally, at about that time they killed 
six Italians at the dinner table, and after that I was frightened 
to go down to sell, and I was frightened to go down after I sold 
to get the money. [Laughter] 

Teiser: Were the Giaconas connected with this killing? 

Block: Yes. It was really rough. So I had some very peculiar experiences. 
And it was in New Orleans quite a deal at one time, which evidently 
you're acquainted with. I think that's where they started, through 
the Sicilian crowd that emigrated from Italy. But that experience 
with the Giaconas- -I had never carried a gun, but they gave me a 
permit to carry a gun. I have never shot a gun right now in my 
life, and I was carrying a gun, and really and truly if anybody had 
said, "Boo," I'd have jumped, because I was really frightened. But 



29 



Block: I was selling a lot of wine to the Giaconas, and they were 

dangerous, and the other people were dangerous as well, so we 
had a lot of trouble in New Orleans in those days. 

Teiser: That was before Prohibition? 

Block: Oh, that's what we're talking about--pre-Prohibition days. 

Teiser: I believe the Mafia had some connection with bootlegging in the 
rest of the country. 

Block: Well, not too much in New Orleans during the Prohibition era, no. 
We had it before, and they used a lot of muscle there before 
Capone ever thought about the word muscle, which was a word that 
was used in our territory. And they were pretty rough. But frankly, 
it was all among themselves. The killings were among themselves. 
Frankly, I enjoyed going down to see Mr. Giacona; I was scared, I 
don't mind telling you, because I had to go through an alley to 
get to his office and he had a guard right there watching. I had 
everything but a password. These things, when you look back, 
they're all very interesting, because they become a part of your 
experience of an industry. Don't you think that way? 

Teiser: And they become part of a whole tapestry of history. 



30 



MORE CALIFORNIA WINE MEN 

Block: I think Mr. [Edmund] Rossi has been in it a little bit longer than 
I have, and I don't know about Mr. [Antonio] Perelli-Minetti. 

Teiser: We have interviewed them. They have different points of view though, 
you see. 

Block: Well, I was in a different end. I was at the selling end and they 
were in the production end, which made a lot of difference. And 
I tell you, I always found out the two very interesting people at 
a winery were the chemist and the production man, and the president 
should only tell you what to do. I've always managed to get next 
to the chemists. I'd go up there and spend a few days with Mr. 
Prati* and find out from him what I wanted to know when I was with 
[Italian] Swiss Colony, and the same way with Mr. Ciprico up at 
Petaluma to find out what was going on up there. Because, after 
all, they sell you the finished product, and in those days they 
didn't educate the man in the field like they're doing today. You 
were on your own. You had to sell it. You had to tell them what 
it was all about—either the wine was good or it was not good. And 
frankly, it was up to you to go out and produce. 

Teiser: You said that Secondo Guasti had come to talk with you in New Orleans, 
is that right? 



*See also p. 25. 



31 



Block: No, his agent, Mr. Harris.* 

Teiser: Oh. Did you ever meet Mr. Guasti? 

Block: Yes, I did. 

Teiser: What was he like? 

Block: Very nice gentleman. And I used to know. . .what 's his name? 

Teiser: James A. Barlotti, his general manager? 

Block: Barlotti. In fact, I knew them all down there. Yes, they wanted 
me to go with them when they found out I was having a little 
trouble. His New Orleans agent was a man by the name of Tom Harris, 
and this is interesting, I think, while it's a little bit off the 
subject. Mr. Harris had a beard, and he always wore a Prince 
Albert suit and a derby to call on the trade. [Laughter] For the 
Italian Vineyard Company, which was Secondo Guasti. That's a fact. 
In the New Orleans market he was a very distingue" individual. 
Don't you think that's interesting? 

Teiser: You didn't have to dress that formally? 

Block: No, no. But he did. I just think it was a part of his make-up. 
That was always my thought. Every day I'd meet Mr. Harris, and 
that time when he knew I was coming to California, knew I was having 
a little trouble, he said, "Wait a minute; I'm going to New York." 
And he finally went into the New York office, and he wanted me to 



*See p. 9. 



32 



Block: go with Mr. Guasti to replace him as New Orleans sales 
representative. 

Teiser: What was Mr. Guasti like? 

Block: I thought he was an excellent gentleman. He handled himself 
very, very well. He used to come to New Orleans. 

And Mr. Mattei. I've been down to his plant, and by the way, 
that's where I first met—what's his name?--he used to be a United 
States gauger. Jones. 

Teiser: Lee Jones? 

Block: Yes. He was a gauger. That's where I first met Lee Jones. I 

used to go into the Fresno area. I used to come out here and make 
all the wineries. I'll tell you why I made all the wineries. 
Everybody was my friend. And even today, I'm very happy to be 
able to tell you, that I don't think there's anybody that comes to 
New Orleans from here that doesn't give me a call. And I'm very 
proud of it. And I feel like I get the welcome sign when I come 
out here. It makes me feel very good. Now ask me any question you 
want. 

Teiser: I'd like to know your impression of people. What sort of a chap 
was Barlotti? 

Block: Well, he was more of a reticent individual, because I think he was 
more of an office man. And for that reason I think he wasn't prone 
to do too much talking, in my book. I'd say that he was on the 



33 



Block: reticent side. But I thought they were very wonderful people, 
and I thought Mr. Mattei was as well. And the wines were good. 
However, we always had a little expression, "Well, they can't 
produce wines down at Guasti like they can up north." But that 
didn't hold water, because he did turn out good wines, equal to 
those produced in Northern California. He did; he really did in 
those days. 

Everything was done by nature in those days, and he let the 
wine age and the wine was good. The wine was all right. He was 
making it down at the Guasti plant, and everything was fine. 

Teiser: Did you ever know Horace Lanza? 

Block: Oh yes. And I know Harry Baccigaluppi and all of them, yes. Of 
course I didn't know Mr. Lanza as well as I knew Harry. I've 
seen Harry around more, and I've been at meetings with Harry. An 
excellent gentleman, by the way. I'm very, very fond of him. I've 
never sold for him, but he's an excellent individual. He's very 
fine. And I'll tell you, he's a very brilliant man. When he gets 
on the podium I think he knows what to say, when to say and how 
to say it. I've always enjoyed listening to Mr. Baccigaluppi; I 
think he's very good. 



34 



THE POST -REPEAL PERIOD 



Block: 



I was a very intimate friend of Hugh and Hall Adams. When they 
used to come to New Orleans they were with the Virginia Dare 
Company-- Garret t. And frankly, when this Fruit Industries was 
formed down here and Garrett went into it, and then when Repeal 
took place, I had written Hall and Hugh. Then Al Morrow got in 
touch with me. And I came out here and I decided to go with Mr. 
Rossi. But I had nothing to do with the CWA* whatsoever after the 
Repeal, nothing, because I had gone immediately over with Rossi. 

Teiser: Did you stay with Rossi until... 

Block: Oh, until he sold out. I managed all their businesses in the New 

Orleans deal, and I stayed with Mr. Rossi and I enjoyed my association 
with him until he sold out to the National Distillers. 

Teiser: When you had to reestablish the market after Repeal, did you start 
selling immediately, or did you have a lot of preparation to do, 
to build up again to where you had been? 

Block: Well, let me say this to you. I was very fortunate, I think, having 
lived in New Orleans, and the name of Block being so well known in 
the wine business. And when I came out here, Mr. Rossi had agreed 
to let me--I think I put about ten cars of wine into a warehouse... 

Teiser: Are you speaking of Robert Rossi? 



*Fruit Industries, Ltd. took the name California Wine Association 
after it purchased its remaining assets. 



35 



Block: Robert and Ed. 

Teiser: Which of them did most sales? 

Block: Well, Bob did most of the handling of sales. And I must have 

placed about ten cars of wine in a warehouse in New Orleans that 
arrived so that I could sell it on December the sixth, 1933, which 
was the day of Repeal. So I established myself right away with 
wine, you see, and I had the Italian Swiss Colony then. 

Teiser: And was there a waiting market? 

Block: Oh, yes. I went through the state, and I established my various 
connections, and people were waiting for me. That's really so. 
I had one experience, and I think this is a cutie. 

I walked into Dave Schuster. He was in Shreveport, Louisiana, 
at that time in a wholesale house. And Mr. Schuster knew I was 
coming up there and he knew all about me from the Schenley Distillery, 
And he said to me, "Mr. Block, I want to go into the wine business. 
Send me whatever you think I ought to have in the way of barrels 
of various types, so many barrels of this and so many barrels of 
that." 

And I said, "Mr. Schuster, I really don't like to do business 
that way. I'd like to have a confirmed order. You tell me what 
you want." 

So he said, "Well, Mr. Block, I want to tell you, since your 
reputation is very good and I understand you're very honest, 
whatever you got in mind to ship me, you cut it in half." [Laughter] 



36 



Block: I'll never forget that story. It kind of took me off my feet. 
He put me right on the defense. And it actually happened. I 
sent him whatever I thought he ought to have in the Shreveport 
market. So you asked me how I got established --I'll tell you 
that's one of the many incidents in my establishing myself. 
[Laughter] 

Those are the things that have always been very dear to me, 
and frankly, it's been a wonderful experience, and I can truthfully 
say that my business has been good. It's been a good business. I 
just wish I had someone with me to continue, and I am very unfortunate 
that I don't have anybody. I'm a one-man deal. And I was saying 
downstairs to a friend of mine that I should incorporate and get a 
young man to continue because I think we're in our infancy, and I 
think people are going to drink more wine--premium wines especially, 
good red and whites. And when I see all the improvements taking 
place out here — like I was at Krug--my gracious, they're building a 
plant up there that's terrific, the Mondavis. I just think that 
they're looking for the future, and I do, too. I just hope I live 
long enough to see the wine sales just double, because frankly, 
we're going up and up and I think it's wonderful. 



37 



THE NEW ORLEANS MARKET IN 1969 

Teiser: Have you increased sales as much in New Orleans as in other parts 
of the country? 

Block: Well, we have... Of course, don't forget this tod ay- -formula 

wines have come into our market pretty strong, which is a little 
bit away from the regular wines. 

Teiser: You mean special flavored wines? 

Block: Special flavor wines. 

Teiser; Do people drink them there? 

Block: Yes, they do. Now in the northern part of the state--! don't know 
whether you want me to mention names or not—well, the Thunderbird 
is a very good seller. And I go over to Georgia and Ripple is a 
very good seller. And then in the New Orleans market, in Baton 
Rouge, tokay fourteen per cent (we never heard of tokay being less 
than twenty) is a very good seller, and it's flavored with a little 
Concord I think. I'm not a production man; I think according to 
my taste, so I don't want you to hold me to that. But frankly, 
they're taking away from a lot of the conventional wines. Then 
Bali Hai was in our market — very big--from Swiss Colony, a 
tremendous seller. So, frankly, they've taken away a great deal 

of the sales. 

Teiser: Do you really think they're replacing table wines? 
Block: Well, I won't say table wines. Dessert wines. Now, let me say this 



38 



Block: about table wines: table wines are going up and up, and the 
youth is drinking table wines. When I say youth, I'm talking 
about young couples, young married couples. And it's wonderful. 
And I think any retail store that doesn't make a specialty of 
selling tenths is making a big mistake, because it's a good size 
for two--husband and wife. And I have a relative in the business. 
My nephew has a very fine store, and I made him put in a lot of 
tenths, and he's selling a lot of them. I think dry wine is on 
the increase, no question about that. The future of the business 
is in the dry wine field. 

Teiser: I keep wondering if the flavored wines aren't replacing whiskey 
or rum or brandy. 

Block: You mean hurting the sale? 

Teiser: Yes. I wonder if some people aren't drinking Thunderbird instead 
of whiskey. 

Block: I think you're right. I think you're absolutely correct. Of 

course, the colored in my section are drinking the flavored wines, 
and they're not drinking the bourbon. They're drinking Scotch, 
and they're drinking Canadian. So it's bound to hurt the bourbon 
sales. 

Teiser: Is that right? 

Block: That's what's happening in my section, yes. 

Teiser: I've heard here, too, that Negroes here are drinking these flavored 
wines . 



39 



Block: Yes, flavored wines, and Scotch, and V.O. or Canadian Club, the 
Canadian whiskeys and not so much the bourbon whiskey. 

Teiser: Why Scotch? 

Block: It's very unusual, because it has an unusual flavor and taste. 
But don't forget this now, that as they say down my way, in the 
New Orleans territory, you know, it's a snob bottle—a bottle of 
Scotch- -and they like to spend, and that's it. 

I think this is of interest to you- -some thing that I think 
has happened in the New Orleans market --and I'm bringing you up 
to date now. This nephew of mine who just erected a hundred and 
fifty thousand dollar building for his retail store, and a magnif 
icent store, I've succeeded after all these years in having him 
to set off a part of his space for American wines with a large sign 
"American Wines." And he has all the varietals and all the wines 
from out here, and he handles approximately, well, I'd say his 
inventory on imports is about ten to twelve thousand cases, which 
is a lot of wine for a retailer. But since he erected this 
particular store, the sale of his American wines has just gone up 
threefold. It's really amazing. And people now are beginning to 
drink a lot of California wines down our way who formerly drank a 

lot of imports. 

You must remember, you see, we've got a lot of French 
restaurants in New Orleans, and for that reason they push the French 



40 



Block: wines. But we're gradually beginning to make a lot of headway 
with the restaurant trade. 



WINE MERCHANDISING 

Teiser: Do you see any change that's taken place as a result of the 
national companies taking an interest in the wine business? 

Block: I don't think so, up to now. I think they cannot do anything but 
good. I don't think they're going to destruct. I think if they 
destruct it's going to be merely for the purpose of constructing 
instead of destruct ing. So they may pull out here, but eventually 
I think they will do a lot of constructive work toward merchandising, 
pricing, quality, and I think they will possibly make sure that 
their sales organization is good, which is essential and is one 
thing that I have found that so many salesmen in the Eastern 
market, even with my wholesalers (and I hold sales meetings very 
often). I never tell a man how to sell wine; I usually say, "Ask 
me the questions so I can give you the answers about wine." And 
so many wholesalers don't know anything about wines, and they don't 
know how to impart that information to the salesmen. But I think 
that's what's going to take place from here on in, myself. 

Teiser: Gallo seems to have built a new kind of sales organization. 

Block: Oh, yes. I didn't mean winery organization. I mean a wholesaler's 
organization. Mr. Gallo has been very successful with his method. 
He has the manpower and the advertising, so he's doing a lot of 



41 



Block: good. 

Mr. [Kenneth C.] Bertsch down there, the sales manager, is 
a very good friend of mine. Mr. Joiner * one of the vice-presidents, 
is a good friend, and Ernie and I have been good friends for many, 
many years, and I admire him and I admire his tactics. 

I think he's done a magnificent job. Wonderful. Wonderful. 
And I think that all the wineries out here are profiting a little 
bit by what he's been doing, because they realize--! think a lot 
of them that I've spoken to in the last two years --that they've 
got to do something if they want to stay in business, whether it 
be sales organization or advertising, to see that that merchandise 
with demand is put on the shelf. Because after all if it isn't 
exposed, how can you sell it? So he has really followed, I would 
say, from the time the wine leaves a winery to the wholesaler to 
the retailer, he has really followed each bottle. Let's put it 
that way. And I don't think I can describe it any better than that. 
It's been wonderful, and I admire him for what he's done. 

One of the things that I always remember vividly, when those 
tank cars first came into New Orleans, they just took the six one- 
thousand gallon redwood tanks on the old PFE car, Pacific Fruit 
Express, and they were so close together, I couldn't get my man 
hardly to pass the hose to unload the wine.** And now I'm selling 



*Lloyd Joiner 
**See also p. 12 



42 



Block: jumbo tank cars of twenty thousand gallons that are so accessible 
and so easy to handle, you know. And when I think back on those 
cars, really and truly, it... 

Teiser: Did you ever have any wine spoil in those tanks? 

Block: No, I didn't. The only trouble was that the men had to get on 

the top to clean them out, and the manhole was so small to get in 
them to make sure that the redwood was clean by the time it got 
back to California. And as I say, when I draw a comparison between 
those cars of those days and today. 1 We use the jumbo tank cars 
today because I do sell bulk wine too. 

Teiser: They couldn't ship anything back in them, could they? 

Block: Oh, no. They came back empty. And the same thing here today. 
They come back empty. But that's one thing I've often thought 
about. And then the ten cents a quart for wine down in my section, 
which was amazing. 

Teiser: Of course, nothing cost too much in those days. The whole scale... 

Block: Well, we didn't have any tax on the wine, don't forget that. 

Jeff Peyser saw me today, and he said to me, "Well, what do 
you think is going to happen at the next session?" of the 
Louisiana state legislature. Well, we didn't worry about that in 
those days. No taxes. The only thing we had was the wine, the 
freight, and the price of the barrel, which made a lot of difference 

We're still very fortunate down there. Mr. Peyser's lawyers 
get in touch with me all the time, and we still have in effect (and 



43 



Block: I was instrumental with Mr. Huey Long in getting this tax) only 

ten cents on dry wine, on table wine, and twenty cents on dessert 
wines. Whereas in certain sections, take Florida, $1.60 a gallon 
on dessert wines and $1.15 on table wines. So we've been very 
fortunate in the New Orleans area. And the cooperation out here 
has been very good as far as the Wine Institute is concerned. 
Any time we were in trouble we can always call on them. 

Teiser: Thank you very much. This has been an interesting interview. 

Block: Well, it's been a pleasure. 



Transcriber: Betty Dubravac 
Final Typist: Keiko Sugimoto 



44 



INDEX - Sydney Block 



Adams, Hall, 34 
Adams, Hugh, 34 
Adams, Leon, 13, 14 
Arakelian, K. , 22 



Baccigaluppi, Harry, 33 

Barlotti, James A., 31-33 

Bertsch, Kenneth C. , 41 

Block, Joseph, 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 9, 21, 26 

Block, Leonard, 1, 2, 4, 5, 18, 26 

bottling, 3-4 

Brandenstein, , 17 

Brun & Chaix, 6, 7, 20 



California Dispatch Line, 12 

California Wine Association, 6, 7, 8, 10, 11, 15, 16, 17, 22, 34 

Ciprico, Eugene S. (Sam), 12, 17, 30 



Desangles, Armand, 19 
dessert wine, 3, 20, 37, 43 
Dreyfus , B . , and Company , 2 , 18 



Eddinger Brothers & Jacobi, 1, 2, 6 



flavored wines, 37, 38, 39 
French-American Wine Company, 5, 20 
Fruit Industries, Ltd., 16, 23, 34 



Gallo, Ernest (Ernie), 13, 14, 39-41 

Garret t & Company, 34 

Giacona family, 28, 29 

Guasti, Secondo, 6, 9, 11, 30, 31, 32, 33 

Gundlach-Bundschu, 18-19 



Harris, Tom, 31-32 



45 



Jacob! , A. Leonard, 16, 17 
Jacobi, Jacob J. , 16, 17, 18 
Joiner, Lloyd, 41 
Jones, Lee, 32 



Krug Winery, 36 



Lachman, Abraham, 17-18 

Lachman, Arthur, 18 

Lachman, Arthur, & Company, 5, 18 

Lachman & Jacobi, 1, 2, 5, 6, 9, 10, 11, 12, 20, 22, 26, 27, 28 

L & J (Lachman & Jacobi) (label), 15, 16, 17, 26, 27 

Lanza, Horace, 33 

Lazard, Calme, 4-5 

Long, Huey, 43 



Mafia, 27-28, 29 

Martini, Louis M. , 5 

Mattei, A., 6, 11, 32, 33 

Mondavi family, 36 

Morrow, A.R. , 6-7, 8, 9, 10, 16, 23, 24, 34 



National Distillers, 34 
New Orleans, passim 
Nouveau Medoc Winery, 7 



Old Abbey (label), 5 



Pacific Fruit Express, 12, 41 

Perelli-Minetti, Antonio, 30 

Perelli-Minetti family, 16 

Peyser, Jefferson, 42 

Pillsbury, Madison & Sutro, 8 

Prati, Enrico, 25, 30 

Prohibition, 6, 11, 15, 22, 23, 24, 27, 29 



46 



raisins, 23, 28 

Repeal, 15, 16, 24, 34, 35 

Rosenblatt brothers, 5, 19, 20. See also Seven Brothers 

Rossi, Edmund, 16, 23, 24, 25, 30, 34, 35 

Rossi, Robert, 16, 23, 24, 34, 35 



Schenley Distillery, 35 

Schilling, C. & Company, 6, 7, 10, 11 

Schuster, Dave, 35-36 

Seven Brothers, 5 

Southern Pacific Transportation Company, 27 

Sutro, Alfred, 8, 24 

"Sweet Vino", 12-15, 27 



table wines, 3, 15, 20, 22, 37-38, 43 
tank cars, 11, 41-42 
"tipo" bottles, 23 



Uddo-Taormina, 26, 27 
Virginia Dare Company, 34 



West, George, & Sons, 2 
Winehaven, 11, 17 
Wine Institute, 43 
wine prices, 20, 21 



47 



Wines Mentioned in the Interview 



Bali Hai, 37 
burgundy, 3 
champagne, 24, 25 
claret, 3, 22 
muscatel, 15 
port, 20 
Ripple, 37 
rose, 13, 14, 15 
"Sweet Vino", 12-15, 27 
Thunderbird, 37 
tokay, 37 



Ruth Teiser 

Born in Portland, Oregon; came to the Bay 
Area in 1932 and has lived here evep since. 
Stanford University, B.A. , M.A. in English; 
further graduate work in Western history. 
Newspaper and magazine writer in San Francisco 
since 19^3, writing on local history and busi 
ness and social life of the Bay Area. 
Book reviewer for the San Francisco Chronicle, 



1276