Regional Oral History Office University of California
The Bancroft Library Berkeley, California
The Wine Spectator California Winemen Oral History Series
Norbert C. and Edmund A. Mirassou
THE EVOLUTION OF A SANTA CLARA VALLEY WINERY
With an Introduction by
Maynard A. Amerine
An Interview Conducted by
Copyright (T) 1986 by The Regents of the University of California
All uses of this manuscript are covered by a legal
agreement between the University of California and
Norbert C. and Edmund A. Mirassou dated July 29, 1986.
The manuscript is thereby made available for research
purposes. All literary rights in the manuscript,
including the right to publish, are reserved to The
Bancroft Library of the University of California at
Berkeley. No part of the manuscript may be quoted
for publication without the written permission of the.
Director of The Bancroft Library of the University of
California at Berkeley.
Requests for 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 legal
agreement with Norbert C. and Edmund A. Mirassou
requires that they be notified of the request and
allowed thirty days in which to respond.
It is recommended that this oral history be cited
as follows :
Norbert C. and Edmund A. Mirassou, "The Evolution
of a Santa Clara Valley Winery," an oral history
conducted in 1985 by Ruth Teiser, Regional Oral
History Office, The Bancroft Library, University
of California, Berkeley, 1986.
NORBERT C. and EDMUND A. MIRASSOU
Photograph by Ruth Teiser
SAN FRANCISCO EXAMINER
May 3, 1992
Norbert C. Mirassou
EXAMINER NEWS SERVICES
SAN JOSE Norbert C. Mir
assou, a fourth-generation wine-
maker known for his down-to-
earth management style, died
Thursday of congestive heart fail
ure. He was 77.
Mr. Mirassou and his brother,
Edmund, ran the Mirassou winery
for more than 30 years before
handing the business over to three
nephews, the family's fifth genera
tion of winemakers.
A colorful character known as
"Mr. Norb" or simply "Norb," Mr.
Mirassou favored Hawaiian shirts
and made a point of greeting sever
al dozen employees each day.
"He was very precious to me
and my brothers," said Dan Miras
sou, one of the nephews who now
run the winery.
Edmund Mirassou credited his
brother for bringing sprinklers into
the grape fields.
. "Sprinkler systems had been
used on alfalfa and in pastures, but
Norbert adopted it" for their vine
yards, he said. Soon afterward,
wineries across the state began us
ing similar methods, he said.
Mr. Mirassou also rigged a fork-
lift that could run on the fields'
muddy terrain in order to bring
boxed grapes rather than having
them carried by hand.
Mr. Mirassou was a founding
member and former chairman of
the California Wine Advisory
Board, member of the Wine Insti
tute and member of the Santa Cla
ra County Winegrowers Associa
Besides his brother, Mr. Miras
sou is survived by his wife, Ruth; a
sister; a son; a daughter; four
grandchildren; and two great
E2 San 3tanci5co <tyromdf
Edmund Mirassou, patriarch of
the oldest winemaking family in
the United States, died Wednesday
in San Jose. He was 78.
Mr. Mirassou was born in San
Jose, hi the fourth generation of
the viticultural family descended
from Louis Pellier, who came to
California with grape cuttings hi
1848, and his brother Pierre, who
arrived in 1850.
Mr. Mirassou attended San Jose
State College. In 1937, he took over
the Mirassou vineyard, which
dates from 1854. He ran it for 30
years with his brother Norbert,
who died in 1992.
Mr. Mirassou became president
of the winery in 1960. Until the
1960s, most of Mirassou's business
was in bulk, with wine transported
in barrels and casks, by ship and
tram, to other wineries which sold
the product under their own la
The business was centered in a
major Santa Clara valley holding
of 400 acres until 1961, when the
family acquired the 300-acre Mis
sion Ranch at Soledad, followed by
the nearby 650-acre San Vicente
The Mirassou brothers intro
duced various innovations, includ
ing an overhead sprinkling system
that made it possible to grow vines
in Monterey County. The county
was attractive for wine grapes be
cause, unlike Sonoma and Napa, it
had no history of Phylloxera, the
dreaded louse that has devastated
vines of European origin.
The company's success contrib
uted to the rise of the Central v
Coast as a major winemaking re-3Pf
' -. &%^>T
In 1977, Mr. Mirassou comment
ed on winery history in California:
"People do not realize how much
the image and economics of fine
winemaking have changed. Until
1950 winemakers were viewed as
bootleggers, not artists. Fine wine-
making was also not profitable.
You have to have a rich uncle or
Mr. Mirassou was also known as
a critic of how expanding subdivi
sions transformed the central
He is survived by sons James
Peter and Daniel, and a daughter
Colleen, all of San Jose.
A funeral will be held at 10 a.m.
today at the Carmelite Monastery
12455 Clayton Road, San Jose, fol
lowed by a wake at noon at the
Mirassou Winery in San Jose.
July 31, 1996
FH H M' < Edmund Mirassou, a former WI chairman of the board and key figure
tarnuna Mirassou in tne California wine industry, passed away July 24 in San Jose after
Passes Away at 78 a short illness. After taking over the family's enterprise in 1937,
Mirassou and his brother Norbert built it into one of the state's most
successful wineries. Their families' contributions to the wine indus
try include developing the first permanent vineyard irrigation sys
tem, testing and advancing mechanized grape harvesting and pio
neering commercial winegrowing in Monterey County.
Mirassou was also chairman for 20 years of the Wine Advisory Board
and an advisor to the Governor for the State Board of Food and
Agriculture. He was instrumental in founding the American Vineyard
Foundation and the Winegrowers of California and was the
Winegrower's first chairman. He was named "Man of the Year" in
1979 by "Wines and Vines" magazine. In lieu of flowers, the family
requests that donations be sent to the Carmelite Monastery in San
Jose or the American Vineyard Foundation, P.O. Box 414, Oakviiie,
Wines and Vines
DIES AT 78
Edmund A. Mirassou, a leader of the Cal
ifornia wine industry and wine family patri
arch, died July 24 at San Jose. He had had heart
surgery and surgeons later discovered he had
Ed Mirassou was a longtime leader of the
California wine industry. He and his late
brother, Norbert, turned the winery, in San
Jose's Evergreen district near Mt. Hamilton,
from a bulk producer to a producer of case-
Ed Mirassou was known for his dedication
to the industry, and was a former chairman of
Wine Institute and for 20 years was chairman
of the-then Wine Advisory Board. He was a
founder of the American Vineyard Founda
tion and in 1979 was named "Man of the Year"
by Wines & Vines magazine.
He and his brother, Norbert, who died in
1992 and was known for his garish sport
shirts, operated the winery since 1937. The
founder of the winery was Pierre Pellier, Ed's
great-grandfather, who brought vine cuttings
from his native France in the 1850s.
Edmund Mirassou believed in giving
something back to society; in that regard, he
was a board member of the Santa Clara Valley
Water District, the Evergreen Soil Conserva
tion District and Alexian Brothers Hospital.
He also was a marketing advisor for Santa
Clara University and the University of San
He was preceded in death by his wife of 56
years, Millie, last September. Survivors in
clude sons Daniel, Peter and James, daughter
Colleen, 12 grandchildren and 18 great-grand
The family requested donations be made
to the Carmelite Monastery in San Jose (12445
Clayton Road) or the American Vineyard
Foundation, (P.O. Box 414, Oakville, Calif.
(Ed Mirassou personified what is special about
the wine industry. He was a special man who
achieved much in his all-too-short lifespan. Those
who knew him are privileged; he shall be missed
TABLE OF CONTENTS Norbert C. and Edmund A. Mirassou
INTRODUCTION, by Maynard A. Amerine v
INTERVIEW HISTORY vi
BRIEF BIOGRAPHIES vii
INTERVIEW WITH NORBERT C. MIRASSOU
I EARLY YEARS, 1914-1937 1
Peter L. Mirassou and His Family 1
Growing, Packing, and Selling Grapes 5
The Two Brothers Take Over 12
II MIRASSOU VINEYARDS, 1937-1966 15
Going Into the Bulk Wine Business 15
Pioneering Plantings in Monterey County 19
Adding Land in Santa Clara County 25
III EXPANSION, 1966 TO THE PRESENT 30
Mechanizing Harvesting 30
Field Crushing and Pressing 35
From Bulk to Bottling 41
The Mirassou Sales Company and San Vicente Vineyards 46
The Mirassou Nursery 51
Urbanization in the Santa Clara Valley 55
INTERVIEW WITH EDMUND A. MIRASSOU
I "GETTING STARTED OVER AGAIN," 1936-1941 58
Prohibition and Repeal 58
The Brothers Divide Responsibilities 65
The Bulk Wine Business 68
II EXPANSION, 1941-1966 70
Land Purchases 70
Wine Pioneers in Monterey County 73
Mechanical Harvesting and Field Crushing 79
Bottling the Mirassou Wines 80
The Fifth Generation Takes Charge 84
Ill GROWTH OF THE CALIFORNIA WINE ORGANIZATIONS
The Wine Advisory Board
Creation, 1938 92
Early Work 97
Dissent and Discontinuation, 1975 12
The Winegrowers of California and The California Association
of Winegrape Growers
The Wine Institute
IV EDMUND MIRASSOU'S OTHER BOARD ACTIVITIES 132
TAPE GUIDE 136
APPENDIX A - "Mirassou Vineyards First in Vineyard Crushing,"
speech by E. A. Mirassou, August 1971 137
APPENDIX B - Letter from The Fifth Generation Mirassou Vineyards
to Ruth Teiser, January 12, 1984 139
The California wine industry oral history series, a project of the
Regional Oral History Office, was initiated in 1969 through the action and
with the financing of the Wine Advisory Board, a state marketing order
organization which ceased operation in 1975. In 1983 it was reinstituted as
The Wine Spectator California Winemen Oral History Series with donations from
The Wine Spectator Scholarship Foundation. The selection of those to be
interviewed is made by a committee consisting of James D. Hart, director of
The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley; John A. De Luca,
president of the Wine Institute, the statewide winery organization; Maynard
A. Amerine, Emeritus Professor of Viticulture and Enology, University of
California, Davis; Jack L. Davies, the 1985 chairman of the board of directors
of the Wine Institute; Ruth Teiser, series project director; and Marvin R.
Shanken, trustee of The Wine Spectator Scholarship Foundation.
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 commercial 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,
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.
The Wine Spectator California
Winemen Oral History Series
10 September 1984
Regional Oral History Office
486 The Bancroft Library
University of California, Berkeley
CALIFORNIA WINE INDUSTRY INTERVIEWS
Interviews Completed by 1986
Leon D. Adams, REVITALIZING THE CALIFORNIA WINE INDUSTRY 1974
Maynard A. Amerine, THE UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA AND THE STATE'S WINE
Philo Biane, WINE MAKING IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA AND RECOLLECTIONS OF FRUIT
INDUSTRIES, INC. 1972
John B. Cella, THE CELLA FAMILY IN THE CALIFORNIA WINE INDUSTRY 1986
Burke H. Critchf ield, Carl F. Wente, and Andrew G. Frericks, THE
CALIFORNIA WINE INDUSTRY DURING THE DEPRESSION 1972
William V. Cruess, A HALF CENTURY OF FOOD AND WINE TECHNOLOGY 1967
William A. Dieppe, ALMADEN IS MY LIFE 1985
Alfred Fromm, MARKETING CALIFORNIA WINE AND BRANDY 1984
Joseph E. Heitz, CREATING A WINERY IN THE NAPA VALLEY 1986
Maynard A. Joslyn, A TECHNOLOGIST VIEWS THE CALIFORNIA WINE INDUSTRY 1974
Horace 0. Lanza and Harry Baccigaluppi, CALIFORNIA GRAPE PRODUCTS AND OTHER
WINE ENTERPRISES 1971
Louis M. Martini and Louis P. Martini, WINEMAKERS OF THE NAPA VALLEY 1973
Louis P. Martini, A FAMILY WINERY AND THE CALIFORNIA WINE INDUSTRY 1984
Otto E. Meyer, CALIFORNIA PREMIUM WINES AND BRANDY 1973
Herbert C. and Edmund A. Mirassou, THE EVOLUTION OF A SANTA CLARA VALLEY
Robert Mondavi, CREATIVITY IN THE WINE INDUSTRY 1985
Harold P. Olmo, PLANT GENETICS AND NEW GRAPE VARIETIES 1976
Antonio Perelli-Minetti, A LIFE IN WINE MAKING 1975
Louis A. Petri, THE PETRI FAMILY IN THE WINE INDUSTRY 1971
Jefferson E. Peyser, THE LAW AND THE CALIFORNIA WINE INDUSTRY 1974
Lucius Powers, THE FRESNO AREA AND THE CALIFORNIA WINE INDUSTRY 1974
Victor Repetto and Sydney J. Block, PERSPECTIVES ON CALIFORNIA WINES 1976
Edmund A. Rossi, ITALIAN SWISS COLONY AND THE WINE INDUSTRY 1971
A. Setrakian, A LEADER OF THE SAN JOAQUIN VALLEY GRAPE INDUSTRY 1977
Andre'Tcheliatcheff, GRAPES, WINE, AND ECOLOGY 1983
Brother Timothy, THE CHRISTIAN BROTHERS AS WINEMAKERS 1974
Ernest A. Wente, WINE MAKING IN THE LIVERMORE VALLEY 1971
Albert J. Winkler, VITICULTURAL RESEARCH AT UC DAVIS (1921-1971) 1973
This is a transcript of the oral biographies of Norbert C. Mirassou and
his brother Edmund A. Mirassou. It includes their accounts of their youth, the
family vineyards, orchards and wineries, and their joint ventures in grape
growing and winemaking since repeal of Prohibition. Their strong work ethic
and support of younger family members reflect the philosophy of their father.
Generally their careers seem to have proceeded by a process of trial and error;
they appear to have accepted opportunities to make money where they could find
them, e.g., the nursery business.
Both brothers are justifiably proud of their early experiments with and
use of new and innovative technology in growing and harvesting grapes and in
winery operations. Although they were quite certainly among the first, the
exact dates of the initial uses of such advances are not always easy to establish,
The two brothers obviously worked closely and effectively together. Their
leadership in developing the grape and wine industry in the Salinas Valley is a
ma j o r ach ievemen t .
Edmund also played a constructive role in the politics of the wine industry,
first at the Wine Institute, later on the Wine Advisory Board, and more recently
with the Winegrowers of California. He is proud of his role in these organiza
tions as conciliator of diverse points of view. He is most generous in his
praise of many other alcoholic beverage industry leaders, even of some whose
point of view he may not have always agreed with.
Finally expressed in the interviews with these two California winemen is
the pragmatic philosophy which is so typical of this country. If the wine types
now being produced do not satisfy the public, then develop some new types which
will. Pure pragmatism.
Maynard A. Amerine
September 1, 1986
St. Helena, California
INTERVIEW HISTORY Norbert C. and Edmund A. Mirassou
The Mirassous have played an important part in the agricultural history
of the Santa Clara Valley for a number of generations. The Pellier family,
their maternal ancestors, came from France in the 1850s and are credited with
bringing not only the variety of prune that once made the valley famous but
also a number of grape varieties to this excellent vine-growing area.
Norbert C. and Edmund A. Mirassou, who have continued the tradition of their
father, Peter L. Mirassou, as both growers and winemakers , have seen the valley
land's remarkable transition to industrialization and urbanization. Their
accounts of that change and their responses to it form an important part of
these interviews. Thus they make a valuable addition to the history of the
Santa Clara Valley itself as well as to that of the California grape and wine
Of significance are the accounts of the progress of the Mirassou enterprise
from growers to bulk winemakers to bottlers, and of their pioneering plantings
in the Salinas Valley. Edmund A. Mirassou 's recollections of the two marketing
order organizations, the Wine Advisory Board, of which he was chairman for many
years, and the Winegrowers of California, of which he was first chairman, are
of special interest.
The interviews were held in the comfortable office on the winery grounds
which the brothers share. Each of them reviewed his interview transcript and
made minor corrections .
18 September 1986
Regional Oral History Office
486 The Bancroft Library
University of California at Berkeley
Regional Oral History Office
Room 486 The Bancroft Library
University of California
Berkeley, California 94720
(Please print or write clearly)
Your full name NDRRFRT
Date of birth JUNE 25. 1914
Place of birth SAN
Father's full name PETER LOUIS MIRASSOO
Birthplace SAN JOSE, CA.
Mother's full name JUSTIN c. SCHRIEBER
Birthplace PARIS, FRANCE
Where did you grow up ? SAN JOSE, CA.
Education GRAMMAR; HIGH
Occupation (s) GROWER/VINTNER
Special interests or activities HUNTING.- GUN cnr.T.RrTTNr:
NORBERT C. MIRASSOU
Partner: Mirassou Vineyards
Born: June 25, 1914
Both Norb and Ed -took over operation of the winery in
1937. Norb was in charge of all operations while Ed
was more involved with winemaking and the financial
operation of the company.
Norb is the husband of Ruth and the father of Steve
Mirassou and Francene Mertins. He is the father-in-law
of Don Alexander. He has four grandchildren.
He is a senior member of America's oldest winemaking
family (our moto) with the youngest ideas.
Member of the Wine Institute since 1937 and a member of
Monterey County Winegrowers Association.
Charter member of Santa Clara Valley Winegrowers
Association since 1946 .
Charter member of Evergreen Senior Service Club
Advisory committee of American Society of Enologists, 1968
Professional Member, 1972.
Lay Board of Directors of the Marianist's, 1980.
Past member of the Wine Advisory Board.
Served in the past on the local Board of Directors of
the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Past member of the Santa Clara County Planning Commission
from 1967 to 1975.
Norb was a member of the first group of California
Vintners to tour Australia and New Zealand in 1965 and
Russia in 1968.
Past member of the Sportman's Chef Club. An organization
that claimed to cook any type of wild game.
Norb's hobbies include traveling and collecting antique
guns and cars.
Mirassou was first to:
Use sprinklers in vineyards, 1947
Use forklift and bins to bring grapes to winery, 1950
Use automatic dumper and washer at winery, 1950
Build four wheel drive and four wheel steering
forklift, 1951 '
Planting large acreage in Monterey County, 1961.
Regional Oral History Office University of California
Room 486 The Bancroft Library Berkeley ,' California 94720
(Please print or write clearly)
Your full name EDMUND A. MIRASSQU
Date of birth May 18, 1918 Place of birth SAN JOSE. CA.
Father's full name PETER LOUIS MIRASSOU
Birthplace SAN JOSE, CA.
Occupation GROWER VINTNER
Mother's full name JUSTINE c. SCHREIBER
Birthplace PARIS, FRANCE
Occupation HOME MAKER
Where did you grow up ? SAN .TOST? ra
Present community EVERGREEN
Education HIGH SCHOOL / ONE (1)
Occupations ) GROWER VINTNER
Special interests or activities WINE INDSUTRY TRADE ASSOCIATIONS
EDMUND A. MIRASSOU
Partner, Mirassou Vineyards
Born: May 18, 1918
1930 's - Made shook into grape boxes for shipping during
1937 - Built present winery.
1940 's - Planted Johannisberg Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Cabernet
Sauvignon, Sylvaner Riesling and French Colombard.
Ed and his brother Norb were among the first to
plant these finer varietals in Santa Clara Valley
and encouraged others to do so.
1947 - A portable sprinkler irrigation system was developed.
It was the first sprinkler irrigation system to be
used on California vineyards.
1950 's - The bin-forklift process was developed in handling
grapes .during harvest.
1960 - The Mirassous worked with Valley Foundry to develop
the idea of stainless steel jacketed (temperature-
1961 - Ed and Norb were among the first pioneers in Monterey
County grapegrowing. In 1961 they bought the land
and started planting in 1962.
1962 - Mirassou was the first to use permanent sprinkler
irrigation on vineyards of large acreage. Eleven
different sprinkler companies worked on the design
along with the University of California.
1969 - 1970 - Pioneered mechanical harvesting and field
crushing of vineyards. The Mirassous worked with
mechanical harvester manufacturers and insisted
especially on the development of the field crusher
so that the grapes would not come into the winery
in bad condition. It took several stages of
development before the harvester/field crusher
became as efficient as it is today. (Photographic
evolution of harvester available) .
Ed was also instrumental in encouraging University of
California to develop certified virus-free (heat-treated)
grape vines that could be distributed in quantity through
the Foundation Plant Material Service.
Ed is the father of 4 (3 sons and 1 daughter) and the
grandfather of 11. His 3 -sons are now part of the 5th
generation of winemakers at Mirassou Vineyards. As a
father, Ed believed strongly in passing on duties and
developing a strong sense of responsibility in his children.
General Partner of Mirassou Vineyards
Business Activities and Civic Service
FEDERAL RESERVE BOARD - 1985 - appointed member of Advisory Council
WINEGROWERS OF CALIFORNIA - 1984 - Chairman of newly appointed Marketing Order.
WINE INDUSTRY TASK FORCE - 1982 to Present - Appointment of Lieutenant Governor
of California Mike Curb.
UNIVERSITY OF SAN FRANCISCO - 1982 to Present - Advisor Council to Wine marketing
AMERICAN WESTERN BANKER - 1982 to Present - Vice Chairman and member of Board
AMERICAN VINEYARD FOUNDATION - Board of Directors of Foundation and Chairman,
Fund Raising Committee.
KNIGHTS OF THE VINE - Awarded Supreme Knight of the Universal Knights of the
Vine, December 5, 1979.
U.C. SANTA CRUZ - Advisory Committee, 1980.
WINES AND VINES - Man of the Year Award, 1979.
WINE INSTITUTE - Board member 1940 to 1984 and Chairman of the Board for fiscal
year 1979 - Member of Executive Committee.
AMERICAN SOCIETY OF ENOLOGISTS - Merit Award Winner, 1979.
STATE BOARD OF FOOD AND AGRICULTURE - Appointed June of 1972 and reappointed in
1978 for another 4 year term. Advisor to the Director of Agriculture and the
Governor. Member of Grape Inspection Adivsory Committee.
SANTA CLARA VALLEY WATER DISTRICT - Board member from May 16, 1955 to 1976.
President, 1966 - 1968. Chairman of Bond Drive, 1957, successfully passed
General Obligation Bond of $3,000,000.
CALIFORNIA STATE WINE ADVISORY BOARD - (until its dissolution in 1975) Board
member from 1938 to 1975; Chairman of the Board from 1953 to 1973.
AGRICULTURAL BLUE RIBBON COMMITTEE - 1974 (helped develop agricultural land use
WINE AND FOOD SOCIETY OF LONDON - San Francisco Chapter Member since 1956.
EXECUTUVE BULLS - Member since 1974. Executives of agricultural associations.
ALEXIAN BROTHERS HOSPITAL - Member of Board from 1968 to 1975.
EVERGREEN SOIL CONSERVATION DISTRICT - Member from 1942 to 1955.
Business Activities and Civic Service
EVERGREEN YOUTH CENTER - Chapter member since 1948; member of Board from 1948
SERRA CENTER - Dominican Sister Home for Girls from Broken Homes. Member
of Board from 1960 to 1965.
SAINT JOHN VIANNEY PARISH - Chairman of fund raising campaign. Raised $150,000
SAINT JOHN VIANNEY GRADE SCHOOL - Chairman of fund raising campaign. Raised
$150,000 in 1955.
Member of three-man delegation to discuss wine industry problems with President
Johnson in the Oval Room at the White House in April, 1967.
I EARLY YEARS, 1914-1937
[Interview 1: February 19, 1985 ]##
When and where were you born?
I was born on June 25, in 1914, right where this house is
The house right behind us, behind your office at the winery?
No, the old house. The new house that is here now was built
in 1924. I think I can consider myself a native.
Peter L. Mirassou and His Family
[laughs] More or less. Let me start by asking you, then,
about your father, Peter L. Mirassou.
That's a good question. As far as a father was concerned, I
think he was the best father a person could have. We had a
lot of freedom, but if we got out of line, we got put back
in line pretty quick.
He was very fair. We were raised, I guess you would say,
part of the time during the Depression, and there really wasn't
anything that we wanted that we didn't have, that we needed.
If we didn't need it, why then, we didn't get it.
##This symbol indicates that a tape or a segment of a tape
has begun or ended. For a guide to the tapes see page 136,
But we went on trips when other people weren't going. We
had everything else that we needed.
Trips to where?
In those days, if you went to Yosemite, or Tahoe, or Los Angeles,
or San Diego, that was a big trip. Nowadays, if you don't go
to the moon, why, you're out of luck.
Your father was ranching, and he had vineyards, during your
childhood? Is that right?
Well, we'll go back a step further. There were three boys,
my dad and his two brothers, and they went in business in
oh, I don't know, sometime around 1911, 1912. Maybe a
little before that. They ran the ranch for their stepfather,
They were in partners, the three of them, and they
gradually spread out and bought property on their own. The
original winery was up on the hill. The second winery, which
is that one in that picture that one was on the corner of
White and Quimby Road, which is now a shopping center. That
was built, I'm thinking, around 1908. I can't remember that
far back, because I wasn't there.
But anyhow, they had that winery and three other pieces
of property that they had bought. This present ranch was
one of them, and there were two other pieces of property.
They were all about the same size. One of them had grapes and
prunes and apricots on it; I think the other was mostly prunes.
They stayed together until one of my uncles, John, went
to war, the first World War. When he came back, the boys
decided that they were going to change their mode of
operation. For some reason or other, they didn't see eye to
eye, so they decided, "Then the best thing for us to do is
to split up."
Dad says to his two brothers [John and Herman] , "You boys
pick out what you want, and I'll take what's left." This
is around 1918, now, and there was talk of Prohibition, so
they naturally took the other ranches and left Dad with the
That part was all right, Dad was satisfied. Prohibition
did come in. Then all the people that were buying wine in
New York, Chicago, and Boston, and all that area no longer
had the wine available. So the only next best thing for them
to do was to buy grapes and make wine.
So then Dad started shipping grapes back East. That went
on probably up until '25, '26, when there was talk that
Prohibition was going to be kicked out, and there was more
and more wine being made for medicinal purposes. Some of
the big wineries around here, like Cribaris' and a few of
those, they started in buying grapes and making wine, and
storing it for the time when Prohibition did end. Which
happened that way, and was fine.*
So he sold mainly in the state, then, after about 1926?
From that time on, most of it was sold here. We still had
some customers back East. There were a couple of brokers
back there that were evidently pretty big back there, and they
still wanted their grapes. So the grapes were more or less
handled that way until 1937, when we decided that instead of
letting somebody else make all the money in making wine , we
were going to help them out.
Let me take you back from that point, then. May I?
In 1920 your father took out a bond, and held it for about
two years. He petitioned to surrender it in 1922. The only
specific thing I know about his activity is that in 1920 he
sold some wine to the California Wine Association. Shipped
it in a tank car, and there was some loss of gallonage. The
government had to check it, and they found that it was okay.
Anyway, it got in the records because of this discrepancy in
I don't recall that at all.
You were just a kid.
I was a little older than that,
talking about it after.
I don't remember Dad ever
*See also p.
It's in the federal records.
If it's in there, it should be right. In 1919, when
Prohibition came in, Dad's stepfather [Thomas Caselagno] took
over the winery from the boys that was about the time they
split up. I think he tried to help them along because he
said that he didn't want any of his children getting in
trouble. So he dismantled the winery.
The dates I'm not sure of. It's possible that the winery
wasn't completely dismantled, and he did use it for a year
or so then.
That must be it, because when he filed notice of intention
for establishing a winery, on July 29, 1920, his description
of his facilities included a hundred by 175 foot building,
and a fair amount of cooperage, fermentation and storage
Not on Aborn Road, it wasn't. It can't be. Because there
wasn't any facilities here. It must have been on Quimby and
White Road. It could have been his intentions to do it, and
he never followed through on it.
That was in July, 1920. He was doing something because in
November there was this letter about , "tank car , red wine ,
shipped from," his winery.
I'm just wondering if that wasn't some of the wine that was
left over in the original winery that wasn't dismantled yet.
At that time, 1920, yes, it's very possible that it was still
from the old winery. Because we have a picture around here
someplace of Dad and I on a truck with a tank in the back of
it we hauled wine from the winery to the depot. I'm pretty
sure that that's probably where it was. Probably there wasn't
any house on the place down there, so he had this home
address, on Aborn Road, and the winery was down there. And
he probably used that before it was completely dismantled.
Because I don't know exactly when it was completely
The address was Route B, Box 358, Aborn Road.
Yes, that was our old address, way back then.
He asked to surrender his bond in 1922 because he said he
didn't have any more wine on hand, and the next year his
attorney wrote that he was no longer the owner of the
I think that was probably cleaning up what was in the winery
down there at that time.
Thank you. That clears that up.
I think that's the best we can do. Ed may remember a little
bit more about that,* but I don't remember it at all.
Growing, Packing, and Selling Grapes
Fairly early, you started working in the vineyards with your
father, I gather.
I guess I was out in the field with Dad as soon as I could
What did you do, besides tag along?
Get in the way. [laughter] I guess you should say I started
working in the vineyards when I was probably in the seventh
or eighth grade. I would work after school, or on Saturdays,
or something like that. During the harvest season I would drive
the truck when they were loading from one stack of boxes to
the other, because in those days everything was in little
How many pounds to a box?
The ones that we used to ship back to the East were twenty-four
pounds. Later on, when we sold grapes to Cribari, they were
what they call fifty-pound boxes. I think that the first four
or five years that we sold grapes to Cribari, their truck
would come by and pick them up. Later on we had our own truck.
As I got older, when I got out of high school, we had a
little two-and-a-half-ton truck with a little trailer behind
it. We used to haul all our grapes up to Madrone.
*See also pp. 59-61.
Madrone was where the Cribaris had their
That's where they had their winery at the time. I used to
haul the grapes up, and then, when we got through with the
grape season I went to Heald's College over a period of
three years, just taking up bookkeeping and stuff like that.
During the wintertime, when it was raining, there wasn't too
much work on the ranch.
So you kept busy, one way or another.
Well, I don't think it hurt too much.
There are stories about you and your brother nailing boxes.
Shook came in bundles, did it?
Yes, shook came in bundles. That was when we were still
shipping. In the summertime, when we were out of school, Dad
would get the shook in early, and we'd make boxes and put them
in the barn. We would make about half the boxes that it took
to ship the crop, in the summertime.
Were you pretty fast workers?
It's a knack of how it's done. It's the same thing as if
you're doing the same thing day after day, hour after hour,
you get in a rhythm. It's not that hard to do. We used to
have some professionals come in. Of course, they were
making a living at it, so they were a little bit faster than
we were. I would say that probably they were twice as fast
as we were.
But we made an awful lot of boxes,
boxes for about three or four years.
I guess we made
you get paid when you worked on the ranch?
No, not as far as pay is concerned. We got our clothes, we
got our food, we got our lodging, and if we wanted to go
some place, we'd ask Dad or Mom for some money, and then we'd
go. But as far as getting pay, no, we didn't. At that time,
Did you feel yourself to be part of the whole operation?
Oh, yes, I think so. I think it was bred into us, really.
Because, in those days, you didn't go running around as
much as what people do today, and it was more home life and
so forth. We had our own chickens, and our own pigeons.
My grandmother used to raise pigs, but Mom never did. She
said she didn't like pigs.
We had a cow with fresh milk all the time. When it
would come time for her to have her calf, why, the butcher
down in Evergreen would take it when it was big enough and
butcher it. That's the way it went.
You had a kind of a subsistence farm.
Yes. They were the good old days.
What varieties of grapes were you shipping?
We had Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, Mataro , and Carignane. Petite
Sirah and Zinfandel are still popular. The rest of them have
gone by the wayside today, so to speak.
You didn't grow Alicante Bouschet?
No. We didn't have any of that.
Were your grapes the varieties of grapes that had been grown
in the area before, or were they planted particularly because
they shipped well?
No, I think that when they were planted, in 1912, they were
still planning on making wine out of them, so they were
strictly for wine grapes.
They were on their own roots, I suppose?
No, they were all on resistant roots. After they had the
problem with phylloxera, when everything was replanted over
again, everything was always put on a resistant root.
They'd been planted by your family, then?
You said that in 1926 you started selling locally. That was
about the time that the market for grapes broke, wasn't it?
Just about, yes.
Did that have anything to do with ?
It was kind of interesting, because when the market broke,
naturally the people back East didn't want to handle them.
The market was there, but the people that were handling the
grapes didn't want to take a chance on it.
There wasn't enough money in it to there wasn't that
much money to play around with, and if the market went down
further, then you were going to lose money. So everybody was
afraid to take a chance on anything. It just kind of fell
If it wasn't for some of the larger wineries that
decided to make the wine and put it away for when Prohibition
was going to be gone, I think there would have been a lot
more grape growers that would have gone broke than what did
I see. I didn't realize that Cribari had been so far sighted.
The Cribari boys, Fiore, Anthony, and Angelo , you see, they
had a big winery in New York. They would give parties for
the governor and the mayor and all the big shots; probably
all the bootleggers and everybody else. They managed to get
rid of their wine without any problem.
Yes. They just hit the market right, that's all. They were
lucky, and I guess that's all you can say. And they were
farsighted enough to see that things were going to change.
Where did you take the shipping grapes?
We used to haul the grapes from here down right next to where
the Bayshore Highway goes by Santa Clara Street now, there
was a spur track there. There was also a spur track right
off of First and Alma Street. One was on Southern Pacific,
and one near where the Bayshore is on Western Pacific.
Western Pacific, they put up a platform, and they enclosed
part of it so we could keep our equipment in there. Naturally
we shipped more grapes through them than what we did on
Way down towards the end of the time we were shipping,
Southern Pacific finally put up a platform, and so forth,
so we kind of divided it up between the two of them.
What kind of equipment did you need?
You needed kind of a dolly to carry the boxes in. We used
to load the truck here in the field, and if I remember right,
the boxes were stacked eight high and there was a space in
between, and then there were cleats on the box so that the
air could go through them in their own refrigerated cars.
These little dollies were made so that they would clamp
the bottom box right on the truck, and if the car was there,
we'd wheel them right into the car. If the car wasn't there
at the time, we'd put them in the shed for three or four hours
until the cars did come in. There was a shortage of
refrigeration cars at that time because they weren't shipping
that much back, so there was a shortage of cars. Especially
when the lettuce came in. And it was a matter of who was
going to get the car. So you had to kind of treat everybody
right, otherwise you wouldn't get the cars when you wanted
They did top icing then?
Yes. The ends were open, and every so often along the way
the train would stop, and they would re-ice them. I never
did go back to find out, but from what I could understand, and
what I found out later, the grapes arrived back there in
pretty good condition.
I guess your brokers would have objected if they hadn't.
Oh, yes. Every once in a while, there 'd be a goof -up someplace
where a car would not get refrigerated when it was supposed
to, and they would get back there, and half of them were
spoiled. And whose fault is it, you know? If you could prove
that the railroad was at fault, then they'd pay it; otherwise,
you just lost it, that's all.
Did you have to pay the freight and icing, and all that? Or
did the brokers?
I think that we paid the icing and the freight. Then, at
the other end, it was charged off so that we'd get compensated
Do you remember who your brokers were?
No, I don't have the least idea who they were.
When you sold the grapes here, you just took them down to
Right, yes. Yes, as a matter of fact we took them down to
Madrone and dumped them in the crusher.
That was a pretty good arrangement.
It was, and, of course, we were lucky in that we were the
largest grower that Cribari bought from, and we had the
largest crop, naturally. We would get a little preference
of treatment down there.
The first load was always down there on the scale waiting
for them to open up in the morning. After they opened up,
why, then naturally we were the first ones in. We'd make
about four loads a day of probably ten, twelve tons at a
crack. As we got going a little bit, we got a little bigger
truck so we could haul a little bit more. It was nice work.
It was interesting.
We sold to Cribari for quite a few years , and then one
year, another company, Bisceglia Brothers, opened up down
here in San Jose, and they were going to run everybody else
out of business. They came in and they bought a bunch of old
Of course, I'd had a little experience with watching Dad
when I was a little kid, when they had their pumps down here
to pump the must from the crusher to the tanks. Then,
when I was down at Cribari' s, why, the machinery was always
down, it seemed like. I would watch them work on it, and
sometimes I'd help them out. When we sold to Bisceglia
Brothers one year, and they put in a pump, for some reason or
other the balls in the pump weren't right. They had more
problems. I was telling Dad about it because the trucks
would stand in line waiting when the crusher wasn't working.
So Dad says, "What kind of balls do they have in there?"
They had a steel ball that was covered with rubber. Dad says,
"We tried those years ago," he says, "and they didn't work.
Tell them to get some steel balls." So, the next time I went
down, they had problems, and it just happened that one of the
Bisceglia Brothers was there.
I told him, "If you would put some steel balls in there, it
will work better." He says, "Where can I get them,"
and I told him there was a place in San Franisco. So this was
about ten o'clock in the morning. At three o'clock that
afternoon, they had some steel balls in there, and they worked
fine for I guess about a year and a half.
And then the ball gets worn a little bit because
they never took care of their equipment properly. So they
started having problems again, and in the meantime, why, we
went back to Cribari. So I don't know whether they ever
changed them back again or not.
All this time, both you and your brother Edmund, then, were
working with your father. What did your brother do, and what
did you do? How did it work out?
When we first started, we were working out in the field together.
He was younger than I was , so therefore I naturally had more
experience than he did. We would work out in the fields
together. We were still selling to Cribari at the time, but
Dad had bought another little ranch. It had apricots and
walnuts on it. He leased out this piece of property to some
fellows that were working for us. They started out coming
out every day, working, from town, pruning, and so forth.
Dad decided, "If we lease the place to them, and they pay
us so much a year," then he could take care of the little
ranch, between him and I and my brother, and the other ranch,
this one on Aborn Road, he would just have to watch and see
that they were doing right. Which we did, and I guess that
lasted for about five years.
That lasted, I would say, from 1925 to 1931, '32, someplace
in that area.
Did you still have command of the grapes from this ranch,
Yes, yes. Dad would take care of selling the grapes, but
they would take care of harvesting them, and the tractor work,
and all that kind of stuff.
That was the period then, that you were selling to
To Cribari and the Bisceglia Brothers.
So we would work together on the little ranch up there. It
was fifteen acres. It was a little different than working
in the vineyard, because we had apricots and walnuts, and
they had to be pruned different, and irrigated different,
and watered different, and so forth.
[Phone rings. Interruption in tape.]
So all three of you worked up there?
Yes , and then as Dad got older , why , he would come to work
later and later, and quit earlier and earlier.
Did you have some other people helping you?
At times we did. At harvest time we did, and a few other
periods of heavy labor, yes, we did. But tractor work, and
I would say about half the pruning was done by Dad and I and
You both did the same kind of work there?
At that time, yes. We both worked together, more or less, in
the field so to speak, until we started the winery. Then,
when we started the winery, why, you might say Ed took care
of everything from the crusher on in. And I would take care
of everything on the outside, bringing it and dumping it in
When your father applied for a bond in 1937, he said that he
was going to operate the winery with you and your brother, who
had been helping him manage his ranches and vineyards. So I
gathered by that time, he felt you were part of the organization.
The Two Brothers Take Over
At that time was when my brother and I kind of started our
It wasn't until a little later that it was formally
When it was formally formed, it was a little later, but I
means we started in then. The name of it was P.L. Mirassou
and Sons Company, or corporation, or whatever you wanted to
call it. That went on for a number of years.
I was doing most of the purchasing. When we were
building the winery , every time you went down and bought a
nut or a nail: P.L. Mirassou and Sons Company. P.L. Mirassou
and Sons Company. I got to the point where I got tired of
spelling it out and signing it.
One day we came home, and we were at the dinner table,
and I says, "You know, we ought to change this name deal
here. We ought to call it Mirassou Vineyards. It's easier
and simpler." I said, "We can use the initials and get away
with a lot less writing."
So we discussed that for a while, and then Dad said,
"I think that maybe what we ought to do is to make a clean
cut of this." He said, "You guys take over and run it. I
will help you financially, but," he said, "I don't want to
work any more. I want to retire."
When my brother and I took over as partners, Dad was
our advisor, so to speak. As long as he was loaning us the
money, we did what he said. [laughter] But we had a
pretty free rein; he would let us make a few mistakes, and
as long as we didn't go in the direction of making the same
mistake twice, why, he said, "Well, you're learning something
It was just a gradual takeover, you might say.
It was Peter L. Mirassou first, and then it became P.L.
Mirassou and Sons, and then it became Mirassou Vineyards?
Was he good at grapes and wine?
I don't know whether he was as good on wine as what he was at
grapes. Because when they had the winery when those boys
[he and his brothers] were together, he was the one that
would go around and buy the grapes from the growers, and
decide when they had to be picked, and when they should be
picked, and so forth. And see to it that they got the boxes,
and everything like that.
N.C. Mirassou: One of my other uncles was the one that really made the
wine. That was Herman. I'm sure that he knew more about
the process of making wine than what Dad did, although all
three, they worked there twenty-four hours a day practically.
So, I mean, it was pretty close, but from what I can gather,
what they used- to talk about, I think that Uncle Herman
had a little better taste as far as being able to taste wines,
and so forth, than what the other two boys did.
II MIRASSOU VINEYARDS, 1937-1966
Going Into the Bulk Wine Business
When you built the winery in 1937, you had plenty of experience
in your end of the business, but how in the world did your
brother learn to be a winemaker?
In those days it wasn't that hard. The year before we
decided that we were going to put the winery up , he got in
touch with a lab in Berkeley.
Berkeley Yeast Laboratory?
Berkeley Yeast Lab. He worked up there for one season,
analyzing the wines and so forth. He had taken a little
chemistry at school, and college, and that's where he got
his experience from.
So he was ready to take charge there , and you were all equipped
to take charge in the field.
That's right, yes. And then, of course, the next year when
we made wine, why, Mr. [Julius] Fessler, who was the head of
the Berkeley Yeast Lab, he'd come down about once a week
and made sure that we were doing things right. We got help
that way the first year, and then gradually, as we went into
business , other wineries who were in the business would help
It was in 1940, some place in there, when we started the
Santa Clara Valley Wine Growers Association. We decided that
the object of it was that if anybody found a better way of
doing something, they told everybody in the association, so
that everybody could make a better wine. The public was
getting a better wine.
It was very interesting because we'd go to Wine Institute
meetings, and we talked freely about wheat we had learned,
or what we were doing, or something like that. Some of the
other wineries, especially some of them from up in Napa,
Sonoma, they wouldn't tell you the time of day.
When the younger generation came in , that kind of changed
a little bit, too. But it was very interesting, somebody
had a secret they weren't going to tell anybody about.
When you decided to build the winery, what did you do first?
The first thing we did was well, we had traveled around. We
went to the San Joaquin Valley, we went to Napa and Sonoma,
and all our friends, and looked at all the latest equipment
and everything else. Then we sat down with a piece of
paper and drew what we wanted our winery to be.
With the help of Julius Fessler from Berkeley Yeast
Lab and some of our other friends, we decided that this was
the latest way of doing it, and so we wanted to put the
latest equipment in. And then we got working with the
Valley Foundry in Fresno; they were practically just getting
started in making winery equipment. We'd get an idea, and
we'd call up, and they'd come down and we'd talk about it,
and they'd go back home and make it, and if it worked, we'd
pay for it .
I would daresay that 80 percent of what we tried to make work,
worked. We didn't do too bad.
Did any of the professors at the University of California come
I don't remember if they did or not. If they did, I wouldn't
see them because I was busy hauling the grapes in at that
time. I'm sure that some of them came down, because I mean
they were interested in what was happening.
Did your father advise you on what you needed?
He helped us, yes. He helped us quite a bit. Anyhow, with
the expertise that we had from the wine people themselves, we
didn't run into any problems; being that it was a new winery,
we didn't run into that many problems for several years.
We first started running into the boys from Davis when we
started getting different diseases in the vineyard. They
would come down, and "Yes, this is that, and this is the
other thing." Through our Santa Clara County Wine Growers
Association, we'd have them come down and show us some of
these vineyards that were real old, that had these diseases,
and what to look for, and how to prevent it from coming in,
how to prevent it from spreading and so forth.
Who came, Albert J. Winkler?
Yes, Winkler came down, and mostly the younger fellows that
were just getting started in the professorship. There was
[A.N.] Kasimatis, and Lloyd Lider, and Dr. [H.P.] Olmo. I
can't think of the other fellows' names that used to come
You had lots of high powered
Hod [Harold W. ] Berg. Then, as they got into fertilizers, and
so forth, there was [James A.] Cook. One of the boys came to
France with us a couple of years ago, George Marsh.
Anyway, you took advantage of what there was.
Oh, yes, we took advantage of what there was. And with the
help of the Wine Advisory Board at the time, there was money
that was donated to the university for specific things for
them to study. We would have meetings with the boys from
the university at least once a year , sometimes two or three
times a year. You know, we were all working together.
And it succeeded.
Well, we're still in business.
Then when you had a winery you had a whole new set of customers,
Who dealt with them?
From 1937, '38, when we made our first wine, until 1966, we
made wine and sold it to other wineries in bulk. With the
contacts that we had through the Wine Institute. After we
started our Grape Growers' Association, each county, really,
started theirs. We would get together on grape day, and a
few days like that.
Everybody would have their problems , and we ' d meet other
people, and you'd talk about, "I've got some extra this kind
of wine," or, "some extra that kind of wine," and the
other guy says, "Gee, I need some of that." You'd make
friends that way, and you'd do business that way.
Someone told me that you shipped a lot of champagne stock.
We made an awful lot of champagne stock for Paul Masson and
Almaden. After my brother and I took over the partnership of
the running of the ranch, we decided, "This isn't going to be
big enough to raise three families on." So we expanded, we
bought other property around here.
And that's when we started planting into more varietals,
like Johannisberg Riesling and Pinot blanc. What else did we
have? We had Semillon and Sylvaner, and French Colombard.
French Colombard was one grape that wasn't grown in this
area that Almaden and Paul Masson both liked for their
champagne. They would buy it and blend it with their grapes,
and it went from there.
What were the main wines you made then, as bulk winemakers?
We would make each variety separate, and it would be kept
separate. Then the samples would be sent out separate, and
then the wineries would buy a certain amount of gallons of
this, and a certain amount of gallons of that one.
You didn't blend?
No, we didn't do any blending at all. They did all their
blendings themselves. We kept our wines strictly separate.
In that way, they could decide what blend they wanted with
the wines that they had, and it worked out good.
What red wines did you make?
In those days, really, the only red wine that we had was
still the old Petite Sirah and Zinfandel, and the Carignane and
Mataro that was around here.
Did they go well?
They had to take the red wine.
They did? [laughs] Tie-in sales.
We didn't have too much of it, so it didn't bother them that
much because they could blend it in with theirs so it would
Those are good blending wines?
Yes, they were good blending wines.
Did you really tell them they had to take red with white?
To a certain extent, yes. Naturally, they would take the red
for a price, and then they'd say, "If we have to take the
red, we'll give you a cent or two cents a gallon less for the
white." Of course, you'd always put the price up so that it
would come out right anyhow.
[laughs] Who were your other customers then? Did you ship
East in bulk?
We did some shipping East when we first started the winery,
I would say in the mid- '40s. We did some shipping back East.
We had two or three customers. Ed remembers more about
that than what I did because he was taking care of it. But
I think we had three or four customers that we would send
maybe three or four carloads to.
That grew to a pretty good size for a while. Then
some laws were changed some place along the line, and they
decided it was easier to buy it in bottles than it was to
bring it back there and bottle it. That's about the time
when the younger generation, our children, were getting out
of high school and college and so forth, and they decided
that maybe they should go out and sell it in bottles and make
some money. So that's when they started.
That was that transition to the Mirassou label. I see.
That was 1966.
P ioneering Plantings in Monterey County
In 1961 we decided that this area was not going to be left
here for grape growing; it was going to be for houses. I
guess about, I would say, 1958, we started looking around the
N.C. Mirassou: state. We would go on a vacation for a couple of days and
look at different areas. Find out about it from the county
agriculture man, what the rainfall was, the temperatures,
and so forth.
In 1959 I bought a new car. I told my wife, I said,
"Call your mother up and tell her we're going for a ride down
to San Luis Obispo." Because every time I got a new car, I'd
like to take it on a long trip and get it broke in properly.
So we left here, and we got down as far as Soledad, and
the ladies had to go to the bathroom. So we stopped the car.
And I always take a camera with me. While the ladies were
in the restroom, I walked around the gas station that we had
stopped in, and, looking out towards the hills, I saw this
beautiful, level land .that was raised on an old buff above
the river bed so to speak.
So I took a picture of it. I finished that roll of
film and had that particular one blown up to a five by eight
or something like that , and brought it in and threw it on my
brother's desk. I says, "Here's where we're going to plant
our next vineyard," just kidding with him.
He says, "It looks like a nice spot, where it it?"
"Not going to tell you. I got to find out more about it
first." So I called Winkler and told him I'd like to have
him come down, I wanted to show him some property around here,
that we were interested in.
Of course, then he wanted to know where it was, so I
told him where it was. He said, "Off the top of my head, I
think it's as good as any place in the state," and he said,
"Let's go down and take a look at it." I said, "Why don't
we wait until we see if we can find some property down there,"
because I didn't know whether there was any for sale or not.
"So why don't we wait until we find some property that's for
sale, and then we'll take a look at it." So he says, "That's
fine with me. "
Then in the meantime I told my brother where it was. So
we had a friend of ours that was in the real estate business.
He sold nothing else but big ranches. And he had shown us
some up in Redding, and all over. So he said, "Well, I'll
see what I can find out." So he goes down there, and he made
a few inquiries, and he found out that there was only one man
down there that these people would trust to sell their
property, if they were going to sell it.
So we got in touch with him, and he showed this real estate
friend of ours a couple of pieces of property. We went
down and we looked at them, and they looked like they were
what we wanted; the soil was nice, the water was nice. We
were drilling wells here; we'd have to go down six, seven
hundred feet to 'get three hundred gallons a minute.
We thought we had a lot of water, but down there they
had one well on one piece of property that was two hundred
feet deep and was pumping eighteen hundred gallons a minute.
What are you going to do with that much water? We wouldn't
know what to do with it! So we looked around and then we
made some tests of the soil and so forth.
Winkler came down, and some of the other fellows from
up there. They said that they couldn't see any reason why
we couldn't grow grapes down there. Wouldn't have to worry
about frost. The only thing that we had to worry about was
wind. So they all went back to Davis and talked to some of
the other fellows up there, the other professors that had
studied winds and so forth on different crops. They said,
"Yes, it will bother a little bit, and you might get some
burn on the end of the leaves, but that's not going to bother
the production or anything like that. And if you plant your
grapes in the right direction, the wind will blow through, and
it won't hurt the vines."
Which we did. The wind, the only thing that it bothers
down there is the people; it doesn't bother the grapes.
Was that property around Soledad that you were looking at?
That was around Soledad, yes.
Then, at the same time that we went down there, the
bosses of Paul Masson decided that they had run their winery
long enough without a vineyard. They were getting big
enough, that people wanted to know, "Where's your vineyard?"
and they just didn't have one, so they decided that they
were going to buy one.
They asked us, as long as we were looking for a piece
of property , to look for something down there for them. We
found a piece that was too big for us to handle, eight
hundred acres, so we asked them if they wanted it, and they
went down and looked at it, and they decided, "Go ahead, you
plant it; here's the varieties we want." So, between their
field man, myself, and I don't know who else we could blame
it on to, we designed it. It was about eight hundred acres.
Leo Berti was their field man at the time. And Leo and
I worked together on figuring out how many acres they wanted
in each crop, and so forth, and so on. I got an outline of
the map, and we set it up, and they were satisfied with the
drawing of it. In the meantime, we bought 270 acres down
there, so I had to design that also. My nephew, Peter, was
working for a while with Almaden Ed and he were helping
Almaden out. So we decided that Peter would go down on the
ranch and take care of the every-day work [of both Salinas
Valley properties] , so to speak, and we would go down once
or twice a week, whenever we needed to, and help him out.
We got enough cuttings to put a nursery in, to take care of
five hundred acres. We figured we'd plant half the vineyards
one year, and then plant the other half the next year.
Was the nursery on your property or Masson's?
Things were going along so smooth, and Dr. [H.P.] Olmo,
in Davis, says, "Why don't you just plant the whole thing
and treat the whole thing as a nursery, instead of having
a nursery, then replanting it the next year?" So, we planted
half of the thousand acres. We planted on its own root
because we figured this was virgin territory and nothing was
going to bother it for at least fifteen or twenty years.
When we ran out of the vines with the roots on, in the
meantime, we went back to the vineyards up north where we
got our grapes, and got cuttings, and planted the cuttings
in the vineyard, on their own root. The only thing that we
had to worry about now was that we had a thousand-acre nursery
that we had to take care of, so to speak, because you had
to treat it all like one nursery. The only thing that we
could do that we had to worry about, was water.
We put a sprinkler system on our place. It was the first
one that went up. We were about two months ahead of Paul
Masson. We put in permanent sprinklers on 270 acres, and
Paul Masson didn't put all theirs on permanent; they moved
some of theirs. They couldn't get enough pickets, so they
figured if they didn't have the pickets, they could move the
pipe because the vines weren't that tall. They put part of
the sprinklers in, and the other part they moved every day,
or whatever it was that they had to move.
But I think that we were one of the first vineyards in
California there may have been some table grapes that had
a solid set of sprinklers on the whole ranch but we were the
first ones to try a sprinkler system in the wine grape
You put your sprinklers in in 19
Nineteen forty-seven. A portable sprinkler system in this
But in 1962 the permanent one down there in the Salinas Valley?
Yes. That was in 1962, when we put it down there.
That was before all the speculative planting down in Monterey
We were the first one down there, yes.*
That was a very big planting, wasn't it?
There were some vineyards down in the San Joaquin Valley and
the Bakersfield area that were just as big, if not bigger, at
But were they planted all at once that way?
I don't know whether they were planted all at once or not.
I think it was one of the largest plantings of a single well,
it wasn't really single, it was two different, separate
vineyards but it was planted by one family in one year.
Have you ever found out what happened to the piece of land
you took a picture of?
It's still down there. It was a little further north from
where we planted. From Soledad it looks pretty level, but
when you drive up to it, it rises. Let's see, that was
two thousand acres, if I remember correctly, and that rose
something like 125 feet across the ranch. It was a little
too steep to plant vineyard on and do it properly.
*With the exception of Chalone . See page 24.
It gave you the idea.
It was just the idea that the valley looked so nice, and it
was in the springtime, and of course everything was nice and
green and everything. It was just one of those things that
[chuckles] You can thank your wife and your mother-in-law.
So you were still making bulk wine at that time, working a
good deal with Masson and Almaden.
You three worked pretty well together, didn't you?
Yes. We used to do a lot of work together, lot of
experimenting. Like I say, everybody was helping everybody
else out, and it was just a lot of fun.
Do you remember Oliver Ollie Goulet?
Oh , very well , very well .
What was he like?
He was a lot of fun to be with. We used to have parties
together at least once a month. There was about six or seven
couples , and once a month at somebody ' s house , throughout
the year, we would have parties. Of course, when we first
started, why, Ollie would furnish some champagne really,
when we first started, everybody was drinking hard liquor.
Within a couple of years, why, Ollie would bring over a
couple of bottles of champagne. We'd have champagne, and
then we'd have wine with a barbeque, or whatever.
I'm interested in F . W. Silvear's Chalone vineyard champagne.
The reason why I remember it so well is that Ollie Goulet
bought the grapes off of his ranch , and made champagne out
of it, for Mr. Silvear I guess it was. He wanted it for
some reason or another, and he was going to sell it.
Something happened along the line; he got sick, or something.
He wasn't able to sell it all, and Ollie gave my wife and I
a case of it for our wedding anniversary. That's how I can
remember that well. [chuckles]
Was it good?
N.C. Mirassou: It was very good. Anything that Ollie made was good. He was
a good champagne maker. But Ollie Goulet, and a fellow by
the name of Kurt Opper, from Paul Masson, are the ones that
taught Max Huebner how to make champagne.
Those were very good men, weren't they?
N.C. Mirassou: We think they were the best in the state. Kurt was a
Adding Land in Santa Clara County
Our winemaker at the time was a German fellow, Max Huebner.
He was running another ranch up here in Evergreen, for another
boss, so to speak, who lost the ranch to the University of
California. They had loaned him money on it. It was one of
those deals. And he couldn't pay it off, so the university
took over and put one of their men on the place to run it.
This fellow was a kind of a scatterbrained fellow. He'd
come down and ask us for all kinds of advice , and we helped
him out. And out of the clear blue sky one day, he says,
"Say, we've got a piece of property over here, and we want
to get rid of it." He says, "Make me an offer." We knew
the guy quite well, and out of a clear blue sky we said,
"Well, we'll give you," I don't remember now. Ed probably
would remember the figures, but let's take a figure out of
"We'll give you $300 an acre, plus all the tanks that
you have in the little wine cellar up there." They were all
ovals, and things like that, that weren't being used. He
says, "Let me ask the regents and see if they'll accept it."
The regents wanted to get rid of the property. They weren't
in the business of having property. They just got it through
a fluke. So they accepted it.*
*See also pp. 28-29, and 70.
When was this?
So we got this piece of property. It had twenty-five
acres of walnuts and apricots and prunes, and seventy-five
acres of bare land. Of course, my brother and I were
figuring we'd get that seventy-five acres and put grapes in
it, which we did. That's one piece of property we got.
There was another piece right up above us here that was all
We had asked the fellow that was leasing the ranch all
he did was put hay on it if it was for sale. He says, "Funny
you should ask. My boss decided that she was going to sell."
She lived in San Francisco, and she was getting along in
years, and she wanted to get her estate all in cash, so that
when she passed sway , she gave cash to the children , and that
was it. Or the grandchildren, whatever.
So we bought that piece right after we bought this other
one. So that was another seventy-five acres, and this one
over here was a hundred, so that gave us 175, plus this one
here, which was a hundred, so that was 275. In the meantime,
we had bought this one from Mom and Dad, and then there was
another ranch that we bought up here that was twenty-five
acres (I guess it was twenty-five acres) from some old
gentleman that was in the same boat. He wanted to get rid
of it; he didn't want to fool around with it anymore.
So we bought it from him. Then we bought another
seventy- five-acre piece on Quimby Road. The fellow who had
it, Vicari* had planted it in vineyard. He had a little
winery, and he was making wine and selling it, and he got
along in years, and his boys were all interested in another
business. He come down here one day and he said, "I want to
sell my property. I want so much for it, but I don't want it
in cash, because I'm going to go." He said, "I'm going to
pass away very shortly. I don't want my wife to have all the
money at once."
He said, "You boys are honest, I trust you. I want her
to have so much a year." The premium, the principal, and
the interest, and everything was figured out; he had it
figured out pretty close.
We said, "We'll have to think that one over." His price was
up a little bit higher than what it should have been, and
the interest was higher than it should have been. Anyhow, he
came back a couple of days later, and we made him a counter
offer, with no interest, and stretched it out a couple of
years over the payments, and left the price the same.
That didn't suit him. He didn't like that. He wanted
some interest, because he was a little Italian fellow, and he
figured that he had to get interest, otherwise he wasn't
going to make a deal. He and my brother, they were discussing
this back and forth, and back and forth. They were both a
little stubborn. Neither one was going to give in. I
said, "You know, I got an idea. Why don't we raise the down
payment another $10,000, and don't charge any interest for six
years, and then the last six years " It was supposed to run
for twelve years, we'll pay interest on what's left."
They both sat there for a minute. He said, "That's
okay. I'll do that." So, anyhow, we made the deal with him.
So then we had almost four hundred acres. That was 1943. I
guess you might say that we kind of stopped there because we
could see that subdivision was beginning to come in, and we
figured, "It's no use buying any more property here,
because we'll never get production out of it any more." So
then that ' s when we started looking around the state , so to
Well, you had bought property here, though, at a good time,
hadn't you, just by chance?
N.C. Mirassou: Yes, it was mostly all by chance. They wanted to get rid of
it, and we were in a position where we could borrow the money
and get it, and paid it off. And in the meantime, people
were coming out here, so then they had to have more property
for schools. So the school district come along, and the first
piece of property we sold, we sold that McArley piece.
We sold that to the school district, and they were glad
to get it. We sold it for a good price, we thought, and they
thought they bought it for a good price. At today's prices,
it was a good price.
You had Mr. Huebner for a winemaker.
beginning, in 1937?
Did he come at the
We inherited him when we bought this piece of property from
the University of California. Two years after we bought
this piece of property, the University of California said
that they would make the deal if we would run their ranch
for them, because the fellow that was up there wanted to
quit. So we said, "We'll take a chance on it."
We ran it for a couple of years. In the meantime,
Cribari had bought the property on the other side of the
creek from it and decided they might just as well buy this
one. Of course, we were running it, so the university officer
that was taking care of it came down and he saw it , and he
talked to us. He said, "I have a check from Tony Cribari to
take up to the regents for the piece of property that you guys
are running. But you have first crack. I'll tell you what
it is. If you can meet it, it's yours."
It wasn't that much money today. In those days, it
was quite a bit of money. We just thought that, "It's an
awful big chunk to be biting off," when we had just bought
the seventy-five acres up here. We were in the process of
planting that, and we figured, "It's not that we couldn't
handle it, but it might be a little bit too much for us."
So we decided, "No, if Mr. Cribari wants it, we'll let him
Was Huebner sort of attached to that property?
Huebner was working for the fellow that was running the
ranch. There were two ranches up there, and one, the piece
that Huebner was on, belonged to the guy that had the rest
of this ranch down here. When we bought that, what we call
Ranch #2, from the university, Max stayed up there.
When Cribari bought the ranch, he asked Huebner if he wanted
to work for him, and Max said, "No, I think I'm going to stay
with the boys." So he came down and stayed with us.
[Edmund A. Mirassou enters]
This is my brother.
How do you do.
Hi. How's your interview? Are you working at it?
We certainly are working at it.
E.A. Mirassou: Okay. Fine. You go ahead then, and I'll be talking to you
N.C. Mirassou: So Max came down and worked for us, and with Ed's help became
our winemaker. Although he was taking care of the wine that
was up there at the time.
Teiser: Who had been making wine here before?
N.C. Mirassou: He was. [indicating Edmund Mirassou]
III EXPANSION, 1966 TO THE PRESENT
[Interview 2: February 26, 1985 ]##
Professor A.M. Kasimatis mentioned at Wine Grape Day at Davis
last week your pioneering work in field crushing as one of
the landmarks in the recent history of viticulture.* He
mentioned the date that you began as 1970. But you also
pioneered mechanical harvesting.
I think 1970 was probably the first time that we had a
commercial vehicle [harvester] in the field that really
worked, so to speak. Before that 1970 time, Ed and I were
always together when we were riding back and forth from
here down to Soledad. We were talking about, naturally, what
we were going to do, and how things were going to work out;
what we needed, and so forth.
We had talked about it before, about a mechanical grape
harvester , and we were thinking originally about
You're talking about a harvester
Yes. We were thinking originally of using a vacuum of some
kind to mostly take the berries off the bunch. But, being
that the bunches vary so much in sizes , we found out that
that was impractical. But we went down to Food Machinery
[Corporation] and talked to some of the engineers down there.
Of course, before they would do anything they checked all the
*See pp. 35-39.
patents that were available in Washington, and they found
out that in oh, I guess it was some time in the 1880s some
Frenchman had the same idea and had put a patent on it .
As far as what they could tell, there never was a
working model, but there was a patent on the idea. So they
worked on it a little bit, but they were working on a
different principle of cutting the bunch off of the vine,
and having a tube there that it would fall into, and suck it
into a tub. It would come in fast enough to hit a baffle and
kind of break the berry, so that it was kind of crushing at
the same time.
We tried that, and they worked on it for, I guess, about
three months. We got some grapes out of South America to try
it. We found out that it just wasn't going to be practical,
because you have to have too big a piece of equipment to
have the vacuum. So they kind of fooled around with it, and
we gave them some other ideas , and they actually made a
They brought it down to Soledad, and we tried it in a
vineyard, and I would say, yes, it picked grapes, but. It
didn't do a clean job, it dropped an awful lot of juice on
the ground, and a few other things. But they thought that it
was perfect, and they wouldn't go any further; they wouldn't
experiment any more, or anything else.
In the meantime, we had this company that was called the
Up-Right*, in Berkeley. They came down and started experimenting,
They had some ideas. The owner of the place thought that our
Chenin blanc was it the Chenin blanc, or the Johannisberg
Riesling? one or the other was so far superior to any other
wine that he'd ever tasted, that he bought a piece of property
in Napa some place, and he planted to that variety. He got
the cuttings from us, and we got started talking to him about
Yes, Johnson. His original business was scaffolding. So
they got some young engineers , and they got started working
on it. I still think that their machine is the best today.
One of the best, anyhow. But we experimented. They brought
machines down. They had a plane that was on a little runway
*Up-Right Inc., which then created a division Up-Right Harvesters
there someplace around Salinas, and they would fly up to
Berkeley and get parts, and fly them down, so we could
change this machine while it was out in the field.
They had real equipment in Berkeley, and they did a
beautiful job. So, anyhow, that's where we really got
started, that way. Johnson was really the one that worked
with us. I guess it was just about the same time (and I
don't know whether there was somebody that was working for
Johnson who went over to Chisholm-Ryder or not) but
Chisholm-Ryder got pretty near the same idea.
So it was a success. I think it took us about four
years, really, before it got down to one where we could say
Johnson can put this on the market and it will work. There
were still a few little quirks about it that some of the
wineries didn't particularly like. I remember Julio Gallo
saying that they tried one and they didn't like it because
there were too many leaves in the must.
We were complaining about the same thing. But we had an
agreement with Up-Right that any improvements they made for
the next four or five years, they would put it on our machine.
So they just put bigger motors on, with more volume, so that
we got rid of 99 percent more leaves.
Blower motors, were they?
Larger blower motors, yes. So there would be more air at a
certain spot where the grapes were falling, and blow the
I remember that Gallo developed a harvester of its own, and
gave it to the university, finally.
Yes, I think he did. I think he did. They worked on one,
and they come to the conclusion that they didn't like the way
it was handling the must, and so forth. I don't know whether
they're using any of the newer ones today. I have never
talked to Julio about it.
It is very interesting in that , naturally , we had a
little problem at the beginning with Chavez's union.* We told
them, "Let us run it for a couple of years. We'll get some
information on how much it costs, how much we save, and so forth,
and so on, and we'll give you the figures, so then you draw
your own conclusions."
*Cesar Chavez's United Farmworkers.
They agreed to that, and they didn't bother us for two years.
I guess it was after the third season they came back and they
wanted the information, which we gave to them. They never
came back- again. We don't know whether they were satisfied
with our figures or what. But our figures came out almost
the same as if you hand picked.
It wasn't any cheaper, in one sense of the word, when
you figured the price of the machine and the repair, the
upkeep, and all that kind of stuff. There was a lot of
vibration in it then that we don't have in the new ones
today, and we figured that five years would be as long as it
would stand up. With the change that we made after that, we
found out that we can keep the machines we got one now
that's, I think, twelve years old. It's kind of retired,
works in a pinch, but it still works.
What about the manning , though , which was what Chavez ' s
people would have been interested in? Did your labor costs
The labor costs went down, but they didn't go down that far.
This is my opinion, I think that they figured that the man that
it took to run the machine almost had to be an engineer in
order not to have it break down all the time. We tried
with some of the men that we had on the ranch, and it worked
out fine. We tried to take people off the streets, so to
speak, and put them on the machine, and we run into all kinds
It's very interesting because there isn't that much
savings in one sense of the word. The only difference is
that you have a machine that you can go out and run twenty- four
hours a day, with three crews, or, if it rains you put it
in the barn and it doesn't cost you anything. And that's
about the only difference there is.
However, when you have to harvest by hand, somebody has to
handle personnel, go out and find harvesting crews, and
deal with them. Isn't there a saving in executive time
somewhere along the line?
I don ' t know whether it ' s really that much or not . We have
a crew down in the Soledad area that has been working for us
ever since we first started. They come in, and they'll work
on the pruning, they'll work on the tying, they'll work on hoeing
around the vines, or whatever else we happen to be doing
at the time. There are some spots in the vineyard that we
can't get to with a harvester, and then they come in and
they pick that. It's been a crew that's been there ever
since we started.
I think one of the Monterey County agriculture representatives
told me that they did welcome the grapes because they had
crews who worked in other crops at other times of the year.
Yes, yes. That's very true. They did like the vineyards
coming in because there was a period when the grapes are
being harvested , not at the beginning of the harvest season
but about in the middle of the harvest season, when the help
is all available. They have nothing else to do. It has
helped the laborers in that area quite a bit.
You're very fortunate to have a steady crew.
We keep them as steady as we can, and they have a couple of
jobs on the outside that they work on when we're not using
them. And they're perfectly happy.
You don't have much acreage here now in Santa Clara County,
but how do you handle that?
The only problem we had here was when it come to harvest
time , it would take us a good week to get a crew that would
come in, and work, all through the season.
You said that here in Santa Clara County, the first grapes
that come in are light producers?
They're light producers.
So the crew doesn't make
The crew doesn't make very much money. What we try to do is
to get the ones off that we have to first. Then we'll put the
pickers in a heavy producer. Once they get started, they
tell their friends how much they're making a day. Then we
don't have any problem any more; then they all come out.
In the Santa Clara Valley, they used to have a lot of
canneries, which were seasonal. I wondered whether the
grape harvest season overlapped with canning season.
It did a little bit in the tomato end of it, but, you know,
it's a funny situation in this area here, in Santa Clara
Valley. I can remember some of our fellows, they were working
here on the ranch, and their wives were working in the
cannery. For two or three months, their wives would make
more than what they were making. But it seems like the
families that I knew, most of the children grew up and none
of them worked in a cannery. Ninety percent of them, they
didn't work in the fields like their fathers did, either.
They went out and got other jobs that were, they thought, a
little easier a little cleaner, anyhow.
Who took their places?
I think that most of their places were taken by the Mexican
population that came in from Mexico. Whether they were
legal or not legal, why, it was one of those things. There
was only one year that I know of that we had so-called "wetbacks"
in here. All the rest of the time, they were legitimate, so
Field Crushing and Pressing
When did you go into field crushing?
When we built the first harvester, we had crushers in
holding tanks on the harvester.
If I remember correctly, the tanks held either 250 or 500
gallons of must. It was enough to make one round with the
machine. Then the tank truck was standing there. The whole
equipment was run on oil, hydraulic. They had one pump that
would pump air, and air was used to force the must out of
these tanks into the truck.
That went along fine for about two years, and then we
started having problems. As the vines got bigger and the
production was heavier, the tanks would get full before we
made the round. Then we'd have to stop the crusher and drive
out and unload it. It got to where we found out that that
wasn't going to work the way we wanted it to.
And how much did the tank trucks hold?
They held fifteen tons. The trucking company had a contract
to haul the must from Soledad to the winery. The same truck
used to haul our must is what the sugar companies used to
haul their molasses and syrup. It worked out fine. The only
thing the trucking company had to do was have a bigger opening
on the bottom of it so that it would come faster. But we
found out that the weight of the crusher (they were little
special-built crushers) , the tanks on the side of the
crusher, which we call saddle tanks, got to the point
where the strain on the frame of the harvester was just too
much for it. The metal just couldn't carry it, and it wasn't
practical to make it heavier.
Then we got the idea, "Why not take these crushers that
we have on the harvester and put them on what we call the
nurse tank and have a bigger tank so that the tractor could
pull the nurse tank," and the harvester would drop the grapes
into the crusher. They would be crushed and stemmed right
out in the field, and when the tank was full, that one pulled
away, and another one pulled underneath it. Which worked out
fine, and, as a matter of fact, we're still using the same
It's gotten quite a bit bigger than what we started
in with, but it goes along now. It's very interesting,
because the harvester can handle about eight tons an hour , if
I remember correctly. It doesn't make any difference how
much your vines are producing, you go along accordingly, so
that you're harvesting the same amount of tons per hour. You
either go fast when it's light, or you go slower when it's
heavy. It works out perfectly.
Then last year we crushed and field pressed a little
bit. Now, this year, we've field pressed quite a bit. For
making white wines out of red grapes, for the champagne
material and so forth, it's working out very nice.
So, we've improved a little bit.
Who has worked with you building this later equipment?
I don't think that we worked with anybody. They came down,
and one of Peter's neighbors talked to him, when we were
harvesting his grapes one year. He wanted to know why we
couldn't press out in the field at the time. I think Pete
says, "There's two things. I haven't got the time, and I
don't have the money to put into it."
That's all that was said at the time. The next year
the guy came by and asked Peter if he could get a contract
with him for pressing the next number of tons of grapes and
see how it worked. So Pete said, "Sure, why not? We'll
compare your price with what it costs us to pick them, haul
them up to San Jose, and press them and haul the pomace away,
and so forth and so on."
It's worked out that it's a little bit cheaper to do
it down there when we haul the juice up we've got plain juice
with no must or anything in it, so it's 100 percent juice,
and that's it. When we get the gallonage up here, if we get
2500 to the truck, or three thousand, or four thousand,
whatever it is, when it's up here, that's how many gallons
You wouldn't do that with red wine?
You can't do it with red wine because you have to ferment
on the skins, but what we're thinking very seriously of
doing now is putting a fermenting place down in Soledad,
so that we can ferment everything down there, even the whites.
Because it takes about two and a half hours to get the grapes
up here, or the must up here, whatever you want to call it.
Especially some of the fancy white wine, if we can get
it in a tank in a half hour instead of three hours , why , it ' s
that much better for it. So we're thinking of putting
the fermenting system down there, and then that will take
care of all our problems. Because right now we have a
little bit of property here where we can dump the pomace
and let it dry out and then work it into the ground. But
eventually there's going to be houses there, so the sooner
we get a system down in Soledad the better off we're going to
The pomace is valuable, isn't it?
Yes, it is, but nobody wants to handle it. [chuckles] We've
been spreading it out in the vineyard for years, and I think
we've got enough to last us for a few years.
I always remember that tremendous pile of pomace at the Petri
Yes, yes. I can remember when I was a little kid, when Dad
had the winery down on Quimby Road, that we used to go out
there and climb up on that pile and slide down it and
everything else. You kind of stain the clothes a little
bit, but that didn't bother us any. Mom got mad, but it
didn't bother us.
[laughs] It never occured to me that that would be a big
That's what it was. A big sand pile.
Do you have space for a fermenting facility on the property
down at Soledad now?
Yes, as a matter of fact, we picked out a place. We were
ready to put it in a year or so ago, and we're glad now that
we didn't. We were figuring a place for pressing down
there because we were going to crush them and bring them in
and press them right away. Now that we're pressing in the
field, we think that it's a better system. It's more versatile.
You can have three or four different places that are bringing
in grape juice, so to speak, at one time, in different tanks.
It's a lot easier to keep track of.
Wallace Johnson's winery was doing that in the Alexander
Valley, the Field Stone Winery.
He'd been experimenting with presses, and he had one. We
brought it down here. Yes, it worked, and it works fine.
For a little place like he had it's fine,* but when you get
into a commercial operation, it just wasn't big enough. In
order to make it big enough, then it gets too clumsy. So
it has to be a continuous tight press, or even a batch press
of the bladder type.
In other words, it has to press as fast as what the
harvester can harvest, so that there's always an empty one
standing alongside that they can dump into. Because once
you get your machine started, you don't like to stop here and
there. We found one interesting thing, that we can get more
gallons per ton, and a clearer juice, and a whiter juice, by
*Wallace Johnson died in 1979.
to be operated by his family.
Field Stone Winery continues
picking the grapes after twelve o'clock at night and before
the sun comes up. After that, it's a complete, different
Is that right?
Yes. We found out that there was a difference. So when
we're picking grapes for champagne material, after twelve
o'clock we change over and go into that variety. The rest
of the day we pick something else.
How do you keep your guys working at night?
They get used to it, they get used to it.
I think I've seen an article about Rich Smith of Valley Farm
Management who brought the idea to Peter Mirassou. Are you
going to continue to contract with him?
Under the present circumstances, we think that as long as he
can handle it, we will. What he's thinking of now is getting
more equipment, and actually being in the business, so to
speak. I think with this white Zinfandel (and there'll be
white something else in the very near future) that he'll keep
going for a while.
Specialized services for wineries are interesting. I know
there was an attempt, and maybe still is, to send mobile
bottling facilities around to small wineries.
They do it all over in France. So I don't see why they can't
do it here. Of course, it all depends how small the
operation is, but we happened to be in France with a group.
We came up to this winery, and they had hoses laying outside
the winery. We couldn't figure out why they were going to
have the hoses outside the winery, so we went in and we
tasted some wines. We came out, and in the meantime this
little trailer had come up and pulled behind a car, and
they'd plugged it into the electricity, and here they were,
bottling case after case. It doesn't go as fast as what
Gallo's line goes, but they get their wine in the bottle, they
get the label on it, and it's all done at one crack. That's
the way they do it. They go from one place to the other.
For a winery this size it wouldn't be practical, would it?
BIGGEST SHIPMENT EVER OF STAINLESS STEEL WINE TANKS
V SHOWN liere are ten stainless steel
tanks, each of 22,000 gallons capacity,
ready to leave Fresno (where they were
manufactured by Valley Foundry) to be
set up at Mirassou Vineyards tor the
combined Mirassou - Paul Masson deal,
announced in last month's issue.
Each tank is 12' -6" in diameter and
24' tall, and it was necessary to use ten
Hat cars to move them.
In addition to those shown, six other
fermentation tanks, also of 316 stain ess.
were shipped to Mirassou from Valley.
A picture of the tanks set up for oper
ation in the open field will be published
in the next issue.
No, this is a little bit too big for that. But, no, I think
it's a good deal. Because the guy who operates the bottling
line is busy all day long, so he doesn't have to charge a
fabulous price to one grower when he can divide it up among
four or five of them that he does during the day. The
equipment doesn't cost each one; they don't have to buy it
themselves, which would take them a hundred years to pay for.
Back to Soledad; if you put in fermenting facilities down
there, will you use the fermenting tanks that you have here,
or will you buy new ones?
We're debating that point. These fermenting tanks that are
here are all jacketed, and they can be used for cooling the
wines for stabilization and so forth. So I don't think that
they will all go down there, no. There may be a few of them
You need them for stabilization for bottling?
Yes, for before bottling.
Are they the ones that Masson put in here in 1961?
No. The ones that Masson put in let's put it this way. We
had nine fermenting tanks of 5,000 gallons each. When Masson
asked us if we would crush the grapes for them and make the
wine for them, we said, "Yes, but we need more fermenting
tanks." It was one of those thing that came in all at once.
I guess it was about this time of the year, in February,
when we decided, yes, we could do it but we had to have
some help with the finances.
So they said, "We'll put the tanks in, whatever size
you want, whatever you want, and then, over a period of
years, you buy them back from us." That was fine. So they
came in, and we put in nine 10,000 gallon tanks with jackets
on them, and we put in eight more stainless steel tanks,
That was all right for the first year, and then the
next year we needed more storage space, and we found some
brewery tanks in Golden, Colorado. They were in perfect
condition, so we figured, well, we could use them. So we got
a trucking company to haul them down here, and we put a
platform in and set them up here.
We haven't yet, but we're eventually going to put a building
around it. Right now we have a screen over the top of them
to kind of keep them cooler, but it seems like that since
we first started, the weather gets hotter, summertime.
Maybe you're more conscious of the need for cool weather.
I think that we've changed our way of making wine. Now that
we're selling it in bottles, it's got to be handled a little
more delicate than we used to do it. Because, before, the wine
was all out of the winery the first of June. The people
that bought it were using it to blend theirs, and the sooner
they could get it, the better they liked it.
Then when we started bottling for ourselves we were
holding it longer, and so then we had little problems with
keeping it cool.
From Bulk to Bottling
Let's go on to the change to bottling, in 1966. That was a
big step for a winery to take, I should think.
Yes, it was a gigantic step.
Why were you so courageous that you did it?
Don't ask me that question; I can't answer it. [laughs] For
one thing, we realized that the boys were interested in the
wine business, and there wasn't enough business unless we
did go into something like that . I think that ' s the main
reason why we went into it. To give them a chance
Your sons and your brother's sons?
Yes. To give them a chance to do something. And so far,
they've done a good job.
During the transition, I suppose you went on selling bulk
wines for a time.
We sold bulk wines for quite a few years. It was
interesting, too, because about the same time that they
started in and wanted to put the wine on the market , so to
speak, the wine industry kind of changed a little bit.
Everybody was making more of their own wines , buying the
grapes before they were crushed. They just weren't buying
as much bulk wine as what they were before. They were just
slowing down, so to speak.
There were fewer and fewer private bottlers' labels?
That's true, and it seemed like all the bottlers that were
back East, they just quit.
Do you think that was because more emphasis was being placed
upon wine quality as related to winemakers' labels?
I don't know whether it was the quality or what it was, but
it just seemed like that if it was made and bottled in
California, that it was easier to sell. That's why I
think that it changed.
Do you still sell wine in bulk?
It was 1966 that you began bottling, a little bit before
the big increase in wine drinking, but still people were
getting more sophisticated in their tastes, more analytical,
and perhaps they were reading labels more carefully.
I think that was part of it. That was part of it.
Your younger generation, then, they were coming out of school,
were they, at that point?
Yes. Let's see, two of them were out of school. Peter
was going to college once in a while, but he wasn't going
steady. He would take certain courses and so forth. Steve
was doing about the same thing. When they got the idea, they
got together and figured it out and decided that that's what
they wanted to do. We figured, "If we can help them out,
we'll help them out."
These two , or all of them?
No, the whole bunch* worked together. They came to us as a
group, so to speak. They had done quite a bit of studying
on it before they asked my brother and I whether we were
interested in it or not. We asked them to get some help from
*Peter, Steve, Daniel, and James Mirassou, and Norbert C.
Mirassou 's son-in-law, Don Alexander. See p. 46.
somebody that was in the business that knew, and they
got Bob Mondavi to help them out, and to convince Ed and I
that it was profitable. I still doubt it, but [chuckles]
Bob Mondavi mentioned that.*
They went to him. They had talked to other people around
here, and they thought that Bob had a little more pull or
push than what the rest of them did, so they got him on
their side. [laughs] It worked out; it worked out fine.
They made a few mistakes on the way, but I think they're
getting them straightened out.
Was it their idea to take the enterprise into bottling? Was
that their idea?
We had a label. Ed and I and our two wives had designed a
label, and we put it on our bottles. This goes back I've
got one set at home that was 1945. Our lawyer's the one that
really started us. He said, "I'd like to have some bottles
of wine in a box for Christmas." So we said, "How many do
you want?" He said, "Oh, if I have twenty-five, that would
So we got some shook, and we made some little boxes.
The girls put the wine in the boxes, and I nailed the lids on
and glued them. Naturally, when you start something like
that, you think, "This is a one-shot deal." I guess it was
between Christmas and New Year's the lawyer called up and he
says, "I would like to order seventy-five boxes for next
We said, "We don't know whether we're going to make
them or not." He said, "If you don't, you guys are nuts."
So we says, "Well, okay." I think we made 125 that year. We
delivered his packages. Then the rest of them, that was
twenty-five or thirty, we gave to people that we were doing
The next year I think we had somewheres around a
thousand. It just grew.
Were you hand-bottling?
*Robert Mondavi, Creativity in the California Wine Industry,
an oral history interview conducted 1984, Regional Oral History
Office, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley,
i rt o r
N.C. Mirassou: Hand bottling. The labels were put on by hand. The bottles
were laid in the box with spaghetti paper in it , and then
the lids were nailed on it. And then we'd begin to get smart.
Instead of making the boxes, when they got up above five
hundred, we got some people in San Francisco who were
making cigar boxes yet at that time. It was a cigar box
We had a nice redwood box with a stamp on the front
of it. All the ladies wanted the box for their sewing, or
their knitting, or something. We had one particular regular
company that we were doing business with. They were always
giving liquor away , a bottle of whiskey , or a bottle of this ,
or a bottle of that. The owner and I were very good friends,
and I told him, I said, "You know, try it just for once, and
if it doesn't work, it doesn't work. But," I says, "I'll
bet you that you get more thank-you letters from the ladies
than what you will with the whiskey." He was a young fellow
at the time, and he says, "My Gosh, it's an idea, we'll try
I said, "How many do you need?" He says, "I think we
need somewheres around three hundred." He eventually got up
to a thousand boxes that he gave away, and he says that they
would get a bagfull of thank-you notes from the ladies
because the husband would come home sober, put the gift
under the tree, and they would all open it Christmas day.
He says, "When we gave them a bottle of whiskey, half the
time, they drank it before they got home. They get home
drunk, and then the whole week-end was spoiled."
So they thought it was a very good idea. We still send
out quite a bit of them today, yet. The only thing is that
nowadays all these companies that give gifts away, although
there's not as many as there used to be, but the ones that
do give them away, you've got to get your order in before
May, otherwise you're too late.
But it's still a good deal. To start in, we just had
one package, and that was it. Then we got one company that
wanted a thousand with different kinds of wine in it, so we
made those, and then they came back. We said, "Nope, from
now on it's what we pick out, and that's the only thing there
N.C. Mirassou: Then, in order to give them a choice, we had the artist's
selection, and the gourmet selection, and a selection of
champagne. They had a choice of three bottles and two
bottles of wine. Now they've gotten back to where I think
they've got one champagne and one wine.
They found that if they keep them in the tasting room,
they can sell them all year round, because people come in
and say, "Oh, that's a nice gift for a birthday, or a wedding,
or an anniversary."
Teiser: What kind of a company buys them?
N.C. Mirassou: All companies. Like, oh, some of the companies from Silicon
Valley, and other companies that we do business with during
Teiser: When you went to bottling, however seriously, rather than as
a sideline that was I think in 1966.
N.C. Mirassou: Theoretically, in "66 Mirassou Sales [Company] took all the
bottles that we had; they bought them from us. They got some
cases, and, if I'm not mistaken, they used some of Almaden's
or Paul Masson cases that were empty that they had extra. They
blanked out the name and put the proper stamp on it, and the
label. They would put the four, five, six cases in the
back of their car and go out and sell them. [laughs] Then
they'd come back and get four or five more. That's how they
got started, by going to liquor stores, and so forth. About
the same time that this was happening
Teiser: You said you had a very good friend
N.C. Mirassou: a very good friend that had a steelworks in town. About
this same time. He was of German descent, and his father
had an ironworks in Europe, and then he moved here and had it
here. His son was an engineer. He was a good engineer, too.
I used to go down to his office during the winter-time and
just sit there and talk to him, because I figured I could
learn something by talking to him.
We'd get into all kinds of things, politics and
everything else. One day I walked in and this other gentleman
was there, and he said, "Come on in." So I walked into his
office, and he introduced me to Mr. Joseph George. He liked
the wine. He told Joseph George, he says, "One of these
N.C. Mirassou: days these boys are going to be putting their wine on the
market, and you should be the distributor." So Joseph
George kind of laughed, you know, and said this, that, and
the other thing. So we talked there for a while and when he
left he says, "When you get ready, give me a call." So he
was our first distributor when we started, when we got to
the point where we could have enough bottles to have a
distributor. Which must have been around '68, '69, some
place in there, when they got big enough that we needed a
The Mirassou Sales Company and San Vicente Vineyards
Teiser: Did the boys organize formally at that point? Did they have
a company of their own?
N.C. Mirassou: Yes, they formed a partnership at that time.
Teiser: What did they call it?
N.C. Miraaou: Mirassou Sales Company.
Teiser: Who were the partners?
N.C. Mirassou: Steve, Peter, James, and Daniel Mirassou and Don Alexander.
Ed's and my philosophy was that we had enough that we
could take care of ourselves in our old age, and we didn't
want to have the largest inventory when we passed away. We
had a chance to buy a piece of property, another piece, down
in Soledad area. And so we said, "Why not put this in the
boys ' name , and let them run it , and so forth and so on , and
pay for it, and then it belongs to them."
That's when they started the San Vicente Vineyards, d.b.a.
Mirassou Sales.* That was probably a year or so before they
started putting the wine out. When we first bought the
[Soledad] ranch, it was under lease, and the people that were
running it decided that they would keep the lease as long as
we didn't want the ranch right away. And the children weren't
quite old enough, so we figured, "They can go to school, and
*See pp. 48-49.
N.C. Mirassou: this guy can run it until his lease runs out," which had
another four years to go. And about that time everything
would just fall right in place.
It started in and was working beautifully, but the
gentleman didn't listen, or something. Anyhow, he decided that
he was going to leave us. He passed away. His son was just
twenty-one years of age, and he wasn't old enough and didn't
have enough experience to run the ranch they had in the
valley [San Joaquin] and this one here, too. They were
raising potatoes for Granny Goose.
The father ran it one year, and then he passed away, and
the son came in and tried to finish. They had already
planted; all they had to do was really harvest them. The
next year the bank that was helping him came to us and asked
us if they could break the contract because he just couldn't
handle it; he didn't have enough experience.
In the meantime, Peter was out of school, so to speak,
and Steve was out of school. We says, "Yes, we would gladly
let the contract go , " but we needed some help because if we
were going to use it, we were going to try to run it with
potatoes in it for another couple of years , because Granny
Goose had a contract with the ranch, so to speak. They didn't
care who was running it just so they got their potatoes.
So we planted potatoes two years. The second year, it
was one of those things that wasn't done exactly the way it
should be. Potates are an easy crop to raise in one sense of
the word, and in another sense of the word they're not. All
the studying the boys had done was on grapes, and they didn't
know enough about potatoes, and their crop the second years
wasn't what it was supposed to be.
Then Granny Goose decided that they found another place,
some place that had virgin land in it, and they figured they
could raise more potatoes and better potatoes, so they broke
In the meantime, the company that had the lease first,
we said, "If you can loan us a tractor and loan us "some
sprinkler line, we can get by." Which they did, and that
helped us get by for the two years that we were running the
place. Then, when the contract was broken by the other company,
they came and got their sprinkler pipe and their tractor, and
took it back over to Fresno, or Bakersfield, or wherever it was
that they were planting.
That was a little experience that we had in something else.
What happened, in the end, with that land?
In the meantime, the kids down there weren't sitting around
doing nothing. The equipment that was down there was a great
big D8 [tractor] with a great big sub-soiler, and so all they
had to do was to buy the fuel, because the tractor was rent-
free, and everything else. They took this equipment and
they started ripping up the ground.
They ripped up the ground, and they decided that they were
going to plant fifty acres of vines. Because the sprinkler
system and everything was in for the potatoes, the pipeline,
so all they had to do was to put in the sprinkling system
over this particular fifty acres that they were going to
So they did. They planted it, and they did a beautiful
job of planting it. They knew what they were doing when it
come to grapes. They planted the fifty acres, and I
daresay that there wasn't a hundred vines that had to be
re-planted. You might say that it was a 100 percent take
right off the bat. The boys from the university didn't
Where did they get their stock?
We took it off of the vines that were on the [Paul Masson
and Mirassou] ranch that were down there. That's when
they first came out with the heat-treated vines, and so we
put in a few acres of them and really got a nursery started
for heat-treated vines. We've been improving it ever since.
Eventually, they got the whole thing planted.
In effect, the land that had all been in potatoes is now
all in grapes.
It's all in grapes.
What is Mirassou Sales Company?
Mirassou Sales Company is the part of San Vicente Vineyards
that is selling the wine. In other words, they divided it
up. The ranch is one operation, the sales department is
another operation, and then if they get anything else, they
got another operation.
Who owns the bottling facility that is here?
The bottling facility theoretically belongs to Mirassou
And you helped them with that, too?
Yes, we helped. By that time they were making money, and so
they could buy their own equipment and pay for it, and it
It's wonderful that you gave them a chance
We gave them a chance, and at the same time we weren't
building up our estate; they were building up their estate.
It gave them that much more incentive to work for it.
It's always a problem in a family to pass on assets.
Yes, yes. We figured that it was a lot easier that way
than for us to have it, and them to inherit it. This way
they're their own boss, so to speak. As long as they listen
to Ed and I and don't make too many mistakes, they're all
So they became, in effect, your customers?
Yes, you might say that, yes.
I don't suppose you thought of it that way.
We've been buying the grapes, so to speak. We bought the
grapes from their ranch, made it into wine, and turned around
and sold it to them. When they first started, naturally, we
weren't taking that many grapes, so we were selling it in
bulk. It's gotten to the point now where they're still not
taking all of it in some varieties. We made a mistake, too,
we planted too much of one kind, and not enough of the other.
We figured that it should be at least 60 percent white
and 40 percent red. Right now, I think, it's 110 percent
white and nothing red. [laughter] But in the future, it
will swing back to reds.
I think that our biggest mistake in the wine industry
today is that we are doing exactly what the French said to do:
"Your white wines should be served a little colder than the
red wines , and the red wines should be served at room
temperature." But the problem is that our room temperature
in California is too doggone hot. I used to take the wine
out of my wine cellar and bring it in the house a day or so
before I was going to serve it. Now, I wait until the last
minute, and then bring it in. And I find that the people
do drink more red wine when it's colder.
All you have to do is say cellar temperature and not room
N.C. Mirassou: Yes, but most people's cellar temperature is still too
warm, too. We've been fussing with the subdividers around
here ever since they came in. When they first came in, they
wanted to buy a piece of the property. "That's fine. We're
not ready to sell right yet." You know, it went from one
to the other.
Finally we got a couple of them, and they were really
interested, and I says, "I'd like to see your house plans.
Will you bring them around some time?" They bring them around,
and we open them up here on the conference table, and I look
at them, and I look and I look. One of the guys says, "What
the heck are you looking for?" I says, "I'm looking for a
space in this house some place that's cool enough to put a
wine cellar in."
I said , "None of your plans have any place for a wine
cellar." And I said, "If you guys would use your head and
put a wine cellar in your house, and come here to the winery
and buy a couple of cases, and go some place else and get a
couple of cases and put them in the house, you could sell it
a lot easier."
They couldn't understand; they couldn't see it. We
finally got one company that built one bunch of houses in one
subdivision, and underneath the stairs they had a place that
was cool enough that they could put a little wine cellar, but
it was only big enough for about three cases.
You know, it's one of those things. Everybody is
interested in wine, it seems like. And if you don't have a
place where you can put some wine away and store it for four
or five years, it's no fun.
You're outlining something that could alleviate the oversupply
of wine, if you could get more people to buy in advance and
That's what they're doing in Europe. I mean, all the so-called
big wineries, or the fancy wineries that used to keep their
wine and sell it for high prices, are now selling in future,
so to speak. You buy it and put it in your cellar. They're
making just as much off of it, because it's not cheap to
keep wine on hand in a warehouse and then sell it. It's a
lot easier to let somebody else keep it for you.
Maybe that's one of the marketing strategies that should be
We're still working on it.
You have to convince the building industry.
The Mirassou Nursery
The nursery you mentioned, that's been within your own field,
Have you handled the nursery?
Yes. When we bought the first piece of property, which was
the 250-acre piece, which was Mission Vineyards, and belonged
to Ed Knight, it was all bare ground.
The first Monterey property?
Yes. So we says, "We've got to have a nursery some place,
so why not put it here, next to the house," because Peter was
going to be down there.
You hadn't had one here?
No, we didn't have one here. We've had small ones here,
three, four hundred vines, but that's all. In the meantime,
we had got this piece of property for Paul Masson, so we were
going to have a thousand acres that we were going to plant.
We figured, "We can't plant it all in one year, because that's
N.C. Mirassou: lust too much. Why don't we figure on a nursery for five
hundred acres, and then we will plant that. And then we'll
put another nursery in the following year, and we plant
that in the next year . "
We put in a nursery, and we had enough vines for five
hundred acres. We knew the varieties that everybody wanted,
and how many vines we needed, and so forth. And naturally
we planted some extra ones.
We got started and we had, if I'm not mistaken, forty
acres of vines in a nursery, three inches apart, and then we
had another row over here eight or nine feet apart. We had
them far enough apart so we could drive down with the tractor
to keep the grass down. As we were planting them, [A.N.]
Kasimatis and Lloyd Lider and a few of the other ones came
down. They said, "You've got the ground all worked, and you're
all ready to plant. They're all on their own roots. Why don't
you, instead of putting them in a nursery three inches apart,
plant the other five hundred acres eight feet apart? Plant
the rest of them eight by twelve."
They said, "All you'll have to do is to figure that
you've got a thousand-acre nursery." Another five-hundred-
acre nursery, really, is what it was, because the first year
they were in the nursery, so we didn't count that. So, we
says, "What would be the difference? I mean, does the vine
get started better in the field, or does it get better
in the nursery?"
They said, they can't see any difference. They've tried
them both ways, and they couldn't see that much difference.
So we said, "Let's take a chance on it." We talked with
Paul Masson, and they were willing to go to the extra
expense, so to speak. Theoretically, it should have put the
vine one year ahead in the field.
So we did, and the take was, as close as we could figure
it, about 95 percent. We said, "We'll say 90 percent, and
make sure." So we had 10 percent that we had to plant the
following year, which was very little. We figured that we
would lose 25 percent, so we put in a nursery for 25 percent,
and we had all the rest left over.
In the meantime, the university came in with their heat-
treated vines, and so that left some more extras that we
had. The heat-treated vines came in when we were planting
San Vicente more, so that they were just getting started
on the other one. San Vicente was planted in 1968. That
must have been '70, some place in there. I forget the exact
Then did you sell nursery stock to others?
After we had the heat-treated vines, and they were in their
special division, with the check rows and so forth in
between, we could sell those through the university. The
university got paid so much a vine, and we sold quite a few
of the different varieties that we had. We had five or six
different varieties at the time.
Did you have varieties you didn't use yourself?
No, all the varieties that we had were the varieties that
we used. When we put them in, we put at least five or ten
acres so that we had enough that we could keep separate
and see what the difference was for production and sugar
content and everything else.
Of course, we were working with the university. We made
it big enough so that it was easy to keep track of. I'm
sure that they've got those figures up at Davis some place.
Did you and Wente trade vines at all? Or cuttings?
We may have a few, but not that many. They came down there
to the Salinas Valley, what was it, two years after we did?
and bought their ranch and started planting down
there. They did about the same as what we did; they went
out into other vineyards. They got some cuttings from us
the first year. But they didn't plant too much the first
time. They put in one block of all mixed vines to see how
they would grow and how they produced and so forth.
But we worked very close together with anybody that
would work with us. Karl Wente and us, we used to be out
together all the time.
Soledad's a little bit different from Greenfield, where the
It's a little different but not that much. It's a little
warmer. Sometimes we think we might be in a little too cold
climate. The last couple of years it's been fine, but it's
been a little warmer than normal, so to speak. There's grapes
that are a lot further north than we are, and they don't have
any more trouble than what we do, so I guess they're all
From your experience now, of quite some years, what do you
think Monterey County's greatest strengths are? What
Definitely the whites; and I don't think it makes an awful
lot of difference which white it is. The reds, I'm not so sure
that we shouldn't be a little further south on the reds.
In the Salinas Valley or elsewhere?
Even as far south as Santa Maria. The thing that we need to
study more, and I think that the university is going to
have to go into this a lot deeper, is microclimates.
With the little bit of traveling that I've done in
Europe, they take a vineyard that's, let's say, four hundred
feet long, and they'll take a hundred-foot stretch out of the
middle of it, and those grapes are better than the outside.
After all , when they have the experience of nine hundred
years, they should know a little bit about what they're
I don't know whether they have studied the microclimate,
or whether they've been there long enough that they know from
year to year that this particular spot makes a better wine
than what this one over here does. I think that we're going
to have to do a lot more studying on that.
If you're lucky, and you're on the right side of the
hill, and the soil is all the same, it makes a difference.
But you've always known that.
That's right. It hasn't been looked at scientifically yet. I
don't know how much scientific looking they've done in Europe.
But they sure know a heck of a lot more about it than what
Urbanization in the Santa Clara Valley
May I ask you about the Santa Clara Valley if all these
houses hadn't cropped up here, and all these factories and
shopping centers, what would have happened here?
Santa Clara Valley has been known throughout the world for
its prunes. From what I could gather when we had apricots
and were selling them to the cannery, they preferred these
in Santa Clara Valley to any place else. It was a richer,
solider fruit. The grapes that were grown in Santa Clara
Valley made very good wine; the only problem was that all the
old vineyards didn't have the fancy varieties that are being
Why they weren't brought in originally, when they were
brought into Napa and Sonoma Valley, nobody seems to know.
It's just one of those things.
I guess if we could sit up here and look down through
history, my feeling is that in the early days, Santa Clara
Valley was void of trees. They were all taken out by the
Spaniards years ago. So therefore it was a hotter climate.
Therefore, people that came into the Bay Area, and then
looked for property, went up north, and it was evidently
easier to get there than it was coming south. Why, I don't
know, but that's the only thing that I can figure out.*
I remember I asked Louis Martini , the senior , where in
California would he prefer to grow grapes, all things being
equal. He said the Santa Clara Valley around Mountain View
had fine grapes.
N.C. Mirassou: Yes, that's very true.
You know, now that you bring it up, it is a puzzling
question. In the past when we're talking about the prunes and
the apricots, and the few grapes that were in Santa Clara
Valley we say a few grapes, but if I remember correctly,
there were somewheres around three or four thousand acres of
grapes in the northern part of Santa Clara Valley. Not
counting Morgan Hill and Gilroy. There were quite a few
more down there. They were known throughout the world,
wherever wine was sold. When Dad and his brothers had the
winery down on the corner, even before that, when they had
it up on the hill
*0f course, Norbert and Edmund Mirassou 's great-grandfather,
Pierre Pellier, and other French immigrants brought excellent
wine grape varieties to the Santa Clara Valley as early as the
gold-rush period. See Charles L. Sullivan, Like Modern Edens
(Cupertino, California: California History Center, 1982),
Chapter II, and Ruth Teiser and Catherine Harroun, Winemaking
in California, New York, McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1982,
Chapter 6. Deforestation of the valley accelerated during
the American period as the population grew.
You said when your father and his brothers had their winery,
they would sell in puncheons through a broker.
They would ship puncheons to New York. Not very much a
carload, or so a year. But they'd sell it through a wholesaler,
and eventually the wholesaler bought a ranch up here in a
corner, and put vines in it and had a winery up there [where
The Villages development is now] . Their wines won prizes
wherever they were sold; of course, they were blended with
other wines. But this broker's wines were always winning
prizes. And they all came out of Santa Clara Valley.
So Santa Clara Valley would be a beautiful place to
raise grapes if we could get rid of all the houses and
factories and everything in the center of the valley, and
put all the houses around the hills, up on top. [laughs]
That would be fine.
That brings up another question. As grape land gets more
valuable, which it did for a while
It still is.
Here, in Santa Clara County, did anyone ever think of deciding
to go ahead and make a more expensive vineyard in the hills?
Let's put it this way, yes, it has been thought of, but, in
the United States it won't work because it's too expensive.
Still too expensive.
It's still too expensive. See, originally, Dad's father
had the ranch up on the hill up here. He and his two cohorts
they used to be called "the three musketeers." They were
old families, the Pelliers and the Renaults and Prudhommes.
Those three were up on the hill up here.
There was no way of irrigating, and dry farming just
did not pay. Dry farming will not pay in this area, with
the rainfall that we have. In France, and in Europe, where
they have them on the hills, they get a lot more rainfall.
Their soil is a little more rocky there, and it doesn't slide
down the hill; this will run off if it's worked too much.
I think that
look at , but
anything . If
it is washed
will grow on
that is the main reason why they don't go in the
Yes, there's a lot of rolling hills around here
could be used for vineyards. They're nice to
the soil is not that deep , and the rock that is
has absolutely nothing in it that will grow
the rock crop comes out , and the dirt around
away, the rock stays there. Maybe a little moss
it, but that's all.
And the rock here does not seem to deteriorate like the
granite rock does, it's a different type of rock.
The roots can't even get into it?
That's right, the roots can't get into it at all. No, I
think it would be better to put houses up there , it ' s a lot
Yes. It's too bad they can't transplant the houses.
Yes, it is in a way. But I can remember, I was just a little
tyke, when they started building in the Willow Glen area. I
can remember Dad talking to Mom. We were riding around
we used to ride around this time of year, a little later, and
look at the blossoms, and so forth and so on and he would
say, "Now, this cherry orchard is going to be gone next year,"
because down in the Willow Glen area it was all full of
"And that cherry orchard's going to be gone next year."
He says, "The best land in the county, and they're putting
houses on it. And a house, no matter how well you build it,
is not going to change, it's going to stay like that." He just
thought it was terrible, but it was one of those things.
The mission fathers came in and put the mission there, and
then others built around it, and [the built-up part] kept
getting bigger, and that's what happened.
You know, everything was fine in this area until after
the war. All the boys that came here, everybody came through
California to get shipped out. When they come in the
winter-time, and the sun was shining, and there was four
feet of snow back home, they decided, "This is where I'm going
to be if I ever get back again." And that's what happened,
the population of California grew, and that was it.
EDMUND A. MIRASSOU
I "GETTING STARTED OVER AGAIN," 1936-1941
[Interview 1: March 25, 1985]
Prohibition and Repeal
Let me start with vital statistics.
Okay, born on May 18, 1918, in San Jose. My schooling was
Evergreen Grammar School, St. Joseph High School, then I
finished my last year of high school at Belarmine College
Preparatory. Then one year of San Jose State, and that was
the limit of my schooling.
When you were young what did you think your career would be?
The family already had the vineyards here in Evergreen.* The
family had been in the wine business for many , many years
before and then were temporarily without a winery because of
Prohibition. Even though we're speaking now of about 1935,
or along in there, we did talk about getting back into the
wine business, and building another winery.
So actually, in 1936, my Dad spoke to my brother and I
and said, "If you're interested, why, we can think about
building a small winery and getting started over again." My
brother and I both agreed that we would like to be in the
wine business, so in 1937 we built the first stage of the
present building, and we went back into the wine business.
*The Evergreen district, now part of San Jose, lies to the
southeast of the center of the city.
That is a correct picture of it there. At that time it was
called P.L. Mirassou Winery, and then a little bit later it
was called P.L. Mirassou and Sons Company, and then a little
bit later we changed the name again to Mirassou Vineyards,
and that's been it ever since.
I have a copy of a letter of 1941. Printed on the letterhead
is "Bottle Ripe California Burgundy Type Wines."
That's right, that's one of the old letterheads. Then we
later changed it, as I just described.
Was that when you left college then, when your father said,
"Let's get into the wine business?"
That's right, because the year that I was in college was
Would you describe your father as an agriculturist and wine
Yes. He was of course very good in the agricultural end. He
himself had been in the wine business until 1922. So it was
just a period there of ten, twelve years that he had been
out of the wine business. He was a great guy that had a
great belief in family and was willing to help his sons get
started. So that's when we took over and went to work at
He, of course, worked right with us and gave us all the
advice that he could.
Do you know why it was that he went in and out of the wine
business between '20 and '22? He applied for a bond in 1920.
He had said that he had had earlier experience.
The winery before that time may have been owned by his step
father, Caselagno. But it may not have had to be bonded at
that time, because the purpose for bonding is to secure the
tax for the government.
In 1920 he listed a lot of fermentors and storage tanks; he
had a lot of equipment. He said he was going to be producing
about sixty thousand gallons in twelve months, estimated.
B. W. No. 12SS
k'oulc 4, Boi 223
California Burgundy Type Wines
San Jose, California
"an Fro. c i sc o , Oa 1 i f .
M .'e Are very olc-apei to hear of ul
of our ap-licatiou for ise.'absrshin to
lie ".'ine Institute.
Re-t assured tiiat the incident of ^aivin^ the initiation
fee is sincerely apr;reoiati;ed.
I can also assure yra that ?;e v;ill be vorthy ae^cer
of your really successful organization, "'e are rclad to
be iietabsrs so that ^e :nay' aid you in yvar good ^orlc for
1 Fj-t. !n ...
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2 S 1:41
' TANK CARS. BARRELS. BOND TO BOND OR TAX PAID
I think that sixty thousand is wrong, it was probably closer
to 600,000, because they had a pretty good size winery. But
it may have been only sixty thousand, because that was during
In 1921, he said he had, "no wine on hand, and doesn't
contemplate making more than four thousand gallons this
Again, that was during Prohibition. Where did you get that
This is from the federal records.
What was the BW number?
It was 997.
What name was the application in?
Just my Dad alone , or with
Just his name. P.L. Mirassou. That's July of 1920. It was
July of 1920 that he made the original application, and it
was 1923 that
He discontinued it?
He discontinued it, yes. There was no activity, and he was
no longer owner, he said. Winery, Route B, Box 358, Aborn
That was his mailing address because he lived here at that
time, but the winery was down below.
He shipped some wine to the California Wine Association in
San Francisco, and there were fifty gallons less in the tank
than its capacity. They took his explanation that it hadn't
been filled all the way.
Did he have a good knowledge of wine?
Oh, yes, but not for the kind of wine that we're making today.
In other words, he was not in the varietal wine business. In
those days it was usually just red wine or white wine, and
there was no such thing as rose. But of course, other than
that, yes, he knew wine. Of course, they had the vineyards
here at that time. So I would imagine that was one of his
reasons for making the wine, was to have a home for the grapes,
E.A. Mirassou: You see, also, when Prohibition first started, grapes were
worth something around eight or ten dollars a ton, maybe
twelve dollars a ton. So anybody with a vineyard figured,
with Prohibition, grapes are going to be worth nothing. I
would imagine that at that time he kept the winery going, so
to speak, because it was an operating winery, probably in
his stepfather's name.
So he probably took the license out in his own name in
order to use his own grapes that he had here in this
vineyard. Then, by 1922, '23, the price of grapes started
going up, not for winery use but for shipping East. My dad
at that time got very successful in the operation of buying
grapes and shipping East.
He both grew them and bought them?
Grew them and bought them. I don't remember the number of
cars that he shipped East in a year, but it could be easily
fifty carloads. And the price of grapes on the Eastern
shipment went from thirty, forty, up to as high as over
$200 a ton. So the money then was not in trying to make wine
but shipping grapes.
Even though he was not following through in the wine
business, suddenly the economics of it had shifted, where
shipping the grapes was the big value. It also happened to
be that there were large amounts of Thompson Seedless grapes
in the San Joaquin Valley. But the winemaker in the East Coast
was probably from the old Italian extract and therefore
wanted to make red wines. It happened that the vineyards
that my dad had here were very largely planted to heavy color
grapes, Petite Sirah, Saint-Macaire , and varieties like that.
The buyer was able to buy three boxes of Thompson Seedless
and one box of my dad's red grapes and make a pretty good
blend of red wine in their basement or wherever they made it.
The Thompson's Seedless, of course, never got as high in
value as these red grapes.
You said Carignane, too?
E.A. Mirassou: Carignane also, but the color's not as heavy there as it is
in the Petite Sirah or Saint-Macaire.
Saint-Macaire must have been a specialty of this valley,
I don't know about that. We still have some of it. Maybe we
pulled it out this year; it was planted in 1911, so it was
getting to be pretty old.
It ' s a heavy
A heavy colored red wine. At times, we did make it separately,
and it made a pretty nice wine.
I have a list of principle grapes grown in the early 1930s.*
In Santa Clara County it gives Alicante, Zinfandel, Carignane,
Petite Sirah, Mission, Grenache, Mataro , Sauvignon vert,
Mourastel, Rio Nero
I don't know that one.
Traminer, Burger, Palomino, Colombard, and Riesling. Those
were said to be the main Santa Clara County grapes at that
That Colombard is not the french Columbard that we speak of
today. The other name for it was Sauvignon vert; that is
the correct name for it , but it was called Colombard in
those days. The Saint-Macaire is not on that list; it was
never planted in great quantitites in this area, but I know
that it was in our vineyards here, and it was also in the
vineyards of Schilling at that time, which was later the
When you and your brother then went into other varieties, later,
were you ahead of, or with, or behind the University of
California at Davis?
It's pretty hard to be ahead of the University of California
at Davis; they've always been pretty alert. Sometimes it
takes them a little longer to complete their projects than
we in the industry like to see, but they've always been very
alert. We were just making ordinary wines in 1937 when
we started, and then it was not long after that, about 1940,
that we started making wines for other wineries and getting
into the varietal aspect of it. If you remember,
*Typewritten list in the library of the Wine Institute,
source not given but probably a state agency.
Frank Schoonmaker was working with Almaden at that time.* I
can remember Frank Schoonmaker coming over here and visiting
the winery , and tasting our wines , and recommending that we
plant varietal grapes.
So, actually, it was in 1942 that we bought another
hundred acres of land and we started planting varietal
varieties at that time.
He had quite an influence on a lot of people, it
Oh, yes. Schoonmaker was one of those who was trying to push
the California industry into putting varietal names on the
labels. Up until that time there was very little of that
done.** There might have been at Inglenook, under the operation
of John Daniel [Jr.]. Louis Martini, a little bit, and I
believe Wente a little bit. Not very many others were doing
any varietal labeling.
At that time, then, with the influence of Schoonmaker and
Ollie Goulet , the winemaker there , we planted such varieties
as Pinot blanc, and Cabernet Sauvignon and Johannisberg Riesling
and Semillon and many of those varieties. Within a few
years we were in production, and we sold them, then, usually
to such wineries as Almaden, Paul Masson, Sebastiani, and
you name it, down the line.
Sebastiani was in bulk business also then.
But he also was getting interested in some of the varietal
We started a label just about that time, '40, or '41, or
'42, somewhere along in there. We had a label but we only
sold at the winery. We did not sell to other distributors.
It was really way in the future, in 1966, that we really
went on the market as a bottling winery.
Let me take you back a little bit. When your father put
in his application for the bond for the 1937 winery, he said
that he was going to be assisted by you and -your brother,
who had both worked with him in the orchards and vineyards.
Did you and your brother take responsibility by then, or had
you just worked in the
* See also William A. Dieppe, Almaden Is My Life, an oral history
interview conducted 1984, Regional Oral History Office, The
Bancroft Library , University of California, Berkeley, 1985.
** There had been before Prohibition.
Are you talking about 1937 now?
We had been in the vineyards and in the operation as it was.
In 1937, as you know, I was still going to school-. But I
quit school at that time. In fact, I made the actual drawings
for the winery, and I did that in my spare time. We
designed the basic plans for the winery.
How did you know how?
I had taken a little bit of mechanical drawing, and then we
had visited other wineries. Cherokee Winery, over in the Lodi
area, was a modern winery at that time, so we went to visit
Cherokee, and a lot of other wineries, to try to get ideas
of what we'd like to have
The three of you?
The three of us, studying which would be efficient, and which
would be able to make good wine. I can remember that at
that time concrete fermentors were the big thing, the
most popular. (Of course, they've gone completely out now;
it's all stainless steel fermenters.) So we designed the
concrete fermenters, and built the concrete fermenters and
The first building, I think, was about ten thousand
square feet or something like that. We had a capacity of
somewhere around 150,000 gallons.
Wines and Vines, November 1937, reported, "He will make 10,000
gallons of white, and 120,000 gallons of red."
That's right. Imagine the proportion as compared to today!
Today we're producing somewhere around 70 percent white.
Quite a change.
I was thinking, as I drove down, that there are certain
parallels between your family and the Mondavi family. Up to
a point, your careers are rather 'parallel. You were both in
wine, the fathers were both in grape growing
E.A. Mirassou: Actually, both in grape shipping, too.
The Brothers Divide Responsibilities
Yes. And you young men were given responsibility fairly
early. The Mondavi brothers seem not to have as dovetailing
capabilities as you and your brother have. How did it fall
out between the two of you who should do what?
It was talked about in the beginning, and actually started
out that way, that my brother, Norb , would be the one that
was taking care of the business end of it and the ranch
operation, and that I would be taking care of the winemaking
part of it, and selling the wine. This ties into what I was
saying just a moment ago about doing the drawings on the
During 1937 I actually spent quite a bit of time with
Julius Fessler in his laboratory in Berkeley in order to
learn how to make the tests on wine myself, the simpler tests,
and to learn from him all that I could about handling yeast
and making wine. So I spent a considerable amount of time
actually in Berkeley, not on a payroll or anything, but just
to be able to brush shoulders with a person like Julius
Fessler, and to learn all I could from him.
Actually, in those days, his laboratory was in the
garage behind a house that he was renting. Interesting.
Was it known as the Berkeley Yeast Laboratory?
I can't remember.
I think it was the Berkeley Yeast
Laboratory. I'm quite sure that the name was there already.
Maynard Joslyn had worked with him. Did you
I didn't know that, no. But I may have met Maynard about
the same time. So when we started the winery operation, I was
the one who was making the wine, and Norb was taking care
of the business end of it and the bookkeeping and the vineyards.
It worked out over the period of a year or two, that because
I was at the winery , which was near a telephone , I ended
up doing more of the business than my brother Norb did, who
was spending more time out on the ranch. So I think it was
just circumstances that I ended up doing more of the
business. Then, as time went on, I continued to do more and
more of the business.
Norb fell into the thing that was natural for him, which was
both the agricultural end, and also maintenance and repair
and designing new equipment, and making equipment work
He was just a great natural at that, and I would presume
that when you were interviewing him that you got from him all
of the things that I think were firsts in the industry, and
actually steps forward in the industry. He did a great deal
I don't think that he took credit for perhaps as much as
he should have.
He certainly should have because, for example, grapes in those
original days were handled in what we call lug boxes, which
was a fifty-pound box. He, of course, designed the bins that
we use, which are metal bins that hold about a ton. When we
decided to go into bins, we had to have something to move
these bins. Well, forklifts were the thing to use, but
forklifts at that time were made for warehouses with paved
surfaces, and that's not the way it is out in the vineyard.
He designed and built a forklift that was four-wheel
drive and could go as fast in forward as it could go in
reverse. Actually, it could go up to forty, fifty miles an
hour and was able to go out in the vineyard, pick up the
bins, and bring them down to the winery. Then he built an
automatic dumper that would take these bins and dump
them, and then wash the bins and put them back right side
He mentioned that these things had been developed.
He's too mild a -person to brag about himself. He developed
them himself. The same as sprinkler irrigation. It
was in 1947 that we first went into sprinkler irrigation,
and he was an instrumental part of that. Before that time,
sprinkler irrigation was only on pastures, and was not used
on deciduous fruit. We started just about the same time as
Guasti vineyards, down in southern California. They started
experimenting with sprinkler irrigation.
In 1947 we started with portable sprinkler irrigation
in vineyards. It worked out beautifully, and, as you know,
today many, many, many acres of vineyards use sprinklers.
Did your brother work out the mechanics of that?
He did, he worked out the mechanics of it, and the horsepower,
and the size pumps, and everything else necessary. He
designed in 1960 our first stainless steel fermenting tanks
that were jacketed and therefore could be temperature-
controlled. He was very instrumental in working on those
tanks, in the design of them and the layout. Which again was
a first in the industry.
Let me go back to the transition from your father's ownership
to you and your brother. Did your father actually retire
Yes, he did retire, although he was still very important in
advising us, and he spent some time in the winery. I think
about 1942 we transferred the license into our names.
In 1943 the name was changed to Peter L. Mirassou and Sons,
with you and your brother as owners, according to the federal
records. Your father had been sole owner before that, it
In 1942 is probably when we were doing the design of how
we would make the changes, and I guess in 1943 it officially
You had started, however, signing papers earlier. You had
your father's power of attorney in 1939.
It might have even been earlier than that, but '39, I
Nineteen thirty-nine according to the records. Was that
because you were just taking over more responsibility, or
because he was ill or something?
Because I was doing most of the office work.
So he just gradually withdrew and gave more and more
responsiblity to the two of you?
The Bulk Wine Business
When you went into your own winery, who were your first
customers for your bulk wines?
You say the first customers. Are you talking about 1937,
'38? Nineteen thirty-eight was the prorate year, if you
Yes, of course. You just got in in time for that! [laughs]
Right. That wasn't good, you know. Do you remember I told
you earlier that the price of grapes before Prohibition was
about ten, twelve dollars a ton. The price of grapes in 1937
was eight dollars a ton. So, during that period, grape
prices reached a peak of $200 a ton for shipping, and then
back down again to eight dollars a ton when Prohibition was
In 1938 we sold the vintage of 1937, and if I remember right,
we sold that to Cribari winery.
The whole vintage?
The whole vintage. I think we sold it at ten cents a gallon.
Cribari at that time was not much better off financially
than anybody else was, and we had to wait three years for
our money. I can remember that. So it was rather a precarious
way of starting out a new venture in the wine business.
In 1938 there was the prorate, and so in 1938, in order
to crush all of your grapes, you had to buy certificates
from somebody that didn't crush them. We did want to crush
all our own grapes, so we bought certificates from other
growers that did not crush all their own grapes, or the
wineries, I don't remember how that worked.
That second year we sold the vintage to K. Arakelian.
I think that was another vintage that was sold at about
ten or twelve cents a gallon.
But then he put it into the prorate?
No, I think we had to buy the certificates in order to get
the wine released.
But you didn't have to put wine aside to be made into brandy?
No. Because that was the certificates we were buying, they
were from somebody who did put their wine into brandy. So
that brings us up to '38, which was really sold in '39. By
that time we were figuring we'd have to do something different.
There was no way of making a living at that rate. In 1940 I
took my first trip to New York to try to sell wine to
bottlers in the East. So at that time I made stops all the
way from Chicago, Sandusky, Ohio, all the way into New York
City. We had a few contacts, and I stopped and visited
people who would buy wine.
We would make the wine and do what we called "finishing
it" in those days. We'd prepare it for bottling, but we did
not bottle. We would ship the wine in tank cars to our
customers in the East Coast, and they would bottle and sell,
etc. And selling it finished wine, we therefore started to
get prices somewhere around thirty and forty cents a gallon,
so it started picking up a little bit.
II EXPANSION, 1941-1966
In 1941 we also enlarged our operation to a degree. We leased
the winery that was owned by the University of California, that
was formerly the Albert Haentze winery. We leased not only
the winery, but we leased all of their ranch, which was
apricots, prunes, walnuts, and grapes. Nineteen forty-one,
if you remember, was during the war.
We were at that time operating, between that ranch and
here, close to 1,500 or 2,000 acres of apricots, prunes,
grapes, walnuts, and the winery. We had at that time, then,
a smaller winery of Albert Haentze, which had some very nice
old cooperage in it. When we made the lease with them, we
leased with an option to buy. In, I think it was about 1942
or '43, we actually bought a part of their ranch, and we
bought the winery cooperage.
That was when Max Huebner came to work for us because
Max Huebner had been an employee of theirs. So then we
expanded the winery building down here , and we moved the
cooperage from the Haentze winery down here. We had
additional grapes, and we had these other commodities. We
raised as high as 500 tons a year of apricots , plus prunes
(I don't remember the exact amount on prunes), plus the rest
of the grape operation and the winery operation.
We bought 100 acres from that ranch and planted that in
'42, '43. Then in 1946 we bought another hundred acres of
land adjoining our property, the old original ranch.
Where was that?
Directly up the road from here, adjoining this property.
We planted that in 1946. We ended up at one time we had
about 500 acres here in the Santa Clara Valley that we owned
and operated. Then, of course, in the 1960s we started
buying land down in Monterey County.
Urbanization here must have given you some capital to
It did give us some capital, but not until many years later.
I told you about buying this hundred acres from the old
Haentze operation of the University of California. Then we
bought this other hundred acres, in 1946, that was adjoining.
Just about that same time we bought another twenty-five
acres that we called the Jones Ranch, and another forty acres
that was the Vicar i Ranch.
We bought all those pieces, and really, out of all the
land that we've bought, we've only sold about 100 acres up to
date. The balance of it we still have. So even though some
of the land we sold was much. higher than we bought it for,
we still haven't sold too much of it.
Was it hard to cultivate acreage that scattered?
It really wasn't scattered too much because, in total, the
parcels that we bought were not more than one mile from the
original home base here.
You didn't have highways to cross?
No. We could drive tractors through neighbors' properties.
Norb developed deep wells. Water was very difficult to find
in this area, but we tried and tried putting down wells until
we found a fairly adequate water supply. Between ourselves
and neighbors we got together on cooperative ventures as to
where we put pipelines, and we had pipelines that were
connecting for three or four miles in this Evergreen area.
Different people's wells were attached to these pipelines.
It was about that time that I got involved on the board of
directors of the Santa Clara Valley Water Conservation
District. We were able to get the Santa Clara Valley Water
Conservation District to bring a canal into the Evergreen
area from the Anderson Dam, which was nineteen miles away.
To bring a small canal into the Evergreen area for two purposes,
both percolation into the underground, and also for surface
irrigation. So that again was a deal where we worked very
diligently to get the cooperation of neighbors to bring in
this irrigation system, and did get a more adequate supply
of water in the area.
Very good. I remember in the early fifties there were plans
for green belt zones.
They have what they call green belts nowadays. There was a
law that finally passed in the state legislature where you
can green belt your land. But it's not a thing that we ever
went in for.
That's the Williamson Act?
The Williamson Act is a kind of green belting. We never
did sign up on the Williamson Act for the reason that we
figured that with land increasing in value, that it also
increased the value of your estate. So if somebody passed
away you had to pay the tax on that regardless of whether
you sold the property or you didn't.
We always figured, and it was a fact, that during that
period of time the value that the inheritance tax people
would put on the property was highest and best use. If
you were in the Williamson Act, you were stuck with only
being able to use it for farming. So we wanted to be able
to be flexible, to be able to sell land if we had to, to
cover any such eventuality. It's been proven since that if
you did go into the Williamson Act, you could not get out of
it without the permission of the board of supervisors or
without waiting out your ten-year period.
It's been proven since that in some areas the board of
supervisors has not let people get out. So we think we still
did it right by not ever getting in the Williamson Act.
Yes, you were moving southward. Your sprinkler irrigation
system began as a portable system, didn't it?
Then you developed permanent installation?
*See pp. 66-67.
Right. When we went into the operations in Monterey County,
we then went into the permanent sprinkler system.
I'm going to go back, for the record. From the 1940s to
1968, there was the Lone Hill Winery, which was I think
operated by relatives of yours.
Right, they were cousins.
Who were they?
They were the children of Herman Mirassou, who was a partner
of my dad up until about 1919. Then they split off and were
in farming over on the west side of the valley. They had
vineyards there. They built a winery over there, and they
got into the wine business there also.
Were they in the bulk wine business?
They were in bulk wine, but they also got into case goods.
In fact, at one time I believe they might have been even
larger than us in case goods business.
Wine Pioneers in Monterey County
In the fifties you began your search for new vineyard land.
We had to face the situation that either we would stay here
and continue to grow grapes to supply the winery, or that
we would be willing to call this land expendable and that
we would look some place else. So we started looking in the
various parts of California. We explored the western
foothills of the Sierras. We explored Lodi, we looked into
Napa and Sonoma, and we looked into southern California,
for an area to plant new vineyards and expand our operation.
We were pioneers in going into the Monterey area,
because we were the first to plant there. Paul Masson
planted about the same time as we did, in a kind of joint
venture with us. We found the land for them and we planted
the vineyards for them, and we planted our own.
That was in 1961 that we bought the land.
May I read you what Otto Meyer told me recently?
He said Paul Masson didn't want to expand their crushing on
Saratoga Avenue because of the residential nature of the area.
He had known you, he said, on the Wine Advisory Board, so he
knew that you were looking around. He talked to Martini & Prati
and Karl Wente and others. Then, when the Winkler report
came out, they decided (and you'd been looking before, I
to get together with you, to pay you something and help
finance your first plantings, because they needed your
expertise and supervision. Then, after a while, you decided
to go into business for yourself , so then they started
hiring people to do the work for them directly.
[Norbert Mirassou enters]
You remember Norb , of course.
Hi, how are you this morning?
Yes, his story is correct. We were looking, and we had
found some land in Monterey. They were interested in also
expanding their operation, so we went ahead and used our
expertise in the vineyard part of it. And entered into a
deal with them where we would plant their vineyard for them
and take care of it until four or five years, and get them
appropriate vineyard management.
In the meantime, we would take their grapes and crush
them here, at this winery. Later they built a winery in
Soledad, so then we were able to each go our own way.
And your experience in San Benito County helped you in that?
Actually, Peter and I worked for Almaden Vineyards in
San Benito, just for this purpose of learning about growing
grapes in an area other than Santa Clara County.
Why didn't you go into San Benito County yourselves?
We've always figured, all during our lifetime, that we didn't
want to get into an area where there's frost. One of our
reasons for not buying and expanding our vineyards into Napa
or Sonoma was the same reason. They do get frost. And
San Benito County gets frost. We figured, from all the
statistics that in Monterey County they wouldn't. -
All you get is wind.
That's right, we get wind. It's proven, now that the vineyards
are twenty-five years old, that there has never been a frost.
In the twenty-five years we've never been frozen. We did guess
that one right. So that's why we decided to go into Monterey
County. Also, San Benito County, the area that we could have
planted vineyard was a limited amount of acreage where there
was good soil and good water supply and the type of conditions
that we wanted.
In Monterey County there was a lot of good soil, there
was a lot of land that could be bought that would satisfy the
need. And that's why we went into Monterey County instead.
The announcements at the time said somebody had been making
tests of soil for five or six years.
I don't think we made tests of soil there for five or six
years, but we did go back into records of soil conditions
there, and weather conditions. Soil doesn't change much
in five or six years, but the weather is what took time to
I remember there were no statistics on weather between King
City and Salinas.
That's correct. That's correct. Anyhow, we did do a lot
of digging there, and talking to growers that had been down
there a long time, and every kind of a statistic we could
get. There were temperature records in Salinas and in
King City, but not much in between. There were some, but not
official records. So it was kind of a gamble.
Your brother had a story about going down there and happening
to stop at Gonzales, and taking a picture that he brought and
E.A. Mirassou: Oh, you mean of Grapevine?
No, that one when I went down there and we had the new car.
We stopped in Soledad and I took a picture of the hills and
then brought it back, and said, "This is where we're going to
build our next winery."
Yes, and it turned out right. It was a -beautiful area.
That was your brother's first awareness of the area. What about
When we had done some of our research on the temperatures
and the soil conditions and everything, then the next thing
we did was to get ahold of a real estate man and say, "Start
showing us some pieces of property that might be for sale."
What made you decide
I don't think it was a decision of mine alone. We talked
about these things together. It was a matter of good soil,
the prices were right on the land, the water supply was
adequate, and we figured the weather was adequate.
And it wasn't too far from here.
And it wasn't too far from here, so we figured it would be a
At that time, did you have an idea of moving your winery down
We still have the idea. It's smart to keep the aging and
the bottling and the selling here, because there's a better
supply of labor here for the bottling, caliber of salespeople,
etc. So it was better to keep that part here. But still,
eventually, we will probably end up having fermenting and
temporary storage down on the vineyards, in that area.
Have you found the vineyard labor supply down there to be
Yes, it's adequate. In fact, in many ways more adequate than
it is here. There's a lot of farming going on there, and
there's therefore a lot of labor for farming. If the person
you're employing knows something about agriculture, you can
easily teach him how to do the work in a vineyard. Most of
our employees that we have there now have been long-time
employees, from when we went down there and originally went
into the area.
This is Wines and Vines in August, 1961. It announced your
joint venture with Paul Masson and said studies indicate that
the area would be in climactic region two. Has it worked out?
It's right between two and three.
And, "cuttings to be selected," included Chardonnay , Pinot
blanc, Chenin blanc, Johannisburg Riesling, Emerald Riesling,
Sylvaner, French Colombard, and Traminer. Do you want to
comment on those?
Those are the correct varieties.
And have they succeeded?
On the whites, I would say yes, all the way down the line.
Have you much Emerald Riesling?
Emerald Riesling was put on the Paul Masson property, and
they had a label Emerald Dry. We never did put any of that
on our own property.
And the reds, Pinot noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Camay
Beaujolais, Petite Sirah, and Zinfandel.
That's correct. On the reds, as you know, the Cabernet has
not proven itself as well in Monterey County as some of the
others. Pinot noir, yes. There's been some great Pinot noirs
come out of the area. The Petite Sirah is beautiful from that
area. The Camay Beaujolais is great. But again, as you know,
the red wine market is going away, and the fickle consumer is
changing its mind about what they want to drink, so therefore
we are replanting some of those original vineyards into white
Replanting, not grafting over?
No, replanting. Because if you remember, there's been a lot
happened since 1961 on the kind of vines that we can get.
In other words, we selected at first. We went out and we
looked in vineyards for vines that might be virus-free,
or that might be good producers or good stock. There was no
such thing as certified stock at that time. [Jim Mirassou
enters] Hi, Jim. Come on in and meet Ruth Teiser. This is
my son, Jim Mirassou.
How do you do?
How are you?
Having an interesting talk here.
You wanted something?
You know, we weren't the first in Monterey. The mission
fathers planted some grapes there.
That's right. [laughs]
And also there was a little vineyard there. What was his
name, Norb , Mantes,* or something like that. And he had a
little winery. It was almost in a barn, but it was a little
winery, and he had about twenty acres of vineyard. And then
the Chalone Vineyard, up on the bench, was there. There was
no winery there, but Chalone Vineyard was there before we
bought land. But Chalone Vineyard we couldn't compare with
our operation, because it was completely different. It was
in the same county, but that's all you could say. And the
little Mantes vineyard was non-irrigated, the vines were half
dead, and that was no comparison, either.
Could you tell from it though that it had potential , that
if it had been handled right it would have been
Not from those grapes, no. A better indicator was a few
of the old farmers. There was a lot of Swiss farmers, and
they all had a few grapes planted around their little gardens.
We could tell more by looking at those grapes because they
were better taken care of than any of the existing vineyards
The rainfall in Monterey ' s Salinas valley is too short
for a vine to grow healthy without some supplemental irrigation.
Going through dry years and wet years, the best way we could
tell was the people that had ten or twelve vines on their
garden fence. So we went by that to a great degree. We asked
those people, "Can we pick some bunches and test the sugar at
different dates?" So we judged accordingly.
*William J. Mantes, near Soledad.
Mechanical Harvesting amd Field Crushing
An article in Wines and Vines , August 1961, mentioned, "a
new concept in wine production" with the equipment: "200,000
gallons of stainless steel storage tanks, and 55,000 gallons
of stainless ferment ors, all portable. This will make
possible the fermentation and initial storage of the fermented
wine outside the actual winery building and will make possible
the movement of the equipment, along with portable presses,
to the new vineyard when it starts producing, so that winemaking
operation can start right at the vineyard, without the need
of transporting the grapes."
[Before we built a winery in Monterey County] we developed
mechanical harvesting. The mechanical harvesting changed
the picture because now you were not moving grapes to the
winery, per se, we are moving juice to the winery that is
already protected by both C02 and S02-
Mechanical harvesting combined with the field crushing
Yes. With the field crushing because as soon as we went into
mechanical harvesting, we went into the field crushing. Now,
this last year we've gone into field pressing. Did you know
that? A portable press. Yes. You'd want to talk more
with Peter about that because he ' s handling that part , and I
haven't been too involved in it. But on the red grapes that
we are making into white wine, or some of the white grapes,
like Chardonnay , that we want to handle very delicately , we
are field pressing with a portable press right at the vineyard.
We mechanical harvest and then field press.
This is a paper, and I don't know what it was prepared for.
It's in the Wine Institute files. It's your description of
your mechanical harvesting development. It's a good paper,
and I thought that if we could include that with the interview,
it would explain a lot of things.
Do you want me to read it over? [interruption in
Yes. It lookes like it's very correct.
Do you remember how you happened to prepare it?
I don't know.
It was dated April, 1971. We'll just add it here.*
Do you have anything to add to it, especially?
E.A. Mirassou: Not particularly, it covers it pretty well.
Bottling the Mirassou Wines
The whole sixties were busy for you, weren't they?
You were increasing your acreage down in Monterey County, and
the younger members of the family then were coming into it.
The fifth generation,** yes,
How was that worked out?
How did you ever decide how to pass
It's really a part of the teaching of our father. He allowed
Norb and I to get interested in the business at a young age,
and to get into it in such a way that we could be a part of
the family operation, and yet have an individual operation.
So we did the same thing when the fifth generation was coming
For example, we have two vineyards in Monterey County.
One is called Mission Ranch, and one is San Vicente.
San Vicente we bought in 1962, Mission Ranch we bought in
1961. San Vicente is the larger; it's one section, 640 acres.
But when we started San Vicente, we told the fifth generation,
"Now, if you're interested, this will be in your name. You
pay the bills, you buy it, and we'll just help you along."
They said, "Yes," so they did it.
**The term is based upon the arrival in California in the 1850s
of maternal ancestors of the Mirassou family, the Pellier
brothers, who are considered the first generation.
This vineyard harvester-crusher was developed by Mirassou Vineyards under
the direction of Peter Mirassou in the Salinas Valley. Photographed in 1970,
That was in 1962. The first couple of vears they were not
able financially to plant it; they raised potatoes and they
raised other crops. Then in 1964, 1965, they started
planting vines, and in 1967 they finished planting their
In 1966 is when the fifth generation said, "We think
that Mirassou should get in the case goods business. So Norb
and I said, "Okay, if you want it to-be your business, we'll
help you get started." So the case goods business is really
I know from Robert Mondavi that you helped him get started.
Co-signing a note.
How did you happen to do that?
We in the wine business are a little different from people
in other businesses. He was always a friend of ours, he
needed a little backing temporarily, and we said, "Fine,"
so we did.
Did he, in turn, help your younger men?
He came here and did some consulting with our boys in '66,
'67, and helped them in trying to properly market the wine.
He helped us in tasting the product , to make sure we were
putting a good product on the market. So Bob was very
helpful; he spent quite a bit of time here in advising the
boys and getting going on the bottling business.
You think of competition in the wine industry, but there's
also a lot of cooperation.
That's correct. Absolutely.
Looking back over the bulk business August Sebastiani said
that when he realized that other people were winning prizes
with his wines, he thought of getting out of the bulk business.
And the same thing with the senior Wente, the first Carl Wente,
who said that of the 1915 exposition, other people were
winning prizes with his wine. Did that occur to you, or
did the impetus come from your young people?
Yes, I think it was more from the young people. They thought
we should get into the labeled case goods at that time, and
we couldn't very well disagree with them. We knew that it
was a money-hungry business and would take a lot of time, but
we did agree with them that it was time. So we backed them,
and they went ahead , and they did it . They pounded the
pavement, and they wore out their shoes, and did the job.
It's not easy to establish a brand
No, it's not easy. But now it's been done. We're now in
practically all of the states. Our case goods is there,
monopoly states and all the rest of them.
When you made the switch, did you start making different
kinds of wines than you'd been making in bulk?
No, not really. We've had to make the switch, of course, of
going into more and more white wine. But, you know, there
again we were, I think, fortunate, not smart. When we
planted the vineyards in Monterey, we thought at that time
that sparkling wines were going to be very important.
Sparkling wines, the great preponderance of them are
white wine. So we planted those vineyards with about 60 percent
white grapes, in the original planting in the early sixties.
Were you going to put your Pinot noir into sparkling wine,
We didn't think about that at that time, but of course we
do that now. But anyhow, we were fortunate in planting
60 percent white. It's turned out that, even though sparkling
wine is picking up now, it didn't pick up in the last twenty
years that much. But the switch did come, within the last
five, six years, to white wines. It turned out that we were
I know that you have a long history of making sparkling wines ,
I guess beginning with Max Huebner.
E.A. Mirassou: Right
Has this been more of a hobby interest for all of you, or
actually a commercial interest?
It started out as being almost a hobby. We used to play with
making a small quantity of champagne. There again, you
talk about people in the industry helping people in the
industry Kurt Opper and Hans Hyba are two of the people ,
along with Ollie Goulet, that gave us most of the knowledge
of what we have about champagne making. Hans Hyba and Kurt
Opper were with Masson, and Ollie Goulet, of course, was with
They all gave us a lot of advice. If we had a problem
we'd call them, and they'd tell us what they thought we
had done wrong. So it started out on a very, very small
quantity, and then we just kept increasing it and increasing
it. Two years ago I think we were selling about ten thousand
cases a year, and we're intending now to get up to about thirty,
thirty-five thousand cases a year on champagne.
We have the champagne now on hand , it ' s made and ready
for sale. Different vintages, of course, but we have right
now over 100,000 cases in inventory. So we're ready to really
get out there and sell, and it is going very well, especially
considering the price, because the price is quite high.
Are you making several different styles of champagne?
Yes, we're making a Brut. We're making an Au Naturel , which
has no dosage added. And we're making a Blanc de Noir, which
is a white champagne out of Pinot noir. And we're making a
new one that we're just coming out with, which is what we
call a blush champagne, or a pink champagne. We had a pink
champagne years ago, but pink champagne was not popular
then. But right now pink champagne is becoming popular again.
What are you making it with?
I don't know what they're using in that right now.
I remember pink champagne was quite popular in the late
Do you remember Paul Masson 's Eye of the Partridge?
Oeil de Pedrix?
Yes, yes, that's right. Nothing's lost forever, is it?
Have you found making champagne to be more technically
demanding than other wine?
No, I think once you get the knack of it, it's just the same
as other wines. What it really takes is that tender loving
care. In other words, you've got to do the same process,
the same time, the same way. Yes, we're using the bottle
No, no. It's the hard way. Winemaking is very much like
that whether it's still wines or champagne. You've just got
to get your formula of how you do it, and then keep on doing
it, and of course watch the quality and the type of wine that's
going into the product.
If you move your operation to Monterey County, would the
champagne cellar go there?
It could very well be. One of the ranches down there has
got a hill on it. We're going to just dig into the hill and
build some caves there. That could very well be.
That would be interesting. Now we're getting up into the
recent history of the company.
The Fifth Generation Takes Charge
When was the Mirassou Sales Company established?
The fifth generation established their partnership in about
1962, or '63, with the vineyard, San Vicente. And then they
actually got into the case goods business in '66, as
Mirassou Sales Company.
Now no longer are Steve Mirassou or Don Alexander in that
partnership.* They have been bought out by the other partners,
and the partners are now Jim and Peter and Daniel [Mirassou].
And actually, Daniel is the president of that company right now.
*The change was announced in January 1984.
Each of them has his field of expertise?
Right. And Daniel is really still mostly in sales and
marketing. Jim is dealing with the bankers and the government,
and accounting and bookkeeping. Peter, who was just in charge
of the agricultural operation, is now in charge of production
in the winery also.
How did the two young men happen to get out?
Norb and I are only two people. So if we had differences
of opinion we would debate the matter, and one of us would
win, and we'd go forward. But when you've got five young
men that are all energetic and intelligent and able-bodied,
you've got five opinions. So it isn't always easy to convince
one or the other that this is the route that the company
Therefore, they finally decided that it might be better
if they went on their own, and the other three would remain
in the company. That doesn't mean that you won't have
Steve or Don in another wine business in the next few years,
it's just a matter of them deciding exactly what they want to
They may not get back in the wine business, but I think
Steve is really getting back into it already, isn't he, Norb?
To some degree.
To some degree.
So you just can't tell how it will work out.
As you can see, Norb is still very intimate in the
business, even though the active part of this business is
still carried on by my three boys. But we're still working
together just like it was before.
Have the two of you gradually shifted more responsibility to
Yes, I would certainly say that. They are taking care of
more and more of the details; we're still involved in the
we're really two separate companies.
Would you explain it?
Yes. Mirassou Vineyards is a separate company from Mirassou
Sales Company. Mirassou Vineyards owns some of the vineyards,
and Sales Company owns some of the vineyards, and they're
all dovetailed together.
Who owns the production facility?
Norb and I. The fourth generation owns the winery facility.
And who owns the bottling facility?
The bottling facility is the fifth generation. It's all in
the same building. Their wine is stored in our winery, etc.,
back and forth.
They own the wine?
They own the wine. Actually, we usually own it until
December 31, and about December 31 we sell the wine to them.
We buy the grapes, and we crush them, make them into wine,
and then sell to them.
It must have taken a lot of figuring out, how to do this.
And they have kids, I assume.
Oh, yes, there's what fifteen in the sixth generation.
So we're trying to convince a few of them to become doctors
or lawyers or shoemakers or something else.
When you and your brother were coming into the wine
business, it didn't seem so glamorous as it does now.
No, in fact it was absolutely a different story. If you
remember, in those days, in 1937, the Internal Revenue
Service considered wineries legalized bootleggers. I mean
that's really what they considered them.
We had to pay the tax on wine before we could ship it.
We had to go down and buy the stamps in advance and put them
on the containers before we could ship. Finally we convinced
them that we were legal and we were able to pay the tax every
two weeks. Really, the way the inspectors came out here and
inspected the wineries, it was just like the inspectors that
took care of bootleggers three years before. It was really
quite a different business.
E.A. Mirassou: When you went to a restaurant it was almost difficult to buy
a bottle of wine in those days. To get a martini or a
highball was no problem, but to get a bottle of wine was
difficult. To get a good bottle of wine was very, very
difficult. To get a bottle of beer was not too difficult,
but wine was just unheard of. You never walked into a
restaurant , even of the best caliber restaurant , and had a
wine glass sitting on the table, waiting for you to order.
It's really changed around now.
You were saying that Prohibition didn't necessarily hurt
the grape growers , but it surely hurt the wine market .
It certainly did, and it also brought up a generation of
people that didn't know how to drink wine. So we're just
beginning now to get back to the point where people again can
appreciate wine; I mean the consumer. We have lived through
that age that you just brought up. Prohibition itself was
only fifteen years,* but the effect that it had on the
American people is still lingering.
You know we've got state laws all over the country;
you've heard us talk about that. The reason for our trade
barriers, and the problems that we have in this industry, is
primarily a hangover from Prohibition. There's just no
question about it.
It's amazing the degree of improvement that California
has made on the quality of its wine in this last fifty
years. Considering that other countries have been making
wine for four hundred, five hundred years or longer, the
amount of improvement that California has been able to make
on its quality is amazing. I remember the wines that were
out immediately after Prohibition, and they weren't an awful
lot to brag about.
I should ask you a little about the nursery business. I
know that you were in the nursery business by the seventies;
had you always sold vines?
There again you go clear back into our history. Before
Prohibition, right back to 1856, when Pierre Pellier, my
great grandfather, went to Europe to bring back cuttings of
both the prune and grape vine. Then again, when phylloxera
hit this country, we actually really went into the growing of
resistant root stock. At that time it was Rupestrls
St. George. Actually it was my dad's stepfather [Caselagno] that
went to Europe at that time and brought cuttings back.
*July 1, 1919 to December 5, 1933.
They rooted those cuttings, and then sold vines to people
that had a problem with phylloxera, which was almost all
over the coast of California. Then again, we were in on the
early stages of the certified vines, because we had been
working very close with the University of California and
Dr. [Austin C.] Goheen. So actually when we planted the
San Vicente Vineyards, we planted five acres of each variety
that we were growing at that time, of certified root stock.
That was all we could get. It was a very large planting at
that time of certified root stock. So we were some of the
first that had certified root stock growing that we could
then sell to other growers. In the seventies, when the big
splurge came for planting vineyards in California, we were
selling up to several hundred thousand cuttings a year of
those certified root stocks.
So we were really pretty large in not so much the
nursery business at that time as in selling cuttings.
Do you continue that?
We're still continuing that. That's primarily again an
operation of the fifth generation. Peter takes care of that.
But that is part of the operation, yes.
Something also that I should ask you about the events that
you have here at the winery. You have quite a vigorous
I can't tell you much about that. Maybe Norb can tell you
more about that than I can. That is one thing that I don't
spend much time at. I know that we have over 100,000 visitors
a year that come to the tasting room. That's not business
people that come to visit the winery, but just for the tasting
room. And they're having events here all the time.
How did this get started?
I don't know how it got started; it just grew, like Topsy.
Who decided to cook dinner for guests here, for instance?
Oh, I would probably blame that on Daniel. I think that
Daniel is the one that got the idea someplace along the line.
Whether it was his idea directly, or whether one of the staff
in the tasting room thought about it, I don't know. We had
to get somebody to cook here for lunch because we were so far
from any place to eat. From there it just grew, and that's
And you have tasting classes, and all kinds of things.
They've got everything. They've got big chefs from San Francisco
come down. They keep doing things that are just to bring
Is it also an additional source of income or is it just
Let's put it this way: up until very recently, 90 percent of
it was publicity. Suddenly, I think we're going to change.
I understand that there is a new cook coming in , and she is
being hired by us, instead of hiring a caterer to come in,
and so all of the profit that the caterer's been making,
theoretically we should make. That's the theory. [laughs]
We'll find out if it works.
I think you've mentioned them a little, but would you
summarize the future plans for the organization?
Future? We're going to expand champagne, we probably will be,
one day in the future, building the fermenting and temporary
storage down at the vineyards in Monterey.
Either San Vicente or Mission, probably San Vicente. And
continue the business as it is with some expansion.
You are now going into white Zinfandel?
Yes, the white Zinfandel. Even though some wineries were
into it from the '83 crush, we were into it for the '84
Wasn't Sutter Home in it earlier?
Yes. It's going along beautifully. That's what we call a
blush wine, and there may be other blush wines in the future.
If you remember the book Future Shock, there's probably more
changes that take place in this world now in five years than
there used to be in fifty or a hundred years.
In a business like this, even though it is a business
that's traditional, even though we've been in the business
for a long time, in order to stay in the business you have to
swing with the times. So we have to be flexible, we have to
change as changes are required. We have to satisfy our
customers, and I'm sure that we'll make every effort to do
Do you think that the trend toward lighter, fresher, younger
wines would have been so strong if it hadn't been so much to
the winemaker's advantage to foster it?
Oh, I think so. I think this public nowadays if you
notice even on a toothpaste, or on a package of Wheaties,
the way they sell them is every once in a while they put the
word new on there. Probably the changes are so minor that
nobody can even detect it. But the modern consumer likes
something new, a change.
I think also that it's a real blessing to the industry
that white wines became popular and these blush wines are
becoming popular, for the reason that they've allowed
wineries to notice, "We want something different." I'm
not saying that the old customer that likes the red wine
isn't completely right in the fact that it is a great wine,
but the young public doesn't want that kind of a wine.
They want the kind of a wine that is pleasant right
now, particularly during the social hour. The cocktail hour
is out, and the social hour is in. And the social hour is a
pleasant, light wine, and I think it's here to stay, no
question about it. I don't think it's the efforts of the
producer, even though it is more economical because you don't
have to hold it so long.
I think it's really the wineries being viable enough,
and flexible enough, to produce what the consumer wants.
Wineries have been, in general, pretty good about passing on
lower costs, haven't they, so that their white wines and
blush wines have tended to be lower priced?
I'm not sure that they're just generous in that. It's a
matter of the economic circumstances, and it is a competitive
business. You've had so many changes. For example, the
increase in acreage planted of vineyard, the increase in the
number of wineries. Ten years ago there were 250 wineries,
in round numbers, in California, and maybe twenty wineries in
the rest of the country. Today there are over five hundred
in California, and over a thousand in the United States, and
every one of those wineries is trying to get shelf space,
and that's a little bit difficult.
So the wine business is competitive nowadays. But
maybe it's good for us; maybe we'll develop some new customers
out there that will be very helpful to us in the long term.
Next time may I go into the marketing orders?
I know you've given much of your time to them.
III GROWTH OF THE CALIFORNIA WINE ORGANIZATION
[Interview 2: April 19, 1985 ]##
The Wine Advisory Board
Teiser: Today we are to discuss marketing orders. I've given you
some notes based on my research. I tried to find in
Sacramento a transcript of your testimony at the hearing
before the first wine marketing order in 1938, the one that
created the Wine Advisory Board.
E.A. Mirassou: You were asking me [before the taping began] why the transcript
didn't show my testimony. I was not a scheduled speaker of
the day, or a witness. I was merely in the audience. At that
time I was nineteen years old, and I had never been to a
formal hearing before, so I didn't know exactly the procedures.
But I did have some ideas that I wanted to express.
I was trying to express those ideas by asking questions
of the witnesses that were on the stand, and at the same time
expressing my opinion. Of course, I suddenly found out that
that's not the legal way to do it. You can only ask questions
of the witnesses that are on the stand, but you can't make
statements for them.
So finally somebody suggested that I take the stand and
be a witness, and so I did. I took the stand, and I was a
witness, and I therefore expressed my viewpoints: that I
thought the industry did need such a thing as the marketing
order, and I was certainly in favor of it, and I gave all my
reasons why. So I ended up being a proponent for the program.
In short, what were your reasons why?
The reasons were that we reviewed in our last session that
prices on grapes, although they were very high during
Prohibition, here, now in 1938, Prohibition was over for
five years, and the prices of grapes were still depressed.
And the prices of wine were still depressed. The industry at
that time, I think, was selling something less than 60,000,000
gallons a year, and I thought that a program that we might
raise a few millions dollars, and advertise, and promote wine
would do some good.
I felt that it was necessary, and I thought that the
only way it could be done was in a cooperative effort that
the marketing order could accomplish.
Were there some people testifying against it?
There were some , but it was really a limited number that
were against it. I don't remember exactly how many were
against the program, but the majority that were there were
testifying in favor of the program.
What was there against it?
I think it was kind of the idea that people were almost
naturally suspect of a government program, and this was a
government program; it was a state marketing order. State
marketing orders if you remember, the Marketing Order Act
was in 1937 were not very old at that time.
There had been federal programs before, but for a state
program, it was something very new, and so people were
wondering if it would work, if it would function properly,
and if it would accomplish the mission.
Did you have any knowledge of anyone like the tomato growers
or pear growers who were using state marketing orders?
Again, because I was so young, and so unaquainted with the
matter I don't remember which ones they were, but I think
there were some other agricultural commodities that were
already in effect.
You had a pretty good idea of the wine industry as a young
man , then .
I think maybe it's because my attitude usually is positive.
So I think it was working the same direction that day, too.
So the order was passed.
It was passed.
In that initial order, all through the minutes there were
mentions of assents to the program by volume and by winery.
In the first one was it both by volume and by winery?
I think the marketing order has not changed in that respect.
It still requires a majority I think it's either by volume
or by number of wineries.
You were not yet active in the Wine Institute, but as I
understood it, the Wine Institute was, in general, for such
The Wine Institute was not only for such an order , but the
Wine Institute was really the primary proponent, and the
members of the Wine Institute. The Wine Institute, if you
remember, was organized in 1935, and so they were a few years
old, and they recognized the need for additional dollars to
do the promoting work that the Wine Institute in itself was
not able to raise. So the marketing order was the vehicle
that was perfect for the requirement.
The hearing we were speaking of was said to have been to
discuss industry advertising funds and adjusting the supply
of wines to market demands through an aging program.
Now, you're sure you're not mixed up with one of the other
No, that's what it was supposed to be, but I don't think they
ever got on to an aging program.
No, and I know there was a lot of controversy, and it even
could have been some of my testimony at that time. We did
not want a program that was restricting quantity, and that
certainly was my thinking.
In marketing order programs there are two real schools
of thought: one is to limit production in some artificial
way; the other is not limiting producting, allow production
E.A. Mirassou: to go on freely, but to promote the product and increase
sales. Either one of those things can cause a better economic
situation, but I have never in my lifetime been in favor
of curtailing production. Unless it would be very temporary
because of some false, outside influence, and not just the
natural, usual economy. I don't know whether it was even
allowed in the marketing order to have curtailment of
quantity. It was only a matter of promoting to increase
Teiser: I think that's what it developed into, anyway.
E.A. Mirassou: Right.
The next year Harry A. Caddow, manager of the Wine Institute-
who then became active in the Wine Advisory Board
E.A. Mirassou: Right. At one time, he was manager of both.
He reported in 1939 that several million pieces of advertising
and publicity material had been put out. He didn't report on
any other programs.
I can remember other years , later , because generally we
renewed the marketing order every three years. There was
once during the life of the Wine Advisory Board where we only
renewed it for one year. But otherwise we renewed it usually
for three years. Many times during those years we did go out
and have to pound the pavement, so to speak, and speak to
people, and recommend that they vote in favor of the program.
There was a twofold purpose there; not necessarily that
the marketing order would have failed without that extra
effort , but we always wanted the marketing order to not
only pass by volume, but to also pass by numbers of
wineries. We felt that it was good, politically speaking,
to show the Department of Agriculture that it was wanted by
the majority of people, not just the major volume.
In those days , we did do an awful lot of talking to
people to convince them that they should vote in favor of
the program. On this first time around, in 1938, again I
was so young, and so unaquainted with the situation, I did not
do an awful lot of contacting other people. There were other
people that did contact me, and I did recommend a yes vote.
Were the large wineries against it? Roma, for instance,
Gallo was against it, Arakelian was against it, and there
was at least one other
That's right, the older Louis Martini was against it. Those
three at least were against it among the larger operations.
The Roma people and the Petris and the rest of them were in
favor of it.
Gallo wasn't so large then.
Gallo was not that large then, that's true.
Petri and Roma and Fruit Industries too, I suppose,
Right. They were the large entities,
growing pretty fast in those years.
Although Gallo was
There was actually a lawsuit brought against Gallo
by the marketing order.
They withheld their assessment?
And they withheld their assessment, that's right. So that
was a couple of years in court before the final decision
was made. Of course, that's all changed around because in
the ensuing years those people became some of the greatest
backers of the Wine Advisory Board.
I was not on the board until 1941. I do remember that
they kind of picked out the representatives on the board
to represent different districts in the state; they didn't
want everybody from one location. And a little bit with
respect to the volume of business that was done in the
If you remember the name Albert Haentze . Albert Haentze
had a winery in this area; he owned the winery that at a
later date became operated by the University of California,
and then at a later date was bought by Cribari. Excuse me,
the Cribaris bought the land, but we bought the winery and
the equipment, which was of course not too much later.
Actually in 1942.
Albert Haentze, in these early days, in '38, was the member,
on the advisory board from this district.
How were they chosen? Who chose them?
A's I remember, it was more or less of just a group of the
industry sitting down and talking it over and mutally
What did the director of agriculture have to do with it?
It was just a recommendation to the director, and then the
director made the final appointments. But, generally
speaking, the director went along with the recommendation
of the industry unless there was some conflict or there was
somebody else that was fighting for the position also. Then
he had to weigh both sides of it and would make the decision.
But generally speaking it was a recommendation from the
Were there often disagreements about who should be
In all the years that I was involved with the Wine
Advisory Board, I don't remember that. Even on the new
marketing order that's in effect now, the Winegrowers of
California, among the vintners that are on that group, they
vote by districts for their members. But the vintners,
it's by a committee recommendation to the director. It's not
by actual voting.
If it works
Then, really beginning with 1941, you had an intimate view
of the matter.
At the September 12, 1941, meeting, you were introduced by Mr. Herman
Wente as a new member of the board, along with Mr. John Daniel,
Jr. What did they talk about in the meetings in that period?
E.A. Mirassou: Again, you're taxing my memory.
One of the things was the Thompson Seedless. It was
what we called a three-way grape; it could go into the
wineries, or it could be dried, or it could be shipped
fresh. It was always the grape that was called the bad boy,
because it could be the one that overloaded wineries, or
it could be the one that shorted the wineries if the raisin
market was good or the fresh shipping market was good.
The fresh shipping market did not vary that much from
year to year, but when the Thompsons were made into raisins
because there was a big demand for raisins, that would really
short the wine industry. Of course, now, if we're talking
about the forties, with World War II starting there was a
government demand for raisins as a food product , and the
market went sky high on raisins, which therefore shorted
the wineries. The wineries were very, very short then.
So there was always a lot of discussion at these
meetings about how you handled the raisins, and what could
be done about them, or whether they were going to be short
or long. That was one of the subjects that was talked
about frequently. The other, of course, was, "How do you
promote wine?" Now, I'm talking not of a particular year,
but over a period of years. We started out doing a lot of
advertising in Wine Advisory Board, and promotion. At a
later date the wineries felt that the brands could do the
advertising and let the industry do the generic
promotion: the general pushing educating people to enjoy
Advertising was then discontinued by the marketing
order and was allowed to be in the hands of private brands.
We then, [the Wine Advisory Board] got into promotion of
different kinds of wines. For example, the competitive
types of wines were the least promoted, and it was felt that
if the more expensive wines, or the premium wines, were
promoted, it would do the total industry some good.
That, of course you can understand, was not necessarily
the feelings of everybody, but that was the feelings of some.
There was a premium wine program that was started on a
promotional basis: tasting; TV, not as advertising, but TV
as a PR program. In other words, industry members [representing
premium wineries] would be invited into TV interviews, et cetera,
and it certainly did do good. So then, of course, the rest
of the industry wanted to get on the bandwagon.
E.A. Mirassou: You refer here, in your notes, to some of the discussions
that were had at the board meetings by various members of
the industry, including the Gallos and some of the rest of
them. One of the points of contention, so to speak, was we
were dividing the industry by promoting different calibers of
wine. By that I mean different price brackets.
Of course, you have to understand that wine was a
product on the market, on the shelf of the grocery store or
the liquor store where there were many different price
categories. When you came to canned peaches or peas or
bananas, there was very little difference in the price of
the best, or of the least expensive. There might have been
a two or three cents a can difference, where in wine you had
variations all the way from eighty cents a bottle up to
five dollars a bottle, even in those days. And perhaps it's
even more variation today.
Those things were some of the problems that we had to
overcome. There were diverse interests of the industry.
You had some people that were raising grapes in the
San Joaquin Valley as compared to grapes being raised along
the coast counties. Cost of production was much higher
along the coast counties, and they had to bring a better
return per ton or the people couldn't stay in business. It
was the same with a bottle of wine. Generally speaking, the
more expensive wines came from along the coast.
So we had very diverse interests, and it's amazing
that we were able to get along as well as we did, and it did
There was another division in the industry that we
haven't mentioned yet, but it's a good time to mention it,
and that is some of the wineries produced the spirits,
brandy and high-proof concentrate, and other wineries didn't;
they just produced wine. Of course in those days, you have
to remember, too, the largest sale in the industry was on
dessert wine and not table wines. Table wines were, I believe,
less than 25 percent of the sales at that time.
As time went on, and as promotion educated consumers to
enjoy table wines, table wines increased in their sales, and
dessert wines started to lose their market. So, there again,
that was another different kind of thinking within the
industry. But again it did all work out.
What about trade barriers?
Trade barriers, of course, were common to everybody, so a
trade barrier that hurt one person hurt another. If you
remember, there were quite a few states that were monopoly
states, and I think there's only seven left today. But at that
time there were a lot of states that were what we call
monopoly states , which meant that all the alcoholic
beverages were sold through the state stores. If a winery
had a particular state that it was signed up with, and the
state was accepting their wine, they didn't want that opened
up for everybody else; they wanted to keep it that way, with
a limited number of wineries being able to sell in that
So I can remember some of the arguments about that. At
that time, we were not in the case goods business, and so
my viewpoints could be much more tempered, and much broader
than some of the other people who were involved with it. But
those kind of arguments did come along.
Was there any feeling, early on, that the industry organization
should not be in trade barrier work or lobbying?
Now, there's a difference. When you're talking about trade
barrier, you've got all these different states and foreign
countries with either a tarrif or some kind of an artificial
barrier that curtailed the sale of wine. It could have been
an abusive tax, or it could have been limitation of quantity,
limitation of brands. They're all trade barriers.
Lobbying is a word that semantics can give a different
meaning. If you were talking to a particular legislator,
and trying to convince him that our viewpoint was correct on
knocking down the trade barrier, I don't know whether that's
really called lobbying or not. Perhaps it is lobbying.
The word lobbying, I think, over the years, has perhaps
changed its meaning to some degree also. If you're paying
a legislator some dollars to be convinced of your way of
thinking, then I'm not calling that lobbying
No, I wouldn't either.
E.A. Mirassou: But it may still be knocking down trade barriers. You can
be sure that over the years much of that had to be done.
That kind of an action could not be done by the marketing
order dollar. From my knowledge, I maintain that it was not
done with marketing order dollars. That would have to have
been done with private dollars , but not with market order
But because of the fact that the whole industry was
working on knocking down these trade barriers, then sometimes
a contribution to a particular legislator was construed to
be Wine Advisory Board funded. As long as we're talking
about it, we might just as well bring up the problems that
we had with the state in the early days with the Department
of Agriculture, as well as in the late days, to separate
those two activities. And to be sure that any dollars that
were spent from the Wine Advisory fund were dollars that were
We really did have to spend great efforts on our bookkeeping
to make sure that these accounts were kept separate.
What was valid trade barrier work, then?
Just talking to
Talking to the legislators and educating them as to the values
of wine. Again, we have to go back and remind ourselves
that we still have some hangovers from Prohibition today.
There are still some parts of the country that are not
necessarily accepting wine as the drink of moderation and a
drink that should be used with food, as it is accepted in
Europe, for example, figures that wine is a part of the
daily diet; in this country, there are still people who do
not feel that way. Certainly in those early days there were
parts of the United States that had never consumed wine and
didn't intend to ever consume wine, at least individuals.
So there was a real education program to try to convince
people that it was the pleasant and normal way of life, and
it was a good way of life, and it was the drink of moderation.
So those were the efforts we were trying to make.
Was there also legal effort Mr. Jefferson Peyser's office
challenging restrictive laws?
Absolutely. That was one of the big works of our trade
barrier work, to challenge the laws that would be hurdles
and obstacles to our selling of wine. For example, when the
twenty-first amendment came along, which ended Prohibition,
the twenty-first amendment was brought to court and there
was what they call the Brandeis decision. The Brandeis
decision was an interpretation of the twenty-first amendment,
which said that each
the Brandeis decision.
The Brandeis decision said that each state had its own ability
to regulate alcoholic beverages the way it wanted to. Of
course, our industry, and the distilled spirits industry,
and the beer industry, has never agreed with that decision.
I heard a very interesting talk just recently by an attorney
who has spent his life in constitutional law. He said that,
from history, about every thirty years decisions that are
made concerning the Constitution change because people's
thinking changes. The Constitution really should be an
instrument that depicts and validates the opinions of people,
and the feelings of people. So he was saying that pejrhaps
now, or at some time in the near future, would be the right
time to change the Brandeis decision, or get that decision
changed. So we're all still hopeful that some day that
And that would simplify, because that would be one
fail-proof action that would solve our problem of having to
work against trade barriers in each individual state.
Did the Wine Advisory Board, from the beginning of your
service on the board, engage in trade barrier work?
As long as I can remember, they did. You may say this, that
the Wine Institute was doing trade barrier even before the
Wine Advisory Board. It was a matter, really, as Wine
Advisory Board became a vehicle, then it was really a matter
of how much of this work could be done by Wine Advisory
Baord funds. So, certainly, trade barrier work was done
right from the time the Twenty-First Amendment was passed
until the present day.
There was also a dealer service program.
I think we had at one time up to twenty-one dealer service
men throughout the United States that were hired, directed
by the Wine Advisory Board. They were to contact individuals,
retail stores, grocery stores, if they were handling wine,
and they were to contact consumers of wine whenever they had
an opportunity to.
We even developed several movies that a service man
would take around to clubs or other groups that would get
together and have meetings, and they would play this twenty-
or thirty-minute film.
A lot of wineries did do a great degree of that also.
At the same time, we were producing a lot of point-of-sale
material and posters and other display material, and these
dealer service men would take this material around and make
sure that it was placed, and it wasn't ending up in some
wholesaler's back room.
We had little hand-out leaflets that would describe
the various kinds of wine. And in the late forties we got
into the varietal wine and started describing the different
varieties. Of course, dessert wines were always an important
part of those little leaflets, because dessert wine was one
of the best sellers in those days. And we got into a great
deal of wine cooking. If you remember, we came out with, I
think it was six or seven cook books that were put out by
the Wine Advisory Board.
The interesting thing is this, that when the Wine
Advisory Board discontinued, we sold the rights to those
books to some private company , with royalties that would come
into the Wine Advisory Board. Those royalties are still
In looking over those pamphlets, I was impressed by their
information on wine with ordinary foods. I keep wondering
whether the big push now for wine with fine foods is as
useful as it might be to the whole industry, contrasted
with wine with just plain food.
We went through different stages , and there were some stages
where we were pushing wine with the fanciest of dinners ,
and then there were other stages where we pushed the use of
wine with just ordinary hamburgers or hot dogs, or whatever.
Also, we got into wine coolers at one stage of the game, I
don't remember exactly what year, but we promoted the use of
wine over ice with a soft drink poured in with it.
It didn't make too much of a splash, but it might have
introduced a few more people to drinking wine. That was
particularly true of the dessert wines, and it was used to
a great extent.
There's another point that I think was very important
in the history of the Wine Advisory Board , and that ' s what
we call the Wine Study Course. The Wine Study Course was a
series of little booklets. It was a correspondence course.
It was very simple. It was basics about wine. It talked
about the alcohol content, and how wine was made from grapes,
and that it was a natural product of the grape , and it was
to educate the consumer, let him know something about wine.
The people would sign up for the course I think it
would cost them a dollar , or something like that , which was
not even covering our expenses at all , but it was a promotional
item. And then the people would read the booklet , answer a
questionnaire, and send it back to Wine Advisory Board. We'd
correct it and give it a scoring. Then when they had
finished the three or four books, whatever it was, and they
had passed the course, we'd send them a certificate that
they had passed the Wine Study Course.
I still have mine.
There was one for consumers, and there was another course
for retailers, I believe. I'm not sure that we had one for
I not only got a certificate, but I got a little pocket-size
That's right, a little pocket-sized card for your wallet.
There were hundreds of thousands of people that signed up for
that Wine Study Course. In fact we're talking about getting
it started again with the Winegrowers of California.
Amazingly, some people know so little about wine; although that's
greatly improved in 1985 as compared to forty, fifty years ago,
it still is something that people are interested in.
I gave you a clipping from Wines and Vines in 1944, about a
meeting to consider renewing the order. There was a high-
powered group of people there. Was there anything special
about that hearing in July, 1944, which preceded the next
I don't remember anything that was particular about the 1944
extension from 1938, three years would be 1941, and this
would be the second extension.
There was a letter from Mr. W.J. Cecil, the director of
agriculture, giving everybody hell, in effect.*
When you've got a director of agriculture that did not under
stand wine, and did not understand the problems of the trade
barriers of wine . Again, they were always suspecting that
we were using Wine Advisory Board funds in such a way that
they should not be used. We always had to continually convince
them that we were using the funds appropriately. So that was
a constant problem with the Department of Agriculture.
They were doing their job to make sure that we were
expending the funds appropriately, and we were doing our job
to do the best job we could to knock down barriers.
In his letter, Mr. Cecil objected to certain practices, as
you say, suspecting that gifts were being given, and so forth,
but also indicating some dissatisfaction with the contract
between the Wine Advisory Board and the Wine Institute. I
gather that was always a point of some little suspicion, too.
I think one of the problems there that developed was at the
early stages of the operation of the Wine Advisory Board.
The industry was trying to be efficient, and save money.
*The letter is in the minutes of the Wine Advisory Board.
Addressed to Harry A. Caddow, manager; it was dated March
We thought that since the Wine Institute was such a large
contractor of the dollars that Wine Advisory Board was
spending, that: rather than having a manager for Wine Advisory
Board and a manager for Institute, that if we had one staff
to a great degree, it would simplify life and save us some
So we did that. Harry Caddow was the manager of both.
The state felt that that was a conflict of interest, and
that it was a matter of the two organizations being too close,
and that it was not appropriate. So somewhere along the
line there we had to split the staffs. I can't remember who
it was that came in as the first manager of Wine Advisory
Board, but I think it was Eugene Jackson. He had previously
been an employee of Wine Institute, but we made him the
first manager of Wine Advisory Baord. Then, at a later
date, we brought in Ed [Edmund A.] Rossi, and Ed Rossi was
there for many years as the manager.* Then after Ed Rossi it
was Dan [D.C.] Turrentine and then Werner Almendinger.
Was Leon Adams much of a factor behind the scenes, or
There was no question about it; Leon Adams had creative
thinking. Leon Adams was probably the mastermind of Wine
Institute, and Leon Adams no doubt was the mastermind of
Wine Advisory Baord. Leon Adams, in the early days, was very
much the instigator, the creative thinker, of many of the
programs I'm sure the Wine Study Course, and the dealer
service men and many of those programs were the creative
thinking of Leon Adams. There's no doubt about it that the
industry owes Leon much.**
Probably one of the reasons why Leon Adams was not involved
in Institute or Advisory Board for many years even after he
retired from those services was because he was just too
*Edmund A. Rossi, Italian- Swiss Colony and the Wine Industry,
an oral history interview conducted 1969, Regional Oral History
Office, The Bancroft Library, University of California,
**Leon D. Adams, Revitalizing the California Wine Industry,
an oral history interview conducted 1972, Regional Oral
History Office, The Bancroft Library, University of California,
influential, and some people criticized that. But what the
industry owes Leon is far beyond what he ever received from
the industry. No question about it.
I know that he's an enthusiast and people felt that maybe he
had had too strong a say; is that it?
I would say too much influence. It was hard to ever expect
him to be in an important position without exerting his
influence. And so there were some sweeping curtailments of
certain phases of the operations.
Was he a factor in the curtailment?
Well, only as I have described it, that some people didn't
like his actions any more.
I have a release here from the Wine Institute about a meeting
in Modesto on June 25, 1952 to consider a marketing order
"Today's meeting was held under the auspices of the
Grower-Vintner Committee for a Grape Quality Program,"
which had been organized at a similar meeting earlier that
June. "Quality grading of grapes for wine will go far
toward eliminating the annual average excess grape
production," the proponents stated.
I don't remember too much about that particular program, but
1951, if my memory serves me correct, was one of the years of
depressed condition in the wine industry. So, whenever you
run into an economically depressed condition in the
industry, then everybody tries to think of ways of picking it
up. So a grape quality control would be something that
would eliminate some grapes going to wineries, and would
therefore relieve some of the surpluses. I don't think
that program ever got off the ground.
In the Wine Advisory Board minutes of July 9, 1954, the
day you became chairman, the board met in executive session
and suggested a variety of reforms. And this was just after
there had been a hiatus. The order had dropped in June, and
was picked up again in July, 1954.
Your notes here made that statement, and I've been trying
to figure out what did happen. I don't know how it could
have been discontinued in June, because it would have taken
the sign-up of the people involved, of all the wineries,
in order to discontinue it, and it probably would have been
discontinued at the end of June, June 30.
Maybe it was this, that there was a new sign-up for
continuation, and maybe we asked for an extension of time
on the amount of time to get the sign-up. It might have
been one of those years where we were not cautious enough
to count noses, so to speak, before the final count was done,
and to try to estimate whether the marketing order would be
signed up or not. Or everybody was too complacent. So
probably what we had to do was to ask for an extension of
time by the Department of Agriculture, and then go out and
talk to a few wineries to sign that just had complacently
Not that they were against the program. I think I
remember something like that happening one time, and that
was probably it. So it took us nine days to get the additional
signatures, or the volume, and then the marketing order was
back in business again.
Were there points of issue about the assessments during that
Always, but it was not a major matter. The history of it,
from the time that we first started making our collections to
the time that we finally ended up with two cents a gallon
on dessert wine and one cent on table wine. That was the
highest rate we ever did collect. It wasn't a great deal of
difference; it was not more than one cent difference.
There was always discussion on it, of course. I don't
think we ever went down with our rate of assessment; it was
always a gradual increase, but not any major increase. So sure,
there was discussion all the time, because, naturally, this
money was coming out of the wineries' pockets.
This July 9, 1954, memorandum from the board executive
committee says, "For the first time in several years the
marketing order for wine had been made effective by the
department on the basis of gallonage of the wine prepared
for marketing, rather than on the basis on the numbers of
That might have been just because it went that way that time.
It was probably still either /or.
It was reported that vintners' assents to the marketing
order by July 2 , when the order was issued by the department ,
totalled approximately 70 percent of the total gallonage.
That's like I was saying. When we found out that it wasn't
sufficient, which was probably just at the last minute,
the easiest way to do it in a hurry then was to get volume.
So we talked to a few people that had put it over in the
corner and forgotten about signing up. So that particular
year we went for volume , because that was the fast way to do
I see. In this same memorandum it was suggested that "the
board itself retain the function of issuing publicity
releases covering its own activities."
That means because they were probably issued by the Wine
Institute. So somebody was objecting to that and wanted the
board to do it directly.
I gathered from this that there was some feeling that the
board should be handling more of its own affairs, and the
Wine Institute less.
And the state was saying to us, "You shouldn't contract the
bulk of your dollars out, you should handle them directly."
The same discussions are being had today at the Winegrowers
of California.** We've got an industry organization, which
is Wine Institute; we've got a growers' organization, which
is CAWG [California Association of Winegrape Growers] , and
we did have American Vineyard Foundation. So the discussion
was, "Should we contract with these existing organizations
that are in the industry, or should we have programs carried
out basically by the staff of Winegrowers of California?"
What we are finally coming around to, just by kind of
evolution, a certain amount of the work is being contracted
through Wine Institute, a certain amount of the work is being
*See also pp. 121-122.
**Created by marketing order in 1984. Edmund A. Mirassou
became chairman of the board.
contracted through CAWG, none of it is being contracted
through American Vineyard Foundation, and a large amount
of the work is going to be done directly by the staff of
Winegrowers of California.
It ' s working out , but it ' s always a debate whether you
use an existing organization in the industry that ' s had some
experience, or whether you do it direct.
You feel you're safer in using existing organizations?
E.A. Mirassou: Yes.
In 1956 the same kind of questions were raised by Mr. Ernest
Gallo, who suggested that the board review its objectives in
order "to clearly understand what we're trying to do...
review expenditures of the past three years to see in what
areas we have been spending effectively and what areas we
are spending money ineffectively and are not realizing our
objectives. .. [and] determine how we should spend our money."
Let me explain it. You're talking about 1956 now, and by
that time, Gallo was paying a large portion of the total
assessment that was being paid into the Wine Advisory Board.
One of the things you have to admire about the Gallos is the
fact that they, again, want to be efficient, and they want to
know that things are done right.
It's not just with Gallo but with a lot of people in
large corporations. One of the things that brings about
efficiency is to have a housecleaning about every five years.
You kind of really analyze everything you're doing, and you
don't just complacently go on and continue to do it just
because there's nobody really complaining about it.
I think that that was really one of the things that was
happening here, at that meeting, and it was nothing greater
than that, or more earthshaking than that. It was just a
matter of, "Time to shake up everybody a little bit, and let's
cut out the dead wood, and go on again." Running a corporation,
or an industry organization like this, a marketing order,
it's very much the same as Mother Nature growing a tree.
When you plant a young tree, it has the kind of problems
of the fact that it's inexperienced, and it's young, and it's
tender, and it's easily breakable, etc. But when that tree
gets sturdy and grows up, it has a different kind of problem
then, and that is the dead limbs that are in it, and the
overcrowding. So a little pruning is good all the time.
Then you get some new growth and some new wood , and some new
I assume that every so often questions recurred throughout
the life of the board.
Yes , and not necessarily the same questions , or by the same
people. But primarily it was a matter of always trying to
improve and not allow the organization to go stagnant. Which
I think is good. It's good to sit back and look at yourself in
the mirror and say, "What can I do to improve?" It's a
positive attiude, and I think it's good, and it's probably
one of the things that made the Wine Advisory Board results
as prolific as they were.
It wasn't just Gallo that did these kind of things, or
that brought them up, either. Bob Mondavi was one of the
great ones for bringing up issues and saying, "We've got to
change, we've got to do something different. We've got to
spend more money in these directions instead of those." I
still call it creative thinking. Bob [Robert M. ] Ivie was
another. Bob Ivie, from Guild, had a great deal of creative
thinking, again, that would change direction of where we
were going, and try to do something else better. So all
those things are part of the game.
We haven't discussed the medical research.
Medical research was one of those projects in the field of
research that the Wine Advisory Board started early and did
a great deal of work with Dr. [Salvatore] Lucia, Dr. [Milton]
Silverman, and many others of course. There were two avenues,
really, on medical research. One avenue was what you might
call putting out fires. When somebody accused wine of having
some toxic materials or some ill effects on people, we had
to do medical research to disprove that , if it was an
The other was just constructive research in medicine,
of what the benefits of wine could be that were not yet
recognized. Maybe some of those benefits were recognized by
Italy or France, or ancient people, but had been forgotten,
and had just been assumed it was part of wine but never detailed
or specified. So all of this work was very important.
I remember a lot of the work of Dr. Lucia was merely going
back and getting old documents, and re-reading them, and
picking out the fine points of the goodness of wine, and
what it did to the benefit of the appetite, the benefit of
correcting insomnia, all these other benefits that we, who
had grown up with wine, had accepted but never documented.
So there was a lot of this kind of work that had to be
done. There was a lot of new research that had to be done
to find out more. Were there vitamins in wine? What kind?
All the rest of these things. So we now have quite a library
of this work that has been done over the last thirty , forty
years that we are making more and more use of. There have
been times that the industry felt that we should not exploit
this knowledge that we have of medical research, or the
results, because we were afraid that news media might pick
it up and interpret it wrong, or that someone else would
interpret it in some wrong way.
We did allow doctors themselves to talk about the results
that we had found with our research, but we didn't want to
say it as a wine industry. I'm not sure today that that's
the way to go. It could be very possible that today we of
the wine industry should be able to say, "Our product is
this good, and these are the good things that it can do. And
that the alcohol in wine does not affect the human being the
same as it does if it's in the form of distilled spirits of
some kind." I think we ought to blow our own horn a little
bit more about that, but that's my opinion, and I'm not
sure that the industry feels that way about it. But I
think they are coming more and more around to that.
It has come up again recently.
That's correct. It's before us again now. I think we will
be able to convince the world again that our product is a
good one, and that it is a drink of moderation, and that it
By the 1960s
you were also putting money into viticultural
Oh, yes, viticulture and enology, both. A lot of that was
done through the University of California, or Fresno State
University, or other universities.
It all looked as if, by the sixties, the industry was
becoming more prosperous.
The sixties went along nicely and prosperity reigned; the
industry was gaining momentum and was selling more wine.
And then 1974, '75, came along, and there were some tough
economic times. At that time, funny thing is, white wine was
the surplus. It was the one that you couldn't sell or give
away, and now, ten years later, we're back into some rough
going again, and it's really the red wines that are the surplus.
But it was an advantage to the winery, because you didn't have
to age white wines so long in the winery, so you didn't have
to carry them so long. You could crush and sell early. The
consumer didn't keep it too long, so you had the advantage,
then, of turning over your product, and the consumer using
it and asking for more. So that all was, I would say, a good
trend for the industry, but not necessarily for the person who
really appreciates good, old red wines.
Throughout this period, in general, except for the mid-
seventies recession in the wine industry, there was evidence
of increasing affluence. I assume that that had something to
do with why the wine industry, through the Wine Advisory Board,
felt able to fund research, and also able to fund an oral
history series, which was a very fine thing for it to do.
Because we got interviews with people who
That would have been lost otherwise.
Would have been lost completely. So it looks like it was
very prosperous at that time, and I trust it will be again.
Yes. We had a growth rate of somewhere around 10, 11 percent
a year, particularly on table wine, that was increasing,
which was a very, very good sign. It may have been too good
a sign. I guess whenever people get too affluent, they're
heading for a crash, and the industry did the same.
In the seventies, if you remember, everybody was planting
grapes, and it looked like the end would never come, that
we would have enough grapes for wine , and particularly good
varieties. So vineyards were planted. That was the day also
when the limited partnership and outside investors came into
the industry. Up until the end of the sixties and the seventies,
this was a fairly close-knit industry . It was old timers that
were in the industry. I mean, basically, fundamentally;
there were newcomers, but mostly they were old-timers. The
only other outside influence that came in was in the forties,
when the distilleries came in and bought wineries. Some of
them bought wineries and just had them for a few years it
was five to ten, fifteen years and got out. Some of them
remained in the industry, and some of them became a real part
of the industry and are still in the industry today; the
distilleries I mean.
But in the seventies you had a new breed coming in, which
was investor money. Venture capital is what they really call
Tax shelters, venture capital, and limited partnerships; those
are the three items that were used. Limited partnerships
don't have to be bad, and venture capital can be good. At the
rate the industry was growing, it was almost necessary to
have some outside dollars come in, and that was all good.
But the point was that the type of person who came in had
been accustomed the rest of his life to investments in the
stock market where he watched day by day. He always got his
report at the end of the year or the end of the quarter , and
what he really looked at was the bottom line. Was the stock
paying a dividend, was it making a profit?
The history of the wine business is not that way. You
have a cyclical business; the cycles give you great profits,
and then you have losses, and then you have great profits,
and then you have losses. It's quite different than the
person who looks at the bottom line all the time and as soon
as he has a loss for six months or a year, why, he sells the
stock and takes his losses and gets into something else.
That can't happen with a person investing in the growing
of grapes; you have to be able to weather the storm; you
have to be able to go through these tough times. So you
had a kind of person who was really not mentally adept to
this kind of a business. The wine business and grape growing
is a money-hungry business; it's a business that demands a
great deal of dollars and long-term investments, and it seems
like even when it's growing it just demands more and more
Then you had another fact that came along. In the late
seventies, on top of the investor dollars that were at that
time a great deal of the investment in the industry, you had
the interest rates start climbing. Then you had a third
factor, the value of the dollar. Before, the highest interest
rate that we heard of was 6 percent. I can remember the
first time we talked to a bank or an insurance company and
they said, "Now it's going to have to be 8 percent." We
debated that for a year before we would take any 8 percent
money, because we thought that was terrible and that we
couldn't stand it. Now I wish we had taken a whole lot of
that 8 percent money. So with the interest rates going up,
even up into the double digits, 20 percent, and et cetera,
that really put a strain on the industry, particularly many of
those new ventures.
Then you have the other factor of the high value of the
dollar, which made it inexpensive, relatively speaking, for
the American dollar to buy imports. The imports were making
a good profit where we no longer could because of the
value of the dollar and the interest rates and all these other
factors we're talking about.
So, again, you have the situation now where there are a
lot of vineyards that aren't making it. There are a lot of
vineyards that are not being financed by banks this year;
although you have to remember also that ' s not only true of
grapes and wineries, that is also true of agriculture in
general. And it's true of agriculture all across the
United States. But the value of the dollar and the high
interest rates have an effect on that whole field.
Over the years , did you ever compare the wine industry with
tomato marketing orders , or pear marketing orders did you
ever think of it in terms of comparison with other commodities?
I never did particularly, and I don't know who else might
have. The marketing order was a tool that we were using in
our industry, and we again felt that our industry was a
little different than others. See, I've always looked at
it, and I think the industry has looked at it when our
consumption of wine in the United States is two and a half
gallons per person, as compared to other countries being
up to fifteen, twenty, twenty-five gallons per person, we had
so far to grow if we could just convince people that it was
good and it was good for them and it was the drink of
moderation, that if we just doubled it to five gallons per
person, it would be wonderful.
Wouldn't have enough land. [chuckles]
Right. Well, I think we would; we'd figure it out some way
or another, but I mean it would be fine. So we were working
on that, and it was growing along very nicely. California's
up to five gallons per person, a little over that I believe,
right now. But it is not yet happening to the total United
States. So really, in a way, we were not concerned about
the tomato problem. I think tomato consumption in the
United States is pretty high as compared to the rest of the
world, or at least close to it. So there were different
kinds of problems.
Really, in a way, when you're analyzing this thing as
we are now, it may be true that we have not yet, in this
country, found the wine drink that the public really wants.
You can see the way the switch has been taking place, from
dessert wine, and from red table wine to white table wine,
and now the new coolers on the market, and the low-alcohol
wines and the no-alcohol wines. Maybe we haven't yet found
what our consumers want. Maybe we're still floundering, as
an industry only fifty years old, as compared to some other
nations four hundred or a thousand years old. So maybe we
are still trying to find the kind of grape product that
our consumers want. So maybe we need a little more time.
That's an interesting thought. The coolers of today, are
they so different from the pop wines that went up and then
Well, yes. Primarily lower alcohol content. I'm very
encouraged by the fact that the modern consumer wants less
alcohol in his drink. That's a wonderful thing to have
happen, because that proves that our consumers of today are
getting away from the influence of Prohibition. Because
during Prohibition, everybody wanted a quick shot, a small
quantity that was going to be effective.
So now this is a trend completely to the opposite
direction, which I think is great, and I think it will be
more of moderation again , where you can drink a larger
amount of it with not having an effect. You know that the
studies have shown that as the human body takes in alcohol,
the effects are much less if time is a factor in there. When
you get the lower alcohol wine, you are naturally going to
be consuming alcohol at a slower rate per hour or per day, so
I think all of this is a trend in a good direction.
You know, if you go back again to Europe, the wines that were
consumed every day over there were not 12 or 14 percent wines,
they were 8 or 9 percent wines.
And often cut with water.
And often cut with water. In fact, my dad used to drink wine
and put water in it. [interruption]
If the public taste had stayed with dessert wines, the whole
structure of the industry would have been different, wouldn't
You make about half as much dessert wine per ton as you do
There seems to be a trend toward some increased interest in
dessert wines now.
Not volume; volume's still going down. I don't think there'll
be a resurgence.
There seems to be an increase in interest in brandy.
Yes, and I do expect an increased interest in champagne,
sparkling wines of all kinds. It is happening, and I think
there will be a continued increase in interest in dessert
wines. There are some of our wines nowadays in the industry
(for example our own Monterey Riesling) that is bottled with
a small amount of CCU pressure, very, very small amount.
We call it "spritzy," and there are quite a few wines nowadays
that are being bottled in that way. There's another new one
that's coming along, and that's the success of white Zinfandel.
I mean, it's a phenomenal thing, I don't know whether you
read the numbers on it or not.
We can't produce enough.
Is that right?
And it's just fantastic. It's a very, very nice wine. Again,
it's the swing of the public. I like to call them the
fickle public, but I don't mean that in a derogatory manner,
I think it's just a matter that the public today is not afraid
to tell you what they want to buy. And they tell you by buying
what they want, and not buying what they're not interested
in. They don't buy it just because somebody else said to
buy it, but they buy it because they like it.
So if they like white Zinfandel, great. If they like
white wines, great. If they want coolers, great. We'll
make what they want.
Doesn't this more or less put the wine industry with the
beer industry, which it hasn't been?
I don't think so, I don't look at it that way. I'm not sure
that the beer drinker, in general, is ever going to become
a wine drinker. I think there's a lot of other tastes in
there that are different besides just the lower alcohol
content. So I think the wine drinker wants wine.
But legislatively, say, or in other ways, not in an appeal
to the public.
Yes , I can see what you ' re talking about there , but actually
the breweries and the wineries haven't gotten along that well
legislatively. I don't think either one of them's trying to
get along that much better with the other.
Yes. So I think there will still be a separation there.
There are some issues that we do fight together but,
generally speaking, I think wine is another product.
The wine industry has an uneasy alliance with the distilled
spirits industry. The beer industry has no alliance, however,
with it, does it?
That's correct, and they don't necessarily think like either
one of the other parts of the industry.
The distilled spirits people who came into the California
wine industry as I remember, when they came in in the
forties, they had the same problem that the investors had
later. They didn't understand the wine business either.
E.A. Mirassou: Not all of them, but some of them.
Norbert C. and Edmund A. Mirassou at the bottling line, 1979.
Photograph courtesy of Wines and Vines
As they came back, or stayed in, they were not like the big
California wineries, nor were they like the little California
wineries; they were a group in themselves. Or were they
To express my opinion, I can't quite agree with you. They
were never outside the industry, as a separate, autonomous
group. They were always a part of the industry, but they
maybe had some other influence on their thinking that was a
little different than an old-time wine company, or just a
wine company. And you could understand that because they
had other investments and other incomes that were much
greater than what they were receiving from the wine industry.
So naturally those other investments had to influence their
So I can understand a lot of their thinking, and I don't
blame them for it. It's just a matter of which viewpoint
you have. There are some issues that we're completely
polarized on, that we can't ever think exactly alike on. But
yet there are a lot of issues that we can think alike on. I
think that , on those kind of issues , sometimes even within
the distillers' organization, there's difference of thinking
among different people.
I would say that we really get a great deal of cooperation
from the distilleries, generally speaking. Every once in a
while there's an issue that comes up that's a real problem
for us to think alike on. So we have to get over that hurdle,
and we do usually. We're in the middle of one right now,
but we'll live through it.
I see why you're a good chairman. [Mirassou laughs] Leon
Adams told me that, I think about a year ago, Seagram's had
a dinner and invited many industry leaders , and that the
Seagram's people indicated that they were going to go their
own way. They were telling this to the wine industry leaders,
and you got up and said, "We're all in this together," or words
to that effect, which you're just saying now.
Yes, I remember I heard some comments after about it that
were favorable. But I even heard those kind of comments from
the distillery that gave the party, so apparently it was
acceptable. No, again, like I say, there are times when their
thinking has to be different from the rest of us, and there
are times when they cooperate 100 percent.
Dissent and Discontinuation, 1975
[Interview 3: June 6, 1985 ]##
Let me go back to a couple of things. At the last interview
you said that two people you gave them as examples, I think,
you weren't saying they were the only ones on the old Wine
Advisory Board had very creative ideas ; Bob Ivie and Bob
Mondavi. I failed to ask you about the kind of creative ideas
that they contributed.
Bob Ivie did a lot of work on international trade and was
actually appointed, I think it's by the president's staff,
to a kind of a trade commission.* He spent a lot of time in
Washington on international affairs concerning not just wine,
but trade in general. Of course, Bob Mondavi was always very
creative in his thinking, and was one of those who proposed
You were saying that Bob Mondavi always had creative ideas.
Yes, he was one who really pushed for public relations on the
premium wine, and that's what it was called at that time.
In fact , there were two or three public relation programs
that we had going. One was for premium wine, one was for
the more competitive wines, and there was some other class in
between there. I can't remember it now, exactly what it was,
because that was quite a while ago.
But anyhow, they were good programs that really got
started. Then a few years later all the PR programs were
united into one, just wine in general. But they were
successful and, of course, still a great deal of that's
being done today by the industry.
There was some pressure to stop the special program for
There was, because you suddenly get in the industry some cross-
purpose thinking, when you start dividing the industry, and
so I think it was good that it all got back together and
became one program.
*Robert M. Ivie was appointed by President Ford to the
Public Advisory Committee for Trade Negotiations in 1975
and reappointed by President Carter in 1978.
I recently looked again into the State Department of
Agriculture records of the 1954 Wine Advisory Board renewal.*
The first order was for 'three cents and one-and-one-half
cents, and it was turned down. Shortly after, the assessments
went back to two cents and one cent.
Yes, two cents and one cent.
But it was passed the second time, for the first time in some
years apparently, on the basis of gallonage rather than by
E.A. Mirassou: That's understandable, too. That doesn't necessarily mean
that it couldn't have passed also by numbers of wineries.
But it's always much faster to do it when you just have to
get the volume, the number of gallons. So I'm sure, in that
case , what was really happening was everybody was really in
agreement , but rather than go out and almost pound on doors
to get the number of wineries, because that's always a
difficult thing not that people were against it, it was just
a matter that they put it on the corner of their desk and
forget to sign it and send it in.
If you didn't vote affirmatively, it was a no vote. In
other words, if you didn't mail it in, it was automatically
a no vote, because you had to get that number, 65 percent, or
whatever it was, -in the affirmative. So if the person did not
vote, it was a no vote, and if you just went and talked to
them or phoned them and said, "Get that assent in," they
probably would do it; it was not a matter of anybody being
against it, or not any large number of people.
It was probably the large wineries that were objecting
to the increased amount of the assessment.
Why was the Wine Advisory Board dropped in 1975; what were
Even as recently as yesterday, the board of the Winegrowers
of California had a meeting, and the State Department of
Agriculture was represented at the meeting by Lynn Horel. She
made a slip of the tongue in making a statement, and said,
"The industry raises its own funds."
*See pp. 108-109.
I called her on it in a joking manner, and I said, "I agree
with you, Lynn, they are industry funds, but," I said, "the
state keeps telling me they're public funds. Once they're
collected they're public funds, they're not industry funds
any longer." She laughed, and I laughed; and that was really
one of the reasons why, in 1975, that we dropped the program,
because the industry always felt that we were putting up the
money , we were paying the assessment , and that it was
therefore industry funds.
The state attorney general, some number of years earlier
than 1975, had come out with a statement, and his findings
were that all marketing order funds were public funds but
they were to be generally earmarked for that industry that
raised the funds. Now that went along fine as long as we
had an administration in the state that was friendly. But
the administration that was in office at that time and we
might as well say it was the Jerry Brown administration
was not necessarily as friendly as it had been in the past.
So at that time the industry figured, let's raise our own
funds independently and on a voluntary basis, and we won't
have any complications with the state. So we did it.
The idea at that time, I think, was that the Wine Institute
should then take over functions.
E.A. Mirassou: That would be a natural.
How did it work out?
The Wine Institute, during the life of Wine Advisory Board,
was contracting with Wine Advisory Board to do a lot of the
work anyhow. So it was just a matter of Wine Institute
continuing to do most of the projects that it was doing for
Wine Advisory Board, and do it with its own funds instead of
with the Advisory Board funds. Now, because of the
discontinuance of Advisory Board, there was somewhat less
dollars raised on the voluntary basis than there was on the
compulsory basis of the Advisory Board. Even though the rate
was the same, somewhat less dollars were raised, so therefore
we had to curtail some of the activities, but not too many of
So the work did go on during the ten years ensuing. And
actually, as the industry grew in volume, in total gallons
that it sold, the income became greater. So we were up to
3.2 million dollars a year on Wine Institute funds alone
at the end, which was last year.
Was there any feeling that the people who weren't members of
the Wine Institute were getting a free ride?
Naturally. Any time that somebody's paying a bill and
somebody's getting the protection of the work of the industry,
and were not paying into it , there has to be that feeling of
getting a free ride. There weren't actually too many wineries
that were not in the Wine Institute during that period of
time, but the part that hurt was they were pretty large,
Heublein being one of them. Then there were some other
smaller wineries, but Heublein was the big one that was not
The Winegrowers of California and The California Association
of Winegrape Growers
This brings up something that I guess comes up in connection
with the Winegrowers of California, which you are again
chairman of. When they were trying to put it through, there
were national companies which also had distilled spirits
interest who seemed to be against it. What was the rationale
That was Almade'n that was completely against it, Heublein was
against it, and Seagrams never took a big stand against it but
they were not exactly for it. So they fought against it, and
they tried to align votes against the program and did a lot
of letter writing and everything, to stop the sign-up of the
new marketing order. But still the program won.
There were lawsuits right after it was put into order,
by those companies, to try to stop the marketing order, but
even the lawsuits lost. There is still one that is pending
today. It's a small one that's being brought on by some
grower, but it's being handled by the same attorneys that
handled it for the large companies, and that has not been
I remember that United Vintners was on the fence.
They were on the fence for a period of time, but we talked
to them and convinced them they should vote for it, and they
did vote for it, I believe.
Yes, I think they did. They came out for it, anyway.
They came out for it, but I don't think there's any evidence
of how they voted, because that's private information. But
I understand that they were for it at the end. I think their
problem was the dollars. More than the idea of the marketing
order, it was a matter of their pocket book.
Were there others against it?
Those were the major ones. When the marketing order did
pass, as we were designating the members that should be on the
board (the eighteen growers and the eighteen vintners) , I was
one who was very positive in my attitude that those wineries,
although they were against the marketing order program, should
definitely be represented on the board. And they are
represented on the board.
Since that time, they have all come into the fold, so
to speak, and are working very cooperatively with the rest
of the industry.
The preliminary work that went into this was done by a state
It was a task force appointed by the lieutenant governor.*
It was a task force for the wine industry, and Walt [Walter]
Minger was the chairman of that task force. That task force,
again, had growers and vintners on it, and that task force
worked for about a year-and-a-half to figure out what could
be done for the industry in general.
Then the growers were proposing a marketing order without
vintners. Not necessarily without vintners, but they were
proposing a marketing order for themselves. The task force
took the responsibility of trying to smooth out the proposal
of the marketing order, and how it was written, so that
vintners would not object to it.
*Edmund A. Mirassou was a member of the task force.
Finally, right near the end, which was about a year ago
now, it was decided that maybe the best thing to do would be
to fold it in together and make it a grower and vintner
marketing order. So that was agreed to by the task force.
It was proposed and passed.
There is a separate grower organization, is there not, still.
Yes, that's the one that's called CAWG. [California Association
of Winegrape Growers]
Was that for it?
They were for the grower alone marketing order, and they were
also for the combined marketing order.
So, on the whole, the industry was pretty well together?
Yes, it was pretty well, except for those wineries we mentioned.
I don't understand a lot about large, national companies, or
multi-national companies, but I especially don't understand
why they would enter a field and not back it.
Well, I think that's fairly easy to understand. Sometimes
something that you're doing for the wine industry is not
necessarily good for the distilled spirits industry or for
the importer. Because after all those same companies do have
imports that they're bringing in, and so that's understandable.
Sometimes probably within their own company they have different
people that wear different hats, and so I would imagine that
they, within their own companies, do not always agree. So it
certainly is understandable that they would disagree with
the wine segment of the industry.
I was recalling today the price structure of wines versus
distilled spirits. In the 1930s, wine was cheap, distilled
spirits were comparatively expensive. Now there must not
be much difference, bottle for bottle.
It depends which caliber of wine you're talking about, of
course. And which caliber of spirits, but I think there's
more difference in the wine. For example, for six or seven
dollars you can get a gallon or more of wine , if it ' s in a
large enough container , and you can get , in some cases , that
price or more for one bottle. That's got to be five times as
much for the same price, or maybe ten times as much wine
for the same price. I don't think you have that degree of
difference in the distilled spirits.
Of course, one of the reasons is the taxes. They are
such a large portion of what you're paying for on the distilled
But the distilled spirits have not gone up in price as wines
have, it seems to me.
I think over the years the price of distilled spirits has
gone up pretty much in comparison, or relatively equal.
However, if you took your more expensive wines, then there's
been a greater difference, and one of the reasons is because
the American consumer has recognized the difference of
quality wines, and therefore a great value. And the wine
writers have written about it, I think, to a much greater
degree than any writers have written about spirits.
I think over the years the price of distilled spirits has
gone up pretty much in comparison, or relatively equal.
However, if you took your more expensive wines, then there's
been a greater difference, and one of the reasons is because
the American consumer has recognized the difference of
quality of wines, and therefore a greater value. And the
wine writers have written about spirits.
The new organization, the Winegrowers of California how
did it go?
It was voted in last August, but the fiscal year is July to
July, and so the first year is not a full twelve months, and
the first year will be complete at the end of this month.
The program goes on for another two years. So it would be a
total of three years.
I've seen announcements that you are doing trade barrier
A great deal of trade barrier work. There's really three
parts of the program. One is market development, which is
promotion along the lines of public relations or advertising
or anything like that that would promote the sale of wine.
The second part is reducing the problems of trade barriers
within the various states and also internationally. Then the
third part is research and development.
Has a large portion of your funds gone into research and
In the first budget, research and development was a half a
Out of how much altogether?
Out of about four million dollars in total. It was a half
a million dollars, the trade barrier work was a little over
a million, and the market development was about 1.6 million,
if I remember my numbers right, off the top of my head.
Then there was about 300 or 400 thousand in administration
of the program, and the balance was a reserve.
You mentioned Mr. Walter Minger.
Could you tell a little
Walt Minger was a very highly respected person that worked
for Bank of America for many, many years, and his last
position with Bank of America was vice-president in charge
of agri-business internationally. So he spent a lot of his
time in his last few years with B of A traveling into other
countries and taking care of the business of Bank of America.
And also trying to help other countries establish banking
Walt Minger retired. I forget exactly when that was, but
I think it was about last September, or somewhere along
there. We thought that he would be a great person to be our
first executive director of the Winegrowers of California
because he had worked so diligently on the task force and had
brought growers and vintners together to work together.
So he was the executive director.
Now, when he took the position, he took it under the
understanding that it would not be permanent, and that his
time would not be full time, because he didn't want to
completely give up the consulting work that he was doing for
other companies, including Bank of America and other people.
In fact, right now he's on a mission for the State Department.
Malaysia. He's on about a three-week tour right now, and
I'm sure that his services to the Winegrowers he's already
told us that at the end of June, it'd be over. The Winegrowers
have appointed a committee to search for a new executive
director, and yesterday I think we found one. The board has
to pass on a new executive director, which will be on June 28
is our next meeting.*
*Robert E. Reynolds was named to the position.
Are you doing anything specific about wine imports?
You make that sound as though we're positively doing something
to help the imports.
No, we are not doing anything at this moment. There's another
organization that's called, I think American Alliance of
Grapegrowers , and Frank [R.] Light is the chairman of that
group. Bob [Robert P.] Hartzell is on that group. Following
the results of I think it was the GAT negotiations of several
years ago, also some acts of Congress, the president had to
make a report concerning imports every so often. They are
bringing their case to this international trade commission
and trying to prove that the imports are coming in here
unfairly because they are subsidized in those countries,
et cetera, and all the other reasons why it's unfair competition.
And that it is hurting the American grape grower.
So Winegrowers of California is supporting that movement
to the tune of $150,000.
The Wine Institute
May I ask about the Wine Institute during your association
with it over the years. What has been your main contributions
through the Wine Institute, do you think?
What has been my contribution?
Yes , your own personal
I don't know. I kind of always think that maybe I'm one of
the kind of people that can bring different factions together '
and have them agree. I think that might be more my contribution
than any other particular activity. When there were
disagreements among the different interests, I think I was
one of the people who was able to bring them together and maybe
bounce their heads a little bit maybe joggling is the
right word talk them into getting along with each other and
working for the common cause.
Over the years, has the weight of power within the Wine
Institute changed? I'm thinking, for instance, of the shift
from Mr. Caddow and Leon Adams to the present system of a
strong, permanent head.
Who ' s the strong permanent head now?
John De Luca.
I don't think he's any stronger or any more permanent than
Caddow or any of the others in the past. There were times
when somebody might have only been in there for a year or two
as the top man. And John De Luca's only been there ten years
I think John De Luca's done an excellent job. John De Luca's
the kind of a person who does what his board of directors
tells him to do. But in the meantime, it's his obligation
to gather the facts and to present things to the board that
should be done, regardless whether it's about trade barrier
or public relations, or whatever it might be.
So John De Luca has been great in gathering the facts.
He's gotten a direction from either the board of directors
but you've got to remember the board of directors is ninety-five
people or something like that so it was probably directions
from the executive committee, which is about twenty-five
or thirty people. And he's carried out those instructions
and those directions.
If anybody, you might even say and I'm sure you've
heard it, because I've heard it that the Gallos have got all
the power, and that they completely control John De Luca,
or that some other faction in the industry has all the power.
I believe that that's not true. I mean, the Gallos have
leaned over backwards to do things for the industry that are
good for the small wineries and the big wineries both. The
Seagrams have done the same.
Other large factors in the industry have been active.
I do not think that it ' s a one-way street. I think Bob Mondavi
has had just as much as an influence on the direction that
Wine Institute has taken as any of these other people that
I've named. I think I've been able to have an influence on
the direction and the activities of the industry. I think
that Bill [William A. ] Dieppe of Almaden Vineyards I think
everybody's had their input, and I think everybody's had an
opportunity to get their voice heard and to be listened to.
There is a communication that ' s happening in this
industry, and I don't think that it's any one-sided operation.
If it had been, I would never have remained as active as I
am in the industry.
It's always been this way?
Oh, you've had, at times, where one faction may have pulled
a few more strings than others, but it hasn't been for too
long a period of time. Those kind of things, the industry's
been accused of, but I've been pretty well in the inner
workings of the industry all this period of time, and in my
opinion I don't think it's so. I think it's been a pretty
And I don't think it would have stayed together this
many years if it hadn't been. I think just the mere weight
of super-powers would have broken it down. After all, Wine
Institute is a voluntary program, and even the wine marketing
order, which is compulsory once it's in, is for a limited
period of time, and it could be thrown out. So I don't think
there are those kinds of power plays.
I mean, there are efforts along those lines, but I'm
amazed at the fairness of the people that could be a big
power. There's no question about it in my mind.
Wine Institute's been going on for fifty years,
That's a pretty
That's right. And I would say that fairness is particularly
true of the Gallos, that could have wielded power; I think
they've been particularly fair to the industry. As long as
we're speaking about it, I think you have to give a great
deal of credit to the Gallos for many things they've done
for the industry, including research that they haven't kept
necessarily a secret to themself, but they've allowed it to
be used in the rest of the industry.
I think they are one of the factors that have caused the
increased quality of California wines. When you go back to
immediately after Prohibition, California wines were not much
to brag about. But I think they were one of the factors,
that if anybody wanted to compete with them, they had to have
quality also. One of their standards certainly has been
always to improve quality; and I think they've done it. And
they forced the rest of the industry to do it.
I don't say they're alone in this, but they certainly
have been an outstanding example.
Is it true that the Winegrowers haven't given as many contracts
to the Wine Institute as the Wine Institute would have liked?
Where did you get that idea? I think again that ' s been pretty
fairly done. After all, we have to consider that we have
growers as part of our roommates, and they're putting up a
good portion of the dollars. Therefore, we didn't ever want
it to be allowed that it was ever conceived that the wine
industry was in favor of the marketing order just to be able
to support Wine Institute.
One of the big contracts to Wine Institute is trade
barrier work. I have heard a lot of the growers in discussions
of budgets of the Winegrowers group, that they want to
increase the amount of dollars spent, under contract with
Wine Institute on trade barrier work. Recognizing that it is
so important , and there probably is no one set up in the
United States that's better able to do that work than Wine
Institute. So it's a matter of who can do the job the best.
Now, when it comes to advertising or those kind of
promotion, then they're going to outside contractors, a
regular ad agency. When it comes to studying the kind of
promotion we should do [interruption]
You were saying that you use an ad agency.
E.A. Mirassou: Yes, the one that's most able. And the last point that I
was going to say: we have a contract with Oxtoby-Smith [Inc.],
that is researching what is the most effective kind of
advertising and promotion we can do. So we're doing research
and finding out what should we be doing? And that is not a
Wine Institute contract; those portions will probably never
go to Wine Institute.
There's a contract with CAWG to work on international
trade; that's Bob Hartzell and his group. So it isn't all a
one-way street, and certainly the growers have had their say
in who gets contracts; they have equal vote on the board.
IV EDMUND MIRASSOU'S OTHER BOARD ACTIVITIES
Let's get back to your own activities. I have a
whole list of them. You were the 1979 American Society of
Enologists merit award winner.
I think the best thing I can say about that is that I was very
pleased, and I was very happy to receive the award; apparently
the ASE members figured that I had done a few helpful things
for the industry. One of the reasons might have been because
I've always been very much in favor of raising dollars for
research, and of course, that is one of the things that ASE
wants to see done. So I think that might have been helpful.
You were a member of the State Board of Food and Agriculture
from 1972 until 1982. What did you do on that?
The State Board of Food and Agriculture has been a board
that's been in existence for I don't know how long; many,
many, many years. It's supposed to be advisory to the
director of agriculture, and the Department of Agriculture.
It's a very good group of people representing agriculture from
all over the state. Some of the universities are represented
on that board.
I would say the only thing that I felt frustrated about
on that board was that it was never as effective as it
should have been. In other words, it was supposed to be
advisory to the Department of Agriculture and the director
of agriculture I was appointed on that committee first by
Reagan and his administration.
Then I was reappointed by Governor Brown, so I went
through two administrations, which is kind of unusual, because
usually you get appointed by one administration, and when the
other one gets in power you're out. Of course, you're not
appointed for ten years: you're appointed I think two years
or three years at a time so that was unusual .
Even though the group made decisions and they did a
lot of work, and they spent a lot of time at it, I never
thought that they were ever effective enough; in other words,
nobody listened enough to them.
Were they more effective under Reagan than Brown?
E.A. Mirassou: I think they're more effective now, under Deukmejian. I
haven't been on that board during the time of Deukmejian.
I think they're more effective now, but I really don't know.
You were active in the American Vineyard Foundation, which
was formed in 1981, were you not?
Right. I was very active in that and very instrumental in
helping it get formed, and worked very hard to get it
organized. There again, that was really the first organization
in the industry that was both growers and vintners. It was
voluntary, and it worked pretty good. We did not raise all
the dollars that we had hoped to raise. We also raised
dollars from allied industries contributions. I think in
total that organization raised well over a half a million
dollars in two or three years of its active operation.
Right now, American Vineyard Foundation is still alive.
But since the Winegrowers of California are taking over most
of the research and development, they are kind of being held
in an inactive position. Not really inactive, they are still
getting contributions from allied industries and doing some
research, but not as much as they were doing before the
There was an Agricultural Blue Ribbon Committee that you were
appointed to by the lieutenant governor in 1974.
The Blue Ribbon Committee was on the use of California
agricultural land, and the competition of highways and schools
and home development. It was a matter of how to properly
keep agriculture as important as it is, and not use all the
best land for building homes and high-rises.
The committee worked diligently, and I spent a lot of time
on that committee, but again I don't know that work made
many of its recommendations to the lieutenant governor, and
also to the State Board of Food and Agriculture. I think we
had some influence on the thinking of legislators, but I
doubt whether we had too much influence.
But that is a tough problem because, after all, even
with vineyard land, I think throughout the world, wherever
vineyard grows well is where people like to live.
Have you been participating in the University of San Francisco
Wine Marketing Program?
Right, I'm on that advisory committee, and I have participated
Do you lecture there sometimes?
I haven't lectured; my son Daniel has. But I've been on their
advisory board and have given them my best thinking on
direction of the program.
Do you think that's an effective program?
It still is a little bit young to get the full effects of
its benefits, but yes, I think it's a necessary program, and
I think it will expand and become more important in the
There's no other, is there, like that?
I don't think there is any other, no.
Do you work with Davis in any special ways?
I work with the Department of Viticulture and Enology in many
ways, but not particularly on any of their advisory committees
or anything. I am on an advisory committee at Santa Clara
University which is an agri-business. Not just wine, but
agri-business in general. Several of them in the agri-business
department were out to see me a week or two ago , and they ' re
making a proposal to the Winegrowers of California on some
studies they can do on helping us to correct the international
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Teiser: I'll ask you one final question. In 1967 you discussed
industry problems with President Johnson.
E.A. Mirassou: That's right. There's a picture up there on the wall. We
were in the oval room at that time, and we met with him; it
was very impressive, I had never been in the oval room before,
and had never met a president on a one-to-one basis. It was
a group. Don McColly was the president of Wine Institute
at that time, and Otto Meyer was with us on the trip, and
myself, and Congressman B. F. (Bernie) Sisk from California.
We were not trying to make a pitch for curbing imports.
We were making the pitch, as the industry always has, along
the lines that we wanted to be able to export to those
countries on an equal basis, fair trade.
Transcriber: Michele Anderson
Final Typist: Keiko Sugimoto
NORBERT C. MIRASSOU
Interview 1: February 19, 1985
tape 1, side A
tape 1, side B
tape 2, side A
Interview 2: February 26, 1985
tape 2, side A [continued]
tape 2, side B
tape 3, side A
tape 3 , side B
EDMUND A. MIRASSOU
Interview 1: March 25, 1985
tape 4, side A
tape 4, side B
tape 5, side A
tape 5, side B
Interview 2: April 19, 1985
tape 6 side A
tape 6 , side B
tape 7, side A [side B not recorded]
Interview 3: June 6, 1985
tape 8, side A
tape 8, side B
APPENDIX A 137
MIRASSOU VINEYARDS FIRST IN VINEYARD CRUSHING
By E. A. Mirassou,
. A great step forward in the improvement of quality in table wines was
taken at Mirassou Vineyards in 1969. This was accomplished by the use
of a system of "Vineyard Crushing" of mechanically harvested grapes.
In the vineyard, the bitter grape stems are left on the vine and the
grapes are crushed into a must (seeds, skins and juice) . The must 'is
then sterilized and placed into a closed stainless steel ' container in
an atmosphere of CO 2 , the natural gas of fermentation. .This system per
forms the first step of winemaking, formerly accomplished at the winery,
within seconds from the time of picking.
The result of this "Vineyard Crushing" -is a wine that has captured the
fresh bouquet and aroma of the fruit and has eliminated any possible
deterioration or oxidation during the initial stage of winemaking. We
have compared wines made in 1969 and 1970 from both the "Vineyard Crushed
and the handpicked, winery-crushed grapes with the following results:
The essence of the grape is consistently more pronounced in the "Vineyard
Crushed" wine and freshness and fruitiness have remained to enhance the
wine and add to its ageability.
We believe this step forward in the production of quality in wine is as
important as that step taken many centuries ago, when the winemaker first
used a glass container and cork, instead of a ceramic jar with a goat
skin cover. The glass and cork then allowed the winemaker to improve the
wine by aging it in the bottle.
Within the last ten years, many agricultural crops have been harvested
,- using newly-developed methods of mechanical harvesting. Most of these
methods have stressed the reduction in cost per ton of harvesting with
little consideration for quality. We at Mirassou Vineyards, along with
other California winemakers, have insisted on also improving the quality
of the product. N .
Healthy, mature fruit, whatever the variety, is at its peak of perfection
the moment it is removed from the mother plant. Within minutes after be
ing picked, the fruit starts to deteriorate and oxidize, which results
in a loss of food value and the natural flavor. One method of arresting
this deterioration of the fruit is by harvesting before maturity. This
method, however, results only in added eye-appeal and does not capture
the quintessence of perfection as designed by nature.
We believe it is impossible to improve on nature in winemaking. Since
this process is a natural one, the winemaker can only act as a guide.
At Mirassou Vineyards, the grapes are harvested at their peak of ripe
ness and are. kept at this peak until fermentation begins. This protec
tion of the grapes aids in the retnetion of its natural flavors, acids
and aroma. It also deters such factors as bitterness from stems and ox
idation from air or foreign particles. Thus, the essence of the natural
product is preserved by our system of "Vineyard Crushing".
The development of the mechanical grape harvester began in 1959. At
that time, Hirassou Vineyards started to work on a harvester using the
vacuum principle. Between 1960 and 1964, Gallo Winery, also working on
the vacuum principle, succeeded in assembling several working models.
About the same time, Cornell University in New York State was harvest-
FIRST IN VINEYARD CRUSHING
ing vitis Labrusca grapes in the Eastern States with their newly de
veloped harvester. Also in the early 1960 's the "Sycle Bar" method
of harvesting grapes was developed by the University of California
All of these methods had undesirable features. Among the problems en
countered were: breakage of the berries, damage to the vine causing
an excessive number of leaves and limbs to enter into the harvester,
and too many grapes left on the vine.
Between 1961 and 1965,' the Wine Advisory Board financed many contracts
with the University of California. The departments of Viticulture and
Enology at Davis, California, began working on the development of meth
ods of mechanical harvesting. They also experimented with longer stems
on the grapes and stems that would break more easily to facilitate the
mechanical harvesting. 'Then, about 1967, Davis came up with the idea
of training grapes on the two -wire, horizontal trellis. The harvester
companies developed the vertical impactor machines which did a satis
factory job of harvesting these vines. During 1968 and 1969, the trans
verse impactor and the pivotal striker were developed. These develop
ments enable 'the machine to pick a high percentage of grapes. In many
varieties, however, individual berries, rather than the total bunch,
were picked, which resulted in many of the berries being broken. This
"meant, of course, more rapid deterioration and oxidation of the fruit.
The deductive answer, therefore, was to crush the fruit in the vineyard
immediately after picking.
In 1-970, Kirassou Vineyards harvested 75% of their 1000 cases in Monterey
County using 'a new method of "Vineyard Crushing". To accomplish this, a
mechanical harvester designed by the Up-Right Harvester Company was used.
Two small crushers and two specially designed tanks with a 500 gallon
capacity were mounted on the harvester like saddle bags. At the end of
each vine row, the harvested and crushed grapes were emptied from the
saddle bag tanks, with the pressure of CO , into an enclosed tank truck
which immediately transported the juice, seeds and skins to the winery.
Thus, the grapes did not come in contact with the air, from the time
they were removed from the vine until safely fermenting at the winery .
This system improves the efficiency of handling, reduces costs, increases
productivity and, most importantly, improves the quality and concrol of
the end product. In view of these results, we believe that within a few
years most harvesting of wine grapes will be done with a system of "Vine
APPENDIX B Letter to the press announcing 1984 reorganization
January 12, 1984
Miss Ruth Teiser
932 Vallejo St. , #2
San Francisco, CA 94133
As a valued friend of Mirassou, we want you to know
firsthand of some important new developments concerning
our winery and vineyards. A few days ago, a decision
was reached by the five members of the fifth generation
regarding the reorganization of our family business.
In a mutually amenable agreement we have decided
that Peter, Jim and Daniel Mirassou will assume ownership
of the winery, vineyards and sales company, buying out
the remaining two partners and family members, Don Alexander
and Steve Mirassou.
Arriving at this decision to reorganize ownership
at Mirassou was a personal and very difficult matter for
all of us. However, we all believe it is an extremely
positive move "or all concerned. In any partnership,
business partners from time to time, can make it difficult
to maintain solid, unified direction. In order for the
winery to continue to be successful, especially in a
difficult marketplace, all partners have to be in complete
agreement. In addition, obligations to others as a member
of a partnership can sometimes curtail the achievement
of personal goals. Both Steve and Don, intensely involved
with the winery for most of their lives, have chosen this
time to make a break and take the opportunity to pursue
Peter Mirassou will assume responsibility for the
winemaking department, as well as remaining head of
viticulture. Working with him will be Peter Stern who
continues as our consulting winemaker. Jim Mirassou will
remain as head of finance and administration, while Daniel
Mirassou continues as president, with direct responsibility
for sales and marketing.
more than ever before, Mirassou is united towards
a single goal. We assure you that our recent efforts toward
AMERICA'S OLDESTWINEMAKING FAMILY
MIRASSOU 5 ALES CO .3CCC ABORN ROAD. SAN IO5E
PAT '-rPv\'iA pens 4CS-:74-4C:^
improving our champagne process, winemaking and grape-
growing operations will continue, along with capital
improvement programs designed to upgrade and expand
We thank you for your past support and interest in
Mirassou and look forward to continuing our valued
friendship. We know you join us in wishing both Steve
and Don all the best in their future pursuits.
The Fifth Generation
INDEX Norbert C. and Edmund A. Mirassou
Adams, Leon D. , 106-107, 119, 129
Alexander, Don, 42-43, 46, 84-85
Almaden Vineyards, 18, 22, 45, 63,
70, 74, 83, 123, 130
Almendinger, Werner, 106
American Alliance of Grapegrowers,
American Society of Enologists, 132
American Vineyard Foundation, 109-
110, 133 '
Anderson Dam, 71
apricots, 11, 12, 26, 55, 70
Arakelian, Krikor, 68-69, 96
Bank of America, 127
Berg, Harold W. (Hod), 17
Berkeley Yeast Laboratory, 15, 16,
Berti, Leo, 22
Bisceglia Brothers, 10-11
Blue Ribbon Committee, 133
bottling, 39-40, 41, 43-44, 45-46,
63, 76, 81-82, 86. See also
Mirassou Sales Company
boxes, grape, 5, 6, 66
Brandeis decision, 102
Brandy , 99
Caddow, Harry A., 95, 105, 106, 129
California Association of Winegrape
Growers (CAWG), 109-110, 123,
California State Agricultural Blue
Ribbon Committee, 133-134
California State Board of Food and
Agriculture, 132-133, 134
California State Department of
Agriculture, 95, 101, 105-106,
108, 109, 121-122, 132
California State University, Fresno,
California Wine Association, 3, 60
Caselagno, Thomas (stepfather of
Peter L. Mirassou), 2, 4, 59, 60,
Cecil, W. J. , 105
Chalone vineyard, 24, 78
Champagne stock, 18
Chavez, Cesar, 32-33
Cherokee Winery, 64
Cook, James A. , 17
Cribari, Angelo, 8
Cribari, Anthony (Tony), 8, 29
Cribari, Fiore, 8
Cribari winery, 3,5-6, 7-8, 10,
11, 28, 62, 68, 96
Daniel, John, Jr., 63, 97
dealer service program, 103, 106
De Luca, John, 129
Dieppe, William A. , 130
Emerald Dry label, 77
Eye of the Partridge (Oeil de
Pedrix) label, 83
Fessler, Julius, 15, 16, 65
field crushing, 30, 35-37, 79
field pressing, 36-37, 38, 79
Field Stone Winery, 38
Food Machinery Corporation, 30-31
Fruit Industries, 96
Gallo, E. & J. Winery, 39, 96, 99,
110, 129, 130-131
Gallo, Ernest, 110, 111
Gallo, Julio, 32
George, Joseph, 45-46
gift boxes, 43-45
Goheen, Austin C. , 88
Goulet, Oliver (Ollie), 24-25, 63,
Guasti vineyards, 66
Guild Wineries and Distilleries,
Haentze, Albert, 70, 71, 96-97
Hartzell, Robert P., 128, 131
Heublein Inc., 123
Horel, Lynn, 121-122
Huebner, Max, 25, 27-29, 70, 82
Hyba, Hans, 83
Inglenook Winery, 63
Ivie, Robert M. (Bob), 111, 120
Jackson, Eugene, 106
Johnson, Wallace, 31-32, 38
Jones Ranch, 71
Joslyn, Maynard, 65
Kasimatis, A. N. , 17, 30, 52
Knight, Ed, 51
labor, field, 32-35, 76
Lider, Lloyd, 17, 52
Light, Frank R. , 128
Lone Hill Winery, 73
Lucia, Salvatore, 111-112
Mantes, William J. , 78
Marketing orders. See Wine Advisory
Marsh, George, 17
Martini, Louis M. , 55, 63, 96
Martini & Prati Wines, Inc., 74
Masson, Paul, Vineyards, 18, 21-25,
40-41, 45, 48, 51, 52, 63, 73-
74, 77, 83
McColly, Don, 135
mechanical harvesting, 30-36, 79-80
medical research, 111-112
Meyer, Otto, 74, 135
Minger, Walter (Walt), 124, 127
Mirassou, Daniel, 42-43, 46, 84-85,
Mirassou, Herman (brother of Peter
L.), 2, 4, 13, 55-56, 73
Mirassou, James (Jim), 42-43, 46,
Mirassou, John (brother of Peter
L.), 2, 4, 12-13, 55-56
Mirassou, P. L. & Sons Company, 13,
Mirassou, P. L. Winery, 59
Mirassou, Peter L. (father of
Norbert C. and Edmund A), 1-14
passim 16, 26, 38, 55-56, 57, 58-
61, 63-64, 67, 73, 117
Mirassou, Peter (son of Edmund A.),
22, 36-37, 39, 42-43, 46, 47-49,
51, 74, 79, 84-85, 88
Mirassou Sales Company, 45-46, 48-
Mirassou, Steve, 42-43, 46, 47-49,
Mirassou Vineyards, 13, 59, 86, and
Mission Vineyards (Ranch), 51, 80,
Mondavi family, 43, 64-65, 81, 111,
Monterey County vineyard land. See
night harvesting, 38-39
Olmo, Harold P., 17, 22
Opper, Kurt, 25, 83
Oxtoby-Smith, Inc., 131
Pellier family, 55, 56, 80, 87
Petri Wine Company, 96
Peyser, Jefferson, 101
Phylloxera, 7, 87-88
potatoes, 47, 81
Prohibition, 2-5, 58, 59-61, 68,
87, 101, 116
Prudhomme family, 56
prunes, 26, 55, 70
Renault family, 56
Reynolds, Robert, 127
Roma Wine Company, 96
Rossi, Edmund A. (Ed), 106
Rupestris St. -George. 87
Salinas Valley vineyards, 20-24,
30-55 passim. 73 passim
San Benito County, 74-75
San Vicente Vineyards, 46-48, 53,
80-81, 84, 88, 89
Santa Clara University, 134
Santa Clara Valley, passim
Santa Clara Valley Water Conservation
Santa Clara Valley Wine Growers
Association, 15, 17
Schilling vineyards, 62
Schoonmaker, Frank, 63
Seagram Distillers, 119, 123, 129
Sebastiani, August, 81
Sebastiani Vineyards, 63
shipping grapes, 2-3, 5-11, 61, 98
Silvear, F. W. , 24-25
Silverman, Milton, 111
Sisk, B. F., 135
Smith, Rich, 39
Southern Pacific Railroad, 8-9
sprinklers, vineyard, 22-23, 66-67,
tanks, fermentation, 40-41, 64, 67,
trade barriers, 87, 100-102, 105,
126, 127, 131
Turrentine, Dan C. , 106
United Farm Workers, 32-33
United Vintners, 124
University of California, 25, 28,
70, 71, 96, 112
at Davis, 17, 21, 30, 32, 48, 53,
54, 62, 88, 134
University of San Francisco, 134
Up-Right Harvesters, 31-32
Valley Farm Management, 39
Valley Foundry, 16
Vicari, Nicholas, 26-27
Vicar i Ranch, 71
walnuts, 11, 12, 26, 70
Wente Bros. , 53 , 63
Wente, Herman, 97
Wente, Karl, 53-54, 74, 81
Western Pacific Railroad, 8-9
Williamson Act, 72
Wine Advisory Board, 17, 74, 92-
Wine Institute, 16, 17, 79, 94, 95,
102, 105, 106, 107, 109, 122-
123, 128-131, 135
wine study course, 104, 106
Wines & Vines, 77, 79
Winegrowers of California, 97, 104,
109-110, 121-128, 131, 133, 134
Winkler, Albert J. , 14, 20, 21, 74
Grapes mentioned in the interviews
Alicante Bouschet, 7, 62
Cabernet Sauvignon, 63, 77
Carignane, 7, 61, 62
Chardonnay, 77, 79
Chenin blanc, 77
Co Lombard, 62
Emerland Riesling, 77
French Colombard, 18, 62, 77
Camay Beaujolais, 77
Johannisberg Riesling, 18, 63, 77
Mataro, 7, 62
Petite Sirah, 7, 61, 62, 77
Pinot blanc, 18, 63, 77
Pinot noir, 77, 82, 83
Rio Nero, 62
Sauvignon vert, 62
Semillon, 18, 63
Sylvaner, 18, 77
Thompson Seedless, 61, 98
Traminer, 62, 77
Zinfandel, 7, 62, 77
Wines mentioned in the interviews
Carignane, 7, 18-19
Champagne, 18, 24-25, 39, 45, 83-
84, 89, 117. See also Sparkling
Chenin Blanc, 31
Johannisberg Riesling, 31
Mataro, 7, 18-19
Oeil de Pedrix, 83
Petite Sirah, 18-19
Pink champagne, 83
Sparkling wine, 82, 117. See also
White Zinfandel, 39, 89, 117-118
Born in Portland, Oregon; came to the Bay
Area in 1932 and has lived here ever since.
Stanford University, B.A. , M.A. in English;
further graduate work in Western history.
Newspaper and magazine writer in San Francisco
since 1943, writing on local history and
business and social life of the Bay Area.
Book reviewer for the San Francisco Chronicle,
Co-author of Winemaking in California, a
An interviewer-editor in the Regional Oral
History Office since 1965.