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University of California Berkeley 

University of California Bancroft Library/Berkeley 

Regional Oral History Office 

Louis A. Petri 


With an Introduction by 
Maynard A. Amerine 

An Interview Conducted by 
Ruth Telser 

1971 by The Regents of the University of California 


Louis A. Petrl 

All uses of this manuscript are covered by a 
legal agreement between the Regents of the University 
of California and Louis Petri, dated 2? August, 1971. 
The manuscriot is thereby made available for research 
purposes. All literary rights in the manuscript, 
including thf 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, 
US6 Library, and should include identification of the 
specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the 
passages, and identification of the user. The "egal 
agreement with Louis Petri requires that he be 
notified of the request and allowed thirty days in 
which to resoond. 




















APPENDIX A Summary of Interview with Dante Forest 1 53 



Petri Wine Company and Affiliates 

United Vintners, Inc. (from Heublein Inc. 
Annual Report, 1969) 

Corporations (from Time. Vol. 6l, April, 



(For Wines and Grapes see page 6?) 



The California Wine Industry Oral History Series, a 
project of the Regional Oral History Office, was initiated 
in 1969, the year noted as the bicentenary of continuous 
wine making in this state. It was undertaken through the 
action and with the financing of the Wine Advisory Board, 
and under the direction of University of California faculty 
and staff advisors at Berkeley and Davis. 

The purpose of the series is to record and preserve 
information on California grape growing and wine making that 
has existed only in the memories of wine men. In some cases 
their recollections go back to the early years of this 
century, before Prohibition. These recollections are of 
particular value because the Prohibition period saw the 
disruption of not only the industry itself but also the 
orderly recording and preservation of records of its 
activities. Little has been written about the industry from 
late in the last century until Repeal. There is a real 
paucity of information on the Prohibition years (1920-1933), 
although some wine making did continue under supervision of 
the Prohibition Department. The material in this series on 
that period, as well as the discussion of the remarkable 
development of the wine industry in subsequent years (as 
yet treated analytically in few writings) will be of aid to 
historians. Of particular value is the fact that frequently 
several individuals have discussed the same subjects and 
events or expressed opinions on the same ideas, each from 
his own point of view. 

Research underlying the interviews has been conducted 
principally In the University libraries at Berkeley and 
Davis, the California State Library, and in the library of 
the Wine Institute, which has made its collection of in 
many cases unique materials readily available for the 
purpose . 

Three master indices for the entire series are being 
prepared, one of general subjects, one of wines, one of 
grapes by variety. These will be available to researchers 
at the conclusion of the series in the Regional Oral History 
Office and at the library of the Wine Institute. 



The Regional Oral History Office was established to 
tape record autobiographical interviews with persons who 
have contributed significantly to recent California history. 
The office is headed by Willa K. Baum and is under the 
administrative supervision of James D. Hart, the Director 
of The Bancroft Library. 

Ruth Teiser 
Project Director 
California Wine Industry 
Oral History Series 

1 March 1971 

Regional Oral History Office 
4-86 The Bancroft Library 
University of California, Berkeley 






For Horatio Alger stories, it is hard to beat that of Louis 
Petri. Taking over from his father he built the Petri Wine 
Company (finally United Vintners) into a gigantic California 
wine producer. Here he tells the story frankly and generally 
quite accurately. 

Petri *s memory is surprisingly good for many details. His 
slips are minor and not critical. He is, for example, correct, 
I believe, in recommending the development of "fanciful" names. 
Paul Kasson s was "Emerald Dry" not "Emerald Green" and it 
wasn f t entirely "fanciful" since the grape variety from which 
it is produced is called "Emerald Riesling." 

Petri emphasizes his early training in chemistry. 
Obviously this was of great assistance to the company when 
they finally went into the wine bottling business. 

History will probably evaluate Petri *s observations on 
the influence of U.S. and state laws on wine mergers as highly 
significant. Probably the account of his formation of Allied 
Grape Growers and of the acquisition of Italian-Swiss Colony 
are the most important. The denouement of this story led 
eventually to the present Allied Grape Grower-United Vintner 
(Heublein) arrangement. How much it benefits the grower is a 
good question that history will soon answer. It is interesting 
to have Petri *s acknowledgement that eventually 56 members of 
his family were involved in his business 

The concept and philosophy behind the wine tanker Angelo 
Petri is ample evidence of his willingness to gamble. The 
decrease in railroad rates on wine subsequently is ample 
evidence of the effect of the Angelo Petri. 

One minor question. This writer doesn t know what created 
the 1956-1970 interest in table wines except consumer Interest. 
Whether the interest In table wines in this period was due 
to sick-to-death attitude towards young dessert wines or to 
increasing quality of California table wines is a question 
for historians. 

Petri states, at least twice, that he thinks the 
acquisition of small wineries by large companies will be 
advantageous to the maintenance of wine quality. One hopes 
so. Finally, we have Petri f s testimonial to the prosperous 
future of the California wine industry. 


Mr. Petri is gracious and generous to his former associates 
at the top management level. One finishes his account with 
the feeling that Petri was an imaginative and energetic 
executive with a heart but also with an ability to look at a 
business deal with a hard look. What comes through in the 
interview is his determination and stick-to-itiveness. 

Maynard A. Amerlne 

Professor, Viticulture and Enology 

1 August 1971 

101 Wickson Hall 

University of California at Davis 



The letter asking Louis A. Petri to participate in the 
wine industry oral history series went to him on January 30 > 
1969. On February 21 the first of four interview sessions 
was held. In it Mr. Petri f s family background was discussed 
and, since he did not have all details in mind, during the 
following weeks he refreshed his memory and the interviewer 
checked the San Francisco city directories, so that there was 
some reworking of information at the second session on April 

Delays followed because of Mr. Petri f s business affairs 
and absences from the city, and finally because he became ill. 
Shortly after he was out of the hospital the remaining two 
sessions were held, on September 4 and 10, 

All interview sessions were held at Mr. Petri f s comfortable 
office at 615 Montgomery Street, San Francisco. He spoke 
easily, although frequently interrupted by phone calls. 

The adjectives energetic, nervous, quick -minded, informal, 
and likeable all apply to Louis Petri. In his office attending 
to his business affairs, it is easy to see him as a man willing 
to assume responsibility, make decisions, and undertake 
challenging ventures with enjoyment. 

In the initial transcript of the tape recording, the 
Interviewer reconciled the details of family history in the 
first two sessions, made some minor corrections, and turned 
the typescript over to Mr. Petri on October 25 Discussion of 
it followed. He felt that he had spoken too informally, 
sometimes ungrammatically, but agreed to let the interview 
retain its original conversational quality. He did make a few 
deletions and numerous changes, adding many specific details. 
The editing of the transcript was completed April 22, 1971 
Mr. Petri furnished photographs and the accessory data that 
make up Appendix B and Appendix G. 

At Mr. Petri s suggestion, Dante Foresti was interviewed, 
on April 21, 1969. Appendix A is a summary of that interview- 

Ruth Teiser 

9 August 1971 

486 The Bancroft Library 

University of California at Berkeley 

(Interview #1 - February 21, 1969) 


Petri : 



Petri : 


Would you start with your grandfather, Raffaello 

My grandfather was a Diamond Jim Brady. He wore 
a big diamond stick pin and had a fancy gold-headed 
cane, and everywhere he went he always wanted the 
best, whether he could afford it or not. Dressed 
immaculately. He was a bon vivant. 

He came here I believe it was in the year 1889 
or 1890. That year might not be exactly right, 
within a year or two. As a young man before he came 
over, he worked in a winery in the Tuscany region of 
Italy, which is a good wine area. 

Let me see when I found the family first in the San 
Francisco city directories, his sister was here. 
Wasn t it his sister who was Cherubina? 

Yes, that is correct. Cherubina Nieri.* I can t tell 
you whether she came first or. . . 

She was listed in an 1882 directory as Cherubina 
Petri at 1405 Dupont, then from 1883 on for a good 
many years at 1^0? Dupont, the same address as "Petri 
Cigars and Tobacco." 

That sounds right, 
dates than I do. 

You seem to know more about the 

Then in 1890 there is a listing for "R. Petri," a 
partner in Vincenzo Duvalle & Co. , proprietors of the 

*Nee Petri. 


Teiser: Toscano Hotel at 619 Broadway. Later he was a 

proprietor of the New Toscano Hotel at 526 Broadway. 

Petri: That seems correct. Later he had a hotel half a 
block up Green Street from Columbus Avenue, the 
Cosmopolitan Hotel, and it s now the Montclair 
Restaurant. He came over here and actually went in 
the hotel business. He really wasn t in the wine 
business the first day he came here. The hotels were 
sort of boarding house type hotels. He naturally 
served, wine with every meal. Very quickly he began 
to go to the Napa Valley to buy wine in bulk, that is 
in barrels. 

He served his boarders their meals early, and by 
around 6:00 or 6:30 he had them all fed and then he 
would serve a special dinner where he would sell meals 
to the outsiders, and to them he gave a better grade 
of wine, if you will, that he had bought in the Napa 
Valley. He had an excellent palate, and an excellent 
ability to select wines. Those wines were so good, 
especially after he had aged them in the basement of 
the hotel, that people began to buy them. When the 
customers were ready to go home, they would take a 
case or two of his wine with them. That business 
began to grow, and so pretty soon he went into the 
wine business directly, using the basement of his 
hotel as a winery. 

Teiser: Was he bottling it, selling it in bottles? 

Petri: Yes, mainly in bottles, bottling the wine in the 

basement. Actually I can still recall that, before 
Prohibition, he had two wineries but he still did 
quite a bit of bottling in the basement of the hotel 
that was on Green Street. At first his business was 
essentially the hotel business, but the wine business 
became more important to him than the hotel. Now do 
you have anything on Dante Forest!? 

Teiser: He was a partner in the hotel? 

Petri: Yes. He was a partner with my grandfather in both 
the hotel and the wine business. This man is still 
alive. He was a very young man when he came to work 
for my grandfather, and because he worked hard and 
well, my grandfather gave him a small part of the 

Teiser: He s first listed, as a partner in the hotel in 190 7 , 
and. as a partner in the wine company first in 1910. 
That s the first year R. Petri & Company is listed as 
being in the wine business. 

Petri: I guess that s right. Dante is still alive, and after 
Prohibition Dante moved from San Francisco to Escalon. 
He became a partner in the Alba Grape & Fruit Company. 
It owned 6*K) acres of vineyard there together with a 
small winery. He still lives there. 

Teiser: I see. When did your grandfather buy his first 
vineyard or winery? 

Petri: Actually he never had a producing winery until just 
shortly before Prohibition. And that was on Sexton 
Road, right near Escalon, California. Not the Alba 
property. I believe it was called the R. Petri 
Winery. He only had it for about two or three years 
before Prohibition. He sold this vineyard and winery 
to the Emerzian family right after Prohibition. Before 
that he operated purely, if you will, as a broker of 
bulk wine, and as a bottler. He bought wine from 
others. Where there is now a woodworking cabinet shop 
on Green Street just east of Grant, Avenue he had a 
wine storage depot. That winery must have had a 
capacity of about a quarter of a million gallons. I 
have heard the story many times that right before 
Prohibiton became effective people with jugs were lined 
up for many blocks to buy the wine. [Laughter] 

And the interesting thing is that my grandfather 
had about a half a million gallons of wine when 
Prohibition was voted in, and right up to the last 
hour they sold the wine. They started maybe at 25 or 
30 cents a gallon. The last of it was sold at a 
couple of dollars a gallon. He came out of it with a 
considerable amount of money. And, as I said before, 
they were lined up for blocks, people with jugs, as if 
there would never be another gallon of wine produced 
in the world. 

Teiser: What about his brothers and sisters? 

Petri: Before he came to San Francisco his sister Cherubina 
had come before him Cherubina and his brother Amadeo 
went into the cigar business. That business was on 
Dupont Street, now called Grant Avenue, actually in 
the same location where I was born.* It was a cigar 

*0n October 13, 1912, 

Petri: store in the front, and a few Italian ladies were in 
the back making Italian style cigars. That was the 
start of the cigar business. Then when my father 
came to San Francisco, he actually went to work for 
both his father and his uncle, Amadeo. They were 
two separate entities, the wine and hotel business 
and the cigar business, and my father worked for both 
of them. 

Telser: Let me ask, how did your father come to be born in 

Petri: Because his parents were on a trip to Marseille and 
he was born there. But they went back to Italy 
shortly after he was born. My grandfather came over 
here first, and after he made a few dollars he sent 
for his family. There were four in my grandfather s 
family. There was Raffaello and Amadeo, and there 
was Carlotta and Cherubina. Two brothers and two 

Teiser: Your father remained in Italy through his early years? 

Petri: Yes, through his early years. That is correct, [on 
the telephone to his secretary, Miss lola Guaraldi] 
What year was my father and what year was my mother 
born? My father, 1883. And my mother 88. Very 
good. Thank you. (lola has been working for the 
family about 45 years. She was my father s secretary 
before me. She probably knows as much about the 
family and its business as anyone. ) 

My mother* was born here in San Francisco. Part 
of the family had moved over already. When her mother 
came here she was pregnant. Her mother was Carlotta 
Guidi. As I said before, my mother was born in San 
Francisco, but her father became very ill shortly 
after they arrived. He and the family turned around 
and went back to the old country. He wanted to die 
in his native land, Italy. 

So the family was already here by 1888. I never 
thought of that before. They went back, maybe in 
early 1889. She [my mother] was, oh, less than a 
year old when they went back. And then my grandmother 

*Born Amelia Guidi, 

Petrl: Carlotta remarried in Italy, and when my mother was 
about 12 years old, my uncle Amadeo [Petri] and 
Caterina, his wife, went to Italy and brought my 
mother back to San Francisco with them. They raised 
her, because my grandmother in Italy wanted my mother 
to be reared in the United States. The man that my 
grandmother married did not want to come to the United 

Teiser: And your father* came here.... 

Petri: Let s see, my father was about well, he was here 

before my mother came back. He was just a young boy. 
It was about 1898 or 1899. His first Job in the 
United States was in Elko, Nevada. He worked for a 
good friend of the family who had a hotel there. I 
believe he worked there for about four years and then 
came to San Francisco. After he arrived here, he 
went to work for both his father and for his uncle 
Amadeo. My father was a great man. He worked hard 
and helped make both the wine and cigar business 

Teiser: I wish we had been able to interview your father. 

Petri: Yes, I wish you could have. I m sure you would have 
enjoyed it. He was ill for so many years before 
[his death in 1961], He had a series of strokes, 
and with the last one he was in the hospital for five 
years . 

Teiser: To go back to the Prohibition period, what happened 
then to the San Francisco property the family owned? 

Petri: The one property we were stuck with was my grand 
father s lease on the Cosmopolitan Hotel property. 
For years, even after my grandfather s estate was 
settled, we had trouble. But finally we were able 
to find someone to assume the lease. They built the 
present Montclair Restaurant on the property. 

*Angelo Petri. He died October 


Mr. and Mrs. Angelo Petri with their sons Albert (left) and Louis (right) 

Petri cigar company float constructed for the Panama Pacific International Exposition of 1915. 


Telser: What happened to the vineyard property at the time 
of Prohibition? It was a vineyard and winery? 

Petri: Yes, At Escalon there was a small winery, the one I 
told about on Sexton Road, and, I think, about 100 
acres of vineyard. That was sold immediately after 

Teiser: Weren t such properties a glut on the market 
immediately after Prohibition? 

Petri : There was a pretty good market for grapes immediately 
after Prohibition, because the type of grape raised 
in that area what they call wine Juice grape, the 
ones that are used to make wine they were in good 
demand. Actually some of those farmers in the area 
made a heck of a lot more money during Prohibition 
than they did before Prohibition. 

There developed a great metrket for home wine 
making in New York and all the principal centers, 
because all the Italians, Frenchmen and other wine- 
drinking people, wanted their wine and the law allowed 
them to make 200 gallons of wine [each year per 
household]. The law allowed families to group their 
permits and make their wines together. Some of the 
tenement buildings had pretty good size wineries in 
their basements. 

Teiser: Was this in New York mainly? 

Petri: Well, New York and other big cities such as Chicago 
and Philadelphia. The bootleggers would buy the 
permits, if you will, from the owner or give him 50 
gallons of wine for free for the permit. They would 
then have all this wine that supposedly belonged to 
all the tenants in common, for sale. 

But all the people of Latin extraction wanted 
their wine. The law allowed it. And [grapes] being 
packed in boxes and shipped all the way from 
California made the price quite high. Thus some of 
that land became very valuable. The juice grape 
growers made good money. 

Teiser: So your grandfather... 

Petri: He sold out. He completely retired. He had his money 
and he completely retired. He died in 1923 I believe. 
And now here starts the other end of the story that s 

The Gella family, who later owned the Roma Wine 
Company, were the agents in the East for "both our 
cigars and wine before Prohibition. Incidentally, 
J. B. Cella is my father-in-law.* 

Teiser: Oh, that was how there had been a connection. 

Petri: Yes. After the wine end of my grandfather s business 
grew, and my father became active in the selling end 
of the business, my father began travelling to the 
East to sell wine and cigars. On one of his first 
trips, my father met the Cellas John Battista and 
Lorenzo (Lori) Cella and they started buying wine 
from us. I don t know what year that was, but I know 
that my father was in New York with the Cellas right 
before I was born and that was In 1912. 

Teiser: Was it all bottled here or was some... 

Petri: No, it was all bulk in barrels. We bottled here 

under our Petri label for sale locally, [shows old 
bottles] You see how old that is. [Laughter] This 
one, if you look closely, is dated 1918, right before 
Prohibition. You cannot read the dates on the others. 
I ve had many people call me up and offer me more 
[old bottles] that they find when somebody dies and 
they clean up the basement. At first I used to give 
them a case of good wine or something for a couple of 
bottles, but then you get too many. 

Well, as I said, my father started travelling 
East and selling wine and cigars. The Cellas became 
our largest customers. My father had some other 
accounts; I remember Dad telling about the accounts 
in Philadelphia, Boston and St. Louis. Yes, my 
father did a good job of selling wines and cigars. 
As I told you before, we went out of the wine business 
with Prohibition but remained in the cigar business. 

By the way, there is someone you should talk to. 
I believe you met him here with me the other day. His 

* Louis Petri married Plori Cella in 1935. 


Petri: name is Benjamin (Benny) Mortara. He came with the 
cigar company during 1919 and retired in 196^. He 
started as a bookkeeper and retired as vice president 
and controller. He has been a tremendous help to the 
family both in the cigar and in the wine business. 

Then when Repeal came, the cigar company decided 
to go into the wine business. A year or so before 
Repeal we leased three plants, all in the northern 
part of the state, and started producing table wines. 

Teiser: Where were they? 

Petri: There was one at Forestvllle, California, which is 
now an electronics plant. 

Teiser: What was it called? Did it have a name? 

Petri: I don t remember its name before, but it became Petri 
Wine Company. And also a plant just south of St. 
Helena, which is now what is called the "big co-op." 
I don t know what its name is St. Helena Co-op or 
something "the big co-op" they call it, which is 
presently under contract to Gallo. Then we had a 
smaller plant south of Callstoga. These two plants 
were part of the Mt. St. Helena Calistoga Wine Company, 
as a subsidiary of the Petri Cigar Company. This 
corporation was merged with the Petri Cigar Company 
in September 1933. (Incidentally, the one at 
Calistoga for many years was under contract to Gallo, 
but is now under contract to United Vintners.) 
Besides we bought wines from many small wineries in 
the northern area, because our own plants weren t 


Petri: Then about a year after Repeal we bought the Alba 

Grape & Fruit Company at Escalon, in order to acquire 
a plant in the southern part of the state so that we 
could make dessert type wines. We thought when we 
first entered the wine business that the market would 
be mainly table wines. That was what the business 
was before Prohibition, and that for practical purposes 
was all that my grandfather sold. This was proven 
wrong very quickly because the big business became 

Petri: port, sherry and muscatel, you know dessert wines. 
So we made a deal with Louis Martini (who at that 
time was not in the Napa Valley but was at Kingsburg, 
California, making dessert wines.) We bought all of 
our dessert wines to start out with from Louis 
Martini, which is interesting. Here they all tie 
in together. [Laughter] 

Teiser: I see in the 19^-1 directory there was still a Petri 
Cigar Company. 

Petri: D.b.a. [doing business as] Petri Wine Company. 

Teiser: But later the name was changed officially to the 
Petri Wine Company? 

Fetri: It wasn t changed to Petri Wine Company for quite a 

while afterwards. As the wine business became larger 
than the cigar business, and every time you had 
official documents to sign (and there were plenty) 
you had to put "Petri Cigar Company d.b.a. Petri Wine 
Company," we reversed it and made it "Petri Wine 
Company d.b.a. Petri Cigar Company." 

Teiser: This is as of 1950? 

Petri: Yes, around. 1950. 

Teiser: What happened to the cigar business finally? 

Petri: Oh, the cigar business stayed in existence until we 
sold out to Allied Grape Growers in 1959 > at which 
time my brother Albert bought it from the corporation. 

(Interview ,f2 - April 30, 1969) 

Teiser: Your father, Angelo Petri, at what point did he come 
into the wine business, and. what were his accomplish 
ments in it? 

Petri: Well, I think I told you last time that when dad 

first came to San Francisco, he really worked both 
for his father, who was in the wine business that 
was the R. Petri Wine Company at that time and he 
worked for his uncle, his father s brother, Amadeo, 
in the cigar business, known as Petri Cigar Company. 


Angelo Petri In his office, with portraits of his uncle, Amadeo Petri (left) and his father, 
Raffaello Petri (right). 


Petri: He was the one who, as the businesses grew, did all 
of the travelling. He went to New York and Chicago 
and other places and sold the cigars and the wine 
to wholesalers, if you will. And I think I told you 
last time of the connection "between the Cella family 
and the Petri family. The Cella brothers, J. B. 
Cella and Lorenzo Lori Cella, took on in New York 
the sale of the wine, which they bought in bulk, and 
also our cigars. They bought the wine in barrels 
and re-bottled it in New York. They also sold some 
of it in barrels. 

Teiser: What labels were they selling your wine under then? 

Petri: I believe only Cella. And the cigars were under our 
own label Marca Petri cigars. Well, at the time of 
Prohibition, we went out of the wine business, but 
continued on in the cigar business. My grandfather 
died, oh, not too many years [later]; I think it was 
about 1923.* My father kept working with my great 
uncle, Amadeo, in the cigar business. Amadeo died 
not too many years later, probably about 1925- So 
we were only in the cigar business and grew considerably 
in this business all through the time of Prohibition. 

Then when Repeal looked like it was inevitable, 
they went and leased wineries north. They misjudged 
the business at that time, as any old winemaker would 
have, and thought that nothing but table wines would 
be sold. They leased three plants, one in Forestville 
that s in Sonoma County near the Russian River and 
two near St. Helena in the Napa Valley. They started 
to produce wine at the time of the repeal of 
Prohibition. Now I m just a little foggy as to 
whether these wineries had any wine on hand when we 
leased them, or whether we bought only plants. I 
don t know whether we started from complete scratch 
or whether they had some wine on hand. 

Right after Repeal, the big seller at that time 
was dessert wines, you know, high alcohol wines, and 
we unfortunately were not in the dessert wine field. 
We didn t have a dessert wine plant. And that s when 
they took over the Alba Grape and Fruit Company. The 

"June, 1923. 


Petri: Alba Grape and Fruit Company, as I told you before, 

had a small winery together with 6^0 acres of grapes, 
near Escalon, California. The vineyard was, for 
practical purposes, all wine Juice varieties, and 
before Repeal the company shipped the grapes East. 
With the second crops and the stripping from the 
vines they made some wine. But the wine was of poor 
quality. When we bought the company there was about 
300,000 to 350,000 gallons of wine. The wine was 
real bad and unsaleable. Most all of it had to be 
dumped down the sewer. 

Teiser: Why was it so bad? 

Petri: Well, it was made from grapes that were left over 
after they had shipped the best, and the wine Just 
wasn t taken care of. It was really bad. I remember 
that was about the time that I entered the business. 
Oh, some of it was distilled to make brandy, but most 
of it was dumped. The tanks that the wine was stored 
in hadn t been properly maintained or prepared before 
use. This was true of lots and lots of wine in 
California at the time of Prohibition. People were 
making wine from what was left over on the vines, 
from second crop grapes that were moldy and bad 
grapes. There weren t too many people that had kept 
this type of old wineries going during Prohibition 
that made good wine. 

We cleaned up the winery, bought some good 
equipment and started producing our own dessert 
wines. But before our own wines were ready, we were 
buying our dessert wines from Louis Martini, who 
since has become quite famous, as you know, in the 
Napa Valley. Louis start in the wine business was 
not in the Napa Valley, it was in Kingsburg, which 
is right below Fresno. He had a fairly large plant 
there, and produced dessert wines. 

Teiser: Did he make good dessert wines? 

Petri: Excellent. Louis, in my opinion, is one of the best 
enologists and winemakers in the state of California. 
Incidentally he s about 82 years old at the present 
time. He decided that the future well ahead of 
everybody was in good premium wines in the Napa 
Valley and was one of the first (other than the few 
existing wineries such as Beaulieu and Inglenook) to 
go to the Napa Valley you know, one of the first to 
really go to the Napa Valley and produce premium type 


Petri: table wines, for whioh the Napa Valley is now quite 
famous . 

Let me say that Escalon is one of the real 
centers of good grapes of better quality than you 
get further south in the [San Joaquin] valley. Even 
during Prohibition it was a big shipping market for 
what they called wine Juice variety grapes, the ones 
for home wine making. It was a. good area for it, 
and it still is. Well, our Escalon plant has become 
the prime plant for United Vintners for the production 
of the less expensive type of table wines. The grapes 
in this area are, in the main, non- irrigated, and 
then too this area has cooler weather than there is 
further south. 

Telser: What did you label your table wines? 

Petri: Well, at the very start of our bottling, which 

didn t occur until maybe four or five years after 
the repeal of Prohibition, it was mainly under the 
Petri label. And as a second label, we had one called 
Albano. We wanted to call it Alba, but we couldn t 
get the name, so we came close to it with A-1-b-a-n-o, 
Albano . 

Teiser: And what did you call the wines? Burgundy... 

Petri: Yes, burgundy, Zinfandel. The generics. We did not 
sell any varietals to start with, neither did anyone 
else in the industry. It was burgandy, sauterne, 
port, sherry, muscatel, angelica. Zinfandel would 
be closest to a varietal as such, but most wines were 
not sold under the name of the grape. Still today, 
most of the commercial wine is sold that way. What 
I call "commercial" is the regular bottling of 
Italian Swiss Colony, Gallo, and others. They re 
trying, to a degree in something like a rose to call 
it a "Grenache rose" because there are plenty of 
Grenache grapes. Both Gallo and United Vintners 
have been pioneers in so called natural fruit 
flavored wines. These are known by such names as 
Thunderbird, Bali-Hai. Paul Masson has been a 
pioneer in creating their own fanciful names for 
table wine such as "Emerald Green."* More of this is 
needed in the Industry. 

Getting back to our start in the bottling of 
wines, we took a part of the large cigar manufacturing 

* Emerald Riesling. See Introduction. 


Petri: plant we had in San Francisco at Battery and Vallejo, 
901 Battery Street, and made it into a winery. We 
took a large part of the basement and about half of 
the first floor. It was a rather large building; we 
employed about four hundred people to make cigars 
in that plant. We installed about 300,000 gallons of 
storage tanks. The wine was brought down from the 
wineries in tank trucks. 

To start out with, in San Francisco, we sold 
wine to grocery and liquor stores in 5, 10, 15, 25 
and 50 gallon barrels. Customers brought in their 
own Jugs and bottles and the wine was sold directly 
from the barrel. My uncle Paul Petri, my father s 
brother, who Incidentally is still alive, was sales 
manager at that time. He did a great job of selling 
wine to the grocery and liquor stores. We had a 
distributor in Oakland called Vick s Distributing 
Company that with my uncle s help did one hell of a 
good job for us. 

We did not do any bottling for four or five 
years. The first bottling we ever did was a private 
labelling for a restaurant in Los Gatos called 
Ferranti s, good friends of ours. I remember I made 
the sale. We used to go to Los Gatos a lot because 
Dad had a summer home there. I sold them 200 cases 
under their own label. I remember that I took a 
couple of cigar makers and we hand-labelled it. In 
the meantime we began selling large quantities of 
wine to eastern bottlers in tank cars. 


Petri: Our first real entrance into bottled wines really 

was when the can companies went to all the wineries 
and wanted wineries to put wine in cans. I d say 
about oh at least ten of them were subsidized by 
the can companies, especially American Can Company, 
to put in canning plants and can wine. I rebelled 
at the idea [laughter] of putting wine in cans, and 
this is when I made a deal with Owens-Illinois Glass 
Company whereby they made a light-weight bottle that 
generally was competitive in price with cans. I 
have that label somewhere "Little John" you see 
that label on the wall? [points to framed label] 

Petri: I went to Safeway with that idea, with that little 
bottle, even before we started bottling.,.. 

Telser: What was it, a tenth? 

Petri: It was 12 fluid ounces. Incidentally, it is certainly 
wrong that we here in the United States [now] have 
to put a full fifth 25.6 ounces while all the 
imported wines come in at 24 ounces. Well, the 1.6 
ounces makes a big difference both in tax, the cost 
of the bottle, the cost of wine and everything else. 
The industry had to and still has to sell a full fifth. 
The government allows the importers to bring in a 24- 
ounce bottle. It just isn t right. 

Teiser: Your "Little John" bottle was 12 ounces then? 

Petri: Yes, it was 12 ounces. The full fifth and tenth law 
came in later. Cute little bottle. I ve got one 
home some place. Well, I went to Safeway with a 
sample, to try to sell them the small bottle rather 
than the can. They started buying it from us. Safeway 
at that time was buying wine in every division and 
most districts from different bottlers. I managed 
to sell them the idea of having one source for their 
wine business. I ended up getting all of Safeway s 
wine business under their private label called 

Later we got real fancy and made a little 
Pidelis 12-ounce bottle, which was a big hit. So, 
as I say, our real big entrance into the bottling 
business was when I was able to sell Safeway their 
Fidelis private label for their whole operation. 
It s a funny thing, I don t have one here [on the 
shelves]. I have many at home. I probably should 
have one here. After our start with Safeway we 
slowly began to get into our own bottling, essentially 
Petri. And you san see there [pointing] the first 
two labels we came out with. Those two there. This, 
the Vintage label was the more expensive, and this, 
the Double A, was in between in price, and then we 
had the Albano as the more competitive wine. We 
were one of the first companies to go out and get 
modern designers. We hired designers for the label 
and bottle designs... 

Teiser: You got Jo Sinel? 


Petri: Jo Sinel was the designer of those two packages you 
see there. One was tapered, the other had a breast. 

Well, Just shortly after we put our plans Into 
effect, along came World War II. We kept on with 
Safeway for a while, but then we parted company with 

[Interruption for telephone conversation] 

Louis Martini... Well, as I said, we broke off 
with Safeway, and during the war, we put the great 
majority of our wine in bottles under the Petri 
label. We moved essentially from the tank car 
business to bottled wines. 

Now you were asking me about my father. My 
father was very active in the business when we first 
started. I came in the business about let s see, 
it was in about March or April of 1935 the year I 
left school. I was studying medicine at the 
University of St. Louis. I fell very much in love 
during the summer of 193^, with a girl I married in 
1935. As I told you before, her name is Plori and 
she is a Cella. I came home for the Christmas 
vacation in 193^-, and went back to St. Louis after 
the vacation, but the glamour of both families 
getting into the wine business and my strong desire 
to marry Flori made me decide to quit med school 
and come home. 

After I came home, Dad arranged for me to get 
some special instructions from some of the great 
professors at the University of California. I took 
special courses from [Albert J.] Wlnkler, [Maynard] 
Amerine, and [William V.] Cruess. They were and 
became great in the field of enology and viticulture. 
At first I remember that I set up a laboratory in 
the laundry room of our home. Then we built a 
laboratory. I guess I really started as a barrel 
washer, if you will, but during spare time and at 
night I was analyzing the wines from all the plants. 

Teiser: This was at a time when the University was giving 

kind of crash courses to people in the wine industry? 

Petri: Yes, but I did not go during the daytime. I went 
at night. I worked during the daytime, and. I had 
some special courses at night that I told you about. 


Petri: I knew my chemistry; after all I was freshly out of 
school as a chem major, and I was pretty good in 
chemistry, so it was just a matter of learning how 
to do TTine analyses and learning something about 
wine making. I also started a few research programs. 

Then during the war, when we were selling most 
of our wines in bottles, we established a tight 
allocated system. Put it this way: an extremely 
legitimate allocation system. Special deals were 
available where we could have made a lot more money. 
We allocated every gallon of wine we could make as 
fairly as we could and sold every case or gallon at 
the O.P.A. established prices, so that when the war 
was over with, we had a good system of distribution 
of our products throughout the United States. 

During the war I was very active in Washington, 
I was on just about every committee that had anything 
to do with the wine and distilling industry. I spent 
half of my time in airplanes commuting back and forth 
to Washington, and very nicely I flew on priority. 
I was on the O.P.A., the price committee for both the 
wine and the distilled spirits, I was in charge for 
the West Coast of making alcohol from molasses, which 
unfortunately all ended up In the hands of Russia, 
Yes, I was in charge of setting up the wine industry 
to make molasses alcohol with their stills during the 
off season. This alcohol was used as antifreeze by 
the Russians. I was on the N.B.A. or N.R.A., one of 
those initials, which allocated all scarce materials, 
such as glass, screw caps, cardboard boxes, out of 
Washington. And because of this type of work and 
because I was married and had a child, I was not 
called into the armed services. 

Before the war, actually, we started acquiring 
other companies, and I think if you look up there 
[at framed photographs] and go down through them, I 
can tell you what they are. The first one, the 
picture up on the top, was where we bought out a 
50 per cent interest in the Margo Wine Company. 
[Interruption for phone call] That was my brother. 

Teiser: Your brother s name is? 

Petri: Albert. He s my older brother. I only have one 

brother and no sisters. He s three and a half years 
older than I am. He was in the cigar business. We 


Petri: ran them pretty much as separate businesses. However, 
naturally we all worked together because essentially 
it was a family business. Now there is somebody else 
you should talk to who has been in the business for 
a long time, and is still in it. He s Just ready for 
retirement. He*s in Europe at the moment and will 
be back in June. He is Mr. Bianchini, Lelio Neil 
Bianchini. Now, Bob that is his nickname was in 
the business before me. When I came into the business, 
I really worked under Mr. Bianchini. 


Petri: Now, about the acquisitions we were talking about. 
The first acquisition we made was a big bulk wine 
customer we had in the state of Pennsylvania. The 
state of Pennsylvania is a monopoly state, as you 
know. We first started doing business with him by 
making a deal on a cost-plus basis, but it became very 
complicated. We ended up by buying half of the company 
from a Mr. John Margolis. A few years later we ended 
up buying the other half from him. 

Teiser: What was the name of the company? 

Petri: Margo Wine Company. It owned the Margo label, which 
was the biggest selling brand in the state of 
Pennsylvania, and is still a very Important brand. 
And, strangely, the company also owned the name 
Greystone for the state of Pennsylvania. Margolis 
had been buying wine from what was then Fruit 
Industries and managed somehow or other to get the 
right to the name Greystone, only for the state of 
Pennsylvania. The old Fruit Industries, which is now 
the California Wine Association, owns it for the rest 
of the world. 

Teiser: So then you came into the Greystone label for 

Petri: We came into the Greystone label for Pennsylvania. 

Now, right before and that picture s not up there 
Dad did this one just shortly before I began travelling 
for the company. We bought out half of what was 
Sunny Hill Wine Company in Chicago, which was a large 
bulk customer of ours. A n d we ended up eventually 


Petri : 

Petri : 

Petri : 

Petri : 

Petri : 

buying all of it. On that, interestingly enough, 
there were two people involved. One of them moved 
to California, a man by the name of Joe Gazzara. 
Mr. Gazzara, who died about six or eight months ago,* 
bought the Crest View Winery in California, after we 
bought him out. Our philosophy at that time was, 
well, if we had these big customers, we didn t want 
to have to continually fight over prices and stand 
the danger of losing them. If we became partners 
and worked together it made for a better deal for 
everybody concerned. 

Did either of these produce wine? 

No. They were strictly bottlers. Sunny Hill was 
the biggest brand in the Chicago area, and Margo was 
the big one in Pennsylvania. Well, the next 
acquisition, let me see, oh yes during the war 
there s not a picture of that up there we bought 
out the Tulare Wine Company, located just north of 
Tulare. This was sort of a screwball deal. The 
state of Washington, which was a monopoly state, 
gave us a contract to bottle and sell them the full 
gallonage of wine that came with the plant. 

No relation to 

Who had owned that? 

A man by the name of Frank Giannini. 
the Giannini s of the bank. 

And it was an actual wine producer? 

It was an actual wine producer and it was a fairly 
good sized plant. First we bought the winery, then 
we bought 1280 acres, two sections, of land that 
surrounded the winery, from the same family. Mr. 
Giannini had a son-in-law by the name of Fred 
Lagomarsino who was the general manager and was some 
sort of a partner with him. I believe he was more 
involved in the winery than he was in the vineyard. 

This was table wines? 

Some table wines, but essentially dessert wines. The 
wine business in those days was essentially dessert 

*July 9, 1968 


Petri: wine you can get the statistics. If my memory serves 
me right, dessert wines were about 75 per cent of 
the total wine market. But as you know now, the sale 
of dessert wines has declined and the sale of table 
wines has climbed tremendously. This is wonderful 
for the industry. As a matter of fact table wine 
sales are now greater than dessert wine sales. 

Then our next acquisition was when we bought 
out the Mission Bell winery from the Arakelian 
family, headed by Mr. K. Arakelian. 

Teiser: What s his real name? I ve never heard him called 
anything but "K." 

Petri: I think it was Krlkor. It s an Armenian name. 
Everybody called him "K, " but I think that was 
Krikor. Shortly after we bought out the Mission Bell 
winery, which was a real big winery, we turned around 
and sold Tulare Wine Company to K. Arakelian s son, 
Eddie [laughter]. We then sold the winery and most 
of the vineyards. 

We found that trying to be farmers in a large 
scale was not profitable. We found it was cheaper 
to buy grapes than raise them. When we bought the 
Arakelians out we began to be a pretty good sized 
operation. I remember that we crushed about 100,000 
tons of grapes the year we bought the Arakelians. 
Naturally, our sales grew with each acquisition. 
And this was when we began to run out of money. It 
wasn t so much what we paid for the plants, but every 
ton of grapes that we bought had to be paid for, and 
then we had to age the wine. The turnover of our 
money was slow. It was because of this that we got 
the bright idea of forming Allied Grape Growers. 
But that had a very peculiar start. It started very 
bad, but ended up the greatest deal that we ever 

It started out when I got a group of large 
Thompson Seedless growers in the Madera area together. 
There had always been a problem of getting enough 
Thompson Seedless grapes at the beginning of the 
season, and getting them in fast enough so that you 
could make a stockpile of high proof alcohol to have 
available later to fortify wine grapes that came in 
later in the season. So to get people to give us the 
Thompson Seedless grapes, I made a three-year contract 


Petrl: on about 20,000 tons of grapes. We agreed to pay 

the grower on a ^~ to-1 formula. That is, on a fresh 
basis one-fourth of the price that they got for 
their raisins. Well, as the thing turned out, the 
raisin market got extremely hot during that period 
of time and we were paying a much higher price for 
Thompsons than what other wineries were paying. The 
growers were really getting rich on us. So at the 
end of the second year of the deal, early 1959 > I 
proposed to the "^ to 1" growers that they form 
Allied Grape Growers, a co-operative, and through a 
very complex formula we converted their contracts to 
Allied Grape Growers, All of them and some other 
growers formed Allied Grape Growers. The original 
sign-up was for about 30,000-35,000 tons of grapes, 

Teiser: What part did you have in the formation of Allied 
Grape Growers? Beyond the original suggestion. 

Petri: I conceived the idea and helped them set up their 
co-operative. The idea was that after they had 
formed a co-op, the grower gave title to his grapes 
to Allied, who in turn gave us the grapes to make 
into wine. Then we had a very complex formula with 
them whereby we shared the profits from the sale of 
the wine. We paid Allied on a deferred basis over 
an 18 months period. The deal was really a partner 
ship. Allied supplied the grapes and were paid on 
a deferred basis; we invested in making the wine and 
selling it with our brand and through our organization. 
As part of the arrangement they bought our Escalon 
and Madera plants from us at a very low price book 
value and paid for them over the next six or seven 
years. Allied withheld from the grower monies to pay 
us. It worked out great. They received enough money 
over market to buy the plants for free. 

Teiser: Had such a thing ever been done before? 

Petri: No, it was an entirely new concept. It was an 
immediate success. Right after the first crush, 
growers were knocking at the door to become members 
of Allied, It grew fast and by the end of the third 
year the Allied sign-up was about 60-70,000 tons 
of the 120-130,000 ton total we were crushing, about 
half or our requirements. It was about then that I 
bought Italian Swiss Colony, which was about the same 
size as ourselves. 


Teiser: In the meantime, had you been liquidating acreage? 

Petri: The only large acreage that we ever owned was the one 
around Tulare. We planted that, I believe, during 
the years 19^3-*l4 during the war. Strange part of 
it, it was planted by German prisoners of war. There 
was a prisoners 1 camp near Tulare at the Tagus Ranch, 
and the Army made German prisoners of war available 
to agriculture. We tore out all the old vineyard 
and we planted it to better grape varieties. But as 
I said before, we sold these vineyards. And when 
we bought K. Arakelian, who was one of the largest 
grape growers in the state they had about 8,000 
acres we did not buy the vineyards. We bought only 
the winery and a section of land and vineyard 
surrounding it. 

Teiser: Had you earlier leased vineyard acreage? 

Petri: No. We had the 600 acres around the plant at Escalon. 
Most of this was also sold off. With the Arakelian 
deal, we ended up with a section of land around the 
winery, 6^0 acres; we sold most of that off. No, 
we were not vineyardists. 


Teiser: When did you buy Italian Swiss Colony? 

Petri: May 29, 1953. That was a real, real big one. Well, 
Italian Swiss was Just about equal to us both in size 
and sales. We were the two largest vintners in those 
days. Mr. Gallo was really Just beginning to grow 
in the wine business. 

Teiser: What was the ownership at that time? 

Petri: National Distillers owned Italian Swiss Colony. They 
had a big winery at Asti, and another large plant at 
Clovis, California, and a smaller plant at Lodi, 
California. It had two bottling plants, one in 
Chicago and another in New York. They had many 
labels. Beside Italian Swiss Colony they owned 
G & D, which is the initials for Gambarelli & 
Davitto. This was a very large bottler that they 
had bought in the New York area. The plant in Lodi 
was called Shewan and Jones, which when they bought 


Petri: it out was owned by Lee Jones. Incidentally, the 

brand name "Lejon" which they owned was put together 
from the name Lee Jones to make it French sounding. 
I bought the Italian Swiss Colony Company on 
extremely favorable terms. 

Teiser: What were the circumstances? 

Petri: National Distillers was a very large corporation 

that was very big in the distilled spirits business. 
One of the original founders of National Distillers 
was Seton Porter who died a short time before I 
bought Italian Swiss Colony. A man named Jack 
Bierwirth, after Porter s death, became the chief 
executive officer of National Distillers. He wanted 
to expand into the chemical field and wanted to make 
National Distillers a tremendous chemical company 
(which it is today) even though it was one of the 
biggest in the distilled spirits. He had management 
in California that was not satisfactory to him, and 
then too when you have Wall Street trying to run the 
every-day wine business from that far ax-ray, such as 
buying grapes, it didn t work. 

For example, when the grape and wine market was 
high, they were buying wine and grapes; when the 
market was low, they were out of the market. They 
were just doing it backwards because they were trying 
to run it from New York, and they were not successful 
in doing this. I remember that there was a tremendous 
drop in the price of wine during the year following 
the end of the war. They lost $11,000,000, if my 
memory serves me right, or was it $9 > 000, 000? 
Schenley lost a fortune too. One of them lost nine 
and the other lost eleven, or some such astronomical 
figure. Our company managed to break even during that 
period, but they lost their shirts. It was after 
that that they wanted out. He fired the people he 
had running the operation in California. He brought 
out a man by the name of Adolph Heck, made him 
president of Italian Swiss Colony shortly before I 
bought it. Adolph Heck now, and his three brothers 
and sister, own Korbel.* So as I say, I bought 
Italian Swiss Colony, and then worked like hell to 
enlarge the co-op because we needed more grapes. Oh, 

*F. Korbel & Brothers. 

Petri: let me tell you this. They sold it to me at a real 
good deal. Totally, we paid about eleven and a half 
or twelve million dollars for it. Six million of 
that Mr. Bierwirth gave us twenty years to pay and 
he did not charge us interest. [Laughter] 

Telser: He did want you to have it. 

Petri: Yes. Funny thing, it isn f t twenty years yet, and 
those notes are still floating around. They ve 
been sold all over the place because when we sold 
out to the growers, those notes had to be paid off. 
There wasn t any sense in paying them, so I was able 
to work out a deal with Bierwirth where we bought 
U.S. government bonds that matured roughly at the 
same time as the notes and put them into an irrevocable 
trust with one of the big New York banks. Strangely, 
I happened to be reading a statement of a company 
called Mallory and saw that they bought some of the 
bonds with excess cash they had. 

Now, I would like to go back Just a little. 
Before we bought Italian Swiss Colony our table wine 
business grew and our company became rather famous 
for its table wine, especially the red wines, Marca 
Petri, Vino Rosso Pastoso, marca meaning "brand" in 
Italian. Our cigars were sold under the Marca Petri 
name. I m sure you know vino rosso means red wine 
and pastoso means mellow, tasty, full-bodied. So 
our dry wine business grew. We needed more and more 
wines from the north coast counties to blend in with 
the dry wines we made at Escalon. We needed heavier 
wines to blend with our southern valley wines. So 
we went up north and we bought out or made screwball 
deals with about, oh, seven or eight little wineries, 
some of them small co-ops, and used their wines for 

When you speak of north, what do you mean? 

North coast counties. Prom Uklah on down; Mendoclno, 
Sonoma and Napa. Those three areas. Well, we ended 
up with a bunch of small wineries and then when we 
bought Italian Swiss Colony, we sold and closed most 
of them. 

Teiser: Who did you sell them to? 

Petri: We made all kinds of deals. One of them was Larkmead. 


Petri: Larkmead was a co-operative. We made a deal with 
them whereby their grapes went into our co-op, 
Allied. The plant we ended up selling to Hans Kernel. 
He is now rather famous as a champagne producer. 

The plant we had at Forestville, which was one 
of our original plants in the north, is now an 
electronics plant of some type, I forget the name 
of the company, but if you drive up to the Russian 
River, it s right on the highway. There was one at 
Gloverdale, which was also a co-operative. We crushed 
their grapes at Asti and sold the plant. It became 
a big prune dehydrating plant. They took out all the 
tanks and equipment and it became a dehydrator. We 
just couldn t afford all the overheads of all these 
small plants, when we had that tremendous plant we 
acquired at Asti. 

But what we did at each of these locations, 
especially those that were far enough away from Asti, 
was that we put in what we called "crushing depots," 
which was an innovation in the industry at that time. 
Instead of the growers hauling their grapes to Asti, 
which in most instances was a long distance, in little 
small pickup trucks or whatever he had to deliver 
them in, we had. the grower deliver his grapes to the 
little crushing depots which were nearby. There the 
grapes were crushed and put into a tank and as fast 
as there was enough must in the tank to fill a tank 
truck, the tank truck moved the must to Asti. Instead 
of moving the grapes, we moved, the crushed juice 
that is must which was much better for the grape, 
easier for the grower and. all of the other things 
that go with it. 

Now, one other thing that we originated in the 
industry, and. my cousin Bob Bianchini would be the one 
who did that one. It was the gondola dump type of 
truck. The gondola truck now d.rlves up to the crusher, 
and after you brace the truck on its side with a 
couple of jacks, the gondola tank which is on a hinge 
is picked up by an overhead crane hook, and the whole 
gondola load is dumped into the crusher, instead of 
having to have people standing in the grapes and 
shoveling them into the crusher. This was the common 
practice in those days. Today where growers are close 
to a winery they have small gondolas that go through 
the rows of the vineyards, and they pick the grapes 
right into the gondolas, and. haul them on the highway 



Petri: to the winery and dump the grapes right into the 

crushers. The grape is only handled one time, put 
into the one gondola and delivered directly to the 

Teiser: Picked into the gondola? 

Petri: Well, either picked directly into the gondola or 

otherwise the grapes are picked into boxes and the 
boxes are dumped into the gondola as it passes 
through the vineyard. 

Teiser: How many acres of land were there with Italian Swiss 

Petri: Not too much. There s 1200 acres of land total, of 
which about 500-600 acres were in grapes. This was 
at Asti. But unfortunately that vineyard, even with 
the tremendous amount of money we spent on it trying 
to bring it back, wasn t and still isn t too good. 
It just was not taken care of too well during 
Prohibition. The topsoil had eroded, washed away, 
and there just isn t enough topsoil left to make a 
good vineyard out of it. The grapes are excellent, 
but the cost of producing the grapes there is 

Teiser: You mean, the tonnage per acre is low? 

Petri : The tonnage per acre is low. The quality is 

excellent, as most all low producers are. They had 
very little acreage. Italian Swiss Colony, like 
ourselves, were not big vineyardists. However, this 
is generally true of the whole industry. There are, 
however, co-operatives, that were owned by growers. 
This is especially true around the Lodi area. Just 
about every winery in that area is a co-operative. 
These growers owned their own wineries and made 
their own wine from their own grapes. 

The wine industry is essentially broken down 
into two parts: the co-operative which is owned by 
growers who produce and market their own wines, and 
the winery that buys most all of its grapes from 
growers . 

In the Napa Valley there s one other type of 
winery that s a little different. It is the estate- 
bottled producer. Here the winery must own its own 
grapes and must produce wine only from its own grapes 
to be able to call them estate-bottled. 



Petri: Well, let s see. What did we do next? Oh, yes, the 
railroads kept raising their rates to the wine 
industry. There was no other way to move wine long 
distances other than by rail. The trucking laws 
were against us because some states had and still 
have weight limitation for trucks. Trans -continental 
trucking is still a very difficult thing on any 
product that is heavy such as wine. The railroads 
really were making life miserable for all of us. 
Every time they had a rate increase, the wine 
industry would get the full rate increase. We all 
protested, but it fell to deaf ears. The railroads 
in those days--but they have somewhat changed their 
philosophy now and I think we had a lot to do with 
helping to change their philosophy they got as much 
as they could out of every product. They got whatever 
the tariff would bear. Well, this was where we got 
the bright idea of building the wine tanker, which 
was named after my father, Angelo Petri. 

I knew most of the railroad people. We 
threatened them that unless they gave us some rate 
reductions we would build the ship, but they never 
thought that we could or would do it. But we did 
it. We built our wine tanker. There s a picture of 
it [pointing], a 23,000 ton tanker. It has two and a 
half million gallons of stainless steel tanks and 
about one and a half million gallons of standard oil 
tanks. As to the stainless steel tanks, there are 
no cross- Joints, they are all free-standing tanks, 
just like this glass; no bracing on the inside. On 
the outside of each tank there s what is called a 
cofferdam, which gives it the strength from the 
outside. Each tank is like a large stainless steel 
bottle. It was a very expensive type of a ship to 

A very strange thing about the ship. It was a 
T-2 tanker, or I should say half of it was. We 
bought half a ship in Seattle. It was a T-2 tanker 
that on its third voyage during the war split in half 
in the middle of the northern route to Europe. The 
Navy went out and sunk the front end of it and towed 
the back end, which was in good shape, to Anchorage, 
Alaska. It s the only ship in history, so I m told, 
where the bow hit the stern. [Laughter] The front 


Petri : 

Petri : 

Petri : 


Petri : 

end. smashed into the hind end of it. It was used all 
during the war to generate electrical power that was 
supplied to the big Army camp in the Anchorage area. 
It was pulled up on shore, as a matter of fact. Well, 
when the war ended, it was towed down to Seattle to 
be junked, and salvaged. When I heard about it, they 
had already sold the power plant to some experimental 
atomic energy plant that was going to build in 
Montana, and Bethlehem Steel had bought the steel 
plating that was on it, but I managed to buy it for 
about $300,000. 

Then came the big gamble to tow a half a ship 
from Seattle to San Francisco [laughter] but she 
made it. Bethlehem built the ship for us. The ship 
cost about seven and a half million dollars. The 
government gave us the equivalent of about a million 
dollars of subsidy because to this day, in case of 
war, those stainless steel tanks would be invaluable 
to haul chemicals. We signed a contract at that time 
that at any time the ship could be confiscated from 
us for war purposes. The big thing that the ship has 
done is that the rail rates now are less than half 
what they were before we built the ship, the railroads 
having come to their senses. It has saved the 
industry and consumers millions upon millions of 
dollars because the higher rail rates would have had 
to be added to the cost of the wine. 

You just transported your own wines then? 

For practical purposes, yes, we transported only our 
own wine. It made seven trips a year. 

To where? 

We had a wine depot in Houston, where we owned two 
barges, and we barged from Houston to Chicago, where 
we had a bottling plant. 

What did the wine go from Houston to Chicago in? 
the same tanks? 


No, no. It was transferred. We had a wine depot in 
Houston where wine was stored and we owned two barges 
with glass-lined tanks. Glass-lined tanks for the 
barges were satisfactory because there wasn t the 
heavy movement in the rivers that we had at sea. The 
waters were smooth. You had to go through some pretty 


Petri: rough waters around Hatteras and. those areas and the 
motion would have cracked any linings other than 
stainless steel, so we built the tanks in the ship 
of stainless steel. After about a year of operation, 
I made a deal with Corn Products. After we dumped 
off our wines in Houston, we then carried corn sugar. 
Corn Products added Just enough water to the corn 
sugar so that it would flow it into our tanks, and 
from Houston we transported the corn sugar to Yonkers, 
New York. Our own plant was at Newark, New Jersey. 

At first we had a real, a very difficult problem 
in finding return cargos. We could get all the 
chemicals we wanted for the return cargo, but we 
never dared put chemicals into the same tanks that 
carried wine. The only thing we would, put in was 
something that was edible, Just for fear of any 
possible contamination. However, the answer finally 
came when we made a deal with some big alkali 
company to carry soda ash to California. Now soda 
ash is what we used to clean the tanks before we 
refilled them [laughter]. To this date, the main 
cargo on the return trip is soda ash, which is used 
extensively here In California for everything from 
glass making to just about every food processor, 
including wineries, as a cleansing agent. The ship 
has been a very profitable venture, profitable 
especially against what the rates would have been. 
She s still operating. 

She nearly foundered on us once. This made 
headlines throughout the world. She was going through 
the Golden Gate during a real heavy storm and she was 
fully loaded right down to the maximum. She was 
drawing 35 feet of water. She hit that sand bar 
across the Gold Gate and lost her rudder and. her 
propeller [laughter]. But the anchors held her right 
off of Fleischhacker Zoo, right before she would 
have been grounded. She was towed back to San 
Francisco and was back in service within a very short 
period of time, about four weeks. They put on a new 
anchor, rudder, propeller, and made some other minor 

Oh, I nearly forgot, most of the motors were 
shorted out, because it hit what they call a "green 
wave" that must have been very tall, because about 
35 feet above the water line there is an air vent 
that cooled the whole electrical panel. Well, anyhow, 


Petri: water got through the vent. Maybe only 20 or 30 

gallons of water, but enough water went through the 
vent to short out the whole electrical system. As 
a result she had no power. Well, she didn t have 
a propeller [laughter] and she didn t have a rudder 
and no power. And so it was Just one of those 
miracles that the anchors held. When the anchors 
finally held, she had only about three and a half 
feet of water under her. It was Just one of those 
lucky things that she was saved. However, she was 
fully Insured. Naturally, the insurance company 
repaired it. The day she went back into service was 
the day I went in the hospital with a heart attack 
[laughter]. I remember that quite well. 


Petri: Let s go back to Allied now. Allied, had grown. It 
had grown considerably. And we had grown. We had 
then grown to where we were selling in the vicinity 
of 300,000 tons of grapes [made] into wine. This was 
in 59 shortly after the ship was commissioned. The 
profit-sharing formula that we had was a very 
difficult one to put into practice because no matter 
how you try to figure out the profit-sharing, depending 
on the weather, the size of the crop and its 
commercial value, either we or they got the best of 
it. And every year this became a more difficult 
problem. The more they and we grew, the more 
difficult the problem became. So, one day... I remember 
exactly. We were meeting with the executive committee 
of Allied trying to again figure out the formula. 
That year was an especially difficult one. We were 
at the Sun Dial Motel in Modesto. 

And I said, "You know, gentlemen, there s only 
one answer to all of this. Either we ve got to buy 
out all of your vineyards, or you ve got to buy out 
our company; otherwise we re going to have to part 
company soon, because this whole deal is getting 
impossible. Every year one or the other of us, no 
matter what the predetermined formula is, seems to 
think he has gotten hurt. This is and. I believe will 
always be true. It s too much of a fluctuating 
business. If rains come the price goes down. How 
can you figure a fair average market price basis when 
grape prices fluctuate as much as they do?" 

Signing the agreement between United Vintners and Allied Grape Growers, 1959. 
Left to right, standing, Tilden E. Genzoli, Walter E. Vincent and Buddy T. 
Iwata; seated, Louis A. Petri, Robert C. Mclnturf. 


Petri: So, in unison, that executive committee said, 

"How much?" [Laughter] So it wasn t too long after 
that that we sold out, our family sold out, our 
entire interest to Allied Grape Growers, that small 
co-op that started with that raisin deal [laughter]. 
And so... anyhow we sold out to them. They put no 
money down. It was to be based on a ten-year 
pay-off. The sale was for $2^,000,000 on a ten-year 
pay-off. I had to sign an employment contract, 
maximum allowed by law, for seven years. I agreed 
to run the operation for them for seven years, which 
I Just about had to, because I wanted to make sure 
that they earned enough money to pay us. [Interruption] 

Well, we sold out to them. There were acceleration 
provisions within the contract. We made enough money 
for them, purely from their own earnings [so that] 
they were able to pay us off the $24,000,000 in about 
seven and a half years instead of ten. Now this was 
before the tax laws changed. Therefore they were 
able to pay us off with tax-free dollars, and*... 
[buzzer. . .] 

(Interview #3 - September 4, 1969) 

Teiser: Let me ask you about a couple of things that happened 
before the sale to Allied Grape Growers, just scraps 
of things. In 195^, you considered a merger with the 
Blair Holding Company. What was the purpose of that? 

Petri: Well, actually, Blair Holding Company was an offshoot 
of the Bank of America-Transamerica split, because 
the government ordered them to split. And one of the 
things that also had to be spun off from Transamerica 
was the Blair Holding Company. .Every stockholder of 
Transamerica got Bank of America and Blair Holding 
Company stock. There was a lot of dissension among 
the management and directors of Blair, and I was 
asked to go on the board of directors. The company 
had many valuable assets, but was poorly run. After 
a while, I tried to take control of the company 
through a proxy fight, but I lost. 

*See also pp. 35-37- 


Telser: This was personal, not a matter of,.. 

Petri: No, this would have been for our company. The proxy 
fight was over our wanting to merge our company with 
the Blair Holding Company. The real purpose back 
of it all was that our company was getting big. We 
had all of our family fortunes locked into the 
company. They had something like 56,000 stockholders, 
if my memory serves me, because they had the same 
number as the Bank of America and Transamerica at 
the time of the split. We would have owned about 
50 per cent of the company and would have had control. 
Based on independent appraisal and evaluations made, 
we were as big as they were. It got to be a very 
nasty proxy fight. There s no use going through all 
the reasons why we lost it. I wish I could do it 
again today. I think I d know how to do it. But 
maybe it was just as well. But if we had merged 
with them, my family would have had shares in a 
publicly held corporation that were readily saleable.* 

Teiser: Then in 1957 you were considering public financing 
of some sort again. What was that? 

Petri: Well, I went to many underwriters and tried to find 
one that would underwrite us so that we could go 
public, but [being] strictly a wine company, in 
those days, they would have discounted us so much 
that it wasn t worthwhile to go public. 

Teiser: In your attempt to take over, I guess, majority 

interest in S & W was that what you were trying to 

Petri: Well, yes, what I wanted to do was diversify our 

company. In this case I did manage to get control 
of S & W. I did that, as I said before, to get 
diversified so that we could go public. At the same 
time, I was also trying to buy a glass company. But, 
when I was in the middle of all this, along came our 
chance to sell out, lock, stock and barrel to Allied. 
We decided this was the best deal. 

But before the sale I did want to diversity and 
that s why I took control of S & W through some stock 
maneuvering, you know, where you make offers, public 
offers, to the stockholders. We acquired a 51 per cent 
ownership of S & W. And then I sold S & W to Di Giorgio. 
I had to" sell it because the co-op couldn t buy it. 
The CO-OD would have to be an agricultural entity. 

*and therefore our money would not have been locked 
into a family-held corporation. [added by Petri.] 


Petri: So they couldn t buy S & W as part of our company. 

Telser: Oh, was it as a result of that that you made the 
marketing agreement with Di Giorgio, or was that 
something separate? 

Petri: That was something separate. We needed more grapes 
and they had a winery and plenty of grapes. They 
really became the same as a member of Allied. Then 
later we bought their Santa Pe division from them. 
What we really did was to make a deal where they 
made the wine at their plant at Delano. The grapes 
used were placed into the Allied pool and they were 
paid a fee to make the wine. Then we franchised the 
Santa Fe label and. all other labels they owned from 
them. There were many labels such as Padre, Vai and 
others. Later we bought out all the labels from 
them. We built a large bottling and warehousing 
ot>eration in Los Angeles and bottled and sold 
directly to the retailer all the Santa Fe, Italian 
Swiss Colony and Petri and other labels we owned. 
One of the labels we bought from Di Giorgio was Vai. 
Mr. Jimmy Vai was one of the great guys in the 
history of the wine business. 

Teiser: You got his label? 

Petri: Yes. 

Teiser: He s still down there in the wine business? 

Petri : Well , that f s the nephew. 

Teiser: I mean, the family? 

Petri: Yes, and they are using the Vai label. We never 
disputed it. 

Teiser: He uses the label again? 

Petri: Yes, we never disputed it. It didn t mean that much 
to us. 

Teiser: Funny how labels travel. 
Petri: Yes. 



Teiser: I wanted to ask about the general pattern of marketing 
of wines. I understand that you and Gallo changed 
the pattern. 

Petri: We very definitely did. We promoted table wines 

versus sweet wines. We promoted better wine making 
methods. Other than research done by the University, 
both Gallo and ourselves did more research than 
anyone else and maybe even more than the University. 
We carried forth and perfected what the University 
did in a test tube so to speak, and made it practical. 
The whole concept of truly merchandising of product 
the same as nearly anything else such as canned goods 
or other grocery products, was done by Gallo and 
ourselves. We were the true leaders in it. 

Teiser: California Wine Association at an earlier stage had 

apparently tried to do the same thing and never could 
get it started. 

Petri: They never got off the ground with their labels. 

They should have been by far the dominant people in 
the wine industry. They started out Tilth everything 
running for them. They had the labels. They had the 
wineries, and they had the grapes. And they also 
had the basic financing because they had lots of 
product when Repeal came and were able to sell it 
and make a lot of money. I hate to be the one 
criticizing them. I would prefer you do not use such 
critical statements. Otherwise there s no use my 
talking the way I m talking about people and companies. 

Teiser: Well, you ll see the transcript. I ve talked to 

people involved in the California Wine Association 
and they ve said stronger things than you said. But 
if peonle in the industry such as you, who are now 
out of it and have some perspective, can t give 
analyses. . .what I mean is that they are very valuable 
and will continue to be. I know none of you want to 
say mean things about each other, but many of you 
have given such analyses, which explain why certain 
things came up when certain changes were made. Again, 
because you and Mr. Gallo are comparable and because 
I ve talked to Mr. Gallo and have some idea of what 
he s done both of you tackled the relationship with 
growers in new ways, each differently, didn t you? 

Petri: That s correct. He really has developed a pattern. 
He sort of marries the growers. When the industry 
has a surplus, a grower is either married to Mr. 
Gallo and the Gallo set-up, or otherwise Gallo just 
doesn t buy from him. He does not want to go the 
cooperative route. He and I have discussed this 
matter many times. His is a very small family. 
Essentially, Just Ernest and his brother Julio, and 
one other brother who is in the grape-growing 
partnerships. He didn t have the complexity of 
having a large family, as I did. He is able to 
hold his family together much easier than I could 
and can do things much easier than our family was 
able to. We had... well, we ended up with 56 members 
in the family as stockholders in our company. 

Teiser: Is that right? Of course, you ve had diversified 

holdings in your company, a longer peiod of business 
holdings . 

Petri: But essentially we were in the wine business. We 

went out, but then retracted, as I told you before. 
However, we were in the cigar business at the same 

Teiser: Thinking about his relationships with the growers, 
outside of his own family holdings, Mr. Gallo s 
solved it one way, and as I say, you solved it 


Petri: I solved it basically by going co-operative. 

Teiser: That co-operative, for example, how does it compare 
to Mr. Setrakian s? 

Petri: Oh, it was at least fifteen times bigger. First of 
all, Setrakian s is a small-knitted co-op, only has 
a few members. And it is essentially for production 
of their own grapes, making wine and brandy from 
their own grapes. 

Teiser: It s not a typical one then? 

Petri: Yes, it is typical. It s a true co-op, but it 

doesn t have as many members that is as many small 
and large growers such as we had. When I left the 
company I think we had 1800 grower-members in Allied. 
I don t think Setraklan has over 25 or 30 members. 


Teiser: I think that Mr. Gallo Indicated that he thought 

that the day of the co-op was over, and others have 

Petri: Well, yes, it is for practical purposes. Allied, 
for example, has sold out and generally the other 
co-ops have not been successful. The only one that 
was truly successful was Allied. 

Teiser: Why do you think that is? 

Petri: Because it had brands to sell its wine with. We 

sold them the brands , sold them Italian Swiss Colony, 
Petri, Lejon, and many other brands. The other 
co-ops have just not been able to get off the ground 
against the type of competition that Gallo and 
United Vintners can give them. They don t have 
strong brands. The one coming closest to having a 
brand would be Guild, and it is not a very strong 
brand. And very honestly, I think that Gallo is 
correct, that the basic day of the co-op is over. 
Unfortunately, one of the things with a co-op is 
that when growers want to become businessmen and 
want to start trying to run things too much, then 
they re going to start getting into trouble. 


Petri: Allied, as you know, has sold United Vintners to 

Heublein. Allied still owns 20 per cent of United 
Vintners. Well, 18 per cent actually. It was 20 
per cent and they changed it to 18 per cent. And it 
gets 20 per cent of the profit that United Vintners 
makes. Allied Grape Growers is still in existence 
and under a long term contract is supplying grapes 
to United Vintners. Allied, as I understand it, 
gets market prices for the grapes and 20 per cent 
of United Vintner s profits. 

Teiser: Which means essentially that that problem is solved? 

Petri: Yes, and they made a lot of money. They paid our 
family $2^,000,000 for United Vintners, and they 
sold out at the equivalent of about ^38,000,000 to 
$40,000,000. So there are a lot of rich growers 
in the state. [Laughter] They ve got a tremendous 



Petrl: amount of Heublein stock, both common and preferred, 
and they never put up a penny. The $2^,000,000 that 
they paid us all came from profits. 

Teiser: Let s go back, if we may, to where you had sold to 
Allied Grape Growers. You told why, but what were 
the terms of that sale? 

Petri: Well, it was $2^,000,000. It was payable, actually, 

over close to ten years, but there was an acceleration 
clause in the contract. It could be paid sooner than 
that if certain things occurred, and actually they 
paid us off in about eight years, the last payment 
being a couple of years ago. It was all paid from 
earnings. The tax laws were very much in their favor 
at that time, the tax laws have subsequently changed. 
They did not have to pay taxes on the retains so they 
were able to use tax-free dollars to pay us. In 
short, the growers put their grapes into Allied, were 
paid market prices for the grapes, and now they ve 
ended up as a group with 38-^-0 million dollars. 

Teiser: After you sold, your function continued... 

Petri: I signed a contract of employment. This was a 

condition. It was a seven-year employment contract. 
And I left the company just about at the end of the 
seven years. I was chief executive officer. I was 
president, and then I made [B. G.] Solar! president 
and I became chairman of the board, but chief 
executive officer. I was chief executive officer 
to the day I left the company. 

Teiser: So they wanted you to continue running it, and you 

Petri: I did. Well, it was practically a condition, and 
what the heck. I wanted to make sure we got our 
124,000,000. [Laughter] That s for sure. Now, 
interestingly enough, the end of that story will 
probably be the end of this month or the first week 
of October. When Allied bought United Vintners from 
us, they did not have enough grapes of their own 
signed into the co-op, so we formed a corporation 
of the identical stockholders called Grape Factors. 

Teiser: Which stockholders do you mean? 

Petri: The identical stockholders of the United Vintners 


Petri: who sold out to Allied. They formed a new corporation 
called Grape Factors. Grape Factors for the first 
five or six years supplied the additional tonnage of 
grapes that they were short of in their sign-ups to 
satisfy their sales. Grape Factors supplied them as 
participating non-members. We participated in all 
pools in the same way as members, but because we 
were not growers, we could not be members. We ended 
up with a tremendous amount of retains, and actually, 
Grape Factors (as of today) owns about 18 per cent 
of United Vintners, which we have as a separate deal- 
sold to Heublein. And that deal is closing this 
month. [Laughter] And that s the end of the story 
of our dealings in the wine or grape business as a 
family. With it has gone even the vineyard that we 
owned at Uklah. Grape Factors owns a great big 
vineyard at Ukiah, about 500 acres, which has been a 
member of Allied. Everything has gone over to 
Heublein. We have sold it all to Heublein. And, as 
I say, that transaction will take place in a very 
short time. 

Teiser: I think you mentioned that you had purchased certain 
of the Cella holdings. We haven t gone over it. 
I have 1961 with a question mark. Was that the year? 

Petri: It was just about then, yes. It was Just about two 
years after we sold to Allied 1961 is about right. 

Teiser: How did that come about? 

Petri: Well, Mr. [J. B.] Cella and his brother Lori had 

died, and it was just a natural. They had a lot of 
grapes and the type of wine sales that fitted right 
into United *s picture. And they were willing. They 
did not need the money Immediately, so they were 
perfectly willing to wait over a period of time for 
their money. They took the same terms as we did, 
and it worked out absolutely beautifully for both 
sides. They were specialists in the production of 
special wines. For example, the Taylor Wine Company, 
which is a very large wine company In the East they 
supplied them with a tremendous amount of special 
wines for blending with the wines they made in the 

Teiser: So it was no longer, as it had been very much 
earlier, the Roma Wine Company? 


Petri: Oh, no, no. They had sold out Roma. The Cella 
family sold Roma to Schenley and then went back 
into business as Cella Vineyards. The Cella family 
worked for Schenley for a while and then went back 
into the wine business on their own. They formed 
the Cella Vineyards and became specialists in making 
special types of wine. They also had a very large 
concentrate business, a lot of which they made from 
their own Salvador grapes. Salvadors make excellent 
heavy bodied concentrates. Mogen-David was one of 
their large customers as was Manischewitz. They 
grew a lot of their own grapes to make these special 
wines. After both the senior Cellas had died, the 
rest of the family was willing to sell, so we bought 
them out. It was a good deal for all concerned. 

Teiser: What did you buy? 

Petri: We just bought the winery at Reedley, California, 
and took over their business. They signed into 
Allied all of their grapes. 

Teiser: So they simply merged... 

Petri: Yes, it was sort of a merger. They became the 

largest grower member of Allied. United did well 
with it. It gave United a different type of 
business, a business that they had very little of. 
Cella had about 50-60 thousand tons of real good 
business that was profitable. As I say, it was a 
good deal for everybody concerned. 

Teiser: We mentioned the Blair deal, but you certainly became 
adept at financial management. 

Petri: Well, I should never have lost the Blair deal, but 
we won t go into why. [Laughter] 

Teiser: That s not what I meant. I meant you must have 
learned tremendously. . . 

Petri: Yes, I have. But I ve had some real fine help. 
John F. Forbes & Company, who are a large C.P.A. 
firm here on the West Coast, were of tremendous help. 
The head of John F. Forbes is Scott Dunham. He is 
one of the finest tax men in the United States. He 
worked very closely with me. Then, too, there is a 
man named George Bangle who did all of our accounting 
work. He too was of great helr>. 


Petrl : 


Petri : 
Petri : 



Petri : 


Yes, I seem to have done pretty well and if I 
can brag a little, I am director and also chairman 
of the Finance Committee of Foremost-McKesson. It 
is one of the largest companies in the United 

States $1,600,000,000 in sales last year, 
chairman of its Finance Committee. 

And I m 

Oh, my Lord, I knew you were on the board, but... 
And you re also on the board of the Bank of America? 

That f s corr e ct . 

Have you been active on that? 

Yes, I am active on both boards. I attend every 
meeting I can. I m sorry I missed one recently 
when I was in the hospital. [Laughter] That s about 
the only reason that keeps me away. Actually, I was 
out of the hospital but the doctor didn t want me to 
fly down to Los Angeles. The meeting was in Los 
Angeles, so I didn t go down. 

I talked the other day with Mrs. [Claire Giannini] 
Hoffman, and I was amazed at her information and 
analysis of the recent past. 

Yes, she s quite a woman. She s on the board of the 
bank. I ve known her for most of my life.* 

This brings up another family that I know you ve 
known all your life, the Paganlni family of Security 
Lithograph. Did they make your labels? 

Yes, they made our labels. They own this building 
that we re sitting in. [Laughter] Our families 
have been very close friends. As a matter of fact, 
Bud Paganini has a boat, and this weekend we re going 
up the river on his boat. He has a beautiful 57-foot 
Chris Craft. Charlie, his brother, and I were in 
the same class together at St. Ignatius High School. 

Was there anything special about their labels? 

They were a very fine label house. They made our 
labels from Just about the day we went into the wine 

*See also pp. 

Petri: business. But they always gave us good labels, good 
prices. They also helped us in the design of many 
of our labels. 

Teiser: Yes, what about the design of labels? Did they have 
them designed, or...? 

Petri: Well, I was one of the pioneers in hiring someone 
like Sinel; we also hired Landor. I had Landor... 

Teiser: You had Walter Landor? 

Petri: Oh, yes. One of the first jobs that Walter ever did 
was for us. 

Teiser: One other thing I have here in my notes, and this 
goes back when you bought Italian Swiss. I read 
somewhere that you were bidding against Mr. Gallo, 
in effect. Is that right? 

Petri: That is true. He was trying to buy it actually... 
[Laughter] I don t know how this is all going to 
sound after a while. He had Italian Swiss Colony 
under option, but couldn t quite make up his mind. 
It s a long complex story. Maybe I had the idea 
before anybody else. I was in the hospital 
recuperating from a back operation the day I heard 
of the break-up within the Italian Swiss Colony 

Teiser: What break-up? 

Petri: When they fired General [John R. ] Deane and Solari. 
National Distillers fired General Deane and Larry 
Solari.* I was told by Harry Caddow, who was then 
the general manager of the Wine Institute and I was 
president, the very day this happened. I immediately 
went to work trying to see if I could buy it because 
I knew then that they were going to want to sell it. 
But unfortunately I was in the hospital and I 
couldn t do a hell of a lot about it. Gallo got 
there before us, but in the end I managed to buy it. 

Teiser: That really hasn t been his method of building up. 

Petri: No, he has not gone the acquisition route. What 

he did was to plow back every cent that the family 
made. His big growth really came about after we sold 

*B. C. Solari 

Petri: out to the growers. See, the growers had to pay us. 
They could, not spend all the money they wanted or 
should have for merchandising, advertising and 
selling. Remember they had to pay us. Gallo had 
nobody to pay so he just plowed everything back into 
his business. He was never bigger than United 
Vintners during the time I was there, but today he f s 
bigger than United Vintners. Not a hell of a lot, 
but by a few percentage points. 


Teiser: You purchased Inglenook in 65 was it, or 64? 

Petri: Well, there s a picture of John Daniel and me signing 
the papers. I should put dates on all of those 
things.* [Laughter] 

Teiser: How did you happen to do it? 

Petri: Well, it is very simple. Some fellow, who at one 

time actually used to work for me, Lou Gomberg,** came 
in and said that John Daniel was willing to sell and 
he thought an awful lot of me and thought one of the 
first ones he should approach was me. Lou Gomberg 
acted as an in-between. I liked it very much so it 
didn t take very long to buy it. I bought it 
naturally for United Vintners. It had just the image 
that we needed and that would help us. The premium 
wine field is now the fastest growing field of the 
wine business. Inglenook was owned half by John 
Daniel and half by his sister. I think she has a 
married name. I don t remember. She lives around 
Lodi and raises quarter horses. They re rather 
wealthy and still own a lot of vineyards. John 
Daniel signed all of his premium grapes into Allied. 

Teiser: So he became one of your co-op members? 

Petri: Oh, very definitely. 

Teiser: Is he still? 

Petri: Oh, yes. 

Teiser: So it was both an idea and a practicality. 

*May 1964. 
** Louis R. Gomberg. 

Petri: That s correct. It was a most amazing thing to me 
that John would, sell. I never dreamt that he would 
be willing to sell, but sure enough he did. He d 
decided that he and his sister should sell, take 
life easier.* 

Teiser: That s the route of a lot of them are taking now. 
What do you think? Is the day of the family owned 
winery gone? Who s going to produce premium wines? 

Petri: Well, Beaulieu was sold Just the other day to 

Heublein. I helped put the two sides together. I 
actually think that Heublein will do better for 
Beaulieu in many respects than the family could. They 
can invest a lot more money in such as planting 
premium grape varieties. Then, too, they have a 
wonderful merchandising organization. The premium 
wine business is a very difficult field. There is 
a long and expensive period of aging. You take for 
example Cabernet Sauvignon, you ve got to age it 
four or five years. You ve got your money locked up 
for four or five years. To grow, you ve got to plant 
vineyards. By the time you plant the vine to the 
first gallon of wine that you can bottle, it s nine 
or ten years. Look at the long investment that it 

Teiser: Will Heublein, and will the other large companies, 
do that? 

Petri: Yes, I believe they will. They knew this when they 

bought. They re willing to spend this kind of money. 
When United Vintners bought Inglenook it was part of 
a family of growers. The first major sale of this 
type after Inglenook, I guess, in the Napa Valley, 
was Beaulieu. Almaden has sold out to National 
Distillers. Almaden is not in the Napa Valley. This 
is quite a switch, since National Distillers sold us 
Italian Swiss Colony [laughter], and then they go 
back in the wine business. But there again, they 
wanted to go back into the premium wine field.** 

*John Daniel (who continued to use the designation 
"John Daniel, Jr." after the death of his father, 
John Daniel, Sr. , in 1953) died July 13, 1970. 

**See also pp. 

Louis A. Petri during 
interview, September 10, 
1969. Photographs by 
Ruth Teiser. 

(Interview #4- - September 10, 1969) 


Teiser: I m quoting from an article you wrote in the 
January , 19^0 , Wines and Vines. ... 

Petri: How many years ago is that? That s 29 years ago, 

Teiser: It says, "Co-operatives, such as the Central 
California Wineries, will bring stability by 
preventing distressed stocks from reaching the 
market and. ruining the whole price structure," 

At that time, I presume, you were much in favor 
of such a stabilization plan. Do you want to speak 
of Central California Wineries? 

Petri: Well, we, that is our company, were never part of it, 
The industry, however, was in bad shape. The Bank 
of America, in order to help the wine industry, 
helped form the Central California Wineries. As I 
said before, the market at that time was truly 
distressed. We had tremendous surpluses of wine 
and grapes. Prices of wine had gone completely to 
hell. Through the leadership of the Bank of America, 
using their Burke Critchfield, and a man by the name 
of Lou* I can t remember his name; it ll probably 
come to me in a moment. They formed an association 
and put many of the distressed wineries together 
into one co-operative selling association. They 
spent quite a bit of money. They designed bottles 
and labels and placed all the wine in one pool and 
began marketing through the association. They spent 
a lot of money advertising and merchandising. 

We were very much in favor of it (even though 
we were never part of it) because we figured this 
would help bring some stability to the Industry. 
Nobody could make money with the market as distressed 
as it was at that time. One of the reasons, as I 
recall, that the association broke down was that the 
government stepped in and complained that this was 
a violation of the anti-trust laws, that this 
association was in fact a price-fixing vehicle. They 

*See p. 

Petri: acually indicted just about all of us [laughter], 

including the Bank of America. The whole thing was 
eventually dropped by the government,* As time went 
on, the economic situation got better, and so because 
of pressure from the government, Central California 
Wineries was dissolved and everybody went their own 
way. But it was really more of a co-operative 
selling venture and not a true co-op such as Allied. 
Oh, yes, I recall the name of the other man it was 
Lou Golan.** 

Teiser: Walter Taylor I think was.... 

Petri: Yes, Walter Taylor. Yes, Walter Taylor was the head, 

the general manager of the California Wine Association. 
They were a co-operative. Yes, he, Walter Taylor, 
became active in [Central California Wineries], 

Teiser: I wanted to ask... I know that your father was a 

director of Bank of America and that you have been 
since 1956, I believe. Does this have any relation 
ship to the Bank of America s interest in financing 
the wine Industry? 

Petri: Well, I don t think it did any particular harm. My 
father was a very close friend of A. P. Giannini, 
and became a director right after the big Walker 
fight. My father was a director for 25 years minus 
two meetings. They gave him a 25 year pin when he 
was in the hospital. He was one of the leaders in 
helping to fight the eastern interests led by a 
Mr. Walker*** that were trying to take control of the 
Bank of America at the time. That was about 40 years 
ago. My father became incapable of serving on the 
board because he had had quite a number of strokes 
and was quite ill. Clark Beise, who was then 
president, asked me to serve. That was around 1956. 
Yes, it s been about 13 years that I ve been on the 
board . 

Teiser: Have you been the consultant on wine Industry 

Petri: I ve been called in quite a number of times to give 
advice on agricultural problems, including wine and 
grapes. They certainly have been wonderful to our 
family. They financed us from the very beginning, 
as they did and are sill doing for just about everyone 
in the industry. 

*See San Francisco Chronicle. April 13, 1950: "Tapp 

Asked About Wine Organization at TA Hearing." 
**Louis Golan. 

Teiser: Beginning in the valley, was it? 

Petri: Everywhere. You name the family in agriculture 
north or south and it probably got its original 
financing from the Bank of America. The Bank of 
America was really the first bank to finance 
agriculture on a large scale. Financing of agri 
culture was always thought of as a gamble. There 
was always the gamble of weather and other hazards. 
The bank was the first one to really finance farmers 
and their crops small and large farmers. It made 
California. Not only as to the wine Industry but 
as to all other types of agriculture. If somebody 
had a bad crop one year, all right, so they made it 
up the next year. They would carry them over. But 
in those days, going back now to the early 1900 s, 
banks just didn t want to finance agriculture. They 
just wanted to finance the big tycoons of industry, 
and not the little fanner. But the Bank of America, 
through A. P. Giannini s leadership, financed 
agriculture. The larger wine industry financing by 
the Bank of America really occurred when Mario 
Giannini was the head of the bank. He was the son 
of A. P. Giannini and he was the brother of Claire 
Giannini Hoffman. Mario died about 15 or 1? years 

Teiser: He lived for just a few years after his father s 
death, didn t he? 

Petri: Yes, for about four or five years. However, he was 
a very sick man and spent very little time at the 
bank. He practically worked 2^4- hours a day, not at 
his office but at his home. He had that blood 
illness what do you call it? hemophilia? 

Teiser: But he did have an effect on the bank s course? 

Petri: Oh, very much. I think he did as much for the Bank 
of America to make it the great institution it is as 
anyone other than his father. His father was a great 
genius; his father was the one who put it all 
together and made it a great institution. Mario 
Giannini really went all out. He went so far that 
the government made him retract. The empire would 
have been twice as big if the government hadn t 

*L. M. (Mario) Giannini died in 1952. 

Petrl: stepped in and stopped them. 

Teiser: You knew him? 

Petri: Oh, I knew him quite well. 

Teiser: What kind of person was he? 

Petri: Great man. Truly a great man. Very, very brave 

"but humble man. One who lived a life of continual 
sacrifice. His wife is still alive and we re quite 
friendly with her. She has a home in Palm Springs, 
so do I, and we get together quite often. I also 
know their two daughters. 

Teiser: No sons in the family then? 
Petri: No. 


Teiser: To skip to another chapter your years as president 
of the Wine Institute. What do you consider the 
main significance of your service in the Wine 

Petri: Well, I was the last of the honorary presidents. 

When I became president, the Wine Institute was in 
really deep trouble. This was during a period when 
the economics of the wine industry were real bad. 
It was in the years 1952 and 1953- Amongst the many 
problems we had a problem with one of the great men 
of the wine industry, Harry Caddow, who was general 
manager of the Institute from its start, but who 
unfortunately became ill and was no longer able to 
function efficiently. It was my unfortunate task 
to retire Harry Caddow graciously and put the Wine 
Institute back on track. It was when I was president 
that we hired Don McColly. I don t remember the exact 
figures, but when I went in as president, the Wine 
Institute had perhaps somewhere in the vicinity of 
70 per cent of the industry as members. When I went 
out, it was closer to 90 per cent. So we were back 
to being a harmonious institute. 

Teiser: Did you go in just after the California Wine 
Association pulled out? 

Petri: Let s see, I think you re right. The California Wine 
Association had pulled out already. Before I went 
in. But quite a few others had. There was a lot of 
dissension in the industry when I went in. I helped 
to remove some of the dissension and get people to 
oome back into the Institute. I think the big thing, 
however, that helped was that the industry began to 
prosper during that period. 

Teiser: Did your concept of the Wine Institute and its 
functions differ from other members . 

Petri: Well, that is a difficult question to answer. I was 
very active in all kinds of stabilization r>rograms. 
I was chairman of a couple of them. I acted on all 
of them. I was always trying to find some means of 
equalizing the supply of grapes. It was most 
unfortunate that the wine industry has always been 
to a lesser degree today, but always has been and 
probably always will be to some degree the scavenger 
of the industry. 

Grape growers make as many raisins as they want 
to and ship as much table grapes as they can, and 
then whatever is left over, at one price or other, 
ends up in the wineries. Therefore, because the 
wineries take the surplus of the other branches of 
the grape industry, its stability is much more 
volatile. And this is why I ve always been very 
much in favor of the co-operative, where a grower 
had a firm home for his grapes and that was it. 
That s why I m in favor of what Gallo has been doing, 
where he will buy from people who are faithful to 
him and that s it. Ideally it is best if someone 
has a home for his grapes in whatever branch of the 
industry he chooses to be in, but doesn t because 
of a rain or something else try to find a home in 
the wine industry only during the year he s in trouble, 

Teiser: Since more so-called varietals are being encouraged 
those are not adaptable to raisins, are they? 

Petri: No. Raisins are essentially made from Thompson 

Seedless and to a lesser degree from Sultanas. I d 
like to tell you something that absolutely amazed me 
the other day: table wine sales finally exceeded 
dessert wine sales. I predicted, 25 years ago, that 
this eventually would happen. I m delighted to see 
it happen. As the industry makers more and more 


Petri: standard type table wines, they need more and more 
of the you don t call them varictals as much as 
you call them wine-type variety of grapes. They can 
be grown in the San Joaquin Valley that has always 
been most famous for its Thompson Seedless grapes. 
Thompson Seedless still makes a decent white wine. 
However, it s a light-bodied wine. But it s a 
necessary grape for the production of dessert wines. 
When you make a gallon of, let us say, muscatel, 
half of the grapes that are used to make a gallon 
of muscatel have to go through the stills to be 
made into alcohol. It is one of the most efficient 
grapes. It makes more alcohol per ton than any other 


Teiser: I wanted to ask you to detail the Heublein I don t 


know whether you would call it "sale" or "merger, 
How it came about. 

Well, I didn t have too much to do with it at the 

Teiser: Who thought of it? 

Petri: As I understand it, a fellow by the name of Lou 

G-omberg and I gave you his name the other day in 
relation to the Inglenook deal Lou Gomberg has 
been a wine industry consultant. He used to work 
for the Wine Institute. Then he became a wine 
consultant to many members of the industry. Then I 
hired him as ray assistant, but he was still a 
consultant for so many other people and I hope he 
reads this [laughter] that finally we made a deal 
that he might as well go back in the consulting 
business, and I would become one of his larger 
clients. He is a very capable man. I like Lou 
Gomberg very much. As I understand it, Lou Gomberg 
was commissioned by Heublein to try to get them one 
of the larger wineries such as Gallo or United 
Vintners, that is, one of the large ones, because 
they were very much interested in getting into the 
California wine business. This was after I had left 
United Vintners. And I understand that Gomberg went 
to United Vintners, and because most members of the 

Petri: management and of the board of directors liked the 
idea they decided to pursue it. 

I got very much involved in the deal after they 
had started negotiations because I had a very close 
relationship with most members of the board of 
directors of Allied. I sat in on many of their 
meetings because they wanted me to advise them, and 
then too we owned Grape Factors. Later, as I told 
you before, I was helpful to Heublein in nutting 
them together with Beaulieu Vineyard, Ted [Theodore 
A.] Kolb is my attorney and he was also the trustee 
of Beaulieu Vineyard, I. think that the Beaulieu 
sale was a great thing for the industry. I know 
that a lot of people don t like to see these great 
corporations coining into the wine industry, but to 
a degree it is necessary. 

Teiser: I think you said, last time you were speaking, that 
one of the advantages of the large companies was 
their ability to finance the holding of wines, 
aging of wines. 

Petri: Yes, the aging of wines, the ability to Invest in 
merchandising, advertising and the promotion of 
wine. Remember this about all family businesses 
I guess that I m philosophizing to some degree but 
it s going to be practically impossible in the United 
States, as is true today in England, for a family 
to own its business over too many years. The gap 
of one generation to the other, which is maybe 
20-22-23 years you can t accumulate enough cash to 
be able to pay the government the inheritance taxes 
that they re going to want and at the same time be 
able to hold a family business together and. expand 
it. Oh, one or two generations can do it, but then 
as there are more children, and the ownership gets 
more and more spread, it becomes more and more 
difficult for families to hold on. 

I think unless it s a real small winery, it s 
going to be very difficult, especially in the 
premium wine field where it takes lots and lots of 
capital to grow. In most instances, you ve got 
to plant your own grapes, and. as I said the other 
d.ay, if you plant Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, before 
you can put one gallon in a bottle, it s very close 
to ten years before you can market the first gallon 
of wine. You have invested lots and lots of dollars 

Petri: in that first bottle of wine before it produces any 
income. It s ,30 ing to take big corporations with 
lots of money to do these types of things, to really 
develop the premium wine industry in California. 

Teiser: Well,, I think a question in many minds is, will the 
big comnanies find it to their interest to make very 
high quality wines? 

Petri: Prom what I have seen to date of the big corporations 
who have come to California, for example, Heublein 
everything that they are doing is to improve the 
quality. From the day that I had anything to do with 
Inglenook, I did everything possible to inrorove the 
quality of Inglenook. And that cost money. Actually 
I think John Daniel was in that position in life 
that he either had to start plowing a lot of money 
into Inglenook or sell it. I believe this was one 
of the reasons why John Daniel sold. We were big 
enough as United Vintners to have plowed lots of 
money into the operation. 

After we bought it we built a fine fermenting 
cellar, with stainless steel fermenting tanks that 
had hot and cold controlled fermentation. This was 
especially needed for white wines. We built a 
modern bottling room so that the wine could be 
bottled under excellent sanitary conditions. We did 
everything in our power to increase the age before 
we marketed the wine. We tried to get more varietal 
grapes signed into the winery, which we were able to 
do, due to the advantage of the co-op sign up. Now, 
after I left, United Vintners did do certain things 
with Inglenook that I very much disagreed with. 
They went into the generics, which they should never 
have done . 

Now Heublein, both as to Inglenook and Beaulieu, 
is doing everything it can to elevate the brands. 
And frankly they would be the biggest fools on earth 
to have come into this industry unless that s 
exactly what they do, ajnd are willing to invest to 
do it. I can tell you that I know that they paid 
a goodly amount of money for Beaulieu. What fools 
they would be if they bastardize or lessen the 
quality or mass -merchandise something like Beaulieu. 
In order to do this, they re even keeping B. V. 
[Beaulieu] at this moment as a completely separate 
entity, completely out of United Vintners. 


Petri : 

Petri : 


Petri : 

I can see how they might have bought it just for the 

Well, you just don t create labels. You don t 
create images. Especially you don t create fine 
images such as Beaulieu overnight. 

I mean, I suppose someone looking for short-term 
gains could have used the label briefly for... 

Oh, you could have taken and milked out Beaulieu 
over eight or ten years and made a lot of money out 
of it. You could do that with Inglenook too. You 
could also do it with Louis Martini, Wente, Krug 
and others. But the type of people who buy these 
fine wines are sophisticated, they are gourmets and 
true wine lovers. They understand wines, and you 
give such people a couple of bad bottles of wine 
[laughter] and they are not going to buy it again. 

The only comparable thing I can think of is the 
Jack Daniels whiskey distillery. Is that a valid 

To a very great degree, that is correct, 
always maintained its quality. 

It s 


Petri: I see a tremendous, truly a tremendous future in the 
California premium wine field, as I do also for 
California brandy, California vermouth (irtiich has 
practically run the European vermouths out of 
business in the United States). Then too, California 
champagne sales are growing tremendously. 

Teiser: What about flavored wines? We haven t discussed 
them much. I know you went into them a little. 

Petri: Yes, they have a good growing market. There are 
many flavors that people like that can be put in 
wine. The business started in a very peculiar way, 
and I think we can all thank Mr. Ernie Gallo, who 
found a twist in the law and started producing them. 
He first came out with Thunderbird, which was very 
successful. Actually, Thunderbird was essentially 


Petri: what the cheaper alcohol buyer, if you will the 

buyer of inexpensive wine liked. He bought white 
port and added, to it a little lemon or lime juice. 
This basically is what Thunderbird is white port 
with lemon flavor. But from that start there has 
developed moderate priced cocktail type wines. They 
are in a variety of flavors. 

As a matter of fact, in the last Heublein s 
financial statement I have a few extra copies of 
it here; I can give you one they describe their 
concept of flavored wines. I don t remember their 
exact wording, but it was well nut. 1*11 give you a 
copy.* Flavored wines have a good growing market. 
They started as a novelty wine for the cheap alcohol 
buyer. But many of them are now used as a cocktail 
wine by many people, especially the younger 
generation. The same people who can t afford the 
prices of whiskey have also become large users of 
table wine, which is really great for the industry. 

Teiser: We re getting to the end of this tat>e. This has 

been a most interesting interview. Do you have any 
general comments on the industry? 

Petri: Yes. I m really delighted that the wine industry 
has made such tremendous strides. Each year it is 
hitting new highs in sales, and its public image 
has also been hitting new highs. 

*See Appendix C. 



(Summary of interview with Dante Porestl, April 21, 1969) 

Dante Forest! was born in Italy in 1883. Before he came 
to San Francisco at the age of seventeen, his father had been 
working as a carpenter, and had lived at Raffaello Petri s 
Toscano Hotel. He was an original shareholder in the Italian 
Swiss Agricultural Colony. He returned to Italy where he 
died when Dante was twelve. 

"Before my father die, he say to me, Dante, you go to 
America. That s your country." Consequently, after learning 
to be a cook in Italy, young Dante came to the United States. 
He worked in San Francisco and nearby communities as a cook. 
After the 1906 earthquake he met Raffaello Petri. On a ferry 
boat, he heard someone calling Mr. Petri by name, and he 
introduced himself. He later went to see Mr. Petri, and 
subsequently worked with him in the construction of the 
Cosmopolitan Hotel and restaurant in San Francisco. He became 
a partner and did the cooking. It had 5^ rooms and served 
meals to many more people than it housed. 

Wine was bought in puncheons and bottled for sale. When 
World War I started in Europe, imports were cut and the market 
for domestic wines became very strong. Dante Forest! and 
Haffaello Petri began selling wine in volume, shipping it and 
various foods as well to many places in Northern California. 

"But then I have to sell all this wine and get out, 
because Prohibition, you know, stop everything." 

Prior to Prohibition, Haffaello Petri and Dante Foresti 
had bought a l60-acre vineyard and winery in the northern San 
Joaquin Valley that they soon sold to the Smerzian family. 
Then Foresti went into partnership with J. B. Cella and a man 
named Podesta and bought the vineyard and winery near Escalon 
that later became a Petri premise; it was there that the 
interview took place, at his home on the winery grounds. 
Under the name Alba Grape and Fruit Company, they also bought 
the Homa Winery near Manteca and a winery at St. Helena. 
J. B. Cella, who resided in New York, was eastern agent. 
Podesta, who handled the company s books, died within a few 
years. Subsequently Angelo Petri became a partner. The 
company was licensed to operate during Prohibition as a 
winery, and it also shipped grapes east by the carload. They 
were picked by Chinese workers who also packed them and were 
excellent packers. 

After Prohibition, "when the wine came back, I told 
Louis [Petri] (he was study to be a doctor) ... Let s get 
in the wine! ... Some day you ll be the biggest wine man in 
itl My god it happened.... We form a company. Was no 
more Alba. Was the Petri Wine Company." 

It was a subsidiary of the Petri Cigar Company, in which 
he had long held an interest. 

- j -^~ k 1 



The present company was originally incorporated in 1912 as 
the Petri Italian American Cigar Company. The name was first 
changed in 1922 to the Petri Cigar Company, then in 19W8 to Petri 

"Sine Company.- 

The present corporation did not enter the wine "business 
until 1933 "but has "been producing and distributing cigars continuously 
from its inception. The B. Petri T?/ine Company, however, headed "by 
Baffaello Petri, v;as in the v/ine "business from the late 1880 s until 
prohibition. Eaffaollo Petri retired in 1918 and died in 192H. 
In 1933, the present corporation, headed "by Angelo Petri, son of 
Baffaello Petri, entered the wine "business and it has "been actively 
engaged in the production and distribution of v;ine, since that time. 

During the first five yearzh^ne present company was in tho 
wine "business, it sold all of its tvine in "bulk. In 1938, it entered 
into a contract with Safeway Stores Incorporated to "bottle v;ine for 
them under their own private label. At the same time, it began 
distributing bottled wines under the Petri label through wholesalers 
in a few selected markets in the United States. In 19^+2, the bottling 
contract with Safeway Stores was terminated and the company entered 
into an extensive marketing program to promote the Petri label on a 
nationwide scale. At the present time, the company is selling wine 
only in bottles and has discontinued the sale of bulk wines. All 
of its products are sold to distributors and State monopolies. At 
tho present time, it owns only one direct branch operation located in 

San Francisco and distributing the company s products in the San 
Francisco-Bay area. This "branch operates as a separate corporation, 
doing "business under the name of the Petri Distributing Company. 
The company previously owned and operated "branches in Chicago, new 
York, and Los Angeles, "but closed them in favor of operating through 
independent wholesalers. 

As of December 31, 1950, the company owned 510 acres of 
land of which only 60 acres are planted to vineyard. It did, how 
ever, own and farm approximately 1,900 acres of vineyard. During 
the last four years, it has "been slowly liquidating its holdings and 
is continuing to do so. 

The company is also engaged in the production and marketing 
of Toscani type (Italian Stogie) cigars under the d"ba of Petri Cigar 
Company. It is the third largest producer of this typo of cigar in 
the United States. It has a very dominant position in the sale of 
Toscani type cigars on the Pacific Coast and the Territory of Hawaii 
and is one of the four important selling "brands in the "balance of the 
United States. It is estimated that the company does a"bout 20# of 
the total Toscani type cigar "business in the United States. Up to 
19^, the cigars were produced in San Francisco, at which time the 
production of the cigars was moved from San Francisco to Clarksville, 
Tennessee, whore the company .presently employs a"bout 200 people. 

The present wine operation has "been "built up over a period 
of years "by the purchases of many companies. The following is a 
chronological "brief history of the various purchases of the company: 

(1) The !ont Helena Calistoga \vine Company, controlling interest 
purchased in 1933, remaining interest in 193H. Dissolved 
in 1936. This company had throe small wineries under 
lease in Napa and Sonoma Counties. The leases on two of 
the wineries were allowed to expire "but the lease on a 
winery at Forestville, California, was maintained until 
at which time the winery was purchased. 

(2) ATba G-rapo & Fruit Company purchased in 1934. A snail winery 

and 640 acres of vineyard in Escalon, California. The 
present winery at Escalon has resulted from many additions 
to this winery. 

(3) Sunny Hill Wineries, Chicago, Illinois, half interest purchased 

in 1936 and remaining half in 1941. It operated as a 
separate corporation in tho distribution of Petri "bottled 
and "bulk wine in the Middle East. In 1942, the name was 
changed to Petri Wine Company of Illinois which corporation 
was liquidated in 1947 at which time the sale of Petri 
Wine was given to wholesalers in the area. 

(4) Major Wine Distributors, Inc., of New York City was purchased 

in 1942. The name was changed to the Petri Wine Company 

of New York. It operated as a separate company distributing 

Petri Wine in the metropolitan area of New York up to 

June 30, 1950, at which time the corporation was liquidated 

and the ?etri line given to a wholesaler. 

(5) Brans er Wine Company, San Francisco, California - Controlling 

interest was purchased in 1942 and remaining interest in 
1943. The name was changed to Petri Distributing Company 
of California, and it is operated as a separate corporation 
in the distribut ion of Petri Wine in the San Francisco-Bay 

(6) Tulare Wine Company, Tulare, California. Purchased in 1944 

and liquidated in the satne year. The winery was acquired 
"by Petri for additional productive facilities. The winery 
was sold to the Argun Wine Company in 1949 after Petri 
acquired K. Arakelian, Inc. 

(7) Gianni. ni Vineyards of Tulare, California. Purchased in 1944 - 

Approximately 1,280 acres of vineyards and "bare land 
surrounding Tulare Wine Company of Tulare. All "but 
approximately 240 acres of this land has "been sold. 

(S) K. Arakolian, Inc. (.lission Bell Wineries) . Purchased 
April 28, 1949. 

(9) llargo Wine Company, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania - Half interest 
purchased July 1, 1950, "by the K. Arakelian, Inc. 


Tho company was founded in 1922 "by Krikor Arakolian and was 
owned "by him and members of his family up to Hay, 1949,, at which 
time, the Petri Wine Company purchased all outstanding shares of the 

corporation. It operated continuously through prohibition, selling 
sacramental wines, grapes and. raisins. After the repeal of pro 
hibition, the company inaugurated an intensive nationwide campaign 
to sell its wine. Bottling "branches were opened in "both Hew York 
and Chicago. For the last five years, the company has sold approxi 
mately 5,000,000 gallons of wine per year. Its main "brand, Passion 
Bell, has "been well established in several of the major markets of 
the United States. ; 

During the shortage period created "by the war, the company 
sold various of its "brands at high prices. In 1947 they reduced 
their prices to levels lower than established "brands. For example, 
in New Yorlc, up to Petri s acquisition of the company, a Quart of 
Mission Bell dessert wine sold to the consumer for ,85^, whereas Petri, 
Eoma, Gallo and Guild were selling at 98^ per quart. 

The Petri ine Company acquired all of the oustanding stock 
of K. Arakelian, Inc., on April 23, 1949, It has instituted many 
changes in the methods and policies of the company. Briefly they 
are as follows: 

. . 

(1) To discontinue "branch "bottling and distributing operations" 
and to "bottlo all wine in California. It has DC on felt 

that considerable savings could "be effected in having only 
one "bottling overhead and that "by "bottling in California 
the company would have "better control over the quality of 
its products. The Chicago operation was closed as of 
August 31, 1950; the New York operation is presently in 
the process of "being closed and all operations should 
cease "by April 1, 1951. 

( 2 ) To concentrate sales _anA .promotional efforts to _raa.1or .wing 

narket.% A great deal of money has "been spent in promoting 
the sale of Mission Sell wine in many markets whoro the 
foreseeable potential does not justify the expense. 

( 3 ) To discontinue tho sale of. .lot? or priced seoondary "oranfln 

and sizes r^icL conaontrate^all ..SGl.lin..q; r efforts on I-Tirnj.o^ 
Bell.. The high overhead of "branch "bottling operations 
created a vicious cycle v;horain volume "became the all 
important factor, and in order to obtain tho necessary 
volume, much wine was "being sold at prices, which showed 

To raise the, level of prices BO t ?.s to "be aor/ierehat _oompara bla 
to ."brands .such as G-allo, G-uild, Italian Ry/isn Colony, etc.. 
Heretofore liission Bell was selling "between 10$ and 15/2 
lower in price than other comparable "brands. The prices ^ 
have "been raised so that at the present time Mission Bell 
is selling at about the same prices as Gallo, Italian Swiss 
Colony and Guild, 


(5) To redesign the packages and add items x to the,., line, no as 

realce it more complete. The "bottles, labels and cases have 
"been completely redesigned and Vermouth Italian type 
dry red wine have "been added to the line. 

(6) To eliro j.nate^ du olicating; overhead so _ that all functions other 

than, sales are cora nined ^?ith Petri. The corporate office 
presently located in iladera will "be shortly combined isith 
that of Petri ine Company in San Francisco. . 

MABGO WUffi C021PA$fY 

The company "was established "by Edward Black during prohi 
bition, selling sacramental wines. Upon Hr. Black s death in 1934, 
John A. largolls was appointed general manager of the company and has 
"been its active head since. The company was incorporated in July, 
1935, under the name of Bisceglia Brothers Corporation, ^hich name 
v;as changed to the Margo Wine Company on January 1, 19W7. The great. 
majority of its "business is done with the Liquor Control Board of the 
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. ror the past four years, its sales to 
the Liquor Control Conurdssion of Pennsylvania have averaged over 
600,000 cases per year. Approximately 22% of its "business is under 
the Grey stone la"bel \vhich is sold at premium prices. The popular 
priced v, ine is sold under the i&rgo label. It is leasing a 35,000 
square foot "building centrally located in Philadelphia. There is a 
storage capacity of approximately 150,000 gallons and "bottling 
facilities for 4,000 cases of v;ine per eight hour day. 

As of July 1, 1550, Potri 7/ine Company, through its wholly 
owned subsidiary, K. Arakelian, Inc., acquired 50# interest in the 
iargo Wine Company, the other 50# is ov/ned "by John A. Margolis. 

A number of contracts ware entered into, the important ones 

(1) A five-year contract whore by K. Arakelian is to 

produce all of ITargo Wina Company s requirements 
at a price "based on a mathematical fomula. 

(2) A five-year employment contract -with John Jl&rgolis. 

(3) A ten-year stock pool agreement under which each 

party has a purchase option on the shares of the 
other party. 



During 1950, Petri Wine Company, K. Arakelian, Inc., Petri 
Distributing Company of California, and Margo "Jlne Company, topethor 
sold 12,379,969 gallons of wine. This is 10.31g of all the California 

wines sold in the United States and is 9.61# of all ^inos (including 


imported wine and wines made in states other than California) sold in 
the United States. During the 1950 vintage season, the winnries of 
Potri and K. Arakelian, and certain wineries unfler production contract, 
crushed the equivalent of 115,000 tons of grapes. This is slightly 
less than <*% of tho total 1950 estimated crush in California. 

Young & Rioicara, Potri s advertising agency, has recently 
made a summary of the available market surveys and statistical 
reports that they and othors have prepared. A nuranary of their 
findings may "ba "briefly stated as follows: 

Of tho twenty one markets surveyed Petri was first 
seller in sovon, second seller in six, and third 
seller in five. 

From Heublein Inc. Annual Report, 1969 

United Vintners, Inc., Heublein s 
newest subsidiary, is riding the crest 
of a growth market for flavorful, 
moderate-proof alcoholic beverages. 

In the 12-month period ended |une 
30, 19(><), United Vintners exceeded 
projections in both unit sales, up 7.1 
per cent, and dollar volume, 11.3 per 
cent. After-tax earnings for United 
Vintners were up by a sizeable 
amount in spite of an increase of 
some $3 million in the cost of grapes. 
This is partly due to price increases 
but is also the result of a better 
product mix. Champagnes, brandy 
and premium wines, for example, 
had a total increase of 25 per cent 
in case sales. 

Wine consumption in the U.S. 
totaled 216 million gallons in fiscal 

unueu is snaring in me increasing 
wine demand at all consumption 
levels because it has a product range 
from ran; estate bottled vintages to 
popular priced varieties. 

Its Inglenonk estate bottled wines 
are recogni/ed as wines of premium 
value. Al tin; same time, United Vint 
ners Italian Swiss Colony brand en 
joys substantial popularity in the 
fast-growing trend toward lighter, 
often slightly flavored, cocktail-aper 
itif wines. These beverages, appeal 
ing to moderate family usage and 
informal entertainment, are believed 
to be the wave of the future. 

Among the more notable entries 
under the Italian Swiss Colony ban 
ner is Mali Mai, a fruit flavored wine, 
with an alcohol content of less than 
12 per cent. Us growth pattern is out 
standing. Market surveys reveal that 
Mali Mai s consumer base is com 
posed largely of young adults using 
wine regularly for the first time. 

United also has several strong con 
tenders in the growing market for 
sparkling wines with its Lejon Cham 
pagne, Sparkling Burgundy and Cold 
Duck, a combination of champagne 
and sparkling burgundy. Demand for 
sparkling wines outpaced United 
Vintners production capacity but 
nevertheless the Company achieved 
a 33 per cent growth in this category. 
A new production facility is planned 
for completion in 1971. 

United Vintners has been given re 
sponsibility for Heublein s imported 
wine business, the Vintage Wines 
Company. The consolidation of the 
imported and domestic wines busi 
ness was virtually complete by the 
close of the year. Victor A. Bonomo, 
an experienced marketing executive, 
was named president of United Vint 
ners in March. 

Growing public interest in wines 
was evident in the first wine auction 
ever held in the U. S. which Vintage 
Wines Company conducted in Chi 
cago last May. The auction attracted 
widespread attention as a result of 
extensive news media coverage. One 
benefit from the auction was the new 
values set for wines in this country, 
particularly California premium 
quality wines. 

From Time, Vol 61, April 27, 1953 



Biggest on the Vine 

Among California s clannish winemak- 
ers. Louis Petri, 40. has long been marked 
as a young man headed for hip things 
La.->t week., as boss of his family s I etri 
Wine Co.. he more (han fulfilled Ihe vint 
ners expectations. Fur a reported $16 mil 
lion, he bought National Distillers tamed 
old Italian Swiss Colony Wine Co.. Ihe 
nation s third largest producer of domes 
tic wines. In the deal. Petii acquired 
Italian Swiss s wineries at ASH. Lodi. and 
Clovis. Calif . bottling plants at Chicago 
and Fairview. N.J.. New York s Gamba- 
relli & Davitto distributing organization, 
and one of the best-known labels on the 
domestic vine. At one leap. I etri went 
from fifth to first place among U.S. vint 
ners, with a total capacity of .(6 mil 
lion gallons.* 

Vintage Vintner. In Italian Swiss Col 
ony. Petri got one of the oldest vintage 
winemakers in the U.S. Founded in 1881 
by Genoa-born Andrea Sbarharo as a col- 
lectivist colony modeled after the cooper 
ative theories of John Ruskin and Robert 
Owen, Italian Swiss Colony s skilled wine- 
makers gained a reputation for fine dry 
wines. Although it still makes dry table 
wines, the bulk of Italian Swiss Colony s 
output is now sweet dessert wines, which 
are easier to make, and appeal more to 
American palates. 

National Distillers Products Corp. 

* I rcvious Bis Five I" S. winemakers. in order 
if r;i|>HCity. Roma (.10,000.000 gals.); Califor 
nia Wine Association, a crowors coo|>erative 
I I9,i>$ unls. ) ; Italian Swiss Colony I 26,000,- 
ooo gals I ; Wine (1 rowers Guil l. a cooi>erative 
i : Kals.): Pttri (. gals.). 

bought Italian Swiss in 1042 as a hedge 
against wartime restrictions on whislcx 
But. after the war. the I .S. wine market 
turned -our. and has stayed thai way ever 
since. Accordingly. National was t" 
sell out. 

New Blood. If anybody can squeeze a 
respect, iblt profit out of Italian Swiss Col 
ony. Louis I etri should be Ihe man to do 
it. Behind him is a family tradition of 
wincmaking Marled by his grandfather 
Raliaello. who heuan a small winery in the 
San Joaquin Valley in iSSo. built it into 
one of the best-known vintners in C..II 
fornia. During prohibition, tlie Petri- L I 
out of the business, and made li ili.ui- 
style slot ies in Tennessee. ot b;u k in 
again after repeal by buying Ihu-e .ill 
fornia wineries 

My IN o5 the company was selling MI 
much bulk wine in kegs that Louis IVm 
quit St. Louis I nivcrsity s medical sdiool 
to start rolling barrels in his family < s.m 
Francisco warehouse. He soon convinced 
his father that keg distribution was out 
moded, launched a program to bottle the 
company s wine under the Petri label and 
distribute it nationally. (Today, less ihan 
10% of Petri s output is in bulk. 1 ! He ilso 
expanded Petri s more profitable sweet 
wine business while holding on to IViri s 
dry wine market. By 1945. having learned ; 
the business from dirt to decanter, he took i 
over as president. 

Petri soon showed a shrewd eye for a 
smart deal. In 1940. he bought up the big 
Mission Bell winery in the San Jn.iquin 
Valley for $3,350.000. thereby doubled 
Petri s storage capacity to 20 million 
He also figured that it was more proin 
to distribute wine than to grow and . ",i*li 
grapes. So in 1951 he helped orgam/r ;..o 
small- and medium-size San Joaquin I-IM 
ers into the Allied Grape Growers. ln< j 
cooperative to which he sold all hi- win 
eries in the valley. In return, Petri tot 
exclusive marketing rights to Allied - out- 

From dirt to decanter. 

put which last year made up >i-, f , of 
Petri s tonnage. 

Winemon s Choice. Last week after a 
t rn-1 in the San Joaquiii Y.illev hipped 
vine- :nul -enl (he price of -weet VMIIO m 
!>ulk up to ^7 ,r a g;il ilium .. l<iv. ol 
<- .< . many a vinlner thought IViri had 
made a -mart buy To -wing the deal fr 
Italian Swiss Colony, he had Ixinowed 
Irom the Bank of America That the 
wa.s willing to plunge into the precarious 
\\inemaking business wa> a pat on the 
back for Petri. 

TIME, APRIL 27. 1953 


INDEX Louis A. Petri 

Alba Grape & Fruit Company, 3, 8, 10, 11, 53, 54, 57 

Albano ( label ) , 12 , 14 

Allied Grape Growers, 9, 17, 19, 20, 24, 29, 30, 32, 34, 35, 

36, 37, fa., 49 
Almaden [Vineyards], 42 
American Can Company, 13 
Amerine, Maynard, 15 
Angelo Petri, (ship), 26-29 
Arakelian, Eddi e , 19 
Arakelian, K. , Inc. 57, 58, 59, 60 
Arakelian, Krikor, 19, 57 
Argun Wine Company, 57 

Bangle, George, 38 

Bank of America, 30, 31, 39, 43, 44, ^5 

Beaulieu [Vineyard], 11, 42, 49, 50 

Beise, Clark, 44 

Bethlehem Steel, 27 

Bianchini, Lelio Neil (Bob), 17, 24 

Bierwirth, Jack, 22, 23 

Bisceglia Brothers Corporation, 59 

Black, Edward, 59 

Blair Holding Company, 30, 31, 38 

Branger Wine Company, 57 

Caddow, Harry, 40, 46 

California Wine Association, 33, 44, 46, 47 

Cella, Flori. See Petri, Flori (Mrs. Louis), 7, 15 

Cella, J.B. (John Battista), 7, 10, 37, 53 

Cella, Lorenzo (Lori), 7, 10, 37 

Cella Vineyards, 38 

Central California Wineries, 43, 44 

Cosmopolitan Hotel, 2, 5, 53 

Crest View Winery, 18 

Critchfield, Burke H. , 43 

Cruess, William V., 15 

crushing depots, 24, 25 


Daniel, John, Jr., 4l, 42, 50 

Daniel, John, Sr. , 42 

Deane, General John R. , 40 

Di Giorgio [Corporation], 31, 32 

Double A (label), 14 

Dunham, Scott, 38 

Duvalle, Vincenzo, & Co., 1 

Emerzian family, 3, 53 

Ferranti s Restaurant, 13 
Fidelis (label), 14 
Forkes, John F. & Company, 38 
Foremost-McKesson, 39 
Foresti, Dante, 2, 3, 53-54 

Gallo (Winery, E. & J.), 8, 12, 21, 33, 34, 35, 40, 4?, 

48, 51 

Gambarelli & Davitto, 21 
Gazzaro, Joe, 18 
Giannini, A. P. , 44, 45 
Giannini, Frank, 18 
Giannini, Mario, 45, 46 
Giannini Vineyards, 57 
Golan, Louis, 43, 44 
Gomberg, Louis R. , 41, 48 
Grape Factors, 36, 37, 49 
Greystone (label), 1? 
Guaraldi, Miss lola, 4 

Guidi, Amelia, 4. See Petri, Amelia (Mrs. Angelo) 
Guidi, Carlotta, 4, 5 
Guild [Wine Company], 35 

Heck, Adolph, 22 

Heublein [Inc.], 35, 36, 37, 42, 48. 50, 52 

Hoffman, Mrs. Claire Giannini, 39, 45 

Inglenook [Vineyard Company], 11, 41, 50 

Italian Swiss Agricultural Colony, 53 

Italian Swiss Colony, 12, 20, 21, 22, 23, 25, 32, 35, 40, 42 

Jones, Lee, 22 


Kolb, Theordore A., 49 
Korbel, F. & Brothers, 22 
Kernel, Haus, 24 

Lagomarsino, Fred, 18 

Landor, Walter, 40 

Larkmead [Vineyards], 23, 24 

Lejon (label), 22, 35 

"Little John" (bottle), 13, 14 

Major Wine Distributors, Inc., New York City, 57 

Marca Petri (label), 23 

Margo Wine Company, 16, 17, 18, 57, 59-60 

Margolis, John A., 17, 59, 60 

Martini, Louis M. , 11, 15 

Masson, Paul [Vineyards], 12 

McColly, Don, 46 

Mission Bell (label), 58 

Mission Bell Wineries, 19, 57 

Mont Helena Calistoga Wine Company. See Mt. St. Helena 

Calistoga Wine Company 
Montclair Restaurant, 2. 5 
Kortara, Benjamin (Benny), 8 
Mt. St. Helena Calistoga Wine Company, 8, 56 

National Distillers, 21, 22, 40, 42 

New Toscano Hotel, 2 

Nieri, Mrs. Cherubina, 1, 3, 4 

Owens-Illinois Glass Company, 13 

Paganini, Bud, 39 

Paganini, Charlie, 39 

Petrl (label), 32, 35 

Petri, Albert, 9, 16 

Petri, Amadeo, 3, 4, 5, 9, 10 

Petrl, Amelia (Mrs. Angelo), 4 

Petri, Angelo, 4, 5, 7, 9, 10, 15, 26, 44, 53, 55 

Petri, Carlotta, 4, 5 

Petri, Caterina (Mrs. Amadeo), 5 

Petri, Cherubina. See Nieri, 1, 3, 4 

Petri Cigar Company, 8, 9, 5^ 55, 56 

Petri, Cigars and Tobacco, 1 


Petri Distributing Company, 56, 57, 60 

Petri, Plori (Mrs. Louis A.), 7, 15 

Petri Italian American Cigar Company, 55 

Petri, Paul, 13 

Petri (R. ) & Company, 3 

Petri, (R. ) Wine Company, 9, 55 

Petri, (R. ) Winery, 3 

Petri, Raffaello, 1, 2, 3, 4, 6-7, 9, 10, 54, 55 

Petri Wine Company, 8, 9, 54, 55-60 

Petri Wine Company of Illinois, 57 

Petri Wine Company of New York, 57 

Podesta, _ , 53 

Porter, Seton, 22 

Drices, wine, 58, 59 

Prohibition, 3, 5, 6-8, 10, 11, 25, 53, 54 

raisins, 20, 47 

Roma Wine Company, 7, 37, 38, 53 

S & W, 31, 32 

Safeway Stores, Inc., 14, 15, 55 

Santa Pe ( label ) , 32 

Schenley [Distillers], 22, 38 

Security Lithograph Company, 39 

Setrakian, A., jk 

Shewan and. Jones, 21 

Sinel, Jo, 14, 15 

Solari, B.C., 36, 40 

Sunny Hill Wine Company, Chicago. See Sunny Hill Wineries, 

Sunny Hill Wineries, Chicago, 17, 18, 57 

Taylor, Walter, 44 

Taylor Wine Company, 37 

Toscano Hotel, 2, 53 

Transamerica, 30, 31 

Tulare Wine Company, 18, 19, 57 

United Vintners, 8, 12, 35, 36, 37, 38, 4-1, 42, 48, 50 

Vai (label), 32 
Vai, James L. (Jimmy), 32 
Vick s Distributing Company, 13 
Vino Rosso Pastoso (label), 23 
Vintage (label), 


Walker, Elisha, 44 

Wine Institute, 40, 46, 47, 

Winkler, Albert J., 15 

Young Rubicam, 60 

Wines Mentioned in the Interview 

angelica, 12 

"Bali -Hal", 12 

burgundy, 12 

Cabernet Sauvignon, 42 

Emerald Riesling, 12 

Grenache rose, 12 

muscatel, 9, 12 

port, 9, 12 

sherry, 9, 12 

"Thunderbird", 12, 51, 52 

Zinfandel , 12 

Grape Varieties Mentioned, in the Interview 

Cabernet Sauvignon, 49 

Grenache, 12 

Salvador, 38 

Sultana, 47 

Thompson Seedless, 19, 47, 48 

Ruth Teiser 

Born in Portland, Oregon; came to the Bay Area 

in 1932 and has lived here ever since. 

Stanford, B. A., M. A. in English; further graduate 

work in Western history. 

Newspaper and magazine writer in San Francisco since 

1943, writing on local history and business and 

social life of the Bay Area. , 

Book reviewer for the San Francisco Chronicle 

since 1943.