Home > History of Wine > “sophisticated wines that add a new dimension to wine drinking” : The Rediscovery of Heitz Cellars Grignolino

“sophisticated wines that add a new dimension to wine drinking” : The Rediscovery of Heitz Cellars Grignolino

In the article Italian Wines, A Growing Traffic in the Choice Falernian published in 1874 it was noted that Barbera, Grignolino, Nebbiolo, sparkling Asti and Malvasia were the top brands from Piedmont which were imported into the United States.[1]  Grignolino itself was planted in California as late as the 1883-1885 timeframe.[2]  In the Northern Italian section of the Descriptive List of Grapes Received and Wines Made, with Analyses of Musts and Wines it was noted that the Italian-Swiss Agricultural Colony of Asti, Sonoma County had brought in many cuttings of Piedmontese varieties including Grignolino.  These were growing in their large vineyard which had been previously planted with Zinfandel.  Unfortunately no samples grapes or wines were described.

The Grizzly Bear Magazine. 1915. From Google Books.

By 1916 Californian versions of Grignolino were being produced and advertised by the Italian Vineyard Company.[3]  That same year one could dine at the Golden Lion Tavern and Grill at 4th and F St in San Diego and accompany your Roast Turkey with a “pint of San Severo white or Grignolino red Wine” for $0.75.[4]  Whether this was Californian or Italian Girgnolino was not specified.  With the repeal of Prohibition, Guasti Fruit Industries advertised that “connoisseurs today stipulate Guasti instead of ‘imported’.”[5]  Amongst Burgundy, Claret, Madeira, and Riesling selections were Grignolino.  Just after World War 2 the I.V.C. California Wines company advertised their Grignolino from “non-irrigated vineyards in Southern California”.[6]  The advertisement was headlined “Your new love…Grignolino” and was described as “Robust and ruby-red”.

Image from [].

Image from [6].

Heitz Cellar Grignolino was advertised in Seattle by June 1965 as a recommended wine for a Father’s Day dinner.[6]  It costs $3.10 per bottle as compared to La Tache, Burgundy at $17.50.  One could by Heitz Grignolino in Dallas, Texas in 1973 for $2.99 per bottle on sale.[7]  This was more expensive than their Chablis and Burgundy selections priced at $2.69 but less expensive than Johannisberg Riesling at $4.19.  The price was remarkably stable for in 1978 the Heitz Grignolino was still priced at $2.99 in Omaha, Nebraska. [8]

At the Los Angeles County Fair of 1977 Frank Prial noted there were 825 Californian wines entered “including everything from champagne and tawny port to grignolino and coconut wine.”[9]  Later that month Frank Prial described the “white-wine explosion” where “Hard-bitten martini drinkers by the score switch every day to white wine.” [10]  While the popularity of rosé wines were not growing as fast as white wines it exceeded the growth-rate of red wines.  He included the “iconoclastic Heitz Cellars” rosé made from Grignolino, concluding that “[t]hese new California wines are well-made, sophisticated wines that add a new dimension to wine drinking.”  By 1986 Frank Prial noted the switchover in preference from white wine to rosé wine.[11]  He attributed this to the Californian industry banking on red wine being the new favorite but it had been white wine and production was unable to meet demand.  With a surplus of red grapes the discarded efforts of “white” Zinfandel, “white” Cabernet Sauvignon, and others led to blush wines.  However, it was rosé wines which were more serious than blush and the good producers included Caymus, Geyser Peak, Montevina, David Bruce, Buehler, Mirassou, Robert Mondavi, Ridge Vineyards, Bonny Doon and of course Heitz Cellars with its Grignolino rosé.  As late as 1993, Dan Berger recommended Heitz Grignolino at $5.50 per bottle for Thanksgiving dinner.[12]

[1] Date: Friday, December 18, 1874   Paper: Commercial Advertiser (New York, NY)   Page: 2
[2] Report of Viticultural Report During the Seasons 1883-4 and 1884-5.  1886. ULR: http://books.google.com/books?id=GJ5CAQAAIAAJ&pg=PA1#v=onepage&q&f=false
[3] The Grizzly Bear Magazine. 1916. URL: http://books.google.com/books?id=J8wsAQAAMAAJ&pg=RA4-PA57#v=onepage&q&f=false
[4] Date: Saturday, October 14, 1916   Paper: Evening Tribune (San Diego, CA)   Page: 6
[5] Date: Tuesday, August 21, 1934   Paper: Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, WA)   Page: 7
[6] Date: Tuesday, June 8, 1965   Paper: Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, WA)   Page: 11
[7] Date: Wednesday, June 27, 1973   Paper: Dallas Morning News (Dallas, TX)   Section: B   Page: 2
[8] Date: Wednesday, March 8, 1978   Paper: Omaha World Herald (Omaha, NE)   Page: 57
[9] Date: Sunday, September 11, 1977   Paper: Boston Herald (Boston, MA)   Page: 8
[10] Date: Thursday, September 22, 1977   Paper: San Diego Union (San Diego, CA)   Page: 59
[11] Date: Wednesday, June 11, 1986   Paper: Greensboro News and Record (Greensboro, NC)   Page: 54
[12] Date: Wednesday, November 24, 1993   Paper: Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, GA)   Section: B   Page: 3

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  1. March 12, 2014 at 8:31 am

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