Wine, wine everywhere, and not a drop to drink

Mal Warwick, who regularly contributes book reviews to Berkeleyside, calls Frances Dinkelspiel’s ‘Tangled Vines’ “a great read,” and “crammed with fascinating characters.” He gives it five stars. 

☆☆☆☆☆ (five out of five)

Tangled VinesGold. Aerospace. Agriculture. Filmmaking and television. Computers and consumer electronics. Wine. Viewed through the lens of business and commerce, these industries dominate the history of the State of California. Examining any one of them as it has evolved over the three centuries since Spanish monks seized control of the land helps illuminate how California has become the wealthy and populous state it is today.

In Tangled Vines, journalist Frances Dinkelspiel [co-founder of Berkeleyside] tells the colorful story of California’s wine industry, enriching our understanding of the state’s history — and she makes it read like a thriller.

Tangled Vines recounts the 18th-century origins of the state’s wine industry in the rising demand for sacramental wine for use in the Catholic missions that were the first centers of European settlement in California. For two centuries, Californios (Spanish-speaking settlers) dominated the field until the Gold Rush brought tens of thousands of English-speakers to the state, newcomers who gained the ascendancy through hard work, shrewd investment, as well as fraud and even murder.


As Dinkelspiel tells the story, California’s wine industry didn’t come into its own until late in the 19th century when it finally gained acceptance on the East Coast of the U.S. as an alternative to fine European wines.

The industry flourished, its center of gravity moving from Southern California to San Francisco, until the advent of Prohibition in 1920 — and then it collapsed. Revival, and the rise of Napa and Sonoma counties, came late in the 1960s through the pioneering efforts of Robert Mondavi. We all know the rest.

Continue reading on Mal Warwick’s Blog on Books.

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