This work which came out in 2016 and has passed relatively unheralded, is the latest work from the prolific pen of Prof. Thomas Pinney, emeritus Professor of English at Pomona College and author of the magisterial two volume work on Wine in America from UC Press among other wine writings. The City of Vines tells the compelling story of how wine growing began in Southern California, where historically the wine business started when California was still Spanish, and the vicissitudes of growing grapes and selling wine years before the invention of Napa and Sonoma, and, at times, in competition with them. It documents the who, what, when, where, and how of the wine business in an area now inconceivable for wine growing. Yet it all started here.
What is amusing is to read about the places described as vineyards, now either houses, skyscrapers, or freeways. Vestiges of this history are still recognizable in certain parts of greater Los Angeles, such as the small parcels of vineyards remaining in Cucamonga. But to read about Pasadena/San Marino, let alone San Gabriel Valley being a large vineyard area is mind-boggling. The same with Disneyland in Orange County. Yet all the history is real. What is sometimes surreal is that we either don’t want to know the history or don’t want to believe it.
Tom Pinney, meticulously and somewhat laconically describes and gives the players and the reasons why it is now, just history. The fact that there is a vineyard in Bel-Air, vineyards in Malibu, should not seem strange to us, but merely a continuation of this history which began along the Los Angeles River, now a cement channel for rain run off that goes from Union Station in downtown Los Angeles to the Pacific Ocean. Compared to European wine history, this history is not very old. At less than 200 years old, it is history that happened just the other day. This is a work both enlightening and very enjoyable to read. And is a somewhat cautionary tale of “How do you make a small fortune in the wine business? Start with a large one!”