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Monday Manifestos
In The Beginning

By Charles Olken

Wine may not have been created in the first six days of life on earth if one asks the bible, but it is pretty clear that fermentation has been known for thousands of years and that its results both made people happy and created problems.

That is the same pattern that alcohol followed in my life. I started drinking in high school, which was not unusual at the time, and is probably not all that unusual today despite stiffer laws and seemingly more rigid enforcement. For us, it was simple. Go into the liquor store. Pick up our tipple. Go up to the counter and pay for it. No questions. No fade IDs. Just a six pack or a bottle of Red and out the door.

We did know which stores would be lax and which would be not, especially for sixteen-year olds. By college, we could buy anything anywhere, especially wine. Indeed, it was the local liquor store owner who suggested that the Gallo Burgundy we were drinking in college was not good enough and that we should try Gallo Hearty Burgundy. So, we bought both and had our first blind tasting. By the time we graduated, we had moved on to Beaujolais, and thought ourselves quite sophisticated. After all, Hearty Burgundy was eighty-nine cents for the bottle and Beaujolais cost $1.69.

It was moving to California for graduate school that really changed things forever. We discovered the wineries and their free pour policies. Being over twenty-one by then, it became clear that a trip to wine country was both a cheap date and a tasty day out.

Still, wine was basically a tipple to go with the occasional dinner and for dates we wanted to impress. Sophistication was limited by the typical budgetary constraints of the poor grad student. It was not until years later, working by then in San Francisco and being able to afford something better that I discovered fancy Chardonnay. It was a bottle of Freemark Abbey 1971 Pinot Chardonnay that turned me into an instant collector. This was wine of a very different stripe, and at $5, I could afford it. By the time the heralded 1970 Napa Cabs hit the market, I already had twenty-five cases stashed in the closet of the spare bedroom. Not long after that, my first wine cellar was built with room for seventy-five cases.

And, the man who introduced me to that Freemark Abbey Chardonnay a couple of years earlier and I had the brilliant idea that the world included a lot of folks like us--California-oriented collectors for whom no one was writing. Thus Connoisseurs’ Guide to California Wine was eventually borne in November, 1974. It may be that I owe the existence of CGCW to Freemark Abbey, but I like to think that it was Ernest and Julio Gallo and their Hearty Burgundy that changed my life forever. Without them, I might still be drinking beer.


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For thirty-five years, Connoisseurs’ Guide has been the authoritative voice of the California wine consumer. With readers in all fifty states and twenty foreign countries, the Guide is valued by wine lovers everywhere for its honesty and for it strong adherence to the principles of transparency, unbiased, hard-hitting opinions. Now, it is becoming the California winelover’s most powerful online voice as well. And, our new features provide an unmatched array of advice and information for aficionados of every stripe.

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