Last month, Frances Dinkelspiel's new book, Tangled Vines, cracked the New York Times' Best Seller list. It's a great read, since it mostly follows the events leading up to an arson-caused wine-warehouse fire in 2005, in which 4.5 million bottles of wine worth at least a quarter-billion dollars were lost.
Dinkelspiel's account of that inferno, as well as the man who sits in jail for causing it, is riveting, but I found myself even more interested in the author's numerous references to an organization called the California Wine Association, which controlled as much as 84 percent of the state's wine business from 1894 until 1920. That means the C.W.A., as it was called, was in charge of millions of gallons of California wine that were stored in almost two dozen San Francisco warehouses, most of which were destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and the fires that followed.
Another two million [gallons of wine] were salvaged from the C.W.A.'s main headquarters, at Third and Bryant Streets, but not before "the wooden tanks and casks came apart in the fire storm," as [wine historian Charles] Sullivan describes it. The spilled wine might have washed into the streets as it had at other warehouses, but a "plugged sewer line" and the building's solid concrete walls and floor kept the sloshing wine within the structure. Suddenly, the building itself had become a wine cellar, which enabled the C.W.A. to pump the precious liquid through fire hoses to a small fleet of barges, which were towed to Stockton in the San Joaquin Valley, where the wine was distilled into brandy.