When the Rivers Ran Red: An Amazing Story of Courage and Triumph in America's Wine Country [NOOK Book]


Today, millions of  people around the world enjoy California's legendary wines, unaware that 90 years ago the families who made these wines--and in many cases still do – turned to struggle and subterfuge to save the industry we now cherish. When Prohibition took effect in 1919, three months after one of the greatest California grape harvests of all time, violence and chaos descended on Northern California. Federal agents spilled thousands of gallons of wine in the rivers and ...

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When the Rivers Ran Red: An Amazing Story of Courage and Triumph in America's Wine Country

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Today, millions of  people around the world enjoy California's legendary wines, unaware that 90 years ago the families who made these wines--and in many cases still do – turned to struggle and subterfuge to save the industry we now cherish. When Prohibition took effect in 1919, three months after one of the greatest California grape harvests of all time, violence and chaos descended on Northern California. Federal agents spilled thousands of gallons of wine in the rivers and creeks, gun battles erupted on dark country roads, and local law enforcement officers, sympathetic to their winemaking neighbors, found ways to run circles around the intruding authorities. For the state's winemaking families--many of them immigrants from Italy--surviving Prohibition meant facing impossible decisions, whether to give up the idyllic way of life their families had known for generations, or break the law to enable their wine businesses and their livelihood to survive. Including moments of both desperation and joy, Sosnowski tells the inspiring story of how ordinary people fought to protect to a beautiful and timeless culture in the lovely hills and valleys of now-celebrated wine country.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal

Speakeasies and Keystone Cops come to mind when we think of the Prohibition Era (1919–33). Few of us imagine what the 18th Amendment meant to families and individuals whose livelihood depended on growing grapes and making wine. Sosnowski, editorial director of the San Francisco Examiner and two other newspapers, collected meticulous research to chronicle how the banning of alcoholic beverages affected the grape growers and vintners of California's Napa and Sonoma region. Though she describes many brutal and abusive raids on farms and wineries by goverment agents, business as usual was surprisingly common. The task of preventing people from enjoying the pleasure of wine was daunting. Few agents were above corruption, and the Napa and Sonoma winemakers, compelled by economics, became very clever in disguising their product and its storage. From shipping grapes across country for "legal" home wine making to running wine to San Francisco in the middle of the night, most did whatever they could to keep from going bankrupt. VERDICT Sosnowski's reconstruction of actual events reads like a novel. This tale of a little-known aspect of American history will be enjoyed by Californians, as well as oenophiles and history buffs.—Ann Weber, Bellarmine Coll. Prep., San José, CA

—Ann Weber
Kirkus Reviews
How the Napa and Sonoma Valley wineries survived Prohibition. California's wine country is an oft-romanticized region, and newspaper executive Sosnowski, a first-time author, seems to have fallen sway to its well-advertised charms in her attempt to showcase the region's fortitude during Prohibition. While it is true that many families suffered mightily during that period (1919-33), as the entire region's economy was centered around winemaking, the author's narrative lacks the cohesive direction necessary to give the wineries' plight sufficient dramatic tension. Instead of focusing on the personalities and families behind a few key wineries and how they survived those brutal years-from such obvious dodges as bootlegging to ingenious tactics like the sale of raw grapes for fermenting in private homes-Sosnowski slows the pace with a dry rehashing of facts and figures on everything from the weekly fluctuation of grape prices to the nuances of licensing Prohibition agents. Her empathy for the winemakers-many of them Italian immigrants who brought their craft over from the old country-is evident, but she has difficulty channeling her sentiment into sufficiently energetic prose. Even stealthy midnight shipments of casks and grapes under the noses of Prohibition officials fail to ignite much suspense. While it's refreshing to read a history of Prohibition not focused exclusively on the mob and the speakeasies of New York and Chicago, the colorful personalities and dark excitement unique to this period are lost. Copiously researched, but this particular vintage lacks complexity and depth. First printing of 50,000
From the Publisher
“A cool history book for fans of wine and local lore.” —San Fransisco Examiner

“…a lively account of the battle of the local industry to survive against aggressive government efforts to shut it down." —Sonoma Index-Tribune

" "When the Rivers Ran Red" casts light on a less-understood aspect of that infamous period in American history — an era whose familiar images of Prohibition usually don't include its effect on American wineries." — Nick Owchar, LA Times

“When the Rivers Ran Red” by Vivienne Sosnowski, chronicles the impact of Prohibition in California wine country. Intelligent, engaging, sympathetic and sharp.—The Kansas City Star

"Sosnowski's fascinating account of how Napa and Sonoma winemakers struggled to survive during the national insanity known as Prohibition fills a giant hole in the history of American wine. Wine lovers everywhere should thank her for tracking down survivors, many now in their 90s, who provided rich accounts of what it was like to live through that terrible nightmare. A tale well told, Sosnowski has a fine touch." — George M. Taber, bestselling author of Judgment of Paris

"Rich, moving and evocative, Sosnowski's exquisite writing brings to life a chapter of American history that has largely been forgotten. Anyone who enjoys California's legendary wines will absolutely adore When the Rivers Ran Red. A book to be savored, word by word. Were this a great bottle of wine, it would deserve 5 stars out of 4." —Don and Petie Kladstrup, bestselling authors of Wine & War: The French, the Nazis and the Battle for France's Greatest Treasure and Champagne: How the World's Most Glamorous Wine Triumphed Over War and Hard Times

"Sosnowski's When the Rivers Ran Red will defeat the misconception that fine California wine represents a recent phenomenon. This fast paced, crisply written account of California winemakers' battle to survive Prohibition breathes new life into this precious American tradition and shows in gripping detail how deep these vines' roots run in the soils of lovely Napa and Sonoma Valleys." —William Echikson, author of Noble Rot: A Bordeaux Wine Revolution

"Intensely moving, fast-paced, horrifying and inspiring in turns, When the Rivers Ran Red is a beautifully written, deeply researched story of liberty and tyranny, the love of life and the sickness of its enemies. I shall remember it every time I visit California wine country." —Hugh Johnson, bestselling author of The World Atlas of Wine, The Story of Wine and the Pocket Wine Book series

"The tentacles of the Volstead Act were powerful and far-reaching. In telling what happened in California’s valleys during the difficult years of Prohibition, Vivienne Sosnowski puts a human face on the misery and desperation, but shows the courage and ingenuity that has ultimately led to the triumph of the State's wine growers." —Gerald Asher, Gourmet magazine, and author of The Pleasures of Wine and Vineyard Tales

“This tale of a little-known aspect of American history will be enjoyed by Californians, as well as oenophiles and history buffs.”—Library Journal

“Sosnowski records in heavily researched detail the real effects of Prohibition on people who wished only to produce sound wine.”—Booklist

"A rollicking story... It'll keep you awake on your [beach] towel."—The Miami Herald

“Sosnowski is a compelling historian… While the California wine industry is a juggernaut today and Napa and Sonoma are far different places than they were, this book will change the way you look at their wines, and you may find yourself tasting them differently knowing what that land and its people have been through....A cool history book for fans of wine and local lore.”—San Francisco Chronicle

“Not until this book has anyone really examined the impact of Prohibition on the people of California's Wine Country. It's a story whose arc you know, yet in the telling it is far more powerful and engrossing than you might expect.”—Book Editor's pick, San Francisco Chronicle

“Ms. Sosnowski's deeply researched story puts a human face on a tragic story."—Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

"Wine lovers, history buffs, and those interested in the history of many local grape-growing families are sure to enjoy Sosnowski’s compelling, thought-provoking account of winemakers’ fight to survive Prohibition. It’s a book to relish, perhaps with a glass or two of fine wine."—Press Democrat

"Sosnowski offers a gripping account of Federal agents looking to seize wine and the winemakers who hid their vintages in ingenious ways. It’s also a fascinating look at the birth of some of the California wine dynasties that exist to this day."—Wine Enthusiast

"The book is a powerful, well-paced account of Prohibition in wine country. It takes its title from the millions of gallons of red wine that were emptied into the rivers because of the new law, and follows the social damage, financial ruin and corruptino that came with the wine ban." —Wine Spectator

"Sosnowski has written a book that is detailed and colorful. Both historians and wine enthusiasts will appreciate learning about Prohibition from the side of the winemakers of Sonoma and Napa Valley. The particular approach the author uses gives readers a fascinating close-up look at winemakers shortly before Prohibition started and includes the years Prohibition was in effect." —Wine Trail Traveler

“Not until this engrossing book has anyone really examined the impact of Prohibition on the people of California's Wine Country.” —San Francisco Chronicle's 50 Notable Bay Area Books of 2009!

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780230622166
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 6/9/2009
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 1,154,626
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

Vivienne Sosnowski has been an editorial director of newspapers, including the Washington, D.C., Examiner and the San Francisco Examiner. A gifted photographer whose portraits of wine country pioneers were the genesis of this book, she divides her time between a home in the vineyard county of Sonoma and another in Vancouver, Canada.

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Read an Excerpt

A trickle of dark liquid began to flow, slowly at first; hesitating a little, then with a deep-throated roar it became a torrent so mighty it was as if the heavens themselves had been ripped open. When the deluge hit the ground the red liquid roiled into a fast-moving wave that churned up an angry froth. The small crowd of men, women and children who stood watching was stunned into silence. Then their eyebrows lifted in astonishment as thousands upon thousands of gallons of liquid began to stream past their feet. Moments later they gasped as the flood bubbling around them grew deeper and wilder. Instinctively they screeched a communal yell of terror and, in one great convulsion, whipped around and charged away, fathers and mothers pulling children almost out of their sweaters as they dragged them out of harm’s way. They turned to look back only when they felt they were far enough to gaze at the terrifying spectacle in safety.

As the ruby waves kept rolling past them, a vast dark stain spread wider and wider across the countryside. It soon poured into every ditch and depression in its path. Small puddles grew into red lakes. Before the deluge was over, it had poured for almost two days. But this first day was the one that took everyone by surprise.


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Table of Contents

Prologue * The Land Was Sacred to These Families * “No Nation Is Drunken Where Wine Is Cheap” * “These Vines Are Like Members of My Family" * “It Was a Clamoring Mob” * “To Hell with Prohibition” * “If We Hadn’t Bootlegged, We Wouldn’t Have Survived” * “Moonshine Is Almost as Ubiquitous as the Radiance from the Moon Itself” * “We Never Wore Shoes in Summer,” or A Million Dollars to Go Away to France * “The Reign of Bludgeon and of Force” * “The Worst and Most Cruel Experiences to Which a Thrifty and Prosperous Rural Community Was Ever Subject”

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