Scandals and fascinating moments in wine industry history

Scandals and fascinating moments in wine industry history

What . . . the wine industry is more than just adorable men, like the one above, making wine? It appears so. Scandals, natural disasters, pesticides wiping out an entire country’s vineyards, toxic chemicals injected into bottles, family feuds… the wine industry is full of drama! The following are some fascinating moments that changed the wine industry (and make for good cocktail hour conversation!).

– Phylloxera

The most devastating pest to ever hit the wine world came from America via a boat in the late 1800s and ravaged European vineyards before traveling south to Australia to do the same.

After trying numerous methods to deter this pesky little beetle, it was discovered that ironically, vines from America–the land which brought the pests–were resistant to the bug. Grafting vines to American rootstock deterred the pests, but not before the majority of vineyards in Europe and Australia were destroyed.

– United States Prohibition

Perhaps the second largest hit to the wine industry came in the form of a U.S. law banning alcohol. The 13-year long Prohibition, which lasted from 1920 to 1933, devastated wineries. Some survived by making sacramental wine, but the majority ripped out their vineyards and replanted other crops.

An intricate part of America’s wine history was destroyed during the alcohol ban, and America did not recover until the 1960s. Who knows how different the U.S. industry would be had it not been for this setback?

-The Robert Mondavi “Fur Coat Debacle”

In what may be the oddest family feud I have ever heard of, Mr. Mondavi punched his brother in the face over a disagreement about a fur coat Robert had purchased for his wife. He was dismissed from Krug, causing a decades-long family rift. (Don’t worry: years later, the brothers reconciled, even making wine together for a 2005 charity auction.) If Mondavi hadn’t have gone off of his own, breaking away from the family’s wine business, who knows how the wine industry may be different today?

– The Austrian “Antifreeze Scandal”

In 1985, it was discovered that Austrian brokers and winemakers were adding diethylene glycol–a toxic substance also used in antifreeze–to make dessert wines¬† sweeter. The scandal was uncovered when, in a routine quality control assignment, German scientists analyzed several Austrian wines sold on the German market. Several of the major players in this scandal went to jail, and the short term effect was a complete collapse of Austrian wine exports and a total loss of reputation of the entire Austrian wine industry. The long term effect was a bit more positive:¬† the Austrian wine industry shifted their focus to dry white wines instead of sweet wines, targeting a larger market and eventually (after a decade) increasing sales.

– The 2005 Vallejo Fire

The wine world was rocked in 2005 when Mark Anderson, a Sausalito businessman, set fire to the Wines Central storage warehouse on Mare Island in Vallejo, California. The facility stored wines for more than 90 wineries and 40 private collectors.

As many as half a million cases were destroyed — including entire libraries marking the year-by-year genealogy of wines. Some vintners lost their entire inventory, and over $200 million in inventory was consumed by the flames.

According to authorities, Anderson was planning to resell his clients’ wines and then claim the wines were lost in the fire. Anderson was already facing criminal charges for allegedly embezzling more than 6,600 bottles of wine valued at more than $1.1 million from customers. His storage business, Sausalito Cellars, used the Wines Central warehouse to store part of its inventory, said Sausalito Police Det. Bill Fraass.

Sausalito police began investigating Anderson in December 2003, and 10 clients eventually came forward to allege that wine he had stored for them could not be accounted for. He admitted to setting the fires in November 2009 but later withdrew his guilty plea and claimed he was coerced into pleading he was guilty. To date, he has yet to go to trial.

Who knew that the wine industry was so full of scandals??

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