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WHEN THE RIVERS RAN RED by Vivienne Sosnowski


An Amazing Story of Courage and Triumph in America’s Wine Country

by Vivienne Sosnowski

Pub Date: June 9th, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-230-60574-9
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan

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.