Pasadena Makes Early U.S. food and wine History

As California’s population and economy grew post-WW II, new chapters of the International Wine and Food Society formed in the state.

The Los Angeles branch was the first, founded in 1935, and indeed 20 years later had reached a stage of maturity to warrant its first history being published as I discussed recently (in fact, two histories have appeared to date).

Two members of the L.A. group formed the nucleus of a new Pasadena chapter in 1954, as explained on its website:

… a second organizational meeting was held at the Stuft Shirt Restaurant. Each charter member was requested to invite a few good friends who enjoyed food, wine, and camaraderie to join the new Society. It was determined that there would be four annual dinners, a logo was designed , and annual dues of $50 per member were assessed. ($10 was allotted to each dinner, to include both food and wine). The minutes of the second meeting were closed by Mr. Goss, stating “the meeting was adjourned in a gentlemanly fashion, sans stagger.” The first full membership dinner of the Wine and Food Society of Pasadena was held at The Piccadilly Restaurant in Pasadena on 9 November 1954. It was titled “An Italian Dinner accompanied by Inglenook Wines”. Now, as we move along in the 21st century, the Pasadena Wine & Food Society anticipates many more opportunities for the best in wine, food and fellowship.

On the same website you may read the first menu, a simple affair as far as typography and design but setting out an authentic, inviting Italian dinner prepared by a local restaurant.

We are not certain if Piccadilly Restaurant was another name for Piccadilly Cafeteria which was part of a small southern chain, but no restaurants under those names exist today as far as we know.

All the wines at dinner were from Inglenook, the famed California winery that began in the late 1800s, founded by – in typical U.S. fashion – a Finnish seafarer and his American wife.

Inglenook had many twists and turns after the captain died. The winery was revived after Prohibition and became one of the four or five wineries of national scale to dominate the U.S. wine business. Its fortunes changed after hundreds of small wineries took the momentum from the late 1960s (will it happen that way in brewing??).

Francis Ford Coppola, who needs no introduction, bought the vineyards after a winding history involving notably Constellation Brands. Initially he did not own the Inglenook name but today owns that too.

Wines now appear again under its name from the original estate. Earlier he put out wines under the name Coppola-Niebaum, the latter was the founding Finn.

Almost certainly the Los Angeles chapter, today the Wine and Food Society of Southern California, had held Italian dinners and featured California wines with them or certainly in other contexts.

So the Pasadena group did not innovate that way, but to base its inaugural dinner on all-local wines was a sign of the growing confidence of the informed wine consumer and the California wine industry. Most new gastronomy societies would have selected all-French wines or taken another conservative vinous course.

Go gourmets go, you might say, and they did. Despite the quaint sound to some of the 1954 proceedings – for one thing it was an all-male affair – the group was forward-looking and intrepid for what counts, the subject matter. It could have selected mostly Italian wines with one or two local selections, but it went all out.

Charbono on the list is an Italian-origin red wine grape that goes under many names, it is still grown occasionally in California. It’s not the same cultivar as Barbera but offers some of its taste qualities, or Zinfandel, vigorous and rustic. It was and still is used in blending too, in so-called field blends, but sometimes just with Cabernet Sauvignon.

Inglenook’s Cabernet Sauvignon at the dinner speaks for itself and was a fairly vintage one. The other wines served mostly still resonate today as well.

In fact, you can buy an Inglenook cab sauv at the LCBO, one with an 1880s date in its name that suggests therefore a character going back to the winery’s earliest days. We like that, and will pick it up soon for an assay.

Note re image: the image above was sourced from Pinterest, here. All intellectual property in the image belongs solely to its lawful owner or authorized users, as applicable. Image is used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.





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