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 been published 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 its first menu, a simple affair as far as typography and design are concerned but setting out an inviting Italian dinner prepared by a local restaurant.

Piccadilly Restaurant was perhaps another name for the Piccadilly Cafeteria which was part of a small southern chain. No restaurants exist today in the area under those names, as far as we know.

All the wines served were from Inglenook, the famed California winery that commenced in the late-1800s. The winery was founded – unconventionally in typical U.S. fashion – by a Finnish seafarer and his American wife.

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

Francis Ford Coppola needs no introduction. He bought the vineyards after a wending history that involved notably the mighty (still) Constellation Brands. Initially he did not own the Inglenook name but today owns that, too.

Hence, wines now appear under the original name from the estate. But earlier Coppola had put out wines under the brand Coppola-Niebaum – Niebaum was the founding Finn.

Almost certainly the Los Angeles Wine and Food Society, today called the Wine and Food Society of Southern California, had held Italian dinners, possibly with California wines, and in any case supported local wineries as I’ve discussed before.

So the Pasadena group did not innovate in this fashion. Still, to base its inaugural dinner on all-local wines in the mid-1950s showed growing confidence in the California wine industry. Most budding gastronomic clubs would have selected, at the time, all-French wines or opted for another conservative, vinous course.

Despite a period sound to the 1954 proceedings – for one thing it was all-male – the group was forward-looking and intrepid regarding the subject matter. It could have selected mostly Italian wines, for example, but went all out for California. Possibly the wines were sponsored, but in any case the early focus on localism was there, on terroir before the name existed.

The Charbono on the list is an Italian-origin, red wine grape that goes by many names, and is still grown occasionally in California. It’s not the same cultivar as Barbera but offers some of its taste qualities, or of Zinfandel: vigorous and rustic.

Charbono was and still is used in blending, too, both so-called field blends but sometimes also to buttress the noble Cabernet Sauvignon.

Inglenook’s Cabernet Sauvignon at the dinner speaks for itself and was vintage-dated 1946, as for other selections. The non-Cab wines served mostly resonate today as well.

In fact, you can buy an Inglenook Cab Sauv in Ontario today, with an 1882 reference in the name. This suggests, therefore, a character dating from the winery’s earliest days. We like that, and will pick it up soon for a trial.

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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