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Before Grapes Went Upscale

This is an addendum to the recently published history of Allied Grape Growers, 1951-2011 celebrating the 60-year history of the grape growing cooperative.

My family grew grapes in Hopland, Mendocino County, and delivered the grapes to Italian Swiss Colony for many years up to and including 1952. In 1944 National Distillers purchased Italian Swiss Colony. National purchased a large volume of grapes from both Sonoma and Mendocino counties. The local grape buyer was Percy Hopper who had a local vineyard of his own. In Hopland Italian Swiss Colony operated a receiving station for grapes. Local area growers could deliver their grapes to the weigh scale at the intersection of Highway 101 and 175. There the grapes were weighed and sugar tested. Just to the north of the scales across Highway 175 where now exists a pear receiving station, was a railyard used in prior years to ship Lake County pears. On Monday morning the railroad would have two hopper cars placed on the rail spur line — one car for red grapes and the other for white grapes. Along the side of the tracks next to the hopper cars were wooden ramps suitable for growers to drive their truck up to and park. From there the growers would hand dump the boxes of grapes into the respective hopper cars. On Saturday night the railroad would send a steam engine from Santa Rosa with two empty hopper cars and leave them at Hopland while taking the full cars to Italian Swiss Colony winery in Asti. In a side note Bob Meyer relates that most of the white grapes were Palomino (Golden Chassels). Many of the hopper cars would leak and enterprising growers would capture some of the leaking juice to make their own wine. The two transported full hopper cars were unloaded at the winery by hand all week. With a fork and shovel the grapes were transferred to a wooden hopper and chain and paddle conveyor into a stemmer-crusher.

In mid-summer of 1952 National notified the local growers like my family that they were not going to purchase grapes that year. National did late in the season purchase grapes but at an extremely low price of about $35 per ton. My family felt it necessary to join Allied Grape Growers in 1953 along with many other grape growers from both Sonoma and Mendocino counties. In 1953 Allied made an agreement with a local cooperative, Northern Sonoma Wines Inc., to join with Allied and receive the new tonnages from the north coast Allied Grape Growers. Northern Sonoma Cooperative had been formed in 1938 just after the repeal of prohibition. The listed officers in the 1944 wine industry directory were Harry Meyer, W.A. McCutcheon, and Walter C. Fry. Harry Meyer was also the general manager of Geyserville Growers Inc., a stock company that assisted in the marketing of the wines of northern Sonoma County. (Reference Bob Meyer, Frank Pastori personal conversation.) Northern Sonoma's winery was located in Geyserville in an old concrete building that previously was owned by Sunsweet, a dried fruit cooperative. This building is located just east of town next to the railroad and south of Highway 128. (J. Vercelli, 1992, as reported by E.Penninou.) Northern Sonoma also operated a crushing station in Mendocino County (Charlie Barra, personal communication.) In 1953 around 5,000 tons of grapes were delivered to the Geyserville winery (B. Mayer 2011 conversation.) Allied continued to operate this winery until 1954 when Louis Petri purchased Italian Swiss Colony from National Distillers and subsequently leased the winery to Allied. Northern Sonoma Winery was closed and the equipment moved to the Italian Swiss Colony winery at Asti.

Allied continued to add members to the cooperative in the 1950s and 60s. Bob Meyer headed the grower relations and added Don Simoni and Bob Bogner as field men. A crush station was added in Ukiah where again local grapes could be delivered. The must/juice from these grapes was immediately transported from Ukiah to the Asti winery by tanker truck. A second crush station was located in Napa. The Ukiah and Napa facilities stayed in operation until the 1980s with again new ownership of Italian Swiss Colony.

Allied is still an active grape grower marketing cooperative operating in the north coast today with a field office in Healdsburg, Sonoma County.

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