by Paul R. Spitzzeri
During the first half of 1860s, greater Los Angeles was ravaged by the dual devastation of deluge and drought. First, there was “Noah’s Flood” lambasting the region (and state) in the winter of 1861-1862 when an estimated 50 inches of rain fell, including during a roughly 40-day period (hence that name above) in late December and most of January. The next couple of years, then, was marked by a punishing drought with perhaps only 4 inches of precipitation in each.
While we know now about the El Niño and La Niña weather patterns, these were beyond the understanding of people then and the effects on the economic backbone of our region, the cattle industry, was ruinous. There were already issues from the late Fifties of the end of the Gold Rush, better breeds of animal brought from Texas and elsewhere and a national depression in 1857, so the floods and droughts were the proverbial straw the broke the camel’s back.
Those ranchers in southern California who relied only on cattle for their living and enjoyed the boon of the Gold Rush beef trade and the resulting windfall were generally caught unawares by the situation between 1855 and 1865. Others who practiced varying levels of agriculture were more likely to weather (pun very much intended) the trying times, although there were further challenges like the requirements of the federal land claims process for Spanish and Mexican era grants that lasted, on average, for seventeen years, between 1852 and 1869.
For the Workman and Temple family, specifically William Workman at Rancho La Puente and his son-in-law F.P.F. Temple on the nearby Rancho La Merced, their endeavors in farming prior to these disasters were important as they made the transition to agriculture by the mid-Sixties. Moreover, they (really Temple as Workman was a silent partner) also moved quickly and decisively into the emerging business world as Los Angeles underwent its first significant and sustained period of growth after the Civil War and into the first half of the 1870s.
While the featured object from the Museum’s collection for this post is a San Francisco publication and is focused heavily on that part of the state, the August 1872 issue of The California Horticulturist and Floral Magazine, published by nursery owner and agriculture booster Frederick A. Miller, does contain some notable context for the period in which the Workmans and Temples were at their peak of their farming efforts.
The main feature article concerned decorative outdoor plants that grew well in the state, including palm trees, yuccas, pampas grass and others, with these considered tropical plants.. Palm trees, of course, have been ubiquitous since their introduction from México by the Spanish missionaries of the late 18th century and there is discussion of several varieties, including the cabbage, Mediterranean fan, cocoa palm, the sago and the date palm.
Other articles concerned fuchsias, houseplants, orchids, loquats, rose propagation, chestnut trees and new and rare plants. For William Workman, who’d been growing wine grapes since the 1840s and began making wine on a larger scale in the mid-Sixties when he completed three brick winery buildings directly south of his house, he might have been interested in a report from the Grape-Growers’ Association of Sonoma, Napa and Solano counties.
For example, J.R. Snyder of Sonoma proposed that winemakers for cooperatives, as orange, lemon and walnut growers would very successfully do in subsequent decades, “for the erection of buildings for the storage of wine.” It was noted that a group in that county was doing just that “with the design of having a building for the accommodation of four or five hundred thousand gallons of wine.”
Charles Krug of Napa Valley, whose winery, established in 1861 an still operating today, reported for the committee on distilling “that the government tax on grape brandy had been raised from fifty cents to seventy cents per gallon.” This product, also known as aguardiente, was manufactured heavily in greater Los Angeles, including by Workman. Krug was followed by another member whose resolution that the I.R.S. tax was “injurious to the vinicultural interests of California, and detrimental to the revenues of the General Government” was passed.
A Sonoma winemaker noted that there were favorable results for using redwood, rather than oak, casks, stating that the cost savings was about half “and, if properly made, answered fully as well.” He was confirmed by another participants who “found they kept both white and red wine in as good condition as oak casks” and, while leakage was found from imperfect construction, a tartar deposit sealed them better.
Finally, as informal discussions were held, an attendee stated that, in visits to the east coast, he found that,
California wines had not made a reputation, and dealers, in selling them, if of superior quality, did not hesitate to label them as foreign—poorer wines, of course, they call California.
Snyder read a paper and ordered it published from the minutes in which “it controverted the oft-repeated declaration that all California wines have an extraordinary degree of alcoholic strength,” specifically those produced in the north. One comparison by a professor found that the content was about the same as with French wines, but it was added, “the objection to California wines is their newness [in eastern markets,] and his objection must be overcome before the reputation of California, for her wine product, can be established.”
A paper by Jacob Krauth, who was part of the Orleans Hills Viniculture Association based in Sacramento, called “Hints About Wine-Making & Preserving” was read to the California Wine Growers and Wine and Brandy Makers’ Association and it was a continuation of previous report, in which he cautioned that light, dry wine casks had to be kept full and addressed his remarks to beginning viniculturists. Among the issues was that casks “must be clean and sweet, when first filled with wine-juice or must [newly pressed juice], [and] cannot be kept full without loss, which should not be, especially if fermentation sets in at once, as is the case in warm weather.”
Any oxidized ferment running over was one thing, “but this running over of lees [yeast] and wine is very apt to sour and fill the whole cellar or room with” vinegar, so “the casks want filling only so much as to prevent this. Carbonic gas from fermentation kept casks full and “the superfluous will escape through the bung hole.” A solution was to use fermenting pipes, either of tin (not lead) or rubber, with one end attached to the bung hole and the other into a dish or can with a shallow amount of water. Krauth added “in this way the water will offer very little obstruction, let the excess of gas escape, close up again and leave the cask full all the time.”
If pipes (Workman had these in his winery as found in a property inventory when his Temple and Workman bank went into assignment in early 1876) were not available, cotton could be placed in the bung hole to vent gas and limit air getting into the cask, though, obviously, the material could not come into contact with the wine. It was also vital to stir the wine during fermentation, so the ferment and sugar interacted, pushed out gas and allowed more for wine in the cask.
When fermentation was completed or if gas did not keep the cask full, “then is the time to fill up with wine and close the well-fitting bung moderately right” so that filling could be maximized. With a right amount of juice, the optimal temperature, and a minimum of salt and vegetable matter, Krauth noted that “it cannot fail to make sound, dry wine.”
He added that “it is impossible to prescribe a certain way of making wine,” while noting “there are no secrets about the business as so many are found to believe” because “all depends upon the quality of the juice” along with “a fundamental knowledge and practice.” Returning to technique, he advised against stuffing rags in the bungs as being like siphons, turning sour, while oil-covered pine bungs would not crack and lamented that, through “ignorance and carelessness a great deal of wine is spoiled” by the presence of vinegar.
Krauth also insisted that drawing wine daily from the cask and boring holes in it spoiled both and noted that a partially empty cask, in a dry area, led to the shrinkage of the staves, the emitting of the wine’s aroma and the admitting of air, regardless of the bung’s seal. The result, if not soured wine, was a flat one. He also cautioned against “strong, heady, half fermented” wines which “have spoiled our market East, to a great extent.” Shipping wine like this meant spoilage, cask damage and even discomfort to the stomach.
They key to the author was “that wines are admired for their taste and the invigorating effect they produce; taste makes their price, and not the amount of alcohol they contain.” It was not just the production and manufacture that mattered, but also the storage and handling, which “needs correcting as much as anything else.”
Krauth concluded by stating “I have not even one cask of wine spoiled yet, even in the warmest weather” including those shipped to the east “and never yet a complaint of anything being spoiled has been made.” A separate short note in the publication reported that “while the Grape Crop throughout the mountains [which ones was not stated] will be above the average, the yield of Los Angeles will probably be less than last year’s,” perhaps because of a drought year.
Robert E.C. Stearns, who had a wide and varied career in agriculture and forestry, but was also a well-known conchologist, or expert on molluscs, as well as secretary of the University of California Board of Regents and then a curator at the National Museum of Natural History, wrote “On the Economic Value of Certain Australian Forest Trees,” including the eucalyptus.
While he included a quote that some blue gum trees Down Under could grow as high as 400 feet, which seems fantastic and improbably, he noted that the variety was used for ship construction, outdoor applications such as fence rails and railway sleeping cars. He touted the rapid growth of eucalypti, but stated that most people thought of the species as ornamental, and gave the example of a Petaluma nursery owner who reported eight-and-a-half feet of growth on a tree in about a year in 1871.
Stearns went on to say “I am prepared to hear of instances far exceeding my figures, but it should be borne in mind that we had very little rain after this tree was planted” while it was also on high ground and not watered regularly. He’d found that one of his own eucalyptus planted from a seed grew 10 1/2 inches in just three weeks and added “the development of the lateral branches is as surprising as its perpendicular growth.”
The series was to be continued and we’ll look to add to this in another post, assuming the Museum has the issue at hand in its collection. A couple of years later, F.P.F. Temple, Robert M. Widney and others founded the Forest Grove Association, which planted a large grove near the San Gabriel River in Downey and which has been discussed in this blog before as has been a history of the tree by Jeff Perry of Angel City Lumber in Los Angeles.
We’ll look to highlight future issues of The California Horticulturist and Floral Magazine, of which we have ones in our collection from 1871 to 1880, in future editions of the “Working the Land” series of posts on agriculture on this blog, so be sure to look for those.