by Paul R. Spitzzeri
As has been often noted on this blog, William Workman, who distilled whiskey in New Mexico when he was a merchant at Taos until he left for greater Los Angeles in 1841, planted grapes on his portion of the Rancho La Puente, which he shared with John Rowland, not long after he settled on the ranch in 1842.
While his emphasis in the early years was on raising cattle, the raising of wine grapes expanded over subsequent years until he became a manufacturer of wine on a moderate scale, if not approaching the levels of major winemakers in the region. Following the terrible period of floods and droughts that marked the first half of the 1860s, Workman turned to agriculture as his economic mainstay at La Puente, focusing primarily on raising wheat while also expanding his viniculture.
This included the construction of three large brick wineries about mid-decade and this allowed him to ramp up production of wine through the mid-1870s. One of his winemakers was grandson Francis W. Temple, the second son of Workman’s daughter Antonia Margarita and her husband F.P.F. Temple. When the disaster that engulfed the family with the failure of their Temple and Workman bank in Los Angeles took place in 1876 and the aged Workman took his life in despair, Francis Temple continued residing at the Homestead, raising grapes and making wine.
Presumably, it was the income from this work that allowed the younger Temple to purchase 75 acres from Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin, whose loan to the bank included a mortgage on the Workman section of La Puente amid much other property, in 1880. The tract, dubbed the “La Puente” or “Workman” Homestead, included the Workman House, winery buildings and vineyards, irrigated through channels diverting water from San José Creek, which was the southern boundary of the property.
It appears that Francis Temple did well with his wine-making enterprise, but ill-health from tuberculosis took an increasingly severer toll and he died in August 1888, just shy of his 40th birthday. He left the ranch to two brothers, John, who owned a walnut ranch where the Whittier Narrows Nature Center is today, and William, who was out of state and sold his interest to John. It is not clear whether John tried to continue the practice of viniculture at the Homestead or if the devastating onset of Pierce’s disease, which wiped out almost all regional vineyards, claimed the vines at the ranch.
Meanwhile, another family homestead, that of the Temples on the Rancho La Merced in the Misión Vieja (Old Mission) community close to John Temple’s former walnut ranch, also maintained a connection to wine-making. This was through the rental of a portion of the 1850s adobe house on the 50-acre parcel to Giovanni Piuma, a native of a town near Genoa, Italy and who operated the Old Mission Winery for many years. A prior post here highlighted a lease document executed by Piuma with Walter and Charles Temple, the youngest of the clan and owners of the Homestead, in September 1893.
A little over a month later came the creation of the letter that is the featured object from the Homestead’s holdings for this post, written by Edward Germain, manager of the Wine Department of the Germain Fruit Company of Los Angeles. The 20 October 1893 missive was sent to merchant Lyman M. Culver of Kansas City, Kansas, and it has some interesting content, though, first, we’ll give a little background on Germain.
Germain was born in 1856 in Moudon, a town in the canton of Vaud in Switzerland in the southwestern part of the country between Bern and Geneva. His parents were Helene Lob (Loeb) and Jonathan Germain, though his name was Nathan Bloch and it is unclear why the change in moniker was made, although, having resided in the oft-contested region of Alsace-Lorraine, who was alternately in France or Germany historically, Nathan Bloch may have decided to choose the name reflecting the fact that the new German Empire seized the region in the 1870 Franco-Prussian War and, one wonders, to avoid being overtly identified as a Jew.
In any case, Germain’s brother, Eugene, almost a decade older and the subject of a post on this blog, migrated to the United States in 1866 and spent a couple of years in New York before crossing the continent and settling in Los Angeles in 1870. Eugene operated stores along the lines of the Southern Pacific Railroad, managed a poultry market, and opened his own grocery business. While he became insolvent in 1879, he persevered, including operating a string of wholesale and retail grocery stores in Arizona and New Mexico.
One of these was at the end of the Southern Pacific line that, emanating from northern California, passed through Los Angeles on it way east to Yuma, where the line terminated for a period before it was extended further eastward. In 1877, Edward Germain, then about 20 years old, came out to Los Angeles to join his brother (a sister, Sarah, did the same), and was soon sent to Arizona to represent Eugene’s interests in that territory. He appears to have stayed there until 1881 and then returned to the Angel City.
At the dawn of 1884, the Germain Fruit Company was incorporated with Eugene having the majority of stock ownership, while Edward took a large portion of the remainder and assisted his sibling in the operation of what became a very successful business—especially as the great Boom of the Eighties burst forth within a couple of years. Over the next dozen or so years, the business prospered with three main divisions: produce, wine, and seeds.
At the time the fruit company was established, the Germain brothers created the Southern California Orange Company, which took advantage of the rapidly expanding citrus industry in the region to become active in the shipment of fruit. Eugene was the majority owner and Edward had just a couple of shares, but he remained in close connection with his elder sibling.
Yet, Edward had other endeavors in the wine trade, including the creation of Baer & Germain with Henry S. Baer, husband of Edward and Eugene’s sister Sarah, though this lasted just a short time in 1886-1887, and then the California Wine Company in association with J.J. Shallert, but which also existed briefly in 1891-1892.
In between, Edward operated a wholesale liquor and wine business and was, in 1888, vice-president of the Los Angeles Glass Company, which opened a small plant in the Pinney Tract at the southern edge of the city and which used sand obtained from the Los Angeles River and from bluffs near the Arroyo Seco. Yet, the project appears to have quickly gone under, though there were later firms of that name in the Angel City.
With the letter of 20 October 1893, Edward was managing the wine department for his brother’s fruit company and the missive to Culver is notable in that it goes to some lengths to convince the Kansas City store owner that the Germain Fruit Company could be relied upon to provide authentic California wine.
The document began by stating that “in order to introduce our vintages in their strictly pure state,” there was a direct offer on “advantageous terms,” which could be effected through a trial order. If Culver wished to try out Germain wine, Edward continued, “we are fully confident that if so favored we will be able to convince you that it will be to your benefit to continue giving us your trade.”
This was because the company offered “a guarantee of the absolute purity of our goods,” so that “we add that if after careful and reasonable inspection our goods are found to be not as represented, we will make no charge.” Beyond this, it was important for Culver to know that:
It is a well known fact that some unscrupulous Eastern Importer purchase large quantities of fine California Wines here, ship them East, bottle them, and placing foreign brands and labels on them, palm them of on the suspecting consumer as “Imported European Wines,” selling only the cheaper and poorer wines as “California.” California thus receives no credit for her product from the consumer, who pays for what he does not obtain.
To combat this fraud, Germain went on, he assured his prospective customer that “it is our aim to place within the reach of the consumer the genuine article at reasonable figures.” To that end, the offer was to send two cases each of a dozen quart bottles each of assorted wines along with a bottle of brandy, this being “all of [the] best quality,” for $11.00 as a sample.
This was to be sent by railroad to the nearest station “subject to rates published by the Transcontinental Association.” As to the selection in the assortment, Culver could either choose his own or have the Germain company handle it. Once the Kansas City merchant sampled the product, he could send payment by bank draft, money order or express order and, for future orders, he could use an enclosed price list for purchases in bulk or cases.
There is also the envelope which has a great vignette showing a cornucopia of sorts of wine bottles, seeds and other items that were connected to the firm and its “California Products.” Notably, Eugene Germain’s increasing commitments as Swiss consul in Los Angeles led him, in 1896, to retire from the business he founded with the fruit and seed segments handled by Adrien Loeb and Eugene’s son, Edmund, respectively, while the wine and liquor division was taken over by Edward in partnership with Hugo Goldschmidt of the Sunset Wine Company, which has also been profiled in this blog.
Given the relatively small size of the Jewish community in 19th century Los Angeles, it is no surprise that there were close ties among families. For example, Edward married Emily Kremer, daughter of the prominent merchant Maurice Kremer, and the couple had nine children. Adrien Loeb (1866-1948), who is shown as vice-president of the company on the letter, was a Bloch descendant, who joined the Germain firm in 1888. Later, he was a principal of the prominent wholesale fruit and produce company, Loeb, Fleischman and Company, was a Swiss consul, candidate for Los Angeles mayor, and chair of the city’s Board of Trade.
Like his brother, Edward ran into financial difficulties during the 1890s, a period in which there was a major national depression and six years of local drought, so that, in 1896, he was declared insolvent with some $6,500 in debt and no declared assets other than personal property. Fortunately, his father-in-law helped him get back on his feet with the 1898 formation of the Edward Germain Wine Company, which included James W. Hellman as one of the directors, and, with a new boom taking place at the start of the 20th century, his enterprise found some significant success.
The firm seems to have lasted until the onset of Prohibition, but with the passage of the new national law, Germain moved into insurance and worked in that line during the 1920s. He died of a stroke at age 77 in November 1933 and was remembered in brief obituaries for his many years as a merchant, while this letter is an interesting late 19th century document concerning the wine industry in our region.