Grape Brick Found

Ξ February 7th, 2008 | → 0 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, Wine History |


There is a wonderful passage in Eddie Condon’s, We Called It Music: A Generation of Jazz. Mr. Condon writes, “Wine bricks were the great flop of prohibition: the essence of the grape was compressed for you in a package no bigger than a bar of soap; you took it home and made yourself the worst drink in the world.” I first came across this passage as part of broader research on the Prohibition Era. I had read a few and scattered references to the wine or grape brick, “Solidified Merriment” as one essay recounts it having also been called.


But finding a surviving example proved very difficult, until I learned of the Museum of Art and History, in Ontario, California. They received an endowment from the Rene Biane Family which includes, in addition to the brick, “wine bottles, technical, recipe and promotional books, business records, scrapbooks and promotional pieces, photographs, trophies and awards, cooper’s tools, field implements, and laboratory equipment as well as curiosities such as a painting of Marilyn Monroe which was reproduced as the “Dolly Madison” wine label and a rare grape brick sold during Prohibition for home wine-making.” All materials date from “the vineyard and wine-making history of the area which was a premier wine region before World War II — producing mostly red dessert wines.” (ibid.)


Indeed, the Los Angeles area was home to a number of very successful wineries, including the Biane’s own Brookside Vineyard Company, in Ontario, established in its present location in 1952, though it has not, since 1982, produced wine. But the four generations of the winemaking family stretch much further back, to the 1880’s in SoCal with Marius Baine, Sr., a winemaker for over 50 years. Philo and Francois Baine, his sons, later, Rene Biane, I believe he’s still the winemaker at Joseph Filippi Winery. Further back still (please click the ‘home’ link above.) The Bianes are a California winemaking dynasty, simply put. And their work is far from finished. Not too long ago Gino L. Filippi of the Filippi Winery, Philo and Rene Biane, along with the significant contribution of others, were responsible for the creation of the Cucamonga Valley AVA in 1995. I hope that a full accounting of the Biane Family’s achievement may someday be gathered into a proper narrative. For now, I offer Philo Biane’s oral history kept at the Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley.


Wine bricks were made principally by two companies, Fruit Industries, Inc. and Vino-Sano, Inc.. A surviving example of Solidified Merriment is a thing to behold. Ontario’s Museum of Art and History must contain many other rare pieces, thanks to the Rene Biane Family. All museum materials are currently being inventoried by curator, Steve Thomas, and he will publish an on-line fully searchable public database in the not too distant future. I will be the first in line!



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