Back to Class with Maynard Amerine

Long ago I recovered a VHS of super star California oenologist Maynard Amerine giving a wine tasting lesson and had it digitized sight unseen so I could put it on youtube. The video turned out to be a 15 minute, horribly boring flop. It might have been the first of a series that was never continued.

Recently I checked up on that video and via a search for Maynard Amerine, it appears that UC Davis has uploaded a series of old 50 minute black & white lectures of Amerine’s from the early 1970’s.  These videos are an absolute treasure trove of insights into the history of modern wine making.

In the 15 minute video, Amerine, the world’s foremost wine scientist, is horribly dry and uninteresting but in his lectures he has the students laughing quite often although overall he is rather clinical. He tells short industry stories often and gives an intensely pragmatic vibe to what these days has become an often obnoxiously fetishized art.  What these days is presented as art, is not ancient, does not bypass new advancements in oenology, and is absolutely built on the backs of relatively recent government sponsored oenology research.

Amerine is simultaneously loved and loathed in the industry and two vermouth producing friends of the cocktail have presented me over the years with somewhat opposing views.  Andrew Quady of Vya fame was a student of Amerine’s and is I suspect an admirer while Carl Sutton of Sutton Cellars vermouth fame (and one of my favorite California dry wine producers), who is much younger than Quady, was always taught to be weary of Amerine.

The teachings of Amerine were a big force in homogenizing wine and allowing production to scale up to volumes where wine was made in silos.  Amerine’s lectures seem to continuously be emphasizing a low risk wine making style that many people today are thankfully rebelling against. It should be noted that Amerine lived in a different world where nearly every wine you tasted had common flaws.  Today by comparison, nearly all technical flaws have been eradicated and now when people find them, they mistake their low frequency of occurrence for a reflection of terroir. For shame!

When you spend time with the videos you can see why Amerine was risk averse.  Wine making across the world still had a foot in the dark ages in the 1970’s. He opens a reputable Borolo for the students and notes that it had a volatile acid (vinegar!) that was readily discernible. He also notes how many other wines stink of sulfur.  These days we have well proven guidelines for adding and maintaining sulfur and it is accurately measured and adjusted at numerous phases in the wine making process while back then if a winemaker had no lab skills, correct sulfur was probably only nailed by luck.

According to Amerine, Chianti in the 60’s and 70’s was still using the governo process of adding semi dried grapes to increase alcohol similar to Amarone.  This is something they abandoned and something few people are aware ever happened today.  Grape picking in much of the world was done not to brix / acid values, but to other strange cues like visible shriveling of the grapes.  Now we can have intellectual debates with Dennis Dubourdieu about oenological ripeness, but back then they were just scraping by and trying to fit picking in with their other chores.  Wine making was more ethanol centric and less flavor centric.  Origin controls were just starting to be implemented that would shape the European industry over the next three or four decades promoting a flavor centric approach.  Government sponsored research moved the industry forward in a way that it probably doesn’t get credit for.

To bring it back to Vermouth, long ago I had hypothesized that the reason people made vermouth and refined it into such a high art was that their tastes were often so far beyond their ability to produce stable & interesting tables wines. I don’t think anybody took the idea seriously because to understand it, you would have to under what table wine actually used to be like. Spending time with Amerine’s lectures readily supports my hypothesis (which I got from reading nearly all of Amerine’s books).

I could discuss countless of the little stories Amerine mentions but one of the most interesting is the use of new barrels in the industry which is a sort of chicken and egg scenario.  Extrapolating from Amerine, the reason the industry went on to fall in love with new barrels was because they were easier to take care of. This came before consumer demand which went on to exacerbate it.  Moldy barrels fouling the wine was a giant problem for the industry. If you weren’t good at taking care of your barrels, you simply bought new barrels every season, especially when you could command prices that supported the practice. In California, the love of new barrels may have started with risk aversion, lack of skill, and laziness.

Economists as well as Wall street types that love the adage: wine, women, and money, not necessarily in that order, might really benefit from studying the modern history of wine making, especially those that do not understand that there is a time and place for both public and private investment.  Government investment in a luxury product, wine, elevated the fortunes of large regions and again, so successfully you probably wouldn’t give the government any credit.  This advancement would have never been possible by private industry alone because multiple decades of foresight was necessary.  Margins were also low which is something that hinders private investment.  The studies also had to be coordinated over large, diverse areas and across simultaneously cooperating & competing countries to be successful which is something private investment likely could not negotiate.  When so many 1%ers try to recklessly slash government spending, it might be helpful to remember that something so near and dear to our hearts as wine would be nowhere with out it.

Italian Wines and Vermouth

Special and Flavored Wines

French Wines: Part One

French Wines: Part Two

Present State of Grape Growing and Winemaking

California Wines

California Wines and Red Wines

Lecture Review ** This lecture is more unique and interesting than the name implies. When he explains the Delle stabilization concept, I think he ends up hinting at the secret to Aperol’s low alcohol content relative to any other amaro or aromatized wine. The same goes for Cynar but less so. This is also a concept we can probably use for home vermouth making or even syrup making for special scenarios such as the consulting I do with Have Shaker Will Travel in the tropics. To push a 400 g/L syrup up to 80 Delle units, the alcohol content needs to be only 10.66% which is completely natural relative to additives like potassium sorbate and fairly affordable.  Delle stabilization can also change the way I’ve constructed alcohol preserved Maraschino cherries in the past.

Aperol has a specific gravity of 1.082 which puts its estimated sugar content not too far over 230 g/L. 230 g/L is about 20 brix so 20+(4.5*11) only puts Aperol at 69.5 Delle units so who knows what is going on with Aperol but there are more anecdotes by Amerine in this paper that show beverages being stable at far less than 80 DU.

Final Lecture

Redistributing Consolidated Knowledge

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Enjoy. Critique. Start a dialog. Leave a comment.

The domestic alcoholic beverage industry is in a bit of an economic crisis (crisis might be slightly too strong a word). Legal barriers threaten competition and the technical and artistic knowledge of production has been consolidated into giant multinational corporations. This all goes on while agricultural subsidies and high transportation costs of micro harvested produce has created agricultural surpluses that we don’t know how to use and are not legally able to in certain ways.

Change is simple. We can overhaul and amend laws in an effort to reduce barriers to entry. This will attract new competitors, many of whom may be putting to use our agricultural surpluses. Funding research initiatives will help these new producers make safe, smart, successful products. Pressure to get any of this done will hopefully keep coming from the sustainability movement. People are beginning to realize more and more that agriculture is often an environmental atrocity, therefore we have to distribute the agricultural load to be sustainable.

Distribution of production means smaller scale operations which laws at the moment do not make economically viable. Distilleries for example, require purpose-built facilities, licenses, and safety provision overkill. All the requisites, which are largely the product of prohibition era paranoia and ignorance, can make the cost of starting an operation approach a million dollars (I hear this number is coming down). This does not support the small grower who simply has a surplus of fifty bushels of apples and would like to make fifty bottles of apple brandy to be sold in a restaurant. Bureaucratic product label approval can also be enough of a disincentive to produce at the micro scale.

Sustainable and therefore smaller scale production, also requires the redistribution of knowledge. Alcoholic beverage technology is now intensely controlled by specialists, but if technology is going to be applied on a smaller scale, it has to be closer to common knowledge. The first modern books on small scale distillation have just been written, but they still do not answer enough questions to common scenarios to make a huge difference in redistributing knowledge. We also have no modern books on economically significant categories like liqueur production. The research such a book requires is more costly than the sales profits it could generate, therefore its not likely to come along without the support of a government organization or university.

Most all research stumbles in its lack of interdisciplinary approach. Nearly no one tackles the artistic aspects of production. Domestic newcomers to the market seem to have more art issues than science issues which definitely limits the competitiveness of their products. Vodka which many distillers started their businesses on might have required no art, but demand for it is on the decline and successful gin production requires more art theory than is common knowledge.

Hopefully our art deficit will change. The “greatest restaurant in world” just changed from one that invents new technologies to one that develops art techniques (creative linkage) to explain how to use forgotten native food sources from foraged produce to snails and fish that haven’t had a market in generations (a change from El Buli in Spain to Noma in Copenhagen). A larger focus on art theory which can be constantly reapplied will definitely increase apple to apple competitiveness as well as steer producers into unknown territory where there may be comparative advantages.

Prohibition

The most significant economic crisis the domestic American beverage industry has ever seen was prohibition. The Volstead act completely erased the legitimate market for alcoholic beverages. This was prolonged enough (thirteen years) that vast amounts of common knowledge was also lost. Alcohol went from often being a household product like backyard cider or blackberry brandy to something that was not even able to be produced as fuel in case it was re-purposed. The idea of “dual-use” is often championed by government as always beneficial, but the fear of alcohol’s dual-use nature has had its production stricken from our school curriculums. Ignorance of fuel production technology (via beverage production) has likely exacerbated our current fuel crisis.

The prohibition knowledge gap was filled by many efforts. Books on distillery science were written by former industry men like Irving Hirsch (Manufacture of Whiskey, Brandy, and Cordials, 1937) and prefaced with the goal of restarting the industry. The University of California at Davis rose to the occasion and started a viticulture and oenology program that translated and unified the worlds wine technologies under academic super stars like Maynard Amerine and James Guymon. The result of the research at U.C. Davis was the creation of the multi billion dollar California wine industry which offers global competitiveness and employs vast amounts of people. Dividends on continued research could still be massive when you look at the numbers of imported alcoholic beverages we still consume. In many categories we have yet to offer any competition.

Not all recoveries after prohibition were so successful. Despite many books on the subject being published, the cocktail never made a comeback (in quality) until recently. The cocktail is important because of the art concepts it holds. Mixologists never avoid the challenge of putting to use foreign ingredients which is important because to be sustainable we need to be able to use everything. The wine industry on the other hand has trouble selling a grape varietal that few consumers have heard of.

The cocktail also holds the greatest ability to expand harmony. The tension that exists between elements of taste (sugar, acidity, alcohol, etc) and elements of aroma are larger than any other beverage medium therefore cocktails facilitate the acquiring of acquired tastes. The often celebratory experience of drinking cocktails also helps to add positive symbolic value to the sometimes dissonant instances of tension.

Sustainability requires the expansion of harmony. There will be no demand for more food sources unless there is more indifference to the different pleasures they create. Food can bend to our tastes but we can also bend to food. The cocktail illustrates the art concepts that facilitates both.

World War II

The next crisis that came was during World War II. We finally realized just how economically significant vermouth was and that we did not know how to make it when many European imports were cut off from the U.S. (vermouth was responsible for more than 50% of tax receipts on wine, though it is taxed at a higher rate). Filling the void was not exactly easy. Vermouth is a very complicated aromatized wine, but unlike other wines its production techniques were not common knowledge. Europeans producers protected their interests by the deliberate spreading of misinformation. Sensory descriptions of vermouth also seem to escape language which means that it is hard to share ideas on the subject.

Well established European producers made vermouth seem more sophisticated than it was by exaggerating the amount of botanicals that were used in their formulas. They also lied about their aroma extraction techniques. The claim was that high proof solvents were used like everclear, but the truth was that they used fairly low proof solvents and small amounts of heat and agitation to capture aroma while minimizing bitter principles. These small tricks of the establishment likely derailed the American vermouth industry by considerable amounts of time.

America quickly filled the production void during the war (albeit with low quality that luckily saw no foreign competition) and eventually grew and improved to make some of the best vermouth in the world during the 1970‘s (an estimate of their artistic peak gleaned from old Consumer Reports annual liquor guides). Domestic consumption was dominated by domestic producers like Tribuno and Gallo. This is not a well known history due to the gruesome demise of domestic production before we had a wine or a cocktail renaissance. Domestic production and its knowledge eventually reconsolidated only to be completely crushed under the weight of conglomerates that were the victims of Wall Street’s leveraged buy outs. The highly leveraged operations were too poorly financed to compete with the Italians who out advertised them twenty to one at one point in time.

The short lived rise of domestic vermouth only kicked off with domestic research initiatives. Maynard Amerine’s Vermouth, An Annotated bibliography, 1974 can be reconstructed into a time line that shows a great amount of mid century articles in trade publications like Wines & Vines that try to start a dialog on the subject. Authors collectively dispelled production myths so that the supply side of a market could emerge. The thought that multiple producers were necessary to create confidence in domestic production may have been the incentive for cooperation. The logic being that multiple producers leads to competition and competition is an incentive for quality which is worth putting up the money to consume on slightly less than blind faith.

In alcoholic luxuries, quality eventually becomes an artistic matter rather than one of functional utility. Vermouth started as a shelf stable wine product used in cooking for its acidity and generally “complex” and stimulating aroma, but eventually evolved into a sophisticated art object used to elevate or be elevated by gin or whiskey. Validating quality in art is not easy, but its even more difficult when you are the sole domestic producer and you get quickly denounced by the establishment as inferior because of your point of origin. Demystifying a product with transparent research is the only way to be evaluated without nationalistic bias. Not being the sole domestic producer also helps.

Amerine’s annotated bibliography was actually commissioned for a scholarship funded by the Tribuno’s (of domestic vermouth fame) to study and further aromatized wine. The science was becoming exhausted and research was likely to take a turn for the anthropological or artistic. The industry quickly collapsed at the time the scholarship started and so was re-purposed for the study of wine aroma. This is a shame because we would have learned more about aroma in general if we stayed with a medium where aroma could be moved and manipulated more easily.

The study of vermouth or wine aroma leads to classification of aromas which leads to the creative linkage of the classifications and eventually to symbolic value we places on aromas and their linkages. Understanding these things is the only way to be competitive in the highly established non functional luxury beverage market.

The present

The current crisis we face is not having a legal framework to produce under and not being artistically competitive. The solutions to the these challenges is not particularly costly and the return on investment could be massive based on the past examples. This country could easily resemble Europe with ingenious uses for a diverse agricultural portfolio. Demand could be claimed to be more advanced than supply as evidence by all our imports.

The last thirty years has seen the legalization of home wine making and home brewing. Large amounts of home brewers have turned into commercial micro brewers and started the economically significant, rapidly growing, widely distributed, craft beer industry. The successes of the reform should be carried further into distillation. Every house hold should legally be able to distill whatever they are legally able to ferment. It will still be illegal to sell, but legal to share and most importantly legal to learn from doing.

Legalizing home distillation will redistribute consolidated knowledge enough so that entrepreneurs may acquire enough to build a domestic business. Numerous competitors whether active commercially or only at the hobbyist level, will lead to artistic advances that make us more competitive with highly established imports.

The Future Direction of Research

New research could expedite the entire process of becoming more competitive. The vast amount of past research needs to be re-popularized while new research needs to put to use new tools that have only recently become economically viable. Work in both directions needs to be interdisciplinary. More interdisciplinary work will increase the return on investment of research.

Past analysis which often starts with Louis Pasteur was only able to measure and find patterns between elements of taste (taste, or gustation only represents part of a flavor. Flavor is a synesthetic multi-sensory concept). The intricacies of aroma was beyond their reach. This analysis needs fresh interest because it has not yet been put through the interdisciplinary ringer. The audiences that can benefit from research intended solely for wine makers can be fairly large.

The anthropologist can turn food and beverage into metrics that define a society’s sense of harmony and measure changes over time. The wine maker can follow the anthropologists work and learn what directions to abstract wine relative to various markets such as the domestic market or various differentiated export markets. The liqueur producer can learn the abstraction techniques of the wine maker. The bartender would do well to learn the sanitation techniques of the wine maker and can also learn from anthropologists when trying to push the limits of harmony. The distiller who looks to create new products where there is a comparative advantage will try and fit within the new harmonies of the mixologist bartender.

Another emerging market is the “soda as acquired taste”. Producers create non alcoholic products that features dramatic tensions between elements like sweetness, acidity, and dissolved gas to replicate much of the emotional content of an alcoholic drink experience but without the alcohol. People get hung up on alcohol, but it does not define as much of the pleasure of drinking as one would think. It just so happens that alcohol is paired with these tensions and contrasts. The perception of something like dryness could be seen as a flavor bi-product of producing alcohol and to some degree that is what we often crave. Desired flavor bi-product structures do not have to happen naturally like in a beer or wine because we can use abstraction techniques to replicate them. This is not new as its been practiced with cocktails for quite a while, but it can always be refined especially if you want to confidently remove alcohol from the equation.

Aroma

Aroma is the great frontier of flavor and powers much of the highly imaginative and memorable quotient of an experience. We can finally tackle aroma due to the increasing accessibility of tools like mass spectroscopy and gas/liquid chromatography. These tools can be used to finally develop a comprehensive olfactory construct that integrates into past research on elements of taste. This would be of interest to all of culinary art (integrated) as well as the perfume industry (emotional content of aroma only). One would think that the perfume industry has already figured these things out, but they seem to do more with creating synthetic aroma than categorizing and studying creative linkage. They are also secretive so who knows exactly what they have developed.

Botanicals are really important to learning the creative linkage of aromas. For starters they are typically power plants for small aroma sets as opposed to large sets like wine or meat which makes them useful for experimenting. The digestibility of botanicals also lets us study their impact on our sense of taste. Taste or rather gustation seems to be particularly important to categorizing aroma and this importance might be why perfumers have not developed categorization techniques that have trickled down to culinary. The study of aroma can only be furthered by integration into the other senses.

The categories we put aromas in need to have names, but because these names are arbitrary, it is hard to pick names which will seem intuitive. Names often begin with an analogy to another sense. One of the most significant sensory naming categories that has stuck is warm and cool in regards to color. This analogy might have been successful because for nearly every sensory input of perception another sense is also touched (co-experience?). Thermoception, from where the warm and cool concepts are derived, might be the closest sensory input to sight. In regards to olfaction, gustation is likely the most significant sensory input that is also activated. Aroma probably needs to be first categorized by its relationship to gustation.

The relationship between aroma (olfaction) and taste (gustation) means we can take our botanical aroma building blocks and create experiments that categorize them by their ability to stimulate gustatory divisions (bitter, tart, salty, sweet, umami, and piquancy). Unlike symbolism which forms the divisions of many olfactory constructs (good or bad aromas for example), this might not be culturally relative and might therefore be universal.

The most significant gustatory division that is stimulated by aroma seems to be sweetness. Many of our most highly regarded simple aroma sets (black tea and lemonade perhaps?, anise and wormwood?, juniper and orange peel?) create tension and pleasurable emotional content by juxtaposing aromas that could be said to have one increasing the perception of sweetness while the other decreases it. The aromas may also just create favorable tension by each solely stimulating separate gustatory divisions. This alternative idea would create tension that completely parallels the tension between gustatory divisions (sweet contrasted with tart equals the pleasurable sour concept) .

Even if we carried out tests to identify the simple aromatic building blocks of all known botanicals (the number is manageable) and then we created experiments to identify the gustatory stimulus of the building blocks, we still would not have a comprehensive construct. Further divisions would have to be made, but to be honest, I do not have an idea of where to divide next.

The most sophisticated botanical olfactory construct I have ever seen is Harold McGee’s from On food and Cooking. McGee starts with three categories (“light”, “warm-sweet”, ”other qualities”) and elaborates those to ten. (light: fresh, pine, citrus, floral, warm-sweet: woody, warm-”sweet”, anise, other qualities: penetrating, pungent, distinctive). In the chart, every botanical can be placed in multiple categories because they contain sets of aromas, but aromatic compounds themselves mostly only reappear in one category.

Besides the large “other” category, knowingly or not, McGee starts out using analogies from other senses though not the same sense. The next sub division looks like it tries to group a botanical around an iconic aroma that would face little danger of being unknown to a culture. Unfortunately the “other” category is very large and only broken down into very complex words that rely on McGee’s furnished definitions.

“Light” as a category does not have the most clear meaning. It could refer to a sensation of lightness but also the nature of the botanicals because everything in the light group is particularly volatile (terpenes) and therefore the first to be perceived (top notes in perfumer’s jargon). “Warm, sweet” and “other” are filled mostly with phenolic compounds which are less volatile and have different solubility than terpenes. The “penetrating” category is not clearly defined while “pungent” refers to botanicals that stimulate pain receptors like chilis (sometimes called piquancy). The distinctive category is for botanicals that are dominated (some more than others) by phenolic compounds unique to themselves (saffron is the only botanical producing safranal).

McGee’s construct definitely succeeds in helping one parse the aromatic components of certain botanicals. Knowing to look for something increases the schemas you have to break an aroma set down. The chart states a goal of helping people identify affinities between botanicals but offers no logic on how affinities arise. If you plug many large botanical sets into McGee’s construct which are considered complex and generally highly regarded, you do find a pattern of all divisions being employed (a vermouth formula for example or many spice rubs).

If we study many famous aroma sets using mass spectroscopy and chromatography we can identify more patterns of pleasure, especially between smaller sets. It would not be surprising to see the same patterns of creative linkage used repeatedly. New tools of analysis would also help us realize the role of aromatic timbre in creating favorable emotional content. When we create large aroma sets from botanicals there are many overlapping divisions touched upon in an olfactory construct. Tight linkages perceived as overtones might also be really important to aromatic affinities. The best experiments to demonstrate these affinities will likely be the aromatized wine and the cocktail.

Conclusion

A vast frontier of possibilities is open before us. We have overcome the challenges in the past and no doubt can continue to do so. A new legal framework with increase artistic quality by increasing competition, but research initiatives can always expedite the process as proven by the past. You would be hard pressed to find anyone that does not admire Europe for its agricultural diversity, its ingenuity in preparing the bounty of its harvests, and its contagious when in Rome ability to have people eat and maintain the regional specialties. There is no reason America could not eventually achieve the same.

The main difference between the culinary Economies of the U.S. and Europe is the distribution of knowledge. The U.S. has been negatively impacted by forces in the establishment which tries control knowledge and protect itself against affronts of competition. The only way to redistribute knowledge is to provide a legal mechanism that reduce barriers to entering the market thereby increasing the number of competing firms and funding research that creates a transparent understanding of the products produced. The only way to be sustainable is to redistribute knowledge so we can spread out production and to master harmony when applying our new diverse agricultural bounty.

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Vermouth: An Annotated Bibliography

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This is a book report from my collection of experimental agriculture literature put out by the University of California.

A Tale of Aromatized Wine

Vermouth is a strange topic. Almost everyone who drinks cocktails has heard of the infamous beverage, but outside the sweet type in a Manhattan, few people still consume vermouth. Many historians are aware that vermouth was wildly popular in the past but are uncertain as to why. The short-cut answer is usually that vermouth was considered medicinal, due to its botanicals, and was consumed therapeutically. An alternative, more probable answer is that the natural wines of the vermouth hay day were not very good and consumer tastes out did producer ability to make good natural wine, especially the dry white type.

Producers were held back from making good wine because yeasts got stressed by rustic techniques. Strained yeast often misfire the desired clean ethanol, instead producing higher, fusel alcohols and congeners that induce headaches if consumed in excess. Stressed out wine was likely the case with much of the world until maybe the last thirty or forty years before producers adopted tricks like maintaining low fermentation temperatures to caress the yeasts. Another case against the drinkability of common wine was the yields. If producers could not find markets able to sustain grand cru wine yields that so much of the world is able to slap a vintage on today, the wine would have a diluted taste that many a peasant’s palate would even reject.

The vermouth concept has advantages over primitive natural wine because producers do not have to stress the yeasts in the wine reducing congeners and there is the further ability to add grand cru levels of extract (and due to their good taste they did not take it much farther than that). A wine maker could go with a cleaner low alcohol wine and then fortify it to avoid vinegar spoilage, which was so common in rustic wines, by raising the alcohol content above the limits of acetic acid producing vinegar bacteria (15.5% or so). If the fruit of the wine was eroded by a bad harvest or too high a yield, flavor could be subsidized with orange peels and chamomile flowers, which are botanical anchors to near every vermouth formulation.

Now that producers actually had a stable beverage, unlike the volatile stocks of natural wine slowly turning to vinegar, vermouth makers could add even more sophisticated and amusing depth of flavor to beat the linear and monotone nature of boring ordinary wines. After the vermouth concept became popular, fewer drinkers had to vie for that coveted hillside producing the best grapes. Any imbiber could dabble in complex flavors within products meant for the masses. There are still lots of developing wine regions that have undrinkable white wines by many standards (they command very little money and you see few of them in the market today) and these are probably not coincidentally regions with high rates of vermouth consumption (anecdotally anyhow). I would take a glass of dry vermouth over so many Portuguese dry whites any day of the week. In many wine producing regions long ago, there was vermouth or blandness.

Some of the theories of why vermouth used to be so significant to daily drinking are tucked away in the abstracts of Maynard Amerine’s: Vermouth an Annotated Bibliography (you can finally buy it as an ebook!) which was published in December of 1974. Even in its strange format (literally an A to Z bibliography with short abstracts written by Amerine, the wine technology guru, a strange and interesting tale of aromatized wine is told. For starters, the work was done with funds from the Mario P. Tribuno Memorial Fund given to the University of California to “advance knowledge pertaining to vermouth” (use of the scholarship apparently has been broadened to the study of wine aroma). The Tribuno name should be vaguely familiar because it is the name of the relic of a product currently owned by The Wine Group (formerly owned by Coca Cola), who is the same conglomerate that produces Franzia (aromatized with natural flavors! unfermented peach juice supposedly). An obituary for Mario Tribuno listed him as the former president of the food company GB Raffetto which produces Giroux grenadine among various other bar mixers. Mario P. Tribuno was a pioneer of American vermouth production and led the American industry. The Tribunos were even cocktail enthusiasts. According to one entry in Amerine’s bibliography Mario’s son, John L. Tribuno, who took over Vermouth Industries of America, easily acknowledged the martini as responsible for 95% of American dry vermouth sales in the 1950’s as well as the start of the ever drier martini.

The references depicted by Amerine’s concise abstracts range from the 19th century to deep into the 20th. A big wonder of this novel collection of references is Amerine’s unique ability to handle roughly five languages that frequently appear (English, French, Italian, German, and Russian). The text really demonstrates how the University of California’s programs were able to unify the world’s wine technology. Publications like the American Wines & Vines consistently reappear with insightful articles (English language!) that draw you in to a world where many people grappled with vermouth’s secret formulations. Amerine also points out exciting Italian works from early in the 20th century which he deems to be extremely important that are far beyond the grasp of most enthusiasts language skills (1935. Il vino vermouth ed suoi componenti is listed a standard text).

One can learn a lot from the straight forward abstracts and see an interesting story unfold. Historians agree that Carpano produced the first vermouth in the late 18th century which was (and is via its popular low volatile acid replica!) kind of primitive and rustic relative to what we see today. Carpano’s intent was probably a therapeutic tonic. Afterwards the Cora’s came about in the mid 19th century which started the modern vermouth era with a likely transition from medicinal to a pursuit of the sublimely flavored and easily accessible, which was quickly followed by everyone else. An 18th century Carpano vermouth replica has become very popular in the present cocktail scene as a way to replicate the experience of mid and late 19th century cocktails, but if the Cora’s product style became the mainstream, and was structured more like what we drink today (slightly less extracted and more complex) rather than the fun, but simplistic (yet definitely amusing to drink) Carpano Antica Formula then what the early pioneering bartenders used was probably more similar to the current vermouth incarnation than the Carpano replica product.

A reliable picture of the structure of what people were drinking at the beginning of the 20th century is painted by the surprisingly sophisticated analysis summarized by the abstracts. Even a hundred years ago, vermouths were probably not clumsy and overly intense. One source, unfortunately without a relative comparison, claimed that French vermouths of the day do not really have a lot of aromatic essences and another from the 1920’s compared the intensity of vermouth’s sugar free extract to be that of a dessert wine.

The bibliography shows that vermouth production was spread across the globe with so many cultures consuming the aromatized wine, but not always of top quality (still probably more amusing than the average natural wine). Vermouth was so relied upon that many papers collected by Amerine proposed laws and methods of analysis to detect fraudulent flavors and watering down of the wine bases which really shows how serious the vermouth beverage medium was taken. Rather rigid guidelines of structure (sugar, acid, alcohol, extract) were drawn up that narrowed the ideal of the vermouth aesthetic among producers. The differentiation of current mainstream vermouth production is so narrow that many connoisseurs are unable to reliably differentiate the brands.

One of the most interesting references of the bibliography is a paper by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Bureau of Internal Revenue. Amerine’s abstract subtly seems to leak admiration for the position of the author Peter Valaer who had access to anyone’s formula that wanted to have a government approved product in the U.S. The Treasury Department conducted thorough analysis of all taxed products and found that many American Vermouths (but definitely not all American!) used “odds and end” and defective wines that were considered high in volatile acidity (vinegar!), which showed the role of vermouth as a means to doctor the hard to swallow, though it was widely noted by the emergent vermouth connoisseurs that bad wine could not be covered up. Peter Valaer also wrote a book in Amerine’s bibliography called Wines of the World written from the same vantage point of the IRS laboratory. Valaer notes that from the producer supplied formulas, most dry vermouths contain ten or fewer botanicals compared to the twenty botanicals of typical sweet vermouths. It is also pointed out by Valaer that many producers use the same formula for their sweet and dry vermouths but with less botanical intensity in the dry.

The abstracts assert that after WWII, vermouth production continued to climb and the Americans got a big domestic sales advantage due to global conflict slowing down importation combined with a significant rise in domestic production quality. Reports criticize overall global production by citing problems like the watering down of wine (vermouth should be more than 75% natural wine) and the use of artificial flavor extracts. These concerns illustrate the fact that vermouth was still thought of as wine by conscious consumers and though enhanced, was still an attempt to celebrate viticulture. Any adulteration had to be done with a traditional minded artistic constraint. The avid straight vermouth drinker of long ago would probably put down his/her brand for a taste of today’s straight, terroir driven grape wine.

Global vermouth production was huge mid century despite sophistication (the commonly used negative application of the word) issues plaguing the market, therefore a large amount of the references are devoted to analyzing products and showing methods of detecting fraud. The market even faced aromatization issues among wines notably in the south of France that were sold as natural grape wine supporting the theory that consumer tastes could not always be met by natural wine production.

The second half of the 20th century started with continued optimism for the U.S. domestic vermouth market but was marked by changes in tastes. In 1965 John L. Tribuno predicted vermouth sales would double within a decade but noted that 1960’s tastes necessitated a lighter flavor in vermouth (lighter whiskey also became fashionable) citing that 90% of dry vermouth was used in martinis. Tribuno’s own article for Wines & Vines pointed out that martinis pre WWII were 2:1 gin to vermouth but over 20 years had evolved to 8:1 and 12:1. Around the same time, the San Francisco Wine Institute “stresses the fact that cheap, young neutral-flavored wines are used as a vermouth base in Europe” which is a departure from the high quality distinct Muscat variety recommended earlier in the century. Whether consumers today have inherited these bland wine bases is hard to say, but Noilly Prat has recently just switched back from its leaner Americanized wine base (likely a product of the 1960’s) to something fuller bodied that the firm had maintained in the less cocktail-centric European market. Amerine actually exposes his own skepticism in an abstract from a 1963 source regarding Noilly Prat. Amerine’s parenthesized comment of “(this is surely not current practice)” refers to a basic wine book author’s claim that the firm ages 800,000 gallons of wine in the sun in 160 gallon barrels for 18 months to mature their wine base. Today it is widely believed that Noilly Prat actually uses such an elaborate process, making their dry vermouth product quite the outlier in the market.

English tastes, at the end of the 1960’s, really showed how significant the vermouth market was to a producing country. A source claims that in 1968, 70% of the Italian wine imported into England was vermouth while only 44% of Italian wine imported into North America was vermouth. If Vermouth represented small percentages of Italian wine production, these markets (especially the English) also show how disregarded (and probably not stable enough for export) the natural wine of a major vermouth producing country was.

The story told by the bibliography essentially ends with market statistics from the very late 1960’s but sourced from the 1970’s close to the bibliography’s publication date. In 1969 Cinzano and Martini & Rossi spent nearly $500,000 on spot radio advertising while Vermouth Industries of American (Tribuno brand which dominated the american market) spent only $74,000. On magazine advertising Martini & Rossi spent $800,000 of the $1.5 million spent by imported vermouth producers relative to the $113,000 of Vermouth Industries of America. Domestic vermouth producers faced an onslaught of advertising but did very little to counter it. More data shows that in 1970 Vermouth industries of America spent even less to tackle the bombardment of foreign producer ads by spending only $80,000 relative to the $1.47 million by imports.

At this point, the story told by the bibliography’s abstracts really leaves you hanging. A 1975 Consumers Union Report on Wine and Spirits still shows the top selling domestic producer Tribuno as favorable in quality but we know they are doomed to obscurity today. Eventually, Tribuno Vermouth will become merely a brand with all its sensory quality stripped away, but it is hard to pinpoint exactly when that happens. American vermouths got caught up in the Barbarians at the Gate phenomenon of the 1970’s and 80’s where brands were raided, bought up and shuffled around conglomerates. Tribuno likely got shifted to a conglomerate that could not handle its complex, artisanal nature (good vermouth is hard to make). The conservative corporate cultures could not handle the blitz of highly competitive advertising from competitors. Even if Coca-Cola had expertise battling Pepsi or if RJ Reynolds knew how to fend off Marlborough, American vermouth brands likely became insignificant divisions of giant companies and could not get significant advertising money allocated to fend off Martini and Rossi who had ads by Andy Warhol.

In the fall of domestic producers like Tribuno, it is only an assumption that quality changed along the way exacerbating their demise. At the end of the 20th century, Americans are often thought of as entering a dark age of connoisseurship with no ability to notice the shadows of their former selves that many domestic products had become. We can only hope that the foreign vermouths we are left with today have maintained most of their integrity but the 1960’s introduction of bland wine bases may have taken its toll. In the cocktail scene of the 1980’s and 90’s, Fuzzy Navels and Apple Martini’s without vermouth robbed the spotlight of the Manhattan and Martini. The cocktail market for vermouth likely dropped off a cliff while aperitif consumption faced irrelevance due to significant improvements to natural wine. Many countries subsidized modernization of wine production so stressed yeasts and a lack of markets supporting wines of noble yields became a thing of the past.

In the present, vermouth has finally become relevant again as pre-prohibition style cocktails are back in vogue and gastronomic adventurers try to drink everything. Hopefully the story of vermouth can be continued definitely beyond 1974 and its back story can be pieced together by more than just a collection of abstracts. A richer understanding of vermouth’s history could cement the relevance of the quality producers we still have today so we do not lose anymore and better understanding could also create opportunities for new producers in the future. With some work, hopefully we will see the Mario P. Tribuno Memorial Fund directed back at solely advancing knowledge pertaining to vermouth.

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