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When The Rivers Ran Red

2009 non-fiction book by Vivienne Sosnowski

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California winemakers did not know what hit them on October 28, 1919.

  • Mar 9, 2009
Nestled in the rolling hills north and northeast of San Francisco is an area known as "America's Wine Country."   In the latter half of the 19th Century tens of thousands of immigrants from Russia, Italy, Switzerland and France descended on this area determined to make a better life for themselves and their families.  For the most part these were simple folk who possessed all of those time-honored values such as honesty, thrift and a willingness to work hard.  Many of them had been farmers in the old country.  Some had come in search of gold and still others would seek their fortune making wine.  In fact, over the next half century literally hundreds of vineyards would be established in Napa and Sonoma counties.  It was back breaking work but the rewards were considerable for those who persevered.  Like anyone else involved in agriculture,  vineyardists were subject to the whims of nature.  This was a fact of life that most of these folks could live with.  What they were not prepared for, however, was what happened as a result of the passage of the 18th Amendment which outlawed the manufacture, sale and transportation of alcoholic beverages in this country. "When The Rivers Ran Red: An Amazing Story of Courage and Triumph In America's Wine Country" chronicles how life changed for the people of wine country during the 13 years of Prohibition.  Passage of the 18th Amendment and the Volstead Act literally changed everything here.  It is a fascinating story and a case study of what can happen when the federal government passes draconian laws which are clearly unenforceable.  
For those engaged in the business of winemaking at the outset of Prohibition in 1920 only a few options appeared  available.  Federal law allowed for the manufacture of "sacramental" wines but this market was clearly very  limited.  Some growers would opt to sell their grapes for juice while others chose to plant other crops just to survive  The fact of the matter is that no one in wine country believed that prohibition would last as long as it did.  As time wore on more and more families became desperate.   Denied the ability to earn an honest living many vineyard owners turned to the only option the felt they had left--bootlegging--and sold off what wine they had on hand to hotels and speakeasies.  Under the cover of night these previously law-abiding citizens shipped illicit vino to cities as close as San Francisco and as far away as New York and Chicago.   With all of this of course came great risk.  If they were nabbed by the federal authorities they were subject to stiff fines and possible arrest.  In many cases federal Prohibition officers would descend on their property and empty their tanks into the local river or creek.  Years of hard work literally went down the drain in just a few minutes.  Meanwhile, many local law enforcement officers, clearly sympathetic to the plight of their friends and neighbors, would attempt to thwart the feds.  It was an unsettling and messy situation that made thieves and liars and criminals out of a whole host of people.
In "When The Rivers Ran Red" author Vivienne Sosnowski paints an intricate portrait of  what life was like in Wine Country during these troubled times.  You really do get a sense of the pain and the panic that the growers were being forced to endure through no fault of their own.  In addition, Sosnowski spends considerable time focusing on the political battle that was being waged both in California and in the nation at large.  While the so-called "Drys" certainly ruled the day during the decade of the 1920's it was becoming clear by the dawn of the 1930's that their considerable influence was waning and that it was only a matter of time before Prohibition would come to an end.  Finally you will discover the massive corruption that existed among so-called government agents charged with enforcing the law.  Very disconcerting indeed!.  "When The Rivers Ran Red:  An Amazing Story of Courage and Triumph In America's Wine Country" is a painstakingly researched and elegantly written book that held my attention from cover-to-cover. This is a story that needed to be told.   Very highly recommended!   
California Wine Country Wine Tasting The Vineyards Wine bottle

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May 05, 2009
Great review and a story needed to be understood for all those who love wine and owe their lively-hood to the wine industry today! I've not read this book, but it's now on my must read list! Thanks!
March 14, 2009
Napa Valley is a great place. I have to admit I never thought about what it must have gone through during Prohibition, but I will rectify that soon. The book sounds fascinating--thanks!
March 10, 2009
Another great review. Not only has this area obviously returned to its great wine making, but it also boasts some of the more expensive real estate in the country. Certainly a place to put on my bucket list.
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Paul Tognetti ()
Ranked #2
I guess I would qualify as a frustrated writer. My work requires very little writing and so since 1999 I have been writing reviews on non-fiction books and anthology CD's on amazon.com. I never could … more
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About this book



Today, millions of  people around the world enjoy California's legendary wines, unaware that 90 years ago the families who made these wines--and in many cases still do – turned to struggle and subterfuge to save the industry we now cherish. When Prohibition took effect in 1919, three months after one of the greatest California grape harvests of all time, violence and chaos descended on Northern California. Federal agents spilled thousands of gallons of wine in the rivers and creeks, gun battles erupted on dark country roads, and local law enforcement officers, sympathetic to their winemaking neighbors, found ways to run circles around the intruding authorities. For the state's winemaking families--many of them immigrants from Italy--surviving Prohibition meant facing impossible decisions, whether to give up the idyllic way of life their families had known for generations, or break the law to enable their wine businesses and their livelihood to survive. Including moments of both desperation and joy, Sosnowski tells the inspiring story of how ordinary people fought to protect to a beautiful and timeless culture in the lovely hills and valleys of now-celebrated wine country.

Author Bio

Vivienne Sosnowski has been an editorial director of newspapers, including the Washington, D.C., Examiner and the San Francisco Examiner. A gifted photographer whose portraits of wine country ...

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ISBN-10: 0230605745
ISBN-13: 978-0230605749
Author: Vivienne Sosnowski
Genre: History & Nonfiction
Publisher: Palgrave MacMillan
Date Published: June 9, 2009
Format: Hardcover
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