24 October 2008

Bulk Wines

With old movies, I often find myself paying attention to background details, like the style of men's ties, typefaces, and historical curiosities.

Take this still from Charlie Chaplin's 1936 Modern Times. I've sharpened and adjusted the image somewhat, and it will be clearer to read if you click on the small photo to the right.

During an extended scene in a department store with the female lead in which our two impoverished protagonists pretend to be rich, the Little Tramp is chased into the liquor section. The sign at the top of the wall reads "Rare Old Wines in Bulk", with a smaller sign below that says "Take Home a Jug of our Guaranteed Wine". The barrels are labeled Pre-War Stock Muscatel, Choice Old Rum, Special Port Wine, Pre-War Stock Sauterne (sic), Sherry Wine, and the blocked barrel reads Angelica Wine, which is sort of a California Port made from the Mission grape. Presumably "Pre-War" is shorthand for "Pre-Prohibition".

I know in the European countryside it's common to run up to the local wine producer with a jug or a few spare bottles to stock up on table wine, but it's not something I've ever associated with American wine drinking. Moonshine yes, wine no.

I don't know a lot about how wine, fortified wine, and spirits were shipped and stored back in the 1930s, but one wonders about how the Sauternes and Muscatel would have tasted after spending roughly twenty years in oak barrels. The rum could have been amazing, though, and that's what gets sprayed in Charlie's face seconds after that screen capture above.

Image copyright Warner Home Video.

5 comments:

fredric koeppel said...

i was in Chicago 15 years or so ago, having lunch in the dining room of a V. well-known importer and distributor, and the old hands were joking about how they used to get (in the '40s and '50s) RR tank cars of wine from California that they unloaded through hoses, and they would fix the nozzles to different kinds of bottles intended to hold wines of various quality and price, and it was ALL THE SAME WINE. Ah, the good old days!

Benito said...

Fredric,

Great story! Unfortunately the oral tradition around here tends to focus on the small production home beverages: whiskey, applejack, moonshine, with the odd bottles of fruit wine.

There's an opportunity out there for a wine-loving folklorist to collect stories from members of the early 20th century wine industry before they all die out.

Samantha Dugan said...

Benito,
What a fantastic idea, I would love to read that book!

Benito said...

Samantha,

Until fate moves me to the West Coast, I fear this will be a task for someone who lives in the area. I hope someone takes up the challenge.

By the way, I've added your site to my blogroll. Readers, check out Samantha Sans Dosage.

Samantha Dugan said...

Benito,
You don't have to move, that is what the Interwebs are for non? I do think it would be a fun idea for a book, a Kitchen Confidental for the world of wine, man there have GOT to be some wicked stories floating around...should you ever take on the challenge any stories you hear about me did not happen and it was not me!
Hey thanks for adding me to your blogroll...very cool, I'm flattered,