1871 Cappe’s Saloon Ad
1871 Glaser Ad
1884 Coblentz Ad
The Wine San Luis Drank: Advertisements from the 1870s and 1880s
Our modern emphasis on winemakers, vineyards, vintages, and varietals is missing from the earliest newspaper ads for San Luis Obispo’s restaurants and saloons, but still there are a couple of hints of what’s to come. The 1871 Tribune advertisement for Juan Cappe’s Saloon puts much more emphasis on the quality of the imported billiard tables than of the wines, which are lumped together in a then-common advertising trinity of “WINES, LIQUORS, AND CIGARS” (used in contemporary ads by Hassen and Chaves’ Eureka Saloon, as well as the American Exchange Saloon in Cambria).
George Sauer (of the Sauer Adobe, now housing Adobe Realty, opposite the Mission on Chorro Street) took over Cappe’s and amended the offering to “WINES, LIQUORS, ALES, and CIGARS,” in competition with the People’s Exchange, which also advertised that four-part combination. Already advertisers knew that people remember things in threes and fours (thing of how telephone numbers are divided) but have trouble with larger quantities.
Wines were purchased not just at saloons, yet at the grocer and dry goods merchant C. Glaser and Company, the “wines and liquors” only rate mention after “paints and oils.”
Locavores will be pleased by Julius Lindenmeyer’s 1871 ad for the Pioneer Brewery (beer brewing and beer houses in San Luis seem to have been an exclusively German concern). The slogan Lindenmeyer borrows—“the cups that cheer but not inebriate”—is from the British poet William Cowper’s The Task (1785) and actually refers to tea, not beer. Cowper had in turn borrowed from the original phrase “to cheer but not inebriate” in Bishop Berkeley’s Siris (1744), where the divine used it to describe tar water—water mixed with pine tar—promoted as a tonic. (Berkeley, California was named after this bishop for another of his lines, “Westward the course of empire takes its way,” an anathema to Berkeleyites today.)
An 1872 Tribune ad for the People’s Exchange mentions “WINES FOREIGN AND DOMESTIC,” but there is no effort yet to promote California wines, let alone local ones. The French immigrant Pierre Dallidet had been making wine in San Luis Obispo since at least 1869, but it is unclear whether any of it was on the market yet. A Tribune article from 1887 suggested—whether accurately or not— that Dallidet’s entire 1869 vintage had been aging for eighteen years and had only just been opened for the editor to taste.
Jump to San Luis Obispo’s Daily Republic in 1884, and things have changed a little. An advertisement for the wholesalers Coblentz, Miner, and Ebner references a specific vineyard (Tagliaferich) in Napa. (Napa’s first commercial winemaker was the Englishman John Patchett, who in 1860 produced six barrels for San Francisco restaurants. Three years later he was producing four thousand gallons. The Prussian Charles Krug, who had worked for the Hungarian wine pioneer Agoston Haraszthy at the founding of the Buena Vista vineyard in Sonoma in the late 1850s, started the second winery in Napa in 1861. Buena Vista and Charles Krug were both restarted in the early 1940s, the latter by the Mondavi family.)
The French Hotel and Restaurant was offering a French dinner, including a half bottle of claret, for 50 cents in 1884. Claret, the English name for a red Bordeaux, derives from Anglo-French vin claret, from Latin vin claratum (or “clarified wine”). Noah Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language defines claret as “a species of French wine, of a clear pale red color.” Dr. Johnson’s 1755 Dictionary of the English Language does not define claret, but under the definition of piss he quotes the people’s revolutionary Jack Cade from Shakespeare’s Henry the Sixth: “And here, sitting upon London-stone, I charge and command that, of the city’s cost, the pissing-conduit run nothing but claret wine this first year of our reign.”
James Boswell recounts in his Life of Johnson that on one occasion “Johnson harangued upon the qualities of different liquors; and spoke with great contempt of claret, as so weak, that ‘a man would be drowned by it before it made him drunk.’ He was persuaded to drink one glass of it, that he might judge, not from recollection, which might be dim, but from immediate sensation. He shook his head, and said, ‘Poor stuff! No, Sir, claret is the liquor for boys; port, for men; but he who aspires to be a hero (smiling) must drink brandy.’”
“French dinner” may refer to the cuisine or to diner à la francaise, where diners served themselves at table from shared serving plates all brought out at once, in contrast to the newfangled diner à la russe, or Russian dinner, where courses were brought round in sequence. Note that the proprietor of the French Hotel appears to be Italian. The industry of winemaking, brewing, and entertaining in California was hugely enriched by being an immigrant one.
—James Papp, Curator, Wine History Project
1871 New House Ad
1871 Pioneer Brewery Ad
1872 People’s Exchange Ad
1884 French Hotel Ad
Wine History Project PO Box 1802, San Luis Obispo, CA 93406