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When the Rivers Ran Red: An Amazing Story of Courage and Triumph in America's Wine Country Paperback – September 14, 2010

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan Trade (September 14, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0230103375
  • ISBN-13: 978-0230103375
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 5.9 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,610,626 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

When the U.S. Constitution was amended in 1919 to ban alcoholic beverages across the nation, few places were as devastated as the Northern California counties of Sonoma and Napa. Immigrant families, many of them Italian, had established productive vineyards. True, they did not yet claim their wines equal to Europe’s finest bottlings, but they were patiently waiting for American public taste to mature. Now they faced utter ruin, compelled to dump vats of valuable aging wines into streets, sewers, and rivers. As the 1920s rolled forward, these vineyards were in some cases pulled up and the land turned to other crops. Often bunches of ripe fruit were quietly shipped away, the growers able to sell grapes but deprived of the final vinification of the juice. Sosnowski records in heavily researched detail the real effects of Prohibition on people who wished only to produce sound wine. --Mark Knoblauch --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“A cool history book for fans of wine and local lore.” --San Fransisco Examiner

“…a lively account of the battle of the local industry to survive against aggressive government efforts to shut it down." --Sonoma Index-Tribune

""When the Rivers Ran Red" casts light on a less-understood aspect of that infamous period in American history -- an era whose familiar images of Prohibition usually don't include its effect on American wineries." -- Nick Owchar, LA Times

“When the Rivers Ran Red” by Vivienne Sosnowski, chronicles the impact of Prohibition in California wine country. Intelligent, engaging, sympathetic and sharp.—The Kansas City Star

"Sosnowski's fascinating account of how Napa and Sonoma winemakers struggled to survive during the national insanity known as Prohibition fills a giant hole in the history of American wine. Wine lovers everywhere should thank her for tracking down survivors, many now in their 90s, who provided rich accounts of what it was like to live through that terrible nightmare. A tale well told, Sosnowski has a fine touch." -- George M. Taber, bestselling author of Judgment of Paris

"Rich, moving and evocative, Sosnowski's exquisite writing brings to life a chapter of American history that has largely been forgotten. Anyone who enjoys California's legendary wines will absolutely adore When the Rivers Ran Red. A book to be savored, word by word. Were this a great bottle of wine, it would deserve 5 stars out of 4." --Don and Petie Kladstrup, bestselling authors of Wine & War: The French, the Nazis and the Battle for France's Greatest Treasure and Champagne: How the World's Most Glamorous Wine Triumphed Over War and Hard Times
"Sosnowski's When the Rivers Ran Red will defeat the misconception that fine California wine represents a recent phenomenon. This fast paced, crisply written account of California winemakers' battle to survive Prohibition breathes new life into this precious American tradition and shows in gripping detail how deep these vines' roots run in the soils of lovely Napa and Sonoma Valleys." --William Echikson, author of Noble Rot: A Bordeaux Wine Revolution
"Intensely moving, fast-paced, horrifying and inspiring in turns, When the Rivers Ran Red is a beautifully written, deeply researched story of liberty and tyranny, the love of life and the sickness of its enemies. I shall remember it every time I visit California wine country." --Hugh Johnson, bestselling author of The World Atlas of Wine, The Story of Wine and the Pocket Wine Book series
"The tentacles of the Volstead Act were powerful and far-reaching. In telling what happened in California’s valleys during the difficult years of Prohibition, Vivienne Sosnowski puts a human face on the misery and desperation, but shows the courage and ingenuity that has ultimately led to the triumph of the State's wine growers." --Gerald Asher, Gourmet magazine, and author of The Pleasures of Wine and Vineyard Tales

“This tale of a little-known aspect of American history will be enjoyed by Californians, as well as oenophiles and history buffs.”--Library Journal

“Sosnowski records in heavily researched detail the real effects of Prohibition on people who wished only to produce sound wine.”--Booklist
"A rollicking story... It'll keep you awake on your [beach] towel."--The Miami Herald
“Sosnowski is a compelling historian… While the California wine industry is a juggernaut today and Napa and Sonoma are far different places than they were, this book will change the way you look at their wines, and you may find yourself tasting them differently knowing what that land and its people have been through....A cool history book for fans of wine and local lore.”--San Francisco Chronicle
“Not until this book has anyone really examined the impact of Prohibition on the people of California's Wine Country. It's a story whose arc you know, yet in the telling it is far more powerful and engrossing than you might expect.”--Book Editor's pick, San Francisco Chronicle
“Ms. Sosnowski's deeply researched story puts a human face on a tragic story."--Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
"Wine lovers, history buffs, and those interested in the history of many local grape-growing families are sure to enjoy Sosnowski’s compelling, thought-provoking account of winemakers’ fight to survive Prohibition. It’s a book to relish, perhaps with a glass or two of fine wine."--Press Democrat 
"Sosnowski offers a gripping account of Federal agents looking to seize wine and the winemakers who hid their vintages in ingenious ways. It’s also a fascinating look at the birth of some of the California wine dynasties that exist to this day."--Wine Enthusiast

"The book is a powerful, well-paced account of Prohibition in wine country.  It takes its title from the millions of gallons of red wine that were emptied into the rivers because of the new law, and follows the social damage, financial ruin and corruptino that came with the wine ban." --Wine Spectator

"Sosnowski has written a book that is detailed and colorful.  Both historians and wine enthusiasts will appreciate learning about Prohibition from the side of the winemakers of Sonoma and Napa Valley.  The particular approach the author uses gives readers a fascinating close-up look at winemakers shortly before Prohibition started and includes the years Prohibition was in effect." --Wine Trail Traveler

“Not until this engrossing book has anyone really examined the impact of Prohibition on the people of California's Wine Country.” --San Francisco Chronicle's 50 Notable Bay Area Books of 2009!

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Customer Reviews

It is written very well.
James Gallen
I loved how it explained, in very neutral terms, why the political forces passed prohibition, and how it affected all the families in California.
N. Porter
The book reads like the first draft of a first time author who is has not quite figured out how to engage the reader.
deeper waters

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Paukenwirbel VINE VOICE on May 26, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This was the most enjoyable and informative book I've read in a while.

I grew up listening to my grandfather tell stories about how he and his siblings would sit outside on the front porch and watch the 'shiners race their souped-up hot-rods to outrun the Revenuers past his house on the main road from the mountains of NC into the central Piedmont (folks: those are the origins of NASCAR!).

However, I must say I never really considered how the 18th Amendment and the subsequent Volstead Act affected the vineyards of Napa and Sonoma, and that's a terrible shame. This book taught me another important aspect of the Prohibition story and nightmare.

The author strikes a perfect balance, alternating between a general history of the Temperance movement and Prohibition itself in Washington and nationwide (including some great political intrigue), while telling personal histories (some from interviews, some from memoirs and other books) about the wine families themselves, the criminal element, the oft-necessity of bootlegging just to stay financially solvent, etc. Her text is meticulously researched with copious documentation, which I value highly as a student of History.

Her obvious love of this land shines through in this accounting of its people (largely a first or second-generation immigrant population of patriotic Americans, whether they be workers, bootleggers, or wine-artisans/growers). We leave this reading the richer for having explored her work.

NOT to be missed. FIVE wholehearted stars!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By James W. Durney TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 6, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Prohibition sounded good and the majority of America felt that they should support it. America's largest experiment in social engineering became an object lesson in the limits of government and the inadvisability of imposing moral codes on others. While the majority may have voted for the idea of prohibition, they had no intention of living with it. Americans wanted a drink and did not intend to alter their habits, social norms or ideas of fun due to a law. Those working in the production of beer, wine and liquors had no plans of giving up their livelihood either.
Between the producers and the consumers stand a small army of enforcement agents, many of whom are consumers too. How these agents are bypassed, hoodwinked and/or bribed so that supply can find demand was a deadly game played on a national stage. A small part of that story is how the California wine industry survived during prohibition. This book covers Northern California's wine industry, enforcement efforts and how the law is evaded. It is not an easy read; the author has a dry legalist style that keeps this from being really enjoyable. However, he tells a good story, draws very good portraits of the people and displays a real interest in the subject. The book can be fun, can be boring and sometimes seems mostly legal. The author, to his credit, keeps his feelings to himself and is fair to all sides. This is not "The Untouchables" with blazing guns, one-way rides and big city crimes. This is grape growers and wine makers struggling to get by.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By S. Lawrenz VINE VOICE on August 19, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
When the Rivers Ran Red is a exploration of the effects that Prohibition had on the wine makers of Napa Valley in California. Families who had been making wine for generations were suddenly forced out of business by a constitutional amendment that made their main product illegal. The book explores their plight and the efforts they made both domestically and politically to make ends meet during trying times.

From there, the book goes on to detail the efforts to put Prohibition into place, the passing of prohibition and Napa Valley's reaction to those events up until Prohibition's repeal. This includes focusing on some of the area's key players and how they worked through the issues of the day. The tone of the book puts the wine growers in a positive light despite the fact that many broke the law by making and selling their wine despite prohibition.

Unfortunately for me, I just was not able to get into this book. For some reason, I found it rambling and somewhat boring. Frankly, I simply was unable to finish it. Perhaps it was the style. The author has a dry tone and very "just the facts Ma'am" sort of approach laden with statistics and figures. While this works well for a scholarly work, it makes it less accessible to the casual reader.

This is a scholarly book with a bit of human interest gloss on it to try to appeal to a broader audience. The gloss is minimal and just not enough to get past the focus on statistical effects and politics. The opening segment I described really was most of what human interest there was.

To the author's credit, this book is well researched and detailed. I don't doubt that to the serious scholar, her work will be incredibly valuable.
Read more ›
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By charles falk VINE VOICE on April 15, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I think this book has a lot to recommend it. Vivienne Sosnowski has done a lot of original research about California/s wine country during Prohibition. She has combed through the newspaper files of the era, mined oral histories, and interviewed extensively. Then why didn't I enjoy reading WHEN THE RIVERS RAN RED very much?
My main problem was with Sosnowski's writing style, which seemed to alternate between pedantic and overly dramatic. Her presentation of facts and figures needed some juicing up, while the first-person narratives didn't need additional hype.
That said, there isn't a better non-fiction account of events in this time and place than Sosnowski's, that I know of.
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