The California Wine Industry has embraced the use of postcards since their introduction in the U.S. in 1898 as an efficient, expressive tool to publicize their wines. The postcard front picture-image could be the winery itself, or the vineyard, cellar, tasting room, bottles of wine, or any other wine scene identifying a specific winery — with room on the back for a message and the address for mailing. The earlier, pre-Prohibition wine country postcards were produced in black & white, or often sent to be printed in Europe (mainly Germany) where the cards were masterfully hand-colored. In a future adventure, we will explore several of these beauties. Today let’s enjoy a few “surprising” wine postcards.

Postcard Chickens

A. L. Jenkins. Bellevue Vineyard. Sebastopol, Cal. — White Wyandottes, 1912

This striking yet unassuming and quite rare early photo postcard showing a pen of chickens is a longtime favorite. Nowhere else have I seen chickens advertising a grape vineyard! At this time in 1912 Mr. A. L. Jenkins was a top prize-winning breeder of fancy poultry who specialized in White Wyandottes and served as President of the California Wyandotte Club. “Jenkins White Wyandottes” were featured in Western Poultry magazine and prominently advertised for sale in local newspapers. It is not known if Jenkins tended Bellevue Vineyard and made wine; no mention of these vinous activities was found. Only champion chickens. The history of Bellevue Vineyard and Winery goes back much earlier. French-born Emile Schirmer established his wine estate in 1878 on the rolling hills about a mile south of the Sonoma Co. town of Sebastopol. His first planting of 25 acres to Zinfandel and Pinot grapes grew to almost fifty. He built a fully equipped 60,000-gallon brick winery boasting oak and redwood cooperage and an underground storage cellar; he later added bottling and engine rooms. Following the untimely death of this “well-known winemaker of Sebastopol” in 1901, Schirmer’s ranch was sold, and the winery dismantled during Prohibition. Sebastopol became famous for its Gravenstein apple industry while neighboring Petaluma became known as the “Egg Basket of the World.” Today, the apple and chicken farm lands are a sea of premium wine grape vineyards.

Postcard Transportation

Regina Winery, Etiwanda, San Bernardino Co. — Lilliputian Horse Stables, 1950s

From fancy chickens to miniature horses! Crafted from old wine casks, each miniature member of the team occupied a private stall with a nameplate attached: Winegar, Chianti, Regina, Champagne, Zinfandel, Vin Rosé. The rear caption of this dazzling color postcard relates the wonder-horse tale: these award-winning, full-grown mini stallions, imported from Argentina, measure from 24 to 36 inches tall and weigh from 85 to 200 pounds. Their coach is an accurate scale model of an old-time stagecoach, and to the delight of all winery visitors, the horses were on exhibition daily. Their historic winery was originally founded in 1910 by Claudio Ellena in the southern California Cucamonga district. Revived after Prohibition and operated by his sons John and Frank as Ellena Bros, they changed the name to Regina Winery in 1948. A sizeable 2-million gallon operation with 700 acres of grapes, Regina produced inexpensive table, sweet, and sparkling wines. Regina Grape Products, their later wine vinegar plant, was the nation’s leading producer of wine vinegar. The winery, beginning to decline in 1973, was purchased in 1993 by the City of Rancho Cucamonga, and later leased by the Filippi family as a production facility. No further word from historians on the stable of Lilliputians.

Postcard Palm Trees

Tall Twin Palms, Butler Vineyard, Fresno, c1900

These two majestic Mexican Fan Palms fronting a handsome old two-story farmhouse is an unexpected image to advertise one of the world’s most expansive raisin vineyards. Alban Butler (1852–1924) purchased 420 acres in 1887 in Fresno’s southeast Sunnyside district that he quickly expanded to over 600 acres to grow raisin grapes. He became one of the largest raisin growers in the world, and his profitable vineyards were the subject of frequent visits from foreign and domestic governments to observe his successful practices. In 1894, he and a fellow grower founded the Raisin Growers Packing Assn of Fresno. In 1905 the enterprising Butler sold his vineyard and invested in real estate and oil, and moved out of the county. His death occurred in Washington DC in 1924. There is a Butler Street in Fresno’s Sunnyside district, one of several grape pioneers so honored. This area in southeast Fresno was the birthplace of Fresno’s wine industry in 1873 and the original settling place for many of Fresno’s founding fathers: Butler, Easterby, Eisen, Roeding, Kearney. Why the tall palm trees? Butler most likely was very proud of his prestigious pair of tall palms, which can grow to a height of 100′. There are at least three different issues of this hand-colored postcard, which is the only one known to commemorate the world famous vineyard.

Postcard Family

Quintette from the Frozen North, 1905. — Five Native Eskimo Children posed with Casks of Alameda Co. Cal. Wine

As a collector and student of California wine and its historical postcards, this “not obviously a wine postcard” was gratefully stumbled upon one day while searching eBay under “barrels.” Of course, these marked casks held, or once held, Alameda Co. wine. In the lower-left corner, we can see the photograph is copyrighted “F. H. Nowell, Nome 1905.” It was exciting to discover that Frank Nowell (1864–1950) was a distinguished American photographer who migrated to Nome, Alaska during the Yukon Gold Rush. In 1900 he began in earnest his documentation of Alaska’s scenery and Indigenous peoples, with a special focus on Eskimo life and customs. What a great and unusual wine postcard that transports us—via Alaska—to another exceptional California wine region. Alameda County, located on the eastern side of S.F. Bay, has had a viticulture history since the founding of Mission San José in 1797, and wine grapes were planted nearby. It is said the brandy produced there under the direction of Father Duran was of honorable quality. The county’s two most important winegrowing areas would be developed in the old Mission area and the Livermore Valley. Notable early wineries included Gallegos, Linda Vista (McIver), Warm Springs, Olivina, Cresta Blanca (Wetmore), Concannon, Wente. [Online Reference Note: History of the S.F. Viticultural District, Peninou/GU has fine historical & statistical sections on Alameda Co. winegrowing.]

Postcard Kids

My Turn Next.” Vestal Vintages. Sacramento Valley Winery. Sacramento, 1915

The city of Sacramento developed an important wine industry beginning in the early 1870s. Our story takes place in the early 1900s when noted California Wine Association wineman Edgar Sheehan leased the old Nevis Pioneer Winery across the street from the half-million-gallon California Winery — a handsome brick structure, one of the first important commercial wineries in Sacramento — to be home to his new wine business which he called Sacramento Valley Winery. Under his capable leadership ‘Vestal Vintages’ was a respected, popular label of the firm. Operating until Prohibition, the winery was torn down during the Dry years. Our “cute” and quite unusual California wine country postcard showing two young lads sneaking wine from a barrel through a straw bears a cancel stamp of the 1915 Pan-Pacific International Exposition (P.P.I.E.). The Sacramento Valley Winery had an eye-catching display at the Expo highlighting ‘Vestal Vintages’ as the brightly colored companion postcard shows. These two postcards, now very rare, were surely well-received Expo hand-outs and souvenirs. As an aside, a close look at the top card shows the image is marked © 1905 Avery L. Rand, a very famous name in early American printing companies beginning in the mid-1800s. The 1905 copyright belonged to a son who operated his own firm from 1900 until 1909 that specialized in large orders, e.g., printing millions of patent medicine pamphlets… and postcards.

Postcard Plant
Postcard Cars

First Car in San Bernardino Co. 1902 Cadillac. Engine #13,” c1967

In addition to this totally “surprising” illustrative winery ad postcard, “Thomas Vineyards: California’s Oldest Winery. Old Rancho Brand Wines, Est. 1839,” issued a number of the usual glossy color postcards in the 1960s. One shows a giant 51,558-gallon redwood wine tank, vintage 1909, with a door cut in to enable visitors to explore the interior of the beautiful old wine vat; another shows the eclectic cornucopia tasting room interior. The oldest one is a circa 1950s b/w RPPC showing the modest one-story winery building with “California’s Oldest Winery” prominently painted on the roof. Originally built by Don Tiburcio Tapia in 1839 on his Old Rancho of 12,000 acres, the small adobe winery was purchased by Hugh Thomas in 1916, and enlarged. In 1967, Joseph Filippi Vintage Co, acquired it to serve as their tasting room. Was it he who collected the old cars? We can date this postcard knowing the winery “filled with antiques, equipment, and historical items” was nearly destroyed in the roaring Cucamonga floods of 1969 that demolished the 1902 Cadillac and a 1925 Stutz Fire Engine, among others. An old-timer recalled, “More than a half-century ago, our beautiful Cucamonga Valley was home to more than 50 wineries, most of them family-owned and operated, each producing unique wines that reflected subtle differences in soil, sun, and vintners’ craft. Most have been plowed under and left to memory … Over the past 170 years, proprietors have overcome challenges, including floods, recessions, Prohibition, and ownership struggles. So much of our winery history reads like great fiction, but it is history.” [online Ginoffvine, 2010]