Book Review: When the Rivers Ran Red

By John ~ February 5th, 2010.

When I first saw this book, When the Rivers Ran Red: An Amazing Story of Courage and Triumph in America’s Wine Country, on the shelf of my local Barnes and Noble, I knew I had to buy it, not for the great title, but for the last name of the author, Vivienne Sosnowski. When you have a rather uncommon last name as I do, Sosnowy, Sosnowski seemed like she could be a close relative. Unfortunately, after a little research into the family tree, I don’t believe Ms. Sosnowski is a relative, but her book intrigued me nonetheless.

I learned that Sosnowski has had a long and distinguished career as a journalist before writing this book. She was named vice president and national editorial director of Clarity Media Group in January 2007.  She had become executive editor of The Washington Examiner in 2006, and before that was executive editor of The San Francisco Examiner. Prior to coming to San Francisco in August 2004, she had been editor of The Province in Vancouver, B.C., and before that was executive editor of Toronto’s National Post. According to her publisher, she now splits her time between Healdsburg, California, and Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

This book is the story of California’s fledgling wine industry during the ugly days of Prohibition. While many winery families struggled to just hang on, others prospered as never before through legal and sometimes illegal means. I found their stories fascinating. Today, people around the world are familiar with California’s wines but are probably unaware that 90 years ago the families who made these wines, and in some cases still do, were faced with momentous decisions about what to do to save the wine industry and their chosen way of life. When Prohibition began in 1919, chaos erupted in the wine country of Northern California. Federal agents spilled untold gallons of wine in the rivers and creeks, gun battles erupted, and local law enforcement officers found ways to evade the federal authorities in order to help their winemaking neighbors.

“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

This is very good book; I recommend that you pick up a copy today. Have you already read When the Rivers Ran Red? If so, please leave a comment and let us know what you thought of it.


Filed under: American Wine, California Wine, Wine Books

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