Public Enemy #1
Alphonse Gabriel Capone
Very recently, we collectively vocalized a joyous countdown that ushered in a new year. In 1920 people did the exact same. But just over two weeks later, another countdown to midnight occurred, this one less joyous. On January 16th 1920 the Volstead Act went into effect with the intent to carry out the 18th Amendment. When the clock struck midnight on the 16th, Prohibition in the United States had begun.
Twenty one years earlier, on January 17th 1899 Alphonse Gabriel Capone was born in New York City. As a teenager he joined the Five Points Gang of Lower Manhattan; a crew who had two other notables: Johnny Torrio and Lucky Luciano. In his early twenties, Capone would leave New York for Chicago, where he served as bodyguard for Boss Johnny Torrio with whom he co-founded the Chicago Outfit.
Thanks to Prohibition, Capone rose to power and notoriety with a lucrative bootlegging enterprise. When Torrio retired and moved his family to Italy following a failed assassination attempt by The North Side Gang, the reigns of the Chicago Outfit were handed over to Capone and he ruled with an iron fist and a Tommy Gun.
That the most famous and notorious gangster to ever live was born on January 17th, a date that would eventually directly follow the date that began Prohibition is either a wild coincidence or God just likes to have fun. The 17th is a key date though for a couple of reasons. Besides being Capone's birthday, it is also celebrated as National Bootlegger's Day. It also marks the distillation of Templeton Rye Whiskey, of which urban legend has it that Al Capone had his hand in. He also referred to the fiery brown liquid as "The Good Stuff."
We're going to observe and celebrate National Bootlegger's Day and Capone's birthday this week on the 18th. We'll be enjoying a rosé Crémant from Louis de Grenelle from Saumur in the Loire Valley of France. After that sparkling introduction, we'll move on to California for our next two selections, both of them Red Blends: Clos LaChance 22 Pirates Red Blend from the Central Coast and Sonoma's Gundlach Bundschu Mountain Cuvee Red Blend. Following these, we'll enjoy the "Good Stuff" from Templeton, Iowa. Justin is bringing his personal bottle of Templeton 4 Year Rye Whiskey to share with us!
The Rye is pretty obvious, but why the other three? How do they fit the Bootlegger theme? Deep under the cobbled streets of Saumur, miles and miles of caves wind their way through the soft limestone bedrock. Carved out over the last millennium, these caverns and passages were dug by prisoners serving sentences for smuggling, most having been caught violating la gabelle – the punitive pre-revolutionary salt tax. One of the last remaining family-owned sparkling wine houses in Saumur, Louis de Grenelle, owns about 2 kilometers of these caves. So there's that. Pirates, whether there's only 1 or 22 of them, are marauders and a dastardly lot and so they fit the bill as well. Lastly the Gundlach Bundschu. If you sneak a peek at the back of the bottle, they put a little pictorial deciphering code (think Emojis) as to how to pronounce their name: Gun. Lock. Bun. Shoe. See? It all works!
Thankfully we no longer need to find a Speakeasy to enjoy our wine and spirits. Join us this Wednesday at our Tasting Bar as we toast to Prohibition no longer being a thing!
We'll see you there.
The Wine Shop Team
Post Script -
The term Bootlegger originated during the American Civil War when soldiers would conceal flasks within their boots or beneath their trouser legs to sneak liquor into army camps. It was then popularized in the 1920s when people used this idea and would sell sips of hooch from the flasks they kept hidden in their boots.