Crush: The Triumph of California Wine

—Book Club of California’s 2020 Oscar Lewis Award (Western History category)
—First-Place Winner for History in the Top Shelf 2019 Best Books Awards
—Finalist for the California Historical Society Book Award
—Finalist for the Northern California Book Award in general non-fiction


The Triumph of California Wine

Crush is the 200-year story of the heady dream that wines as good as the greatest of France could be made in California—a dream dashed four times in merciless succession, until it was ultimately realized in a stunning blind tasting in Paris. In that tasting, in the year of America’s bicentennial, California wines took their place as the leading wines of the world. For the first time, Crush tells the complete and dramatic story of the ascendancy of California wine in vivid detail. He also profiles the larger story of California itself by looking at it from an entirely innovative perspective—the state seen through its singular wine history. With dramatic flair and verve, Briscoe not only recounts the history of wine and winemaking in California, he encompasses a multidimensional approach that takes into account an array of social, political, cultural, legal, and winemaking sources. Elements of this history have plot lines that seem scripted by a Sophocles, or Shakespeare. Crush is a fusion of wine, personal stories, and cultural and socioeconomic history. From the first harvest and vintage, through the four overwhelming catastrophes, to its wholly unanticipated triumph in Paris, Crush chronicles how wine from California finally gained its global due.

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Praise for Crush

“Briscoe’s passion for California and its wine often shines through, and the book will offer many surprises to patient readers…. [An] essential history for wine aficionados.”
Kirkus Reviews

Crush is destined to earn a place among the classics of wine literature and California history.”
—Kevin Starr, historian and California State Librarian

Crush is simply superb—both as history and story-telling.”
—Dana Gioia, Poet Laureate of California

“Readers may never look at their glass of California wine in the same way.”
—Christopher O’Sullivan, professor of history, University of San Francisco
Crush is a hopeful saga… a tale written with panache and wry opinions…”
Rachel Jagareski, Foreword Reviews
“John Briscoe delivers a comprehensive history and a fascinating read… Highly Recommended!”
—Susan Keefe,

Full Praise

“A tour de force of scholarship, fine writing, and multifaceted format, Crush is destined to earn a place among the classics of wine literature and California history. Briscoe describes the process of how California introduced wine to America. With equal verve and amplitude, he evokes the alchemy through which wine—as agriculture, as vintners’ art, as connoisseurship in dialogue with advanced and popular taste alike—helped define California as a regional civilization.”
Kevin Starr, University Professor of History, University of Southern California, California State Librarian, author

Crush is simply superb—both as history and story-telling. The Paris tasting and its aftermath was a transformative moment in California’s cultural history. This immensely readable book captures the excitement, the fun, and the astonishment of the event.”
—Dana Gioia, Poet Laureate of California

“Don’t misjudge this book as a story of interest only to wine aficionados; it is so much more. It is the story of ‘the triumph of California wine,’ but it is also the story of California itself as told through the the history of the wine industry in California. And that is a fascinating story indeed. John Briscoe’s prose is compelling, keeping readers enthralled…. the content is absorbing, intriguing, insightful.”
—The Northern California Book Awards

“California is internationally recognized for its fine wines. Viticulture shaped large swathes of the California landscape and helped fashion the perception of the region as a destination for the good life ethos at the heart of the California Dream. John Briscoe’s Crush takes an innovative approach to this compelling tale of wine’s improbable journey from the rituals of the mission padres to the center of the California lifestyle. This engaging and humorous account of the four major challenges, or “crushes,” of the wine saga is made compelling by the author’s flair for vivid storytelling. An entertaining and insightful story of California seen through the state’s wine history, Crush is an essential addition to any California bookshelf. Readers may never look at their glass of California wine in the same way.”
Christopher O’Sullivan, professor of history, University of San Francisco

“John Briscoe… has crafted an elegantly written history of wine in California through the lens of an outsider…. An inspired storyteller, he casts an eye toward how wine fits into the cultural history of California and the United States.
Most of all, this book is a compelling read fashioned with a skilled writer’s ability to weave facts and colorful tales into an epic story.”
The Wine Spectator

“John Briscoe provides a fascinating and comprehensive look at the dramatic history of the California wine industry…. With vivid and passionate detail, Briscoe explores the unlikely ascendancy of California wine from the first harvest to its amazing triumph at the Paris Wine Tasting of 1976 and beyond.”
The Literary West (read the full review)

“John Briscoe’s Crush: The Triumph of California Wine is a lively introduction to California’s wine industry. Though blessed with a superb climate and geography for cultivating grapes, California winemakers endured centuries of obstacles, from a plague of vine-munching lice to the long years of “the ignoble experiment of Prohibition.” Briscoe vivaciously recounts it all, along with intriguing portraits of the eccentric, passionate characters who shepherded California wines to their rightful place among the world’s first-class wines.
Crush is made authoritative by primary-source accounts, chapter notes, and a thorough bibliography. Wine labels, maps, and other illustrations add historic flavor. Frequent sidebars about wine tasting, varietals, and farm-worker rights lend nice balance, as do the author’s tart opinions on everything from the destructive mission period to “neo-Prohibitionist” forces…
Crush is a hopeful saga, with the forces of oenophilia winning out in the end as California wines enter the pantheon of the world’s fine wines. It’s a tale written with panache and wry opinions, and is a smooth introduction to five centuries of California history, as seen through the curved lens of a wine glass.”
—Rachel Jagareski, Foreword Reviews (read the full review)

“John Briscoe, the author of this very interesting guide to the history of the Californian wine industry, is not only a well-known author and poet but has also practiced law in San Francisco for over 45 years. He has called upon his comprehensive knowledge of San Francisco, living there, and serving on the board of three historical societies, and other organisations, to write this entertaining and informative book…
This fascinating book really is packed with snippets of priceless information, wonderful pictures of wine labels of bygone eras, and interesting excerpts from experts in the field. Whether you are a wine connoisseur, native of California, or interested in human history, this book will enthral and educate you.
In Summary: Crush: The Triumph of California Wine by John Briscoe delivers a comprehensive history and a fascinating read; it is a true celebration of the persistence of the Californian vignerons throughout the ages, their battles with adversity to make the region’s wines some of the best in the world today. Highly Recommended!”
—Susan Keefe, (read the full review)

“From the days of the Jesuit and Franciscan missions to the modern notoriety and prolific production that California’s vintners enjoy, Crush chronicles the entire history of winemaking and wine culture in the state of California. Split into three parts, this comprehensive history begins with the origins of winemaking in the region before moving into four immense setbacks that kept California from worldwide wine renown….
Packed with a plethora of cited source material combined with the author’s passion for the region and its food culture, the history in this book pops right off the page. The inclusion of dozens of photographs of packaging and advertisements helps the history come to life and explores the changing cultural approaches to American wine over two and a half centuries…. For those who are passionate about food culture in America or the history of California, the character and detail in this book is something that can’t be missed.”
—Michael Radon, US Review of Books (read the full review)