The Wine Country Online

Wine library launches

By Bo Simons, Librarian
Sonoma County Wine Library

Are you a vineyard manager who wants recent references comparing Scott Henry and Smart Dyson trellising systems? Are you a wine marketer looking for articles on niche marketing? Are you a winemaker preparing a talk on the terroir of your winery's vineyards?

Perhaps you're a publicist, newly hired by a winery association, seeking recent articles in national magazines, newspapers, or trade journals portraying the region and its wines. Maybe you're a farm extension researcher who wants to learn as much as possible about the age of vines in the Anaheim Colony's vineyards when Pierce's disease wiped out the Southern California grape industry in the 1880s.

All of these real world, wine information needs can be satisfied at a new web-based database called It is a database of some 50,000 items divided into current and historical components derived from the clipping file of the Sonoma County Wine Library and the research index of wine historian and author Charles Sullivan.

Need for practical technical and business wine information

Many people think that the Internet and the World Wide Web have solved all their information problems. With high level, powerful search engines, they figure that all the wealth of information on the web is at their command. However the power and vastness of the web do not help much when you want wine information of a technical or business nature.

College professors and researchers have made indexes for the information that is contained in scholarly, peer-reviewed journals, such as American Journal of Enology & Viticulture and Microbiology Reviews. Researchers can pay a fee to commercial indexing companies to access the back files of journals indexed in publications such as Food Science and Technology Abstracts. But there is another universe of focused technical and business information, useful to those in the wine industry, that is much more difficult to find. It is contained in the back issues of magazines such as Practical Winery & Vineyard, which publish useful articles of lasting value to the industry. Trying to get at that back-file of articles from such magazines, not to mention the newspapers, newsletters, brochures, and press releases that contain useful wine information, has been a tortuous, hit-and-miss activity until now. and its structure is a one-stop source for business and technical wine information at Its file of 20,000 current items offers worldwide coverage, and the historical component, with 30,000 articles, covers California wine history from 1849 through 1999. Both consist of citations (article information: title of article; author; name of magazine, journal, or newspaper; volume; number; date; pages) to wine articles in magazines, newspapers, and academic and trade journals. The current file contains summaries to more than half the articles.

The Sonoma County Wine Library built the database, funded in part by the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act, administered in California by the State Librarian.

The project leveraged this grant money with significant backing from several wine industry groups, including the Russian River Valley Winegrowers, Sonoma County Grape Growers Association, Sonoma County Wineries Association, Sonoma County Wine Technical Group, Wine Business Program of Sonoma State University, and Wine Library Associates of Sonoma County.

The project received enormous technical help from the University of California, especially Roy Tenannt of the California Digital Library, and Janet Garey, Nancy Lin, and Giulia Hill at the Library Systems office at the University of California at Berkeley.

Visiting the site

Trying to understand a web database by reading about it can be difficult. Make it easier by taking this article over to your computer and follow along.

The welcoming screen offers keyword entry into the two databases, the Wine Files and the California Wine History Files. First, we will look at Wine Files. Most of the time, keyword searching is all you will need. By entering a word or words in the search box and pressing the "keyword search" button, you are searching most of each record in the database and getting back the results, 10 items at a time.

For example, if you are looking for articles on remote sensing, that new technology using a high-tech Geographic Information System, simply type "remote sensing" in the search box and press "keyword search." You will retrieve about 15 article citations and summaries of the articles, where they are available.

If the full text of an article exists on the web, you'll find a link to it. The title of the article appears as a different color, and clicking on the title gets you to the full text of the article. Of the 15 articles retrieved for the keywords "remote sensing," four have links to the full text. All but three have summaries. The summary may be a paragraph or two about the article written expressly for the project or an extract, that is, a block of text taken from the source document that serves as a summary of the article. More than half the articles in the Wine Files database have a summary.

Document delivery

It's all very nice to know that the article exists, but what about getting the full text of the articles that are not available elsewhere on the Internet? If you live in Sonoma County, or if you work for a winery or vineyard or wine-related business that subscribes (pays dues) to the Sonoma County Wine Library, you may contact the library directly. To order copies of articles, contact the library at 139 Piper Street, Healdsburg, CA 95448, tel: 707/433-3772, fax: 707/433-7946; email: If you live outside Sonoma County or do not subscribe to the Wine Library, you may start the inter-library loan process at your local library. Be sure to include the record number.

Full-featured search

Besides keyword searching, the website offers an option for a full-featured search. If you click on that option, you will move to a screen with a number of different index boxes. There, you can enter as many or as few search elements as you wish, searching by keywords, author, article title, subject, publication, year, abstract, area/region, wine/varietal, appellation, business name, organization, and person. For example, suppose you want to access all the articles written by Millie Howie that appeared in Practical Winery & Vineyard. Put "Howie, Millie" in the author box and "Practical Winery" in the publication field. For this search you get back 34 articles. You could also enter part of the name or title.

Perhaps you remember only an author's first name, Martin, and that the article had vine spacing in the title. Simply put "Martin" in the author field and "spacing" in the article title field, and up pops the article you only half remembered: "Vine Spacing Effects on Merlot Yield and Wine Quality," which appeared in Wines & Vines in February 2000.

California wine history files

The historical component of the database comes from Charles Sullivan, who has been researching California wine history for over 30 years. His books include Like Modern Edens, Napa Wine, and A Companion to California Wine.

Over the years he kept an index of the original sources he consulted. First these were on index cards and later on his home computer. The project acquired the rights to Sullivan's database. A major part of the grant was the work of programmers to convert Sullivan's massive index into an SQL (Standard Query Language) web-accessible database. SQL is an emerging web standard.

Sullivan's research is deep and thorough. He has extensive references to the early wine history of California's Santa Clara and Santa Cruz and Napa counties, the mysteries involving Zinfandel's origins, and many other subjects. The early evolution of wine in the state is presented in some detail.

Entries in this database reflect the work Sullivan has done at the California State Library, UC Davis; UC Berkeley's Bancroft Libraries, and many other libraries and archives around the state as well. He has references to early California trade journals like the Pacific Wine and Spirit Review and government documents, such as the publications of the California Board of State Viticultural Commissioners, an important agency formed in the 1880s to combat phylloxera.

Anyone interested in seeing how the grapegrowing community battled phylloxera or Pierce's disease in the 19th century, in looking back at previous boom and bust economic cycles, or even in researching their own winery or vineyard can have a great starting point in Charles Sullivan's database.

Searching California Wine History Files is similar to searching the Wine Files. Most of the time keyword searching is adequate. Simply put in a word or name and press the "keyword search" button. There are similar indexes in the full-featured search section that allow you to refine your search.

There are a few caveats to remember when using the California Wine History Files. The entries do not contain lengthy summaries. The notations are short, usually succinct, but sometimes cryptic. "General info" or "sells So. Cal Plant" describe articles dealing with Gallo, for example.

Parts of the citation, such as date, page number, volume, and so on, may be missing, although there is usually enough to get you to the proper source. The articles referred to are not necessarily available from the Sonoma County Wine Library, unlike the articles in the Wine Files. Some of the periodicals and documents are available only in the research libraries where Sullivan did his research. Having this magnificent index to California's rich wine heritage compensates for these few minor inconveniences.

Parting thoughts

Give a try, you will like it. Please bookmark the site and pass it along to others in the industry. Remember also that this is a work in progress, and you can help it progress. The Sonoma County Wine Library is looking to improve and maintain this site. We welcome your suggestions about content and style.