Thursday, November 3, 2011


Old time radio dramas are a favorite way for Denise and I to while away the time behind the wheel, and in Los Angeles, we get plenty of that.  We love listening to "Johnny Dollar," which has to be the only dramatic presentation - besides "Double Indemnity" - to present insurance work as an action plot.  I love injecting my own commentary into the slow spots.  "Listen Dollar, give me half a chance and I'll give you no quarter.  Not on my dime.  Penny for your thoughts."

"Suspense" is a particular favorite of ours, and I often hear the announcer say the show is sponsored by "Roma Wines - America's largest selling wine!"  I had never heard of Roma Wine, and was curious about the company's history.  Here's what I was able to dig up.  Most of the information here comes from an article on a website called Old And Sold.  The article - first published in 1955, but I don't know where - covers a number of now defunct California wineries in detail, and Roma is one of them.

The tiny Roma winery was already in existence in 1915 when brothers John Battista and Lorenzo Cella bought the winery, then located in Lodi.  In 1933 the company bought the Santa Lucia Winery, and the entire operation was moved to Fresno.  By the late 1930s Roma had become the world's largest wine producer.

In 1942, the Cella family bowed out and sold to Schenley Industries (the first corporate wine takeover?) and that company broadened Roma's scope even further.

In 1955, the Roma winery in Fresno had a storage capacity of 16,700,000 gallons of wine, with another 7,800,000 gallons of storage at their Kingsburg facility.  Together, the two wineries could store about as much wine as the state of Washington produced in 2009.

Quoting from the article: "With minor exceptions all Roma dessert wines are produced from grapes grown in the San Joaquin Valley within a radius of sixty miles of the Fresno winery. White grapes represent about 70 per cent of the total volume crushed and include chiefly Muscat of Alexandria, Feher Szagos, Palomino, Malaga, and Thompson Seedless, the last two varieties being used principally for the production of brandy and grape concentrates. The most important dark grapes used are Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Mission, Grenache, Carignane, and Salvador."

By the mid-1950s, Roma had begun bottling their wines in their "new, dripless bottles."  

For what looks to be a fairly complete listing of Roma's wines, I'll quote again from the article:

Table wines:

Red: Burgundy, Claret, and Zinfandel; Red Chianti and Vino di Roma (vino rosso type); White: Sauterne, Chablis, and Rhine Wine; White Chianti; 
Rosé: Vin Rose.
Sparkling wines(bulk process) : Champagne, Pink Champagne, Sparkling Burgundy, and Moscato Spumante;
Aperitif and Dessert wines: Pale Dry Sherry, Cocktail Sherry, Sherry, and Cream Sherry; Port, Ruby Port, and Tawny Port; Muscatel, Tokay, and White Port; Dry and Sweet Vermouth.
Light Sweet wines: Red and White.
Berry and Fruit wines: Blackberry (of the Boysenberry variety), Currant, Loganberry, and Cherry. A Concord grape wine (from out-of-state grapes) is also produced.

A specialty is the Creme de Roma, a liqueurlike wine consisting of sherry with flavoring added and containing 18 per cent alcohol by volume.

Inexpensive Italian-type table wines are marketed under Roma's Pride of the Vineyard label and include Vino d'Uva (red grape wine), Vino Bianco (white grape wine), Barberone, and Chianti.

It's interesting to note not only what grapes were being grown in California in the mid-'50s, but the references to Chianti (red and white), Burgundy, Sauterne and Chablis.

Details after 1955 are a bit sketchy, but it appears the Roma brand was still active as late as 1971, when Schenley Industries sold the winery and vineyards to Guild Wineries and Distilleries.  The sale seemed to have generated some legal issues, but I could not follow the thread any further than that.  If you know more about Roma Wine, I'd love to hear about it.

If you'd like to dig a little deeper, here's an oral history of the John B. Cella Family in the California wine industry.


  1. I was listening to a Suspense episode sponsored by Roma...R O M A... Wines when I came across this article. Thanks!


  2. When they do a public service announcement for war bonds, try substituting "Roma Wines" for "war bonds". For example, "Folks it looks like we're going to have another tough year ahead, so why don't we all do our patriotic duty and buy more...Roma wine!" I may be easily amused, but it gets me every time.
    And if there's any other way to spell Roma I haven't heard of it (Rowmah?) (I, too, love Suspense)--Anonymous #2

  3. I was successfully able to trace the label after the Guild Winery bought the Roma label. They changed the name to Cribari and Sons. The Guild later sold the winery and label to Gallo. The vineyards are still in production in Fresno, Roma's home...and Gallo is California's largest wine producer.

    They produce under 30+ labels in addition to Gallo. Some of the more familiar labels folks would recognize are: Andre Champagne, Black Swan, Barefoot, Bella Sera to name a few.

    The follow wikipedia link provides the other names:

    Mystery solved!

  4. Thanks, Dan! It's interesting they would have ended up owned by Gallo, but not unexpected, I suppose. Thanks for the detective work!

  5. Cool thanks for the update & detective work. i have been using the Old Time Radio app and heard R.O.M.A. as a sponsor of the Suspense show in the the 40's so a any good Google Head, i wondered if ROMA wines were still around. i'm an expat living overseas in Korea and from time to time i see Barefoot in the local markets. i'll pick one bottle the next time and enjoy my Suspense radio show knowing it is the great-great-grand bottle of the sponsor of the show i'm listening to.

  6. Sounds great, David. I can't think of a better reason to buy some Gallo!

  7. Its funny I found this as my Husband and I listen to Suspense every night before bed. We often wondered about ROMA wines! Thanks!

  8. It is nice to know a wine was once a national sponsor of a big-time show!

  9. My mother (80) and I (54) are both insomiacs. I have listened to old time radio since I was in jr high. I thank you all for the info on Roma wines. I loved listening to the drama that was made for the bi-centenial in 1975-76. Fred Gwynn (Herman Munster) was on most of the shows. Thanks again.

    1. Thanks for your comment. It's nice to know so many people enjoy the show along with my wife and I!

  10. Yes a glass right now would be quite pleasant

  11. Thanks for all this awesome info! I've been listening to Suspense (as well as Lights Out, Dimension X, Jack Benny, Amos n Andy, Fibber McGee and Molly, Escape, and many more!) since I was a toddler. It started in the car listening to the cassette tapes on family road trips, and at home I went to sleep every night to them, a tradition that I carry on every night still. Suspense is by far my favorite of the scary dramas. I'm on the 1947-48 shows right now, which I listen to on my IPad. And of course I have satellite radio in the vehicles just for the Radio Classics station. Even two of my kids are carrying the torch now! I too always wondered what became of Roma Wines, so I greatly appreciate everyone's posts here. Mystery solved! It's neat to hear all of the sponsors from all of the shows and know that most are still going strong today. Jello, Lucky Strikes, Anchor Hocking, Johnson's Wax. I'm a radio show geek! Love it!

    1. Good to hear from another Suspense fan, Scot. If somebody could scare up an old bottle of Roma Wine, we should all get together and open it!

  12. I listen to old time radio through certain web services, Suspense is one of my favourite shows (I also enjoy Johnny Dollar, Superman, Green Hornet, X Minus One and others). I often think the old style adverts far outdo our modern ones, even the war bond ones. One advert was warning Americans against the dangers of ethnic prejudice while another promotes the empowerment of women.

    Even the commercial adverts are very convincing, I don't even like wine yet I want to try some of that fine Roma wine, for only cents a glass it's an inexpensive form of evening entertainment. R O M A. Roma wine!

    Anyway, nice to see there are other old time radio fans.

    1. M,

      You don't like wine!?!? Get outta here! Just kidding. :) Glad to know that you at least get the urge from the commercials for Roma. BTW, there is much better wine available today.

      Thanks for the comment!

  13. Interesting stuff. I was curious about Roma wines also, and also due to listening to XM radio.

  14. I enjoyed reading this article. I actually own the Lodi Roma Winery building that was referenced in this article.

  15. Well ten years on and your site is still providing cool info to inquiring minds! I discovered OTR as a great way to drift off to sleep during a difficult time several years ago and wondered about Roma. Thank you!