US History: Prohibition

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If you think of illegal products that are sold via bricks wine is probably not the first thing that comes first. The fact is, wine that’s boxed isn’t included. The time of Prohibition however, people who drank alcohol escaped prohibition laws by dissolving the bricks of wine concentrate into water, and making wine from them.

Naturally, the responsible makers of grape bricks did not want to be a part of the problem and kindly warned consumers to be aware that “After breaking the brick into a gallon water, you should not put it in a glass jug and store it in the refrigerator for more than a week, since it will transform to wine.” The producers of the Vino Sano Grape Brick clearly stated what flavor one’s reckless handling of grape bricks could cause: burgundy port, sherry, claret and riesling.

I’ve not tried wine made of grape bricks, however I’m sure Wine Spectator would rate it somewhere in between vinegar and prison wine . It is made by mixing grape juice with packets of ketchup in an Ziploc bag before let it ferment in a hot radiator.

Prison It was, of course, to be the ideal place for vintners who were reckless with their grape bricks However, grape bricks actually were an effective way to stay clear of strict laws. A loophole in prohibition laws permitted families to make 200 Gallons annually of fermented fruit juice to be used for at-home consumption. If that the wine did not leave the premises, consumers were within the lawful limits. The grape brick business Vine-Glo informed clients that wine made with bricks is “entirely legal inside your home, but is not allowed to be transported.”

Home is also where the majority of winemaking during Prohibition was carried out, mostly with families from the eastern and southern European countries that had long-standing winemaking traditions. The bootleggers who were successful tended to avoid selling wine, opting instead for spirits distilled, which were more profitable. A quarter-ounce of gin that was 50 proof had the same amount of alcohol as 6 bottles of vino, and is much simpler to transport, as per Last Call Daniel Okrent’s epic account of Prohibition. However, the limitation of 200 gallons per year still left the possibility of a few extra which could be offered to neighbors and friends and helped to nearly double the amount of wine consumed within the U.S. from 70 million annual gallons by 1917. It was 150 million in 1925.

What happened to wine during prohibition? Visit this website to find out…

The wine industry also made money for winemakers–growing grapes was completely legal and the shipments towards the east from California frequently clogged up the country’s railway lines, causing expansions in some railyards. Farmers who were unable to resist the pressure of prohibitionists to plant vines in other crops were rushing to plant grapes. The cost of land for vineyards increased from around $100 an acre in 1919 , to $500 per acre later. The price of grapes went up from $9.50 for a ton as of 1919 up to the high of $82 by 1921. In 1924, they reached up to $375. In 1924, an Italian social club located in Minnesota in search of grapes to make wine at home and sent a grocer by the name of Cesare Mondavi California to procure a sufficient supply. Fortune was calling Mondavi, who resigned his job as an Minnesota grocery store owner and relocated the family of his, which included his young son Robert and his family to his home in the Golden State.

“Many growers, like Julio Gallo, ripped out old grape vines producing reputable varieties like zinfandel or semillon and replaced them Alicante Bouschet”

It’s unfortunate that this is the place where wine’s Prohibition story goes in the same dark lane that many beverages during the time found themselves. Many of the alcohol drinks at the time were disgusting (the phrase “bathtub Gin” is pretty much the best description of everything) and wine was not an exception. Numerous growers, such as Julio Gallo, ripped out old vines that produced reputable varieties like zinfandel and semillon, and replaced them with the alicante bouschet grape, one that many winemakers rank above ragweed when it comes to horticultural pedigree. It was because Alicante was a prolific grower and had a tough outer skin which made it much easier to transport. The dark flesh of the grape could be squeezed repeatedly with some sugar and water, it produced more than twice the volume of wine that is produced by other grapes.

Vintners who’d spent their entire lives acquiring the mysterious art of winemaking were shocked at the invasive takeover of alicante. At first, alicante’s grapes were expensive However, the over-planting of grapes created a an abundance that exceeded the huge need for the grapes. The issue of what to do with all the extra grapes was considered by the trade magazine California Grape Grower, which was a great resource for promoting delicacies like grape Ketchup and grape fudge.

When Prohibition was removed in 1933, lots of harm was done as it was evident that the California wine business was equipped to make lousy wine. As other alcohol-based beverages such as spirits distilled and beer started to recover following Repeal the home wine industry slowed down and Americans consumed about half the amount of wine they consumed prior to Prohibition.

Maybe it was the bad wine that caused F. Scott Fitzgerald, one of the most famous chroniclers of Jazz Age America, to famously declare, “There are no second actions within American living.” It took nearly a century before proving him not to be correct, however American drinking of wine was back to the pre-Prohibition level in the year 1975. At that point, California was full of vintners who reemphasized quality over the sheer quantity. The now famous “Judgment of Paris” was held a year later. In it, the underrated and unappreciated American wines were compared against each other in a blind tasting with their respected French counterparts. A single American wine took the top prize, astonishing everyone around the world and establishing one of the most significant second acts in American drinking history.