Betty's Wine Musings

Wine During the Prohibition

Speakeasy during the Prohibition - some rights reserved by Ian Gampon
Speakeasy during the Prohibition – some rights reserved by Ian Gampon

As I highlighted last week in “The Dark Years of Prohibition,” a dark cloud hung over the wine, beer and alcohol industry from 1920 to 1933, when “The Noble Experiment” of the Prohibition was in effect.

The Volstead Act outlined the finer points of the Prohibition, defining alcohol as “beer, wine, or other intoxicating malt or vinous liquors” of 0.5% or more alcohol by volume. Not only were the evil “vinous” liquors under attack, also the mechanisms by which such spirits were manufactured were considered illegal, as were any means of transporting said alcohol. Didn’t seem to leave much wiggle room, you’d say?

Curiously, no mention was made of actually consuming alcohol… That was not explicitly banned! Also, the Volstead Act stated that the restrictions would take effect a year from the date of the act’s ratification. Finally, it looked like alcohol was still permitted for religious use and with a doctor’s prescription.

Woo hoo! I think I see some room for creativity! And the good news is that many people living then did as well:

  • Let’s go shopping! With a year to go before the law took effect, folks stocked up. They bought whatever they could.
  • Let’s get healthy! People lucky enough to be connected to “good” doctors supplemented their purchases with “good” prescriptions.
  • Let’s live dangerously! Folks who couldn’t afford to stock up or didn’t have an in with a “good” doctor drank at speakeasies, which were very dangerous.
  • Let’s get religious! A 1925 study showed sacramental wine usage increase by 800,000 gallons over two years!
  • Let’s come up with new products! Clever vintners sold raisin cakes with explicit instructions on what not to do to cause fermentation!
  • Let’s become producers! Somewhere in the fine print of the Volstead Act, a home-producer could make up to 200 gallons of wine, and this type of wine production soared.

The good news is that people’s creativity, coupled with some obvious holes in the Volstead Act, made sure that the wine industry didn’t die. But it did struggle along. People had grown accustomed to cheaper, sweeter home-produced wines. So it took a long time for more elegant, less sweet wines to regain their ground.

Thankfully, 80 years later, we don’t seem to be suffering any of the challenges that arose from Prohibition. Three cheers for that!

As an independent wine consultant with WineShop At Home, I absolutely enjoy bringing a taste of the Napa wine country home to you one sip at a time. Whether you simply love to drink wine, seek a special personalized wine gift, or are in search of a new wine jobs opportunity as a wine consultant, feel free to contact me for a truly unique wine tasting experience!

Cheers, Betty Kaufman
WineShop At Home

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