How Wine Survived Prohibition

By Thomas Ajava
imgres-3North American wine is now considered excellent and comparable, if not better, than any wine in the world. This seems oddly so given the fact of prohibition. It takes time to develop a vineyard and wine. How did North American wine survive the plague of prohibition?

The year was 1920. A conservative, religious movement had reached full steam. It’s target? The evils of alcohol. With the passage of the Volstead Act, alcohol for libation purposes became illegal in the United States of America. The concept was better known as Prohibition.

As we know now, prohibition was an utter failure. It costs states and the federal government billions in tax money. It also introduced a huge upswing in organized crime as the mob moved to provide supply for the inevitable demand that existed for adult beverages. While beer and hard alcohol are the focus of the period, what about wine? It was included in prohibition as well, but winemakers are a subtle group.

Wine has many uses. It was in this area that pockets of the wine industry were able to survive the decade plus of prohibition. They focused on niches for legal uses of wine and supposed legal niches that could be subverted for more rollicking affairs. Let’s take a closer look.

Medicinal wine is an amazing thing. Have a headache? Drink it and you’ll feel better. Had a hard day? It can make things better! As you can probably guess, medicinal wine was wine with a few additives that all had one interesting trait – they all hardened and settled to the bottom of the bottle when the wine was chilled! Oddly, statistics showed many people seemed to get sick on Friday and Saturday nights. Imagine that!

The backers of prohibition had another problem. Their movement was a religious one. As you can imagine, this led to problems because many religious ceremonies include the drinking of wine as a symbolic act. This problem was dealt with when wine use for religious purposes was exempted from prohibition.

You can guess what happened next. Yes, “churches” and “synagogues” started popping up everywhere. Why, you could find many an adult suddenly finding religion again. Oddly, masses and gatherings were held during the evening, not the more traditional morning. I won’t even begin to describe the nature of the new priests and rabbis!

For these reasons, the North American wine industry did not have to start from scratch once prohibition was repealed in 1933. Still, prohibition did a world of hurt to the wine industry and it would take decades before it returned to prominence. Fortunately for us wine drinkers – it did.

Thomas Ajava is with – makers of leather journals to preserve your wine tasting experiences in.

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