California Wine during Prohibition

Publication Year: 

California was wiped out as a wine producer by phylloxera, and had barely recovered when Prohibition struck in 1919. Prohibition did many things for America, encouraging gangsters, disrespect for the law, and an increase in the consumption of alcohol. But it also produced a boom in legal wine-making.

By a deliberate loophole in the Volstead Act, every householder was allowed to make 200 gallons of wine a year at home. Of course, some made much more and, when Prohibition came to an end in 1933, wine-making at home grew rather than diminished, probably because of straitened domestic finances during the Depression. Vast areas in California were planted with grapes to produce grape-juice for the home vintner to make into wine, and for other consumers to drink unfermented. A favourite choice was Thompson's Seedling, a grape with four markets. It could be sold fresh for the table, or dried into raisins, or pressed into grape juice, or made at a winery into a strong (over 14 per cent alcohol) clean, unsophisticated and unsubtle drink for winos. This was the position until the end of the Second World War. Only a few, a very few, Californian wines were mentioned fifty yar ago in the same breath as the best products of Europe.

pp. 107 Seeds of Wealth: Five Plants That Made Men Rich by Henry Hobhouse (2003)

Image retrieved from Wine Folly on September 1, 2014.

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