On Wine and Temperance in America: Abridged

This is an abridged version of a story because they were many more events than these.

In this earlier post about the early days of the American wine industry, I mentioned that Nicholas Longworth (the Father of the American Wine Industry) supported temperance. During his time, the temperance movement focused on the drunkenness from high alcohol spirits as whisky – and because consumption was so low in the early 1800s, wine was a means to combat the spirits.

While the late 1850s marked the peak of Longworth’s wines, the temperance movement was changing and growing, thus now included all beverages with alcohol.

The Concord grape (developed in 1866) made lousy wine, but very good jams and jellies. In 1869, a dentist favoring prohibition developed a pasteurized, nonalcoholic beverage from Concord juice that sold as Dr. Welch’s Unfermented Wine. (If the name is making you think, the answer is yes.)

Growth and popularity in Welch’s product worked against Longworth’s dreams, thus the first call for national prohibition came in 1876. By this time, wine production had reached California.

When prohibition arrived on December 17, 1917, over 1,000 wineries were in the U.S. Dry table wines of Longworth’s dreams were 75% of the market, with sweet, fortified wines being the remaining market. (This is a thought to remember for an upcoming post). Well known names and labels included Krug, Rossi, Korbel, Italian Swiss Colony, and Buena Vista.

Prohibition ushered in a new era. Interestingly, the law allowed individuals to make their own wine. California grape growers did well as they sent grapes eastward. Grape growers did well as prices increased and acreage triples. The growers leaned that the public favored big juicy grapes, whereas the wine grapes were smaller, thin-skinned.

The wine grapes were also rotting sooner in their cross-country journey – so the growers responded by changing the varieties they grew. The 1920s also brought future titans Mondavi and Gallo into the industry.

By the time prohibition ended in 1933, only 150 wineries remained – mostly in California. The growth of wine grapes was now limited, equipment was poor, much of the wine knowledge was gone, and the wine industry had to reintroduce wine to society. To make matters worse, beer and spirits recovered more quickly because of their shorter production time.

The bottom line is that wine in America was not much further along than from Longworth’s peak 70+ years earlier, thus had a long way to go.

Click here for Part 3 of this series.

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79 thoughts on “On Wine and Temperance in America: Abridged

  1. I’ve never liked grape juice, but I’ve enjoyed many glasses of Napa Valley wine. I’ll be in California later this week, but I don’t think I’m going to do any winery tours. It’s just a short visit.

      • Frank, yes I’m visiting my family. My sister reads my blog when she has the time, but she has a lot going on in her life including looking out for our elderly father who is not in the greatest health, so I cut her a break. She did find the time to read my book right away, something I was not anticipating. It earned her seal of approval and that made me feel great.

        • Lame,
          Great to hear that your sister not only read the book quickly, but also delivered a thumbs up. More importantly, cheers to her effort regarding care for your father!!!!

  2. This post makes me want to sip on glass of wine. Do you have any suggestions for me? We really should appreciate all that wine had to go through to what it’s become today, especially in California. I’m surrounded by vineyards, Frank.

    • Bumble,
      Suggestions are easy – drink what you like and is available! ;) On a serious note, I’ll try to give suggestions, so what do you like?

      I recall you mentioning that you live in a wine area … one that I haven’t visited if I recall. That would be heavenly for me!

  3. It was interesting history for me to read this post dear Frank. I didn’t know it before. You know in my country, especially with this government any drink (alcoholic beverage) to be wanted to take control… actually they are against these drinks, I can say. A few years ago, I learned that there was a wonderful village with its beautiful ground and climate, had a wonderful wine grapes, that was one of the best in the world but they almost forbidded to plant and grow this grape in this field… I couldn’t believe when I heard… But still we have some great wine industry… I love to drink wine… Thank you dear Frank, love, nia

    • Nia,
      Interestingly, your country has been growing grapes and making wine for many years before America was even discovered! Meanwhile, did you know that in terms of number of acres of land growing grapes, Turkey is fourth in the world!

      Yes, I heard that the current government is taking positions to limit alcohol. One thing for sure – the world is watching. Think positive!

  4. Strange the combination of wine and temperance, amazing how long it took for the reemergence of the wine industry.

    I really appreciate your history of the wine industry Frank, it is truly interesting.

  5. Prohibition gave birth to the illegal market for ‘moonshine’ – (the county I am from credits itself as being the moonshine capital of the world) – fast cars to outrun the police – (nascar – also born in Wilkes) – and lots of crime. The worst one now seems to be the ruin of the wine industry. What great history you’ve given us here Frank. Now pass the Merlot!

    • Renee,
      I’ve gotta ask – is your country dry today?

      Whiskey and spirits were made for many years before prohibition. Actually much production was on farms, so they simply continued.

      Meanwhile, enjoy this from Pride Mountain, which makes a very good merlot.

    • Bulldog,
      Good point, especially considering that most people alive today in the US didn’t experience that period of history. I had no idea that the movement started so many years before.

  6. Cheers, Frank, an interesting post. As far as I see the only good thing to come out of prohibition was that old black & white tv series “The Untouchables”. ;)
    And sorry about this, but what did the grape say when it got stepped on?
    Nothing, it just let out a little wine! :)
    (Roll on Thursday!)

  7. Interesting history, thank you. I must say I don’t really buy American wine. For an everyday red wine (not that I drink it every day!) I tend to go for Spanish, ideally a good Rioja, but I find with Spanish wine, even the cheap stuff is generally quite good. Other than that I’ll tend to go for South African or Australian.

    • Vanessa,
      Cheers to your wine tastes!!!! Good choices – I imagine US wines may be a tad price in your area … so the ones you mentioned are fiscally prudent selections! … and also good!

      • I think US wines are reasonably priced over here, but I guess I don’t really know enough about them to be confident in my selection. When I was growing up, the only thing we Brits really knew about US wine was Paul Masson California Carafes! And then when they were no longer fashionable, we were left in a kind of no man’s land! I really don’t know much about wine at all, so I tend to just stick to the same few; I guess I’m not alone in that.

  8. Thanks for the history lesson, Frank. Was the impetus for lifting prohibition mostly political, economic? I’ve always wondered what were the changes that led to that shift, since 1933 was in the middle of the the Great Depression.

    • Cathy,
      Good question … and I don’t know. However, I would think the following played a role: it didn’t work, the promises of prohibitionists did come, increased crime, and cost of enforcement.

    • Rants,
      The crime aspect of prohibition was unquestionably huge! Glad you enjoyed this one, and I hope you saw the post before this one (linked at the beginning). I have two more planned.

  9. I enjoyed watching the Pride Mountain Vineyards video. The winery I visited during our recent trip to New Zealand was my first experience with the expert way winery restaurants match up the wines they produce with the correct types of food.

    Also wanted you to know that I’m on my 3rd bottle of Lava Cap Petite Sirah. For me no other wine matches its all-around appeal.

    One favor, in working through your last Opinions in the Shorts, I couldn’t retrieve the Wall St. Journal article, “The Analogical Animal.” Please let me know if you saved it, as I refuse (for reasons you know) to subscribe to the WSJ.

  10. Bottle of wine, fruit of the vine, when ya gonna let me get sober? … ah wine, I did not know it was such an undertaking…just that they won’t sell it before it’s time..usually.

    • Lizzie,
      How ya been? Thanks for the pleasant surprise … and for a reminder of a fun song. Wine history in the US is interesting. See the post that I linked in at the beginning for starters … and more to come in the future. Here’s one for you.

  11. oh my goodness! I forgot all about the Orson Welles commercials! A great post, Frank. I’d never heard of the temperance movement, before now. Guess you know what I’ll be doing, while I wait for Time. :-) Wine… I don’t think a day went by when it wasn’t in our home, and had with dinner every night. As I recall, it was Gallo by the gallon. A couple of years ago, wine took on a very different meaning for me, and I now have a penchant for pinot noir, no matter what label. Cheers from the Smokies, Frank! *)–|

    • Victoria,
      Ah yes …. Serving no wine before its time! ;) Pinot Noir is a wonderful choice … subtle, elegant, and under-appreciated! Meanwhile, keep that Gallo thought in your head regarding a future post. Meanwhile, Time in Years is coming later this week!

  12. Great little history lesson! In some ways the Prohibition still lingers on here in the American South. It was only very recently that some counties decided to lift the ban on Sunday alcohol sales, and some counties in rural areas still ban it altogether. Although none of this has impacted the number of wineries that seem to pop up all over the place.

    • Twixt,
      Absolutely Prohibition lingers. The law lifting it gave much state/local control on the decision. Dry counties still exist … as do state liquor control boards …. Sunday sales or not …. regulations on shipments depending on the states, and more.

    • Mouse,
      Absolutely amazing … and most in the past 30 years … actually probably even less … but I have more to this story to come.

      Thanks for the scoop on your cousin’s winery. Unfortunately, that’s one of the California wine regions I haven’t visited … then again, the good news is that I want to go!

      For all, here’s the link.http://www.gracepatriotwines.com/index.html

  13. Very interesting post …. here in Sweden can we only buy wine for government owned liquor shops – and they are truly great on their products, wine and alcohol from every country in the world – but so pricey. We have some small wine making, but I never tried it. Love a good wine – don’t care about the year .. or price so long it taste good. Thanks for this history lesson, Frank.

  14. I’m so far behind on your posts! But I always love your wine posts in particular, Frank. I didn’t even think about how the wine industry did/didn’t rebound after Prohibition was repealed.

  15. Pingback: On Rejuvenating Wine in America: Abridged | A Frank Angle

  16. Pingback: On Fine Wines in America: Abridged | A Frank Angle

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