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.