On Rejuvenating Wine in America: Abridged

This is an abridged version of a story because they were many more events than these. It’s also part 3 of the series: Part 1 (the industry’s start), and Part 2 (the link between wine and temperance). For Part 4, the post following this one, click here.

The end of prohibition was not a good time for the wine industry because most wineries closed, growers replaced wine grapes with domestic grapes, old equipment, and a lack of knowledgeable winemakers. So, reclamation for the industry would be years away – but two names would lead the way to fine wines in America – Gallo and Mondavi – but they will do it in different ways.

Nearly broke, family members loaned two brothers $5000 to start a winery. With Ernest as the idea generator and marketer, and Julio as the winemaker, the Gallo brothers set their sights on returning wine to the America by producing wines for daily consumption through modern production methods.

Going into Prohibition, 25% of wine sales involved sweet, fortified wines. Interestingly, following Prohibition, a sweet, fortified (high alcohol) wine actually led wine’s comeback. That’s right – a wine called Thunderbird, the one associated with town drunks (winos), was an early Gallo success! After all, they could produce it quickly and with low-quality grapes.

Unlike Nicholas Longworth’s ambition of bringing culture to America through wine, Ernest had the knack of visioning new products for an untapped market, thus Julio developed the wine to meet those needs. Gallo ultimately achieved successful through names as Livingstone California Burgundy and Paisano. Popular labels as Boone’s Farm, André Cold Duck, and Bartles & Jaymes wine coolers helped grow Gallo’s profits.

By the early 1990s, Gallo (now the largest winery in the US), one of every four wine purchase was a Gallo brand. At this time, to grow into finer wines, the corporation started purchasing land in Sonoma County.

Today, after 75 years of wine making, Gallo wines remain a powerful force. With the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of Ernest and Julio involved in the company, Gallo claims to be the largest family-owned winery in the world, plus the largest exporter of California wine. Grocery stores with large wine selections carry many Gallo labels, most of which consumers don’t know. After all, Gallo now offers over 6o brands/labels.

Enjoy this report from NBC about Gallo.

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Previous posts in this series

Part 1: Wine in America (the start)

Part 2: Wine and Temperance (leading up to Prohibition)

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.