December 5, 1933: great day for American wine drinkers. Prohibition has ended. For many Americans, Prohibition is just a word, something they heard about and that happened in the distant past. In fact, Prohibition is still impacting the wine business of the 21st Century.
When Repeal passed, it let individual states set their own rules, creating the jungle of laws that continues to complicate wine shipping. It also had a strong influence on the American mind as it created the confusion between use and abuse of alcohol. It destroyed the burgeoning Californian wine industry and set the standards for very poor wines for several decades. Indeed, during the Prohibition, most wineries turned to grape growing and set for strong thick skinned grapes that could travel across the country – not the best for fine wines. The American wine industry was down: in 1920, there were about 700 wineries operating in California; in 1933, there were about 40 left! In the two decades following Repeal, wine was strong, sweet and… very bad. Wine lovers had to wait for the 60s and for inspired wine makers like Mondavi to taste good quality wines.
Prohibition is a sad time in the American history but it showed that it is difficult to totally destroy a product that graced fine tables for centuries and is part of our culture. I raise my glass to wine and its legacy! Cheers!