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How Prohibition Shaped American Wine Country

The 5th of December, or Repeal Day, gets a great deal of appreciation from the spirits and bar community. The day commemorates 1933, when the 21st Amendment of the Constitution was approved, repealing the 18th amendment, which banned the transport, sale and production of alcoholic drinks and effectively ended Prohibition.

You’ve seen the pictures. The well-dressed people enjoying their beer mugs or cocktails in front of newspaper headlines which proclaim “Prohibition is Over!” But while the industry of spirits and beer flourished through Prohibition due to a thriving network of speakeasies and bootleggers, Prohibition had a markedly detrimental and distinct impact for the industry of wines.

Nowadays, it’s difficult to find a winery within the U.S. that’s older than 1933. Many of those that existed prior to Prohibition were hit hard when the amendment of 18th century came into effect closing their doors, throwing away their barrels, and allowing the vines to die and wither. Ironically, even though the temperance movement throughout the U.S. prior to Prohibition was extremely strong There were also flourishing wineries in unexpected states across the country in the 19th and the early 20th century.

So , what could “American Wine Country” appear like if Prohibition never happened?

Prohibition and wine – America’s many 18th-century wine areas

New York

Nowadays, California has a firm grip on what is known as the American wine industry, and has been a major winemaking industry as early in the 1870s. However, back in the day the state was an extremely remote area for large segments of American population. Between 1870 and 1880, New York hovered around seventh in the production of wine, in the United States, behind California, Missouri, Ohio, Illinois, Georgia and New Mexico. In 1890 New York was in the top ten. Empire State had moved to second place, and that’s where it remained until Prohibition.

Brotherhood Winery survived Prohibition selling wines for funerals. The clergy population of the region grew significantly during the period of 14 years.

New York even claims to be the birthplace of “America’s oldest Winery” which includes Brotherhood Winery in Washingtonville, New York. Operating today, French Huguenots, Jean Jaques, dug his first underground cellars (and fermented his very first vintage) in 1839. the cellars are still being used today.

The winery was able to survive Prohibition under the management by Louis Farrell, who purchased the winery and its inventory of sacramental wines in 1921. It continued to sell wine to ceremonies of religious significance. The written history of Brotherhood Winery hilariously notes that the clergy population of the region grew significantly during the 14 years.

New Jersey

Another important wine-making hub located on the East Coast was New Jersey which saw 220,000 gallons of wine were made from 11 wineries by 1900. Then, in South Jersey, vineyards were located on the towns that included Vineland in addition to Egg Harbor City, the latter the home of Renault Winery, one of the oldest wineries that continue to operate in the nation.

The use of a specific permit allowed the introduction of Renault Wine Tonic, a pharmaceutical product that has an alcohol content of 22% that is sold in pharmacies. Be careful not to violate the legal requirements, the label on the tonic warns the consumers “not to cool the tonic because it could change to wine and is prohibited.”

In 1864, the winery was purchased in 1864 by Louis Nicholas Renault and selling New Jersey “Champagne” by 1870, Renault Winery became the largest retailer of wine sparkling throughout the United States. In 1919 the winery was acquired from the D’Agostino family, and continued to operate throughout Prohibition through a government permit that allowed for the making of sacred wines as well as medicinal wine.

The permit allowed the introduction of Renault Wine Tonic, a pharmaceutical product that has an alcoholic content of 22% available in drug stores across the United States. Be careful not to violate the legal requirements, the label of the tonic advised customers “not to freeze the tonic as it will transform into wine that is not legal.”

The Midwest

It is possible that the regions of wine of the United States that suffered the most damage from Prohibition were those in the Midwest. A typical wine-drinker today may not be aware that competition vintages still exist in the region and it’s safe to that the majority of wine lovers do not give the Midwestern wine industry the recognition it deserves.

The 1870s were the time when Stone Hill Winery in Missouri (est. the year 1847) made more than a million gallons wine annually making Stone Hill the second-largest winery in America.

The truth is that winemaking history in this region is rich and depth, with two of the most popular areas for grape cultivation being within the vast valleys that run along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, which stretch as far from north Wisconsin and westward up to Nebraska. Wines are also found in areas of prairie in Illinois and the black areas of central Iowa and the bluffs of the eastern region of Kansas and the Ozarks, which are hilly.

The 1870s were the time when Stone Hill Winery in Missouri (est. in 1847) generated more than a million gallons wine annually and was the second-largest winery in the United States. However, the growth of the wine industry in Missouri slowed at the time of Prohibition specifically in Stone Hill, where their large underground cellars, which were arched, were a source of mushrooms, not wine until the year.

Fortunately, there were handful of wineries in the region that have survived. A family owned Baxter’s Vineyards, the oldest winery in Illinois is operating in the small village located in Nauvoo from 1857. The business was booming, and was rewarded with awards of the Illinois State Board of Agriculture in 1876 as well as 1877, 1877, and 1879. The company was previously known under the name Baxter Brothers (and Emile Baxter and Sons prior to 1895) They could maintain their vineyard through Prohibition through the shipping of more than 120 rail cars filled with grapes and other produce to markets in northern Illinois such as Chicago as well as making wine. However, wine production was limited to the consumption of family members.

Meier’s Wine Cellars located in Cincinnati offered each side of the vine, to say. It was founded in 1895 as an unassuming business that made grape juice, Meier’s didn’t start making and selling wine until close to 1900 following the purchase of a piece of land located in Silverton, Ohio. After Prohibition arrived the company reverted to juiceproduction, and gained attention for its bubbly Catawba Grape Juice (that is still sold to this day) The company then introduced wine in 1933.

Texas as well The South

Further south, just few 19th century wineries are still operating in what was once bustling wine-producing regions. Fifth generation-owned Post Familie Vineyards in Altus, Arkansas has been around since 1880, and is believed to be the only one that survived Prohibition due to the Jacob Post’s daughter-in law Katherine who served wine along with dinner at the most popular restaurants during Prohibition.

in Del Rio, Texas, Val Verde Winery has grown wines and grapes since 1883. The winery was established by Italian immigrants The family of Qualia relied on their roots and connection with their Catholic church to run their business during Prohibition through the sale of grapes and getting a license to produce sacramental wines.

North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama and notably, Virginia where was the home to the Monticello Wine Company in Charlottesville (at time, the biggest winery located in the South) All had flourishing wine production industries, which were completely devastated by Prohibition. It is impossible to imagine how these wine regions could look like today if they not been suppressed.


This leads the reader to California. Perhaps not so surprising, California is where the largest number of pre-Prohibition wineries are still in operation.

It’s odd that Prohibition was a good thing for California in a positive way, at least with regard to sales of grapes. The state’s grape growers stuck to the Volstead Act that allowed the legal production of “fruit juices” (a also known as an alcohol) at home, which resulted in the demand for fresh, unpasteurized grapes all over the world. Before the onset of Prohibition in 1919, California had about 300,000 acres of vineyard, however, in 1927, the area was nearly doubled, and the shipments of grapes increased by 125 percent. The need for grapes was a factor in keeping the vineyards going, California wineries had to come up with new ways to survive during the dark years of Prohibition.

Beringer continued to earn money via the purchase of “wine bricks” made of concentrated grape juice. Consumers could dissolve in water and then ferment by following the directions printed on the packaging , which disguised as a warning about what to avoid to stop the product from changing into wine.

Wente Vineyards in Livermore, California founded in 1883 was bonded throughout Prohibition through the sale of their white wine in the style of Saunternes in a different California winery called Beaulieu Vineyard (est. 1900) located in Rutherford. Beaulieu was known for romanticizing his Catholic church, which is why, like the other California wineries that went under during Prohibition the business of Bealieu grew fourfold thanks to the sales of sacramental wines.

As well as embracing the sacramental wine trend Beringer (est. 1876) made money via the purchase of “wine bricks.” They were legal bricks made of concentrate grape juice which buyers could mix with water and then ferment by following the directions printed on the package that acted as a warning about the best ways to avoid the product becoming wine.

Concannon Vineyard (est. 1883), Bernardo Winery in San Diego (est. 1889) and San Antonio Winery in Los Angeles (est. 1917) All survived due to sacramental sales of wine in addition. But, San Antonio Winery seems to be the only one that has been granted special permission by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles to make wine for ceremonies and still produces the sacramental wine of today.

However, the most famous story goes to Pope Valley Winery. It was founded in 1897 as it was known as the Burgundy Winery & Olive Oil Factory by Swiss farmer Ed Haus Ed’s son Sam was introduced to an unnamed youth from Chicago as a soldier during the first decade of 1900. Because of the Chicago connection the Haus family began to market and transport wine by horse cart from Napa which was then transferred to a train that headed to Chicago where it was served at Al Capone’s speakeasies as well as brothels at the height of Prohibition. The illegal sales were kept secret and the winery was believed to have stopped production in Prohibition and no one ever questioned how they managed to “reopen” in such a short time after the repeal.