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Wine During Prohibition

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The 5th of December, or Repeal Day, gets a large amount of attention in the spirits and bar community. It is the day in 1933, when the 21st Amendment of the Constitution was adopted, which repealed the 18th amendment which prohibited the transport, sale and production of alcohol-based beverages which effectively ended Prohibition.

You’ve seen them. The well-dressed people drinking their beer mugs and drinks under headlines in newspapers that shout “Prohibition is Over!” But while the alcohol and spirit industries flourished through Prohibition because of a vast network of speakeasies and bootleggers, Prohibition had a markedly detrimental and distinct impact in the world of wine.

Nowadays, it’s difficult to locate a winery in the U.S. that’s older than 1933. The majority of the wineries that existed prior to Prohibition were severely hit after the 18th amendment came into force closing their doors, throwing away their barrels, and allowing the vines to wilt and die. Ironically, even though the temperance movement throughout the U.S. prior to Prohibition was very robust but there were also flourishing wineries in unexpected states across the country in the 19th and the early 20th century.

So , what do you think “American Wine Country” appear like if Prohibition never happened?

America’s varied wines of the 19th century

New York

Nowadays, California has a firm grip on its share of 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 inaccessible location for most of the American population. Between 1870 and 1880 New York hovered around seventh in terms of production of wine in the United States, behind California, Missouri, Ohio, Illinois, Georgia and New Mexico. In 1890 it was the Empire State had moved to second place, and that’s where it remained until Prohibition.

Brotherhood Winery survived Prohibition selling wines for occasions of worship. The number of clergy in the region grew significantly during the 14 years.

New York even claims to be the birthplace of “America’s oldest Winery” which includes Brotherhood Winery in Washingtonville, New York. It is still operating to this day. French Huguenots, Jean Jaques, dug his first underground cellars (and fermented his first wine) in 1839. these cellars remain being used today.

The winery was able to survive Prohibition under the control under the ownership of Louis Farrell, who purchased the property and its stock of sacramental wines in 1921. The winery continued to offer wine for ceremonies of religious significance. The written history of Brotherhood Winery hilariously notes that the clergy population of the area increased significantly over the 14 years.

New Jersey

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

Click here for the history of prohibition.

The use of a specific permit was introduced Renault Wine Tonic, a drug with an alcohol percentage of 22% available in pharmacies. Be careful not to violate the laws, the tonic’s label warns the consumers “not to freeze the tonic because it will transform 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 producer of wine sparkling across the United States. In 1919 the winery was bought from the D’Agostino family, and continued to operate through Prohibition through a government permit that allowed for the making of sacred wines and medicinal wines.

The permit has led to the creation of Renault Wine Tonic, a pharmaceutical product that has an alcoholic percentage of 22% that is sold in drug stores across the country. Be careful not to violate the legal requirements, the label of the tonic advised customers “not to cool the tonic because it could change into wine that is not legal.”

The Midwest

It is possible that the regions of wine of the nation that suffered the most damage from Prohibition were those in the Midwest. Today, the average wine drinker might not know that competitive vintages are still being produced in the region and it’s safe that the majority of wine lovers don’t accord the Midwestern wine industry the respect it deserves.

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

The reality is that the winemaking is a long-running tradition that spans depth, with two of the most popular areas for grape cultivation being within the vast valleys that run along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, stretching as to the north of Wisconsin and westward up to Nebraska. The vines also spread across those prairies in Illinois as well as the black areas of central Iowa and the bluffs of the eastern region of Kansas and the Ozarks, which are hilly.

in the early 1870s Stone Hill Winery in Missouri (est. the year 1847) generated more than a million gallons wine annually which made it the second-largest winery in America. The momentum of Missouri’s wine business slowed when the beginning of Prohibition specifically around Stone Hill, where their vast underground cellars with arched arches produced mushrooms instead of wine up to the year.

Fortunately, there were handful of wineries in the area that have survived. A family owned Baxter’s Vineyards, the oldest winery in Illinois was operating from the tiny city in Nauvoo in the year 1857. The business was booming, and earned them awards awarded by 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 maintained their vineyard throughout 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 restricted to consumption by family members.

Meier’s Wine Cellars located in Cincinnati offered each side of the vine, to say. It was founded in 1895 as a small business producing 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. When Prohibition arrived and they went back to juiceproduction, and gained appreciation for the bubbly Catawba Grape Juice (that continues to be sold today) 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. It is believed that it survived Prohibition due to the Jacob Post’s daughter-in law Katherine who served wine at food at restaurants that were popular during Prohibition.

The location is Del Rio, Texas, Val Verde Winery has grown wines and grapes since 1883. The winery was established by Italian immigrants who settled in Del Rio, the family of Qualia depended on their history and ties to their Catholic church to run their business through Prohibition through the sale of grapes and obtaining a permit to produce sacramental wines.

North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama and notably, Virginia in Virginia, home to the Monticello Wine Company in Charlottesville (at time, the biggest winery of the South) All had flourishing wineries that were completely devastated by Prohibition. It is impossible to imagine how these wine regions could look like today if they not been shut down.


This leads our attention 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 appeared to benefit California well, at the very least with regard to sales of grapes. The state’s grape growers adhered to the Volstead Act that allowed the legal production of “fruit juices” (a is also known as wine) within the home, which resulted in an increase in demand for fresh grapes throughout the nation. Prior to the beginning of Prohibition in 1919, California had about 300,000 acres of vineyard, however, in 1927, the area had nearly doubled, and the volume of grapes increased by 125 percent. Although the increased 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 made money by selling “wine bricks” that contained concentrated grape juice. Consumers could dissolve in water and then ferment by following the directions on the package that disguised as a cautionary note on the best ways to avoid the product becoming wine.

Wente Vineyards in Livermore, California founded in 1883 was bonded throughout Prohibition through the sale of their white wine of the Saunternes style for another California winery called Beaulieu Vineyard (est. 1900) located in Rutherford. Beaulieu was known for romanticizing Rutherford, a Catholic church, and so, in contrast to the other California wineries that failed during Prohibition The business of Beaulieu increased fourfold thanks to the sales of sacramental wines.

In addition to embracing the sacramental wine craze, Beringer (est. 1876) made money via the purchase of “wine bricks.” They were legal bricks made of concentrate grape juice which customers could mix with water and then ferment by following the directions printed on the label that disguised as a cautionary note on the best ways to avoid the product changing into wine.

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

But the most famous story goes to Pope Valley Winery. The winery was established in 1897 under the name of an Burgundy Winery & Olive Oil Factory by Swiss farmer Ed Haus Ed’s son Sam was introduced to an unnamed younger man who was from Chicago during his military service during the first decade of 1900. Thanks to 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 for consumption in Al Capone’s speakeasies as well as brothels during the peak of Prohibition. The illegal sales were kept secret and the winery seemed to have stopped production throughout Prohibition and nobody was able to determine how they managed to “reopen” in such a short time after the repeal.