“Fruit Juice” and Prohibition

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Sunday is always a good day for blogging about wine. During the course of reading the book, Wine Politics: How Governments, Environmentalists, Mobsters, and Critics Influence the Wines We Drink, I have come across so many interesting facts, theories, and anecdotes. The author, Tyler Colman, writes about the paradox of Prohibition, and how Hoover’s “Noble Experiment” actually boosted wine production.

Although the number of wineries in California fell from more than 1,000 to about 150, three legal loopholes enables wine production to continue. First, wineries were allowed to produce wine for sacramental use in churches. Second, wine was allowed for medicinal purposes. The limited number of wineries that did produce continuously under Prohibition owed their survival to these two exemptions. The third and most important loophole concerned home production. According to Section 29 of the Volstead Act, each household was permitted to produce up to two hundred gallons of “non-intoxicating” fruit juice for consumption by members of the family over eighteen.

Colman notes that this loophole allowing for the legal production of homemade wine was “a boon for the grape growers.” While wineries had declined in number, “acres under vine doubled between 1919 and 1927″ due to the home vintner surge. This led to an increase in wine consumption. He correctly indicates that federal enforcement was weak, and sometimes non-existent, because there were few means for enforcing these laws in the case of homemade juice. An entire industry developed in order to meet the needs of producers for their winemaking supplies.

1934 article from the archives of Fortune magazine says that while Prohibition killed the wine industry, the grape industry did indeed thrive. However, while grape production increased, inferior grapes were being produced to meet the upsurge in demand. Prohibition caused quality California wineries to sacrifice their vines to the production of these inferior grapes that were in demand in the marketplace as home growers and entrepreneurial types devised various ways to sell grapes that could skirt the laws. Thus the Prohibition decrees of government and enabled special interests had a long-term effect on consumer demand and American wine quality for which it took decades to fully recover.

While a national temperance movement continues onward in various modern forms, including the arbitrary purchasing/distribution/shipping/retail laws, we still have some freedom left to enjoy our fruit juices. On that note, I want to plug two very good and affordable wines that are raging bargains for those who are enthusiastic about vine products, yet lack the wine snobbery that turns its nose up at sub-$15 wines. My new favorite has been Predator Zinfandel from the Lodi region of California. And yes, the taste description is completely accurate – drinking Predator is like drinking liquid bacon that is tamed by chocolate, fruit, and spices. I pay less than $14 for Predator. The other nod goes to a very affordable (under $10) Pinot Noir from France called Hob Nob. Because it is from the South of France, it is not like the typical west coast Pinot that is light, springy, and fruity. Hob Nob is a heavier Pinot with a “pop,” and this particular review notes that it is almost like a Syrah. I think it also has a big, smoky nuances that make it just a tad similar to the Predator Zin.

11:58 am on February 10, 2013