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How Did the U.S. Wine Industry Survive Prohibition?

The U.S. wine industry weathered Prohibition through ingenuity—wineries pivoted to sacramental wines or grape juice concentrates, which could legally be fermented at home. This resilience not only kept vineyards alive but also preserved winemaking expertise. How did these adaptations shape the industry post-Prohibition? Join us as we uncork the history and its lasting impact on American viticulture.

With the passage of the Volstead Act, the United States banned the production and sale of alcoholic beverages from 1920 to 1933. Most people know about speakeasies – those secret, back-room hideaways where Americans could still get a drink. Less known is the response of some in the winemaking community.

While many wineries went out of business, a few grape growers began producing blocks of concentrated grape juice, called wine bricks. Their labels told consumers to drop a brick into a jug of water to make non-alcoholic grape juice, and advised them NOT to put the solution in a cool cupboard for 21 days, because it would turn into wine. Wink, wink.

Raise a glass to wine bricks:

  • Some growers, including the well-known Beringer Vineyards, became filthy rich. By 1924, the price for grape concentrate sold for $375 a ton, up 3,847 percent from pre-Prohibition levels of $9.50 per ton.

  • As prices rose, growers around the country took notice. Minnesota grocer Cesare Mondavi, for example, packed up his entire family and moved to California to produce lucrative wine bricks.

  • Joseph Gallo, father of vintners Ernest and Julio Gallo, created Vine-Glo as a legal grape concentrate, available in eight varieties. When it was introduced in Chicago, Al Capone vowed to shut them down (but some think he was just part of the promotion).

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Discussion Comments

dimchild

This is amazing and shocking. For those who follow adverts, press, and social media sheepishly.

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    • During Prohibition, blocks of concentrated grape juice were sold with a “warning” about how they might become wine.
      By: Sarah Stierch
      During Prohibition, blocks of concentrated grape juice were sold with a “warning” about how they might become wine.