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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).