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A History of Wine in America is the definitive account of winemaking in the United States, first as it was carried out under Prohibition, and then as it developed and spread to all fifty states after the repeal of Prohibition. Engagingly written, exhaustively researched, and rich in detail, this book describes how Prohibition devastated the wine industry, the conditions of renewal after Repeal, the various New Deal measures that affected wine, and the early markets and methods. Thomas Pinney goes on to examine the effects of World War II and how the troubled postwar years led to the great wine boom of the late 1960s, the spread of winegrowing to almost every state, and its continued expansion to the present day.
The history of wine in America is, in many ways, the history of America and of American enterprise in microcosm. Pinney's sweeping narrative comprises a lively cast of characters that includes politicians, bootleggers, entrepreneurs, growers, scientists, and visionaries. Pinney relates the development of winemaking in states such as New York and Ohio; its extension to Pennsylvania, Virginia, Texas, and other states; and its notable successes in California, Washington, and Oregon. He is the first to tell the complete and connected story of the rebirth of the wine industry in California, now one of the most successful winemaking regions in the world.
THE VOLSTEAD ACT
On 16 January 1919 the senators of the Nebraska state legislature, by a vote of thirty-one to one, ratified the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, prohibiting the sale of alcoholic drink throughout the nation. With the Nebraska vote, the amendment received the required support of two-thirds majority of the states for it to pass into law. Now it would become effective a year from the day of the clinching vote-that is, at midnight on 16 January 1920-and it seemed clear that at that time, the drinking of wine (to say nothing of beer and whiskey) must come to an end for the people of the United States. The language of the amendment was curt and uncompromising:
The manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.
To convert this sweeping command into practical administration, the U.S. Congress passed the National Prohibition Act on 28 October 1919, over the veto of President Wilson. This piece of legislation was thereafter always called the Volstead Act, in reference to its ostensible author, Andrew Volstead, a veteran Republicancongressman from Minnesota. Volstead's congressional career was devoted mostly to defending the interests of the farmers of the upper Midwest, but as a teetotaler and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, he took on the task of drafting the bill that was to enforce Prohibition. Although Volstead always said otherwise, it was generally understood that the real author of the bill was Wayne B. Wheeler, the animating spirit of the Anti-Saloon League, the main organizing power behind the successful drive for constitutional prohibition. The act thus was an opportunity for the forces that had brought about Prohibition to dictate their terms to the nation.
The key provision of the Volstead Act was its definition of intoxicating liquor as anything containing more than 0.5 percent alcohol. The basis of the definition was simply the measure traditionally used for purposes of taxation, but its intent was obviously to cast the net of prohibition as widely as the most ambitious reformer could hope. The definition was devastating to the brewers of beer and the makers of wine. Unlike the distillers of spirits, who had always been the main target of the prohibition campaign, they had at least been able to hope, down to the last moment, that their produce would be spared and their livelihoods continue. The terms of the act extinguished that hope.
Yet the Volstead Act's severe notion of what constituted an intoxicating drink was modified by some important omissions and exceptions. The significance of these irregularities was probably not clearly grasped by the act's framers, but it became increasingly evident during the course of the Prohibition years. The act, like the amendment itself, did not specify "alcoholic" but only "intoxicating" drink; nor, like the amendment, did it prohibit any "use" or "purchase" of such drink-these important details, it has been said, are evidence of a practical recognition on the part of the Drys that they could not successfully achieve a "radical, bone-dry amendment."
Both the act and the amendment were directed not against the consumer, but instead against the producer and dealer (the "traffic," in the language of the Anti-Saloon League). Thus the purchase, possession, and consumption of alcoholic beverages had no penalty attached to them. The bootlegger might be subject to the rigors of the law, but his customer was secure. People prudent enough to supply themselves before the trade shut down could enjoy their cellars with impunity. And if they could manage, illegally, to replenish them, the supplies once in hand were theirs, legally, to drink and to share with friends. Apart from these omissions, the act was further weakened by an exception allowing heads of families to make up to 200 gallons annually of "fruit juices" exclusively for consumption in the home. The language of the provision was obscure and contradictory, but as we shall see, its effect was to license home winemaking.
Another exception allowed the production of alcohol for "non-beverage" purposes. Mostly, this meant the large-scale production of alcohol for industrial uses-in paints, solvents, and chemicals, and in the manufacturing processes for textiles, rubber goods, film, smokeless powder, and many other blameless products. There was also provision for winemaking itself to continue: Wine for sacramental use in Christian and Jewish congregations continued to be produced commercially. And since wine could be prescribed as medicine, or used in foods as a flavoring agent, winemakers who obtained permits could compete for those restricted markets too.
Such anomalies and exceptions point to the important fact that Prohibition, over the fourteen years of its existence, was not one undeviating, uniform condition but a complicated, sometimes contradictory arrangement that passed through several distinct phases and that affected the country in different ways at different times. Since the history of wine in America is bound up with the fortunes of Prohibition, the changing developments in the drama that took place between the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment, which established it, and the Twenty-first, which repealed it, should be briefly sketched.
THE PHASES OF PROHIBITION
At first, Prohibition seemed to work, especially if one took a restricted view of its aims. If, as has been plausibly argued, it was mainly concerned to curb the drinking of the American working class, then its first few years of operation were a decided success. The legal sale of alcoholic drink of course disappeared, and by other measures, too, American drinking appeared to be on the way down: arrests for drunken driving and the number of cases of alcoholism were reported to be greatly reduced. It could also be-and was-asserted that the general condition of the American workingman and his family was better under Prohibition than ever before.
Another sign of the early effectiveness of Prohibition is that to all appearances, drinking did not increase in those communities where it had not been established before-for instance, among women, and at most of America's colleges and universities. Yet another, more dubious result of the early operation of Prohibition was to increase the proportion of spirits in the total of what was actually drunk: if one was seeking merely an alcoholic jolt, and if it took no more trouble to get spirits than to get beer or wine, then beer and wine would lose out. And so they did. But that development could be of no concern to the Drys, who lumped all alcoholic drinks together under the heading of Demon Rum. And in the early going, as reports came in of the newly sobered style of the nation, their cry was a triumphant "long live Prohibition."
The legality of Prohibition was challenged almost at once and from many directions. Since the ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment came on a vote of state legislatures, it was argued that the people had not been properly heard from: there ought to have been popular referendums instead. In Ohio, in 1919, such a referendum was in fact held, and it overturned the earlier vote of the legislature in favor of ratification. But the Supreme Court upheld the legislature against the referendum, and so that hope went glimmering. The constitutionality of the amendment was challenged repeatedly in the courts on various grounds: it was an encroachment on states' rights and on local self-government; it invaded privacy; it was an illicit act of legislation in the guise of a constitutional change. No doubt there were other arguments too.
Nothing worked. The Supreme Court, under Chief Justice William Howard Taft, uniformly repelled all attacks on the amendment, not only in the early years of Prohibition but to the very end. No amendment to the constitution had ever been repealed; and in the early years of Prohibition there seemed little reason to suppose that the Eighteenth would prove to be the exception. The exuberant certainty of the Drys broke out in extravagant imagery. Evangelist Billy Sunday proclaimed that you could no more repeal the amendment "than you could dam Niagara Falls with toothpicks." As late as 1930, when cracks had already appeared throughout the structure of Prohibition, Senator Morris Sheppard, a Dry from Texas, declared that "there is as much chance of repealing the Eighteenth Amendment as there is for a hummingbird to fly to the planet Mars with the Washington Monument tied to its tail."
Despite such boastings, a process of erosion was going on. It showed itself in one way as a problem of enforcement. To patch up leaks in the law, new legislation had to be passed, such as the Wills-Campbell Act (1921), which restricted the quantity of beer and wine that doctors could prescribe for medicinal use. A more serious sign of trouble was the harsh provision of punishment in the Jones Act of 1929. This was a late stage in the evolution of Prohibition, and the extent to which the law was being violated may be guessed at from the desperation of the measure: where the Volstead Act prescribed penalties of up to six months' imprisonment or a thousand dollars for a first offense, the Jones Act imposed five years and ten thousand dollars.
The difficulties of enforcement were partly caused by a growing sentiment that the law did not deserve to be obeyed. The enemies of Prohibition-despairing at the impossibility, as it seemed, of repealing the Eighteenth Amendment and baffed by the repeated failure of efforts to modify the law in any way-often turned to a simple policy of nullification: if the law could not be changed, then it would be ignored. Quite respectable people argued for this view: a former president of Yale University, for example, and the distinguished journalist Walter Lippmann. And what such respected public figures were prepared to set forth in public must surely have been acted on by great numbers of ordinary and anonymous citizens in private.
Another sign of change was the reluctance of many states to take an active hand in enforcing Prohibition. The second section of the Eighteenth Amendment provided that "the Congress and the several States shall have concurrent power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation." Concurrent power was interpreted to mean that the federal law could be paralleled or even strengthened by state law. The intention of this provision was to respect the laws of those states that already had Prohibition, especially if those laws were as tough as or tougher than the Volstead Act. The Drys also hoped that the states would help keep down the cost to the federal government of policing Prohibition by enforcing their own laws. The "concurrent" clause created a legal confusion, since offenders might be prosecuted twice for the same crime, once by the state and again by the federal authorities-a kind of double jeopardy. But in fact, the concurrent system offered a target that the Wets could hit with some effect, even while the Eighteenth Amendment itself seemed secure against all assaults. In New York in 1923, the Democratic governor, Al Smith, in response to popular pressure signed a bill repealing the state's prohibition legislation. This did nothing to alter the conditions of national Prohibition, but it registered, in terms that politicians could understand, popular resentment of the state of things. By 1927, only a few states were spending any money to enforce their own Prohibition laws, and thereafter many states, well in advance of Repeal, did away with their concurrent laws.
The main energy of the developing Wet counterattack went into efforts to secure not repeal but modification. Repeal, in the middle of the Prohibition era, still looked like an impossible task. But perhaps the bone-dry definition enshrined in the Volstead Act-nothing over 0.5 percent alcohol allowed-could be changed. The aim was to modify the act so as to allow, as a first step, the legalization of 2.75 percent beer. Later, the legalization of so-called light wines was added to the objectives of the campaign. Congressional hearings on the proposed modifications were held in 1924 and again in 1926, but the hopeful were disappointed on each occasion. The time was not yet ripe for lawmakers to venture the risk.
Meanwhile, the country seemed to be growing restless under the law. The docile acceptance of Prohibition that marked the first years, at least according to some observers, had now disappeared. Arrests for violations of the Volstead Act went up, not down. More important, the popular impression was growing that Prohibition had proved to be a failure: it didn't prevent drinking, but on the contrary only produced a nation of lawbreakers. Such, at any rate, was the theme of the Wet propagandists, whose main strategy now lay in discrediting the effectiveness of the law. What the truth of the matter was-if there was any clear truth-is probably impossible to know now. While the Wets proclaimed the failure of the experiment, the Drys just as noisily asserted its success. The choice of evidence, and the method of interpreting it, were determined by the purposes of the disputants: neither side had any trouble in making a case for its own view of the question.
Whatever the reality, the idea-some have called it a fiction or a myth-that Prohibition was a failure began to win out over the doctrine of its success. With this shift, the third and terminal stage of national Prohibition began. Leading the attack for the Wets was the Association Against the Prohibition Amendment (AAPA), founded in 1919 in the last, futile days of the struggle against the Eighteenth Amendment, but reorganized in 1928 and now operating in the excited hope that repeal was possible. The organization in its new form was a combination of the rich, the well known, and the reactionary. They were at least as much concerned with states' rights and limitations on big government as they were with such issues as the morality of drinking or the social effects of the saloon.
The opposition to federal authority that animated the AAPA leadership is clear in the resolution they adopted early in 1928: they were determined to work for "entire repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment," they said, for the simple and sufficient reason that Prohibition "never should be the business of the Federal Government." They were working in an atmosphere greatly changed since the beginning of Prohibition, nearly a decade earlier. The impetus of evangelical reform that had originally impelled the Drys to triumph had now run down. Resistance-overt or silent-to the enforcement of the law had grown more and more stubborn, and the "failure" of Prohibition had become more and more an article of public faith. The initiative had now passed from the Drys, who had had their chance and lost it, to the Wets, who like all oppositions were rich in promises.
An opportunity arose in the 1928 presidential elections. Both parties attempted, more or less successfully, to avoid making clear commitments on the matter of Prohibition. But the outcry over the failure of the law could not be wholly evaded: Herbert Hoover, the Republican candidate, was prompted to promise an investigation into the question. Following his election, he performed his promise by appointing a national commission on law observance and enforcement, called the Wickersham Commission after its chairman, a former U.S. attorney general, George Wickersham. The commission was charged to review "the entire federal system of jurisprudence and the administration of laws" and did so in a series of fourteen lengthy reports. But its main business was with the enforcement of Prohibition, and its report on that subject, published in five volumes early in 1931, got all the attention. The Wickersham report fully reflects the confusion and contradictions of opinion about what Prohibition actually was and what it actually did.
Excerpted from A History of Wine in America by THOMAS PINNEY Excerpted by permission.
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Preface and Acknowledgments
1. Forms of Life in a Dry World
2. The Rules Change
3. The Dismal ’30s
4. Making and Selling Wine in the ’30s
6. Wine in the War Years
8. Back East
9. Changing Weather
10. The Big Change: California
11. A New Dawn (I): The Northern and Central States
12. A New Dawn (II): The South
13. The West without California
14. California to the Present Day
Sources and Works Cited