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Because every state has power to make their own laws regarding wine sales, it has effectively made commercial wine distribution a convoluted mess. Marketing wine in U.S. continues to be a difficult and frustrating task, especially for smaller wineries.
The effects of 21st Amendment have had a major impact on history of wine consumption in U.S. during 20th and 21st Centuries. Its legacy is a tangle of state and county laws that regulate production and sale of wine.
The Fortified Wine Years
Immediately after repeal of Prohibition, wine consumption dropped as Americans had renewed access to spirits and beer. From repeal of Prohibition to late 1950s, high-alcohol dessert and fortified wines dominated market. These were darkest days of history of wine production and consumption. Many fortified wines were produced and sold extremely cheaply, and catered to "misery market". "Winos" drank these overly alcoholic concoctions becauses they were cheapest way to get drunk. In quest for short-term profits, unscrupulous producers stamped a black mark on history of wine in America.
From 1934 to early 1950s, immigrant families consumed majority of table wines. Unfortunately, many of their offspring did not follow their parents traditional drink choices and began consuming beer and cocktails as they assimilated into American society. Table wine was a mysterious beverage to most Americans and was associated with high-society and recent arrivals from Southern and Central Europe.
The Jug Wine Years
America's taste for non-fortified wines finally began to develop in early 1960s. The majority of these new wine drinkers were young, well-traveled, and relatively affluent. As Baby Boom generation came of age, ranks of wine drinkers increased. Even still, majority of consumers bought simple, sweet wines.
The early 1980s saw height of frenzy to promote and sell inexpensive wines to American public. The White Zinfandel rage was and continues to be a major part of market. Total American wine consumption reached an all-time high due to a massive influx of capital and advertising. Despite predictions of continued increases, it did not materialize.
At same time, overall alcohol consumption decreased in United States during 1980s. The anti-drug and alcohol movement justifyably discouraged dangerous levels of drug and alcohol ingestion. Unfortunately, extremists in movement also attacked history of wine consumption in America. Zero-tolerance attitudes portrayed moderate wine consumption as not only hazardous to individual, but also as detrimental to entire population.
The Renaissance Years
In late 1980s, jug wine consumption fell sharply. American tastes were changing, and market began to demand wines with defined characteristics. Mike Benziger's Glen Ellen Winery entered void, creating hugely popular "fighting varietals" genre. These wines bridged gap between generic production of past, and boutique wineries of following decade.
Much of America's current interest in quality wine stems from a 1991 60 Minutes Program that examined health benefits of moderate wine consumption. The "French Paradox" is fact that French consume fatty foods, significant red wine, and have a very low incidence of heart disease. This news had a major impact on American wine consumption, especially in aging, affluent demographic groups.
The Future...Factors to Consider
As American society becomes increasingly more fast-paced and hectic, fewer families are sitting down together for dinner. This is not a positive sign for American wine consumption as few people open up a bottle of wine to drink with their drive-thru or take-out dinners.
Wine enjoyment is symtomatic of relaxation, and these days American society is anything but relaxed. The history of wine is also synonymous with stable family relationships, and divorce rate in U.S. is currently about 50%.
Furthermore, wine is a complicated subject that generally requires a certain amount of leisure time and money to become a true adherent. Additionally, wine has an unflattering image amongst many American alcohol consumers who prefer beer or liquor. In my opinion, there are limits to how large quality wine market can increase.
On a more positive note, American population is aging, and older, more affluent people tend to enjoy wine more than other demographic groups. Hopefully they will pass their appreciation of wine to next generation.
In many ways, history of wine consumption in U.S. is a microcosm of both positives and negatives that have come with innate American experience. Studying history of wine consumption in U.S. illuminates political, cultural, religious, and racial diversity that has made nation what it is today.
America has a relatively small but growing population of wine-lovers. Although number of regular wine drinkers are far from being a majority, they will continue to grow as population ages. Future trends will probably include an increase in consumption of quality varietals grown in specific, terroir-driven locations.
Ben Bicais lives in the Napa Valley and is the webmaster of http://www.california-wine-tours-and-accessories.com