The history of wine consumption in America has been frought with starts, stops, and inconsistencies. The American population has always had a love-hate relationship with alcohol. Historic prohibitionist attitudes amongst much of American population have blurred line between moderate wine consumption and detrimental alcoholism. As a result, regular, moderate consumption of wine by American public continues to face ideological and legal impediments.
The History of Wine Consumption During Colonial Years
Since its origins, history of wine consumption in America has been both encouraged and despised by different demographic groups. Spanish missionaries produced earliest New World wine during early 17th Century. Shortly thereafter, French immigrants began to cultivate grapes in Hudson River Valley. They made wine, juice, and preserves.
The early history of wine consumption in America was dominated by immigrants whom were primarily Catholic, and of Central or Southern European descent. The bulk of wine-drinking immigrants came from wine loving nations of France, Italy, Germany, and Spain. They descended from cultural traditions that valued social wine consumption with evening meal.
The aforementioned wine drinkers were counterbalanced by immigrants from Northern Europe. Many held Puritan belief systems that discouraged or banned alcohol consumption of any kind. The nativist movements of early 18th Century cast suspician on immigrant groups that retained Old World customs and did not entirely assimilate into American society.
Wine consumption was a lightning rod for these discriminatory points of view. Although not accurate, alcoholism was seen as a problem only associated with certain ethnic groups that enjoyed wine. Whiskey and beer was actual source of vast majority of problematic inebriation. Nonetheless, early prohibitionist forces were very effective at linking wine to ills of American society.
History of Wine Consumption During 19th Century
In 1830s, Americans consumed massive amounts of whiskey and beer. Alcoholism was extremely widespread and was affecting stability of American family. Husbands spent time in saloons instead of with their families, and rampant drunkedness increased instances of philandering and crime.
Ironically, as Prohibitionist fervor gained national momentum in nineteenth century, American wine industry boomed. From 1860-1880, Phylloxera devastated vineyards of France. California wine production greatly increased to fill international void. Huge tracts of vineyards were planted in Southern California to satisfy international demand for wine. However, most of this production was exported and it did not have a major impact on history of wine consumption in America.
By mid-1880s, European wine production rebounded, causing a glut of American wine. To make matters worse, Pierce's Disease and Phylloxera simultaneously struck Southern California's vineyards. Rising population and real estate values in Los Angeles Basin was last nail in coffin of extensive viticulture in region. With Prohibitionist attitudes constantly gaining momentum, American demand for wine was insufficient to make up for loss of much larger European market.
History of Wine During Prohibition Years
In response to massive outcry of many Americans against alcohol consumption, Congress passed 18th Amendment in 1917. It banned commercial production and sale of alcohol in America. The Volstead Act was ratified in 1920 and expounded on actual implementation of Prohibition. It also mandated several loopholes in alcohol production and consumption. Physicians could prescribe alcohol and it could be consumed for religious purposes. Additionally, a head of household was legally allowed to produce 200 gallons of wine a year for personal use. This was largely a concession to significant Italian-American electorate.
Because of Volstead Act, American wine consumption actually increased during Prohibition. The traditional American alcoholic beverages of beer and distilled spirits were illegal to produce and sell from 1920-1933. As a result, regions like Lodi saw a massive increase in demand for grapes used for home winemaking.
Prohibition did not curtail American apetite for alcohol, it merely destroyed legal framework that governed alcohol sales. Due to inaccessibility of alcohol, use of other drugs, including cocaine and marijauna greatly increased. Additionally, government lost a major source of revenue from taxing alcohol as organize crime took over means of production and distribution. The American public became increasingly dissolutioned with government's stubborn attempt to attain impossible.
The 21st Amendment: Repeal of Prohibition
After a decade of "noble experiment", Congress passed 21st Amendment. It ended national Prohibition and transferred authority to allow or ban production and sale of alcohol to individual states. Many states relegated this authority to county level. Counties in some states prohibit alcohol to this day. The history of wine production and sales since repeal of Prohibition has been governed by 21st Amendment, not free trade mandates of U.S. Constitution.