Thursday, August 9, 2007


As yet another rain producing weather front skirted our property, leaving us as dry as a county during Prohibition, I was reminded of how those 13 years changed our country.

Here is an excerpt from Peter McWilliams' book, "Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do"

The Eighteenth Amendment only prohibited "manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors . . . for beverage purposes." Although this was the "supreme law of the land," it still required an Act of Congress to make it enforceable. Enter the super-dry, ultra-religious congressman from Minnesota, Andrew J. Volstead.

Many who supported the Eighteenth Amendment took the term "intoxicating liquors" to mean liquor: whiskey, rum, and other distilled spirits. Most liquors were at least 40% alcohol ("eighty proof"); some, particularly of the "greased lightning" variety, were as much as 90% alcohol. Surely beer, with its three to seven percent alcohol content, and wine, with its less-than-fifteen percent alcohol content, would be permitted—with certain restrictions and regulations, of course.

Much to people's surprise, Volstead, backed by the triumphant evangelicals, defined "intoxicating liquors" as any beverage containing more than one-half of one percent alcohol. Using the momentum of the anti-German, anti-beer bias, Volstead was able to pass his National Prohibition Act over President Wilson's veto.

Prohibition began easily enough: the people who drank stocked up on liquor before it was illegal; those who planned to give up drinking treated January 28, 1920 as though it were New Year's Eve, and the following day their New Year's resolutions began. The poor, who couldn't afford to stock up, were catered to by saloon keepers who, rather than closing voluntarily, stayed open until they were shut down.

After a year or so, the reserves (and resolves) were depleted, and people got thirsty again—including some people who had never been thirsty before. The fact that alcohol was now prohibited made it somehow irresistible. There's always something tantalizing about forbidden fruit—in this case, the fruit of the vine.

The California grape growers, no longer permitted to make wine, produced a grape juice product known as Vine-Glo. The Vine-Glo literature carefully instructed buyers what not to do, because, if they did those things, they would have wine in sixty days. The demand for grape juice grew dramatically. In 1919, 97,000 acres were devoted to growing grapes for "juice." By 1926, it was 681,000 acres. In 1929, the U.S. government loaned the grape growers money to expand even further.

Beer brewing, wine making, and distilling became common practices in the home. An enterprising home brewer could make enough liquid refreshment to give as gifts or even sell.

All you had to do to stay entirely within the law was get sick. The Eighteenth Amendment only prohibited alcohol for "beverage purposes." Medicinal alcohol was perfectly legal and, for some unknown reason, doctors began prescribing more and more of it during the 1920s. In addition, various elixirs, tonics, and other patent medicines available over-the-counter without prescriptions relied heavily upon the medicinal qualities of alcohol.

After the repeal of Prohibition, the federal goverment empowered states to legislate the sale and transportation of alcohol. Some states handed control to counties and even municipalities, a tradition that continues today and varies from state to state.

These laws hinder the online sales and shipping of wine. Let's free the grapes! Contact your representative. Make wine dreams not war nightmares.