FOOD: Transforming the American Table

After Repeal

Grape crate label, mid-1900s

Grape crate label, mid-1900s

Grapes for the Long Haul

During Prohibition, California’s vineyards actually expanded. Due to exemptions that allowed legal production of wine for personal, medicinal, religious, and ceremonial purposes, demand for grapes remained strong throughout Prohibition.

Growers were eager to supply citizen winemakers, and many had to replant their vineyards with grape varieties thick-skinned enough to survive the journey from California to the areas of highest consumer demand—cities like Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia. This favored the production of red wine grapes like Alicante Bouschet, Zinfandel, and Carignane over thinner-skinned red varieties like Cabernet and Merlot and white-wine grapes such as Chardonnay and Riesling.

Loading grapes onto reefer train

Loading grapes onto reefer train

Courtesy of Library of Congress

Grape crate label, mid-1900s

Grape crate label, mid-1900s

Wine for the Church

The Concannon family, whose vineyard ownership in California’s Livermore Valley stretches back to 1883, received official permits to make and sell wine during Prohibition. The Concannons supplied the sacramental needs of the Catholic Church in San Francisco and other locales with sweet, fortified wines. At Prohibition’s repeal in 1933, the Concannons ramped up production of dry table wines for consumers.

 

Wine bottle, 1930

Gift of James and John Concannon

Produced during Prohibition, this bottle contained twelve ounces of Sherry, a sweet fortified wine (14 percent alcohol) that found favor for sacramental and medicinal purposes during the dry years.

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Wine bottle, 1930

Gift of James and John Concannon

Produced during Prohibition, this bottle contained twelve ounces of Angelica wine, a sweet fortified wine (14 percent alcohol) typically made from Mission grapes.

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Wine at home

For many immigrants from Italy, Spain, Germany, and Eastern Europe, drinking wine with meals was an important part of daily life. Under Prohibition, people were allowed to produce up to 200 gallons per year for their own use, which allowed them to maintain this essential tradition of the table.

Home winemaking, early 1900s

Crusher

Crushed grapes were transferred to the press.

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Sulphur strips

Sulphur strips were burned inside barrels to kill bacteria.

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Wine press

Juice pressed from the crushed grapes was stored in wooden barrels for aging before bottling.

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Wine, 1964

This 1964 vintage bottled in a recycled soda bottle was the last vintage produced by Francesco Lee.

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Risky Business?

During the height of Prohibition in 1927, Giovanni Pedroncelli bought up vineyards in Sonoma County, California. He and his family improved the vineyards and sold grapes to home winemakers and to wineries licensed to produce medicinal and sacramental wines. The risk of starting such an enterprise during Prohibition was mitigated by neighborly support from other Italian American winemakers.

Winery sign, 1940–late 1970s

Gift of Pedroncelli Family and Winery

A wooden sign painted in the colors of the Italian flag marked the entrance to the Pedroncellis’ winery.

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Polenta pot, 1920s–1970s

Gift of Pedroncelli Family and Winery

The Pedroncelli family used this copper pot to make polenta, a traditional Italian dish made from coarsely ground corn. They shared dishes from home, like venison stew served on polenta, among family and with neighbors.

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Barrel stencil, 1935–early 1950s

Gift of Pedroncelli Family and Winery

Winemakers used stencils to mark wine barrel heads. “B.W. No. 113” stands for “Bonded Winery #113,” indicating that the Pedroncellis were licensed to make and store wine. The stencil also indicates that the barrel contained “California Claret,” a generic term used for dark red wines.

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Family gathering, about 1950

Family gathering, about 1950

Members of the California winemaking Pedroncelli family gathering for an outdoor meal that includes wine.

Courtesy of Pedroncelli Family and Winery