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.
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 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
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.