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January 16, 1920 - Prohibition begins!

On January 16, 1920 the era of Prohibition began in the United States.  The manufacture, sale, and transport of all beverages containing alcohol became illegal under the law of the land by Constitutional amendment.  Long queues ran around the block in big cities as people made the most of their last opportunity to buy wine and spirits legally.

In California, some 700 wineries existed in 1920.  When Prohibition was repealed, about 130 to 160 remained.  They had survived by making sacramental and kosher wine, or by ripping out old vines to grow different varieties they could sell as table grapes and grape juice.  (An amazing number of "religious sects" sprang up that required the use of wine in their devotions.)

The thriving New Jersey wine industry shriveled up.  Today, the sole survivor amongst today's wineries is Renault Winery in Egg Harbor, which managed to get a special license for selling a medicinal "wine tonic" with an astonishing 44 proof.

In New York, the oldest surviving winery is Brotherhood in the Hudson Valley, which also proved adept at methods of skimming along the edges of the law.

The after-effects of this era still live on with us in the form of laws on direct shipping and distribution of wine.  If you are interested in learning more about this, please visit Free The Grapes, an organization formed to reform the direct shipping laws for wine in the United States.

 Last modified: August 07, 2007