December 5th, 1933 saw the end of US prohibition of producing and selling alcohol. A significant time in the history of the United States, even more so for those of us involved in the alcohol industry. And in remembrance, we would like to quickly refresh the memories for those who may have forgotten the impact that those 13 years made on our country, now 85 years later.
Ratified by the 18th Amendment in 1919, enforced by the Volstead Act, and placed into effect in 1920, prohibition had begun with the intent to solve society’s ills. Expectation was that cirrhosis deaths, various medical problems from alcohol, crime, and violence would all drop sharply. And despite all the positive spins by the government, and media outlets, the opposite seemed to have occurred. The now infamous Bootlegging by the masses, and organized crime’s heavy involvement in speakeasys, led to an increase of irresponsible alcohol consumption, and all the problems that come with it. As pressure for success mounted, there was even an incident where the government, under the Calvin Coolidge Administration, had poisoned renatured industrial alcohol intended for illegal production, but even the 10,000+ deaths that it caused couldn’t quell the thirst of the American public.
Finally, during the Great Depression, the realization of prohibitions inevitable failure, increased spending on its enforcement, and the pinch felt by the continued loss in federal liquor tax fueled much of the argument for the eventual repeal of the 18th Amendment, and ratification of the 21st Amendment.
While prohibition caused a significant setback to the US wine industry, after repeal, the market was flooded with a glut of wines that valued quantity over quality. Interestingly enough, the five Franzia brothers opened their winery around the same time – even courted by their brother-in-law, Ernesto Gallo, but turned down due to low projection of earnings (and we all know how that worked out). All in all, the increase new vine plantings following repeal gave way to what we now have in the massive US wine industry.
It is interesting to think of what may have happened without the mighty push back, that gave us the push forward, to where we are today.