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History,Livermore Valley,Prohibition,Wine

How Many Wineries Survived Prohibition?

[This image was taken at Foppiano Vineyards, as agents emptied the winery of its wine contents into the creek alongside Old Redwood Winery.]

I thought I’d share the information below, so that when someone is researching, this story pops up with the most accurate number. I spent hours upon hours researching this one for Concannon Vineyard, when I was the PR agent for their wines. Today, my assignment with Concannon is planning and producing the annual Petite Sirah Symposium, so I still feel very connected. It was in their best interest to come up with the best information available, hence the copious hours.

John Concannon, who is now the family’s fourth generation vintner, whom I’ve watched taking the assignment an ambassador, shared this with me and it’s very special to the history of the California wine industry:

Founded in 1883, Concannon Vineyard is America’s oldest, continuously operating winery under the same family label, with the same family involvement, for almost 130 consecutive Years.”

While Beringer was established before Concannon, they’ve not had family involvement for some 30 years. Many people don’t realize that most wineries, such as Gallo, didn’t have a label until Prohibition was repealed in 1933, making the vast majority of wineries 79 years old or younger.

There is a lot of “oral” history stated by wineries… it’s easy to say something, but it’s another to be able to prove it.

The 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibited the manufacture, sale, and/or transportation of liquor, which was passed by Congress in 1917.

Prohibition then took effect in 1920, and continued for the next 13 years.

In 1933, President F.D. Roosevelt was elected and Congress passed the 21st Amendment on February 20, 1933, which repealed the 18th Amendment. The 21st Amendment was then ratified by the states, thereby taking effect on December 5, 1933.

According to Albany Education, “Prohibition as undertaken to reduce crime and corruption, solve social problems, reduce the tax burden created by prisons and poorhouses, and improve health and hygiene in America. The results of that experiment clearly indicate that it was a miserable failure on all counts. The evidence affirms sound economic theory, which predicts that prohibition of mutually beneficial exchanges is doomed to failure.”

Many wine companies went into the business of selling Vitis vinifera grapes bricks to home winemakers that carried a warning: Do not add yeast or fermentation will result. Also attached to the brick, as the story goes, was a packet of yeast.

Gone were the days of the railroad cars that carried wine juice prior to Prohibition around the United States.

[Q] So, who legally produced wine during this dry spell, and can have the distinction of saying that they’ve been in business producing wine for as many years as they claim? [Remember - if it wasn't legal, they're not on the books as continuously producing wine... It's a technicality that would only be able to stand up in a court of law.]

[A] Very, very few wineries… The ones in red have survived. The ones in black (members of the Catholic Church) are gone forever.

  1. Beringer Brothers, Napa Valley (1876 to present)
  2. Christian Brothers, Napa Valley (1882 to 1989)
  3. Concannon Vineyards, Livermore Valley (1883 to present)
  4. Sacred Heart Novitiate Winery, Los Gatos, CA (1888 to 1986)
  5. St. Stanislaus Novitiate, St. Louis, Missouri (1898)
  6. Beaulieu Vineyards, Napa Valley (1900 to present)
  7. San Antonio Winery, Los Angeles, CA (1917 to present)

This is all pretty sobering as to what a group of teetotalers were able to accomplish. Today’s world is so much more complex that it would take something even more extreme to have this return…

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8 Responses to “How Many Wineries Survived Prohibition?”

  1. Ryan Matthews says:

    Why isn’t Renault Winery on this list?

  2. Jo Diaz says:

    Because I had not information on them, and nothing was documented that I could find.

  3. Jo Diaz says:

    Per their site:

    “It was a growth even Prohibition could not hold back. In 1919 John D’Agostino and family bought the winery and continued to operate during the fourteen years of Prohibition under a special government permit. This permit allowed the production of wines for religious and medicinal purposes. Renault Wine Tonic, which had an alcoholic content of 22 percent, became the chief product and was sold in drug stores throughout the nation. A label warned “not to chill the tonic, as it would turn into wine which is illegal.”

    The label warning tells me that this wasn’t the same as sacramental wines mentioned above, unless they have evidence that their wines was used by the Catholic Church. The sacramental wines needed no label as a disclaimer. They were what they were.

    Also, bricks of grapes were sold with a recipe for making wine, with the warning, do not add, this and that to these grapes, or an alcoholic beverage will result. Because some wineries did this, they, too, believe they’re on the fringe for staying open as operable.

    I can’t believe it until I see the document. If they have one, I’m happy to edit my story and include them.

    There were a few wineries that allowed for “medicine,” or “tonic” as it was called. The historical significance of those who didn’t sell “tonic,” but made wine for sacramental purposes were the true wineries that have been handed down historically.

  4. ADThomson says:

    A Wino Zombie apocalypse is the only reason I can think of that would bring back prohibition.

    Thanks for such an informative post! In your opinion, other than the bragging rights, are there benefits to having been around that long?

  5. Jo Diaz says:

    My grandfather told me he was sorry that I was inheriting this planet, when I was a kid. I know what you’re asking, ADThomson…

  6. [...] Diaz discovers which wineries legally produced wine during Prohibition and “can have the distinction of [...]

  7. [...] Diaz discovers which wineries legally produced wine during Prohibition and “can have the distinction of [...]

  8. Ryan Matthews says:

    I’m not sure if they have documents available. Though, I wouldn’t be surprised if they existed somewhere in the winery. I’ll look into it. I know the site mentions the tonic label warning but it does also mention the production of wine for religious purposes. I don’t think they were drinking tonic in church. The tonic just happened to be the best seller at the time because people not of the church could purchase it.

    I’ll see what I can dig up.

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