• lynne coyle

Wineries Down Tools

One hundred years ago, at the end of the 1919 winery workers in California downed tools and didn't pick them up again (officially) for 13 years.

Guerrieri Rizzardi, Bardolino, Veneto, 2018.

US prohibition started at the beginning of 1920 and lasted until 1933. It banned the production, importation, transportation and sale of alcohol. Prohibition came about in response to the powerful multiple "dry" campaigns which focused on, among other things, alcoholism, alcohol related anti-social behaviour and health issues related to alcohol misuse.

Official figures indicate that alcohol use was reduced by half during this time and remained lower for around ten years after prohibition - as were alcohol related health issues. Interestingly, during prohibition it wasn't illegal to drink alcohol, so for those with well stocked cellars, it was business as usual. Also, not every state agreed with prohibition, and so for example Maryland and New York, only three years into the ban, repealed the amendment in 1923.

Prohibition has been "credited" with the firm establishment of organised crime in the US suggesting this form of entrepreneurship was not lost during this era. Furthermore, the church for example, was permitted to use wine for religious purposes, pharmacies were allowed to dispense alcohol for medicinal purposes and some of todays most respected drinks companies made their way creatively through those years.

Responses to the alcohol ban took many forms during this time, for example its interesting to note that one hundred years ago "near beer" at 0.5% alcohol came about. But, for many this was no substitute and it is reported that thousands died from drinking alcohol from unregulated production before the 18th Amendment was repealed.

There are academic studies on both sides of the fence that argue the success or the failure of prohibition and indeed to this day some US states remain "dry". Apart for the US, Pakistan, Canada, Norway, Finland, Iceland, India and the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union to name a few have all at some stage introduced and repealed prohibition.

I for one would question the value of an alcohol prohibition where the consumption of alcohol is not illegal but everything from its production to transport is. Surely this can only have encouraged its production and sale underground into unregulated black market product and bootlegging enterprises.

It is claimed that in the end the repeal of the 18th amendment reduced corruption and organised crime. Today the US has one of the strictest alcohol labelling regimes in the world - perhaps to continue to educate and attempt to moderate rather than to legislate on a product, in wine terms, that can be dated back to 8000 B.C. is indeed the way forward.

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