Beaumont Wines and the Black Markets of the Wine Industry
From 1920 to 1933, the Eighteenth Amendment’s restrictions on the manufacture, sale, and transportation of alcoholic drinks in the United States led to illicit activity and the emergence of black markets in the wine business. Millions of Americans were willing to drink alcohol (like Beaumont wines) illegally, despite the temperance movement’s widespread success in passing this legislation. As a result, organized crime began controlling illicit alcohol manufacturing and sales.
The Prohibition era was a time of lawlessness due to widespread criminal activity and violent turf wars between criminal organizations. Smuggling grew riskier and more expensive when the US Coast Guard started searching ships farther away from the coast and utilizing faster motor boats that could outrun smugglers.
However, bootleggers had other sources of supply. Drugstores sold millions of “medicinal” whiskey bottles on legitimate and counterfeit prescriptions. Others combined denatured alcohol with harmful chemicals making it unfit for consumption and permitted in several American enterprises. Numerous liters were forcibly diverted, “washed” of dangerous chemicals, combined with tap water and a splash of real alcohol for flavor, and then sold to speakeasies.
For more than 150 years in Southern France, the people of Beaumont have been producing wine from Jacquez and Herbemont grapes. However, since the 1930s, this wine has been prohibited. Nevertheless, the Mémoire de la Vigne produces almost 7,000 bottles annually. In fact, you can get a few of them at the collective wine shop, housed in a 13th-century hillside monastery.
The 200-person community of Beaumont is located in the Cévennes National Park, which contains some of France’s highest mountains. More than 150 years ago, Beaumont farmers were introduced to grapevine hybrids combining tough American vines with European species. Farmers quickly realized these hybrids thrived on the parched shale soil. The villagers experimented with making sweet wines from the grapes. Over time they used the Jacquez and Herbemont varieties to create a distinctive regional wine.
Did You Know: Jacquez and Herbemont grapes have a complex and disputed parentage.
The DNA of the Herbemont grapes variety is obscure and disputed. Thomas Munson (1843-1913), a horticulturist and grape breeder from Texas, said Jacquez and Herbemont were members of Vitis bourquiniana. This is a doubtful botanical group of varieties that are closely related to the native Vitis aestivalis. And as Bailey (1906) described the varieties as ‘ameliorated forms of native summer grapes,’ he stated some of them are hybrids of Vitis aestivalis and European wine grapes. Galet (1988) mentioned that Jacquez and Herbemont grapes are likely the European varieties that came from Madeira.
Why Has Europe Banned This Variety For So Long
The fundamental problem was the idea of crossing European grapes with American grapes. However, as diseases spread around the world and especially after Phylloxera, wine growers were very careful with the different vines. Do not forget Jacquez and Herbemont grapes are grown naturally and are resistant to many vine diseases. We already hear rumors that they will soon be legally grown in Europe.
Also read: History of Wine
The History of Beaumont Black Market Wine
In 1935 the French government implemented legislation forbidding hybrid vines of American origin because of excess national wine production. Beaumont’s treasured wines became illegal. However, inspectors from Paris never came because of the village’s small population and distant location.
Production remained essentially unchanged. It helped that Hervé Garnier, a staunch supporter of Beaumont’s wines, discovered a legal loophole. The grapevines are a “living historical landscape” under French legislation since they are located in a national park. Therefore, their cultivation is protected. While winemakers cannot sell Beaumont wine directly to customers, it is sold through black markets termed associations. Garnier established the Mémoire de la Vigne in the community in 1993 as a consequence, where members may enjoy his Cuvée des Vignes d’Antan.
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This Day in Wine History
1920 to 1933: The Eighteenth Amendment was in effect, putting restrictions on the production, sale, and transportation of alcoholic drinks in the United States. This sparked the start of illegal black markets in the wine industry.
1935: The French government implemented legislation forbidding hybrid vines of American origin because of an excess in national wine production. Beaumont wines became illegal.
1. “Prohibition | Definition, History, Eighteenth Amendment, & Repeal | Britannica.” www.britannica.com. Retrieved November 18, 2021.
2. The Great Wine Fraud (2016) The Guardian. Guardian News and Media. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/global/2016/sep/11/the-great-wine-fraud-a-vintage-swindle (Accessed: November 23, 2022).