“Jug wine” in the United States refers to affordable wine bottled in a glass jug or bottle. The other term used for Jug Wine is “dago red” because this type of wine was historically popular among poor Italian Americans. Jug wine is typically red or white, and it is often sweet or semi-sweet. Jug wine has a strong taste and is often drunk as a shot or mixed with other drinks. Two separate historical events spearheaded the Jug wine culture in America.
Effects of American Prohibition
Firstly, the Eighteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution, also known as the Volstead Act, enforced a prohibition on the production, sale, and transportation of alcoholic beverages and also defined some exemptions. The prohibition period lasted from 1919 to 1933 and left a long-lasting impact on the American Wine industry.
Although the act banned the production, selling, and transportation of wine across the United States, wine production was permitted for medical and religious purposes. The act had a catastrophic effect on the wine industry. Most of the wineries went out of business and stopped operating, and the profitable grapes plants were replaced with other crops such as olives and corn.
Some of the remaining vineyards with businesses outside the United States started exporting grapes to the United States. These vineyards focused on grapes that could be shipped to distant destinations without damage. Many soft grapes were cut-down, and thick skin grapes were planted. To attract buyers in distant markets, they also focused on coloured varieties. The wines produced from these grapes had very high levels of alcohol.
The name “jug wine” came from the fact that winemakers used to sell wine bricks with an explicit instruction that “do not put the brick in a jug for twenty days; otherwise, it will turn into wine.” After the act’s abolition, Jug wines were readily available and economical.
The Reputation of Jug Wine
With the repeal of the Prohibition Act, the vineyards continued to produce wines from thick-skin grapes; the wine was both palatable and affordable and became a new category in the market. This new wine category, Jug Wine, became wildly popular. Economic necessity gave rise to Jug Wine. Jug wine was easy to get at an affordable price, so it became associated with the lower classes of society and minority groups. Jug wine was seen as a symbol of low social status and criminality. It contributed to the American mindset’s notion of the ‘wino” or drunkard.
Secondly, it is believed that the word dago red has been originated from the term dago. It was a derogatory term used to refer to Italian immigrants by the British and other English-speaking people. The term ‘dago‘ came from the Spanish word Diego which means James. British sailors used it for Spanish and Italian immigrants, particularly sailors.
flickr user pinguino, CC BY 2.0
The term became common in American culture during the 17th century when Italians and Spanish came in large numbers to America. Due to the larger immigrant flow, the opportunities for good jobs became very low. Most of these immigrants had to work in the lower professions. English people or foreigners who knew English had already occupied high positions. Italians also wanted to learn English to get better jobs. They went to places where they could learn English from others and find good opportunities. These Italians were called by Day-goers, which led to the word Dagos. Dago was a derogatory slur.
Did you know?Jug wine played a significant role in the growth of American wine culture. It was one of the first types of Wines that Americans drank, and it helped shape our idea of what wine should be cheap, sweet and high in alcohol in the United States.
Finally, Jug wine is often seen as a working-class lifestyle and cultural symbol. Despite its negative associations, jug wine has a rich cultural legacy and reminds of the prohibition period and the Italian-American community. See more resources here.
This Day in Wine History
August 1, 1903: Charlie Carlo Rossi was born on this day. He would go on to become one of the most famous wine shippers in history and the man who introduced the world to Mountain Red. During Prohibition, Rossi began shipping wine from Italy to the United States. He quickly gained a reputation for quality, and his wines soon became popular among criminals and bootleggers. In 1962, Rossi introduced Mountain Red, a cheap red wine that was sold in a large jug. The wine was an instant hit, and it helped to make Rossi one of the most recognizable names in the wine industry. Today, Rossi’s legacy lives on through the success of his namesake wine company. Thanks to Charlie Carlo Rossi, millions of people worldwide have enjoyed a glass of Mountain Red.