Wine Just Before Prohibition

Wine has always been an integral part of American culture and history. It has played a significant role in shaping the American way of life, from the earliest colonial settlements to the present day. In the years leading up to Prohibition, wine consumption in the United States was on the rise, and Americans were becoming increasingly enamored with wine culture. In this blog post, we will explore the most popular wines and the culture of wine just before Prohibition in the United States.

The Culture of Wine in the Early 20th Century

In the early 20th century, wine culture in the United States was influenced by the growing trend of European-style dining and entertainment. As more Americans traveled to Europe and experienced the wine cultures of France, Italy, and Spain, they brought back their love of wine and their appreciation for the art of wine-making.

This new wine culture was characterized by an emphasis on quality and sophistication. The wine was no longer just a beverage but an experience, with an emphasis on pairing wine with food and enjoying it in the company of others. Wine connoisseurship became a popular pursuit, and wine tastings and wine clubs sprang up across the country.

The Most Popular Wines Before Prohibition

In the years leading up to Prohibition, several types of wine were particularly popular in the United States. These included:

  1. Port Wine – A sweet, fortified wine from Portugal, Port wine was a popular after-dinner drink in the early 20th century. Its high alcohol content and sweet flavor made it a favorite among Americans.
  2. Sherry – Like Port wine, Sherry was a fortified wine that was popular in the early 20th century. It was often served as an aperitif, before dinner.
  3. Madeira – A fortified wine from the Madeira Islands, Madeira was known for its rich, complex flavor and its ability to age well. It was often used in cooking, as well as being enjoyed as a drink.
Rich, complex, and aged to perfection. Madeira wine - a popular choice pre-Prohibition in the U.S.

Rich, complex, and aged to perfection. Madeira wine – a popular choice pre-Prohibition in the U.S. | Image Source

  1. Champagne – The most famous sparkling wine in the world, Champagne was a popular drink for celebrations and special occasions in the early 20th century.
  2. Chianti – A red wine from Tuscany, Chianti was a popular choice for Italian-American families in the early 20th century. Its fruity, medium-bodied flavor and affordable price made it a favorite for everyday dining.

The Rise of Prohibition

Despite the popularity of wine culture in the early 20th century, the temperance movement was gaining momentum, and calls for the prohibition of alcohol was growing louder. In 1919, the 18th Amendment was ratified, making the production, sale, and transportation of alcohol illegal in the United States.

Prohibition had a significant impact on the wine industry, as well as on American culture as a whole. Many wineries were forced to shut down, and the production of wine in the United States dropped significantly. The culture of wine was dealt a severe blow, as Americans were forced to find new ways to socialize and entertain without the presence of alcohol.

This Day in Wine History

October 28, 1919: The Volstead Act, which provides enforcement guidelines for Prohibition, is passed by Congress.

January 16, 1920: The 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution goes into effect, prohibiting the production, sale, and transportation of intoxicating beverages, including wine.

February 6, 1920: The National Prohibition Act is enacted, also known as the Volstead Act, which defines “intoxicating liquor” as any beverage containing more than 0.5% alcohol by volume.

January 1, 1925: The federal government bans the use of grapes for home winemaking.

March 22, 1926: The Supreme Court rules that sacramental wine can be legally consumed during Prohibition.

1928: The Bureau of Prohibition begins requiring winemakers to obtain permits to produce wine for medicinal and sacramental purposes.

February 27, 1933: Congress proposes the 21st Amendment to repeal Prohibition.

December 5, 1933: The 21st Amendment is ratified, repealing Prohibition and allowing states to regulate alcohol production and sale.

Want to read more? Try these books!

Prohibition in the United States- A History From Beginning to End Prohibition Gangsters- The Rise and Fall of a Bad Generation


  1. “Wine in the United States.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.,
  2. St. Pierre, E. (2012). The Terroir of Napa Valley: Where Cabernet is King. The Undergraduate Journal of the Social Sciences, 1(1), 33-41.
  3. Smith, C. (2018). How Prohibition Changed American Wine. Wine Enthusiast Magazine.
  4. Zraly, K. (2019). American Wine: A Comprehensive Guide. Sterling Publishing Company, Inc.
  5. Sokolin, M. (2004). Investing in Liquid Assets: Uncorking Profits in Today’s Global Wine Market. Simon and Schuster.
  6. “History of Wine.” Wine Institute, 2022,
  7. Pinney, T. (2016). A History of Wine in America: From Prohibition to the Present. University of California Press.
  8. “Wine and Food Pairing.” Wine Spectator, 2022,
Categories: This Day in Wine History | ArticlesTags: , , By Published On: April 30, 2023Last Updated: February 29, 2024

Share This Story, Choose Your Platform!