History is a precarious topic, at least, with respect to what it means for us now. Not to tackle the unknowns of the entire history of everything—I do have one question for wine—where would we be today if prohibition never happened?
Ken Burns documentary on prohibition was a great way to understand what happened and it’s undoing. There were three parts and there could have been part four and five. The topic was not an incidental speed bump but a long lingering and still far reaching act that we still feel today. The end of the documentary was both satisfying and yet I kept say … but wait there still more…
I am a former multi-state wine and beer marketing manager and the many obscure, obtuse and non-sensical alcohol beverage control laws linger some where between the completely absurd to the completely out-of-date. I was watching PBS’s Nightly Business Report and they cited a mention of 40,000 ABC (alcohol beverage control) laws on the books in the 50 United States is staggering. In many respects alcohol is more regulated the whole process and procedure for distribution of prescription drugs.
The world’s richest and largest wine market in the world is also the world’s most restrictive. So access to wine and beer and spirits is so uneven and frustrating for the consumer. Take a listen on any given day in a Napa Valley tasting room…. I hear something like this on each visit:
Consumer: “I got wine shipped to my home state of Kansas from another winery and now you are telling me you can’t ship it?!?!?”
Wine room employee: “yes, that is right”
Consumer: “okay, ship to my office in Missouri”
Here is a bit of the absurd:
- Screw cap wine illegal in some wine areas of the country
- Wine over a certain alcohol percentage—never mind that spirits are also sold in the same state
- A wine retailer can have a “sale” in Missouri but not advertise it.”
- You need a permit to get a glass of wine poured in certain areas of Dallas metroplex. I was at Hillstone’s in University Park and across the street on Preston I could go to another restaurant and not need a permit or club membership
- State run stores?
- Separate wine stores from food stores in New York
- Private label or exclusive labels not legal in some states
- And there are many, many, many more examples
But what this robs is the experience of wines from around the world to each state. To a consumer it is a mystery of how to acquire wine from another state. Or imported wines may be only available in a handful of states and not all. The US is a great wine market but easily the most precarious on the planet. There is not other good or service that has this level of scrutiny. And the alcohol beverage is not only controlled but the least to ride on a wave of total and free market distribution.
The 21st amendment was ratified by 36 states in 1933 from April 10, 1933 (Michigan) to interestingly Utah on December 5, 1933—and that is every 6 and 2/3 days a state ratified this amendment. And there are some states that never ratified this amendment: 1) Georgia, 2) Nebraska, 3) Kansas, 4) Louisiana, 5) South Dakota 6) North Dakota 7) Oklahoma and 8) Mississippi
If prohibition never happened and I am only speculating what would have happened in subsequent years and culminating today:
- So many acres would not have been torn up and by that extension more old vines
- Greater varietal exposure and experience
- Many states would have had more experience in terms of winemaking
- More competitive prices for larger production wines; smaller production would probably be exactly where they are today
- Greater movement across state lines
- A larger wine market
- Breadth and depth of experience of winemaking in all states
- More imports flowing into the United States
- More exports to other nations
- Esoterica wouldn’t be so esoterica i.e. what is viewed today as esoteric wouldn’t be such a stark contrast
- More varietals planted today
- The world “international varietal” would include varietals from Italy or Spain or elsewhere
But where Ken Burns left off is an opportunity for someone—perhaps myself or others to create a documentary on post-Prohibition today.
I would like to know what you think? Drop me a line or Tweet out or Social Media shout out!
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