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Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Lift a glass to the end of Prohibition on Friday

December 5thThis Friday marks the 75th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition , which ended with the passage of the 21st Amendment on December 5, 1933.

Prohibition had started 13 years earlier when the 18th Amendment, which Congress had passed over President Woodrow Wilson’s veto, went into effect on January 16, 1920. To put that in perspective, 13 years ago Bill Clinton’s presidency was still in its first term, Newt Gingrich was in ascendancy, The Macarena was a hit song and Jerry Garcia died. During Prohibition’s run (and in spite of it) were The Roaring ’20s, the stock market crash of 1929 and the beginning of the Depression. (Imagine contemplating the current state of your 401(k) and not being able to console yourself with a drink!)

Naturally, Prohibition was very tough on the California wine industry . Some growers survived by selling grapes and starting orchards, while others — Beringer, Beaulieu, Beuna Vista and Sebastiani among them — rode out the alcohol ban by producing sacramental wine. A winery boom after Prohibition was repealed was followed by a bust in the late 1930s when prices crashed and the number of wineries again declined.

Prohibition also brought about the rise of gangsters and organized crime, including the Mafia, as Americans chose to circumvent the law and acquire their beverages of choice by whatever means available. The ban on alchohol was a boon for moonshiners, bootleggers, speakeasy operators, corrupt government officials and the Canadian whiskey makers, who made fortunes. The ingenious methods used to circumvent the law have become legends, and the fast cars used by Appalachian bootleggers gave birth to what is now NASCAR racing. (Local anecdotes abound — in my neck of the woods, Canadian whiskey was reportedly dropped by airplane into Traders Point Lake, retrieved by rowboat, then taken via a tunnel under Lakeside Drive to the house from which it was distributed. A friend’s father has a similar story about being paid as a boy to stand in the middle of a field holding a light so an airplane would know where to drop its cargo.)

Vestiges of that failed experiment still remain. Most notably, in addition to repealing Prohibition, the 21st Amendment explicitly gave states the right to make their own laws regarding alcoholic beverages, which accounts for the confusing and contradictory jumble of rules and regulations that exist today. Sure, it’s still a felony to ship wine from your Indiana home to your winter residence in Florida, but things are still a lot better than they used to be. Let’s drink to that!
J. Silverheels Gray, 9:04 AM


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