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The State We're in: 80 Years Since Repeal

Orange County sheriff's deputies dump wine during Prohibition
© Wikimedia Commons | Orange County sheriff's deputies dump wine during Prohibition
The patchwork quilt of "archaic" U.S. state laws on alcohol sales means the taste of Prohibition lingers on.

President Franklin Roosevelt called it “a damnable affliction,” but 80 years after the repeal of Prohibition, it’s estimated that 16 million Americans still live in dry areas.

On December 5, 1933, 13 years after Prohibition outlawed alcohol in the United States, Roosevelt ratified the 21st Amendment, overturning the 18th Amendment that had created it. Earlier that year, the president had signed the Cullen-Harrison Act, which allowed the production and sale of beer, famously declaring: “I think this would be a good time for a beer.”

Some states continued Prohibition until the last of them repealed the law in 1966. Yet, there still remain hundreds of dry counties across the country. According to Dr David J. Hanson, professor emeritus of sociology at the State University of New York at Potsdam, 16 million Americans still live under dry laws.

And the legacy of Prohibition lives on in restrictive shipping laws. Free The Grapes, a national organization that seeks to remove restrictions in states which still prohibit consumers from purchasing wines directly from wineries and retailers, sees progress but there's still some way to go.

Jeremy Benson, executive director of Free The Grapes, told Wine-Searcher: "In 1998, there were 17 states that allowed wineries to ship to the consumer and now it's 41. Those 41 states represent 90 percent of wine consumption in the U.S."

There are still states in the U.S. which do not allow direct-to-consumer wine shipping, including Massachusetts, Utah, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and Benson added: "We have not 'freed' all the grapes – we are not quite there yet but we getting close."

Earlier this year, the American Wine Consumer Coalition produced a state-by-state report card of access to wine. It found that California was the best place to live for wine lovers, while 36 states still banned the shipment of wine from out-of-state retailers and 17 forbade the sale of wine in supermarkets.

"Eighty years after the end of Prohibition, consumers in numerous states still live under archaic laws that disregard their interests,” said David White, president of the coalition.

Consumers in blue states may order wine from beyond the state's borders; direct shipping to consumers is prohibited in states colored burgundy (correct at October, 2013)
© Wine Institute | Consumers in blue states may order wine from beyond the state's borders; direct shipping to consumers is prohibited in states colored burgundy (correct at October, 2013)

Indeed, this crazy patchwork quilt of laws means you can’t buy alcohol on Sunday in some states, yet in others alcohol is served 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And if you’re in South Carolina on election day, tough luck – it’ll be an alcohol-free day.

The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) is irritated by the continuing hangover from Prohibition. "Over the past eight decades, there has been tremendous modernization within the industry. However, some Prohibition legacies still remain, inconveniencing consumers and impeding economic growth," says DISCUS president Peter Cressy.

He adds: "While the government originally envisioned Prohibition to be a 'noble experiment in social engineering,' the effort completely failed to deliver its promised benefits and actually made things much worse."

Prohibition wine facts

  • Beaulieu Vineyard in Napa Valley increased its wine business fourfold during Prohibition by providing wine to the Catholic Church in San Francisco
  • Concannon Vineyard also went into sacramental wines. Following the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, the Concannons put up a circus tent on the winery's front lawn and hired 100 men to help with bottling and labeling.
  • In 1922, there were 917 licensed wineries – a figure that would not be surpassed until 1980. By the end of Prohibition, there were just 268. Today, the United States has 8,806 wineries, according to the Wine Institute’s latest figures.
  • Four months before Repeal Day, federal Prohibition director Alfred Vernon Dalrymple admitted defeat, according to TIME. Despite spending years chasing bootleggers, he declared: "There's no use to kid ourselves and there isn't any use in delaying the start of liquor manufacture." The end was near.


Related story:

The Best States For Wine Lovers

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  • Comments

    Rick Schofield wrote:
    05-Dec-2013 at 16:08:20 (GMT)

    A one sided article. . The vast majority US consumers don't drink wine on a regular basis and could care less if wineries can ship wine across state lines. . Beverage alcohol is a product so potentially debilitating and damaging to a productive society that it has to be regulated more than most consumer goods. At one point US consumers voted to ban beverage alcohol entirely. . Each state has tens of thousands of wines already on their store shelves, so it's not like alcohol is currently forbidden or unavailable in the US. . What about retail stores? Are they afforded the same wine shipping privileges as wineries? (No). Why not? Doesn't anyone want to write an article for them? What about all the US consumers who want premium IMPORTED wines not sold in their state? . Furthermore, If you can ship wine, why not Pappy Van Winkle? . Echoing the comment below to some degree, we need corporations and trade associations to pay lobbyists more money so the lobbyists can bribe Congress more for their own specific benefit. This is what Congress wants - big distributors out-bribing big wineries like Gallo & Constellation. . Better to give the money to politicians & lawyers than to fund Education or National health Insurance or Aid to the Philippines or ... Rick Schofield Port Ewen, NY

  • David Boyer wrote:
    05-Dec-2013 at 01:44:44 (GMT)

    The entities responsible for many states not allowing retail-to-consumer shipments are the distributors, whose campaign contributions ensure that their 'turf' is protected. Until we get rid of special interest groups and PACs, sadly, very little progress will be made so it really is exactly like the early post-prohibition days, only now the thugs working for distributors show up at board meetings in suits and presumably don't carry automatic weapons. But those are about the only differences - corruption is rampant and ethics are missing entirely from the relationship between politicians and alcoholic beverage distributors. This circumstance is truly egregious and limits our ability to legally buy wine from another state, which would be great for me when a particular wine cannot be found in Texas. How is it that people in the trade can turn their backs on this issue? Considering constant consolidation taking place with distributors, chances are 98% of wine sold has already been distributed once by one of the top three or four companies. It’s kind of like a person that wants to sell their Corvette but Chevrolet wants a piece of the action for a car they’ve already sold once. Obviously people would be upset about that. Limiting our choices with wine is a huge affront to every American. David Boyer

  • Matt wrote:
    04-Dec-2013 at 21:30:04 (GMT)

    DB, Indiana is probably not listed above because in-state direct shipping is allowed only after visiting the establishment first and proving identity.

  • DB wrote:
    04-Dec-2013 at 05:26:37 (GMT)

    Indiana is another state (not listed above) that does not allow shipments of wine direct to consumers and also doesn't allow alcohol sales on Sunday (except in restaurants), so we are still in need of Freeing the Grapes!

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