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Some states continued Prohibition until the last of them repealed the law in 1966.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.
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.