Learn about Life in the 1920s

An old grape parable in new bottles

There is a quite old book which says: "Noah began to be a husbandman, and he planted a vineyard; and he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent." This sequence of events is extremely logical, although it does not necessarily seem so to Americans.

In the first place, when an American thinks of beginning to be a husbandman he seldom thinks first off of planting a vineyard, for the vineyard does not occupy a place in American husbandry comparable to that of the cornfield. No Frenchman, German, Italian or Greek is without a pretty vivid idea of rich hillsides and fields covered with vines, but many an American has never seen more than a grape arbor.

In the second place, when an American conceives of planting a vineyard, there is about one chance of his thinking of eating raisons, another chance of his thinking of eating grapes and spitting out the seeds, and only a third, last chance of his thinking about getting drunk. In these respects the American is a peculiar specimen of mankind.


Yet not all Americans are thus peculiar. In 1919 there were 700 bonded wineries in California (which raises 81% of the nations grapes, chiefly European wine grapes rather than the native varieties common in the East). When prohibition came, the wineries went out of business, and the grape growers, conceiving that there would be an end both of drunkenness and vineyards, tore up their vines. They miscalculated. In a short time the popular demand for wine grapes swelled beyond conception and, what with reduced supply, the price of wine grapes mounted from $15 a ton (which had been about normal) to $50, to $80, to $100, and finally to $200 a ton and higher.

The logic of Noah convinced Californians. They began to be husbandmen and planted vineyards, and they sold their grapes and were drunken with profit - so drunk that they paid high prices for land and planted and planted. By 1928 the price of wine grapes had fallen to $20. Now it is below $15 - below cost, for the new vineyards created in the boom are not low-cost producers. Now, like Noah, the grape growers are uncovered in their tents.

In their extremity, the grape growers have tried several sober experiments. For one thing they pretended that Noah planted a vineyard, ate raisons, and got healthy. To this end they called raisons Sun Maids, publicized their iron content, sought to make the U.S. citizen chew raisons as he chews gum. They even sold small paper envelopes of raisons to the Chinaman. They also pretended that Noah planted a vineyard, borrowed money from the Farm Board, left part of his grapes on the vine, and grew rich selling the rest. But although they spent $5,200,000 buying up one anothers grapes to keep them off the market, the price of grapes remains so low that pulling up the vineyards is a last resort now seriously contemplated.

Moreover, Fruit Industries Ltd, created to dispose of grape "by-products" (brandy for medicinal use, tonics, sauces, jellies etc) was invited to absorb the 300,000 ton grape surplus by the sale of "concentrates". The project was financed with $3,000,000 borrowed from our prohibitionist government, and dowered with the services of Mabel Walker Willebrandt, once famous prohibition enforcer. Grape "concentrates" are not wine bricks but the liquid from pressed grapes (sold from house to house by agents) which, being left in a keg, performs natures miracle and becomes wine. In the first year, only 54,000 tons of the surplus were used up in this way. Al Capone, they say, offered to buy the whole output at $1 a gallon, and was refused on the ground that at his best he was too like Noah at his worst. But Fruit Industries is not discouraged. It aims gradually to wean America from gin and restore to men the love of wine - to the industry, the sound Biblical logic of drink.




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Article discussing problems of Political Parties in relation to Prohibition

Repeal of Prohibition - 1933
Survey of current state of Prohibition Repeal Votes

World Prohibition - 1923
Most of the World was considering Prohibition in 1923

Prohibition Killings - 1927
Killings by Federal Agents Enforcing Prohibition

Prohibition in Belgium - 1927
A European Approach to Prohibition

Prohibition Articles
Prohibition Category Page at 1920sEra.com