During Prohibition, Vintners Sold “Wine Bricks” Rather Than Wine
Dissolve, ferment, enjoy
By Erin Blakemore
August 27, 2015
One of humankind’s most endearing (and annoying) qualities is its ability to skirt, outthink and get around nearly every restriction that gets in its way. That was certainly during Prohibition, as people all over the United States found ways to sneak around the law. And one particularly charming example involved winemakers, writes VinePair’s Adam Teeter.
The entire winemaking industry, was, of course, threatened by Prohibition. But Teeter writes that rather than risk tearing down their vineyards and face permanent ruin if the law was eventually overturned, vintners decided to team up with bootleggers. Rather than making the wine on the premeses, they created “wine bricks” out of concentrated grape juice for home brewers (and bootleggers) to dissolve and use in the privacy of their own homes.
Since grape juice wasn’t illegal under the law that enforced Prohibition, writes Teeter, winemakers simply marked the bricks with warnings that they were for non-alcoholic consumption only. They even included a “warning” that helped people make wine at home, Teeter reports:
If you were to purchase one of these bricks, on the package would be a note explaining how to dissolve the concentrate in a gallon of water. Then right below it, the note would continue with a warning instructing you not to leave that jug in the cool cupboard for 21 days, or it would turn into wine.
Wine bricks were just one of the unintended consequences of Prohibition, as the Ken Burns documentary on the time period shows. In fact, the law led to the elimination of thousands of jobs and gutted state tax revenues. Bob Zebroski writes that since Prohibition made alcohol a prescription drug, it caused the pharmacy business to soar even as it “placed a heavy moral and psychological burden on pharmacists.”
And even though we don’t have wine bricks for sale today, anti-liquor laws changed American tastes for wine forever. As Reid Mitenbuler explains for Serious Eats, the wines and grapes that held up best to the Prohibition workarounds actually produce lousy wine. But at least the industry didn’t collapse altogether, thanks in part to bricks of would-be wine. For the whole story on wine bricks and pictures of the home vintner’s Prohibition-era aid, be sure to check out Teeter’s article.