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Prohibition, 1919-1933

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This dominance was soon to change, however, for on October 28, 1919, the U.S. Congress passed the Volstead Act, making it illegal to produce or sell alcoholic beverages except for family production and use. Home winemaking thus became a major industry, with the deep red Alicante Bouche and Grand Noir grapes the most popular in the eastern U.S., and used for dyeing wine grapes. Most of the Zinfandel, however, was sold in San Francisco. Grape prices attained a new high and vineyards were planted in abundance, with acreage across the state reaching a record level of 648,000 acres.

It was a different story for the vintners, however, as they were stuck with thousands of gallons of the 1919 vintage in their wineries. Some turned to bootlegging, while others sold sacramental wine. Several  wineries  burned  under  suspicious  circumstances,  the  owners  collecting  on insurance claims. Most wineries, however, closed down, never to reopen. Of the 17 wineries producing in 1919, only seven ever opened again: Frei Bros., Canata (now Pedroncelli), the Healdsburg Wine Company, Pieroni, Del Carlo, Oneto and Holst. After repeal, Holst sold his stored 14-year old wine to Italian Swiss Colony and closed, while Pieroni and Del Carlo lasted until the Depression.

Growers, who had an unprecedented success in the early 1920s, then experienced a decline in demand. Prices plummeted and farmers began pulling vines and planting prunes, the next cash crop for the valley (Florence 1993:58-63). In 1923, F.F. Patronak noted that he was one of the few who could remember when no grapes grew in the valley. In 1881 the family had grown Claret at their Mt. Olive Winery, later farmed by their son-in-law, C.F. Yoakim, who operated a 100-acre vineyard and 30 acres of prunes. In 1923 the Yoakims built a nine-room stucco bungalow, “with all the modern appointments,” attesting to their financial success (Healdsburg Tribune, September 20, 1923). The home is still standing on Dry Creek Road.

During Prohibition, much more wine was made at home than in wineries, with  Americans drinking about 156,000,000 gallons of wine yearly. Prior to Prohibition, wine consumption was about 55,000,000 gallons annually. Thus, Prohibition probably did more to establish