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Prohibition and today’s wine consumption

It’s been nearly 80 years since prohibition was lifted in the United States. For some that’s four generations of family that have been ‘removed’ from that situation. With each generation that arrives, they drink alcohol more. Hopefully, more responsibly too.

It hit me yesterday (again) when I was sitting next to someone who said to me, “I don’t drink alcohol”. It wasn’t out of the blue, we were talking about the wine industry. There was some explanation about how they had too much (of everything) during the 60’s. Okay, I guess I get that. And there, of course, is a number of people who can’t handle drinking alcohol and struggle with that daily. I get that too. I believe that is a small portion of the general public.

There is a fair portion (about 32%) of the population that chooses not to drink for whatever reason. I would argue that some of that stems back to prohibition. Like it or not, to a certain extent we model out parent’s behavior. Later in life (college, early-career, etc…) we make more and more choices based on our experience, but our parent’s ideas and models are still in the back of our mind. If they didn’t drink, there’s a good chance that we won’t. So, generations later the parents that didn’t drink because it was illegal have kids and grand-kids that still aren’t drinking.

This continues to be bad for the wine industry. Unlike some other alcohols, wine takes years and years to produce. Prohibition was extremely detrimental to vineyards and wineries. It wasn’t until about 30 years after the 21st amendment that the wine industry in the United States started to revive itself. But by that point the public’s taste in alcohol skewed towards beer and hard liquor which were much easier to produce, not to mention bootleg during prohibition.

The good news is wine consumption is on the rise. And more and more of that is happening in relation to food consumption. Wine is an almost daily resident at our dinner table. My kids will grow up knowing that wine with food in moderation is a great thing. And can even lead to a healthier life. Likely, they will drink wine at their dinner tables someday too. It helps that I’m in the wine business.

But it’s not just that we drink wine. I hope we adopt the more European lifestyle in that wine and food are meant to be respected and together they make life more enjoyable. But everything in moderation – something that Americans have issues with. I also think that because it was taken away from us for over 13 years, we just don’t do moderation very well. We also learned as kids that something that was taken away from us was even more desirable. Maybe we’re afraid that our alcohol will be removed from society again.

In 2009, the United States reported 9 liters of wine consumption per capita, according to the Wine Institute. 9 liters is 12 bottles of wine. That’s one bottle of wine per month, per person. Not very much. That also means that those that drink wine on a regular basis are drinking way more than that to make up for the 32% of the public that doesn’t drink at all. I know we drink much more that 1 bottle per month. We will usually consume 2-4 bottles per week. But it’s also the main alcohol in our household. I don’t drink much beer, but I do enjoy a good whiskey – just not nearly as often as wine.

So, what does all this mean? Well, with each generation we will probably see wine consumption increase in the U.S. I think we’re seeing that already just based on the young(er) consumers that visit the tasting rooms I’ve been working in. I also think that the wine industry (post prohibition) is still young. That’s great news because we have nowhere to go but up, right? I’m a dreamer at heart and one of my dreams is seeing more bottles of wine on American’s dinner tables more often.


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