LiquorinSewerNYC. Photo: Library of Congress

Right on the heels of California Wine Month and the beginning of grape harvest, comes Ken Burns latest documentary: Prohibition. The six hour series, which airs on PBS stations October 2nd, takes us back to an infamous thirteen year time period in our nation’s history when the commercial production and sale of alcohol was banned. For those not glued to the prohibition era TV series Boardwalk Empire, the 18th Amendment was passed in 1920 at the urging of the temperance movement.

Confiscated liquor. Credit Library of Congress
Prohibition agents. Photo: Library of Congress

California’s wine industry, which had recently rebounded from a major pest infestation and was poised for great things, was devastated by Prohibition. Vineyards were ripped up and a majority of the more than six hundred wineries were shuttered. The few that remained open did so by producing wine for religious purposes. Beaulieu Vineyard was one of them. Founder Georges de Latour was a Catholic and a friend of the archbishop of San Francisco. Latour cut a deal to sell wine to all the priests in the diocese.

Prohibition was supposed to curb alcohol consumption, but instead the party went underground, giving rise to a thriving criminal economy run by bootleggers and gangsters. Port cities, like San Francisco, managed to stay pretty wet during those dry years, thanks to illegal liquor brought ashore in the dead of night, carried on ships from Canada. The roaring twenties saw the rise of a new breed of young women, known as “flappers,” while beer, wine and spirits—some bootlegged, some made in basement stills flowed in hundreds of backroom speakeasies.

Flappers.  Photo Credit: ©Scherl / Sueddeutsche Zeitung Photo / The Image
Flappers in the prohibition era. Photo: ©Scherl / Sueddeutsche Zeitung Photo / The Image Works

After years of lawlessness, the 18th Amendment was eventually repealed. You can still visit remnants of the prohibition era throughout the Bay Area. Some former San Francisco speakeasies still remain and dozens of wineries survived Prohibition.

Called “Ghost Wineries” some have become homes, others used as barns or shopping complexes in Yountville and St. Helena. A handful of wineries have been restored and now have a second life including Freemark Abbey, Far Niente, Hall Wines and Storybook Mountain Vineyards in Calistoga.

Freemark Abbey 1898. Photo: Freemark Abbey
Freemark Abbey 1898. Photo courtesy of Freemark Abbey

We’ve come along way since the dry days of Prohibition, in just seventy five years the state’s award winning wine industry has built itself up to be a world leader with more than 3,300 bonded wineries. But a new threat looms — this one from mother nature. Research shows that California’s prime wine producing areas could shrink dramatically over the next three decades from climate change.

Find out much more about the past and future of California wines at California Academy of Sciences Prohibition NightLife this Thursday evening. You can purchase tickets online for the event or buy them at the door. QUEST will be screening the segment on wine and climate change featured below and serving up wines for warmer temps. Also, Cal Academy will be leading mixology classes and screening a sneak peak of Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s new documentary on Prohibition. Can you think of a better way to commemorate the end of the 18th Amendment than with a cocktail party and wine tasting?

This post was originally published on KQED’s Bay Area Bites.

Napa Wineries Face Global Warming

California Academy of Sciences
Address: Map
55 Music Concourse Drive
Golden Gate Park
San Francisco, CA 94118
(415) 379-8000
Twitter: @calacademy
Facebook: California Academy of Sciences
This post was originally published on KQED’s Bay Area Bites.


Andrea Kissack

Andrea Kissack (@andreakissack) is KQED's Senior Science Editor. Andrea was born in Los Angeles and discovered radio news through listening to her college radio station. With a curious mind and a love for telling stories, she set off for Tampa where she landed her first job as a reporter for Florida Public Radio. After three years reporting in an unbearably humid climate and a brief stint as a miscast opera reporter, Andrea returned to L.A. to work for public radio, then for television news and finally as a reporter for CBS radio. Andrea has been at KQED for over twelve years, working first as a producer for Forum, and then as the senior producer for The California Report. She is now KQED's Senior Science and Environment Editor and narrates the QUEST television program. Andrea says she feels lucky to cover emerging science and environmental trends in a place where geek is chic.

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