TNB Night Owl – Grape Brick Wine

Grape Brick. Label by Italian American Museum of Los Angeles. Image by Lenny Ghoul.

Some warning labels just aren’t meant to be taken seriously. For example, the message provided on grape bricks in the 1920s and 1930s.

“After dissolving the brick in a gallon of water, do not place the liquid in a jug away in the cupboard for twenty days, because then it would turn into wine.”

If there was any doubt as to why a person would buy a brick of grapes from California, the label cleared it up. This was a prohibition-era trick to allow people to make wine at home, and it was perfectly legal.

The Volstead Act, which forbade sale and production of alcohol, was rigidly enforced… with one exception. The state, apparently not wanting to wade into the morass of religious liberties, provided an allowance for designated church officials to make sacramental wine on-site. In practice, this was understood to give anyone the right to make more than a gallon of wine at home every night without facing retribution from the authorities.

(The fact that the Assistant Attorney General who was in charge of Volstead enforcement, Mabel Walker Willebrandt, worked with and eventually for one of the biggest wine brick makers, Vine-Glo, probably didn’t hurt.)

The bricks were a major success, and wineries quickly learned that Alicante Bouschet grapes were the best; with their thick skins they could survive postal transit and the vines produced the fruit in excess. Sure, the skins would need to be strained after the brick dissolved, but the effort was a small price to pay.

About the only thing the Alicante grapes couldn’t do was make tasty wine.

Still, they were legal. People bought grape bricks by the thousands, and many vineyards were saved because of them. Many people got drunk at home because of them. And the free market was proven, once again, to be nothing to trifle with.

Until prohibition ended and people could start drinking the real stuff again.

Question of the night: What are your favorite wines?

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About AlienMotives 1991 Articles
Ex-Navy Reactor Operator turned bookseller. Father of an amazing girl and husband to an amazing wife. Tired of willful political blindness, but never tired of politics. Hopeful for the future.