Tag Archives: Prohibition

Days Of Wine And Roses

9 Feb

Actually, there is nothing about roses in this post. I have been trying to find a way to steal that title for a while and finally figured out a way to do it. This post is entirely about wine and the growth of its popularity in the United States.Wine

Wine is everywhere. We have a wine fridge in the bonus room. There is a new store in town that focuses on wine. I have friends who are proud to wear the moniker of Wine Snob. I know a guy named Dave who makes homemade wine. Doctors tell us that drinking wine is good for our hearts. Restaurants have wine lists that match the wine that goes best with a meal. As I said, wine is everywhere.

I understand the love of what. However, I do not understand when that love began. Historically, the United States has been a nation of people who desire alcohol that is made from grain. Whiskey. Rye. Beer. Those types of things. This history springs, I think, from two places.

One, the United States was birthed from Great Britain and its tradition of grain alcohol. I am not an expert in the history of European agriculture, but I think grapes have always grown better in southern Europe. Great Britain was in a non-grape zone.

Two, Americans did not run into proper grape growing areas until someone figured out that it could be done in northern California. I am not sure when that started, but it was long after Americans had created a tradition of drinking something else.

I suppose that wealthy Americans have always consumed wine and saw it as a symbol of success. However, regular folks stayed mostly with the grains. This even became the focus on a presidential election. In 1840, William Henry Harrison was portrayed as a whiskey drinker who connected with the common voter. His opponent, Martin Van Buren, was portrayed as a drinker of wine and champagne, which meant that he was out of touch. Harrison won.

This is just one example of how American has generally been a grain alcohol nation, but there are probably others. As a student of the American West, I cannot imagine a cowpoke walking into a saloon and saying, “Give me a bottle of your house red.” Instead, I can imagine him saying, “Give me a shot of red-eye.”

Prohibition was a big event in American history. Alcohol was made illegal, but organized crime made sure it was available. I have read that an underlying reason for Prohibition was to take wine away from immigrants from southern Europe, but I have never seen a film of G-Men hacking through barrels of wine. It was illegal beer and whiskey that they were after.

This love of grains can also be seen in popular culture. Think back on some of those film noir movies. How many times did the detective or dame pour a glass of wine? How many times did they put some ice in a glass and pour some whiskey over it? I think about a movie called A Face in the Crowd when Patricia Neal goes to a bar and has a cocktail sitting in front of her.

It happened on television, as well. In the 1960s, a bunch of television homes had bars, and they were all filled with whiskey bottles. I can remember Darrin, or Derwood, getting a drink whenever the antics of Samantha and her fellow witches were driving him crazy on Bewitched.

I write all of that to say that wine is a relatively recent phenomenon in the United States. When did this happen? Why did this happen?

Did the economic boom of the 1990s make people want to grab wine as a symbol of success? The wealthy have been drinking it forever. What better way to prove economic success than to adopt a tradition sign of that success?

Was it the marketing of wine producers? Did they follow in the footsteps of the Ernest and Julio Gallo campaigns?

I know that people have always drank wine, but, at some point, it became the drink of choice for a vast number of people. Like with a lot of things, I have my opinion as to how that happened. It was not a booming economy. It was not an ad campaign. It was these women.Sex and the City

I know that the women of Sex and the City drank martinis and other types of cool drinks. However, the show also provided the idea that a stylish, successful woman about town knew her wine. This popular show introduced wine to a segment of the population that drives our sense of style, and that sense filtered to other segments of our society. Then, we Americans figured out that we liked wine. Apparently, we are not as crass as we are sometimes made out to be.

Am I crazy? Probably. However, the mass love of wine by Americans is a recent development, and it had to start somewhere.

Moral Authority?

6 Aug

Last week, I attended my first meeting as a member of the local Planning Commission, a body that recommends the approval or disapproval of land development. It was mostly an introductory session for the new people, and the mission statement was one of the first things covered. It states that “the zoning regulations and districts as herein set forth have been made in accordance with a comprehensive plan for the purpose of promoting public health, safety, morals, convenience, order, prosperity, and general welfare of the community.”

At some point in the discussion, I asked, “Who decides what is moral?”Morality

This is the Bible Belt, so I assume the writers of this statement meant something that the local denominations would consider moral. However, that leads to a couple of issues. One, there is this thing called the separation of church and state. Second, not everyone agrees with those denominations. Heck, those denominations don’t even agree with each other.

This is a country with millions of people and millions of opinions of what is moral. I don’t know who should decide what is moral, but I know that it doesn’t need to be the government. Why? Because governments fail when they attempt the impossible and trying to get people as diverse as Americans to live the way you want them to is definitely impossible.

Prohibition is the perfect example. Some people felt that alcohol was a detriment to society and was destroying the morals of the nation. For decades, they fought to make alcohol illegal, and, finally, enough politicians were convinced that an amendment was placed on the constitution.

To the chagrin of the crusaders, the consumption of alcohol didn’t stop. They only succeeded in giving organized crime a new line of revenue. Sure, they had been making money from prostitution and gambling, but only a small percentage of the population took part in those activities. Alcohol opened up an entire new customer base. As I tell my classes, the government took people who liked to drink a beer after work and turned them into criminals.

Obviously, all of the people who poured millions of dollars into the coffers of organized crime did not agree with the moral standing of the anti-alcohol folks. All those years of fighting to remove alcohol from the United States, and people still figured out a way to get it. Bottom line, people have been drinking alcohol ever since someone figured out fermentation, and people will always be drinking alcohol.

I always think of Prohibition when the abortion issue comes up. The other day, I read an article about the percentage of people who think it should be illegal. In this part of the world, it is a high percentage. However, here is the thing. Abortions took place when it was illegal. Women would suffer in cramped quarters as a clothes hanger was being used. The fact that it was illegal didn’t stop it.

Then, it became legal, and women could have abortions with professional care. For forty years, people have been ranting and raving and saying the government should make it illegal. That would end all abortions in this country. Actually, it wouldn’t. It would go back into the unhealthy shadows. Bottom line, people have been getting abortions ever since someone figured out how to do it, and people will always have abortions.

Gay marriage is another issue that falls into this area. People talk about how gay marriage should never be legalized. Bottom line, people have been falling in love with the same sex ever since someone first did it, and people will always be falling in love with someone of the same sex.

This “government should decide our morals” issue doesn’t stop at the federal level. I serve on the oversight committee of the local fairgrounds. A few years ago, we approved a beer garden for a large group that was coming in. One of the county commissioners said that Lebanon is full of good people, and they don’t want alcohol in their community.

He forgot a couple of things. One, there are good people in communities that allow alcohol. Second, this community already allows alcohol and reaps the tax benefits.

Despite those facts, the county commission voted to not allow alcohol at the fairgrounds. It’s a rule that the staff can’t enforce. It only limits our ability to rent facilities. Now, there is talk of building an event center on the grounds for concerts, conventions and sporting events. I’m not sure that is going to work because I haven’t been to many concerts, conventions and sporting events that didn’t sell alcohol.

I wrote all of that to get to a simple point. The government, on any level, does not have the right to make us live to a certain moral standard. It can’t tell us what to drink, what to do to our bodies, or what to do in the bedroom. Everyone has a different moral compass. Those who don’t like the way others live need to worry about the way that they are living. Because, if you hinder someone else now, then you may be the one that’s hindered in the future.

Do I agree with all of the issues that I talked about? It doesn’t matter what I think. Bottom line, the government is here to protect our freedoms and not dictate what those freedoms can and cannot be.