Collateral damage

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Call it absurd. Dub it naive. Describe it, hyperbolically, as the most asinine, most fruitless curb on alcohol ever conceived. We are, of course, speaking of the 18th Amendment of the United States Constitution, which, exactly a century ago, gave the American federal government the means to severely impede the sale of ‘intoxicating liquors’. Ratified, theoretically, to foster a better society, Prohibition proved to have the opposite effect. The forbiddance of alcohol ushered in an iconic era of bootleggers, speakeasies and a complete disregard for an amendment that engendered far more problems than its supporters had so naively believed it would resolve.

Ironically, however, all signs would indicate that wine had never been a prime target of prohibitionists, whose sights were set mainly on spirits, an aspect wine-grower Andrea Sbarboro had pointed out as early as 1907. In one of his pamphlets he wrote: ‘No nation is drunken where wine is cheap; and none sober, where the dearness of wine substitutes ardent spirits as the common beverage. It is, in truth, the only antidote to the bane of whiskey.’ But what did this matter? Wine was lumped in, its de facto ban causing untold damage to wine-growing throughout the nation – most devastatingly in California, then as now the most prestigious, most widely planted state in the union.

Translated by Sylvia Wu / 吴嘉溦

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