The Prohibition Hangover: What a Headache!

One of the unanticipated joys of having a book in publication is meeting other like-minded authors. I had the opportunity to do just that at a book event held at the St. Helena Library in Napa Valley a couple of weeks ago, where the topic was wine books. It’s an annual event, designed to showcase the library’s extensive collection of wine literature. As it turns out, a theme for all three authors’ talks was prohibition. Attorney Richard Mendelson’s book, From Demon to Darling: A Legal History of Wine in America, describes the conflicted state of affairs that prohibition spawned. As I discuss in my book, temperance wasn’t always interpreted as abstinence, especially where wine was concerned. But banning all forms of alcohol outright turned out to be akin to trying to slay the Hydra of mythology, a multi-headed beast who grew two when one was cut off. The concept of healthy drinking, based on a tradition of wine with dinner, was lost.

The history of wine and drinking is another one of the joys I discovered in doing research for my book. When I am giving a PowerPoint lecture, I often include an image from Dr. Benjamin Rush, Jefferson’s correspondent when he wrote “Like my good friend the doctor, I have eaten little animal food  I double, however, the doctor’s glass and a half of wine, even treble it with a friend.” The image is a “Moral and Physical Thermometer” of temperance, allowing that wine or cider in moderation beget cheerfulness and strength, while toddies, morning drams and rum define the road to perdition, with melancholy, hatred of government, even the gallows. It appears to have been adapted from an English doctor’s version, shown above. It was certainly clear on both sides of the Atlantic that wine was a good thing from the point of view of both social welfare and public health. Somehow this not-so-subtle message was lost. So cheers to wine, and check out Mendelson’s book, along with Vivienne Sosnowski’s book, When the Rivers Ran Red: An Amazing Story of Courage and Triumph in America’s Wine Country.

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