By Tim Bean
When Congress passed Prohibition in 1920, Americans called upon their natural ingenuity to skirt around its sweeping restrictions. “Medicinal” liquor, bootlegged liquor and moonshine, and speakeasies were just a few of the methods used, but the most ingenuous had to be the wine bricks sold by California vineyards.
Wine bricks—compressed cakes of concentrated grape juice—provided an imperfect solution to the California vineyard owners staring down the bankrupting barrel of the 18th Amendment. These vineyards spent decades cultivating and breeding specific grape strains for wine, but Prohibition had made their art illegal overnight. Owners did not want to abandon their vineyards, since the eventual failure of Prohibition was obvious only a few years after its passage. Vineyard owners needed enough income to maintain their signature crops for the amendment’s eventual repeal.