cover image A History of Wine in America, Volume 2: From Prohibition to the Present

A History of Wine in America, Volume 2: From Prohibition to the Present

Thomas Pinney. University of California Press, $60 (532pp) ISBN 978-0-520-24176-3

In this comprehensive sequel to his History of Wine in America: From the Beginning to Prohibition (1989), Pinney delves into the legislation that has produced, and hampered, the creation of great American wine. It is a story of setbacks, confusing laws, bankruptcies and buyouts. Figures and statistics about all parts of the industry-from growers to wine makers to middlemen to connoisseurs-expand the focus beyond Napa. The tragic story of New York's Finger Lakes wineries sits alongside statistics on Washington's humble berry-wine beginnings, for example. After a careful analysis of the Volstead Act, Pinney traces the shift in grape plantings (from fine wine grapes to shipping-friendly seedless grapes) that resulted in a dominance of sweet fortified wine for decades after Prohibition. The Supreme Court decision in May that wine could be shipped across state lines makes this book particularly timely since confusing state laws and how they've created or destroyed local winemakers is a reoccurring theme. While Pinney's focus on law rather than on luminous personalities or colorful terrine can result in some dry chapters, his sentences often sparkle with wry humor: ""the fact that he prospered at brokering stocks during the Depression says a great deal about him"" he writes about Martin Ray, an obsessive gentleman winemaker in California's early history. And the final chapters still have the feeling of magic about them: so much of American's wine future is yet unwritten.