Abstract: Refashioning Wine Drinkers and Wine Producers: California Wine Promotion during World War II

Lisa Jacobson


In 1939, California vintners launched a collective advertising campaign to promote wine consumption and enhance the public image of California wine. California wine remained a suspect commodity, the victim of uneven quality, persistent black markets, and lingering doubts about alcohol's respectability. This paper examines how California vintners promoted a commodity that seemed at once too highbrow and too lowbrow, too foreign yet too easily embraced simply for its psychoactive effects. This paradoxical marketing dilemma accounts for the seemingly contradictory marketing messages that cast wine as an emblem of cosmopolitan sophistication but also invoked populist rhetoric to demystify wine and associate wine drinking with the triumph of democratic tastes. Wine advertising and publicity also romanticized vintners as fashionable farmers to distance producers from their less savory image as merchants of booze. These tensions within the vintners' campaign—between appeals to genteel respectability and democratized tastes and between an industrial ethos of standardization and a small producer ethos of craftsmanship—reflected the industry's internal struggles for self-definition as well as the challenges of addressing skeptical consumers. Wartime disruptions to established food traditions made World War II a pliable moment in which vintners could reinvent and Americanize the meanings of wine.