Abstract: Selling the Gospel of Wine: California Wine Marketing and Lobbying in the 1930s

Lisa Jacobson


In the wake of Prohibition's repeal, California vintners anticipated satisfying frenzied consumer demand, but instead confronted lingering suspicions about alcohol's respectability as well as persistent black markets for wine. Poor winemaking techniques further stymied the industry. This paper examines the crucial role played by the state and the Wine Institute, a trade association representing California vintners, in both promoting wine consumption and legitimizing a morally suspect industry in the 1930s. In contrast to the explicitly antistatist thrust of most public relations work in the 1930s, the California wine industry saw the government as an essential ally in its quest to rehabilitate its public image. Wine promoters and wine lobbyists invoked economic nationalism and wine's ethos of moderation to win crucial regulatory concessions and to enlist the state's aid in compelling fractious grape growers and wine producers to contribute to collective advertising. Their ultimate success in winning a New Deal for wine and launching a national wine advertising campaign in 1939 highlighted how the power of culture and the power of the state helped to legitimize a controversial industry at a crucial moment.