A Prescription for Wine? Really? Yes, in 1920. | Author Jan Moran
Owned & Operated by Sunny Palms Press, LLC.
Owned & Operated by Sunny Palms Press, LLC.
Owned & Operated by Sunny Palms Press, LLC.
Owned & Operated by Sunny Palms Press, LLC.

A Prescription for Wine? Really? Yes, in 1920.

Prescription Form for Medicinal Liquor during Prohibition

Prescription Form for Medicinal Liquor during Prohibition

Fancy a glass of wine with dinner? In 1920, you'd have to have a doctor's prescription for that elegant indulgence. In the US, the National Prohibition Act was in force from 1920 to 1933.

During a recent visit to Napa Valley, I heard some amazing stories about how winery owners survived Prohibition. 

Some entrepreneurial vintners secured contracts to supply sacramental wine to religious orders, while others produced wine for medicinal purposes.

Still others produced grapes and sold those to families to make wine at home in small quantities, which was legal.

Doctor's Orders

Grapes on the vineNot surprisingly, it's said that quite a few people either found religion or became ill during this time. Wine was often prescribed for heart disease, anemia, high blood pressure, tuberculosis, pneumonia, and even old age.

Some physicians believed wine aided digestion and increased energy levels. The usual dose was one-ounce every two to three hours for adults; for children, the dose was halved.

All in the Name of Research

In order to capture the flavor of Napa and the wine-making industry for my next book, I made the rounds in Napa. I stopped in the Stags Leap district, then wound up to Mount Veeder, Mount Howell, and St. Helena.

First, I visited with friends MaryAnn and Larry Tsai, co-founders of the highly collected Moone-Tsai wines, which are blended by Philippe Melka from France. A true artist, he is ranked in the top ten winemakers world-wide.

I attended a beautiful winemaker's dinner at the Meritage Resort with Grgich Hills co-founder, Mike Grgich, who was celebrating his ninetieth birthday. In 1976, he was awarded top honors for his Chateau Montelena Chardonnay at the Paris Tasting, which was quite an extraordinary feat for a California vintner. (Pour a glass and watch the movie, Bottle Shock.)

Hess Collection Wine Barrels

Hess Collection Wine Barrels

Next, we had incredible visits at the Hess CollectionGrgich HillsChimney Rock, and Caldwell Vineyards, among others, and heard quite a few fascinating stories at each stop.

The Roaring Twenties

One vintner recalled a Prohibition-era story about a milk truck that made regular stops at vineyards, then delivered it's “milk” to clients in San Francisco.

Indeed, the Roaring Twenties kept on roaring. In fact, when I lived in Beverly Hills, it was common to find homes in the area with basements that had once been private speak-easies.


So tonight, when you pour that glass of wine, raise your glass to those vintners and entrepreneurs who carried on the industry.


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Jan’s books are also available to purchase in Deutsch, Dutch, Italiano, Lithuanian, Polish, and Russian. More languages coming soon!

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