Alcohol in Recent Decades: 1980 to Today

The history of alcohol in recent decades will be familiar to many people. These alcohol and drinking events occurred in the decades following 1980. Perhaps you remember Billy Beer. Or either watching or hearing about 60 Minutes’ report of the French Paradox. Perhaps you remember when the federal government forced all states to establish .08 as the maximum legal BAC for driving. If so, this might be a sentimental journey.

Alcohol in Recent Decades Around the World

Early 1980s

An overabundance of Shiraz in Australia led to a government program to uproot the vines.1 Ironically, increased popularity of Shiraz has led to its being the most widely planted grape in the country.


  • Most of what would later become the source of world famous Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand’s Marlborough area, was still mostly covered by sheep-grazing.2
  • Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) was established to reduce alcohol-related highway fatalities.3
  • Scotland enacted the Criminal Justice Act of 1980. It bans taking alcoholic beverages into sports grounds and restricted carrying alcohol on public transportation associated with sports.4  


alcohol in recent

An obvious fashion statement

The Bordeaux Chamber of Commerce launched Vinexpo. It has become a major event in the wine and spirits industry.5


  • The European Union (EU) introduced crisis distillation for use in emergencies caused by excess production of wine. However, it operated in 22 of the 26 years between its introduction and 2008.6
  • A boom in French wine began. It was caused by several things. One was an outstanding vintage in Bordeaux. Another was the powerful influence of wine critic Robert Parker. He declared it the ‘vintage of the century.’ A third was a strong U.S. dollar. Several great vintages that decade helped maintain the boom.7  

    MADD’s founder, Candy Lightner, later left the organization. She complained that it had became increasingly anti-alcohol rather than simply anti-drunk-driving. “It has become far more neo-prohibitionist than I ever wanted or envisioned,” she said. “I didn’t start MADD to deal with alcohol. I started MADD to deal with the issue of drunk driving.”65


The story of the now-famous Cloudy Bay winery in the Marlborough region of New Zealand began when David Hohnen first tasted Sauvignon Blanc produced there. ‘With the first sip, he was stunned. The wine was like nothing he had ever experienced. Its taste exploded in his mouth and demanded attention.’ He soon began producing his own at Cloudy Bay.8


The National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 was passed in the U.S.9


A handful of Austria’s 40,000 wine producers artificially sweetened their wine by adding diethylene glycol. News organizations around the world mistook the additive for anti-freeze and claimed that Austrian wine was poisoned. In reality, the additive was less toxic than the alcohol in the wine. But the so-called scandal harmed sales.10 It might well be argued that the real scandal was that news media were so careless and irresponsible and ended up harming so many innocent people.


On the tenth anniversary of the historic Judgment of Paris wine competition, two replications were conducted with the red wines. (It was assumed that the whites would all be past their prime.) In both competitions (the French Cullinary Institute and the Wine Spectator blind tastings), the California wines aged better and increased their rankings.11


‘Until 1987, it was illegal to age, bottle, and ship port from anywhere but Vila Nova de Gaia. The goal was to prevent the wine from suffering from the ‘˜Douro burn,’ caused by the high summer temperatures in the Upper douro. Today, air conditioning makes it possible to prevent the burn..alcohol in recent decades..’


  • A bill was passed in the U.S. requiring a health and safety warning on all alcoholic beverage containers.12
  • Ontario began  the Canadian name of origin system called Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA).13


  • The Beer Orders were passed in the UK. Their purpose was to end the system of ‘tied houses’ operated by large brewers.14
  • Dr. Stanton Peele published his highly influential book, Diseasing of America: Addiction treatment Out of Control.
  • Iceland lifted its ban on the production or importation of beer. It had existed for almost eighty years.15
  • After the fall of the Soviet Union and the transition to a market economy, many vineyards were uprooted and devoted to other crops. This dramatically reducing wine production.16


  • ‘Kosovo’s wine industry collapsed as Yugoslavia disintegrated in the 1990s, and much of the infrastructure was destroyed by war.’17
  • ‘in the mid-1990s came roaring out of Bordeaux’s St.-Emilion the garagists, a group of innovative and irreverent winemakers who were not satisfied to just do things the way they had always been done.’ They produced very concentrated and deeply flavored in small quantities that were favored by critic Robert Parker and that commanded very high prices.18
  • ‘The worldwide area given to grape cultivation declined by 10 percent in the 1990s. That drop-off was almost exclusively in Europe.’19

alcohol in recent1990

British Columbia implemented the Canadian named origin system called Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA).20


  • The U.S. Omnibus Transportation Employee Testing Act of 1991 was passed. It requires alcohol testing of safety-sensitive transportation employees in aviation, trucking, railroads, mass transit, pipelines and other transportation industries.21
  • The November 17, 1991, edition of the U.S. television program, 60 Minutes, was on the French Paradox. The program popularized the health benefits of drinking red wine in moderation. But white wine, beer and spirits have similar health benefits..22  
  • Denmark was prohibited by the European Union from producing wine. That was because of the ‘European wine lake’ of over-production.23
  • The Loi Evin, which prohibited the advertising of alcoholic beverages, was enacted in France.24


  • Law 164, known as Goria’s law after agricultural minister Giovanni Goria, was enacted. It strengthens Italy’s DOC legislation passed in 1963.25
  • Thailand lifted its ban on the production of wine.

The United States has the highest national minimum legal drinking age in the world49 and the strictest youth drinking laws in the Western World.50


  • Portugal began creating a number of wine routes to promote wine tourism.26
  • Thailand’s first winery was established.27


  • Finland joined the EU. It had to lift its monopoly on alcohol production, importing and wholesaling. The government monopoly, Alko, continues to operate.28
  • The EU signed a trade agreement with Australia giving its wines preferential tariff treatment. This was because Australia agreed to abolish use of generic European wine names such as Burgundy and Champagne.29


The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Naltrexone for the treatment of alcoholism.30


Sherry (also called Jerez or Xeres) obtained exclusive legal right in the EU for the use of that name.31


Vietnam outlawed the advertising of alcoholic beverages.32

alcohol in recent1998

  • The popularity and prestige of Penfolds Grange had continued to grow. ‘The highest price ever paid for a bottle of Grange was $46,080, which went for a six-liter bottle of the 1998 vintage.’33
  • The Road to Recovery survey was published revealing that a substantial proportion of physicians in the U.S. reject the disease theory of alcoholism.34


alcohol in recent

Robert M. Parker, Jr.

‘President Jacques Chirac in 1999 made [wine critic Robert] Parker a knight in the Legion d’Honneur, France’s highest award, calling him the ‘˜most followed and influential critic of French wines in the world.”35  He was and remains the most influential wine critic of wine in the world.


  • The U.S. Congress required states to establish a maximum blood alcohol concentration (BAC) for operating motor vehicles of 0.08 (80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood). It was under the threatened loss of federal highway funds for failure to comply with the directive.36
  • Between 1950 and 2000, per capita annual wine consumption fell 60% in France. It dropped 45% in Italy, about one-third in both Portugal and Spain, and about one-quarter in Germany.37

Twenty-First Century


alcohol in recentThe Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E. or DARE) program was taught to nearly 40 million students in over 50 countries around the world. A large five-year study of the program was initiated to determine if it was effective in reducing alcohol and drug consumption. It was not.38


  • Denmark was permitted by the European Union to produce wine. Not only is it now legal but doing so has become easier in recent decades because global warming has increased the growing period by about three weeks.39
  • By 2002, there were over 2,000 vacuum concentrators being used in Bordeaux alone. These are machines that ‘mechanically remove water from unfermented grape juice, making the resulting wine seem more concentrated.’40
  • The Center for Alcohol Advertising and Youth, a large anti-alcohol advertising activist organization in the U.S., was founded.41


An alleged hangover cure became available outside of Russia under the brand name RU 21.42


  • The U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism released a major paper. It serves as the National Institute of Health’s official position on the health benefits of moderate alcohol consumption.43
  • A campaign to ‘drink less, drink better’ by the Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins de Bordeaux (CIVB) was banned. This was after it was taken to court by the  neo-prohibitionist National Association for the Prevention of Alcoholism (NAPA). The court held that the campaign violated French law in that it ‘incites people to purchase wine.’ That assertion is not supported by scientific research.44    
  • The French wine industry was in a state of crisis with declining domestic consumption and rapidly declining exports. This led to massive protests across southern France. The government then proposed a number of major changes designed to make French wine more competitive.45
  • The film Mondovino criticized the globalization of wine.46


  • alcohol in recent The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Granholm v. Heald that laws in New York State and Michigan that permitted in-state wineries to ship wine to consumers but prohibited out-of-state wineries from doing so are unconstitutional.47
  • Introduction of machines with which users inhale alcohol vapors mixed with pure oxygen (alcohol without liquid or AWOL machines) led to widespread laws against their use in states across the U.S.48


  • The U.S. Congress passed the Sober Truth on Preventing (STOP) Underage Drinking Act.51
  • Rising levels of alcohol in wine produced around the world led to widespread debate over its cause and implications.52
  • alcohol in recent

    Book about the historic Judgment of Paris wine competition.

    The historic 1976 Judgment of Paris blind wine competition by leading French experts of top French and California wines revolutionized the world of wine after the best wines in both the red and white categories were from California. However, some experts argued that the French wines would age better. They were proven wrong.  In the 30th anniversary tastings, conducted on both sides of the Atlantic, California wines dramatically increased their rankings by aging much better.53


Absinthe again became legal in the U.S. after almost a century-long ban. It had become illegal because of its supposedly hallucinogenic properties. This belief had been promoted by French wine producers who faced stiff competition from the increasingly popular beverage.54


The largest brewer in the U.S. announced that it would stop producing caffeinated alcoholic beverages under pressure from 11 state attorneys general who believed that it was a health hazard.55


Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) entered into a license agreement to produce a line of non-alcoholic beverages, ‘MADD Virgin Drinks.’ They include virgin cocktails (Mohito, Margarita, and Pina Colada), a virgin Lager & Lime, virgin Red and White, and a virgin sparkling white Wine.56

alcohol in recent2010

  • The healthful Mediterranean diet    includes the frequent moderate drinking of alcohol. It was recognized as an intangible world cultural heritage (World Heritage) by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).57
  • Weightwatchers approved alcohol consumption by participants in its weight loss program.58


France lifted its 96 year ban on absinthe.59


Wine author Paul Lukacs asserted that ‘The only places producing truly poor-quality wines in any significant volume are parts of the former Soviet Union as well as eastern and southern Asia…..’60


  • ‘Chinese beer production now accounts for more than 25% of the beer produced throughout the globe.’61
  • alcohol in recentOn the 30th anniversary of the founding of the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program and after 30 years of research, there was no scientific evidence that the DARE program reduces the use of alcohol or drugs.62
  • The National Transportation Safety Board (NHTSB) recommended that all 50 states in the U.S. adopt a blood-alcohol content (BAC) limit of 0.05 compared to the current limit of 0.08.63
  • The U.S. Alcohol Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) recognized cachaca (distilled from fresh sugarcane juice) as a distilled spirit distinct from rum (distilled from molasses).64  Therefore, producers will no longer be forced to label their product as ‘Brazilian rum’ when sold in that country.


Alcohol in recent years has seen continuous change. We can expect even more change in the future. It should be fascinating to watch.


  • 1 Faith, N. Australia’s Liquid Gold. London: Mitchell Beazley, 2002.
  • 2 Nachel. M. Beer for Dummies. Foster City, CA: IDG, 1996, p. 265.
  • 3 History of MADD.
  • 4 Plant, M. The United kingdom. In: Heath, Dwight B., editor. International Handbook on Alcohol and Culture. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1995. Pp. 289-299. P. 292.
  • 5 History and strategy. Vineexpo website.
  • 6 Gately, I. Drink: A Cultural History of Alcohol. NY: Gotham, 2008, p. 476.
  • 7 Taber, G. Judgment of Paris. NY: Scribner, 2005, p. 276.
  • 8 Taber, pp. 244-247.
  • 9 The National Minimum Legal Drinking Age Act of 1984.
  • 10 Stevenson, T. The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia.  London: DK, 2005, p. 388.
  • 11 Historic Paris Wine Tasting of 1976 and Other Significant Competitions.
  • 12 Deaver, E. History and implications of the Alcoholic Beverage Labeling Act of 1988. J Sub Use, 1997, 2(4), 234-237.
  • 13 Esteicher, S. Wine from Neolithic Times to the 21st Century. NY: Algora, 2006, p. 145. Good coverage of alcohol in recent years.
  • 14 Warwick, M. Beer – The Ties that Bind. Warwick Economic Research Papers, No. 930, n.d.
  • 15 Asmundsson, G. Iceland. In: Heath.  Pp. 117-127. P. 119.
  • 16 Robinson, J. The Oxford Companion to Wine. Oxford: Oxford U Press, 2006, p. 597.
  • 17 Tabak, N., and Hugh-Jones, R. Kosovo’s Wines Flowing Again. October 28, 2011. BBC News website.
  • 18 Taber, p. 279.
  • 19 Taber, p. 235.
  • 20 Esteicher, ibid.
  • 21  Omnibus Transportation Employee Testing Act of 1991. DOT website at
  • 22 CBS News website at
  • 23 Brabart. M. Denmark’s Wine Challenge. June 28, 2002. BBC News website.
  • 24 Stevenson, p. 59
  • 25 Stevenson,  pp. 263-264.
  • 26 Charters, S. Wine and Society. Woburn, MA: Butterworth-Heinemann, 2006, p. 290.
  • 27 Stevenson, p. 618
  • 28 Charters, p. 282.
  • 29 Charters., pp. 288-289.
  • 30 U.S. Food and drug Administration website.
  • 31 Stevenson,  p. 321.
  • 32 Stevenson,  p. 618.
  • 33 Taber, p. 251.
  • 34 The Road to Recovery.
  • 35 Taber, p. 239.
  • 36 Morris, J. Clinton Signs Tougher Drunken Driving Law. October 23, 2000. website.
  • 37 Lukacs, P. Inventing Wine. NY: Norton, 2012, p. 233.
  • 38 DARE Still Fails to Reduce Alcohol and Drug Abuse.
  • 39 Brabart. M. Denmark’s Wine Challenge. June 28, 2002. BBC News website.
  • 40 Kramer, M. The unnaturalness of natural. Wine Spectator, 2013, 38(8), p. 30.
  • 41
  • 42 RU21 website.
  • 43 It’s official: The benefits of moderate alcohol consumption are confirmed. AIM Digest, 2004, 13(3), 1, 10 & 12.
  • 44 Stevenson, p. 59.
  • 45 Charters, p. 288. Taber,  p. 282.
  • 46 Lukacs, p. 288.
  • 47 Cornell U Law School, Grahholm v. Heald.
  • 48 Calif. step closer to AWOL ban. AIM Digest, 2005, 14(4), 4.
  • 49 Minimum Legal Drinking Ages Around the World.
  • 50 Barr, A. Drink. London: Bantam, 1995, p. 268.
  • 51 US Congress passes underage-drinking prevention bill. AIM Digest, 2006, 19(3), 8.
  • 52 Rising alcohol levels in wine.  AIM Digest, 2006, 18(4), 1.
  • 53 Murphy, L. California wines beat the French – again. San Francisco Chron, May 25, 2006. The Re-Judgment of Paris Results in California Landslide. Vinography website.
  • 54 Sayre, C. Absinthe is back! Time, Nov 29, 2007.
  • 55 AIM Digest, 2008, 22(2), 2.
  • 56 MADD Virgin Drinks Coming to a Store Near You. September 18, 2009.
  • 57 Mediterranean Diet. UNESCO website
  • 58 WeightWatchers website at Baxter, S. Weight Watchers OK alcohol… Indiana Beverage J, 2010, 67(2), 6-7. Alcohol in recent years is not seen as a problem in weight reduction.
  • 59 AIM Digest, 2011, 30(2), p. 2?
  • 60 Nachel, p. 283.
  • 61 Young, A. The top 10-biggest beer brands.  Drinks Bus, June 25, 2013. The Drinks Business website.
  • 62 Drug Abuse Resistance Education: The Effectiveness of DARE.
  • 63 Ahlers, M. Tougher drunk-driving threshold proposed to reduce traffic deaths. Cable News Network.
  • 64 Legalize Cachaca website. Simonson, R. Cachaca.  New York Times, July 10, 2012. Morgan, B. Brazilian Cachaca. TED Case Study #721. website.
  • 65 James, G. Candy Lightner Interview. Famous Interviews.  The abuse of alcohol in recent decades has declined greatly. But much work remains to be done.
  • NOTE: Mediterranean Diet Pyramid courtesy of Oldways.