Wine in the 20th Century

Wine in the 20th century underwent many changes. Therefore, the century is divided into three sections.

  1. 1900-1940s.
  2. 1940s-1980s.
  3. 1980s-Present.


I. Wine in the 20th Century: 1900 to 1940s

Early 20th Century

The most popular wine in the U.S. in volume purchased was Virginia Dare. It was produced in North Carolina. Both the whites and reds were blends containing Scuppernong. They were sweet and commonly used as dessert wines.1

• Robert Koch demonstrated that bacteria isolated from one wine could induce a reduction of acidity when inoculated into another wine.2
• An entry from Israel’s Carmel Winery won the Gold Medal at the Paris Exhibition. It had been established just ten years earlier.3

The equation for converting of malic acid to lactic acid was published.4

The first completely automatic machine for making bottles was built. A later model could make over 50,000 bottles per day.5

The Phylloxera invasion had devastated European vineyards. This cut wine production greatly. To help supply the demand, the Ottoman Empire exported 89.8 million gallons (340 million liters) of wine in 1904.6

There were nearly 415,000 acres (167,700 hectares) of vineyards in Algeria. This compared to only about 26,000 (10,500 hectares) in 1865. Much of it was sent to France and passed off as French wine. It was sometimes sold as classified chateaux.7

An estimated half million farmers converged in Montpellier, France. They protested against imported wine. Five people were killed during the riots calling for reducing competition.8

alcohol in the early 20th century

Champagne Riots

• The Champagne Riots began in 1910 and 1911.  But rioting and violence continued until the beginning of WW. I. The cause was conflict over the boundaries encircling the area from which sparkling wine could be sold as Champagne. A vineyard abutting one side of the boundary could get prices for its grapes many times higher than one abutting it on the other side. The vines could be only a few yards apart.9
• There were 11,200 acres (45,000 hectares) of vineyards in Mendoza region of Argentina. There were only 2500 acres (1,000 hectares) in 1830. About 80% of all vineyards in Argentina were planted in vinefera vines, mainly Malbec.10

It was suggested that the key to consistency in vine productivity and fruit quality is the proper ratio of fruit weight to wood.11

Brazilian vineyard owners established a cooperative. But boycotts by those with whom the cooperative needed to negotiate led to its demise.12
alcohol in the 20th century1914
• French vineyard owners began to blame the popularity of absinthe for the low prices they received for their grapes. Consequently, an anti-absinthe movement developed. The Academie de Medecine had called for a ban in 1903 because of alleged health problems. That included supposed hallucinations. Temperance groups joined the cause. In 1914, France capitulated to pressure, primarily from from vineyard owners, and banned the sale of absinthe.14
• John Deininger of Germany patented a vertical screw press “for use with fruit and wet linen.”13
• French troops were given daily wine ration in the First World War to improve their morale and perhaps also to make them more willing to fight.15

•In Bulgaria, winemaking increasingly prospered after the end of turkish rule.16
• A South African cooperative was formed. It set policies and prices for the entire wine industry in South Africa.17  

 During National Prohibition in the U.S. (1920-1933), temperance activists hired a scholar to rewrite the Bible. He was told to remove all references to wine. (The American Mix, 2001, 1(1), 4.)

California grape growers increased their acreage about 700 percent during the first five years of National Prohibition in the U.S. This was to meet the booming demand for grapes for home-made wine.18

The Pinotage grape was developed in South Africa by crossing Pinot Noir and Cincault.19

wine in the 20th century

Dr. Raymond Pearl

Dr. Raymond Pearl discovered that moderate drinkers tended to outlived both abstainers and heavy drinkers. His published his findings in his book, Alcohol and Longevity. It received little attention because it was published during National Prohibition.20 Nevertheless, subsequent research has confirmed his early findings. To learn more, visit Alcohol and Health.

The French government re-drew the boundaries of Champagne to restrict the supply of Champagne and maintain high prices. Read about the Champagne Riots described for the year 1910.21

• The first use of pectolyitc enzymes for improved juice clarification was recorded.22
• Cold stabilization to precipitate tartrate was first used.23
• The first modern day vineyards in Kazakhstan were planted.24

• Bentonite was first used to clarify wine.25
• California vintners established the Wine Institute.26 It was the year following Prohibition’s Repeal in the US.

wine in the 20th century1935
France introduced the Appellation d’Origine Controlee (AOC) or regulated place name system in an effort to fight wine fraud. The system stimulated sales but has stifled creativity and innovation by wine makers.27

• The Federal Alcohol Administration Act was passed. This enabled the U.S. federal government to regulate alcoholic beverages.28
• In State Board of Equalization v. Young’s Market Co., the U.S. Supreme Court interpreted the Twenty-First Amendment. That’s the amendment that repealed National Prohibition. The Court held that the Amendment gave states an absolute exception to the Commerce Clause in the control and regulation of alcoholic beverages.29
• Pennsylvania imposed a ‘temporary tax’ on wine and distilled spirits known as the Jamestown Flood tax. It was passed to raise revenue to help the city of Jamestown rebuild following a devastating flood. The city rebuilt quickly but the tax continues to this day. It costs Pennsylvania consumers of wine and distilled spirits over $160,000,000.00 each year.30

The Greek Wine Institute was established.31

Phylloxera and powdery mildew devastated vineyards in New Zealand. By 1938 there were fewer than 200 acres (81 hectares) remaining.32
• There were over 2,500 acres (1,000 hectares) of vineyards in Chile and exports were high.33

II. Wine in the 20th Century: 1940s to 1980s

The use of diatomaceous earth to filter wine first occurred.34

In early 1940, at least one third of the railroad tank cars in France were commandeered to transport wine to the front to maintain troop morale.35

The cause of bacterial spoilage in fortified wines was identified as lactic acid bacteria (Lactobacillus genera). The importance of acid level control to prevent bacterial spoilage of fortified wines was recognized.36

The University of California at Davis published a map of California with five classifications of climate zone. It was based on degree days or heat summation. The map identified each zone with the grape varieties most suited for it.37

The Heliothermic Index, a temperature summation adjusted for latitude, was developed.38

Quarrying of the gravel in abandoned vineyards began in the Medoc in France. It continues in the twenty-first century. This destroys any possible use of the land as vineyards in the future.39

• Over 120,000 acres (50,000 hectares) of Malbec grapes were being cultivated in Argentina by the 1950s. The resulting wines would later set international standards for what the variety could achieve.40
• The first horizontal strike mechanical grape harvester  was developed at the University of California at Davis.41

wine in the 20th century

Max Schubert

• A winemaker at Australia’s Penfolds winery, Max Schubert, began experimenting with what would later become known as Penfolds Grange. It is now recognized as Australia’s most iconic wine and one of the very best in the world.42  
• The Georges Aubert winery moved to Brazil from France. This marking the beginning of a later arrival of multinationals wine companies.43

• The best red wines in the Graves district of Bordeaux were classified. This enhanced their prices. The whites would be classified in 1959.44
• Baron Philippe de Rothschild began a 20 year political battle to get his chateau raised from its 1855 classification as a Second Growth to a First Growth.45 See listing for 1973.

wine in the 20th century

Dr. Konstantin Frank

The first European variety grape vines were planted in New York State. Dr. Konstantin Frank  correctly believed that that they could survive the cold winters of the Finger Lakes region. He was an immigrant  Ukrainian viticulturist.46

The best white wines in the Graves district of Bordeaux were classified. This enhanced their marketability.47 The reds had been classified in 1953.

• France began expanding into the large scale production of low cost wines.48
• New World wine producers began labeling their wines varietally rather than geographically.  This practice has also become common in much of the Old World.

Unusual weather led to the best Bordeaux vintage in almost 20 years.49

• Alsace received AOC status.50
• Italy established the Denominazione di Origine Controllata or (DOC), a national appellation or controlled name of origin system.51

wine in the 20th century1964
• The boxed packaging of wine was invented.53
• Sangria was introduced into the U.S. market.52
• The production of table wine exceed that of fortified wine in the U.S.54  

• A patented stainless-steel tank enabling vintners to control the temperature of their freshly pressed grapes became standard equipment in most wineries during the decade. It’s the Potter fermenter, invented by Ron Potter.55
• The first European variety grape vines were planted in Michigan.56

Germany passed a wine law to bring the country into conformity with the mandates of the European Economic Community (EEC).57

Chateau-bottling became mandatory for classified wines in Bordeaux.58

wine in the 20th century

Philippe de Rothschild

• Baron Philippe de Rothschild successfully ended a 20 year political battle to get his chateau raised from its 1855 classification as a Second Growth to a First Growth.61 See listing for 1953.
• South Africa implemented its Wine of Origin certification system.59
• The first wine in the now famous Marlborough region of New Zealand was produced.60

• The first commercial vineyard was planted in Denmark. The EU has subsequently and inexplicably limited total growth in the entire country at 245 acres (99 hectares).62
• Zinfandel and Primitivo were identified as being the same.63 This fact was later confirmed by DNA profiling in 1994.
• Vineyard acreage in the state of New York State reached its peaked and then began to decline.64

wine in the 20th centuryThe historic Judgment of Paris  wine tasting comparing California wines with the best wines of France was held in Paris. It became the most influential event of wine in the twentieth century in the world of wine. Judged blind by leading French wine experts, California wines won first place in both red and white categories.65  Vintners around the world immediately realized that they, too, might be able to produce wines as great, or even greater, than those produced in the most famous regions of France. Subsequent events have proved them right. The Judgment of Paris tasting competition fundamentally revolutionized the world of wine in the 20th century.66 It has been transformed since that milestone event.

The ‘chemical age’ index for wine, based on spectral measurements, was introduced.67

wine in the 20th century

Robert M. Parker, Jr.

• Robert M. Parker, Jr., began publishing Wine Advocate and using his 100-point wine rating system. Parker’s judgments are widely used by consumers in making decisions about their purchases. They have a powerful influence on both wine style and prices around the world. His judgments are credited with the emergence of the so-called ‘garage wines’ for which there is high demand.68
• The San Francisco Wine Tasting of 1978 was conducted 20 months after the historic Paris Wine Tasting using the same wines. In this blind competition, the top three wines among both white and red wines were from California. Thus, California wines further improved their ranking.69
• The European Economic Community imposed rules governing wine production in all its member states.70
• Infrared aerial photography was first used for early detection of Phylloxera and other soil-borne problems in California.71

New World wine continued to demonstrate the quality it could achieve. Three years after the Judgment of Paris competition opened eyes, it occurred again. It was ‘at the Gault-Millau Wine Olympics [when] another icon of French winemaking fell. A 1971 Penfolds Grange Hermitage, an Australian Shiraz, walked away with a first prize in Shiraz, a field long dominated by the French.’72 And California wines continued to receive top awards in various categories. The sponsor of the event, the French food and wine magazine Gault-Millau, noted that California produced wines that ‘can be considered among the best in the world.’ And it was clear that California was not alone in this ability.73

III. Wine in the 20th Century: 1980s to Present

• The production and marketing of medium sweet, lightly sparking rosés greatly increased in Portugal. In the late 1980s, Mateus accounted for over 40% of the country’s total table wine exports. Lancers was also a major producer.74
• India began importing vinefera grape vines.75
• Bulgaria was the world’s second largest wine producer.76

wine in the 20th century


• Zealand’s Marlborough area is  the source of its now world famous Sauvignon Blanc. In 1980 most of the area  was still covered by sheep-grazing.77
• Australia produced almost no Chardonnay.78
• A new program was begun in California to control the spread of Sharpshooters. This is a pest that infects grape vines with Pierce’s disease. The program released a predator of Sharpshooters into the environment.79

• To reduce problems caused by excess production of wine, the European Union (EU) introduced the practice of crisis distillation. However, the ’emergency practice’ was used in 22 of the 26 years between its introduction and 2008.80
• An outstanding vintage in Bordeaux caused a boom in demand for French wine. This was stimulated by the powerful influence of wine critic Robert Parker. He declared it the ‘vintage of the century.’ Several great vintages that decade helped maintain the boom.81
• Cork taint was identified as a wine fault.82

• The fame of the Sauvignon Blanc produced in the Marlborough region of New Zealand largely began with the establishment of the Cloudy Bay winery.83
• The acreage of Cabernet Franc in California tripled between 1983 and 1988.84
• An outbreak of Phylloxera occurred in Napa Valley in California.85

A standardized wine aroma wheel was developed. It promoted research on factors influencing the perception of flavors.86

• Several of the 40,000 wine producers in Austria artificially sweetened their wine with diethylene glycol. News media mistook the additive for anti-freeze and claimed that Austrian wine was poisoned. The so-called scandal harmed sales of Austrian wines.87 It might well be argued that the real scandal was that news media were so careless. They ended up harming many innocent people.
• Viognier vines were first planted in California.88

On the tenth anniversary of the historic Judgment of Paris wine competition, two replications were performed with the red wines. (Whites were not judged because they would all be past their prime.) The California wines aged better and increased their rankings in the blind contests.89

‘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…’90

wine in the 20th century1988
• Ontario implemented the Canadian name of origin system called Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA).91
• The Australian Vine Improvement Association was established.92
• Health and safety warnings on all wine labels became mandatory in the U.S.93
• The Meritage Alliance was formed by a group of vintners in the U.S.  It defines and promotes Meritage, a blended wine.94

The Soviet Union collapsed and move to a market economy. Many vineyards were destroyed and converted to other crops. This dramatically reducing wine production.95

• The wine industry collapsed in Kosovo when Yugoslavia disintegrated during the 1990s. It destroyed much of the wine and other infrastructure.96
• The garagistes, a group of highly innovative winemakers emerged in Bordeaux’s St.-Emilion. They broke with tradition and restrictive rules governing how wines were to be made. Instead, they produced very concentrated and deeply flavored wines. Influential critic Robert Parker praised these creations and they commanded very high prices.97
• Worldwide vineyard acreage dropped ten percent in the 1990s. The decline occurred almost exclusively in Europe.98
• Gallo was the largest producer of wines in the world.99

• British Columbia implemented the Canadian named origin system called Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA).100
• With the return of democracy, the wine industry in Chile began a slow but steady recovery.101

wine in the 20th century1991
• The November 17 edition of the U.S. television program, 60 Minutes, reported on the French Paradox. This greatly increased awareness of the health benefits of drinking red wine in moderation.101 It quickly led to an almost one-third increase in red wine sales in the U.S.103 In reality, the moderate consumption of red wine, white wine, beer, and distilled spirits all contribute to better health and greater longevity than does either abstaining or drinking heavily. Visit Alcohol and Health.
• Denmark was prohibited by the European Union from producing wine because of the ‘European wine lake’ of over-production.104
• France enacted the Loi Evin, which prohibits advertising alcoholic beverages.105

• Law 164  was passed. It was to strengthen Italy’s DOC legislation which had been passed in 1963.106
• Thailand lifted its ban on the production of wine.107

wine in the 20th century1993
• Thailand’s first winery was established.109
• Portugal began creating a number of wine routes to promote wine tourism.108
• DNA profiling for the identification of grape variety was used for the first time.110

• The EU entered into a trade agreement with Australia in which that country’s wines were given preferential tariff treatment. Australia agreed to prohibit the use of generic European wine names such as Burgundy and Champagne and to identify regions of origin for its wine.111
• It was discovered that the ‘Merlot’ in Chile is actually the ‘lost grape’ of Bordeaux known as Carmenere. This was confirmed by DNA profiling three years later.112

• Sherry (also known as Jerez or Xeres) received the exclusive legal right to use of that name for wine marketed in the EU.113
• A standard measurement  for grape color was developed. It measures  total grape anthocyanins, which determine the color of red wine.114
• The Coalition for Free Trade was established in the U.S. ‘to legalize direct-to-consumer shipments of wine for out-of-state wineries.’115

wine in the 20th century1998
• As the prestige of Grange continued to rise, a six-liter bottle of the 1998 vintage sold for $46,080.116
• ‘Free the Grapes!’ was organize by five wine industry associations in the U.S. It seeks to remove restrictions in those states that still prohibit consumers from purchasing wines directly from wineries and retailers in any state.117

wine in the 20th century

Legion d’Honneur

Calling Robert Parker the ‘most followed and influential critic of French wines in the world,’ President Jacques Chirac made him a knight in the Legion of Honor (Legion d’Honneur). This is France’s highest award. Parker was and remains the most influential wine critic in the world.118

Wine in the Twenty-First Century

Constellation Brands, Inc. became the largest producer of wines in the world.119

wine in the 20th century

Glassy-Winged Sharpshooter

• A program was begun by a researcher of the University of California at Riverside to control the spread of Glassy-Winged Sharpshooters. Its natural predator was released into the environment.121
• Over the previous 50 years, annual per capita wine consumption fell 60% in France, 45% in Italy, about one-third in both Portugal and Spain, and about one-quarter in Germany.120

• Denmark was permitted by the European Union to produce wine. Doing so has become easier because global warming has increased the growing period by about three weeks.122
• By 2002, there were over 2,000 vacuum concentrators being used in Bordeaux alone. These machines mechanically remove water from unfermented grape juice. This industrial process makes the resulting wine seem more concentrated than it would be otherwise.123  
• Severe weather in Italy caused wine production to drop by half.124

The Pennsylvania Premium Wine Group was formed by fourteen wineries in the state. It created the Pennsylvania Quality Assurance (PQA) certification system. To receive a PQA seal, a wine must be ‘made to prescribed quality standards as well as be approved by a professional tasting panel.’125

wine in the 20th centuryThe plot of the popular film Sideways included a search for the ‘perfect’ Pinot. That led to substantial interest in that varietal.129
• A campaign to ‘drink less, drink better’ by the Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins de Bordeaux (CIVB) was banned. It was taken to court by the apparently 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.’126
• The French wine industry was in a state of crisis with declining domestic consumption and rapidly declining exports. This led to enormous protests across southern France. The government responded by proposing numerous major changes to make French wine more competitive.127
• The film Mondovino criticized what it considered to be the globalization of wine.128

• The U.S. Supreme Court held unconstitutional (Granholm v. Heald) laws in the states of New York and Michigan that permitted in-state wineries to ship wine to consumers but prohibited out-of-state wineries from doing so.130
• A winery was opened in the Gobi Desert of China’s Inner Mongolia.131

• Rising levels of alcohol in wine produced around the world led to widespread debate over its causes and implications.132  
• In the 1976 Judgment of Paris competition, California wines took top honors. To minimize the significance of the results, some argued that the French wines would age better. The implication was that the French wines would win if the competition had been held later. But in the 30th anniversary tastings, California wines greatly increased their rankings by aging much better.133  

• Absinthe became legal again in the U.S. after almost a century-long ban. It had become illegal because of its supposedly hallucinogenic properties. This belief appears to have been heavily promoted by French wine producers who faced stiff competition from the increasingly popular beverage.134    
• China was the sixth largest producer of wine in the world.135  
• Wine critic Robert Parker insured his nose for $1,000,000.136

alcohol in recent2010
The healthful Mediterranean diet, which includes the frequent moderate consumption of alcohol, was recognized as an intangible world cultural heritage (World Heritage). This, by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).137

• The U.S. became the world’s largest wine consumer by volume.138
• Although China’s modern wine history is only a few decades old, a blind tasting was held by French and Chinese experts. Bordeaux was compared to wine from China. Of the five wines ranked highest by the experts, four were from Ningxia, a region where some of China’s best wines are emerging. After the results were announced several French judges argued that the competition was unfair. In any case, the competition demonstrates at the very least that China clearly has the potential to become a major competitor in the international marketing of top-quality wines.139

Rudy Kurniawan’s wine fraud was not uncovered because someone tasted the deception (they didn’t!). It was because he made mistakes on some of the labels.
wine in the 20th century

Rudy Kurniawan

• Rudy Kurniawan was arrested for (and convicted of) massive wine fraud involving the sale of over $20,000,000 of counterfeit rare wine. The vast quantities of fraudulent wine that he put into circulation ‘may have left the market for rare and old wines irredeemably corrupted.’140
• Wine author Paul Lukacs wrote 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…..’141  

• China became the world’s largest consumer of red wine. It consumed 155 million cases of red wine, more than France’s 150 million and Italy’s 141 million.142  Of course, its per capita consumption was much lower.
• If California were a nation, it would be the fourth leading wine-producing country in the world behind France, Italy and Spain.’143
• Australia’s Yellow Tail is the number one wine imported into the U.S. ‘The US imports more  Yellow Tail each year than the total number of bottles imported from France.’144

In the U.K., 46 new companies registered as wine producers during the tax year.145


Summary: Wine in the 20th Century

The world of wine in the 20th century was very eventful. Prohibition in the US  (1920-1933) forced most wineries out of existence. A few survived by making wine for communion and wine for Seder. Repeal of Prohibition breathed some life into wine but its recovery was slow.

Interest in producing fine wines arose in California in the late 1950s. In 1976, both red and white California wines were judged best in blind tasting by French experts. The Judgment of Paris opened eyes around the world. Winemakers in the New World realized that they could make first quality wines.

This interest led to productive competition and efforts to improve the quality of all wines. The results have beneficial to the wines of the New World, of France, and of the rest of the Old World. Wine in the 20th century has laid the basis for even better wine in the 21st century.

The future looks bright for wine.



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