Introducing Wine Bricks!

While working on the history of Mendocino County, which I just finished writing, I was trying to establish if any wineries in this county tried producing what were called wine bricks or grape bricks. It does not seem so, but they were made in Sonoma and Napa counties and their story is fascinating.

After 1920 Prohibition laws in the USA said you could not sell, produce or transport alcoholic beverages, but you could make 200 gallons of wine for home consumption yearly. The Vino Sano Company made dried grape blocks in several flavors: Tokay, Sauterne, Burgundy, Port, Muscatel, Claret, and Riesling.

The company provided detailed instructions on how to make your non-alcoholic, unfermented grape juice and Heaven Forbid you didn’t make a mistake and let it ferment and it turned into wine. They claimed their bricks were for grape juice and nothing more…right?

Bricks were dissolved in ¾ gallons of warm water in a crock and instructions suggested making five gallons at a time. “If the juice is not intended to be consumed in five days it will gradually turn into wine.” What a waste of good grape juice! Add 1/10% benzoate of soda to prevent that fermentation. Stir once a day. Strain through a linen cloth and place the juice in a keg. Close the jug to prevent impurities with a cork with a “V” cut in it to allow gasses to escape. Sugar should be added to customer’s taste. Let it sit three weeks and stir contents occasionally.

The Vino Sano Company said “If Benzoate of soda was not added in time the liquid may now be in fermentation, and turn to wine.” Keep liquid in the refrigerator, sterilize it by boiling before bottling, avoid that yeast…or fermentation could happen. The Company claimed they worked hard instructing their customers how to prevent their fruit juices from turning into wine…or vinegar. They were helping farmers sell surplus grapes and doing the American public a favor by producing inexpensive and easily transported grape bricks.

The parting comment in the instructional brochure commenced with “…we condemn anything in excess…however to legislate what people should eat or drink in their homes is obnoxious to thinking people, which we have to admit, are rather in the minority of a people, which therefore is governed by the unthinking, ignorant majority.” Hmmmm.

Between grape bricks and sacramental wine some vineyards flourished in California. Beaulieu, Concannon, Martini and Beringer vineyards sold sacramental wine to priests and rabbis around the country. In 1924 a ton of grapes was worth $375, a 3,847% increase from the pre-prohibition price of $9.50 a ton.

So there you have it…your wine industry history tidbit for the day. Let us praise those “Bacchus Bricks” and the “liquid poetry” they produced.