When Missouri achieved statehood in 1821, tens of thousands of immigrants rushed in looking for a better life. Many were escaping political, religious and economic oppression in Europe. Missouri's abundant and virtually untapped resources attracted large numbers of immigrants from Germany, France, Switzerland, Austria and eventually Italy. The rich soils, expansive waterway connections, timber and abundant game made Missouri a veritable Eden for the poor and the landless.
In 1824, Gottfried Duden, an optimistic traveler from Germany, arrived
on Missouri soil. He believed that many of Germany's woes resulted from overpopulation and poverty. Thinking emigration was the solution to these problems, Duden and his friend Louis Eversmann had set sail for America
to study the possibilities of German settlement in the United States.
Arriving in St. Louis, Duden and Eversmann found Nathan Boone, son of Daniel Boone and surveyor of government lands. Boone led them on a tour of the Missouri River valley. For almost three years he lived in a cabin near Lake Creek, recording the weather, growing conditions and daily doings on his farm. In 1829 Duden published his findings back in Germany and it soon became a best-seller. To struggling—even starving—Germans back home, these words offered an almost irresistible allure of freedom and plenty. Feeling the oppression back home, the promotional writings of many Germans, including Duden's glowing account, inspired thousands of Germans to emigrate to the "New Rhineland."
As German settlers pushed westward, many carried carefully-wrapped clippings from their old world vineyards. Many of the groups traveled down the Ohio River from Cincinnati, to the Mississippi and up to the mouth of the Missouri River at St. Louis, right in the footsteps of Gottfried Duden.
Moving to a new land caused a deep yearning to preserve their heritage. In 1836, the German Settlement Society was intent on establishing a new "Fatherland" in America. They selected some land on the south bank of the Missouri River, west of St. Louis, and founded Hermann. The original town was laid out with some plots originally sold as wine plots, beginning in the 1840s. Though their settlement met with many hardships and the soil on the hills nearby wasn't appropriate for many forms of agriculture, by 1846 they had produced their first wine from locally cultivated grapes. In 1848, the town's wineries produced 1,000 gallons. By 1855, 500 acres of vineyard were in production and wine was being shipped to St. Louis and beyond.
By 1870 Missouri led the nation in wine production and the North American Norton grape produced a wine made by a Missouri winery which won a gold medal in a Vienna competition in 1873. Five years later, another Missouri Norton Wine Gold in Paris. Norton wine was lauded not just for its taste but also for its presumed healthfulness as “the best medicinal wine in America.” Missouri wines won eight gold medals at world fairs between 1873 and 1904
By 1900, Stone Hill Winery, which the German immigrant Michael Poeschel began building in 1847, was the third largest winery in the world (second largest in the U.S.), producing more than a million gallons of wine a year.
Before 1920, there were wineries in 48 Missouri counties. Long before anyone had ever heard of Harry Truman, Independence MO was known for its wine production. In fact, Missouri's Wine region grew to include more than 100 wineries.
It all came to an abrupt halt in 1920 with the passing of the Volstead Act and the addition of the 18th amendment to the Constitution. Prohibition dealt a fatal blow to Missouri's wine industry. Many families lost their livelihood. The destruction of Stone Hill Winery completely ruined the local economy. A full decade before the stock market crash of 1929, Hermann was plunged into the Great Depression.
It is said that when the Government Agents, “Revenuers” came to Stone Hill and began pouring the wine out, it flowed through the streets from three in the afternoon until two in the morning in a river three inches deep down the street and into the Missouri River.
But they didn’t stop there. They destroyed all the equipment in such a way it could never be used again. In most cases the only wine making equipment that survived was that which was taken to local churches, because they were exempted from the act so they could make their sacramental wines. In fact, the only Missouri winery to survive this dry period was St. Stanislaus Novitiate, located in St. Louis, where the Jesuits continued to produce sacramental wine.
Following repeal of the act in 1934, Missouri's wine industry was nothing but a memory. High liquor taxes and license fees discouraged the industry's rebirth. People’s tasts had shifted as well to hard liquor as a result of the speakeasies, bathtub gin, gangsters, and moonshiners. A few dozen wineries did reopen, but much of Missouri remained legally dry, and a there was little demand for anything other than sweet, dessert-style wines.
Some Norton vines survived in Missouri in what has been described as the vineyard of a bootlegger. Prohibition’s destruction eradicated the Norton grape entirely from Virginia, its birthplace.
In 1965 Jim Held, a legitimate vintner obtained cuttings and started bringing the vine and Missouri winemaking back. Winemaking is on the rise in Missouri again, but the industry as a whole was probably set back one hundred years. One article at the time says that a billion dollars (1920 dollars, second only to US Steel) was lost in the US in an instant due to the complete and utter destruction of the Alcohol Industry and lest we forget that is not just breweries, distilleries and vineyards.
It is farms, labor, equipment manufacturers, bottlers, distributors (rail, sea, and highway), salesman, advertisers, retailers…everything: gone or greatly reduced.
But think about this, whether you like wine, or even don’t drink a drop of alcohol at all; this was a big big industry. This was people’s culture, it was their livelihoods and their life’s work. They came HERE from somewhere else to live their dreams. They built something from nothing. The came to the US to build something and to make their families’ lives better and believed in the promise this country held enough to risk their lives to come here. They were the leaders in their fields the champions of the industry. They did it here, it was in America. It was a legacy. If not for prohibition Missouri, and by extension US wine, could have eclipsed all French or Italian winemaking. We will never know.
How many of us would like to see our life’s work run through the streets and into the river and be gone; destroyed simply because of political pressure and authority?
We lost our history, people lost fortunes. And it wasn’t an outside force that did it. It was well meaning do-gooders who thought they could legislate morality. We did it to ourselves, and we used our own government against us.
Think of all the other things that the US was or is known for being truly exceptional at. Would you like to lose those simply due to government involvement?
The Automobile industry? Oh, wait….nevermind.
The Fast Food and Soft drink industry…under assault
Possibly the best example: The oil industry and our dependence on foreign oil.
The cost of gasoline in this country today is a direct result of us allowing political pressure to mandate economic and industrial reality based on a set of beliefs that are held by a certain set of people to the detriment of us all. It is because of climate change alarmists and what amounts to a Volstead Act on the Oil Industry in this country.
Government is only force, fire, and destruction; it cannot create one thing and it is a power that doesn’t care who it is directed at. It is simply a monster of destruction and chaos and you can never control it, and it would just as soon hurt one group as it would another.
Our only defense is in understanding what has been done with it in the past.