America’s modern infatuation with wine began in earnest in the 1960s. Compared to Old World countries in Europe, our wine culture is young. Since the time of the American Revolution there had always been a market among the upper classes for imported European wine, but consumption was small relative to other alcoholic beverages. The nineteenth century saw waves of immigrants from the Old World who brought winemaking knowledge to our shores. Many of these immigrants headed west where they helped build California’s wine industry. In the decades preceding Prohibition we made strides in local production and consumption, but the majority of those efforts were undone by our national booze ban.

Decades later wine began its steady march to where it is today. These advertisements show the changing ways we’ve perceived wine and our reasons for choosing it over beer or spirits. Wine was reintroduced to the American public in a period marked by the rapid rise of the middle class. The mid-century ads reflect that period in their stress on entertaining and hosting guests. Those ads also convey ease. Wine was a foreign product, literally in the case of imports, and figuratively for inexperienced drinkers. As wine’s popularity increased we see a shift to ads that focus on quality and diversity in tastes.

Back In 1889 You Could Find Ads In A Directory Of Local San Francisco Merchants For California Grown Wine. Gundlach Bundschu Winery Is The Same J. Gundlach That Ran This Ad 125 Years Ago!

California Wine Ad From 1889
Langley’s San Francisco directory for the year commencing 1889 via

Circa 1910: Anti-Laria – A Sparkling Wine With That Champagne Kick…At A Fraction Of The Cost

Anti-Laria Non-Alcoholic Sparkling Wine

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1941: The Wines Of California Featuring Lynn Fontanne

Guests Choose Wine!

1941: Impress Your Guests With Inexpensive American Grown ‘Virginia Dare’ Wine. You Can Drink It With Or Without Food. Your Parties Will Be Tops Either Way!

Virginia Dare Comic Wine Ad

1962: This Beautiful Ad From America’s Leading Wine Producer E. & J. Gallo Promised A Wonderful Evening. It Was Still Common In This Period To Identify Single Varietal Wines By The Old World Region Where They Originated.

1962 Illustrated Ad, Gallo Wines, Romantic Evening with Elegant Woman & Man
Drink Wonderful With Gallo Wines in Ebony. Source: flickr/classic_film

1968: This Ad Stresses How Mogen David’s ‘Specially’ Sweetened, Concord Grape Wine Was Suitable For Any Occasion. Versatility Was A Key Selling Point To New Wine Drinkers.

Mogen David Table Wine
Mogen David Concord Wine Ad in Ebony. Source: flickr/classic_film

1969: As This Ad For Ruffino Shows, The Traditional Straw Basket Fitted Fiasco Bottle Had Already Created A Quality Perception Problem For Chianti Producers By 1969.

Ruffino Ad Explaining To Look Inside The Fiasco

1974: Jug Wine Was Still A Popular Inexpensive Drink In America, But Even Here A Shift To Higher Quality Was Appearing In Marketing Campaigns.

Almaden Jug Wines Are Aged In Wood

1970s: The Sweet German Wine, Blue Nun, Took The World By Storm, Selling 1.25 Million Cases In The US Annually At Its Peak. The Wine Was Marketed And Priced As A Premium Wine For The Mass Market.

Blue Nun Wine

1977: As American Palates Evolved Brands Began Marketing Wines To Exploit Those Shifts, Like This Ricasoli Ad Touting A Red Wine Light Enough For White Wine Lovers.

Ricasoli Red Wine For White Wine Lovers

1981: Pioneering California Winery Paul Masson Blitzed TV And Print With Campaigns Featuring Orson Welles Stressing Quality…In Plain English.

Paul Masson Wine

1987: Château Mouton Rothschild’s ‘Second Wine,’ Mouton-Cadet Was Heavily Marketed For Decades, Turning It Into The Highest Selling Bordeaux Wine In The World. A Series Of Ads Including This One Played On French Elegance As Well As Sexuality.

Mouton Cadet