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Our History

Since our founding in 1934, shortly after the repeal of Prohibition, Wine Institute has helped guide the California wine industry through 85 years of growth and prosperity. Our membership has increased from 42 wineries to over 1,000 today, and we have watched California wine become America’s favorite and win fans around the world.

Wine Institute’s most important achievements to date include:

  • Defeating proposals to increase taxes and fees on wine at the local, state and international level.
  • Passing the Craft Beverage Modernization & Tax Reform Act, the first reduction in federal excise taxes in 80 years.
  • Opening up 45 states and the District of Columbia for direct-to-consumer wine shipments.
  • Creating the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance.
  • Growing California wine exports to nearly $1.5 billion in 2018.


In The Beginning

The California wine industry literally put down its roots in 1769, when Padre Junipero Serra began his chain of missions in San Diego by planting grape seeds and vines. Eventually it stretched to Sonoma, more than 600 miles to the north.

The California wine industry owes its success to many fathers. One was a key vigneron, Jean-Louis Vignes, who established vineyards near what is now Los Angeles in 1834 and began the commercial wine industry.

By 1919, California had become America’s leading winegrowing state, with over 1,000 wineries in operation, but the following year, the 18th Amendment was enacted, bringing Prohibition. Uncertainty reigned in the vineyards of California, until Repeal on Dec. 5, 1933 with the enactment of the 21st Amendment. The California wine industry began the task of rebuilding.


Prohibition ends with ratification of the 21st Amendment.


The Wine Producers Association and former Grape Growers League of California united as Wine Institute.

Wine Institute Members at First Annual Meeting


Wine Institute advocates legislation preserving sales at wineries, allowing for winery retail sales and tourism.

The University of California officially splits the industry’s educational work, with Berkeley taking the lead in teaching basic winemaking methods and Davis teaching viticulture.


California Department of Agriculture recognizes wine as an agricultural product so the industry can secure a marketing order to create the Wine Advisory Board. Wine Institute is commissioned to promote California wines.


Wine Institute General Manager Leon Adams and Research Director Louis Gomberg develop educational, promotional and statistical information for a recovering industry.


U.C. Davis professors Amerine and Winkler publish research on varietal analysis, which lays out the degree-day climatic system’s relationship to grapegrowing, and ultimately, the production of higher quality wines.


Wine Institute adopts principles of good advertising practices for the wine industry, later published as the Wine Institute Code of Advertising Standards.


Wine Institute reports 250,000 visitors to California wineries as tasting rooms grow in number as travel destinations.


Wine Institute hires its first legislative representative to help overcome trade barriers in all 50 states and on the federal level.

An Era of Growth & Research

During the 1970s, despite the continued existence of complicated tax statutes, advertising and marketing restrictions, and attacks from Neo-prohibitionists, California wine shipments began to set records. At the legendary Judgment of Paris wine tasting, French experts chose California wines over French wines; international markets soon expanded and exports soared.

Across the Golden State, acres of new vineyards were planted, and by 1980 the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms approved and published labeling standards, allowing California to establish viticultural areas based on historical, climatic and geographic characteristics and to feature these areas on wine labels. Today, California has 139 American Viticultural Areas that identify well-known and emerging wine regions.


Table wine surpasses dessert wine in volume sales in the U.S. for the first time since Prohibition.


The Judgment of Paris: French wine experts choose California wines over French wines in a blind tasting, bringing world recognition to California wine.

Judgement of Paris Headlines


The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms establishes new, stringent standards for wine labeling and begins a program to identify American Viticultural Areas.


Wine Institute starts its Washington Week program, bringing California vintners to the nation’s capital to meet with key legislators and Administration officials to discuss important issues of the day. Wine Institute’s presence in the nation’s capital dates back to the 1940s. 

Clinton with Wine Institute Members in 1993


The U.S. Congress passes the Wine Equity and Export Expansion Act to help reduce barriers to trade abroad for American wines.


Wine Institute initiates the first direct-to-consumer wine shipping legislation in California.


Wine Institute establishes its first international office in Canada to promote California wine abroad; eventually, there will be 16 international offices.

Congress passes the Alcohol Beverage Labeling Act, requiring the Surgeon General’s Warning on wine, beer and spirits labels.


CBS TV’s “60 Minutes” airs “The French Paradox” broadcast, reporting on how the red-wine-consuming French have low rates of cardiovascular disease despite high-fat diets.

Wine Institute refocuses efforts on public policy work in response to increased legislation, regulation and anti-alcohol sentiment.


Varietal wine sales surpass generic wine sales in the U.S.


The U.S. Dietary Guidelines acknowledge the health effects of moderate wine and alcohol consumption and the reduced risk for heart disease as well as the risks of abuse for some individuals.


Wine Institute advocates for U.S. government funding for research on moderate alcohol consumption. More than $10 million is allocated to 15 research projects by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Wine Institute launches its website at


California State University, Fresno, becomes the first U.S. university to have a bonded, licensed winery on campus.


Wine Institute and the California Association of Winegrape Growers introduce the Code of Sustainable Winegrowing; the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance is established in 2003 to implement the program.


Wine Institute launches annual "California Wine Month" promotion campaign.

Wine Institute Today

In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court rules in Granholm v. Heald “that states cannot ban out-of-state wineries from shipping wine directly to consumers while allowing in-state wine producers to do so,” a major victory for wineries in their quest to liberalize shipments to consumers and end discrimination.

Armed with this decision, Wine Institute works with instate producers to advocate further change, state by state, to direct-to-consumer shipping laws, increasing the number of legal markets to 45 states representing 95 percent of U.S. consumers.


Granholm v. Heald represents an important victory for small wine producers wanting to ship directly to consumers.


U.S. Trade Representatives and European negotiators sign a wine trade agreement, following almost eight years of negotiations and over 20 years of discussions. 

Wine Institute membership reaches 1,000.


Wine Institute partners with the California Travel and Tourism Commission on a consumer campaign with a national television spot promoting the state’s wine, food and travel offerings. 


U.S. wine exports to 122 countries, 95 percent from California, surpass $1 billion for the first time.

New consumer website launched with statewide database of winery tasting rooms.


Wine Institute celebrates 75 years.


The U.S. becomes the world's largest wine-consuming nation.

CSWA introduces third-party Certified Sustainable program.


Congress approves U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement which eliminates tariffs and other barriers to trade in most goods and services within five years, immediately removing 15% tariff on U.S. wines imported to Korea.


New annual April "Down to Earth" celebration launched for California sustainable winegrowing.

U.S. extends Permanent Normal Trade Relations to Russia and Moldova: Russian Tariff on U.S. wines reduced over four years.


Wine Institute publishes new "Down to Earth" book on California sustainable winegrowing.

The World Wine Trade Group of eight governments formally agree to groundbreaking set of international principles for nations to use to establish wine regulations and facilitate international wine trade.


Winners announced for First Annual California Green Medal: Sustainable Winegrowing Leadership Awards

CSWA receives Governor’s top environmental GEELA award for the third time.


Wine Institute releases study showing California wines annual economic impact $57.6 billion in California; $114.1 billion in U.S.


U.S. Congress passes first excise tax reduction in 80 years.

California Wine Economic Impact website launched at


Wine Institute and Avalara (formerly Compli) launch new direct-to-consumer compliance website at


Wine Institute publishes new book Wine Country Table on California wines, regions and recipes.

U.S.-Japan Trade Agreement signed and will reduce tariffs on agricultural products including wine.

For More on the Wine Institute’s History

In 2019, Wine Institute donated its organizational archive and book collection to the library at the University of California, Davis, including airline menus boasting California wines, vineyard growing histories and even a movie screenplay set during Prohibition. They complement the extensive wine collections already at the university and are broadly available to scholars, researchers, writers and wineries.

Press Release

Wine Institute Donates Archive to UC Davis

Wine Institute, the leading association for the California wine industry, has donated its organizational archive and book collection to UC Davis. Read More...