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Corrales Heritage Day recalls Prohibition

Federal agents break casks of wine in New Mexico during Prohibition. This photo will be featured at Heritage Day in Corrales. (Courtesy of Albuquerque Museum Brooks Collection)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — It’s the 1920s and agriculture still dominates the Corrales landscapes.

Livestock dots the landscape and the acequias are full of flowing water.

Water isn’t the only thing flowing through the small, rural community. Prohibition is in full swing but brandy and wine are being produced by the gallons.

This year’s Heritage Day, on Saturday, May 18, organized by the Corrales Historical Society, will focus on Corrales’ interesting and flavorful relationship with alcohol when producing it made one an outlaw. In 1919, the U.S. Congress ratified the 18th Amendment, making it illegal to produce, transport or sale alcohol but not to consume it. That same year, they also passed the Volstead Act, which established a way to enforce Prohibition.

According to the historical society, Corrales was once the brandy capital of New Mexico and a Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District map from 1927 shows more than 140 vineyards in the village. With the tagline “Still crazy after all these years,” Heritage Day will feature displays on the history of wine and brandy making in Corrales as well as old stories about that time. Brad Clement will entertain with songs about Prohibition and other tunes from the 1920s.

According to the village website, starting in the 1860s European families from Italy and France began to settle in the Corrales valley and began growing a variety of grapes they brought from their native lands. This led to the establishment of numerous vineyards.

Dorothy Trafton, 87, descends from one of those families. Her grandfather came to Corrales from Italy in about 1889. After arriving, he sent for his brother who came across the ocean with grapes. The two established hundreds of acres of vineyard.

Trafton said they continued producing wine right through Prohibition, technically making them bootleggers. She was still a baby when Congress passed another constitutional amendment in 1933 that ended Prohibition but she remembers the stories she heard growing up. Stories of raids, hidden booze and drunken Sundays.

“(My uncle) had a cellar he dug down deep with stills and barrels,” she said. “That’s where they made the booze … Sundays were the booziest day of the week. After church, people would drive over and pick up supplies for the rest of week and go home and drink.”

Her family made wine until the late 1930s. Going down into the cellar, she said, was one of her favorite activities as a child.

“When they were done, they would bring over the leftover skins and stuff,” she said. “They would feed it to the chickens. I used to like watching the drunk chickens.”

Trafton still lives in Corrales on her grandfather’s land, which she now uses for an orchard and to grow alfalfa.

Although orchards, pastures and cornfields replaced most of the vineyards by the late 1930s, wine making still happens today in the village. Owners from some of today’s wineries will lead a discussion starting at 2 p.m. about the process of growing grapes and making wine.