The history of American wine extends from before Columbus’s first voyage to the invention of the Internet in 1989 and beyond. It is fraught with diseases, mold, and pests. But it also includes successes of wines from all over the U.S., including New York, Oregon, and, of course, California, in international wine competitions. Here are five important periods in American wine history:
Depending on when you went to school, the archaeological evidence might not quite match up with what you were taught in American history. The first Europeans to reach North America were from Scandinavia. These Viking explorers called these new lands “Vinland” because the areas they explored were filled with wild grapes. In an account written in about 1075, Adam of Bremen wrote explorers found that natural grapevines produced “vinum optimum,” Latin for “the best wine.”
The Vikings had a long tradition of producing beer and mead, but due to the climate in Scandinavia, could only acquire wine through trade or pillage. Finding a place with grapes suitable for wine making was a significant discovery. However, wine grapes do not travel well, so wine making was limited to the few explorers who stayed behind in Vinland.
Colonization to Founding
In most areas where European colonists settled, wine making was one of the goals for creating a self-sustaining colony. However, English colonists in the Virginia and Massachusetts colonies had difficulty producing wine. The wild grapes produced wines that were not to the colonists’ liking and grapes transplanted from Europe succumbed to local pests and disease.
French and Spanish colonists had greater success. By the late 1500s and early 1600s, French Huguenots produced wine in Florida using American grapes and Spanish colonists produced wine in New Mexico using transplanted European grapes.
The first California winery was established around the time that the U.S. declared its independence from Great Britain. In 1779, Spanish missionaries planted grapes from Spain in San Diego, California. By 1805, these grapes had been carried to California’s Sonoma Valley by Spanish missionaries who planted the area’s first vineyard.
Some of the finest wines come from France and Spain. To get a taste of what these earliest colonists produced, look for online wine sellers that carry French and Spanish wines. Moreover, the wine making traditions in Chile and Argentina are direct descendants of these early Spanish efforts. Many online wine sellers also sell Chilean and Argentinian wine online.
Founding to Prohibition
As America grew, vineyards and wineries spread along with it. Some of the earliest vineyards outside of the French and Spanish colonies were in Pennsylvania and Indiana. Kentucky’s legislature chartered a commercial vineyard and winery shortly after its the state’s founding.
The first commercially successful vineyard and winery was established in Cincinnati, Ohio in the 1830s. Wine making in Ohio and Illinois was heavily influenced by German immigrants to the area. Black rot wiped out Ohio’s wine industry in the 1860s, prompting wine makers to move east to New York and west to Missouri. New York’s wine industry has operated fairly continuously since this time and you can often find wine deals online for New York wines originating from the Hudson Valley, Finger Lakes, and Long Island regions from online wine sellers.
Around this time, California wine exploded. By the late 1800s, California wine developed an internationally recognized reputation. California wines were winning medals in international wine competitions and being exported throughout the world.
Prohibition crippled the American wine industry. Some wineries in eastern states survived by producing sacramental wine for religious purposes. Wineries in California attempted to survive by growing grapes for home vintners, since small-scale home production was permitted under Prohibition. Although there are more than 10,000 different types of wine grapes, wine grapes do not travel well and this was a non-viable business model.
The 87 Years Since Prohibition
The American wine industry was slow to recover after Prohibition was repealed. In the 1970s and 1980s, however, wineries attracted investment to support the infrastructure to improve quality. This investment supported established wineries in California, New York, and Pennsylvania and allowed expansion to Washington and Oregon. By 1986, American wines were again winning medals in international competitions.
Online wine sales of American wines are easy to find. Many online wine sellers and online wine shops carry wines produced throughout the U.S.