A History of Wine in America: From the Beginnings to Prohibition

A History of Wine in America: From the Beginnings to Prohibition

A History of Wine in America: From the Beginnings to Prohibition

A History of Wine in America: From the Beginnings to Prohibition


The Vikings called North America "Vinland," the land of wine. Giovanni de Verrazzano, the Italian explorer who first described the grapes of the New World, was sure that "they would yield excellent wines." And when the English settlers found grapes growing so thickly that they covered the ground down to the very seashore, they concluded that "in all the world the like abundance is not to be found." Thus, from the very beginning the promise of America was, in part, the alluring promise of wine. How that promise was repeatedly baffled, how its realization was gradually begun, and how at last it has been triumphantly fulfilled is the story told in this book.

It is a story that touches on nearly every section of the United States and includes the whole range of American society from the founders to the latest immigrants. Germans in Pennsylvania, Swiss in Georgia, Minorcans in Florida, Italians in Arkansas, French in Kansas, Chinese in California--all contributed to the domestication of Bacchus in the New World. So too did innumerable individuals, institutions, and organizations. Prominent politicians, obscure farmers, eager amateurs, sober scientists: these and all the other kinds and conditions of American men and women figure in the story. The history of wine in America is, in many ways, the history of American origins and of American enterprise in microcosm.

While much of that history has been lost to sight, especially after Prohibition, the recovery of the record has been the goal of many investigators over the years, and the results are here brought together for the first time.

In print in its entirety for the first time, A History of Wine in America is the most comprehensive account of winemaking in the United States, from the Norse discovery of native grapes in 1001 A.D., through Prohibition, and up to the present expansion of winemaking in every state.


This history is a first attempt to tell the story of grape growing and winemaking in the United States from the beginning and in detail. Now that winegrowing in the United States has succeeded so brilliantly after long years of frustration, and now that it is beginning once again to spread to nearly every state in the union, it seems to me particularly fitting that the many obscure and forgotten people and their work lying behind that success should be brought out into the light. It is also instructive to see how many names celebrated in other connections also belong to the story of American winegrowing, from Captain John Smith onwards. Even more important, a knowledge of the difficulties they faced and of the work they did will help us to understand better the success that has at last been achieved. At any rate, that is the conviction from which this history has been written.

The struggle to make the New World yield wine such as they had known in Europe was begun by the earliest settlers and was persisted in for generations, only to end in defeat over and over again. Few things can have been more eagerly tried and more thoroughly frustrated in American history than the enterprise of growing European varieties of grapes for the making of wine. Not until it was recognized that only the native grape varieties could succeed against the endemic diseases and harsh climate of North America did winemaking have a chance in the eastern part of the country. That recognition came slowly and was made reluctantly. Then, midway through the nineteenth century, the colonization and development of California transformed the situation. In California the European grape flourished, and the state quickly became a bountiful source of wines resembling the familiar European types. At the same time, the development of new hybrid grapes and an accumulating experience in winemaking produced a variety of wines in the diverse conditions of the country outside of California. By the beginning of the twentieth century the growing of grapes and the making of wine across the United States was a proven and important economic activity. The hopes of the first settlers, after nearly three centuries of trial, defeat, and renewed effort, were at last realized. Then came national Prohibition, apparently putting an end to the story at one stroke. Such, in barest outline, is the story that this history fills out in detail.

The choice of the era of national Prohibition as the stopping point of the story was not my original intention, but it came to seem inevitable as I learned more about the subject. There are deep continuities that hold together the history of . . .

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