Indiana Home to Nation's First Winery

By Neal, Andrea | Evansville Courier & Press (2007-Current), December 18, 2013 | Go to article overview

Indiana Home to Nation's First Winery


Neal, Andrea, Evansville Courier & Press (2007-Current)


Editor's note: This is one in a series of essays leading up to the celebration of the Indiana Bicentennial in December 2016. The essays will focus on the top 100 events, ideas and historical figures of Indiana, beginning with the impact of the ice age and ending with the legacy of the Bicentennial itself.

In 1796, John James Dufour left his native Switzerland to seek a new life and opportunity in the United States. Less than a decade later, he opened the country's first successful winemaking business - in Southeastern Indiana.

It was still the Indiana Territory at that time, but the settlement would soon become the town of Vevay in Switzerland County. It was briefly a popular destination for Swiss immigrants fleeing revolutionary Europe.

Dufour had done his homework. As a teen, he studied viticulture and worked the family vineyards in Canton de Vaud, Switzerland. Upon his arrival in America, he visited private vineyards, including Thomas Jefferson's at Monticello, to study grape types, soil and climate.

In an 1826 book detailing his experiences as a vintner, Dufour recalled the time he resolved to come to America.

"I was but 14; and I came to this determination by reading the newspapers, which were full of the American Revolutionary War and contained many letters from the officers of the French army aiding the republicans, which complained of the scarcity of the wine among them, in the midst of the greatest abundance of everything else.. By inspection of the maps, I saw that America was in the parallel of the best wine countries in the world - like Spain, south of France, Italy and Greece."

Dufour initially settled near Lexington, Ky., and was joined by extended family members. There they planted 35 grape varieties, most of which fell victim to disease because they were European species not suited to American growing conditions.

Uncomfortable with legal slavery in Kentucky, the family moved to Indiana and tried again, dubbing the area "New Switzerland," and this time focusing on the two grape varieties that had flourished in Kentucky: Cape and Madeira. …

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