The people of the United States are currently the second highest consumers of wine in the world, taking over Italy; and only second behind France. Surprising, right? It’s even more surprising when you consider that just 50 years ago, most of the wine made in America was considered what we call “jug wine”. Here is a short history of how the industry has become what it is today:
The history of winemaking in America can actually be traced back as far as the 1500s. It was French settlers in Florida who first began growing vineyard grapes. These were called Scuppernong grapes, large green ones. They didn’t quite succeed, but it marked many years of other winegrower’s failed attempts until success finally belonged to the US.
The success of winegrowing in the US is attributed to the growth of Vitis Vinifera varieties, which were introduced to Virginia in the early 1600s. Although the first vines failed as a result of native pests and disease, eventually a disease resistant vine was created; marking a successful beginning for the hybrid grape Alexander.
Who Was The First?
The first vineyard in California was established near San Diego in 1769, and movement of the vineyard across the US is thanks to the missionaries who had settled and left the region. In 1799, the first commercial vineyard and winery were established in the United States in Indiana. The first wine was created from that vineyard four years later before it was destroyed during a big freeze in 1809.
The first commercially successful winery in the United States, however, was actually in Ohio in the 1830s. Nicholas Longworth created sparkling wine from Catawba grapes and this was shipped across the US and Europe. Longworth was actually referred to as “the founder of wine culture in America”.
Just when the American wine industry was at its most successful, prohibition commenced. This first began in 1846 when Maine became the first state to prohibit the sale and consumption of alcohol. This was followed by the 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution which was passed back in 1920, prohibiting the United States from manufacturing, selling and transporting alcohol. The commercial wine industry in the United States was no more.
Thankfully, there were exceptions to the rule and some wineries survived prohibition. After this was repealed, cheap wine became more popular (also known as “jug wine”), as well as sweet flavors. Following prohibition, the wine industry in the United States continued to flourish as it had been prior to 1920. Investment started flooding in from around the world, palates changed and wine consumption increased once again, leading to vineyard owners creating a successful business.
Today, the United States wine industry is widespread. In fact, the United States is the fourth largest wine producing country in the world. Wine is produced commercially in all 50 states, with California leading the way. In the 1970s, Californian wine was actually rated higher than Bordeaux and white Burgundy in a blind tasting – cementing California’s (and the United State’s of America’s) wine reputation for many years to come. The United States now produces a wide variety of grapes and flavors to suit every palate.