A Brief History of American Winemaking

The American love affair for wine goes back to the early European settlers of the 16th century when they started making wine using a native grape called muscadine.

Currently, all states produce wine. However, more than half of California’s 9,700+ wineries are located in California.

Although I don’t have a winery of my own, I tend to a small vineyard as a hobby and make my garage wine. I also studied the wine business. Here’s a primer on the history of the U.S. Wine Industry in honor of National Wine Day.

Settlers on vine

Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon, who arrived in Florida in 1513, was followed by Huguenots from France and Spain, who made muscadine.

A vintage American wine label. The author is provided

The rootstock of the classic grapes, Vitis Vinifera, failed to withstand attacks by pests such as phylloxera, which thrives in humid climates.

Thomas Jefferson tried in the late 1800s to plant Vitis Vinifera vines in Virginia. Like the other vineyards, he was also unsuccessful because of attacks by black rot and phytosphaera.

It didn’t prevent wineries from opening up in Wisconsin, Ohio, and New Jersey. Due to the threat of phylloxera, they continued to use grapes native to the U.S., such as Concord and Niagara, or hybrids, like Catawba, Marechal Foch, and Catawba.

Brotherhood Winery, the oldest continuously operated winery in America, was established in New York in 1839. It continues to use native American grapes, as well as classic Vitis Vinifera and especially Riesling.

It wasn’t until 1629, when Spanish Missionaries found the sandy soils and dry climate in New Mexico, that the first Vitis Vinifera vines were planted. They planted mission grapes that were brought over from Spain.

Americans love wine. AP Images for American Express

California Wine is Coming!

The first vineyards in California were planted by the Spanish in 1769 when they established a mission near San Diego. They found 20 missions as they moved northward, with the last one being in Sonoma in 1823. Napa Valley started growing grapes around 1830.

California produces over 90% of U.S. wines today, thanks to its sunny and dry climate.

In 2016, the U.S. exported three billion liters, placing it fourth in the world behind France, Italy, and Spain. In 2016, Americans consumed the most compared to any other country. That’s 3.59 billion liters or 11.1 liters for each person.

Jefferson, a passionate connoisseur of wine, would be very proud.

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