• April 29, 2016

A (Brief) History of Wine in the U.S.

The United States may be relatively new to the wine scene, considering that some sources claim that wine pre-dates Aristotle (think Greek mythology: Dionysus, god of wine), but has nevertheless made an impact on the industry worldwide over the course of the past 400 years.


Wine was first introduced to the United States in the mid-16th century, when French Huguenots landed near Jacksonville, Florida. North America had already been dubbed “Vineland” by the Vikings who had arrived about 500 years previously, due to the abundance of grape vines on the continent. In Florida, the native variety of Muscadine (a grape varietal) was called Scuppernong, which the Huguenot settlers used to make the first known wines on what is now US soil. This is the same grape that settlers in Roanoke used in their attempt to make wine at Sir Walter Raleigh’s “Mother Vineyard.”


By the late 17th century, a grape varietal had been transplanted from Mexico to the Western United States by Franciscan missionaries. The first vineyard in California was established by Junipero Serra in 1769 near San Diego.


However, what most people probably don’t realize is that the first commercial winery in the United States was not in California, Washington or Oregon, perhaps some of the most prolific wine regions today, but in Ohio. In 1830, Nicholas Longworth founded the first commercially successful winery outside of Cincinnati, where he was known for producing sparkling wines with the Catawba grape.


It was Robert Mondavi, known as the “Father of American Wine” who truly revolutionized the wine industry in California. After leaving the Charles Krug Winery, Mondavi established his own winery in Napa Valley, with the desire to produce American-made wine as fine as could be found in Europe.


Then, in 1976, in conjunction with the Bicentennial celebration of the United States, English wine merchant Stephen Spurrier decided to hold a blind tasting of French vs. American reds and whites at the InterContinental hotel in Paris. American-made wines had, until that point, not been considered in the same category as fine French wines. However, to everyone’s surprise, least of all the judges,’ Chateau Montelena and Stag’s Leap Cellars took the top spots in both the red and white categories, effectively putting Napa Valley wineries on the global map.


Since then, American “New World” wines have become increasingly popular and well regarded, with the tourism industry contributing $1.4 billion to Napa County in 2012. The industry continues to grow, with more and more wineries opening and producing wine each year.