How did the United States become such a big wine producer? The United States ranks fourth overall in world wine production, led only by France, Italy and Spain (in that order). How and why did this happen?
A friend of mine says, “You study any subject long enough, and over time you will study everything in the world.” Studying wine is no exception: science, geography, biology, chemistry, history, politics, and religion all play a role in the history and development of this fascinating beverage.
How Did Science, Biology, Chemistry Contribute to Our Being a Big Wine Producer?
Early explorers were happy to see different kinds of grape-like plants flourishing in the New World, but their tastes were so unfamiliar and unpalatable, that they tried experiments with more familiar imported French vines. Sadly, these couldn’t survive in the strange environment. In 1683, William Penn of Virginia bred the first successful European-American hybrid (“Alexander”), creating the foundation of the American wine industry.
How Did Geography, History, Religion Contribute?
Since it’s obvious that certain plants grow well here and not there, sometimes you gotta go with what you have.
Catawba was the native grape German immigrants harnessed to create the sparkling Catawba wine of Ohio, which was exported even into Europe! The Catawba grape is also the basis for jams, jellies and preserves.
Spanish settlers and missionaries arrived in the southern United States and California, bringing with them the need for sacramental wine, and wine for daily consumption en la tradición española. Luckily, they also brought with them all the knowledge of how to do it, and wine cuttings to do it with. The imported Spanish vines thrived in California’s climate, similar to Spain’s. As a result, Fr. Junipero Serra is credited with being “The Father of the California Wine Industry.”
Later, the Gold Rush also helped. As the state boomed in population, so did acres of land planted with many varieties of imported varietals. Newly laid railroad tracks provided a ready avenue for the market.
Even in Jefferson’s day, there was push back against specific taxation. In this case, there was a proposed “temperance tax” to try to reduce consumption of alcohol. In protest of an increased price, Jefferson is quoted as saying, “No nation is drunken where wine is cheap,” possibly showing his insight into human nature (and why the French are not alcoholics!). George Washington and Ben Franklin are among the more familiar notables who enjoyed a good glassful, and even dabbled in production and promotion. To wit: “God loves us and wants to see us happy!” ~B. Franklin
I hope you enjoyed this exploration of how the United States became such a big wine producer.