United States: History

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Wine

Oxford Companion to Wine

By Jancis Robinson

Published 2006

  • About

European settlement in what is now the US goes back to the late 16th century (see also vínland), but it was two centuries later that wine was first successfully produced there. The long delay was not for lack of trying. The abundant native american vine species immediately drew the attention of the first settlers; winemaking was an official aim of the virginia and Carolina colonies, and it was encouraged and repeatedly tried in all of the American colonies.

The first trials quickly showed that wine acceptable to European palates could not be made from the unameliorated native grape varieties. The next step was to import cuttings of European vinifera vines, beginning in Virginia around 1619. The experiment was frequently repeated over the whole length of the Atlantic seaboard with vines from every great European wine region, but the result was uniform failure. The vines were destroyed by extremes of climate, by native pests, and by previously unknown vine diseases. The facts were not clearly understood for more than two centuries, since the trials were isolated and uncoordinated, and no adequate knowledge of plant pathology existed. The cycle of hopeful experiment followed by complete failure went on in profitless repetition (see Thomas jefferson for example).