How America Became A Wine-Making Nation: A Brief History
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HALF A CENTURY after explorer Ponce de Leon arrived in what is now Florida in 1513, Spanish and French Huguenot settlers followed. In this new land, these settlers began making muscadine wine with a local grape variety.

However, efforts to plant the great wines of Europe in America – known as Vitis vinifera or classic grapes – failed because their rootstock couldn’t withstand attacks from pests like phylloxera, which thrive in wet climates.

An interesting historical aside is that Thomas Jefferson attempted to establish a winery and plant Vitis vinifera vineyards in Virginia in the late 1700s and early 1800s. He was, like the others, unsuccessful due to attacks of black rot and phylloxera.

But that didn’t stop wineries from popping up all over the East Coast and Midwest, including in Wisconsin, Ohio and New Jersey. Because of the threat of phylloxera, they used grapes that are native to the US such as Concord and Niagara or hybrids like Catawba and Marechal Foch (as they still do today).

So it wasn’t until Spanish Missionaries discovered the dry climate of New Mexico in 1629 with its sandy soils that the first Vitis vinifera vineyards were planted in what is now the United States. They planted Mission grapes brought over from Spain.

Wine didn’t come to California until 1769, when the Spanish started a mission in San Diego, with accompanying vineyards. As they settled further north, they established 20 more missions, concluding with one in Sonoma in 1823. Napa Valley began growing grapes in the 1830s.

Today, of course, due to its dry and sunny climate, which is perfect for grape growing, California produces more than 90 percent of US wine.

In 2016, the US produced 3 billion liters of wine, making it the fourth-largest in the world after Italy, France and Spain. At same time, Americans drink the most of any country – some 3.59 billion liters in 2016, or about 11.1 liters per person.

Jefferson, a passionate wine connoisseur, would have been proud.

The writer is professor of Management and Wine Business at Sonoma State University. This article originally appeared in The Conversation and is republished here under the Creative Commons Licence.