Wine-making in the Americas does not have the long storied history of the European continent, however the wines can still be full of flavor and story. The earliest wine made in the Americas was probably made in the mid 1500s by Hugenots in Jacksonville, Florida from the native Scuppernong grape. All of the early attempts to make wine were made using the native vines, the european vine (Vitis vinifera) planted here always died out. Most of the early colonies made beer and cider instead because both were easier to manage.
The first commercially successful American wine was actually made in Ohio in the early 1800’s: Nicholas Longworth’s Sparkling Catawba.
On the West coast the spread of the vinifera vine was influenced by the Spanish settlements in New Mexico, Texas and California. The Mission grape used for sacrament wine was first planted in Mexico in the early 1500’s and spread north into California by 1700’s. However it was not until the gold rush of 1849 that a demand for wine developed. The appearance of people who had struck it rich suddenly created a market for the finer things in life and wine suddenly became a viable business model.
In 1861 Count Agoston Haraszthy, a Hungarian/American nobleman was commissioned to bring some Vitis Vinifera vines back from his travels in Europe. He returned with over 100,000 different cuttings and thus began the high quality Californi
However, disaster struck in the late 1800’s with Mildew and Phylloxera (Root damaging aphid) plaguing the California region. The Volstead Act of 1920 ushered in the age of prohibition and the US wine industry stagnated for many years. It was not until the 1960’s that the US wine industry truly began a resurgence. Today California still holds the title as the largest producing state in the US, however wine is produced in all of the states. Washington, Texas, New York, and Oregon also produce some excellent wines in smaller volumes than the California powerhouse wine industry.
The South American wine industry began in the 1500’s when Spanish conquistadors brought vines with them from Spain. The first recorded Vitis vinifera plantings were in Mexico in 1530. The vines were spread south with the church, the monks used the Mission grape to make the sacramental wine. However the industry was under orders not to compete with the Spanish wine industry and therefore nothing of note was produced at this time.
It was not until 1830 when a French monk called Claudio Gay convinced the government of Chile to set up a botanical garden for wine specimens that the wine industry had any serious foundations. Claudio Gay got most of his cuttings from Bordeaux and these are the reason the current Chilean wine industry is centered on Bordeaux varieties. His cuttings were used to replant Bordeaux after phylloxera.