Key Moments in US Wine History
The first wine
Wine has been a part of American life since the 16th century when the first European explorers landed. The chances are that the first wine to reach American shores was Sherry, brought along from Spain with Pedro Menéndez de Avilés when he landed in what we now know as Florida in September 1565.
Acte 12 – plant your vines!
America started life as an English colony and England wanted its New World wines, so in 1619, the House of Burgesses passed its Acte 12, which required each male household in Virginia to plant 10 imported vinifera vines so they could make wine. The native grapes, scuppernong and muscadine, weren’t too great for wine.
1779 – the first Californian grapes
California’s first grapes were planted at Mission San Diego de Alcalá by Franciscan missionaries. This first grape, known as the Mission grape, was the main variety used in commercial winemaking in California. In 1833, the first European grapes were planted in Los Angeles, and a few years later, during the Gold Rush, the first vines were planted in Northern California – in Napa and Sonoma.
America saves the day in the 1870s
In the 1870s, European vineyards were hit by an infestation of phylloxera, which could have wiped out the continent’s wine production. Thankfully, a German immigrant in Missouri (of all places) called George Husmann, together with his friends, shipped millions of cuttings back to Europe to replace the vines destroyed by this pest insect.
Prohibition – boo!
The Prohibition period, during which the sale of alcohol was illegal in America, lasted from 1920 to 1933. Thankfully, a few pharmacies sold Ruffino’s Chianti as a stress-reliever…
1976 – American wines get noticed
A real turning point was reached in 1976 when California wines were entered into a blind tasting at that year’s Judgement of Paris. The French judges were really impressed with the Californian wines, including a Chardonnay, which beat the French versions.
1996 – wine brings the world together
An American helped US president Bill Clinton and Russia’s Boris Yeltsin to bond at a summit over the Bosnian Missile Crisis. The atmosphere was tense at first, but several hours later both leaders came out smiling and shaking hands, no doubt helped by the bottles of 1994 Riesling that Clinton brought along.