The History of Virginia Wine
By: Justin Stone
The history of wine in Virginia dates back to 1607 with the successful establishment of a colony at Jamestown by the Virginia Company. Early accounts of the abundance of native grape varietals sent back by Captain John Smith created a fervent desire to make wine in the New World. In 1619 the Virginia House of Burgesses passed Act 12, requiring each head of a household to plant ten vines and, “attain to the arte and experience of dressing a Vineyard.” By most historical accounts, however, such attempts to make palatable wines failed. By 1768 the American colonies were exporting less than 13 tons of wine that, by most standards, on either side of the Atlantic, was undrinkable, due to the persistent foxiness, or musty aroma and taste associated with American grape varietals. Thomas Jefferson is famous for meticulously documenting his life-long failures of producing wine on his Monticello estate. Even Philip Mazzei, the Florentine noble and vintner who Jefferson called a close friend and neighbor, was so frustrated by the ground (and the Revolutionary War,) that he eventually gave up all hope of seeing a successful vintage. Jefferson’s vision of an American wine industry on par with that of Europe’s would have to wait.
The 1800s proved to be more fruitful for Virginia wine. It was a controversial and misunderstood grape known as a norton, widely considered a hybrid of V. vinifera (European species) and V. aestivalis or V. labrusca (American species) that brought Virginia wine its first taste of prominence. The true genealogical origin and individual who discovered the grape remains shrouded by history but no one can dispute the role it played in introducing Virginian and American wine to the world market. By the mid 1850s the norton was the premier grape of Virginia, Missouri, and the Ohio River Valley, the three largest producers of wine prior to Prohibition ... (continued)
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Paperback - ISBN 978-1-304-05730-3