A Brief History of American Winemaking

Aged Barrels Of Wine

Winemaking has become immensely popular as both a business venture and a hobby in just the last 40 years, but the history of winemaking in the United States dates back to the first settlers of America. In fact, winemaking has a presence in almost every important period of American history. See why winemaking is an all-American pastime in this brief profile provided by Columbia Distributing.

The Early Days of American Wine History

When Norse Vikings crash-landed on the East Coast of the North American continent in 1000 A.D., they named it Vineland for the abundance of wild grapevines they found. The East Coast vines remained relatively untouched by outsiders until 1562, when a group of French Protestants fleeing religious persecution arrived on the shores of what is now the state of Florida. There they found a native variety of the Muscadine grape called Scuppernong. These French Huguenots made what is believed to be the first American wine from the Scuppernong grape.

Then in 1582, a group of Englishmen rowed their boats to the sand beaches of Bodie Island off the coast of North Carolina. There they too discovered an abundance of Scuppernong grapes. The group returned to England with clippings of the vine but found the plant could only be sustained in a southern climate. When another crew of Englishmen returned in 1585, they established the first vineyard, called The Mothervine.

The First Successes

There was much trial and error in those early days of winemaking. Most of the native grapes tasted musky, and to refined European palates, the wines they produced were essentially undrinkable. After Lord Delaware brought over the first Vitis Vinifera vines in 1619, winemaking began to find modest success in the colonies. But the first truly potable, mainstream wines on the East Coast didn’t come until John Alexander discovered the Alexander grape near William Penn’s home in Pennsylvania. This combination of Vinifera and Labrusca species would eventually be widely distributed and planted across several states.

Modern American Winemaking

After a few early successes on the East Coast using the Alexander grape, Nicholas Longsworth founded the first commercially successful American winery in Ohio in 1830 using the native Catawba grape. He produced the first and most well-known American sparkling wine from his vineyard. When prohibition passed in 1920 the popularity of winemaking plummeted and would stay relatively obscure for half a century. In 1976 wine was once again thrust into the spotlight when a group of French wine experts scored several California wines higher than top-ranked Bordeaux and white burgundies in blind taste tests. That year marked the beginning of an American wine renaissance, and today there are over 8,000 wineries in the U.S. that offer an incredibly diverse selection of wines.

Tasting History

With its rich and captivating history, it is easy to see why winemaking remains so popular in American culture. Whenever you uncork a bottle of wine, you are participating in an incredible American story. Columbia Distributing carries a number of wines proudly made in America, as well as a diverse selection of American-made spirits, beers, and nonalcoholic beverages. Contact us today to learn more about bringing our brands to your home, restaurant, or bar.