Virginia was the first U.S. State to Produce Wine
To many, the United States wine industry began with the 1976 Judgment of Paris. To some extent, this is true. Some important aspects of U.S. wine were born that day. But grape growing and winemaking began long before that.
Because California produces ninety percent of U.S. wine, it’s easy to think that wine production began in the golden state. But it didn’t, the original home is Jamestown, Virginia; where John Smith planted grapes and made wine in 1607.
For those of you who have spent time on Calwineries, you know that it takes a special set of environmental and social conditions to produce good wine. If the right soil, geology, terrain and climate come together with a demand for wine, then it can be successfully produced.
Environmental conditions were the main problem for Jamestown settlers; it was more or less swampland. But this didn’t stop pressure from the British, who wanted to produce wine that would rival the French. This was a tall task considering that Jamestown was not an appropriate place to grow grapes.
Just as you would expect, the European varietals that the settlers brought died. So they searched the countryside looking for vines that could survive the harsh conditions. The grapes they did find, which were probably Muscadine Scuppernong, did not produce the quality of wine that the British were looking for.
Because of the difficulty in producing anything worth drinking, the colonies began shipping a port style wine from the Portuguese island Madeira. The signers actually toasted the Declaration of Independence with Madeira.
Because of said factors, and many others, the colonies gave up on producing wine, and turned their attention to producing tobacco. The Virginia wine industry didn’t resurface again until the 1950’s. It now thrives because of advances in knowledge and technology.
The number of wineries in Virginia grew from only three in 1975 to more than 125 today. This jump shows the states promise for growing grapes and making wine. Although Virginia only has 3,000 acres of vineyards (compared to the half million in California), it is finally starting to realize the dreams of the original settlers 400 years ago.