History of American winegrowing



Development in winegrowing


The explorer Leif Eriksson arrived at the American coast, probably off Newfoundland, but he may also have found the bay of Massachusetts. According to some reports, he was impressed by the luscious grapes that hung on the trees there. Native American grapes, botanical name vitis labrusca, are widely unsuited to winegrowing. Eriksson named the coast Vinland. The etymology of the word is uncertain.

None. Eriksson travelled on. Neither colonisation nor winegrowing were introduced.

16th Century

The first settlers on the American East Coast tried winegrowing and failed, due to the animalistic off aromas of the American varieties. Attempts with European vines failed, because vine pest was widespread, and the brought-in vines fell victim to his. Hybrids were laboriously bred.

First, modest winegrowing successes


Spanish missionaries founded a mission in San Diego, and grew Vitis vinifera vines that they brought with them. They grew without a problem, because the vine pest was unknown on the West Coast at the time. In addition, the Californian climate aided growing.

Continual growing with economic yields was established in several states – not in California. The breeds Alexander, Concord and Catawba, were established, which flourished particularly well in Ohio, and the Ohio river was given the nickname of "The Rhine of America".


The Gold Rush started. Hundreds of thousands of gold prospectors came to California, and triggered a population explosion. The new arrivals included Europeans, who brought local vines such as Barbera and Grenache with them and expertise in winegrowing. Primitivo was introduced as Zinfandel due to a name confusion, and adapted itself to the location.

The quality grape varieties were very welcome in California, and gave a first quality boost. Zinfandel became the most important grape variety with an almost indigenous status. By the end of the century, the production had increased tenfold to 100 million litres. Other regions decreased in importance.


The parliament of the USA decided on a nationwide alcohol ban, with a change in the constitution, to fight crime. In fact, this led to more alcohol production than before, however, primarily illegal, cheap and often spirits which were harmful to health. Production and distribution were taken over by the newly formed Mafia. In California, almost all winegrowers had to give up. Large areas of vineyards were cleared. Only a few businesses survived, because they produced wine for liturgical purposes.

On the threshold of the global market, Californian winegrowing collapsed due to this catastrophic political mistake. Cultivation areas and winegrowing knowledge were lost to a large extent.


Prohibition was lifted again by the 21st amendment to the constitution.

Valuable knowledge and economic power was lost due to the prohibition. The wine industry would be destroyed for decades. The mafia remained.


The Paris Judgement. The English wine critic Steven Spurrier organised a wine tasting of Californian, Bordelaise and top Burgundy wines in the French capital. The jurors were French journalists. The American wines came out as the winners.

French wine critics were disgraced, French wine was made a laughing stock, and California moved up to the world class of wine. The USA became an export country.


The AVAs came into force. American Viticultural Areas are protected origins. In the selection of grape varieties, growing and cellar technology, the legislator gives the wine growers free choice.

Due to mass production, rationalisation and unlimited use of cellar technology, California could continue to hold its ground on the international markets for mass wines.


California was one of the first states in the world to develop a sustainability strategy. There were rules applying to all areas: Ecology, economics, society. In the subsequent years, the principles were continually improved due to the experience gained.

Above all in export, California was met with resentment regarding technically altered wines. Many businesses were certified as sustainable.

From around 2006

Increasing dryness and excessive use of water resources. Gigantic water reserves were missing from Californian dams. The groundwater level fell dramatically in some places, which was also due to the irrigation of the winegrowing areas.

The trend-setting water management of the sustainably working winegrowers could not stop the general development. However, Californian winegrowing is comparably better prepared for the consequences of climate change than other regions.