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New World Grape History
There are a number of native grape species in America. In addition the European grapes were also introduced to the New World by the Europeans.
In 1006 A.D. Norseman who visited North America around 990 A.D. saw so many native grapes that they called the area Vineland. This was likely the common fox grape. Columbus took European grape cuttings to the Caribbean. French settlers made wine from the native grapes of America. The European grapevines were introduced to the American colonies in 1616 even though these grapes were unsuitable for the East.
Lord Delaware promoted European grape culture in the New World. The London Company was asked by him to bring French vineyard workers and varieties to Virginia. Beginning in 1619, the Colonial Assembly ordered colonists to grow grapes. There were penalties for those who failed to comply. The company even distributed a grape growing manual to the settlers. They tried growing these from Georgia to New England. But, the European grapes were short lived. This was due to various reasons, including insect and disease problems, deer, an Indian massacre in 1622, and the fact that the grapes weren’t completely winter hardy in America. In 1623 required a garden for every four men in the settlement and this had to contain grapevines. Later in 1639, they began providing incentives to encourage grape growing. In 1658 there was a hefty premium of 18,000 pounds of tobacco for every two ton of wine.
Following these failures at growing European grapes, most colonists began to grow the native species instead. Once the Eastern grape growers realized that only the American types would grow successfully grown in the area, many new American varieties were developed. These included Catawba and Concord. Development of improved American varieties began in Kentucky in 1802.
Fox grape varieties that were introduced in the 1800s include Isabella in 1816, Concord in 1849-54, and Catawba in 1816.
Like Thomas Jefferson, George Washington attempted to grow the European grapes. However these failed to thrive.
Thomas Jefferson had a 90 x 100 foot vineyard by the late 1770s at Monticello. He tried the European the grapes as well as the natives like the fox grape and others as well as the southern ones like muscadines. The French ones he planted failed to thrive. Jefferson also grew and promoted varieties of the native ones. Wines made form the native grapes were generally considered poor quality by the Europeans.
The European varieties were most successful in California and the West. The Spanish took grape culture and vines to the area. They were grown in 1769 at the California missions. By the end of the 18th century there were vineyards from Sonoma to San Diego. This original variety was called the Mission variety. However this came to an end following the Mexican Revolt. California vineyards were no longer common between 1820-1850.
Later, California’s state government promoted grape culture. The table grape industry began in earnest the state after the early table varieties were introduced to the area. These fruits were shipped in refrigerated cars.
Grapes were also taken to other areas of the New World, such as Central and South America.
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