American wine-making and -drinking are not modern developments. While Native Americans had been making some kinds of wines, European immigrants brought wine making and drinking culture to the New World since the fifteenth century. Due to unfavorable climate and plant diseases, however, early attempt to establish vineyards in the American colonies were not often successful. In the eighteenth and nineteenth century, European immigrants and their descendants began developing better quality wines with new technologies and grape varieties in various regions, including today’s New York, Ohio, and California. By the end of the nineteenth century, California, particularly the Napa Valley, became the major production site of quality wines in the country. The state’s wines were acclaimed even at international competition. At the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1889, about forty American wines won medals, and many of them were from the Napa Valley.

In the nineteenth century, winemakers, intellectuals, and elites promoted wines as the symbol of pastoral ideal and sophistication. Thomas Jefferson, who was dedicated to French culture, was particularly in favor of French and Italian wine in his pursuit of European tastes and sophistication. Jefferson rejected “the strong wines of Portugal and Spain” and selected fine lighter wines to accompany meals. Wine-making and drinking were part of his vision of agrarian ideal.

Beginning in 1922, Prohibition had devastating impacts on American winemaking, and also altered the image of wines. The acreage of fine wine-grape varieties decreased sharply, and table-grape and raisin-grape acreages increased. These latter varieties, less suitable for quality wines, dominated the supply of grapes for American wine well after the repeal of Prohibition. The number of licensed wineries plummeted from 917 in 1922 to 268 by the repeal in 1933.

Right, and the story continues in next post.