Monday, July 31, 2017


“Nothing makes the future look so rosy as to contemplate it through a glass of Gevrey Chambertin.”―  Napoleon Bonaparte

The Vitis vinifera vine finally expanded beyond the bounds of Europe in 1492 when Columbus sailed the ocean blue. Two peoples are primarily responsible for the spread of wine production in the New World: the Spanish, who needed an abundant supply of wine to celebrate the Catholic Mass in all the lands they conquered, and the English, who needed wine to assuage the thirst of their sailors and soldiers in the Empire on which the sun never set.

The Spanish took vines, probably from the locality of Cadiz from which they set sail across the Atlantic, and which themselves were the vines first planted by the Phoenicians in 1100 BC. They were known as “Mission Vines,” and planted all over the New World in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The first vineyards were planted on Hispaniola, and later in Mexico (1549) and Peru (possibly as early as 1540).

Spanish colonization of the Americas occurred primarily on the West Coast, first in South America moving south from Peru to Chile, and eventually north from Mexico into what is today California, where each new Mission along the Pacific Coast planted its own vineyard. In all cases, the motivation was to supply wine for the Eucharist during the celebration of the Catholic Mass. At the same time, there was a continuing but often ignored prohibition from the Spanish authorities, who wanted to export Spanish wine and did not want the colonies to be self-sufficient. The problems were that wine from Spain had usually oxidized by the time it had crossed the ocean, it was expensive, and the locally produced wine simply tasted better.

While the Spanish controlled the west coast of both North and South America, the English and French struggled to control the East and Center of North America. Part of the English desire for a colony in North America was to have an independent source of wine so they would not be dependent on other European suppliers. Unfortunately, neither the French nor the English realized that because of the vine disease Phylloxera, vines would not grow, either on the English controlled East Coast or in the French colonies of Louisiana and New France.

Moving in the other direction, however, both the English and the Dutch realized that the Cape Colony of South Africa was the perfect base to grow wine and resupply their navies sailing to their Empires in the Far East. Very soon, by 1685, the South African wines of Constantia were actually being shipped back to Europe for consumption by Frederick the Great in Prussia and Catherine the Great in Russia.

From South Africa, the English started to transplant South African vines to the new colonies in Australia as early as 1788, and the exercise was so successful that by 1822, Australia, referred to as England’s vineyard, was exporting its wines to Europe, and by the 1880s was winning international prizes.

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