America’s First Vineyard

California is the largest wine producer in the United States and contributes more than 80% of US wine production, but did you know the first commercial vineyard in the US was not in California? It was actually in Lexington, Kentucky. The state’s legislator body passed an ordinance on November 21, 1799, that established a commercial winery and vineyard at the site. It was named The First Vineyard by James Dufour, the man appointed as vinedresser for the vineyard on November 5, 1798.

Dufour was born in Switzerland on February 14, 1763, and his family was involved in winemaking. He had a passion for the industry from an early age, and when he was 33 years old, he went to America, aware of the country’s climatic conditions were ideal for wine. He visited different states, searching for suitable wine-growing areas, and traveling across Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Kentucky. On November 21, 1799, he was assigned as a vinedresser to establish a winery in Jessamine County, Kentucky. Known as The First Vineyard, it was located in what is now Blue Grass country [1]. He founded the Kentucky Vineyard Society with citizens of Lexington city in 1798, and it was reestablished in 1981 and is still in existence to this day.

Obtaining almost 1,500 cuttings of thirty-five grape varieties in 1798, Dufour planted them in The First Vineyard over the following year. In 1803, the wine from First Vineyard was consumed and gained a significant following; among its fans was President Thomas Jefferson, who was a great admirer of James Dufour’s wine. To honor his appreciation, the vineyard sent Jefferson two casks of 5-gallon wine in 1805. Just three years later, in 1808, mildew and frost destroyed most of the varieties in the original Kentucky vineyard.

This Day in Wine History

1802: Dufour planted a second vineyard in Indiana and named it the New Switzerland based on the local community comprised of Swiss immigrants.

1826: One year before his death, he published a book on wine that went on to hold quite a legacy, including tips and methods still used to this day.


[1] John James Dufour.” 2019. The Daily Gardener.


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