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. It was named The First Vineyard by James Dufour, the man appointed as caretaker for the vineyard on November 5, 1798.
Did You Know: The first commercial vineyard in the US was in Lexington, Kentucky.
Dufour was born in Switzerland on February 14, 1763, and his family was involved in winemaking. He had a passion for the industry at an early age. At 33 years old, he went to America searching for the perfect climatic conditions for wine. He visited different states searching for suitable wine-growing areas, eventually traveling across Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Kentucky. On November 21, 1799, he was given a job to take care of the grapevines in a soon-to-be winery in Jessamine County, Kentucky. Known as The First Vineyard, it was located in what is now Blue Grass country . He founded the Kentucky Vineyard Society with citizens of Lexington city in 1798, it was reestablished in 1981 and is still in existence to this day.
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Dufour obtained almost 1,500 cuttings of thirty-five grape varieties in 1798, and planted them in The First Vineyard over the following year. In 1803, the wine from First Vineyard was consumed for the first time 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 5-gallon casks of 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, and included tips and methods still used to this day.
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References: John James Dufour.” 2019. The Daily Gardener. https://thedailygardener.org/otb20190828/.