The History of New World Wine

The indigenous peoples of the Americas had a long history of distilling alcohol into alcoholic drinks before the Age of Exploration. It is well documented that natives distilled alcohol from various crops, including corn, potatoes, quinoa, pepper tree fruits, and even strawberries. All of this data has been meticulously documented. Although there were species of the genus Vitis in North and Central America, wine was not produced from the ancient inhabitants’ fermented fruit of these plants.

New World Wine., The History of New World Wine

Napa Valley, California

Early Wines in America

The first Spanish immigrants in the Americas imported food-bearing animals and plants for subsistence farming. As a result, they altered their diets to replicate the fare they enjoyed in Spain and Europe. The increased predisposition for the sourness of European wines transported to the Americas is at least partially attributable to the fact that they were not stored in bottles, and the corks were not sealed. This was an essential factor in the growth of the New World wine industry in Spanish America[1].

While on his second journey to the New World in 1494, Columbus tried growing grapes on the island of Hispaniola for the first time. In 1503, then-Spanish King Ferdinand II of Aragon banned grape cultivation in Hispaniola. Inspired by the early 16th-century success of cultivating grapes in Hispaniola, the first vineyards in Mexico were established about 1524.

In 1524, Spanish colonists on the Mexican Plateau were commanded by Conquistador Hernán Cortés to grow grapes on any newly acquired territory. He thought that by doing this, the grape industry would flourish. Some claim that around the 1540s, Bartolomé de Terrazas and Francisco de Carabantes planted the country’s first grapes. The second set of people settled in Ica and began cultivating grapes to ship to Chile and Argentina[2].

A dark-skinned grape variety named Mission (Spanish: Misión) originated in Mexico, made its way to Texas, and eventually settled in California. Peru also grew grapes from this variety, dubbed “Peruvian black” (Negra Peruana), because of its dark color. This grape’s progenitor became Pa’s variety, the most widely grown in Chile. This grape, originally from Chile, was brought to the region that is now Argentina and given the name Criolla chica by the locals there. While it is a common belief that these grapes originated in Spain, the truth is they probably came from Italy. Because they are so close to the Mónica variety, which is also widely farmed in Spain, these parallels may be explained by the fact that both people hail from Spain[3].

It was not until the second half of the 16th century that Spain began shipping significant quantities of wine to Mexico and Cuba to meet the growing demand among Spanish colonists. The rising popularity of wine among Spanish colonists may be directly attributed to this development.

The Mexican public drank up the vast bulk of this wine. Argentina, Chile, and Peru, among others, did not exhibit this behavior. Spanish wine exports have fallen while domestic demand has increased due to the widespread acclaim for Spanish vintages. The number of grapevines the Spanish colonists carried to Mexico was minimal compared to the numbers they had planted in Peru and Chile[2].

Peru’s interior and southern coast was the most important sites for wine production in the Americas throughout the 16th and 17th centuries. This held throughout Peru, from its core to its coastal regions. Cities like Ica and Pisco belonged to this region. Paraguay, like its neighbors Peru and Chile, became a major wine-producing country despite the region’s high average temperatures in the 16th century. After visiting the city of Asunción in 1602, Hernando Arias de Saavedra reported that a total of 187 vineyards with 1,768,000 plant species could be found in the surrounding area.

Another source claims that there were only 1.780 million plants at this time. The Paraguayan wine was transported to Santa Fe by the river and then distributed in Platine. In addition, it is said that Paraguayan wine made its way to Argentina’s historic capital Cordoba[3].

The “Fall” in America Led to South Africa’s Growth

In 1595, the Crown of Spain issued a decree prohibiting the cultivation of new grapes in the Americas. Many of the people engaged ignored the rule that said they could not grow any more vines. This embargo, which was put in place to prevent Peruvian wine from undercutting the price of Iberian wine, is a classic case of commodity mercantilism. Some have argued that the embargo is a kind of mercantilism. This action was taken to safeguard the present market share of Iberian wines.

During the years 1614 and 1615, while Panama and Guatemala were still under Spanish colonial administration, these countries levied taxes on imported Peruvian wine. There were rules for shipping Peruvian wine that needed to be followed. In the Spanish Empire, winemaking and related industries were not strictly regulated. This was held in the winemaking process and the business surrounding it. Only in Mexico, the one market in the Americas that the Spanish Crown could at least partially secure Iberian wine, achieve commercial success[4].

The current expansion of Potos’s mining industry Since Bolivia was home to La Paz, the most significant city in the Americas, wine demand remained consistent throughout that era. When it comes to wine, Peru was Bolivia’s go-to supplier. To be more specific, Bolivia may be in Bolivia at that time. Workers in the city of Potos were compensated not only with monetary compensation but also with wine. Winemakers in Peru supplied Lima, the political capital of South America, in the 16th and 17th centuries[5].

A regular army, the Force of Arauco, who battled against the local Mapuche people and were rewarded with silver from Potos, ensured that Chile always had a demand for wine. Potos was in charge of funding the army’s operations. The people of Paraguay decided to stop cultivating grapes because they believed their wine would not do well in any of these three markets. However, they prioritized the acquisition of funds above other activities by focusing on exporting yerba mate and tobacco. Paraguayan wine production was almost nonexistent in the 18th century.

Villa de Pisco and Ica, along with the rest of Peru’s southern coast, were destroyed by an earthquake in 1687. The earthquake also ruined wine warehouses and clay amphorae. This incident marked the beginning of a decline in Peru’s overall wine output. After the Spanish government wiped out the Jesuits in America in 1767, they had to sell their Peruvian vineyards at a steep discount. However, the new proprietors lacked the expertise of the Jesuits, leading to decreased output.

In the early 18th century, pisco production surpassed wine production, and by 1764, 90% of all grape beverages produced in Peru could be traced back to pisco. This posed another challenge to the expansion of the wine industry in Peru. Despite the success of pisco, Peru’s vineyards struggled economically even after the industry shifted. The reason was that the Spanish Crown lifted its prohibition on rum manufacturing in Peru in the latter half of the 18th century. This opened the door for the manufacturing of rum, which could be made much more quickly than pisco but was of worse quality. The availability of rum in Peru increased. Pisco has a higher manufacturing cost compared to other alcoholic drinks[6].

In 1795, the Peruvian government started importing wine from Chile because of a dramatic drop in the quality of Peruvian wine. It was then that Lima bought its first shipment of wine from Concepción in southern Chile, a total of 5,000 troves (botijas). This event initiated the first wine imports into Peru. Shipping this load demonstrated Chile’s rising prominence as a winemaking area, especially in comparison to Peru. Like many others before him, Eduard Friedrich Poeppig proclaimed the wines of Concepción to be the finest in all of Chile. Since the country’s south has a more humid climate, he reasoned, this must be the case[7].

European colonists brought wine to the New World for various reasons, but its religious importance was the primary one. One possible early instance of trade in the other direction is the South African wine Constantia, which became a favorite of European nobility in the 18th century.

New World Wine., The History of New World Wine

Vineyard in Stellenbosch, South Africa

Impacts of the Industrial Age

In 1788, Governor Phillip, who had led the Cape of Good Hope expedition, sent the convict colony of New South Wales many gifts, including a collection of grape cuttings. These reductions were made on the ship transporting the First Fleet (1788). The production of wine from these prehistoric plants was attempted but eventually failed. However, a few pioneers established vineyards in Australia’s climate and soil, and by the 1820s, Australian wine was bottled and sold on the mainland continent. As early as 1822, Gregory Blaxland was the pioneer in exporting Australian wine.

Moreover, he is the first and only vintner in history to win a competition in a country other than the one in which he lives and carries home the award. The first commercial grapes in Australia were grown in the Hunter Valley around 1830. James Busby returned to England in 1833 after exploring France and Spain, bringing several different grape varieties. A broad range of grapes was grown, including almost all of the classic grape types used in France. In that group were grapes that work very well when used to make fortified wine[8].

The earliest people who tried to create wine in Australia ran into many problems, many of which stemmed from their inexperience with Australia’s peculiar climate and landscape. Despite this, they succeeded quite a bit in the end. Without being able to read the labels, the French judges at the Vienna Exhibition in 1873 enjoyed some of the Victoria wines. However, when the wine’s provenance was revealed, the French judges withdrew their approval, indicating their disgust. They had previously believed that wines of this level could be made exclusively in France. This is because Australian wines have consistently performed well in French contests, allowing them to take home top honors yearly[9].

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Mendoza, then known as Cuyo, saw exponential growth in its wine business, propelling it to become the world’s fifth most significant wine-growing region. Argentina’s Mendoza region is home to several acclaimed wineries. That made it the pioneer of winemaking in Latin America. Goods had to be carried by carts between Buenos Aires and Mendoza in Argentina before building the Buenos Aires-Mendoza railway in 1885, which was necessary but time-consuming and expensive. That, too, was essential to the achievements of the Mendoza wine business in this regard. Demand for Argentina’s traditional wines increased due to the inflow of immigrants, particularly from Southern Europe. In particular, the wine industry showed this pattern[10].

In 1910, Mendoza had 45,000 hectares (1,000,000 acres) of vineyards, much surpassing Chile’s 1,000 hectares (2,000 acres) in 1830. By the end of the nineteenth century, Chile’s economy was more developed, and the country’s grape-growing acreage had expanded. Before 1910, practically all of Argentina’s farmland had been planted with vineyards, most of which utilized French rootstock imported from France. Most of the Malbec in this bottle came from France. That continued until 1816 when the nation officially declared its independence from Spain[11].

As it had since its start in the 18th century, Peru’s wine industry declined gradually during the 19th. Some believe that vintners in Peru switched their focus from farming grapes to growing cotton in response to increased demand in industrialized Europe, which led to the abrupt fall of Peru’s wine and pisco businesses. This was done to meet the rising demand in Europe’s urbanized areas. The increasing interest in Europe’s advanced economies prompted its creation. During the American Civil War, the Union’s blockade of the Confederacy and its cotton plantations caused significant crop scarcity and increased prices (1861–1865). This morning, the price of cotton hit an all-time high.

Following the 1860s implementation of the Cobden-Chevalier Treaty, South African wines competed directly with French wines in Britain. When French wine exports to Britain tripled, it severely impacted South Africa’s wine economy. This was because British wine lovers had to choose between South African and French vintages when the treaty went into force. This year saw the formalization and legal enforceability of the agreement, and its provisions have already started to be put into practice. The already struggling South African wine industry was hit much worse by the Phylloxera pandemic of the 1880s. The amount of money that went missing this time was far more[12].

New World Wine., The History of New World Wine

Mendoza Vineyard, Argentina

In the 20th Century

Lack of suitable land travel and a spate of war rumors simultaneously impeded wine delivery from Chile to Argentina. It was mainly due to the building of the Transandine Railway in 1909 and the signing of the Pactos de Mayo in 1902. These developments helped lessen the possibility of war and made doing business in the Andean region easier. Countries worldwide have agreed to work together to create a free trade pact. The Centro Vitivincola Nacional, Argentina’s national winegrowers organization, was firmly against the free trade accord because of concerns that Chilean wines would damage the country’s wine sector. European immigrants make up the bulk of this community’s leadership. After protests by Argentine winemakers and Chilean cattle ranchers, free trade agreements between the two nations were scrapped.

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[1] Mishkin, David Joel (1966). The American Colonial Wine Industry: an Economic Interpretation (Ph.D.). University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. hdl:2142/61108

[2]  Rice, Prudence M. (1996). “The Archaeology of Wine: The Wine and Brandy Haciendas of Moquegua, Peru”. Journal of Field Archaeology. Taylor & Francis, Ltd. 23 (2): 187–204. doi:10.2307/530503JSTOR 530503

[3] Del Pozo, José (2004) [1998]. Historia del vino chileno (in Spanish) (3 ed.). Editorial UniversitariaISBN 956-11-1735-5.

[4]  Rice, Prudence M. (1996). “The Archaeology of Wine: The Wine and Brandy Haciendas of Moquegua, Peru”. Journal of Field Archaeology. Taylor & Francis, Ltd. 23 (2): 187–204. doi:10.2307/530503JSTOR 530503

[5] Clark, Oz (2004). Australian Wine Companion. Time Warner Book Group UK. p. s.12. ISBN 0-316-72874-8.

[6] Ponte, Stefano; Ewert, Joachim (2007). “South African Wine – An Industry in Ferment” (PDF). tralac Working Paper No. 8. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-09-19. Retrieved 2016-06-08.

[7] “History & Geography”Wines of Chile. 2015. Archived from the original on 8 March 2018. Retrieved 2 June 2016.

[8] Atkin, Tim (18 January 2009). “Happy returns”The Guardian. London.

[9] Hartley, Clive (2002). The Australian Wine Guide. Putney, NSW: Hospitality Books. ISBN 0957703449.

[10] Rytkönen, Paulina (2004). Fruits of Capitalism. Lund Studies in Economic History. Vol. 31. Almquiest & Wiksell Intl. pp. 56–57. ISBN 978-9122020943.

[11] Woodward, Llewellyn (1962). The Age of Reform, 1815–1870 (2 ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 179.

[12] “Phylloxera” Phylloxera and Grape Industry Board of Australia. Archived from the original on 5 December 2014. Retrieved 16 December 2014.

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