The Economics of Wine in the Spread of Colonialism

There are several academic subfields dedicated to the study of wine. A few examples are agronomy, geography, geology, and politics.

The people who conquered the New World brought their way of life from the motherland to the colonies. These individuals are from Europe and like wine as much as the rest of us. As a result, wine would have to be imported for the time being. However, vineyards would eventually have to be planted just to produce wine.[1]

However, although it was impossible to build a replica of Europe, many of the luxuries that one would find in their homes could be brought to the Americas, even though it was impossible to create an identical replica of Europe. Rare plant and animal species brought in from across the ocean allowed many delicacies, including vegetables, meats, and wine, to thrive and grow to their full potential.

For centuries, the Catholic Church worked for hand in hand with the Spanish military to gain control of the Americas, including Mexico, Central America, and South America, as well as Peru, Chile, and Argentina. Mexico, Central America, and the South American continent were all conquered during these three years (1519-1565). Because wine was a staple of their diet, it spread like wildfire, and the wines grown for sacramental and everyday use were planted everywhere[2].

Wine in Colonialism

Figure 1. Thomas Jefferson Art

The First Attempt

Vitis vinifera was attempted to be grown in central Mexico multiple times before it failed. The Valley of Mexico is the name given to this place. Over the next fifty years, however, a substantial number of vineyards were established along South America’s western coast. The wine was made from these vineyards and exported.

The easy-to-grow grape variety was fascinating to the Spanish; it is known as Pais and Mission grapes in Chile and Mexico. It is also known as the “mission grape” in Mexico. It was able to withstand long periods of drought with little effort. Overall, the wine’s quality was poor, as seen by its pale color and lackluster flavor.

On the other hand, winemakers in Chile and Argentina transformed this grape variety into one that was at least drinkable at the turn of the twenty-first century. Spain’s winemakers began to consider selling their products in North and South America in about 1500. To their dismay, they quickly realized that their market share was being threatened by wines made in the colonies[3].

How Things Changed in the 16th century

Even though wine production in the colonies was firmly established, King Philip II made many unsuccessful efforts to put an end to it throughout the second half of the 16th century.

The British created the New England and Virginia colonies in the second half of the 18th century to follow in the footsteps of their Spanish counterparts. Early plantings failed to yield fruit, on the other hand. Unfavorable climate conditions and disease, most likely phylloxera, may have contributed to the end of European grapes. This was only discovered several decades later[4].

European settlers in North America started experimenting with making wine from indigenous wild grapes as early as the early 1600s. Even though the wine has not been well appreciated, New York and the New England area are responsible for its creation. Wine from grapes native to the United States, such as Concord, is made from grapes from the Vitis labrusca grape variety. The manufacturing of kosher wines like Manischewitz and Mogen David relies heavily on these grapes, which may be used for anything from table grapes to wine grapes. There are table grapes, wine grapes, and juice grapes, which are grapes used to make wine. Almost universally, wine experts agree that these wines have a smoky or smokey-like flavor[5].

“The Contributions of Thomas Jefferson”

Thomas Jefferson was widely regarded as the most knowledgeable wine expert of his day. Much effort was put into touring Europe’s wine regions and recording his findings in detail. Planting was a failed endeavor for him several times while he lived at Monticello. Because of the climate and the prevalent diseases at the time, growing grapes in Europe was physically demanding[6].

On the other hand, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation spent the 1990s restoring the vines at Monticello in honor of Jefferson. This enterprise took place at Monticello. There was a commercially viable wine crop and production in only three years. A new company was formed as a result of this achievement[7].

Even though Virginia’s summers may be oppressively humid, the quality of the state’s wine is growing in stature. In recent decades, the sector has seen significant growth and change. Wine production in the United States is mainly based on the Vitis vinifera species, notwithstanding a few American variants. Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Viognier are winemaking’s most utilized grapes[8].

Was the situation limited to Americans?

Throughout the globe, colonialism has significantly influenced the political landscape. In the 1650s, Dutch colonists established a settlement at Cape of Good Hope in South Africa, which is located on the Atlantic coast of Cape Peninsula. This hamlet was situated on a major spice route, making it a strategic location. Travelers passing through on their route to the Dutch East Indies stopped at this town. Rather than being consumed in the area where they were situated, their wine was supposed to be sold at a premium to thirsty naval crews. The colonization of Australia was well underway by the end of the 18th century. By the early 1800s, wine exports had grown to be a substantial economic force for the country[9].

New Zealand was not considered a nation that could sustainably create commodities before the middle of the nineteenth century. Even though it came late to the party, Canada has now established itself as an important wine area.

Wine seems to be a constant companion for Europeans on their travels. Everywhere in the globe, colonization and the introduction of wine had a profound impact.

More than 90% of global land was affected by European colonialism at its peak period between 1500 and 1900. This historical period encompasses the height of its popularity. As a result of France’s colonial rule, Vietnam and Algeria faced a range of difficulties. Even into the 21st century, British colonial troops were stationed in Iran, India, and Hong Kong. Throughout history, people have concluded that wine is political in this, that, and everywhere, and this belief prevails in our times[10].

Colonialism and African Wine

Wine is now the subject of heated controversy between the Chinese and the Australians. Due to US tariffs on most European wine, the European Union has retaliated heavily with its levies. All of these actions are in reaction to the recent tariffs imposed by the US.

ON THIS DAY

April 28, 1923: The Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation was founded and later grew into the Thomas Jefferson Foundation. The Foundation named Stuart G. Gibboney as its first president, only days after it had been legally launched in New York City earlier in the month[11].

Want to read more? Try these books!

Wine in Colonialism, The Economics of Wine in the Spread of ColonialismWine in Colonialism, The Economics of Wine in the Spread of Colonialism

References

[1] Russell, R. (2020, December 23). Robert Russell: What one should know about wine and colonialism. The Times; Shreveport Times.

[2] Russell, R. (2020, December 23). Robert Russell: What one should know about wine and colonialism. The Times; Shreveport Times.

[3] Talia Baiocchi, “Vintage America: A Brief History of Wine in America,” Eater (Eater, January 3, 2011)

[4] Russell, R. (2020, December 23). Robert Russell: What one should know about wine and colonialism. The Times; Shreveport Times.

[5] Russell, R. (2020, December 23). Robert Russell: What one should know about wine and colonialism. The Times; Shreveport Times.

[6] Talia Baiocchi, “Vintage America: A Brief History of Wine in America,” Eater (Eater, January 3, 2011)

[7] Talia Baiocchi, “Vintage America: A Brief History of Wine in America,” Eater (Eater, January 3, 2011)

[8] Russell, R. (2020, December 23). Robert Russell: What one should know about wine and colonialism. The Times; Shreveport Times.

[9] “Monk Wine: The Role of Monks in Wine-Making – SecondBottle,” SecondBottle, January 4, 2019

[10] Russell, R. (2020, December 23). Robert Russell: What one should know about wine and colonialism. The Times; Shreveport Times.

[11] Ashlie Hughes, “The European Age of Exploration Was the Unlikely Impetus for the Birth of the Champagne Bottle,” VinePair, November 29, 2020

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