Colonial Wine is a bold, meticulous history of the remarkable contribution of European powers to the development of the wine industries in the Americas, Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand, among other wine-producing regions. In this piece, which presents interesting new findings in a readable narrative, the genres of global commodities history and colonial history are bridged. The dates provided demonstrate the important role colonialists, settlers, and explorers played in the early development of viticulture throughout the former European colonies.
April 1513: This is the month Ponce de Leon, a Spanish adventurer, arrived in Florida. He made it possible for Spanish and French Huguenot settlers to start making muscadine wine in the region. Early attempts to plant Vitis vinifera, or “classic grapes,” the grapes used to make Europe’s best wines, failed because the rootstock couldn’t withstand attacks from pests like phylloxera, which thrive in damp environments.
September 8th, 1565: On this day, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés’s landing in Florida with a Spanish expedition marked the introduction of sherry as the first wine to be consumed on American territory. During the “Age of Exploration,” the Spanish monarchy supported numerous trips to the New World, and explorers like Ferdinand Magellan and Christopher Columbus set sail from Spanish ports like Sanlcar de Barrameda and Cádiz. The local wine had to be stocked up immediately.
July 1919: This is when the United States’ first wine law was enacted. England asked its American colony for wine. Acte 12 was enacted by the House of Burgesses during the first New World legislative assembly, ordering every male family in Virginia to plant 10 imported vinifera grape vines for the purpose of cultivating and producing wine. By that time, they had discovered that the local grapes (muscadine and scuppernong) didn’t produce excellent wine. One overachieving pioneer, John Johnson, planted 85 acres in excess of what was required by law. Williamsburg Winery, which now owns that land, makes an Acte 12 Chardonnay in remembrance of the original piece of legislation.
1779: In this year, the first grapes were planted in California. At Mission San Diego de Alcalá, Franciscan missionaries cultivated California’s first vineyard. The Mission grape, also known as Listán Prieto, was cultivated in California by Spanish Father Junipero Serrra and dominated commercial viticulture there until the 1880s. As the first commercial wine producer in the state, Jean-Louis Vignes established the first known European grapes in Los Angeles in 1833. Vine planting in Northern California, notably in the counties of Napa and Sonoma, did not begin until the Gold Rush.
September 17, 1787: On this day, a glass of wine was enjoyed after signing the constitution. A drink of Madeira was served to commemorate the Constitution’s signing (we know John Adams had one!). Although we are unsure of the specific Madeira style, it was probably a sweet Malmsey (or Bual) that had been matured in barrels before being shipped to America.
March 20, 1524: On this day, Hernan Cortez, the governor of New Spain, ordered the immigrants to plant grapes in Mexico. Grapes were initially cultivated in Mexico during the Spanish colonization in the 16th century. On March 20, 1524, New Spain’s governor Hernan Cortez gave the immigrants instructions to grow grapes. The Mission of Santa Maira de las Parras was founded after Spanish explorers and immigrants discovered the fertile Coahuila Valley (Holy Mary of the Vines).
1530: The first vines in Colombia were planted by the Spanish Missionaries. Catholic priests largely produced wine in monasteries across the nation for ceremonial use. Because of restrictions placed on the ability of European immigrants to enter the country following independence from Spain, the wine industry did not grow as swiftly as it did in other South American countries.
1540s: This marked the period when vines were introduced in Peru. The first grapevines were introduced to Peru soon after Spain conquered the country. The earliest vinification in South America happened on the Cuzco hacienda Marcahuasi, according to historical Spanish chroniclers. The greatest and most well-known vineyards, however, were built in the Ica valley in south-central Peru during the 16th and 17th centuries. Vineyards were first planted in Peru by Bartolome de Terrazas and Francisco de Carabantes in the 1540s. The latter created vineyards at Ica where Spaniards from Extremadura and Andalucia first planted grapevines, bringing them to Chile. There was a steady demand for wine, which was primarily supplied by Peru, due to the expansion of mining in Potos, which is now in modern-day Bolivia and was the largest city in the Americas in the 17th century. In Potos, wine was used to pay for a portion of salaries. In addition, Peruvian wine producers supplied Lima, South America’s major political hub in the 16th and 17th centuries.
1554: In this year, in the 16th century, Spanish conquistadors and missionaries introduced European Vitis vinifera vines to Chile. French wine varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Carmenère, and Franc were introduced in the middle of the 19th century. With the introduction of stainless steel fermentation tanks and the use of oak barrels for aging, a renaissance started in the early 1980s. As the production of high-quality wine rose, wine exports grew rapidly. From 12 in 1995 to more than 70 in 2005, there were more wineries.
1551: In this year, the first vines were planted in Argentina from there they spread in other Spanish Colonies. With the introduction of the first Vitis vinifera specimens to the Americas by the Spanish invaders in the early 16th century, Argentina has been producing and consuming wine for more than 400 years. The first vines were planted in Argentina around 1551, and they quickly spread over the country’s northeast, central, and western regions. The Andean region’s ideal soil and climate were favorable for the winemaking business, which saw quick and widespread expansion.
1640: In this year, the first Madeira wine was produced in America. The 18th century is recognized as the heyday of Madeira Wine. After Brazil started selling sugar cane at lower prices and the sugar cane on the island developed diseases due to soil depletion, the majority of the sugar cane plantations on Madeira Island were replaced with vines. In order to support foreign businesspeople on Madeira Island who looked for new markets for Madeira Wine outside of the Portuguese dominion in South America and North America, the Portuguese crown gave a monopoly on the Brazilian market to Lisbon-based merchants in 1640.
December 24th, 1651: On this day, Jan van Riebeeck left Texel in the Netherlands towards the Cape of Good Hope with his wife and son. Van Riebeeck had agreed to manage the construction of a refreshment stop for Dutch ships traveling to the East after signing a contract with the Dutch East India Company (VOC). Van Riebeeck was traveling on the Dromedaris with two other ships, the Rejiger and the De Goede Hoop, as well as 82 men and 8 women. When arrived in Cape Town in 1655, Jan van Riebeeck planted the first vines. The first tree was planted in Constantia, between the South Atlantic Ocean and False Bay to the east, at the continent’s tip.
1788: In this year, Governor Phillip brought the first vines to Australia from
Rio de Janeiro and the Cape of Good Hope. On the grounds of Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens, these were planted. The soil’s inappropriate composition prevented them from thriving there. On January 24, 1791, Watkin Tench noted that “..two bunches of grapes were picked in the Governor’s garden from cuttings of plants sent three years earlier from the Cape of Good Hope.” This is the earliest documented instance of successful European grape production in Australia.
September 25th, 1819: On this day, Under the direction of Anglican Missionary Samuel Mardsen, Charles Gordon, the Agriculture Superintendent, planted the first grapevines on Bay of Island locations, New Zealand. James Busby, a Scotsman, was the first winemaker in the nation and the first British immigrant.
1822: In this year, Gregory Blaxland exported the first wine from Australia. Blaxland then became the first winemaker in Australia to receive an international recognition. It was a great milestone for the Australian winemakers and wine industry.
1842: During this time, Switzerland winemakers moved to Victoria to introduce improved vines in the country. On a smaller scale, Swiss winemakers helped Victoria’s Geelong wine region get started in 1842. Early Australian winemakers had many difficulties, mostly because of the distinctive environment of the nation. Because Australia is often warm, dry, and Mediterranean in nature, which makes it ideal for wine cultivation, they finally saw great success.
The Blood of the Colony: Wine and the Rise and Fall of French Algeria Hardcover. January 12, 2021. by Owen White. Amazon Link: https://www.amazon.com/Blood-Colony-Wine-French-Algeria/dp/0674248449
Imperial Wine: How the British Empire Made Wine’s New World Hardcover – April 5, 2022. by Jennifer Regan-Lefebvre. Amazon Link: https://www.amazon.com/Imperial-Wine-British-Empire-Wines/dp/0520343689