The Rise of American Wine
This is definitely one of the most interesting books I have read recently, on or off the topic of wine. It is a fascinating story of changes in morality, of perceptions of wine and the world around us, and how an entire nation moved back and forth on its thoughts about food, culture, wine, and much more.
The story begins back with Jefferson, who in the late 1700s was a huge proponent of wine. He tried unsuccessfully to grow his own vines, and couldn't figure out why he failed. He promoted European winedrinking at the white house and in his circles of friends. In 1803 winemaking really begins with Nicholas Longworth in Ohio. This was a time where they felt that hard liquor was dangerous, but that wine was literally a 'different kind of alcohol'. Longworth was very wealthy, and made winemaking a goal of his, no matter what the cost.
Longworth tried hundreds of grape varieties in his quest to find one that grew well and that Americans would enjoy drinking. Eventually he hit on sparkling Catawba, which was so popular that Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote "Ode to Catawba Wine" about it.
In the 1850s, a huge temperance movement began, and in the 1860s rot came in and destroyed practically all of the vines. At the same time, phylloxera hit heavily in Europe, destroying vines there. It wasn't until the 1870s that solutions began to be implemented for both of these situations ... but by the 1890s there was once again a boom in planting. At the 1900 Paris Expo, 40 American wineries won awards. Wine was on its way up.
Or so people thought. Shortly, the guillotine descended. The death knell for most wineries came with Prohibition in 1917.
Ironically, prohibition resulted in more people drinking to get a buzz, and fewer drinking it reasonably with meals. Home winemaking was legal, so the vineyards that remained open did so by selling "pretty" grapes to this market. These were usually bad for actual winemaking, and the home winemakers working on making sweet, fortified wines for maximum results. By the time prohibition ended in 1933, the US winery count had dropped from over 1000 down to 150. Some states stayed dry long after this - Mississippi was the last state to allow alcohol, in 1966.
It was the late 60s that wine consumption began to rise again - food quality was increasing, people were appreciating more and more foods, and the food they made was able to pair well with wines. At the same time, wine quality was ever increasing. In a famous blind tasting in Paris in 1976, a Stag's Leap 1973 Cabernet and a Chateau Montelena 1973 Chardonnay were rated the top two wines - over two top French wines. Not only that, but the wine tasters consistantly made comments that this one was 'obviously French' or that one was a 'pedestrian American' and were wrong almost every time.
A mere quarter century later, we have fantastic wines being created in just about every state in America, winery tours are booming business, Americans are drinking more and more wine, and the book charts the entire route. The people, events, and situations are richly described, and catch you up in the story.
The book is simply fascinating in many, many ways. Be sure to pick up a copy for yourself!
Author: Paul Lukacs
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
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