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3 Virginia and the South in the Eighteenth Century
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Public Interest and Public Support

The work of Beverley and Byrd had no direct successors, yet interest in wine-growing began to stir again in the late 1750s, partly because the colony was in an economic decline brought on by excessive dependence upon tobacco. In the twenty years from the middle 1750s to the outbreak of the Revolution in 1776, there was an active, continuous discussion of, propagandizing for, and experimenting with grape growing and winemaking in Virginia that must, but for the interruption of the war, have led to practical results.

One sort of experiment was already familiar—that is, to import vineyardists from the wine regions of Europe and encourage them to develop their trade in a new land; the logic of this was irresistible, and the attempt to act on it, going back perhaps as early as Lord De La Warr's Frenchmen in 1610, was persisted in until well into the nineteenth century. Byrd, as we have just seen, had hoped to do it with Swiss settlers; in the mid eighteenth century another form of this method is recorded in a prospectus circulated by the Virginia planter and statesman George Mason. Dated October 1759, this invited subscribers to a loan for a German named Maurice Pound, settled on property belonging to Mason on the Potomac, where Pound for the past three years had been cultivating German vines. He now needed capital for a press and other facilities to continue the work. Some money was raised by this appeal. George Washington, like most of his neighbors perennially hopeful about grape growing in Virginia, was one of the subscribers to the loan. But though money was raised, wine was not. By 1772 Washington had written off his part of the loan as a bad debt. As for Pound, he is reported to have moved on to the semi-wilderness of the Shenandoah Valley to try winegrowing there.[40] The rest is silence.

Meantime, other experiments were encouraged by public measures, both official and unofficial. In Williamsburg in 1759 a group of local gentlemen calling themselves the Society for the Promotion of Manufactures offered a premium of £500—thus matching the munificence of the South Carolina Assembly twelve years earlier—to any person who should, in the next eight years, make, in any one year, the ten best hogsheads of wine. A large second prize, of £100, was offered as well to stimulate wide competition. These prizes were to be paid by subscription of the members, and the size of the award is good evidence of the keenness of interest in the object.[41] Two years later, the Virginia assembly endorsed the plan of the society and officially joined it by promising to make good any deficiency in the subscription.[42] The list of subscribers is rich in old Virginia names; Washington, responsive as usual, is down for an annual subscription of £2 to the cause.[43]

The Virginia prize scheme was an imitation of that set up a few years earlier by the London Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce, which offered prizes for various desirable enterprises in the colonies, among them vine growing and winemaking (1758: see discussion, pp. 89-93 below). The Virginians may also have been stimulated by the publication in the Annual Register for


1759 of a summary from the papers of the slightly fraudulent polymath and promoter, Aaron Hill, exhibiting "directions for cultivating vines in America." The colonists of Virginia and Carolina, Hill affirms in this, had bungled their opportunities because they lacked "skill and philosophy" in their work as winemakers. The virgin American soil was too vigorous, wrote Hill, and the grape was accordingly thick, pulpy, oily, and strong, producing violent fermentations that concluded in unbalanced wines. Hill recommends that the grapes be kept cool for five days in special cellars, then pressed, and the juice fermented by itself. This, he says, would certainly yield a wine "rich, lively and durable." How Hill could have known all this is a question, since he had never been to America. But where no one has any real knowledge, anyone can set up as an authority. It may well be that the Virginia gentlemen, on reading so confident an assertion of what could be done and how, thought that their £500 would soon be claimed, to the satisfaction of all parties. The premium, however, seems to have remained unclaimed, so that Washington, Randolph, and the rest, had the credit of their good intentions without having to pay for them.

Almost at the same time that the Williamsburg society was announcing its prizes, a committee of the Virginia assembly was formed and charged with the question of economic diversification, a question made urgent by the depression in the tobacco trade.[44] Its chairman, Charles Carter, of the distinguished Virginia family of Carter, entered into a correspondence with the London Society for the Encouragement of the Arts, a correspondence in which the prospects and methods for the cultivation of the grape in Virginia are an important subject. Carter had already begun grape growing at his estate of Cleve, in King George County, on the Rappahannock, where he made wines from both native and European grapes (it is said), and it was natural that he should have chosen commercial winemaking as one of his proposals for economic reform in Virginia. The London society took a sympathetic view of Carter's proposals and recommended various vines and practices, including the trial of distilling brandy from the native grapes; it was well known that the French used their inferior grapes for distillation into brandy. [45] In 1762 Carter, who by then had 1,800 vines growing at Cleve, sent to the London society a dozen bottles of his wine, made from the American winter grape ("a grape so nauseous till a frost that the fowls of the air will not touch it": probably Vitis cordifolia is meant) and from a vineyard of "white Portugal summer grapes." [46] These samples were so pleasing a taste—"they were both approved as good wines," the society's secretary wrote—that the society awarded Carter a gold medal as the first person to make a "spirited attempt towards the accomplishment of their views, respecting wine in America." [47]

In 1768, according to one source, Virginia actually exported "13 tons [tuns.:] and 135 gallons of wine" to Great Britain; [48] it is not likely that much more was sent either before or after that date, or that the wine could have had a very eager market. Nevertheless, the record does exist, and the trade that it records may have had as its immediate stimulus the work of Carter's committee and the London society.


Charles Carter's interest in winemaking was shared by his brother, Colonel Landon Carter, of Sabine Hall (still standing on the banks of the Rappahannock). Landon Carter kept a journal in which, among other things, he recorded his methods of making wine from native grapes gathered in the woods. He devised an elaborate and tedious process, boiling some of the grapes in order to fix the color, adding honey to increase the sugar content of the juice, and adding brandy to increase the alcoholic content. By such means, Carter wrote, he hoped to obtain a "pleasant liquor," and perhaps he did. What is painfully clear from his description is the ingenious labor that would-be winemakers had to go through in order to make a facsimile of a potable wine from the native grapes that they had in such abundant supply. [49]

In 1769 an ambitious scheme began whose eventual collapse finally put an end to official participation in Virginia winegrowing; not, however, before it had clearly focused the classic question: native grapes or foreign? The episode starts with a Frenchman named André (or Andrew) Estave, who successfully petitioned the House of Burgesses for support of his proposal to establish a vineyard and make from it "good merchantable wine." Estave, according to his petition, had "a perfect knowledge of the culture of vines, and the most approved method of making wine"; he had, moreover, during the two years that he had resided in Virginia, made a special study of the native grape and was confident that it would, if properly managed, "produce very fine wine." [50] Estave was supported by such influential politicians as Severn Eyre, speaker of the House, and George Wythe, Jefferson's law teacher and later a signer of the Declaration of Independence. [51] In November 1769, in response to their lead, the assembly passed an act "for the Encouraging the Making of Wine," whose preamble declared that "the climate, soil, and natural productions of this colony make it very probable that the most delicious wines might be made here." The act appointed trustees, who were authorized to purchase land and slaves, to hire apprentices, to build a house, and otherwise to provide for Estave's necessities; £450 was appropriated for the purpose. If, so the act ran, Estave should succeed in making ten hogsheads of good commercial wine in the six years from November 1770 to 1776, he would gain title to the whole establishment—land, house, and slaves. [52] Land was chosen east of Williamsburg, [53] three slaves were bought, and Estave set to work. By early 1772 he was able to inform the House of Burgesses that his vines were in a "thriving state" and that he was convinced of the "practicability of the scheme." Unluckily, he had had to put his slaves to work growing food; then he had been forced to sell one slave as "unprofitable"; in short, he needed money. [54] The Burgesses obliged by voting a sum to recompense Estave for money already expended and to provide him with £50 per annum for the next two years; [55] evidently they had confidence in their man and his work. Estave continued to have bad luck with his slaves, however, or else he was a bad master, for the Virginia papers between 1771 and 1776 contain no less than six notices of slaves—Quomony, Cuffy, Jack, Saundy, were some of their unhappy names—who had run away from Estave at The Vineyard, as his place was called. [56]


By an act of 1769 the Virginia Assembly subsidized the work of Andrew Estave, a Frenchman 
who vowed that he could successfully grow grapes and make wine near Williamsburg. In this 
notice from the Virginia Gazette  in May 1773, the call for apprentices might be taken as a hopeful 
sign; three years later, however, the enterprise ended in failure. (Huntington Library)

The vines that Estave was tending were both native and European, though there is no information about the specific varieties. By 1773 it was clear to him that the European vines would not prosper. As Estave admitted in a letter to the Virginia Gaztte (18 March 1773), the European grape was subject to a sad list of afflictions: insects and worms injured it; the Virginia sun ripened it when the heat of the summer was most intense; and the rains fell just at the time of harvest. The native grapes, however, were promising; "it is my humble opinion," Estave wrote, "that the native vines of the country can alone be cultivated with success." When properly cultivated and the juice of their grapes skillfully vinified, they would yield, Estave now affirmed in print, as he had earlier done before the House of Burgesses, a "wine of the best quality." This is not the first recommendation of native grapes as a basis for American wine, but it is perhaps the first made by a man who had direct experience of growing both native and European vines experimentally.

Things were still promising enough for the trustees to advertise in May 1773 for three "poor boys . . . to be bound apprentices to Andrew Estave, who is to teach them the art of cultivating vines and making wine." [57] It is doubtful, if any


poor boys applied, that they could have learned much from Estave, whose luck now ran out. A remarkably severe frost in early May 1774[58] sent him back to the House of Burgesses, with a memorial explaining that he had lost his crop and needed yet more money for a cellar and a press; could he have another £50? [59] Whether the Burgesses assented I do not know; probably not, since I have found no record of their action. In the next year we learn that Estave's vines had suffered again, this time by hail, but that he nevertheless had "a prospect of making three or four hogsheads of wine in the fall." [60] It is not reassuring to learn from the same source that Estave had now taken up silk-raising—apparently he had begun to hedge his bets. The end came the next year, when the Burgesses passed an act to dispose of the winegrowing estate, since the land and slaves "are become useless, and of no advantage to the publick." [61] The land—about 200 acres—and slaves were advertised for sale in March 1777, [62] but even in this the property was unfortunate. It seems to have remained on the hands of the trustees until 1784, when the House of Burgesses at last gave it to the College of William and Mary. The college succeeded in promptly selling the land at public auction, and so ended the colony's last official attempt to set up a winegrowing industry. [63]

Even before his failure was certain, Estave had had to face the public criticism of a rival vineyardist, and rival theorist, who opposed Estave's belief in the future of native vines with a fervent belief in the possibilities of vinifera in Virginia. This was Colonel Robert Bolling, Jr. (1738-75), of Chellow, in Buckingham County; there, in 1767, he had made wine from the native summer grapes and had, he said, found it too "acid." [64] Bolling was an interesting, perhaps slightly affected, specimen of Virginia planter and dilettante; he had been educated in England, was fond of reading and of playing the violin, was a student of Latin, Greek, French, and Italian (he wrote a family memoir in French that survives), and he trifled in verse as well. Before his early death in 1775, he also served in the Virginia House of Burgesses.

The challenge of his unsatisfactory wine from native grapes evidently called out the latent determination in the gentleman, for Bolling set off on a sustained effort to learn the principles of viticulture and to apply them to vine growing on his own estate. One result of his labor was the production of a treatise on viticulture, never published but still extant in MS, that ranks as one of the very earliest treatments of the subject addressed to Americans by an American (it is perhaps the second such work; the earliest known is that of Edward Antill: see p. 91). [65] "A Sketch of Vine Culture for Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and the Carolinas" was written around 1773-74 and was designed, so its author states in the high public-minded style almost invariable among early American promoters of the grape, for "the increase of happiness, of numbers, of industry, of opulence." It is, inevitably, for the most part a compilation from standard European sources, both ancient and modern: Columella and Virgil at one extreme and such contemporaries as Nicolas Bidet and John Mills at the other are among his sources. But Bolling also says that by the time he set to work on his book, "there were a few bearing vines at


Title page of Robert Bolling's MS treatise on viticulture for the colonies, c. 1773-74. Most of Bolling's 
information was derived from European sources, but he also drew on his experience with a 
vineyard at Chellow, Buckingham County, Virginia. (Huntington Library)


Chellow whose progress was carefully observed";[66] he gives instructions about planting and pruning drawn from his own experience, and, indeed, as one recent author has noted, Bolling anticipates by more than a century the standard modern pruning system called umbrella-Kniffen.[67] Bolling was also attentive to what little information he could get from other American sources of vine-growing experience; he made use of Antill's pioneer work, and he preserves the (mistaken) information that the very early American hybrid called Bland's Grape grew from raisin seed. Bolling also describes his own vineyard at Chellow, set out, he tells us, along the crest of a north-south ridge and hedged about with red hawthorn. [68]

By 1773 Bolling felt ready to carry on a campaign of opposition to Estave, beginning with a letter to the Virginia Gazette of 25 February entitled "Essay on the Utility of Vine Planting in Virginia," which Bolling had written two years earlier. In this, the author lays out his public-spirited reasons for promoting the subject: he wishes, he says, to provide an alternative to the excessive dependence upon tobacco culture and a means of employing unprofitable hill country; besides this, he wishes to provide a source of good drink for the common people, who need that quite as much as they need employment. The cultivation of the grape might supply both. Bolling meant the European grape. The experiment then being conducted by Estave was, in Bolling's judgment, misconceived and not terribly relevant to the problem of American winegrowing. It proposed merely to answer "whether Andre Estave can raise a vineyard . . . which shall furnish a sufficient quantity of native grapes" and "whether from these he can produce a wine wholesome and potable." But the real question, in Bolling's view, was whether traditional wine grapes—vinifera—would flourish in Virginia? And to answer that question, he argued, widespread trials must be made.

In February 1773 Bolling successfully memorialized the House of Burgesses to subsidize his experiments in vine growing. The House agreed to the extent of authorizing a grant of £50 per annum to Bolling for a term of five years. [69] To assist him in the work, the local paper reported, Bolling had "engaged a Foreigner, thoroughly acquainted with the business, in all its branches." [70] Who the nameless "Foreigner" was I have not discovered; but he was one of a long line of hopefully imported experts, most of whom had to suffer the mortification of seeing their knowledge baffled and defeated. But Bolling now had official recognition of his work, and turned again to the matter of Estave, sending the Virginia Gazette an "Address to the Friends of Vine Planting" in which he enthusiastically recommended the vines of warm countries—of Italy especially—for trial in Virginia. [71] The native grapes, Bolling reluctantly conceded, should not be entirely rejected if they showed any promise, but he knew from experience that they were not proper for wine.

Bolling was particularly emphatic on the point that the success or failure of vinifera in Estave's vineyard would settle nothing; the experiment was too limited, and the prejudice of the colonists against European vines had denied them fair trial—at least so Bolling said. He also says that the colony "has unhappily a great


partiality for native vines, the only native production to which it was ever partial." [72] The assertion, if true, is surprising; it suggests that local winemaking from native grapes was widespread and that the result was well received. But probably Bolling exaggerates the strength of the tendency to which he was opposed.

Estave was provoked by this latest sally of Bolling's to make a mild response, in which he politely affirmed that his native grapes were doing well and politely doubted that Bolling's imports had much chance of succeeding. [73] Bolling, who had a knack for light verse, was meantime diverting himself at Estave's expense by writing a group of poems called "The Vintage of Parnassus," in which the Virginia planters are exhorted to join the ranks of grape growers, and in which poor Estave is pleasantly derided. For example:

Let Estave, to end the quarrel,
Let Estave produce a barrel!
Here's a goblet, here's a borer:
Drink to Bacchus peace-restorer.
Let us drink of our own pressing
Why postpone so great a blessing?

And again:

Estave, if I must celebrate
The wonders of your art
My thirsty soul first recreate. . . .
The purple juice impart. [74]

These and other such verses, which survive in MS, were never published, but one can well imagine that Bolling was not reluctant to recite them to any likely listener.

What reason could Bolling have had for his confidence that European grapes, especially those from Italy, would do well in Virginia? None, really, or no more than any other interested observer could have, chiefly the familiar observation of an analogy between Mediterranean warmth and Virginian warmth, elaborated in semiscientific jargon. Bolling was particularly excited by the possibility of adapting the Lachryma grape to Virginia—that is, the grape called Greco della Torre, from which the Lachrima Christi wine is produced on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius. His reasons, as set forth in the MS "Sketch," show how fanciful an argument he depended on. The Lachryma grape, Bolling observes, rarely ripens even in Naples, and yet makes good wine; probably, he thinks, it would ripen in Virginia and so make even better wine. Why? Well, because the "solar rays" of Italy darting on the "sulphureous" soil of the slopes of Vesuvius retard the growth of the vine. Virginia, being less sulphureous, yet quite as warm, ought to be a better place. [75]

"Solar rays" operating on a "sulphureous" soil are not likely to retard the maturity of grapes. But of course the problem in Virginia was not one of maturity but of hostile climate and endemic disease, though Bolling could not know that. He remained energetically and optimistically active to the end. On 26 February 1775


he wrote to the Virginia Quaker and merchant Robert Pleasants, who acted as Bolling's agent in obtaining Portuguese vines, about his vine-growing efforts. Bolling thanks Pleasants for a box of cuttings received in good condition, adds that he has received others both good and bad from other sources, and that he is expecting yet more:

You cannot imagine how much I am revived under the vexation such miserable and hard-earned collections give me by the interest you take in the affair. The man, who attempts to serve his Country, is generally checked as an arrogant, unacquainted with his insufficiency; and I can assure you, some of the little Heroes around me make one fully sensible that such are their sentiments. [76]

In July of that year Bolling suddenly died at Richmond, the new colonial capital, where he had gone to represent his county at the constitutional convention. An unsigned note in the Virginia Gazette of 9 September 1775 hints that something night yet be saved from Bolling's abruptly ended labors:

The vines planted by Mr. Bolling in the County of Buckingham, although managed according to the directions of the French writers of the 48th and 49th degrees of latitude, are in a condition to yield wine the ensuing year, if well attended to. The slips planted by that gentleman the last year, after the method of the vignerons of Europe inhabiting a climate similar to our own, have now the appearance of vines 3 or 4 years old. A slip planted by him in the spring of the present year has produced two bunches of grapes; a fact which would not be believed in the wine countries of the old world.

The vineyard did not survive its owner long. Years later it was reported that the ignorance of Bolling's heirs and the confusions created by the outbreak of the Revolution in 1776 had as their consequence that "this promising and flourishing little vineyard was totally neglected and finally perished." [77]

The quarrel between Estave and Bolling was left unresolved by the failure of the one and the death of the other. [78] Before that inconclusive conclusion was reached, however, a third vigorous presence was added to the list of publicly supported experimental winegrowers in Virginia in the person of the Italian Philip Mazzei (1730-1816). [79] Mazzei, who was born in Tuscany, had already lived a varied and unconventional life; he had studied medicine in Italy, had spent some years in Turkey, where he successfully practiced as a physician, and had then gone to London, where he operated a prosperous firm importing champagne, burgundy, Italian oil, and Italian cheese. Mazzei was a man of quick curiosity and great confidence, attentive to all sorts of practical, commercial, and political matters, and he seems to have picked up a good deal of information about wine, for which his importing business placed him well. He was also gifted with a remarkable power to charm, so that he attracted acquaintances everywhere he went.

Two among his many friends in London were Americans: Benjamin Franklin, then agent in England for the colony of Pennsylvania, and the Virginia merchant Thomas Adams. Their talk of American freedom and American opportunity inter-


Physician. merchant, and colonial agent, the Florentine Philip
 Mazzei (1730-1816) brought Italian vines and Italian vineyard 
workers to Virginia in 1773; the Revolution put an end to the 
scheme. among the most promising in colonial America, (From 
Philip Mazzei: Jefferson's "Zealous Whig."  trans. Margherita
 Marchione [1975])

ested Mazzei, who, by 1771, had devised a scheme for an ambitious importation of Mediterranean plants and farmers into Virginia: 10,000 French, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese vines, with a comparable quantity of olive trees and other plants, were to be brought over, together with fifty peasants to attend them, the whole convoy to be sent to the back country and the costs to be paid by Virginia subscribers. [80] Nothing quite on this scale actually came to pass, but Mazzei was encouraged enough by the response to his plan to return to Italy and begin preparations for his American expedition. His arrangements there were protracted through 1772 and into 1773; by that time he had secured the permission of the grand duke of Tuscany


to take vines and workers out of the duchy, and at the end of November 1773 Mazzei and ten young Tuscan viticultores arrived in Virginia on a ship hopefully named the Triumph . [81]

The plan was still to take up land in the unsettled western highlands, but that plan was changed by the intervention of Thomas Jefferson, always on the lookout for interesting company and for agricultural improvements, both of which Mazzei could provide. On his way to inspect the hinterlands of the Shenandoah Valley in company with his friend from London days, Thomas Adams, one of his original sponsors and a landholder in the valley, Mazzei stopped in his journey to meet Jefferson at Monticello. As the story told by Mazzei goes, the two men went for an early morning walk the next day before breakfast; on their return they were met by Adams, who looked at them and at once said to Jefferson, "I can see it on your face that you've taken him away from me; why, I expected as much." [82]

Jefferson had in fact offered some 2,000 acres to Mazzei in the neighborhood of Monticello, and there Mazzei settled his workers and built a house he called Colle (Italian "hill"), perhaps in allusion to Jefferson's Monticello ("little mountain").[83] Whether he planted vines in the winter of 1773-74, the earliest date at which he could do so, is not apparent, but the chances are that he did not. Mazzei was very quickly associated with the political leaders of Virginia and proved himself a ready friend to the cause of American independence from Britain—indeed, he had been predicting it while still in Europe, and was glad to help it come about. The Revolution followed so soon on his arrival, and his interest in its development was so great, that his vine-growing efforts seem never to have had his full attention. Still, he did some definite things. He brought in six more Tuscan viticultores in the summer of 1774 (these were all from Lucca). [84] In November 1774 he published detailed proposals for a "Company or Partnership, for the purpose of raising and making Wine, Oil, agruminious [i.e., citrus] Plants and Silk," inviting subscriptions in shares of £50 each. [85] According to Jefferson, £2,000 was provided to Mazzei by this means, [86] and the list of subscribers, like the earlier list of the supporters of the Williamsburg society's prize offers, is a roll of all the influential and wealthy gentlemen of the colony, including the governor, Lord Dunmore (soon to be occupied in raiding and devastating the coasts of the colony he now governed), Washington, Jefferson, and assorted Masons, Pages, Randolphs, Custises, Blands, and Carters. [87]

The Triumph , which had brought Mazzei over in 1773, returned laden with seeds and cuttings from Tuscany in the summer of 1774, too late for vine planting that year. [88] Anything that Mazzei might have set out before was killed in the great frost of 4 May 1774. It does not seem, then, that Mazzei actually succeeded in beginning a vinifera vineyard until 1775, when he made a late June planting of 1,500 vines whose shipment from Italy had been delayed. [89] The date of 1775 would agree with Jefferson's later recollection that Mazzei had tended his vines for three years before he left Virginia early in 1779. [90] Of the Tuscan vines that Mazzei planted late in 1775, about half were successfully rooted, and they, according to Mazzei, "pro-


duced grapes with more flavor and substance than those grown in Italy." [91] This is a very rare testimony that European vines in colonial America ever actually fruited. Jefferson remembered that the land that Mazzei chose for his site had a southeastern exposure and a stony red soil, "resembling extremely the Cote of Burgundy from Chambertin to Montrachet where the famous wines of Burgundy are made." [92] What marvelous visions of great Virginian vintages Jefferson must have had!

Mazzei was too slow to begin and too quick to leave his plantation at Colle to produce a vinifera vintage; the native vines, however, caught his attention at once. "Especially in Virginia," he wrote, "nature seems to favor vineyards. I have never seen such perfect, varied, and abundant wild grapes." [93] His workmen, he says, saw no fewer than two hundred varieties of wild grape in the woods, and he himself examined thirty-six varieties on his own estate—incredible numbers both. [94] Mazzei made wine from these grapes in 1775 and 1776, describing it as "far better than ordinary Italian wine or what is produced near Paris"; the praise is highly restricted, since ordinary Italian wine and the wine of Paris were both bywords for badness in wine. Mazzei's workers were each given a cask of this native wine, and they were, Mazzei reports, successful in selling it at a shilling a bottle to thirsty Virginians. [95]

To continue the experiment, Mazzei planted 2,000 native vines in the spring of 1776, but with exceedingly poor results; two years later only 87 remained alive. This, however, he attributed entirely to the poor state of the cuttings that he had used. [96] The future lay with the cultivated native vines, Mazzei thought, though he seems never to have doubted that vinifera would grow in America as well; in this choice of the native varieties over the European, Mazzei forms a solitary exception to the rule. Nor did he think that viticulture, so long as land was cheap and labor dear, would develop rapidly in America; it would be a work of time, requiring that the country first be populated. When that time came, then "I am of opinion," he wrote in his Memoirs many years after his American experience, "that . . . the best wines in the world will be made there." [97] Mazzei was clearly a man who could see for himself and speak accordingly—not easy things to do when one is confronting new situations.

In 1778 Mazzei was put forward by Jefferson as a man capable of serving the Revolution as Virginia's agent—that is, fund-raiser—in Europe. The suggestion was accepted, and Mazzei left for Europe in 1779. Though he returned to America in 1783 and remained here for two years, his days as a vineyardist were over. He afterwards served as agent to the king of Poland in revolutionary Paris and ended his days in his native Tuscany. Mazzei kept in touch with his American friends, and the Department of State Archives record his sending many items of horticultural information and many new plants to the United States through the consul in Leghorn. [98] But after his departure from it, his Virginia vineyard quickly dissolved. The Tuscan vineyardists drifted away; the house was rented to a German general captured at the Battle of Saratoga and kept prisoner in Virginia while awaiting ex-


change. The general's horses, so Jefferson wrote in 1793, "in one week destroyed the whole labor of three or four years." [99]

The visible marks of Mazzei's experiment lasted only briefly, but the invisible effects had their importance, not least through their operation on Jefferson, the most enthusiastic of all public men in American history for the attractions of a flourishing viticultural economy. His belief in Mazzei and in Mazzei's view of the possibilities of American winegrowing never faltered. Something must be said about Jefferson's role in the history of this subject later; here it is enough to observe that Virginia in the years just before the Revolution was the right place to be for anyone interested in the hopes of American winegrowing. The Frenchman Estave in Williamsburg, the Italian Mazzei in Charlottesville, and the Virginia gentleman Bolling at Chellow were all busy with their experiments at the same time and to a large extent with the backing of the same interested people. Talk of the imminent, the tantalizingly near, success of one or the other of these men must have been common enough; and many Virginians, in a private way, were hoping to achieve that success for themselves. Charles Carter of Cleve and his brother, Colonel Landon Carter, have already been mentioned as winemakers; Jefferson, of course, was an experimental vineyardist, setting out his first vines with the aid of Mazzei's Italian vineyardists in the spring of 1774. [100] George Washington was already in the field, having begun to plant grapes at Mount Vernon in April 1768. [101]

Washington was skeptical about vinifera for Virginia. As he explained in a letter written while he was commanding the revolutionary army, he had observed the efforts of his neighbors to cultivate the foreign grape, had noted the failure of their vines, had tasted the badness of their wines, and, concluding that Virginia was too hot for vinifera, resolved, as he said, "to try the wild grape of the country." Accordingly, "a year or two before hostilities commenced I selected about two thousand cuttings of a kind which does not ripen with us (in Virginia) 'till repeated frosts in the Autumn meliorate the grape and deprive the vines of their leaves." [102] From this description it appears that Washington had chosen some variety of cordifolia, one of the so-called winter grapes, as his neighbor Charles Carter of Cleve had done ten years before. Washington's diary for 20 November 1771 reports that he began that day to plant cuttings of the "Winter Grape" in the "inclosure below the garden." He finished in December, having planted twenty-nine rows of winter grapes as well as five of the summer grape (perhaps aestivalis). [103] The experiment, however, like those of Bolling and Mazzei, was never carried through, Washington being called to his public destiny before he could see the results of what he had begun. The scattered remarks in his writings show that he never lost interest in the possibility of grape growing at Mount Vernon; they also show that, despite the logic of his view of the native grape, he could not resist the temptation to make repeated trials of the European.

The names of other Virginians who ventured into grape growing about this time frequently occur in the brief contemporary references that are the only record


of this sort of private activity; Anthony Winston, who made wine in substantial quantities at his place in Buckingham County, for instance; or the Colonel Baker of Smithfield who made collections of both native and foreign vines for experiment; [104] or Francis Eppes, Jefferson's brother-in-law, who sent cuttings to Bolling at Chellowe;[105] may stand for an indefinite number of interested Virginians who contributed something to the persistent efforts at winegrowing in the last years before the Revolution, though we do not have the means of knowing anything distinct about their work.

The history of winegrowing in Virginia in the more than two hundred years that have elapsed since Washington reluctantly left his vineyard for the command of the army of the Continental Congress shows that the question at issue between Estave and Bolling, and between Washington and his neighbors, of whether to favor the native or the foreign grape, is still not resolved. In the nineteenth century, Virginia made an outstanding contribution to American viticulture through Dr. D. N. Norton's "Virginia Seedling," best known as the Norton grape and still recognized as the best of all native hybrids so far for the making of red wine (this is not high praise, but indicates at least a relative judgment). The Norton, a hybrid of aestivalis and labrusca varieties, came into general cultivation in the 1850s. After the Civil War a wine boom based on the Norton grape developed around Charlottesville, where Mazzei and Jefferson had worked in vain a hundred years before; in the 1870s Charlottesville was grandly called the capital of the "Wine Belt of Virginia." [106] Unchecked diseases, the growing competition of California, and the growing pressure of Dry sentiment dampened the boom; only a vestige of an industry remained for Prohibition to extinguish.

Immediately after Repeal, an attempt was made to revive the Norton-based industry around Charlottesville, but that did not survive the 1941-45 war. [107] Now Virginia is the scene of a revived and growing wine industry, based not only on the old native varieties but on the newer French-American hybrids, and, most interestingly, on vinifera: thus in our time the circle that the original settlers of Jamestown began to trace has been closed. It is one of the fascinations of the subject of wine-growing in the United States, as illustrated by the complicated history of experiment in Virginia, that we still do not know what the necessary, certain basis of viticulture is in most parts of the country: natives? vinifera? some tertium quid? Temperaments that are hot for certainty will be distressed by such indefiniteness: but those who take pleasure in speculation will find much to intrigue them in the past and the present of the scene.


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