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1 The Beginnings, 1000-1700
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The Promise of Virginia Wine

For the next determined effort at English colonization in the American south, the information is much fuller. Like all observers before them, the settlers of Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607, the first permanent colony, were struck by the rich profusion of grapes that adorned the woods of their colony. Indeed, by this time, they expected to see them, for the ability of the New World to grow grapes "naturally"—that is, wild—is one of the details constantly and optimistically noted in the accounts published by Hakluyt and other promoters of exploration and settlement.[24] This attractive gift of nature helped to inspire a vision that persisted for many years in the English imagination. In this vision, the myth of Eden mingles with legends of fabulous wealth in the New World, legends supported by the actual example of Spanish successes in Mexico and South America. The vision was supported, too, by an orthodox economic argument. In order to obtain such products as silk, wine, and olive oil, England had to pay cash to Spain and France, its rivals and enemies. One of the persistent objects of early English colonization was therefore to provide England herself with silk, wine, oil, and other such commodities. With her own source for these things, England might laugh at the French king and


defy the Spanish, a heady prospect that powerfully influenced the English vision of America. For years, the French had insulted the English in both act and word, as in this old song:

Bon Français, quand je bois mon verre
Plein de ce vin couleur de feu,
Je songe, en remerciant Dieu,
Qu'ils n'en ont pas en Angleterre.[25]

Such taunts as these would cease if English colonies could be made to yield wine.

Wine and silk, those two luxurious commodities, were constantly linked in the English imagination as the most desirable products (other than gold) that America could yield; as one writer has said, the duet of the vine and silk formed from the beginning "one of the major themes in the vast symphony of colonial hopes that enchanted, for half a century, the England of Elizabeth and James the First."[26] Indeed, the enchantment lasted far longer than that, for one regularly finds silk producing and winegrowing (with the olive sometimes taking a third part, or replacing silk in the pattern) linked together by hopeful speculators well into the nineteenth century. For its persistence and ubiquity, the dream of wine and silk (and oil) to be poured out copiously and carelessly from the warm and fertile New World has some claim to be identified as genuine myth.

Even before they left England the Jamestown adventurers were promised, in an "Ode to the Virginian Voyage" by the poet Michael Drayton (who had obviously been reading Hakluyt for his details) that they would find a place where

The ambitious vine
Crownes with his purple masse
        The Cedar reaching hie
        To kisse the sky.[27]

Nor were they disappointed. On reaching the James River they at once saw "great store of Vines in bignesse of a man's thigh, running up to the tops of the Trees in Great abundance."[28]

The Virginia settlers tried a little experimental winemaking at once. A report by an Irish sailor who made the first voyage to Jamestown says that he sampled one or two of the wines produced and found them very similar to the Spanish Alicante, but this is probably an Irish fantasy rather than a sober report.[29] A more modest statement was made by one of the promoters of the Virginia Company, who wrote in 1609 that "we doubt not but to make there in few years store of good wines, as any from the Canaries."[30] Not much wine can have been made by that early date, and even less can have been tried in England, though the same authority, Robert Johnson, who foresaw Virginia as a rival to the Canaries, wrote that the Jamestown settlers had sent some of their wine to London before 1609.[31] Johnson's prophecy of Virginia's winemaking promise is particularly interesting for its idea of how that promise was to be realized—that is, "by replanting and


making tame the vines that naturally grow there in great abundance."[32] Johnson was writing in ignorance and can claim no credit for prophetic authority, but he did thus predict by accident what, after long years, turned out to be the method—approximately—that made viticulture possible in the eastern United States: the use of improved native varieties. But the process of "taming" vines merely by cultivating them, an idea that long persisted, is fallacious.

Captain John Smith is authority for the statement that the colonists of the first Virginia Voyage made "near 20 gallons of wine" from "hedge grapes";[33] but Smith was writing some years after the event and is not distinct as to dates. More circumstantial, but still doubtful in some points, is the statement by William Strachey, who spent the year 1610-11 in Jamestown, that there he had "drunk often of the rath [young] wine, which Doctor Bohoune and other of our people have made full as good as your French-British wine, 20 gallons at a time have been sometimes made without any other help than by crushing the grape with the hand, which letting to settle 5 or 6 days hath in the drawing forth proved strong and heady."[34] "Rath wine" indeed! The statement about making twenty gallons of wine as good as "French-British" wine—perhaps French wine for the British market is meant—was copied by Strachey from the book that Captain Smith published in 1612, an easy sort of plagiarism common enough at the time. But the particulars about Dr. Bohune and his winemaking technique seem to be from Strachey's own observation. It certainly makes sense to drink at once such a wine as he describes: the yeasty headiness of a wine still fermenting would probably be the main virtue of the highly acid juice.

Dr. Laurence Bohune (or Boone), whose wine Strachey drank, has the distinction of being the first winemaker in America whose name we know. He came out to Jamestown in 1610, later became physician general to the colony, and was killed in a sea battle with the Spanish on a voyage from England back to Virginia: an omen, perhaps, of the ill-luck that the winemaking enterprise was destined to encounter.

Word about the actual quality of Virginia wine had already reached England by 1610. When Lord De La Warr was appointed governor of the colony in that year, he sent instructions in advance of his arrival that a hogshead or two of the native wine, "sour as it is," should be sent for a sample to England.[35] Probably he hoped to stimulate the interest of trained winegrowers, for whom the Virginia Company was already searching. Indeed, De La Warr seems to have taken some French vine dressers with him on his voyage to Virginia in 1610, though the information is tantalizingly indistinct. In the official—and therefore not wholly reliable—"True Declaration of the Estate of the Colony in Virginia" (1610), a tract written to raise fresh funds for the company after the disastrous "starving time" in the winter of 1609-10, we hear of "Frenchmen" with Lord De La Warr "preparing to plant vines," who "confidently promise that within two years we may expect a plentiful vintage."[36] This sounds most promising, but nothing more is heard of the matter, and De La Warr himself writes at the same time as though no provision had yet been made for cultivating the vine:


. . . In every bosk and common hedge, and not far from our pallisado gates, we have thousands of goodly vines running along and leaning to every tree, which yield a plentiful grape in their kind; let me appeal, then, to knowledge, if these natural vines were planted, dressed, and ordered by skilfull vinearoones, whether we might not make a perfect grape and fruitful vintage in short time?[37]

On his return to England in 1611, De La Warr was able to state in his official report that "there are many vines planted in divers places, and do prosper well."[38] One of these vineyards was perhaps that mentioned by Ralph Hamor, who was in the colony from 1610 to 1614, and who wrote that there they had planted wild grapes in "a vineyard near Henrico" of three or four acres (Henrico was founded in 1611).[39] The Laws Divine, Moral and Martial , the stern Virginian code drawn up in 1611, forbade the settlers to "rob any vineyards or gather up the grapes" on pain of death.[40] But this must have been merely an anticipation of the future, not a present necessity.

Despite the company's advertisements and the governor's plea for skilled "vinearoones," none seems to have ventured forth until a long eight years later.[41] By that time the company, alarmed by the rapid establishment of tobacco as the sole economic dependence of the colony, determined to encourage a diversity of manufactures and commodities, wine among them. In this it had the eager support of King James I, who abominated tobacco (see his "A Counterblast to Tobacco," 1604) and was entranced by the vision of silk and wine. He urged on the company the importance of developing these commodities at the expense of tobacco, but the royal attempt to put down the weed proved just as futile as any other, then or now.

The company began its new policy by causing a law to be enacted in 1619 requiring "every householder" to "yearly plant and maintain ten vines until they have attained to the art and experience of dressing a vineyard either by their own industry or by the instruction of some vigneron."[42] The instruction was to be provided by the "divers skilfull vignerons" who, the company reported, had been sent out in 1619, "with store also from hence of vineplants of the best sort."[43] The last item deserves special note: it is the earliest record of the effort to transplant the European vine to eastern America. The event may be said to mark the beginning of the second phase of viticultural experiment in America, the first being that period of brief and unsatisfactory trial of the native grape.

There were, we know, eight vignerons sent to Virginia in 1619, Frenchmen from Languedoc—Elias La Garde, David Poule, Jacques Bonnall are among the names preserved of this group· We know also that they were settled at Kecoughton, Elizabeth City County, near the coast and therefore relatively secure from Indian attack.[44] This region had been recommended as early as 1611 by Sir Thomas Dale, who observed that the two or three thousand acres of clear ground there would do for vineyards and that "vines grow naturally there, in great abundance."[45] Indeed, the suitability of the region had been remarked even earlier, in 1572, by the Jesuit Father Juan de la Carrera. Carrera, with what his editors describe as "typical pious


exaggeration," wrote that the Spanish found at Kecoughton (which he called "the Bay of the Mother of God") "a very beautiful vineyard, as well laid out and ordered as the vineyards of Spain. It was located on sandy soil and the vines were laden with fine white grapes, large and ripe."[46] No such vineyard as Father Carrera describes could possibly have existed. No doubt he saw grapes growing, and perhaps the vineyards of sixteenth-century Spain were somewhat unkempt, but much imagination would still be required to make untouched Virginia exactly resemble long-settled Spain. Such transformations of the unfamiliar wild scenes of the New World into images drawn from the familiar forms of the Old are common enough in the literature of exploration.

The official company statement says that the French vignerons went out in 1619, but they must have arrived too late to do any planting that year—indeed, a letter from Virginia as late as January 1620 pleads for both vines and vignerons from Europe, a fact that suggests the company was slower to carry out its claims than to publicize them.[47] The same letter, however, mentions that vines brought by the governor, Sir George Yeardley (presumably on his return from England in 1619) "do prosper passing well," but his Vigneron — "a fretful old man"—was dead: no doubt this was one of the Languedociens. Despite that setback, the signs at first were prosperous, or at least the reports were enthusiastic. It was affirmed that the vines planted in the fall bore grapes the following spring, "a thing they suppose not heard of in any other country."[48] Just when the Frenchmen planted their vines is not clear. Those that Sir George Yeardley brought were planted in 1619; another source refers to the Frenchmen as having planted their cuttings at "Michaelmas last"—that is, around October 1620.[49] These were probably the vines that marvelously fruited the next spring.

In 1620 the company, encouraged by the early reports, announced that it was looking for more vineyardists from France and from Germany, and that it was trying to procure "plants of the best kinds" from France, Germany, and elsewhere.[50] Whether this was done is not recorded; probably it was not. A year later, in 1621, we hear that on one site, at least, some 10,000 vines had been set out, though not whether they were native or vinifera.[51] In the next year, at the king's command,[52] the company sent to every householder in Virginia a manual on the cultivation of the vine and silk by the Master of the King's Silkworms, a Frenchman named John Bonoeil, the same Frenchman who had recruited the Languedoc vignerons in 1619 (probably the vigneron named in English spelling as Bonnall was a relative). Bonoeil's treatise, with its "instructions how to plant and dress vines, and to make wine," is not the first American manual on viniculture, since it was written by a Frenchman in England; but it may fairly claim to be the first manual for American winemakers.[53] With this book in their hands, and the king's command to spur them, the Virginia colonists, so the company admonished them, could have no more excuse for failure.[54]

Bonoeil could not have had any direct knowledge of American conditions, but he at least tried to imagine and prescribe for them. After recommending that the


The royal seal of King James I, from John Bonoeil's
 His Maiesties Gracious Letter  to the Earle of South-
 . . . (London, 1622). Written at the tobacco-
hating, wine-loving king's command, this work offered 
instruction in wine-making to all the Virginia settlers.
 It begins the literature of wine in America. (Huntington Library)

native grapes be used for immediate results, he provides general instructions for winemaking, beginning with the treading of the grapes "with bare legs and feet" and going on to a recipe expressly devised for the wild native grapes. If, he says, men would trouble to gather such grapes when they are ripe, and tread them, and ferment them, the juice

would purge itself as well as good wine doth; and if the grapes be too hard, they may boil them with some water; . . . and then let them work thus together five or six days. . . . After that, you may draw it, and barrel it, as we have said, and use it when you need. I have oftentimes seen such wine made reasonable good for the household. And by this means every man may presently have wine in Virginia to drink.[55]

We do not know if this recipe was followed. The colony was liberally supplied with the book containing it, but one witness in that year reported that the colonists "laughed to scorn" such instructions, for "tobacco was the only business."[56] And heaven only knows what result Bonoeil's process yielded. The boiling would have extracted an intense color, but the water would have diluted the already inadequate proportion of sugar in the native grapes. Wine that puts the teeth on edge and the stomach in revolt was the likeliest result. Nevertheless, it is notable that Bonoeil, like a good Frenchman, was not so much thinking of making a profit for the company's shareholders through the export of Virginia wine as he was charitably wishing that every man in Virginia should have "reasonable good" wine to drink.

The sequel to all this preparation was disappointment. How could it have been anything else, given the practical difficulties? A little wine was made from native grapes, but it proved unsatisfactory. And the failure to make anything out of wine-growing in the face of a prosperous tobacco industry soon led men to give up a losing game. Besides that, the get-rich-quick mentality that dominated in early Vir-


The beginning of Bonoeil's instructions to Virginia winemakers. The book, we
 are told, was "laughed to scorn" by the Virginians, who were too busy growing
 tobacco to trouble themselves with the uncertainties of winemaking. Note the 
very early reference to the "Fox-Grape." (Huntington Library)


ginia—one writer describes Jamestown in the 1620s as a model of the boomtown economy[57] —was ill-suited to the patient labor and modest expectations of wine-growing. In 1622 some Virginia wine was sent to London; it must have been wine from native grapes, since the vinifera vines brought over in 1619 could not have yielded a significant crop so soon, even supposing that they were still alive. The wine, whatever it may have been to begin with, was spoiled by the combination of a musty cask and the long voyage, and the company in London, desperately eager to make good its claims about Virginia's fruitfulness, was forced to swallow another disappointment. Such wine, it wrote to the colonists, "hath been rather of scandal than credit to us."[58]

So far from being able to supply an export market with acceptable wine, Virginia was quite unable to provide for its own needs. This was partly owing to the difficulties in growing wine, no doubt, but also partly to the fact that tobacco cultivation left no time for anything else, and yet was the only profitable activity. Under the circumstances, the company in London was willing to listen to such wild propositions as one made in 1620 to supply the colony with an "artificial wine" that would cost nearly nothing, would never go fiat or sour, and was ready to drink on the day that it was made. This remarkable fluid, it appears, was made of sassafras and licorice boiled in water, but whether it was successfully imposed on the poor colonists may be doubted.[59]

The Virginians were so eager for wine that in 1623 the governor was obliged to proclaim price controls on "Sherry Sack, Canary and Malaga, Allegant [Alicante] and Tent, Muskadell and Bastard" ("Tent" was red wine—Spanish tinto —and "Bastard" was a sweet blended wine from the Iberian peninsula).[60] Shortly after, the governor complained officially to the company in London that the shippers were exploiting the Virginians with "rotten wines which destroy our bodies and empty our purses."[61]

Things were made more difficult than ever by disasters in Virginia and by dissension among the directors in London. The great Indian massacre of 1622, which cost the lives of nearly a third of the colonists, did severe material damage as well. In London, stockholders were exasperated when the profits that had seemed so near in 1607 repeatedly failed to materialize, and disagreement over general policy led to strife at headquarters. Company officials defended themselves as best they could, claiming that, even despite the massacre, vineyards had been planted, "whereof some contained ten thousand plants."[62] At the same time, the company wrote anxiously to Governor Sir Francis Wyatt: "We hope you have got a good entrance into Silk and Vines, and we expect some returns—or it will be a discredit to us and to you and give room to the maligners of the Plantation. Encourage the Frenchmen to stay, if not forever, at least 'till they have taught our people their skill in silk and vines."[63] The company was disappointed: no wine was sent in 1623, and the "maligners of the Plantation" seized their opportunity. They denied that any promising work had been accomplished: the claim that the company had sent out a supply of the best vines was false, they said, for though vines had been


Glass wine bottles from the seventeenth century found at Jamestown, Virginia. Thousands of such 
bottles have been found, but they can only occasionally have contained Virginia wine. Most of what
 the Virginians drank had to be imported, and much of that was bad. (From John L. Cotter and J. Paul 
Hudson, New Discoveries at Jamestown  [1967])

brought from Malaga they were never forwarded across the Atlantic; as for the much-touted French vignerons , some were dead, and the survivors were being given no assistance in the colony. The claim to have established a large vineyard was also hollow, so the company's enemies said, for it was only a nursery planting and the vines were native rather than European.[64]

What the truth in all this was is not clear from the evidence. No doubt the company's enemies, hoping to bring the colony under royal authority, exaggerated the failure to get anything done. But the report of well-affected observers on the spot shows that little had been accomplished. George Sandys, the poet who had gone out to Virginia with Governor Wyatt, reported to London in 1623 that though many vines had been planted the year before, they "came to nothing." The massacre was but a part of the reason. "Want of art and perhaps the badness of the cuttings" were also responsible, but the most important of all the causes was simple neglect:

Wherefore now we have taken an order that every plantation . . . shall impale [fence] two acres of ground, and employ the sole labor of 2 men in that business [planting grape vines] for the term of 7 years, enlarging the same two acres more, with a like increase of labor. . . . By this means I hope this work will go really forward, and the better if good store of Spanish or French vines may be sent us.[65]

Sandys himself hastened to obey the law, for the census made early in 1625 records that he had a vineyard of two acres on his plantation on the south bank of the James.[66] But how ineffective the measure was in general may be guessed from the fact that in the year after it was enacted, at the very moment when the Virginia


The poet George Sandys (1578—1644), who went out to Virginia as treasurer 
of the colony in 1621, was responsible for encouraging the agriculture and 
manufactures of the struggling settlement. He planted a vineyard of his own 
and reported optimistically about the prospects of winegrowing. (From
 Richard Beale Davis,  George Sandys  [1955])

Company was expiring, the General Assembly passed a law requiring twenty vines to be planted for every male over twenty years of age.[67] This new law, the last in a series of attempts to legislate an industry, was quietly repealed in 1641. But even then it does not seem that there was any willingness to admit that the obstacle was in the natural difficulties of the situation. Instead, excuses were found, and accusations of bad faith, idleness, and ignorance prevented a clear understanding of the problems that were in fact created by the unfamiliar climate, soils, diseases, pests, and materials. Men continued to think that if they simply persisted along the usual path the thing must succeed.[68]

The unlucky French "vinearoones" were a principal scapegoat. As early as 1621 the government was instructed from London to take care that the French were not allowed to forsake vine growing for tobacco, "or any other useless commodity."[69]


Seven years later, by which time all of the original hopes to produce a large "commodity" of wine had been falsified, the colonial council complained to England that "the vignerons sent here either did not understand the business, or concealed their skill; for they spent their time to little purpose."[70] Four years later, an act of the assembly directed that all the French vignerons and their families be forbidden to plant tobacco as a punishment for their crimes: they had, it was asserted, wilfully concealed their skill, neglected to plant any vines themselves, and had also "spoiled and ruinated that vineyard, which was with great cost, planted by the charge of the late company."[71]

What basis could so strange a charge have? Perhaps some light is thrown on the question by a passage in a tract of 1650, Edward Williams' Virginia Richly and Truly Valued . Williams says (his information is supposed to be derived from John Ferrar, who had been in the colony) that the colonists did not live up to their agreement with the French: "Those contracted with as hired servants for that employment [vine growing], by what miscarriage I know not, having promise broken with them, and compelled to labour in the quality of slaves, could not but express their resentment of it, and had a good colour of justice to conceal their knowledge, in recompence of the hard measure offered them."[72] If only that had not happened, Williams laments, Virginia would already be a great winegrowing land, blessed with "happiness and wealth" and fulfilling the biblical ideal of prosperous life, with every man at peace under his own vine.

If only it were so simple. But the failure of the first French vignerons was just what would have happened to anyone in the circumstances. Another group of Frenchmen, for example, went out to Virginia in 1630 "to plant vines, olives, and make silk and salt" under the direction of Baron de Sance.[73] Their settlement on the lower James may well have yielded salt, but certainly not the other, more elegant, products, even though they were working for themselves and not for the profit of some unjust taskmaster.

By midcentury it had long been evident that Virginia was not easily going to become a source of abundant wine. No records of actual production exist, but if there was any at all, it was on a purely local and domestic scale, and entirely based on native grapes, either wild or cultivated. Yet the dream persisted, and was likely to be acted on during those frequent seasons when tobacco was a drug on the market. In 1649 William Bullock (who had never been to Virginia) wrote that wine was made there from "three sorts of grapes" and repeated the familiar hope that in time a winemaking industry might arise to balance the colony's dependence on tobacco.[74] In the same year it was reported that one gentleman, a Captain William Brocas by name, had made "most excellent wine" from his own vineyard in Lancaster County along the banks of the Rappahannock.[75] It is also said that Sir William Berkeley, who governed Virginia from 1642 to 1652 and again from 1662 to 1677, successfully planted a vineyard of native grapes: "I have been assured," so the Reverend John Clayton wrote some years after Berkeley's death, "that he cultivated and made the wild sour grapes become pleasant, and large, and thereof made


good wine."[76] Robert Beverley, the early historian of Virginia and a pioneer wine-grower of importance, tells a different story of Berkeley's efforts: "To save labour, he planted trees for the vines to run upon. But as he was full of projects, so he was always very fickle, and set them on foot, only to shew us what might be done, and not out of hopes of any gain to himself; so never minded to bring them to perfection."[77] Though Berkeley and Brocas are stated to have had regular vineyards, their methods were probably not much different from those implied in this description of Virginia in about 1670, written by the English physician Thomas Glover:

In the woods there are abundance of Vines , which twine about the Oaks and Poplars, and run up to the top of them; these bear a kind of Claret-grapes , of which some few of the Planters do make Wine; whereof I have tasted; it is somewhat smaller than French Claret; but I suppose, if some of these Vines were planted in convenient vine-yards, where the Sun might have a more kindly influence on them, and kept with diligence and seasonable pruning, they might afford as good grapes as the Claret-Grapes of France.[78]

In 1650 another enthusiast, fired by the old vision of wine and silk, published a rhapsodic prospectus of what still might be done with those things in Virginia. Edward Williams (who, like Bullock, had never been to Virginia), observing that the poor Virginia planter "usually spends all the profits of his labour on foreign. wines," urged the colonists to try again the experiment that had failed thirty years before by importing European vines and winemakers. This time, however, he advised that Greek vines and winegrowers be imported in place of French, since Virginia lay on a Mediterranean latitude (Athens and Jamestown are on nearly the same parallel). Williams also believed, as so many others did then, in the notion that the Pacific Ocean lay only a few miles to the west of the Virginia settlement,[79] so that the colony might reasonably hope to have the vast market of China laid open to them. And the Chinese, he says, "that voluptuous and gluttonous nation," were well known to "wanton away their wealth in banquets" and would be eager to buy Virginia's wine—if there were any.[80]

To give practical meaning to his argument, Williams published a guide to silk manufacture and winegrowing under the title Virginia's Discovery of Silk-Worms. . . . Also the Dressing and Keeping of Vines, for the Rich Trade of Making Wines There (1650). The thirty pages of this given over to a "Treatise of the Vine" are drawn exclusively from European sources and have no authentic reference to Virginian conditions. But the treatise may take rank as the second, after Bonoeil's (which Williams had evidently read), of the books written for American grape growing. Williams' geography and his economic advice were equally unreal, and we hear of no response to his call to grow the "Greek, Cyprian, Candian, or Calabrian grape" in Virginia. His argument that the grapes from one latitude in Europe should grow on the same latitude in North America is one that occurred to other writers later and is frequently met with in the speculation on this subject in the next two centuries: indeed, one still sees it as an advertising claim today. It is, in simple fact, quite


fallacious. Labrador and London are on the same parallel, but does anyone seriously think that the same botany will be found in both places?

The last official encouragement of winegrowing in seventeenth-century Virginia was an Act of Assembly in 1658 offering ten thousand pounds of tobacco to whoever "shall first make two tunne of wine raised out of a vineyard made in this colony."[81] After that—presumably no one ever gained the prize—the official record is silent, though the instructions to each succeeding governor continued to include the charge to encourage the production of wine in the colony. Even this was, at last, quietly dropped in 1685, in tacit acknowledgment that, officially at least, the hope of winegrowing was dead.[82] Two years later a writer describing the state of Virginia to the eminent scientist Robert Boyle reported succinctly that, though several sorts of grapes grew wild, "there be no vineyards in the country."[83]

With every inducement, both real and imaginary, to develop a native industry—official policy and public wish agreeing on the desirability of the work—the early Virginians nevertheless failed to achieve even the beginnings of a basis. Why? The Jamestown experience is worth telling in detail just because it is so exact a pattern of experiments in American winegrowing that were to be repeated over and over again in different regions and by different generations. First comes the observation that the country yields abundant wild grapes, followed by trials of the winemaking from them, with unsatisfactory results. Then the European grape is imported and tended according to European experience; the early signs are hopeful, but the promise is unfulfilled: the vines languish, and no vintage is gathered. No amount of official encouragement, no government edict, can overcome the failure of the repeated trials, and after a time men become resigned to the paradox of living in a great natural vineyard that yields no wine, though an enthusiast here and there in succeeding generations takes up the challenge again, and again fails.

One French commentator has made the interesting suggestion that the colonial English were inclined to think that winegrowing was far easier than it is in reality: they knew and liked good wine from France but were content to drink it without ever learning what pains it cost the Bordelais to grow it. "Neither Lord Delaware nor the rich merchants of the Company in London could know that the wine-grower's metier is one that is learned slowly, if one has not been early initiated to its patient disciplines, and, especially, if one is not a countryman, in unreflecting, genuine communion with the soil."[84] On this view, the combination of optimistic ignorance with unforeseen new difficulties, was quickly fatal to the effort at wine-growing by Englishmen who had no traditional feel for the task. The notion that winegrowing is a craft requiring much time and experiment to learn is no doubt true, but it is distinctly unfair to the English to say that they failed because they lacked tradition. They failed because the European vine could not grow here. It is amusing to speculate about what might have been if the French rather than the English had made the earliest settlements along the Atlantic coast. Would they have turned to the native grapes when all others failed? And would they have persisted until they had tamed them? One may doubt it.


One must also emphasize the fact that the early settlers of whatever nationality had every sort of natural disadvantage to contend with in seeking to adapt the European vine to a new scene. Agriculture generally was difficult, for the soil was poor. As a modern scientist puts it:

The sandy soil of the Atlantic Coastal Plain, which is all that the colonists had to farm, is really terrible. In New Jersey it forms what we call the Pine Barrens, and in Virginia it is little better. It had been forested for some thirty thousand years, and thus it had acquired a little pseudo-fertility—it could bear crops for two or three years. Then it was finished. Only the strenuous efforts of the settlers kept it going longer. It was not until the chemist Justus yon Liebig discovered the role of mineral fertilizers that this land could be farmed successfully and continuously.[85]

From the point of view of the tender Vitis vinifera , the New World was no Garden of Eden but a fallen world where the wrath of God was expressed in a formidable array of dangers and pestilences. First, the American extremes of climate, so different from what prevails in the winegrowing regions of Europe, alternately blasted and froze the vines. The summer humidity steamed them and provided a medium for fungus infections like powdery mildew, downy mildew, and black rot, diseases unknown in Europe until the latter half of the nineteenth century. Among the many destructive insect pests were the grape-leaf hopper, which sucks the juices of the foliage, and the grape berry moth, whose larvae feed on the fruit.

Other European fruits, such as apples, pears, and peaches, succeeded at once in the New World, but not the grape. The reason is probably that there were no native plants resembling the apple, pear, and peach, so that no native pests had evolved to prey upon them. There were native grapes, though, and a complete array of native pests established in association with them. Thus the very fact that America had native vines, which so excited the early settlers with the promise of winemaking, was the cause of the European vine's failure there.

The fungus diseases were the most immediately and comprehensively destructive enemies; all vinifera vines are extremely susceptible to them, and without control they will make the growing of such vines practically impossible. Powdery mildew (Uncinula necator ) is endemic in the East but seldom does severe damage to the native vines. It lay in wait there for its opportunity against the untried vinifera. In the 1840s powdery mildew reached Europe, where it did great damage before the discovery that dusting with sulphur controlled it. In Madeira, where it was particularly virulent, it all but extinguished viticulture. The island has not, to this day, fully recovered the position in winegrowing that it once held before it received the setback dealt by this disease.

Downy mildew (Plasmopara viticola ) flourishes in humidity, and is therefore a much more destructive disease in the East than in the arid West. It concentrates on the leaves of the vine, and by killing them defoliates the vine and brings about its starvation. Black rot (Guignardia bidwellii ), the most troublesome of the fungus diseases, with a long history of destruction in eastern American vineyards, is particu-


The effects of black rot (Guignardia bidwellii ), the most widespread and 
destructive of the fungus diseases that plague the grape east of the 
Rocky Mountains, (From U.S. Department of Agriculture,  Report, 1885 )

larly damaging to the fruit itself, which it leaves hard, shrivelled, and useless for any purpose. It is, in the words of the authority A. J. Winkler, "probably the most destructive disease in vineyards of the United States east of the Rocky Mountains, where it virtually prevents success in growing vinifera varieties."[86] Even today it is a constant threat, ominously hovering over every hopeful planting in the East. "Sooner or later," as one contemporary expert resignedly remarks, "it will move into a vineyard and become a perennial problem for the grower."[87]

No clear reference to these diseases occurs in early colonial literature, and it was not until the nineteenth century that the connection between fungi and plant diseases was worked out. But the diseases were certainly there, and, after destroy-


ing the burgeoning industry along the Ohio River in the mid nineteenth century, they remain threats against which every eastern vineyardist must guard today. They have also been exported to Europe, where they require a constant and burdensome program of preventive spraying—a legacy from the New World that the Old would gladly do without.

In the regions south of Virginia, if a vine somehow escaped its trial by fungus, it had another ordeal by disease to endure; probably no vinifera among those planted in the East in colonial times ever reached this stage, and therefore the disease in question was not described until late in the nineteenth century, and then in California, where it is not native. Pierce's Disease (named for the expert who first studied it effectively), a bacterial infection that is fatal to the vine, was first brought to public attention in the 1880s, when it devastated the vineyards of southern California. It was for a time known as the Anaheim disease, after its destruction of the once flourishing vineyards there. Pierce's Disease has not had the catastrophic international effect that phylloxera did, but it is a dangerous thing to the grower: its mechanism is not understood, it kills what it affects, and there is no cure. Only very recently has it come to be suspected that its native place is in the southeastern United States, where the local species of grape show some tolerance for it. Any of those doomed colonial vineyards in the south, then, supposing that they had weathered climate, insects, and fungus, would surely have given up in weariness before Pierce's Disease.

Now suppose that, by some freak, the vines survived the onslaughts of mildew, rot, flying insects, bacterial infection, and extremes of weather. They would then have met another scourge, one which was not then recognized, and which, more than two centuries later, was to infest the vineyards of the world with disastrous results. This was the Phylloxera vastatrix , or "devastating dry leaf creature," a microscopic aphid, or plant louse, native to America east of the Rocky Mountains. One form of the insect—which has a most complex life-cycle generating a bewildering sequence of stages—lives on the leaves of the vine and is relatively innocuous. Another. form lives its destructive life underground, sucking the roots of the vine, and killing the plant both by forming root galls, which then rot, and by injecting poison spittle into the roots. It was not until the mid nineteenth century, when the insect had been introduced into Europe, that it was identified and studied. But it no doubt did its bit to hasten the repeated and comprehensive failures of Vitis vinifera in America. By long adaptation, some of the tough-rooted native varieties have acquired greater or lesser resistance to the attack of phylloxera, as well as to the fungus and bacterial diseases endemic in North America.[88] But vinifera has fleshy, succulent roots that are just to phylloxera's taste and are wholly unable to resist its attack. It is a mistake, however, to suppose, as many writers have done, that the early trials of vinifera were ended by phylloxera. The fungus diseases were much more immediate, and in most places were probably supplemented by winter kill. Moreover, the sandy soils of the East Coast discourage the insect, which prefers clay and loam. Phylloxera as the special enemy of vinifera was not recognized


until the mid-nineteenth century, for the good reason that it had little chance to operate as the sole destroyer of vines in this country: they had already been blasted and blighted. In Europe, it was different.

There is no "cure" for phylloxera to this day. Measures may be taken to prevent its spread. But where it is already present, the only practical means to continue the culture of vinifera is by grafting to resistant American root stocks, a method devised during the great phylloxera crisis of the nineteenth century and still standard practice today in both New World and Old World vineyards.

We can begin to see now what must have happened to the European vines in Virginia. Most vineyards were probably just abandoned; their cultivators took up tobacco growing instead. But some vineyardists must have tended their plantings carefully, hoping to obtain the blessing of good wine. And what was their reward? At first, as we have seen, the plants made good growth. Then fungus infestation would have begun, though not at first sufficient to put an end to hope. It takes at least three years, and more often four or five, before a vine produces a significant crop, and the intensity of fungus infection might vary from year to year according to the character of the season. Downy mildew might overrun the leaves and fruit. More likely, black rot would shrivel the berries and dessicate the leaves. Some fruit would survive, but the losses would be severe.

In sandy soils, such as are the rule along the eastern seaboard, the phylloxera does little damage, which makes it seem almost certain that the early failures of vinifera in this country were not attributable to that pest. But since phylloxera is so important an enemy in other sorts of soils wherever vinifera may be grown, and since it had such a devastating effect later in Europe and California, one may briefly describe its work here. The effects of phylloxera do not appear until the second year of infestation, when the vine growth slows and sickly yellow leaves appear, showing galls on the underside. In the third year, the signs of decay and disease intensify, and either then or in the next year the vine dies. If it is then dug up, the vine shows gnarled roots already decaying from the action of saprophytic fungi, but the insects themselves will have migrated to the next living plant. Even though the tiny insects are microscopic, they cluster so thickly upon a fatally infected vine that they are visible to the unaided eye. But a man is not likely to dig up a vine not yet dead, and until he did he would have no chance to see the cause of his vines' distress. Phylloxera thus went long undetected in this country, where it is at home. There were plenty of visible afflictions to be seen, so that one did not need to search for any hidden causes.

The idea of grafting the European vine onto American roots, the practice that was to save the vineyards of Europe and California from annihilation in the nineteenth century, occurred to many early American growers. But in the conditions of eastern America, such combinations, though they might have been effective against the unrecognized phylloxera, were futile without the support of modern fungicides. Mildew and black rot would have destroyed leaves and fruit as usual. And the hot, humid summers and the sub-zero winters would not have been any kinder.


Because this was a new land, where everything had yet to be learned, and because it was long before the time of scientific plant pathology, the causes of the failure of grape growing were not discovered—could not be discovered. The early colonists, then, naturally chose to blame as the source of their difficulties what was visible and familiar—bad soil, bad stock, bad methods, laziness. So American winegrowing continued up a dead end for many years to come.

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