Tomorrow, as we celebrate the signing of our Declaration of Independence from Great Britain on July 4, 1776, many will be raising a glass of wine to toast our country’s birthday. It is interesting to reflect on three wine milestones interwoven with our American history.
The first milestone was the election of America’s third president, author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, who was also America’s first oenophile. He spent a good portion of his $25,000 annual salary (equivalent to $700,000 today), stocking the wine cellar of the White House with his favorite European wines.
An avid horticulturist, he planted European grapes at his Monticello home, enlisting the aid of Italian vigneron Filippo Mazzei in establishing his vineyards.
Jefferson was not successful. His vines likely fell victim to the Phylloxera root louse, which decimated European vine cuttings planted in the New World and later the vast vineyards of Europe.
Jefferson never abandoned the idea of establishing a wine industry in America. Had he lived to 1849, when gold was discovered at Sutter Mill in California, he would have seen his dream come to fruition.
European gold prospectors brought wine grape cuttings with them to their new homes. These plantings survived because Phylloxera had yet to cross the Mississippi.
California’s fledgling wine industry prospered until the second milestone in American wine history, the enactment of Prohibition on Jan. 16, 1920, which placed a constitutional ban on the manufacture, sale and shipping of all beverages containing alcohol.
At the time of enactment, there were some 700 California wineries. By the time Prohibition ended in 1933, the number of wineries had dwindled to less than 150.
It wasn’t until 1966, 33 years after the end of Prohibition, that the late Robert Mondavi completed construction on the first modern winery in California.
The third milestone in American wine history occurred in Paris on May 24, 1976. Steven Spurrier, British owner of a Parisian wine store and currently a British wine critic, celebrated America’s bicentennial by organizing a now famous Paris tasting, the story of which is loosely chronicled in the movie “Bottle Shock.”
French judges blindly tasted an array of chardonnays and cabernets from America and France — and were confident they would be able to eliminate the upstart American wines upon first taste.
To the judges’ dismay, they ranked two American wines as the best in their respective categories, a Chateau Montelena chardonnay and Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars cabernet.
One lone reporter, George Taber of Time magazine, covered this event, but the news pre-internet spread like wildfire. Wine shops were besieged with requests for the winning American wines. Since that time, American wine production has grown to the point that America now produces more wine by volume than any other nation.
As we celebrate the history of our country, let us also celebrate the history of America’s wine industry by raising a glass of the following red, white and brut. These recently tasted wines are priced in the $20 to $40 range.
Scharffenberger Brut Excellence. Ethereal sparkling wine made from a blend of pinot noir and chardonnay in the traditional method, i.e., the same method used in making true Champagne. Light lemony flavors make it the perfect aperitif for light summer appetizers and salads.
Domaine Anderson Valley Chardonnay 2016. Anderson Valley is situated about 100 miles north of San Francisco in Mendocino County. Elegant wine. Creamy mouthfeel from malolactic fermentation. Not an oak bomb. Only 7% of the blend sees time in new oak. Versatile food wine.
1000 Stories Bourbon Barrel-Aged Prospector’s Proof 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon. The name is an homage to the settlers and gold prospectors who brought grape vines to California.
Bourbon barrel aging is the revitalization of an old cost-saving trend of aging wine in used bourbon barrels, thus avoiding costly new oak barrels. Today, bourbon barrels are used for adding flavor and nuance to wine.
From predominantly cabernet with a bit of syrah and zinfandel, this wine was the star of the evening. Good, easy-drinking red with lots of cherry fruit on the palate. Paired beautifully with roast pork loin served with a fresh cherry sauce.
Pat Kettles writes about food, wine and spirits every other Wednesday. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.