A radiant Columbia drinking American sparkling wine, as a scowling older woman, carrying champagne labeled Rheims, leaves for a French ship in the harbor. “Because everything good had to be shipped across the Atlantic, Americans in the early nineteenth century drank very little wine.
A radiant Columbia drinking American sparkling wine, as a scowling older woman, carrying champagne labeled Rheims, leaves for a French ship in the harbor. “Because everything good had to be shipped across the Atlantic, Americans in the early nineteenth century drank very little wine. Most of what they did drink was fortified – port, sherry and Madeira. This was to some degree because fortified wine would not spoil, but more because it contained so much alcohol. A public accustomed to rum and whiskey wanted strong wine if it wanted wine at all.” states Paul Lukacs in his book American Vintage.
After 200 years of failure in making a good tasting American wine, Cincinnati’s Nicolas Longworth succeeded in 1842. He has been called
the Father of American wine industry.
He owned the first commercially successful winery in the United States.
Nicolas Longworth 1783 - 1863
He produced a good tasting wine from a hybrid grape called “Catawba”. It was a naturally occurring grapevine cross between a European vine and a Native American one. Although nearly 50% of the world’s grape species are native to North America, they are mostly bad for winemaking. i.e. they taste awful. The Catawba grape was an accidental hybrid between a Native American grape species, impervious to many local pests and disease, with a European grape that makes great wine, but is highly susceptible to North American pests and disease.
Longworth also accidentally discovered sparkling Catawba wine that tasted even better than his Catawba still wines, when in 1842 a batch of his still wine underwent a second fermentation. He did not know how to duplicate the creation of this sparkling wine himself so he shrewdly hired winemakers from the Champagne region in France. They brought with them the techniques known as méthode champenoise where the 2nd fermentation takes place in the bottle.
People liked Longworth’s pink bubbly wine very much. By the mid 1850’s he was making 100,000 bottles annually and advertising nationwide. Even some Europeans began to drink it then! Longworth’s sparkling Catawba was, indeed, the first successfully sold sparkling wine in the USA! This led to an explosion of the wine industry in Cincinnati. He also, no doubt, inspired others to follow in his footsteps. Here is the poem that Henry Wadsworth Longfellow scribed in dedication to this first American bubbly:
‘Ode to Catawba Wine’: For richest and best Is the wine of the West, That grows by the Beautiful River; (the Ohio river)
Whose sweet perfume Fills all the room With a benison on the giver…
Very good in its way Is the Verzenay Or the Sillery soft and creamy (Verzenay and Sillery refers to villages in the champagne region)
But Catawba wine Has a taste more divine, More dulcet, delicious, and dreamy. There grows no vine By the haunted Rhine By Danube or Guadalquivir,
Nor on island or cape That bears such a grape As grows by the Beautiful River.