On Wine and Temperance in America: Abridged

This is an abridged version of a story because they were many more events than these.

In this earlier post about the early days of the American wine industry, I mentioned that Nicholas Longworth (the Father of the American Wine Industry) supported temperance. During his time, the temperance movement focused on the drunkenness from high alcohol spirits as whisky – and because consumption was so low in the early 1800s, wine was a means to combat the spirits.

While the late 1850s marked the peak of Longworth’s wines, the temperance movement was changing and growing, thus now included all beverages with alcohol.

The Concord grape (developed in 1866) made lousy wine, but very good jams and jellies. In 1869, a dentist favoring prohibition developed a pasteurized, nonalcoholic beverage from Concord juice that sold as Dr. Welch’s Unfermented Wine. (If the name is making you think, the answer is yes.)

Growth and popularity in Welch’s product worked against Longworth’s dreams, thus the first call for national prohibition came in 1876. By this time, wine production had reached California.

When prohibition arrived on December 17, 1917, over 1,000 wineries were in the U.S. Dry table wines of Longworth’s dreams were 75% of the market, with sweet, fortified wines being the remaining market. (This is a thought to remember for an upcoming post). Well known names and labels included Krug, Rossi, Korbel, Italian Swiss Colony, and Buena Vista.

Prohibition ushered in a new era. Interestingly, the law allowed individuals to make their own wine. California grape growers did well as they sent grapes eastward. Grape growers did well as prices increased and acreage triples. The growers leaned that the public favored big juicy grapes, whereas the wine grapes were smaller, thin-skinned.

The wine grapes were also rotting sooner in their cross-country journey – so the growers responded by changing the varieties they grew. The 1920s also brought future titans Mondavi and Gallo into the industry.

By the time prohibition ended in 1933, only 150 wineries remained – mostly in California. The growth of wine grapes was now limited, equipment was poor, much of the wine knowledge was gone, and the wine industry had to reintroduce wine to society. To make matters worse, beer and spirits recovered more quickly because of their shorter production time.

The bottom line is that wine in America was not much further along than from Longworth’s peak 70+ years earlier, thus had a long way to go.

Click here for Part 3 of this series.

On Wine in America: Abridged

This is an abridged version of a story because they were many more events than these.

(The people) didn’t consume many of the beverages we drink regularly today. Not only were there few nonalcoholic juices (citrus fruits being unavailable and other fruits fermenting like grapes), but coffee and tea were expensive, milk spoiled quickly, and water frequently was brackish and disease-ridden. Ironically, health and safety constituted the primary advantage of alcohol.

American Vintage: The Rise of American Wine, Paul Lukacs, p 24

These were the typical conditions in the US for the early 1800s, thus what a young man from New Jersey encountered when he headed west in 1803 to start a new life in a frontier town known as Cincinnati, Ohio. Arriving full of hope and optimism, Nicholas Longworth became a lawyer and a real estate mogul – and given Cincinnati’s location in the westward movement, he became wealthy as the city grew.

Longworth was also a man of temperance, but saw wine as a beverage of moderation that would improve life for the commoners. Keep in mind that wine wasn’t in the picture because supply was limited to imported European wines and mainly drank by the elite – and yes, banishing wine was not part of the temperance movement at that time.

Thomas Jefferson, the US President at the time and early spokesperson for wine in American, not only loved European wines, he believed America could also make great wine. His enthusiasm drove him to try cultivating European varietals in Virginia, but he was unsuccessful Native American varietals grew in the wild, but made poor wines. As other were unsuccessful throughout the east, the curious began hybridizing American and European varietals.

Nicholas Longworth made his first wine in 1813, but it was a fortified wine that was over 20% alcohol, thus far from the 12% dry table wine he wanted to make. Therefore, in 1825 he purchased a little known hybrid from Maryland called Catawba.

Experimenting with separating skins from the juice, Longworth produced a sweet wine that Cincinnati’s growing German population enjoyed. He kept trying with different grapes and techniques, and in 1842 accidentally discovered a second fermentation producing a sparkling, which led to a new problem – exploding bottles.

Fortunately, Nicholas Longworth had deep pockets to fund his passion, so he kept trying. By the 1845, his wines were getting national attention, thus production was around 300,000 gallons (over 1.1 million liters) per year. By the end of the decade, grapes covered over 2,000 acres in the Cincinnati region. The wine even inspired this poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: The Ode to Catawba Wine.

220px-Nicholas_Longworth_Wikipedia

Image from Wikipedia

In 1860, a disease (blight) hit the region’s grapes – and the grapes suddenly vanished. Longworth died in 1863 at age 80, but his son was unsuccessful at revitalizing Cincinnati’s wine industry.

Longworth’s dream lived on through others (including former employees) as growing grapes moved west to Missouri and eventually California – all building on Longworth’s knowledge. This is why Nicholas Longworth – the one who came to Cincinnati for a new beginning, earned his title: the Father of the American Wine Industry.

Note: Click to continue to the next post in this series.