The fermented products of garden grapes & apples--wine & cider--were important in early America, where a deserved distrust of water persisted from the 17th to 19th centuries. Jamestown colonist George Percy, who served as governor of Virginia between September 1609 & May 1610, wrote in his 1625 A Trewe Relaycon, "Our drinke [was] Cold water taken out of the River, which was at a floud verie salt, at low tide full of slime and filth, which was the destruction of many of our men."
By the 1619 meeting of the Virginia Burgesses, designated speaker & secretary John Pory declared, "Three things there bee which in a few yeares may bring this Colony to perfection: the English plough, vineyards and cattle." The 22 Burgesses then passed "Acte 12," requiring colonists to plant vineyards.
The vineyards were less than successful, and cider & beer became the liquid staples in the new Atlantic coast American colonies. Robert Beverley (1673-1722) reported in his History and Present State of Virginia in 1705, "Their richer sort generally brew their small beer with Malt, which they have from England...the poorer sort brew their Beer with Molasses and Bran. Their strong drink is Madeira Wine."Jamestown clergyman Hugh Jones, who also taught mathematics at William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, from 1717 to 1721, declared that Madeira was, indeed, the most popular wine in the colonies. In his 1724 The Present State of Virginia he wrote, "for it relieved the heat of summer and warmed the chilled blood and the bitter colds of winter."
And it was true that large quantities of wine were imported from Spain & especially from Portugal, along with lemons & oranges during the colonial period. The Portugese import Madeira, clearly a crowd favorite, held up best during the voyage from Europe to the new world, where it was combined with brandy to produce a very popular colonial drink. Colonials did try to use the wine to cure the common cold using sack-whey, a beverage made of wine & the watery part of milk that separates from the curds in making cheese.
Although Madiera was a favorite of Benjamin Franklin, he was enthusiastic over just about any kind of wine. In 1744 Philadelphia, Franklin wrote of his distrust of water as well as his fondness for wine in a poem used as a drinking song. A year earlier, in 1743, Franklin gave instructions for producing American-made wine from local, wild-growing grapes to the readers of Poor Richard's Almanac,
Because I would have every Man make Advantage of the Blessings of Providence, and few are acquainted with the Method of making Wine of the Grapes which grow wild in our Woods, I do here present them with a few easy Directions, drawn from some Years Experience, which, if they will follow, they may furnish themselves with a wholesome sprightly Claret, which will keep for several Years, and is not inferior to that which passeth for French Claret.
Begin to gather Grapes from the 10th of September (the ripest first) to the last of October, and having clear'd them of Spider webs, and dead Leaves, put them into a large Molosses- or Rum-Hogshead; after having washed it well, and knock'd one Head out, fix it upon the other Head, on a Stand, or Blocks in the Cellar, if you have any, if not, in the warmest Part of the House, about 2 Feet from the Ground; as the Grapes sink, put up more, for 3 or 4 Days;
after which, get into the Hogshead bare-leg'd, and tread them down until the Juice works up about your Legs, which will be in less than half an Hour; then get out, and turn the Bottom ones up, and tread them again, a Quarter of an Hour; this will be sufficient to get out the good Juice; more pressing wou'd burst the unripe Fruit, and give it an ill Taste: This done, cover the Hogshead close with a thick Blanket, and if you have no Cellar, and the Weather proves Cold, with two.
In this Manner you must let it take its first Ferment, for 4 or 5 Days it will work furiously; when the Ferment abates, which you will know by its making less Noise, make a Spile-hole within six Inches of the Bottom, and twice a Day draw some in a Glass.
When it looks as clear as Rock-water, draw it off into a clean, rather than new Cask, proportioning it to the Contents of the Hogshead or Wine Vat; that is, if the Hogshead holds twenty Bushels of Grapes, Stems and all, the Cask must at least, hold 20 Gallons, for they will yield a Gallon per Bushel. Your Juice...Must thus drawn from the Vat, proceed to the second Ferment.
You must reserve in Jugs or Bottles, 1 Gallon or 5 Quarts of the Must to every 20 Gallons you have to work; which you will use according to the following Directions.
Place your Cask, which must be chock full, with the Bung up, and open twice every Day, Morning and Night; feed your Cask with the reserved Must; two Spoonfuls at a time will suffice, clearing the Bung after you feed it, with your Finger or a Spoon, of the Grape-Stones and other Filth which the Ferment will throw up; you must continue feeding it thus until Christmas, when you may bung it up, and it will be fit for Use or to be rack'd into clean Casks or Bottles, by February.
N. B. Gather the Grapes after the Dew is off, and in all dry Seasons...If you make Wine for Sale, or to go beyond Sea, one quarter Part must be distill'd, and the Brandy put into the three Quarters remaining. One Bushel of Grapes, heap Measure, as you gather them from the Vine, will make at least a Gallon of Wine, if good, five Quarts.
These Directions are not design'd for those who are skill'd in making Wine, but for those who have hitherto had no Acquaintance with that Art.
Franklin felt strongly about the virtues of wine in everyday life, "There cannot be good living where there is not good drinking...Wine makes daily living easier, less hurried, with fewer tensions and more tolerance...Take counsel in wine, but resolve afterwards in water..."
Franklin even conjured up a tale about the world before the Garden of Eden, in which he suspected that the lack of wine may have had a hand in mankind's early adjustment problems. "Before Noah, men having only water to drink, could not find the truth. Accordingly...they became abominably wicked, and they were justly exterminated by the water they loved to drink. This good man, Noah, having seen that all his contemporaries had perished by this unpleasant drink, took a dislike to it; and God, to relieve his dryness, created the vine and revealed to him the art of making le vin. By the aid of this liquid he unveiled more and more truth."
Like his imaginary wine-drinking hero Noah, Franklin used wine to his advantage. When Franklin became convinced that the local militias needed a few cannons for defence, he traveled up to New York to meet with British colonial Governor George Clinton (1686 –1761) of New York, hoping to convince him to share some of his cannons with the locals. "He at first refus’d us peremptorily; but at dinner with his council, where there was great drinking of Madeira wine, as the custom of that place then was, he softened by degrees, and said he would lend us six. After a few more bumpers he advanc’d to ten; and at length he very good-naturedly conceded eighteen."
In his autobiography, Franklin revealed that wine played a hand in his becoming a printer, when he arrived in Philadelphia, "I went, however, with the governor and Colonel French to a tavern, at the corner of Third-street, and over the Madeira he propos’d my setting up my business, laid before me the probabilities of success, and both he and Colonel French assur’d me I should have their interest and influence in procuring the public business of both governments. "
Pondering his own death, he declared that he would "prefer to an ordinary death being immersed with a few friends in a cask of Madeira" to help preserve them.
Early British American settlers, including Benjamin Franklin, hoped that the Atlantic coastline would grow the familiar European wine grapes. But old world grapevines did not hold up well against the assults of American insects, deer, heat, & diseases. Colonists resorted to using native grapes to make wines, but these never were deemed as fine as the European imports.
Determined to keep trying to duplicate European wines, the Virginia General Assembly designated Frenchman Andrew Estave the official winemaker & viticulturist for Virginia in 1770. He was described as having "a perfect Knowledge of the Culture of Vines, and the most approved Method of making Wine." Estave had already lived in the colony for 2 years, studied the soil, and cultivated some native grapes. With his new designation, he established himself on 100 acres, with a house & 3 slaves, promising to make "good merchantable Wine in four years from the seating and planting of the Vineyard." But he failed declaring that his stocks of European grapes, vitus vinifera, were too fragile for Virginia.
In 1773, Benjamin Franklin persuaded Tuscan wine grower, merchant, & physician Philip Mazzei, to immigrate to Virginia with 10 Italian vignerons to create a native wine industry. He settled on 2,000 acres that Thomas Jefferson gave him and began trying to cultivate wine with European vine cuttings. Jefferson described the land that Mazzei selected as "having a southeast aspect and an abundance of lean and meager spots of stony and red soil, without sand, resembling extremely the Côte of Burgundy from Chambertin to Montrachet where the famous wines of Burgundy are made."
Jefferson stated that "the greatest service which can be rendered to any country is to add a useful plant to its culture." Mazzei, who confidently formed the Virginia Wine Company gathering capital from such investors as Jefferson & George Washington, ultimately failed.
Other founding fathers were intimately familiar with the imported libations, as well. John Hancock was accused of smuggling wine, and Patrick Henry once worked as a bartender. Early lists from colonial ordinaries show that Madeira, Port, and Claret (the common term in those days for red Bordeaux wine) were often available; but rum & rum punch with "loaf sugar" may have been the most popular spirits of the time, closely followed by brandy, some of which was made in Virginia.
In 1768, Virginians imported 396,580 gallons of rum from overseas, and another 78,264 from other North American colonies. Colonials seemed to enjoy sweet drinks with a high enough alcohol content to intoxicate quickly. No dry white wines or "sour" French red wines for them.
One guest at Monticello, politely drinking Jefferson’s imported claret with dinner, told a friend that he was longing for a glass of brandy, commenting that "I have been sipping his...acid, cold French wine, until I am sure I should die in the night unless I take an antidote" and wondering "why a man of so much taste should drink cold, sour French wine?"
Apparently, Jefferson had begun to appreciate fine imported wines while visiting the home of his law tutor George Wythe in Williamsburg. Wythe built a vaulted brick wine cellar under his home, and Jefferson wrote of drinking Malmsey Madeiras at Wythe's house.
During his 5 years in Paris as a diplomat beginning in 1784, Thomas Jefferson learned about fine wines at Europe’s salons & dinner tables. While serving as the new nation's Ambassador Plenipotentiary to the French court, Jefferson took a nearly 4 month tour through southern France & northern Italy. The 3,000-mile trip included visits to Meursault & Montrachet in Burgundy, Condrieu in the Rhone, and Turin in Italy. Jefferson then returned north through Bordeaux, where he sampled the great wines—Chateau Margaux, La Tour de Segur (Chateau Latour), Hautbrion (Chateau Haut-Brion), and Chateau de la Fite (Chateau Lafite-Rothschild).
Jefferson took a 2nd European wine tour through the regions of the Rhine & Moselle rivers and western France, where he developed a taste for the wines of Champagne. Even though he wrote to a friend vines are "the parent of misery" adding that those who cultivate them "are always poor," he continued to long for the success of European wine grapes in Virginia.
During his presidency, Jefferson imported 20,000 bottles of European wines, perhaps making the decision to acquire the already wine-savvy Louisiana Purchase more appealing. Favorites on his White House wine list were Cote d'or Burgundies, Hermitage Rhones, and Medoc Bordeauxs. Jefferson shared his contemporaries taste for sweet dessert wines, his favorites were Tokaji from Austria & Sauternes from France. From his $25,000 annual salary as president, Jefferson spent an average of $3,200 a year on wine during his first term.
Jefferson had a 16' deep brick wine cellar dug adjacent to the White House. A wooden superstructure protected the wine against the weather, and a bed of ice packed in sawdust beneath the floor kept the president's imported wines cool.
After his return from France, Jefferson would use the occasion of dining with his colleagues to instruct them on the fine points of European wines. He lectured George Washington, John Adams, James Madison, & James Monroe on the proper use of his favorite imported vintages. John Quincy Adams remarked wearily after one Jefferson dinner, "There was, as usual, a dissertation about wines, not very edifying." Jefferson doggedly continued to try to grow the European grapes and produce his own fine wines.
The Vineyard at Monticello in Virginia.
Even George Washington flirted with the idea of growing European grapes and producing wine at Mount Vernon. In the early 1760s, he ordered from his factor, "a Butt of about one hundred and fifty gall’ns of your choicest Madeira. And if there is nothing improper, or inconsistent in the request a few setts or cuttings of the Madeira grape." After his retirement from the presidency, Washington operated one of the largest distilleries in the new nation very near his home at Mount Vernon.
In Virginia, however, black rot & the ever-hungry phylloxera louse continued to devour the tasty roots of the European grapes Jefferson attempted to raise at Monticello. Eventually he became more committed to the using native American vines including the fox grape, Vitis labrusca, and the Scuppernong variety of the southern muscadine, Vitis rotundifolia. In 1817, he gave the state of North Carolina credit for producing "the first specimen of an exquisite wine," Scuppernong, and praised its "fine aroma, and chrystalline transparence."
A frustrated Thomas Jefferson declared in 1817, that Americans could not enjoy the finer wines, because their pallets had been ruined by decades of British rule. "The taste of this country (was) artificially created by our long restraint under the English government to the strong wines of Portugal and Spain."
The Vineyard at Monticello in Virginia.
Six years before Jefferson's death in Virginia, New Yorker John Nicholson explained to the citizens of the new republic how to turn the fruits of their gardens into wine in The Farmer's Assistant. "The presses used for making this liquor are similar to our screw-presses for making cider, though they are executed with much neater workmanship...
"To make good wine, the grapes of the same vine should be gathered at different times. The first should be of the ripest clusters; and let them be cut close to the fruit to avoid the taste of the stalks. The green and roten grapes are to be rejected...
"In due season, the second gathering takes place, when all that are ripe and sound are taken as before...To make wine in the greatest perfection, however, the grapes are all striped from the stems before they are put into the vat...
"Wines of different colors are made from the same grape. The French make their white and red wine from the blackgrape...
"To make white-wine, grapes sufficient for a pressing are gathered early in a damp, misty morning, while the dew is on...When the sun comes out warm, the gathering is discontinued...
"The grapes gathered are carefully carried in panniers, on Horses, to the press, into which they are immediately put, and the first pressing is given without delay; which should be gentle, for fear of discoloring the liquor. The wine from this pressing is the most delicate, but not the strongest...
"After the first pressing, the press is raised, the scattering grapes are laid on the cake, and the second pressing is given, in which more force is used than before. The second runing is but little inferior to the first, in flavor or color, while it is stronger and will keep lunger. Sometimes the wines of these two pressings are mixed together...
"After these pressings, the sides of the cake are cut down perpendicularly with a steel spade, so far as they exceed the upper part of the press that is let down on the cake. The eatings are laid on the top of the cake, and the third pressing, which is called the first cuting, is given. The juice pressed out at this time is excelent. A second and third cuting is in like manner given the cake, with pressings, till the juice ceases to run...
"The liquor of the cutings becomes gradually more red, from the liquor contained in the skin of the grapes. The wines of these different cutings are collected separately, and afterwards may be mixed...
"The pressings for the white-wine should be performed quickly, that the grapes may not have time to heat...
"In making red-wines of the same grapes, they are to be gainer when the sun shines the hotest They are to be selected and gathered in the manner before directed...
"When brought home, as before, they are mashed in a vat, and are then to lie in the liquor lor a length of time, which must depend on the heat ot the weather...They are to be stired frequently, the better to raise a fermentation and reden the liquor..."The unripened grapes, that were rejected at former gatherings, are to hang till they become a little frost-biten, and may then be made into wine which will answer to mix with other coarse red-wines...
"When the murk has been fully pressed, it will still yield, when diluted with water, fermented, and distiled, a spirit lor medical and domestic uses...
"The finest wines will work the soonest, and the fermentation will take 10-12 days...When the fermentation is entirely over, the casks are to be filled up, and this is to be repeated once a month as long as they remain in the cellar, in order to prevent the wine growing flat and heavy. They should be filled with wine of the same kind which they contain, which may be kept in bottles for the purpose...
"The first drawing off from is done about the middle of December, and the casks containing the liquor drawn off should stand without the least disturbance, by shaking, until the middle of February, when the liquor should be again drawn off into other casks...let the casks be kept lull, and let no wines of dissimilar qualities be mixed...
"Raisin-wine is made as follows: Take 30 gallons of clear rain or river-water, and put it into a vessel that will hold a third more; add a hundred weight of Malaga raisins picked from the stalks; mix the whole well together, and cover it over partly, but not entirely, with a linen cloth, and let it stand in a warm place...It will soon ferment, and must be well stired about twice in 24 hours, for twelve or fourteen days...the liquor must be strained off, and the juice of the raisins pressed out, first by hand and afterwards by press, which may easily be contrived, by having 2 boards, and weights laid on the uppermost. All the liquor is then to be put into a good sound winecask, well dried and warmed, together with 8 pounds of sugar, and a little yeast; except that a little of the wine should be reserved in bottles, to be afterwards added during the fermentation, which will take place again...When the fermentation has ceased, which will be at the end of a month, the cask is to be stoped tight and kept a year, or more, and then bottled off...
"This wine will be very good at the end of a year and a half; but will improve much by being kept four or five years; as it will then be equal to any of the strong cordial foreign wines..."This is the most perfect of artificial wines, but others may be made cheaper...adding a proportion of wellrectified whiskey to the cask when closed, in which case less raisins and less sugar would be requisite...
"To make Birch-wine. After collecting the sap of the birch, it is to be made into wine before any fermentation takes place; and for this purpose, a pint of honey or a pound of sugar is to be added to every gallon of the sap, the whole to be well stired up, and then boiled for about an hour, with a few cloves and a little lemon-peel; during which, the scum is carefully to be taken off. When cool, a few spoonsful of new ale or yeast is to be added, to induce a due degree of fermentation; and after this has ceased, or nearly so, the liquor is to be bottled and put away in a cool place in the cellar.
"When properly made, the liquor, however, becomes so strong that it frequently bursts the bottles, unless they are placed in spring-water. Stone bottles are said to be the best for containing the liquor, as they are stronger than glass...
"The black-birch affords the greatest quantity of sap, which may be drawn from the tree in plenty, by boring a hole into the southerly side, in the manner directed tor extracting the sap from the maple...
"Perhaps a liquor equally good might be made, in some similar manner, of the sap of the maple, and of the juice of watermelons, especially of those raised in the Southern States...
"Wine of a tolerable quality may be made of the juice of elderberries, in a manner similar to that of making currant-wine..."Raspberries and blackberries may also be applied to the same use; and less sugar will be found requisite in making wines of these than of currants."
The Vineyard at Monticello in Virginia.
With the exception of a "sufficient" quantity of native Scuppernong, all the wines on hand in the Monticello cellar at the time of Jefferson's death in 1826, came from southern France: red Ledanon, white Linoux, Muscat de Rivesalte, and a Bergasse imitation red Bordeaux.
An earlier post explored wine & more ardent spirits available in 18th and early 19th century public pleasure gardens in America.
Another recent posting dealt with the recommended process for developing vineyards in early America.
Ironically, the fact that the settlers needed to continue to import European wines helps us learn more about the history of the American colonies. Imported wine bottles occasionally had “seals” that sometimes were imprinted with a date & even rarely with the name of the bottle’s intended owner or the name of the producer or the merchant who sold the wine. Wine bottle seals are glass stamped impressions (much like wax seals on letters) that can only be applied to glass bottles at the moment of manufacture.
Colonial tavernkeepers, who sold carry-out beverages by the bottle, sometimes had their names or tavern emblems impressed onto bottles; so that their customers would know just where to bring empty bottles for refilling. The gentry, who could afford to custom-order large quantities of wine through their factors, sometimes requested that their bottles be personalized with their names or initials.
Archaeological digs at colonial sites often unearth a large quantity of broken wine bottles. Whether this is because of a vast consumption of wine or because wine bottles were inexpensive & easily broken (especially when their handlers were intoxicated) is not clear. Archaeologists can also look at the shape & size of unmarked imported bottles, often in fragments at a dig site, to guess when the bottle was produced. The shape of wine bottles changed during the 1600s and 1700s.