Today, Thursday, May 25th is National Wine Day. I know; it’s not a real holiday. It’s more like a Cinco de Mayo holiday. The citizens of Mexico don’t celebrate Cinco de Mayo. And even Mexican-Americans are probably like, okay so these gringos have started recognizing this minor battle in Mexican history. If it’s so important, then why wasn’t it taught in American schools? That’s because it’s important, in fact very important to the Tequila producers, bars and restaurants whose bottom lines are counting on this agave-based spirits bash. In other words, it’s an excuse to push excessive drinking.
Wine, however is a completely different story. In my opinion, wine drinkers are not as likely as beer drinkers to get wasted. So it’s kind of like being patriotic to participate, right? But, seriously, if you are anything like me, National Wine Day is any day that ends in a “y”. That doesn’t mean wine producers aren’t excited for their day in the national spotlight. I was going to do research how National Wine Day got its start but then I thought, “Who cares?” It’s an opportunity to write about wine, drink wine, and encourage others to drink wine. So, let’s get started.
Where would the American wine industry be without the Spanish priests? Probably still over in Spain. Father Serra is credited with being the first person of European descent to plant grapes used in wine making. Due to the church affiliation, it became known as the Mission grape. Fast forward to today where California produces more than 90% of all wine made in the United States. As a result, some of the most historically interesting wineries are located in the state.
American Wine making – In the Beginning
Even non-wine drinkers are familiar with Napa and Sonoma Valley wine regions. However, Livermore Valley, just 20 miles east of San Francisco Bay is probably the most critically important region in the history of American wine making. Without the work of the early pioneers, California perhaps would not have developed into the world’s fourth largest wine-producing region. Located in the heart of the Livermore American Viticultural Area (AVA) is Wente Vineyards. The winery, founded in 1883 is the country’s oldest continuously operated family-owned winery. Nearly 80% of all the Chardonnay grown in America is based on the Wente Chardonnay clone. In addition to Chard, area vintners grow Semillon and Sauvignon, as well as Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Concannon Vineyard, also founded in 1883 is another key U.S. winery and a major player in the Livermore AVA. Concannon was the first American winery to produce a varietal Petite Sirah. The grape had previously been used only for blending. The Concannon Cabernet Clones 7, 8 and 11 were instrumental in the stronghold of Cabernet Sauvignon in California with approximately 80% of the state’s Cab being derived from these vines. Thank you very much “Cabcannon”.
World-renown Sonoma Valley was quietly launched by the most famous Hungarian-American, Agoston Haraszthy. His two wineries Buena Vista and Gundlach Bundschu are considered the birthplace of the California wine industry. They were supposedly started using 160 European vitis vinifera vines cuttings.
Missouri most certainly is not at the top of any wine lovers list of wine regions. But in 1972, the country’s first federally designated AVA was awarded to . . . drum roll please – Augusta in Missouri. Today, the majority of Missouri wines are made using native two American grapes, Concord and Catawba (kuh-TA-buh), as well as French-American hybrids.
Prior to Prohibition, Ohio was the most-prominent wine producing state. The Catawba grape, named after the native people who resided throughout present-day Carolinas and Virginia was king of the vine. Unknown to most, the true birthplace of American wine making began with the native peoples including the Chumash, Creek and Cherokee. That’s right. The “locals” were having wine happy hour long before the white man arrived.
Now every state makes wine, although some import grapes from neighboring states. So there’s no reason you can’t celebrate National Wine Day. Go ahead and show your American pride. Raise a glass tonight, and the next night and the one following that night and . . . you get the idea. Cheers!