The history of wine in America

20190611 - History of wine - FI
Photo credit: Attila445/ bortonia/Getty Images; Tiberius Catinas/

In today’s America, drinking seems to revolve around a hashtag, meme or trend (think #roseallday). But when does a trend become more than just something that’s popular in social media? Let’s examine the history of wine, specifically the drinking part of the history. 

History was never my favorite subject in school, but when it comes to the history of wine, sign me up. Take a trip down memory lane with me (sommelier Shelby Krause) as we recap the timeline of wine beyond the trends. Just because there wasn’t social media at America’s founding, doesn’t mean they didn’t #winedownwednesday. 


Madeira (yes, a fortified wine, but still a wine) was a particular favorite for our very first president. In fact, the signers of the Declaration of Independence all toasted the event with it! (Makes me wonder why we aren’t drinking more Madeira on the 4th of July.)

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The First Vineyard in Kentucky became — surprise! — the first commercial vineyard and winery in the U.S. They may have lacked creativity in the brand name, but it’s not like they had a ton of competition. The company is still in operation to this day. You can even visit the vineyard if you happen to find yourself in Nicholasville, KY.


A microscopic sapsucking insect known as Phylloxera emerged in North America, destroying grape vines by sucking on the roots and leaves. The (extremely selfish) insects quickly spread to Europe, then Bordeaux and Australia. The infestation nearly destroyed the world’s vineyards.  Luckily, a solution was found that stopped the root-eating insects from attacking again.


Power to the women! Josephine Tychson became the first female grower, vintner and winery owner in Napa Valley, a big step in the history of wine drinking. 


Zinfandel was the most popular grape in America thanks to the fact that it grew vigorously and was comparatively easy to produce. Too bad Crest whitening strips weren’t a thing back then.


A nationwide constitutional ban was placed on all alcoholic beverages. Seriously lame

The public was clearly not ready to see wine go. Before the act officially passed, a total of 141 million bottles of wine were sold to the public within a 3 month period.

This ridiculous development had one silver lining, though: Speakeasy bars became common. The unlicensed bars that typically kept their identities concealed fizzled out after Prohibition ended, but a few modern versions are still around today.


When the only all-American team won the 24-hour car race of Le Mans, a new champagne tradition began. Dan Gurney and A.J. Foyt began spraying champagne all over the crowd as an act of celebration, and a new tradition was born.


By increasing the ratio of grape skins to grape juice during fermentation, Sutter Home created a wine with a slight pink color and sweet taste. This was the start of the beloved trend we all know and love: rosé!


In the famous Judgment of Paris, a panel of French wine experts scored California wines higher than top Bordeaux and Burgundy wines in a blind taste test. Chateau Montelena in Napa Valley won the gold medal. This put California wines on the map.


Robert Parker founded The Baltimore-Washington Wine Advocate, a bimonthly publication in which he expounded on the various virtues and vices of common wines. Today, it’s known simply as The Wine Advocate (TWA, WA or RP, if you’re cool) and publishes reviews of more than 12,000 wines a year using Parker’s rating scale.


Frey Vineyards became the first certified organic winery in the U.S.

Wine coolers experienced a short stint of popularity. By 1991, the sweet, bubbly party was over.


If you weren’t at the movies scarfing down a bag of buttery popcorn, you were downing a bottle of buttery chardonnay. This became almost every millennial’s first wine love in the 90s and continues to be a favorite.


Trader Joes introduced a well-received line of Charles Shaw wines, known reverently as 2-Buck-Chuck for its $1.99 price tag. Its shiraz and chardonnay varieties earned many awards, beating out thousands of fancier, pricier entries in various competitions.


Invented in Australia, boxed wine came to California — and college parties were never the same again #slapthebag.


Wine-in-a-can packaging debuts, courtesy of (among others) Coppola Winery — straws included.

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Rosé became a thing — a big thing — prompting a profusion of trends, sayings, hashtags and empty containers.


Bartenders at New York’s Bar Primi experimented with a slushie machine and frozen rosé. Some vermouth and a few strawberries later, frosé was born — a game changer in the history of wine.


With so many wine options to choose from already, 2017 made things more complex with the introduction of orange wine. No, it’s not made from oranges; the color comes from grape skins and seeds that remain in contact with the juice during fermentation. Essentially, it’s a white wine made like a red.

Who said only beer can fill a 40-ounce cup? Forty-ounce wines hit the market in 2017, and Edward Fortyhands became Amy Winehands.


We’re just waiting for more wine trends to evolve, creating a few of our own… and, of course, drinking wine. As it should be.