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Winemaking was slow to start in US

During Thomas Jefferson’s presidency, the U.S. was largely engrossed in drinking pretty gross stuff – hard liquor and a drink known as “grog” that could be any combination of rum, juices and sweet (weak) beer. It was the stuff the British admiralty would ration to their sailors on long voyages. I would imagine they needed something to help numb the discomfort of such a journey.

President Jefferson’s love for wine developed while he was an ambassador to France, and he did his earnest best to get a wine industry started in America. Slow to start with the muscadine grapes native to the southeastern U.S. from Delaware south to the Gulf of Mexico, with one in particular being Jefferson’s favorite, known as the scuppernong. The wine produced from this grape is popular in the Carolinas and Virginia, and is a “treat” I give students taking my class at NDSU.

Jefferson firmly believed that America had the potential to yield wine both cheap and good, but it would be more than 150 years before his dream of wine consumption by “temperate men” would be universally popular.

The Civil War and the 18th Amendment (Prohibition), along with the Great Depression, all put a significant dent in the growth of the American wine industry.

By 1950, the wine industry was beginning to recover to a significant degree with aggressive advertising and improving quality, at a competitive price, to the point that 140 million gallons had been produced, which comes out to about 0.93 gallons per capita.

Today, the U.S. leads the world in total wine consumption, finally getting ahead of France, the perennial leader, by consuming 329 million cases of wine in 2013. At our current population level of about 315 million, that equals a case of 12 bottles of wine for each of us, with plenty left over!

There are many factors responsible for this growth: the tremendous improvement in wine grape growing to maximize production and quality of the basic wine grape, the improvement in technology of wine production, the recognition of state and local governments of the plump tourism dollars that wineries will bring to their coffers, and certainly the competitive pricing of the final product – the bottle of wine you want.

Although good, there is plenty of room for improvement, as some states and local municipalities have regulations that make little to no sense. No sales of wine on Sundays and dry zones within local jurisdictions for purchasing wine, with about one-quarter of the U.S. population living in liquor control or government monopoly states.

As Prohibition and the 18th Amendment proved, people will find a way to get what they want to drink. For example, when we lived in Lubbock, Texas, municipal law prohibited retail sale of fermented or distilled beverages. But everyone knew where the city limits were, and within 100 yards of those limits, the retailers did a flourishing business.

Today, fermented and distilled spirits can be sold within the city limits.