America has two coasts, two oceans and, as for many other things, they have a different history and development. Wine is no exception. It docks the eastern Atlantic coast and arrives by land to the west.
The Norwegian Vikings from Greenland reached the East Coast, up north, in the Newfoundland Peninsula, about 1000 years ago. They founded a small village and called the land Vineland, because of the abundance of wild vines ... more than 500 years before Columbus.
French settlers created the first wine from a local vine, between 1562 and 1564 in Philadelphia. The European vine is of the Vitis vinifera family, while other species such as Vitis labrusca and Vitis rotundifolia are spread in North America. They grow ebulliently, have different leaves, grapes and grains.
The problem over the next hundred years was that these species, in most cases, granted wine with unknown flavours peculiar for the European taste and the wine was not well accepted. This led to repeated attempts to breed the European species Vitis vinifera, which began with the import of French vines in Virginia in 1619. The second problem is that all these attempts failed. The European species, born in the Mediterranean, refuses to adapt to the Northeast Coast and to the local pests and diseases.
Nothing changed up until 1740 when in Philadelphia, the gardener James Alexander discovered the variety Alexander (named after him). It is a spontaneous crossbreed between the local Vitis labrusca and Vitis vinifera that he planted several years earlier. From this variety are produced the first wines with significant commercial success in America. It shows the sustainability of local varieties as well as some qualities of the European.
On the West Coast in 1769, another varietal of vague origin (possibly crossbreed with a European local) entered along with the opening of a Franciscan mission in San Diego. Spanish monks carried vines with them to plant them on every new mission, so that it could be independent in terms of wine required for worship. The variety is known as Missionary. Following the Royal Road (Camino Real) to the north, they reached Sonoma around 1805. There they set the foundations of the wine-making industry all over California.
The Gold Rush of 1844-55 caused a huge population growth in the northern part of the state. Only a few managed to get rich, while the majority of workers from all over Europe decided to stay, engaged in farming the new lands. Very soon there are people who recognize the potential of the Mediterranean climate in Sonoma and Napa for European vineyards. 1879 - Gustave Niebaum founded the Inglenook winery in the town of Rutherford, Napa Valley, California. His wines are the first Bordeaux-style, produced in the United States that gained international recognition.
At the end of the 19th century, the phylloxera epidemic in the West and Pierce's disease in the east devastated the American wine industry before it even started. What survived was terminated by America's Prohibition, which has been in force since 1920 at federal level, while some states have adopted these laws considerably earlier.
In 1933, The Prohibition was abolished. Back then, only a few wineries that made wine for religious purposes, or those that have found a gap in the law in the form of a permitted amount of grape juice per household, have survived. A much more important role played the change in taste of the American consumer. The market demand was for cheap, sweet and fortified wines with a higher alcohol content. In 1935, 80% of California's production was comprised of sweet wines. Changing the already established taste thus took another 30 years.
The 1960s redefined many aspects of the American way of life. Americans travelled to Europe and thus their tastes shifted closer to the European style. Hippies drink wine to rebel against their parents who drink cocktails and California winemakers start making wine of world-level quality. The result is astounding - a 40% increase in US wine consumption between 1968 and 1972.
A major contributor to the development of American wine was the Faculty of Vine and Oenology at Davis University of California, along with some state universities in New York. They publish reports on the regions and varieties that are most suitable for cultivation, conduct seminars on wine-making techniques, consult producers, offer academic degrees to create young professionals and encourage the production of quality wines.
It is difficult to make a general estimate for such a vast and filled with diversity country, like the United States. One thing is clear - its potential is enormous and exceeds California's limits and its 90% share of total production. We are yet to witness the rise of many more wine regions among the United States. Wine is 6,000 years old but it has been around America for only 300.