From the very first settlement of America, the vine seems to have attracted the attention of the colonists, and it is said that as early as 1564, wine was made from the native grape in Florida. The earliest attempt to establish a vineyard in the British North American Colonies was by the London Company in Virginia, about the year 1620; and by 1630, the prospect seems to have been encouraging enough to warrant the importation of several French vine-dressers, who, it is said, ruined the vines by bad treatment. Wine was also made in Virginia in 1647, and in 1651 premiums were offered for its production. Beverly even mentions, that prior to 1722, there were vineyards in that colony, producing seven hundred and fifty gallons per year. In 1664, Colonel Richard Nicoll, Governor of New York, granted to Paul Richards, a privilege of making and selling wine free of all duty, he having been the first to enter upon the cultivation of the vine on a large scale. Beauchamp Plantagenet, in his description of the province of New Albion, published in London, in 1648, states "that the English settlers in Uvedale, now Delaware, had vines running on mulberry and sassafras trees; and enumerates four kinds of grapes, namely: Thoulouse Muscat, Sweet Scented, Great Fox, and Thick Grape; the first two, after five months, being boiled and salted and well fined, make a strong red Xeres; the third, a light claret; the fourth, a white grape which creeps on the land, makes a pure, gold colored wine. Tennis Pale, a Frenchman, out of these four, made eight sorts of excellent wine; and says of the Muscat, after it had been long boiled, that the second draught will intoxicate after four months old; and that here may be gathered and made two hundred tuns in the vintage months, and that the vines with good cultivation will mend." In 1633, William Penn attempted to establish a vineyard near Philadelphia, but without success. After some years, however, Mr. Tasker, of Maryland, and Mr. Antil, of Shrewsbury, N.J., seem to have succeeded to a certain extent. It seems, however, from an article which Mr. Antil wrote of the culture of the grape, and the manufacture of wine, that he cultivated only foreign varieties.
In 1796, the French settlers in Illinois made one hundred and ten hogsheads of strong wine from native grapes. At Harmony, near Pittsburgh, a vineyard of ten acres was planted by Frederic Rapp, and his associates from Germany; and they continued to cultivate grapes and silk, after their removal to another Harmony in Indiana.
In 1790, a Swiss colony was founded, and a fund of ten thousand dollars raised in Jessamine county, Kentucky, for the purpose of establishing a vineyard, but failed, as they attempted to plant the foreign vine. In 1801, they removed to a spot, which they called Vevay, in Switzerland County, Indiana, on the Ohio, forty-five miles below Cincinnati. Here they planted native vines, especially the Cape, or Schuylkill Muscadel, and met with better success. But, after about forty years' experience, they seem to have become discouraged, and their vineyards have now almost disappeared.
These were the first crude experiments in American grape culture; and from some cause or another, they seem not to have been encouraging enough to warrant their continuation. But a new impetus was given to this branch of industry, by the introduction of the Catawba, by Major Adlum, of Georgetown, D.C., who thought, that by so doing, he conferred a greater benefit upon the nation than he would have done, had he paid the national debt. It seems to have been planted first on an extensive scale by Nicholas Longworth, near Cincinnati, whom we may justly call one of the founders of American grape culture. He adopted the system of leasing parcels of unimproved land to poor Germans, to plant with vines; for a share, I believe, of one-half of the proceeds. It was his ambition to make the Ohio the Rhine of America, and he has certainly done a good deal to effect it. In 1858, the whole number of acres planted in grapes around Cincinnati, was estimated, by a committee appointed for that purpose, at twelve hundred acres, of which Mr. Longworth owned one hundred and twenty-two and a half acres, under charge of twenty-seven tenants. The annual produce was estimated by the committee at no less than two hundred and forty thousand gallons, worth about as many dollars then.