1600s: A Century of Hopes and Failures

Since the colonization of Virginia, there have been high hopes for the region to become a prominent wine producer and exporter. The Virginia Company went to the colony with the intentions of utilizing the land and resources to profit from what the British were otherwise unable to produce at home, with wine being one of their target profit-makers for the colony. (See Richard Leahy’s book, Beyond Jefferson’s Vines) After decades of failed attempts to grow the European vinifera vines, the colonists were forced to face the reality that the climate was not fit for growing the European vines in Virginia. The weather, in addition to poor soil, diseases, wild animals and other contributing factors played a role in these failed attempts. The hopes for the colony clashed with the failures the colonists met in trying to grow vines and produce wine in Virginia.


"Seal of the Virginia Company of London -this image is in the public domain

“Seal of the Virginia Company of London -this image is in the public domain

The first expedition of the Virginia Company of London set out and found the Virginia lands to have the potential for the growth of vines for the production of wine. These colonists hoped for the state to profit from wine, amongst other exports. Members of the Virginia Company would have their attempt at grape vine growth and production, including governors of the colony such as Sir Thomas Gates. For more information on these early production attempts, read the Colonial Williamsburg Journal article “Romancing the Vine in Virginia.”


Thomas Dale, governor of Virginia, designated a vineyard in Virginia to test the growth of grape vines for wine production in the new colony.


Acte 12 of the House of Burgesses was passed requiring all male households in Virginia to grow ten vines of the imported vinifera grapes from Europe. Heads of households who did not plant these vines were subject to punishment.


The Virginia General Assembly passed another law requiring a garden containing grape vines be planted for every four men in the colony. Read more on this in The Fruits and Fruit Trees of Monticello by Peter J. Hatch.


The Virginia General Assembly passed a new law requiring colonists to plant vinifera grape vines with their other crops


A new Act was passed offering colonists an incentive to plant vinifera grape vines and successfully bottle wine. Colonists would receive 10,000 pounds of tobacco if they could produce two “tunnes” (an old English measurement) of wine from Virginia-grown grapes.


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