The nineteenth century featured discovery and promise for the Virginia wine industry. During this century, Dr. Daniel Norton allegedly discovered what became known as the Norton grape. The Norton grape was native to the lands, resilient to Virginia’s harsh climate, and was capable of producing a competitive, world-class wine. The discovery of the Norton grape was a large leap forward for the Virginia wine industry and received international recognition.
Thomas Jefferson wrote to Thomas Appleton on January 14, 1816 a letter where he proclaimed “wines a necessary of life with me.” This letter would go on to be quoted by many as Jefferson continued to be an advocate for the wine industry in Virginia, despite years of failed attempts for vine growth and wine production on his lands at Monticello.
Dr. Daniel Norton discovered the Norton grape in Virginia. It is believed he was the first to discover this local wine-producing grape, although this has been disputed by some.
Williams Prince’s book, A Treatise on the Vine,was released. In this book, Prince credited Dr. Daniel Norton for discovering “Norton’s Virginia Seedling.”
It is believed around this time the grafting of grape vines was discovered to be an effective method for making the European grape vines more resilient to the North American pests, particularly phylloxera. This discovery helped to advance the Virginia wine industry as it effectively produced vine and fruit that could be crossed between the native vines and European vinifera vines, allowing the vinifera vines the ability to stand up to Virginia’s harsh climate. For more information on the history of grafting and this discovery that led to the creation of French-American hybrids, read the Horticultural Review, Volume 35 article “A History of Grafting.”
A Norton wine bottled by Monticello Wine Company in Virginia received an international award for the best red wine at the Vienna World’s Fair. The Norton wine went on to win other awards internationally following this.
Wine was beginning to prosper in Virginia as more fields were dedicated to the production of grapes, and the Monticello Wine Company grew in prominence. It was around this time many proclaimed Charlottesville, Virginia to be the “Capital of the Eastern Wine Belt.”
Virginia was producing 461,000 galloons of wine by the late 19th Century. This made Virginia the fifth largest wine producer among the states. Read more from A History of Wine in America.