“The First Vineyard”

Fog over the vineyard in late summer 2012 at First Vineyard which sits on the same property as the

Fog over the vineyard in late summer 2012 at First Vineyard which sits on the same property as its namesake. Photo Credit: First Vineyard

By October 1798, John James Dufour established the first successful commercial vineyard and winery in America, which he fittingly named “The First Vineyard,” consisting of about 630 acres. Dufour, a native of Switzerland, came to America two years prior with the specific intent to set up a Swiss colony and winery. It was located about 25 miles from Lexington, Kentucky. There were vineyard attempts in Virginia as early as 1619, none of them were commercially successful until “The First Vineyard.”

According to “The First Vineyard” website:

In 1801, 17 other Swiss immigrants – Dufour’s family and friends – joined him at the Sugar Creek site. The vineyard and winery’s location was lost to history from the mid 1800’s until its rediscovery in 2002. Now that the exact location of the vineyard and winery has been determined, the property owner is carefully reconstructing and restoring both the vineyard and winery.

Authorization of the first commercial vineyard in the United States granted to John James Dufour in 1798. Photo Credit: Kentucky Wine & Vine Fest

The vineyard was “lost” because, after a few successful years, it succumbed to the fate of all the previous vineyards and failed. Since the majority of vines planted were European, they could not withstand the new soil and disease of the foreign area. Dufour realized that only one variety, the Cape, seemed to do well. Since Cape grapes were a cross between a wild native grape and a European grape, it was tough enough to survive when true European varieties did not. However, that was not enough to keep the interest of his investors. Dufour had no choice but to find a new area to restart his vineyard and winery with his one resilient grape variety. Eventually, he ended found new land north of the Ohio River in the Indiana Territory. The new site later became Vevay, Indiana.
Cape grapes - the only grapes

Cape grapes – the only resilient grape. Photo Credit: First Vineyard

While Indiana boosts that it was home to the first successful wine production vineyard in the United States, it does need to share part of that billing with the original “The First Vineyard.” Dufour’s first venture did in fact succeed for a few years when no other vineyards did. Through this first vineyard/winery, he made an important discovery that directly led to the success of his second venture. It can be stated that “The First Vineyard” was the first successfully established winery and vineyard while the Vevay winery was the first successful wine production vineyard in the United States.

Because of his winery efforts and European/Native grape variety discovery, Dufour is considered one of the pioneer viticulturists in America.

Kane, Joseph Nathan, Steven Anzovin and Janet Podell. Famous First Facts. 5th ed. New York: The H.W. Wilson Company, 1997, 2.
The First Vineyard website.
Indiana Winery website.

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  • Emily Connolly

    How fun to find this article! My husband is a descendant of the Dufour-Golay family and we are eager to visit the NEW vinyard,

    • Zim

      Thank you for your comment Emily! When you and your husband visit the new vineyard, it will have a more personal meaning since it is, to some extent, family! I’m glad you found something on History By Zim that had a personal connection 🙂

  • Stanley T Riddle

    Since you are a history buff I thought you might enjoy this.
    The deed for the land this vineyard was on was signed by Daniel Boone to Wm Hazelrigg. I believe his daughter, Elizabeth (1766-1852), married a man named Major Ringo who moved to KY abt.1789. From there the family line goes Peter Ringo to Martin Ringo who married in 1848 Liberty, Clay Co, MO Mary Peters (niece of Benjamin Simms who married widow Zerelda (Cole) James. After returning for a short while to Wayne Co, IN Martin again went West to MO with his family which now included his young son, John Peters Ringo (1850-1882). In 1864 they headed for CA and Martin was accidently killed along the way. The family continued to CA where they stayed with Mary’s sister, Augusta (Peters) Inskeep Younger, the wife of Coleman Purcell Younger.
    If these names sound familliar you’ve probably guessed that:
    John Peters Ringo was “Johnny” Ringo, Outlaw and friend of the Clantons of OK Coral fame. He once challanged Wyatt Erp & “Doc” Holiday to a duel in Tombstone, AZ.
    Zerelda (Cole) James Simms was the mother Frank & Jesse James, outlaws.
    Coleman P Younger was the uncle & namesake of Thomas Coleman “Cole” Younger, who along with his brothers Bob & Jim rode with the James Brothers Gang.

    • Zim

      How fascinating Stanley! Thank you for taking the time to share it will me! I always find it interesting how everybody is linked through various ways.