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“The First Vineyard”

Vineyards in Napa Valley, CA

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."

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. He ended up finding new land north of the Ohio River in the Indiana Territory. The new site later became Vevay, Indiana.

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.

Napa Valley Vineyard photo found here.
Authorization photo found here.

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2 Comments to ““The First Vineyard””

  1. 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,

    • 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 :)

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