The Storied Past of Pennsylvania Wine

New book details wine history from Colonial era through present

by Kate Lavin
pennsylvania wine history book
Wine East editors Linda Jones McKee and Hudson Cattell co-authored "Pennsylvania Wine: A History."
Lancaster, Pa.—Prior to the start of Prohibition, a winery populated every county in Pennsylvania. The 18th Amendment decimated the state’s wine trade, and only in recent years has the industry started to regain the same presence. “Pennsylvania Wine: A History,” a new book from The History Press, details such ups and downs in the state’s wine industry from the 1600s through the present.

“Back in 1976 there were 12 wineries in Pennsylvania, and through the ’70s and early ’80s it was hard to get the legislation through that would enable the industry to grow,” said Hudson Cattell, who co-authored the book with Linda Jones McKee. “No one would have guessed that you’d have 160 wineries today.”

Jones McKee and Cattell are no strangers to the topic of Pennsylvania wine history: In addition to being editors of Wine East, a section in Wines & Vines, both have authored other books about the state’s wines and wineries.

A short history
“Pennsylvania Wine” picks up in 1642, when Sweden’s Queen Christina instructed Col. Johan Printz to evaluate New Sweden (a colony that included part of southeastern Pennsylvania) for suitable winemaking grapes.

Printz doesn’t seem to have made good on this order (the Dutch took over the settlement in 1655), but it wasn’t long before the state’s first vinifera vineyard was planted in 1683. The Alexander grape was discovered near Philadelphia around 1740, and by the close of the American revolution the number of people making wine had started to climb in earnest.

By 1850 Pennsylvania had the third-largest wine production of any of the United States. And according to 1900 figures reprinted in “Pennsylvania Wine,” more than 7,765 acres were planted to grapes in the state. (By contrast the population of Pennsylvania has more than doubled since 1900, and yet in 2008 there were just 11,851 bearing acres, according to the USDA.

Prohibition effectively wrecked the state’s wine industry, and when the alcohol sales resumed in 1933, Pennsylvania’s Prohibitionist governor reopened it as a control state. The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board still governs sales of alcohol including wine today.

“Pennsylvania’s response to the end of Prohibition had a major impact on Pennsylvania not entering the wine business any sooner than it did, because the attitude has not been positive,” Jones McKee told Wines & Vines.

It wasn’t until the Pennsylvania Limited Winery Act passed in 1968 that state vintners were able to make and sell wine. “In order to be a winery before that in Pennsylvania you could only sell wine to the liquor control board or out of state,” she said. “That has probably been the biggest change since Prohibition.”

In spite of the history-making move, Cattell said that for many years “the liquor control board really did not want the industry to succeed. It put roadblocks in the way at every chance it had.… It was a long hard fight in Pennsylvania.”

The champion of that fight is emerging: In 2000, there were 63 wineries in Pennsylvania; since then the number has grown to 164, according to WinesVinesDATA.

The history in “Pennsylvania Wine” involves historical figures such as William Penn, Benjamin Franklin and Johns Hopkins. The book contains black-and-white and color photos and is available for $19.99 through History Press at (866) 457-5971 and at historypress.net.

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