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Tracing the History of the Trail

While the Indiana Wine Trail is a newer attraction for Southeast Indiana, the history of wineries and winemaking go back hundreds of years in the region. You can learn more about the region's Swiss wine heritage and the immigrants who shaped it, right here.


Why is Southeast Indiana known as the birthplace of the American wine industry?

Southeast Indiana (and particular Switzerland County) is known as the birthplace of the American wine industry because it was the site of the first successful winery established in America. The winery was founded by Swiss immigrant Jean Jacques Dufour (also known as John James) with the first grapes harvested sometime around 1806 or 1807.

Where was Dufour's winery located and why was it successful?

The winery was located in the town of Vevay, New Switzerland, in what was then known as Indiana Territory. Although Dufour was the original driving force behind the winery, he was assisted by a number of additional Swiss settlers, many of them his family and friends. The winery was successful where so many others had failed because Dufour employed a native grape, the Vevay Alexander, as opposed to imported European varieties. Dufour was also proactive in learning what he could about the viticulture (wine growing agriculture) of the region, so that he could respond quickly to problems and grow the heartiest grapes possible.

How has the history of winemaking in the Ohio River Valley developed over the past 200 years?

Following the launch of Dufour's winery in the early 19th-century, the wine industry in the Ohio River Valley grew by leaps and bounds, and at one time was the largest wine-producing region in North America. By mid-century, however, the burgeoning industry fell into decline as wine growers and winemakers left their fields to fight in the Civil War. Mildew and degenerative crop disease also ravaged the once-thriving trade. In the 20th century, the industry was dealt an additional blow by Prohibition. From there it began to slowly rebound, and, with the emergence of many family-owned wineries in the 1960s, reclaim its spot as a top wine-producing region.

What is the status of the Ohio River Valley as a winemaking region today?

Beginning with a resurgence of the wine industry in the 1960's, the Ohio River Valley's winemaking industry is now flourishing. In fact, with a total 16 million acres encompassing four states (West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky), the Ohio River Valley is recognized today as the largest designated wine area in the U.S.

What does the term "appellation of origin" refer to when discussing wine?

"Appellation of origin" describes the specific geographic area where the grapes used to make the wine are grown. The term is useful in educating consumers about where their wine comes from, as specific viticultural areas (such as the Ohio River Valley) call to mind unique soil conditions, grape varieties and topographical features. In order for a winery to label its wine by viticultural area, 85% of the wine must be made from grapes grown within the boundaries of that specific geographic area.

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