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Wine Wednesdays With William: How We Drink Wine And Where It Comes From

'saratoga living' wine expert William Roach on the roots below Americans' $6.2 billion annual wine worship.

Wine
(Marco Verch/Flickr)

The United States has been the world’s leading importer of wine for the better part of a decade. Last year, Americans spent $6.2 billion on wine from around the world, which is just shy of one-fifth of the world’s exports. Italy and France supplied the lion’s share, with New Zealand, Australia, Spain, Argentina and Chile registering as the other major exporters.

However, for 200 years, the business of wine in the United States was an endless cycle of wide-eyed optimism and catastrophic failure. The first settlers used grapes from native American vines, but the wine proved unacceptable to Europeans’ taste. When they switched to imported European vines, the wine was better but the vines, quickly and unexpectedly, died. Up and down the Eastern seaboard, settlements attributed the failure to a lack of experience and brought in European expertise. In 1619, the Virginia Company imported French wine-growers. When that didn’t work, they switched, as did Carolina and Pennsylvania, to Huguenots, who in turn, gave way to Germans. All of the wine-growers failed, all the vines died, the victim of a North American root-feeding aphid, phylloxera, which would, subsequently, all but destroy the vineyards of the world.

Salvation was North American too. European grapevine varieties were made resistant to the predations of phylloxera by being grafted onto the roots of native American grapevines. Of that $6.2 billion worth of wine imported last year, almost all was made from grapes grown on American rootstocks, including wine from the fastest growing exporter to the USA, England, whose trade with us in 2017 rose a staggering 238 percent.

Wine Challenge No.10:
English sparkling wine is made in the same way as Champagne, on the same geological limestone, in a very similar climate, and sold at a similarly high price. Ridgeview, Nyetimber and Exton Park are all excellent wines. Next time you have an occasion for Champagne, try these wines instead and offer a prize to anyone who can guess the country of origin.

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William Roach

William was born in London, England, where he wrote and produced TV programs. He's married to Catharine Hamilton who, with her sister, owns Putnam Market on Broadway. William runs The Wine Room at Putnam Market where he teaches wine classes for The Wine & Spirits Education Trust.

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