As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving in the US, I hope that many of you have a lot to be thankful for, and a lot to toast to. At the very least, I hope you have a lot of great wine to toast with (and if you need ideas for what to pair with Thanksgiving dinner, check out this post).
But Thanksgiving dinner can also get a little tense. All those relatives in a confined space for a whole day. Haggling over whether to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade or one of the football games. Catching up on a year’s worth of discussions over the course of a single meal. Dinner conversation can be a veritable minefield.
Luckily, you can keep those familial flare-ups to a minimum – and avoid the taboo topics of religion, politics and sex – with a few wine-related trivia talking points. They’re all about the US wine industry and its history, so not only will you be the most erudite oenophile at the table, but you’ll also be the most patriotic!
According to the most recent report from the International Organization of Wine and Vine (from October 2015), the US comes in sixth place in terms of total land area planted with grapevines. That’s after Spain, China (now in #2), France, Italy and Turkey – funny coincidence for Turkey Day, no?
While France and Italy typically vie for the title of biggest wine producer in the world by volume, with France forecast to win for 2014 once all the numbers are in, the US is consistently in the top five, and should beat out Argentina for the number four slot for 2014.
On the other hand, Americans drink the most wine in the world. That’s right! In 2013, the latest year for which we have data, Americans topped the list of wine-drinking nations by volume (about 770 million gallons). We edged out the French by a mere 40 million gallons, followed by the Spanish, Germans and Chinese. USA! USA!
Speaking of the US wine industry, California produces about 85% of the country’s wine, followed by Washington State, New York State, Oregon and Texas.
According to the Wine Institute, which represents the California wine industry, the most planted grape variety in the state (and likely the entire country) is Chardonnay, with Cabernet Sauvignon as the first runner up and Merlot in third place.
At last count, there were over 10,000 bonded wineries (those with licenses issued by the US Tax and Trade Bureau to designate a tax-paid wine environment) in the entire US.
Vineyards were first planted in present-day California around 1779 by Franciscan missionaries led by Junipero Serra at the San Diego de Alcala mission. The grapes used were a variety called, appropriately enough, Mission.
However, the first wine made in the US was produced around 1564 from Scuppernong grapes by French Huguenot colonists in a settlement near the present-day city of Jacksonville according to the Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia.
Our Founding Fathers had a soft spot for Madeira. The fortified wine held up well during long ocean voyages, and is even said to have been used to toast the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
Established in 1839, Brotherhood Winery in New York State claims to be the country’s oldest winery.
America nearly brought down the world wine industry. Well, less America than a sneaky little grape-root louse called phylloxera. The tiny buggers hitched a ride aboard steamships across the Atlantic from our vineyards to those of Europe and nearly destroyed the entire wine industries of France, Spain and Italy in the 19th century. Luckily, we were also the source of the solution. Our hardy grape rootstock evolved to withstand these beastly parasites, so by grafting existing vines onto it, the wine industry came back from the brink.
And if that’s not something to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, I don’t know what is!