Switzerland County has a rich history, and a man by the name of John James Dufour is a significant part of it. Arriving in America from his native land of Switzerland, John James Dufour planned to set up a Swiss colony and winery. His intentions came to fruition just two years later, when he officially established The First Vineyard, which was located just 25 miles from Lexington, Kentucky. This vineyard and winery had short-lived success, but its role in history is not forgotten. John James Dufour was a founding father of sorts to the vineyard and winery business in America, and his early efforts have influenced today’s countless vineyards and wineries across the nation.
The Start of The First Vineyard
John James Dufour’s place in history has to do with the success of his business where all else had failed before. In October 1798, John James Dufour established the first successful commercial vineyard and winery in the United States. Dubbed “The First Vineyard,” this endeavor took over 630 acres along the banks of the Ohio River. The land was christened “New Switzerland.” This vineyard was the first to host good grapes for winemaking on American soil.
Why Everything Else Failed
There had been attempts at successful vineyards before John James Dufour in the New World. Wild grapevines were frequent sightings, but this fruit was tart and made bad wine. European varieties were planted on American soil as well, but these plants were not resistant to American pests and disease. There was also no knowledge of hybridization or genetics at this time. Thus, these endeavors were unfruitful (no pun intended). Craving good wine, Americans had to resort to importing wines all the way from Europe by ship.
John James Dufour & His Determination
Unlike his unsuccessful predecessors, John James Dufour spend 20 years studying viticulture and tending to his family’s wines in Canton of Vaud, Switzerland. When he decided to immigrate to America at age 33, all the practice he had in his homeland was vital to creating The First Vineyard. He knew that he needed passion and innovation, specifically the creation of new techniques. Thus, he conducted research by visiting every American vineyard he had heard of, including Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello estate to determine why they were unsuccessful. After compiling his findings, he planted 35 grape varieties in Kentucky. The bulk of these vineyards, however, succumbed to disease and were eventually abandoned.
John James Dufour didn’t give up, though. He bought some land in Southern Indiana that became known as New Switzerland, and here, he focused on the Cape and Madeira grapes, which were European-American hybrids. His tenacity was rewarded when these grapes produced 2,400 gallons of wine that grew in popularity. In 1813, the town of Vevay was established in New Switzerland, and at its peak, the wine industry produced 20,000 gallons of wine each year. So in just a decade, John James Dufour had managed to start the very first successful winemaking industry in America!
Modern Day Vevay
The Swiss Wine Festival celebrates the early successes of John James Dufour. This festival is in honor of a rich wine history that still continues in the area today! Celebrate more history by staying at the historic Schenck Mansion bed and breakfast during your visit to Vevay. We hope to see you soon! For more information on what to do in the area, download our free vacation guide.