May 01, 1802 – Congress Authorizes John James Dufour to Select Land in Indiana Territory
John James Dufour immigrated to the United States to develop European style wines from American grown grapes. Thus far, American attempts to make a good wine had been a failure. Due to the efforts of John James Dufour, the commercial wine industry in the United States began in Switzerland County, Indiana.
John James Dufour (1763 – 1827)
A native of Canton de Vaud, Switzerland, Dufour studied viticulture for twenty years in Switzerland before coming to the United States in 1796. He had come representing the Vineyard Society of Switzerland. The members of the organization were considering immigrating to America to make wine, escaping war torn Europe. He landed in Philadelphia in 1796 and embarked on a tour of vineyards across America that included stops at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, St. Louis, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Kentucky. He eventually ended up at a site on the Big Bend of the Kentucky River about forty-five miles southeast of Lexington. He established an experimental vineyard at this site, planting thirty-five varieties of European grapes.
The vineyard proved so promising that in 1800, Dufour wrote to his family, still in Switzerland. Seventeen family members responded, coming to Lexington on July 3, 1801. The family operated this vineyard for a number of years.
Failure in Kentucky
The vineyard near Lexington eventually failed. Disease eventually killed the vines and the Dufours abandoned the site after selecting several varieties that had survived. These vines they believed to be still European vines, but in truth they were hybrids. The European varieties had cross bred with the European ones, creating vines that could withstand New World diseases and the harsh climate.
American grapes would produce wine, but it was wine of an inferior quality. The grapes were tart and the wine they made was almost unpalatable to those that appreciate good wine. Early efforts to grow European grapes had ended in failure. The European grapes succumbed to New World pests and diseases to which they had no immunity. The harsh climate also proved fatal to the tender European vines. Wine drinkers had to drink imported wines which the European vintners had fortified with distilled spirits so they would survive the long voyage across the ocean.
Swiss Colony in the Indiana Territory
Congress was receptive to the idea of establishing a wine industry in the United States and had encouraged Swiss vintners to come to America. Dufour thus found fertile ground for his proposal to Congress to grant him the right on May 1, 1802, to select and purchase four sections of land along the Ohio River in the Indiana Territory to grow grapes. Congress passed the law that allowed Dufour to purchase this land with twelve years to pay it back. This was much more generous than the provisions of the Harrison Land Act of 1800 which allowed only four years to pay land in the Northwest Territory off.