When new Americans in the new America were interested in making wine commercially, the budding industry worked to establish itself well before brave names were etched to the bottom of the Declaration of Independence. Those interested and involved persons looked for a wine business model, another place after which it could pattern itself.


Grapes were coming onto our shores through waves of immigrants from Italy, Eastern Europe, Spain, all over. Growing grapes to make wine was in our ancestor’s DNA and their families had always made wine for their own consumption and for their friends. To many of these new Americans, here was a chance to do something different both in nation-building and in wine. Here was a golden opportunity to change generations of same-ol’, same-thing.


France, with its heritage of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and many other varietals, was the Gold Standard of what these folks knew. So the French wine industry became what thirsty Americans wanted to emulate. In some cases that was a grand idea. California began with Spanish grapes of some questionable value, but morphed into France, Junior. The perfect growing climate on the West Coast was helpful and completely commercially advantageous.


Other spots, like Missouri and Virginia, were not so well located, nor were the soils as proper as what was found on the other side of the Rockies. Thomas Jefferson wanted to grow high-end French grape varietals in the worst sort of way, and that’s exactly what he got from his beloved Monticello, grapes without the grand character of Bordeaux or Burgundy.


But Jefferson had his heart set on growing wine grapes. He was a gentleman with a large land holding. Growing grapes and making fine wine is what gentlemen did in the 1700s.


As America has progressed into the world’s oldest democracy/republic, we descendants have not been able to escape some base instinct in human nature to grow crops and enjoy the fruits, literally, of our labors. Who among us has not tried our hand at growing vegetables, tomatoes, figs, citrus and herbs right on our own property? Maybe even set a garden in our kitchen should we be city dwellers with zero-lot-lines.


In most cases, our investment, and at times it has been sizeable, would have been better spent on an evening in one of New Orleans’ grand restaurants. The puny harvests, reaped in spite of disease, insects and weather, likely did not justify the time or money. Still there was some satisfaction in what we tried to do, and in the resulting lessons learned about harvesting produce at Rouses.


Many of our predecessors have come to the same conclusions but they have not been so dissuaded as we. They have created hybrid varietals, grapes constructed for specific purposes or places by viticulturists and botanists. This fruit does fine in the conditions in which some people truly want to grow wine grapes commercially.


Along the East Coast, in particular, there is an amazing winemaking industry using grapes many of us have never even heard of, but they make very good wine because that is what the fruit was designed to do. These are not dreaded “Frankenstein” crops, but rather are carefully thought out and brought to fruition specifically to yield high quality from places that do not lend themselves to such a result. Jefferson would be quite taken with this development.


The Atlantic Seaboard Wine Competition, sponsored by the Atlantic Seaboard Wine Association, was recently held in Manassas, Va., and they had the questionable good sense to ask me to serve as a judge. Yep, baffles me too.


Anyway, besides some classic wines which won big awards, vinified from Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc, there were other award winners like Niagara, Petit Manseng, Traminette, Vidal Blanc, Crescent, Marquette, Chambourcin, among others.


And you know what? The wines are very, very good. Different and well-made, offering flavor profiles that take us away from the comfortable, yet we give up nothing in flavors, aromas or quality to discover these varietals from places where we don’t normally think about wine origin, like Virginia, Maryland, New York, Delaware, Vermont and New Jersey.


Head on over to the website to review the complete list of winners and entries.


As for you, shake it up a bit. Find new wines. Be the first on your block to amaze your friends with something they’ve never had before. They probably never have even heard of the grapes. And likely neither did you until this week’s Happy Hour came along.


Wine Events: August Is Supposed to be Slow

It’s anything but that this year. Plenty to do, even with the White/Dirty Linen Nights gone by, and you are out of that Red Dress, or are you? Kinda like it, do you?


Beer Dinner with 7 on Fulton Restaurant and Lazy Magnolia Brewery

Saturday, Aug. 17, 6:30 p.m.

Yes, beer lovers will enjoy an excellent culinary experience alongside a great variety of fine brews brought to town by our Mississippi friends at Lazy Magnolia Brewery. A different brew with each course means no one will get bored from too much of the same thing.


The courses are named. There’s The Malting, The Milling and Mashing, The Brewing, The Cooling, The Maturation and The Finishing. Bound to learn something here, and enjoy some fine Southern and New Orleans cuisine with top-quality beers.


Pretty reasonable at $60 per person, plus tax and gratuity. Call (504) 525-7555 or click here for more information.


Cocktail Dinner at Ruth's Chris Steak House

Thursday, Aug. 22, 6:30 p.m. at both locations, Fulton Street and Metairie

More than 80 Ruth’s Chris Steak Houses around the country, including our two local venues, will be celebrating their expertise with hand-crafted cocktails. Okay, that works just fine for me.


Spirits from William Grant & Sons portfolio, along with Hayley Waldner, Brand Ambassador, will be featured on Fulton, and in Metairie, Remy Cointreau’s esteemed brands will be involved and brought to the fore by Peter Patti, representative.


Each dinner is $85, plus tax and gratuity.


Call (504) 888-3600, or head on over to the website for further details.


Tastings at the Track from Dorignac’s

Thursday, Aug. 22, at 6-8 p.m.

Also on Aug. 22 is another session of the monthly gathering of Tastings at the Track from Dorignac’s, this time presenting wines from the Old World. By that I’m pretty sure they mean Europe, and not from certain blocks of the French Quarter.


Tickets are available at Dorignac’s, 710 Veterans Blvd., $25 until they are sold out.


Taking a break for summer? It’s not in New Orleans’ DNA.