by Fred McMillin
for September 16, 1999

 

Pilgrims Sail
from England, Sept. 16, 1620

 

Prologue

From the Plimoth [sic] Colony Cook Book...
    "Muskles and slammes (clammes)
    they have all the yeare long,
    which being the meanest of God's
    blessings, these people fat their
    hogs with."

John Pory, 1622


The Rest of the Story

Clearly, the Pilgrims needed a good Chardonnay to appreciate those muskles and clammes. Let's follow the evolution of wine in the area.

  • 1621—The Pilgrims have found "vines everywhere. The grapes, white and red, and very sweet and strong also."

  • 1630—Wine is being made in Massachusetts from native American grapes. A request was sent to England to recruit some Frenchmen experienced in "planting of vines" but none were interested.

  • 1642—Further down the coast, the Dutch settlers in New Netherland planted a vineyard, probably with EUROPEAN vines (including Chardonnay?). The severe winter cold, and perhaps the phylloxera insect, killed them.

  • 1669—The English took over the colony and the new governor granted one Paul Richards a monopoly to grow grapes on Long Island, the wine to be sold free of taxes. Alas, ten years later a Dutch visitor noted the irony. There was an abundance of healthy wild grapes, but the vineyards (apparently of European grapes) continued to die. "The cause of the failure is as yet undiscovered."

    Robert Palmer Winery So the Pilgrims and their Long Island neighbors never produced a Chardonnay to enjoy with that seafood. But three centuries later, insects and climate have been conquered and Long Island is producing outstanding Chardonnays. Critics rate Robert Palmer's one of the best. In the Nov. 22,1996 WineDay, my panel rated the '93 Palmer over a number of prestigious Napa Valley Chards. Robert's vines are a mature 16 years old, he personally selects the new French oak barrels used in the fermentation, etc. Anthony Dias Blue likes the results: "lush, rich with toasty oak." Contact: (516) 722-WINE, FAX (516) 722-5364.

    Note: For more about the Robert Palmer Winery and its 55-acre vineyard on the North Fork, Long Island see the July 4, 1997 WineDay , "A Winery George Washington Would Have Loved".

     
    About the Writer

    Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.

     
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