Hudson Cattell, long-time editor of Wine East and now Eastern editor for Wines & Vines, has published a career-long work of major research through Cornell University Press titled “Wines of Eastern North America, From Prohibition to the Present.” The book is a comprehensive reference work of 390 pages, which include 38 pages of footnotes, seven appendicies, and 28 pages of bibliography. As Cattell points out in his acknowledgments, when he began publishing the Pennsylvania Grape Letter and Winery News in 1976, there was no bibliography on the subject of the Eastern wine industry, so what he includes in this book is a valuable contribution to the collective memory of the Eastern wine industry which suffered a catastrophic disruption during Prohibition and indeed for decades afterwards. Cattell’s book is the sole one of the group devoted exclusively to the Eastern (and Midwestern) wine industry, specifically since Prohibition to the present. The notes, bibliography and index help make this a solid reference work on the subject.
The timing of the publication of this work is significant, since there are now more wineries outside California than in it, and every state in the Union now has its own wineries. Cattell is patient and methodical in documenting the background to the remarkable renaissance of the East, explaining the work of Philip Wagner in Maryland pioneering the planting of French hybrids, and of Dr. Konstantin Frank in New York doing the same with the fine cool-climate European vinifera grapes. Until their work, old heirloom varieties like concord, catawba and niagara had been the backbone of a thriving American wine industry pre-Prohibition. There has been a fierce philosophical divide since Konstantin Frank proved vinifera could survive the winter in cold upstate New York, between the pro-vinifera camp and the pro-hybrid camp over which species was better suited to either fine wine or sustainable crop production. This debate, documented by Cattell, has proved beneficial for the Eastern industry in the wealth of grape species, varieties and styles it offers for every palate.
He also points out the importance of farm winery legislation in creating a political environment in which winemaking was connected with grape growing, and therefore, family farming, a connection that continues to be vital in winning friends in state legislatures as well as with upscale suburbanites escaping the pressures of daily living through winery tourism which also includes scenic vineyards.
The book then proceeds chronologically from the 1970s through the present with subtitles for chapters mentioning major trends (“growing pains”, “winery promotion”, “consolidation”, “Neo-Prohibition and the French Paradox”, “the new century.”) Cattell skillfully divides the histories of the individual states and provinces of the East, summarized in the appendix, from the larger narrative of industry-wide development over the decades in the main text. This is a very useful narrative device to keep one from losing the forest for the trees.
Another valuable aspect of this work as a reference is that three of the seven appendicies are devoted to detailing Eastern wine grapes, from their evolutionary beginnings, to tables showing the original American varieties and the many classes of hybrid varieties (Munson, French, Swenson, New York and those of other research universities) which also detail the crossings. This is invaluable to grape breeders and researchers who want to either trace the origins of Eastern grapes or consider their own crossings.
Cattell was “present at the creation” and personally tape-recorded interviews with nearly all of the founders of the eastern industry in the U.S. and Canada, giving a wealth of primary source material in complete sentences. However, for a book officially published in 2014, I personally think that three chapters on industry development in the 1970s is probably two chapters too many.
In a work of this kind it is important to include maps as Cattell does, but while some state maps delineate official American Viticultural Areas (AVAs), others merely divide states into wine touring zones (such as with the Groundhog Region of Pennsylvania) While the maps don’t clearly distinguish between those which are terroir-based with AVAs and those that are tourism-based, there is an appendix which lists the current, extant AVAs by state.
However, these are minor points and the fact is that this new book is a landmark work with a wealth of primary source interviews and an intimacy of personal acquaintance over a 35 year professional career, that explains how the eastern North American wine industry rose from the ashes of Prohibition to become home to home to 2,782 wineries by 2011. As Cattell states in his conclusion, this process was nothing short of remarkable; “While the eastern wine industry was considered to be in its infancy in 1976, it is now increasingly being recognized as an important wine region of the world.”