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Grape Wine in Pre-Columbian America


Concord Grapes


Where Science Meets the Book of Mormon: Come Follow Me Lesson: May 13-19; Mosiah 11-17


We read in Mosiah 11:15, “And it came to pass that he [King Noah] planted vineyards round about in the land; and he built wine-presses, and made wine in abundance; and therefore he became a wine-bibber, and also his people.”


This verse provides a clue as to where King Noah’s kingdom may have been in the New World — or at least where it probably was not. It was probably not in Idaho, or anywhere else in the intermountain west or the Pacific northwest, as there are no grapes native to this part of the world.


When the Vikings, under the leadership of Leif Eriksson, landed on the northeast coast of North America in 1000 AD, they discovered a land as far south as New Brunswick, which they named Vineland for the grapes growing there.1 Indeed, a 2019 map depicting the distribution of various species of wild grapes (Vitis) in the US and Canada, shows them in all of New England, as far south as Virginia, but not into North Carolina on the east coast. They extend along the northern border of the US, surrounding all the Great Lakes and extending as far west as Minnesota. In the Midwest and south: they extend into South Dekoda, Nebraska, and Kansas, and then down into Texas. Then there is an isolated species (Vitis girdiana) in California. In Canada, native grapes are in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, as well as along the north sides of the Great Lakes.2 

 

Native grapes (Vitis tiliifolia) are found in most parts of Mexico and in Guatemala, Cuba, and Puerto Rico.3 The rest of Central America apparently has no native grapes.4 In South America, grapes are apparently native to Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and western and northern Argentina at higher elevations (2800 to 5000 feet).5 


In 2020, Crystal Dozier, Doyong Kim, and David Russell published a paper showing evidence of pre-Colombian wine-making in America at archaeological sites in central Texas. Analysis of chemical residues on pottery sherds at six excavation sites provided evidence of caffeinated beverages on some sherds and grape wine on others. Dozier’s earlier studies demonstrated that indigenous Americans in what is now Texas gathered for feasts and left broken pottery behind.6 

 

 

Trent Dee Stephens, PhD

 

References

 

1.     Sigurdsson, Gisli, The Vinland Sagas, Penguin, London, 2008, p. xv; Ingstad, Helge; Ingstad and Anne Stine, The Viking Discovery of America: The Excavation of a Norse Settlement in L'Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland, Checkmark Books, New York, 2001

2.     Heinitz, CC, Crop Wild Relatives of Grape (Vitis vinifera) Throughout North America, In, Stephanie L. Greene et al., Editors, North American Crop Wild Relatives, Volume 2 Springer, New York, 2019; link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-319-97121-6_10; retrieved 10 May 2024

3.     npgsweb.ars-grin.gov/gringlobal/search?t=; retrieved 10 May 2024

4.     Cheng, Fiona, The only winery in Central America is in Guatemala.; advtravelbug.com/chateau-defay-the-only-vineyard-in-central-america, 2021; retrieved 7 May 2024

6.     Dozier, Crystal A., Doyong Kim, and David H. Russell, Chemical residue evidence in Leon Plain pottery from the Toyah phase (1300–1650 CE) in the American Southern Plains, Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, 32:102450, 2020

 

 

 

 

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