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Empire of VinesEmpire of Vines

Wine Culture in America

Erica Hannickel

Narrated by Scott Carrico

Available from Audible

Book published by University of Pennsylvania Press

The lush, sun-drenched vineyards of California evoke a romantic, agrarian image of winemaking, though in reality the industry reflects American agribusiness at its most successful. Nonetheless, as author Erica Hannickel shows, this fantasy is deeply rooted in the history of grape cultivation in America. Empire of Vines traces the development of wine culture as grape growing expanded from New York to the Midwest before gaining ascendancy in California—a progression that illustrates viticulture's centrality to the nineteenth-century American projects of national expansion and the formation of a national culture.

Empire of Vines details the ways would-be gentleman farmers, ambitious speculators, horticulturalists, and writers of all kinds deployed the animating myths of American wine culture, including the classical myth of Bacchus, the cult of terroir, and the fantasy of pastoral republicanism. Promoted by figures as varied as horticulturalist Andrew Jackson Downing, novelist Charles Chesnutt, railroad baron Leland Stanford, and Cincinnati land speculator Nicholas Longworth (known as the father of American wine), these myths naturalized claims to land for grape cultivation and legitimated national expansion. Vineyards were simultaneously lush and controlled, bearing fruit at once culturally refined and naturally robust, laying claim to both earthy authenticity and social pedigree. The history of wine culture thus reveals nineteenth-century Americans' fascination with the relationship between nature and culture.

Erica Hannickel teaches environmental history at Northland College.


“In this wonderfully researched and highly readable book, historian Erica Hannickel offers a compelling look at the intertwined story of wine, vineyards, and American identity. Hannickel takes us behind the mythology of winemaking—from the ideals of Jefferson's Monticello through twenty-first-century advertising—that too often has obscured the true costs to nature and human of this major agricultural industry. Filled with fascinating detail and thoughtful critique, Hannickel's work shows us that our image of American winemaking is as carefully cultivated as the grapes on which it depends.”

—Paul Bogard, author of The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light

“Erica Hannickel interweaves several strands of historical inquiry, literary and visual interpretation, cultural geography, and environmental awareness to create a compelling argument that American grape culture carried with it the tenets of national expansion. An original, broadly researched, and engaging work.”

—Marina Moskowitz, University of Glasgow

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