Charles Carter: The Founding Father of American Wine
In addition to the importance of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington in advocating the production of quality wines in Virginia, there were other prominent Virginians interested in producing high-quality European-style wines from both imported vines and domestic grapes. One of these was Charles Carter.
The Carter family was one of Virginia's most prominent families, dating back to the 1600s when Robert "King" Carter (c. 1664-1732), the father of Charles Carter, was a landowner with approximately 300,000 acres and several estates. King Carter served as Speaker of the House of Burgesses, treasurer of the colony, a member of the Governor's Council. And as land agent for the English proprietor Lord Fairfax. He also had a wine cellar at his Corotoman estate containing more than 900 bottles, considered the largest wine collection in the New World.
Charles Carter was the 5th child of King Carter, and after his father's death, Charles assumed many of his father's responsibilities. He was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses and served in every session from 1736 until his death, becoming recognized for his efforts to diversify the Colony's economy.
In 1759, Carter advocated legislation to encourage diversification and provide "bounties and premiums for the speedy and effectual bringing to perfection any art of manufacture of service to the public." He and others were concerned that the tobacco trade upon with the colony had relied for more than 150 years was declining and that the colony needed to invest in other commodities. As chair of an "economic diversification" committee, Carter was in touch with the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufacture and Commerce in London. That same year (1759), he and other members of the Carter family began growing grapes at the Cleve plantation. By 1762, Carter is said to have had 1,800 vines planted.
From his efforts, he sent 12 bottles of wine he produced from an American winter grape and a white Portuguese summer grape to the Royal Society. On October 20, 1762, the Society approved both wines "as excellent wines," awarding Carter a gold medal and making him the first person to "make a spirited attempt towards the accomplishment of their views, respecting wine in America." This signified the first international acclaim for wine excellence in America, as well as America's emergence onto the international wine stage.
The following year, on August 6, 1763, Carter would again be recognized and certified, by Royal Lieutenant Governor Francis Fauquier for being the first to successfully grow European vines in Virginia. In 1769, with the instrumental involvement of the Carters and others, the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation that would encourage wine making in the Colony ("An Act for the Encouragement of the Making of Wine.") The spirit of Charles Carter lives on today at the Philip Carter Winery in northern Virginia.