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Swiss Heritage

In 1798 at age 14, John James Dufour left his native village of Vevey, Switzerland and immigrated to America.  As an agent for the “Vineyard Society”, which had been established by subscription, Dufour bought 633 acres along the Kentucky River.  This became known as the First Vineyard.  Seventeen family members & relatives followed him to this wilderness in 1801.

In response to a petition of John James Dufour in 1802, Congress passed an act authorizing him & his associates to enter lands on extended credit, with a view of giving them an opportunity of introducing the culture of the grape in the United States.

When a spring frost in 1806 took the crop, Dufour’s two younger brothers, John Francis & John David, abandoned the first vineyard.  The moved to the lands (3700 acres) between Venoge Creek & Plum Creek along the north side of the Ohio River.  They called the settlement “New Switzerland”.

The first wine made was in 1806 & 1807.  The quantity was quite limited but of a very good quality.  The vineyards were enlarged every spring so that the bearing vines became more numerous from year to year.  The vintage of 1808 yielded 800 gallons, & that of 1810 about 2400 gallons.

At the time of the greatest prosperity of the grape culture the number of acres in vines was forty five or fifty, and the quantity of wine made exceeded twelve thousand gallons.”

The quality of wine made from the Cape of Good Hope grapes was judged to be superior to that of the Claret of Bordeaux.  The Madeira grape was also raised and produced a white or yellow wine.

The Swiss settlers were industrious people & raised crops of Indian corn, wheat, potatoes, hemp, and flax.  The women made straw hats which were marketed in Cincinnati, and the the river trade south.

The vineyards were places of resort for those who visited Vevay.  On such occasions during court weeks, lawyers and judges were in the habit of spending an evening or an afternoon in quaffing some of “Father Morerods’ wine.”

Sources:
The American Vine-Dresser’s Guide by John James Dufour was published in 1826, the first edition in French.  To this day it is considered an authoritative source for the “cultivation of the vine.”

The Swiss Settlement of Switzerland County Indiana by Perret Dufour, published in 1925 by the Indiana Historical Commission.

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