During the late 1800s, European settlers, predominantly from Germany, brought grape growing and winemaking to Tennessee. During this time vineyard flourished. This was mostly in areas that were believed to be unsuitable for other agricultural uses. The U.S. Department Agricultural reported 1,128 acres, producing 64,767 gallons of wine in Tennessee during the year 1880. After the Civil War, it appeared that grape-growing would become one of Tennessee’s most important cash crops. J.A. Killebrew devoted an entire chapter to cultivating grapes in his book, Introduction to Resources in Tennessee. However, Prohibition all but ended this promise in 1919.
In 1973, seven individuals interested in viticulture and enology gathered around Judge William O. Beach’s (future owner of Beachaven Winery) kitchen table in Clarksville. They organized The Tennessee Viticultural and Oenological Society (TVOS). From its small beginnings, TVOS encouraged the growth of Tennessee wines. Wines were studied. Grapes were grown. Improving Tennessee’s winemaking. They are still cultivating wine enthusiasts with a passion for the vine today. They are instrumental in the development of the professional wine industry in the state.
The growth of commercial grapes resumed in the mid-1970’s, with around 125 acres by 1978. Then in 1980, Highland Manor in Jamestown opened their doors as the first licensed Tennessee winery. Under the tutelage of Mr. Fay Wheeler, Highland Manor Winery saw the state’s first crush of grapes for the purpose of commercial winemaking of Tennessee. Nevertheless, it is just within the last quarter of the 20th century that grape growing has seen a remarkable recovery. This includes winemaking as well. Eventually by the late 1970’s, grape research began all across Tennessee at Agriculture Experiment Stations. Jackson, Spring Hill, Crossville as well as at the Plant and Soil Science Field Laboratory in Knoxville all began grape research. Today there is grape research being done at Pellissippi State Technical Community College in Friendsville and Agricenter International in Germantown.
Additionally, in 1985, Governor Lamar Alexander and the state legislature formed the Viticulture Advisory Board (VAB). The VAB assessed the potential, established the priorities, and determined the proper direction for the growth of the Tennessee grape industry. (Tennessee Viticulture Policy Act, TCA 43-30-101.) There were nine members of the board bringing together representatives from UT Institute of Agriculture, Tennessee Department of Agriculture, Tennessee Department of Tourist Development, TFWA, TVOS, two members representing the grape growers and two members representing the grape processors. This board eventually gave way to the 2019 creation of the Wine and Grape Board.