This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
It is gratifying to observe the interest now so widely felt in grape-culture. New seedlings of merit are introduced every few years, and acres upon acres of approved varieties are annually planted. Of course, these vines are not all intended for raising table-grapes: a large proportion are designed for the manufacture of wine. Heretofore, our central States, in the latitude of Ohio and Kentucky, have produced nearly all the wines of this country; but with the introduction lately of superior grapes ripening in August and September, vineyards have sprung up all over the North, and good domestic wine is found in almost every market. Professed wine-tasters, familiar with the best vintages of Europe, may tell us that American wines are only sirups or cordials; and the French may laugh at our " bad enough piquette, as compared with the foaming wines of Epernay;" but so long as we can get the pure juice of the Catawba, Diana, and Delaware grapes, we, in our simplicity, shall be very well satisfied.
We do sincerely rejoice in the introduction of pure native wines. It gratifies our national pride. Ere long this manufacture may become a source of national wealth. Possibly, too, it may contribute to the national morality. For surely, if Brother Jonathan must drink a certain amount of intoxicating liquors annually, it were better that he should drink that which is reasonably pure, than the adulterated and vile mixtures now so common. For medicinal and sacramental purposes, at least, it is important to have an article whose purity is beyond suspicion.
We somewhat question, however, the soundness of the above argument in reference to the national morality, and beg leave to state our misgivings. Surely, the readers of the Horticulturist will indulge the writer in this, even if they are of a contrary mind, since the other side of the question has been so often presented in these pages. At least, let us look at both sides, and then judge.
1. In favor of the manufacture and general use of pure wine, we are told that it can not be essentially immoral. Does not the Bible speak of "wine that maketh glad the heart of man?" Remember, also, the Saviour's miracle at the wedding. St. Paul counselled Timothy to " use a little wine for his stomach's sake and his often infirmities." Such expressions would not be used in the Sacred Scriptures, if the drinking of good wines were inconsistent with health and morality.
Moreover, if it be true that impure wines inflame the blood and kindle an artificial excitement, injurious alike to body and soul, it is yet also true that pure wine exhilarates and strengthens man, and contributes to the development of all his faculties. As long ago as Plato's time, it was called " the milk of old age." And the Italians have wrought the saying into a proverb, "Milk is the wine of youth, but pure wine is the milk of old age." All experience shows that man craves and will use some kind of stimulant: it may be tea, or coffee, or tobacco, or betel-nut, or opium, or rum, beer, cider, wine; whether he rightfully or wrongfully craves it, we do not now inquire, but the fact remains, that he desires it, and will have it. The simple and practical question therefore is, What shall that stimulant be? Shall it be the vile compounds which nearly all the malt and alcoholic liquors now in market confessedly are, or shall it be pure wine, from native grapes?
Another argument is drawn from the moral condition of the wine-producing districts of Europe. There, it is said, the common people make daily use of the light native wines of the country, yet are seldom intoxicated, and do not fall into the other degrading vices which prevail among the rum-drinking populations of our own country. Hence the inference, that if pure, innocuous wines were manufactured abundantly here, and made so cheap that all classes could use them, they would drive the fiery, alcoholic liquors, and all artificial mixtures from the market, and so would promote the cause of temperance and general morality; yea, much more efficiently than "Maine laws," or any other legal restrictions or voluntary societies.
2. But many persons hold an opposite opinion, and maintain it in words like these: Whether wine drinking is inherently wrong or not, it is a fact that all the drunkenness in the world for the first five thousand years was produced by wine. The first man who planted a vineyard, fell into shameful intoxication by the simple use of his own pure native wines. Lot made a beast of himself by the same means. Alexander the Great murdered his own friend, and afterward committed suicide, under the influence of this proposed remedy for intemperance. Timothy may take a little wine as a medicine, unquestionably with good effect, but let him remember that to use it as a beverage is a hazardous indulgence.
The plea that men will use some stimulating drink, and therefore should be provided with a cheap and good article, reminds us of an anecdote related years ago in this journal by a leading vigneron of Cincinnati: "Father Mulrooney, a Catholic priest in one of our western towns, had a hard set in his parish to deal with; a frolicking, drinking congregation as could be found in the suburbs of any city, and they fairly worried the life out of him. At last, after a strong temperance exhortation, which he found would have no effect, he closed as follows: Now I am afraid all this admonition will be thrown away on you, ye hardened sinners. You know you have been vexing the very life out o' me, you hathen, and sorra the bit do I belave you'll heed it: so, if you will drink, and make brute bastes of yourselves, go to Barney Coyles; he is a dacent lad, and keeps the best liquors in the town !"
If it be true that the peasantry of southern Europe - a quiet and comparatively unenterprising people - drink their pint of light wine daily, without falling into habits of inebriety, it by no means follows that such would be the case in the colder and more fickle climate of this country, and among a people of so excitable a temperament as our own. The habit once formed of using a beverage with only eight or ten per cent, of alcohol, would lead on to the use of stronger liquors. Well has one observed: "We might as well say that vineyards would make our people eat less meat, less corn and pork, because the residents of European wine-districts are known to be addicted to a vegetable diet. * * * * In this land everything tends to excitement. Men live upon a higher key, and live faster, and live much more full of exhilaration than the same classes do in foreign lands. Our people drink not for the taste, but for the excitement of liquor; and so that wine, beer, or whisky will bring them up to the right key, the question of unwholesomeness is quite unimportant." (JET W. Beecher).