by Fred McMillin
for October 12, 1999


"The Admiral" and the Vine



Wine in the New World started when Cortez brought wine vines to Mexico City from Spain in 1524.

...Leon Adams, The Wines of America

Fred McMillin at the monument where Columbus first stepped ashore at San Salvador.

The Rest of the Story

He signed his name "The Admiral Cristoforo Colombo." He brought Spanish wine vines to the New World three decades BEFORE Cortez. They were aboard his vessels when he arrived at San Salvador on today's date in 1492. He returned with more on his second voyage in 1493. The 17-vessel armada carried chick peas, horses (there were none in the Americas), wheat, cattle, and GRAPE VINES. However, his men failed to become the Western Hemisphere's first vintners because all the vines died.

Our Wine of the Day

Since Columbus' vines were Spanish, today's wine comes from a Spanish wine village that existed when "The Admiral" was alive, Alella (ah-LEL-yah). In fact, as Colombo reached San Salvador they were celebrating the completion of their new Gothic cathedral, which still stands today. The odds are that even then they were making wine from the grape that's the "star of the region," Pansa Blanca. Hence, tonight's toast to the first wannabe New World vinegrower will be made with...

100% Pansa Blanca from Alella
Name: Marques de Alella Clasico
Appellation—Alella, Catalonia, northeastern Spain
Recommendation—This sip of a refreshing, but unfamiliar white wine should not be missed by anyone interested in wine and/or our history. Only $10.
Importer—CIV, Sacramento, CA (800) 669-1972, or FAX (916) 368-8932.


Cristoforo's first voyage to the West Indies went fairly smoothly. The return was no piece of cake. He not only lost one ship, but when he stopped at an Azores island, the governor didn't believe Columbus' story that he had discovered America. So, he arrested Columbus' men on their way to church, and wouldn't let them go until The Admiral "threatened to shoot up the town."

Credits: Viola and Margolis, Seeds of Change; New York Times Magazine, 8-11-91; World Book Encyclpedia.

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.


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