In 1732, King George II granted the charter of the colony of Georgia to be governed by a board of 20 Trustees in London, making it the only one of the original 13 colonies established as an entrepreneurial operation.
For that reason, the success of the colony depended on finding an exportable product, and among those fostered by the colony was the production of wine.
The colonists set out a garden with fruits and vegetables from around the world to see what would thrive here. Known as the “Trustees Garden,” this was the first organized agriculture experiment station anywhere.
One of the main fruits planted was grapes in order to establish the wine industry. The colony’s Trustees assumed that Georgia, being the most southern of the 13 colonies and on the same latitude as the lower Mediterranean countries, was the logical choice to become the “Vineyard Colony” for England.
Developing vineyards in the new colony became a priority because making England self-sufficient in wine was one of the most powerful appeals than the Trustees had for coaxing money from Parliament. The Trustees were continually requesting updates on the Georgia vineyards and the quality of any wine produced.
Although prohibited in the colony, spirits were begun to be produced in Georgia before the end of the 18th century after the American Revolution. Rum was a particular favorite. And cider–then spelled “cyder”–was the average colonial’s mealtime beverage, even for its third president, Thomas Jefferson, a noted wine enthusiast. Jefferson drank his wine after his dinner. John Adams began his day with a tankard of hard cider, a habit that seemed to yield results as his lived to age 90.
The Trustees’ prohibition against distilled spirits didn’t last long. A 1773 imports and duties report to Governor John Wright, the last Royal Governor of Georgia, mentions that with a population of 11,000, the annual consumption of rum was 159,687 gallons. The report mentioned that there was only one distilling house in the colony, and as it had recently been erected, it produced 5,000 gallons of rum.
In the late 1800s the state business directories list types of business that were open. These show that in 1881 there were 12 distilleries, and by 1884 37 are listed. The number began to decline in 1899 to 22 distilleries listed, as the Temperance Movement had begun to hold sway, gathering steam beginning in 1890. Nonetheless, the first liquor dispensary in the United States was set up in Athens,GA, in 1891 This was a government-owned liquor store, and Clark County and the city of Athens split the profits.
In Atlanta, the city’s first mayor, Moses Formwalt, who’s political party was known as the Free and Rowdy Party, opened the city’s first tavern in White Hall, which in that day had a fairly sleezy [do mean the word, sleazy,, per chance ?] reputation. In her recently published book “A Culinary History of Atlanta,” Decatur resident Akila Sankar McConnell notes that by 1850 nearly all of Atlanta’s 50 stores supplied whiskey.
All this rowdy life was short-lived, however, as Formwalt’s opponent in that first election, Jonathan Norcross, the candidate of the Morals Party, opposed liquor and when he was elected mayor in 1850, he gained the upper hand over spirited beverages. Atlanta thrived under his leadership, but by 1858 a distillery had been built and Andon Kontz and Egidius Fechter began brewing Atlanta’s first lager beer.
Georgia continued to produce wine–indeed the state was the country’s sixth largest grape grower–until Georgia’s Prohibition was enacted in 1907.
Established in 2015, the Georgia Trustees Wine & Spirits Challenge will be the yearly measure of the progress in the Georgia wine, mead, cider and spirits industries.