There was a time when the premier vitner in the U.S. lived and made wine in Columbia. Nicholas Herbemont, born in France, moved to Columbia in 1805 and started growing grapes in the city. A little over 10 years later, he planted a six-acre vineyard, “Palmyra,” in Richland County. His success as a winemaker made him an influential force in state agriculture. In 1832, his wines were rated the best ever produced in the United States.
Dr. David Shields has done extensive research on Herbemont’s work. He writes that in the early 1870s, nearly every Herbemont grape vine in the country was dug up and sent to Europe, saving the French wine industry because the hybrid was resistant to phylloxera.
Herbemont grapes are again growing in Columbia, thanks to the work of Shields and Slow Food Columbia board member Keith Mearns. Mearns is a horticulturalist at Historic Columbia and planted cuttings donated from Texas A&M University at the Robert Mills House two years.
Of this year’s grape production, he tells us:
"The Herbemont grape plants are doing very well. They fruited profusely this year, which was exciting. The ripening was very staggered though, even within one cluster, so I'll be much more aggressive with pruning next year.
We will be greatly increasing our current nursery stock of grape plants this winter and plan to have them available for sale in 2018."
To read more about all things Herbemont, here are links to:
David Shields's delightful Facebook post about tasting his first Herbemont grape a few weeks ago, in August 2017
an article from Susan Ardis at The State
a book by David Shields, collecting the writing of Nicholas Herbemont