Nicholas Herbemont: Viticulturalist, Winemaker, Innovator

Technology and knowledge have evolved over time, enabling the process of winemaking to become streamlined, easier, and better able to produce a higher quality product.

Despite these many changes revolutionizing the wine world throughout the years, one thing remains the same: the passion and drive of the winemaker for producing good wine. Although a gap of more than 150 years separates the wine visionaries of today from Nicholas Michel Laurent Herbemont, a winemaker originally from France living from 1771 to 1839, he possessed the same passion and pride in his creations as the winemakers of today.

“If Bachus himself could condescend to pay us a visit and drink some of my wine, he would readily acknowledge that he never had drank better in his lifetime, and not often as good” –Herbemont, 1832.

Herbemont changed the way many people viewed the practice of growing grapes and making wine in the early 19th century. His revolutionary ideas for grape growing included using high trellises to increase air circulation and keep black rot under control, as opposed to the common practice of growing grapes near to the soil, in the fashion of growers out of his native Europe. In the realm of wine production, Herbemont tried to lead his American peers away from strengthening their wine with Brandy and from using large amounts of sugar to increase the alcohol content.

“The vine has been given to man that it may enliven his spirits, gladden his heart, produce cheerfulness and good fellowship in society, and enable him to support unavoidable afflictions, under which he would frequently sink in despair.” –Herbemont, 1828

He believed in the taste and power of the grapes grown in American soil, and wanted wines to be the vessel of showcasing these grapes. He advocated for a light touch rather than a heavy hand,

The vintner and wine maker published 60 writings in his lifetime including his article “Wine Making” which was published in American Farmer in 1833 and explained his process of wine production. This article was reprinted and reissued many times, making it the most popular and trusted instruction in the process of wine making in America for a generation.

Although he did sell cuttings of his vines and bottles of his wine to the public, Herbemont focused most of his attention on experimentation in order to produce the best possible product. Fame and fortune never seemed to drive his work, rather a simple desire to gain more knowledge and be able to share that with the public spurred him forward.

“The culture of the vine is an art which cannot be easily acquired from the mere analogy with other objects of cultivation; neither can it be learned, except by very few, by books alone.” –Herbemont, 1827.

All of these factors contributed to the Frenchman being recognized as “the finest practicing vigneron of the early United States.” Many of his philosophies and practices are still used today, and many still regard him as a vital forefather in the history of American viticulture and wine making.

Although the last bottle of Herbemont’s wine was consumed in 1915, his legacy lives on through the small grape that bears his name and the winemakers of the day who read his writings.


For additional information about Herbemont, refer to the book Pioneering American Wine: Writings of Nicholas Herbemont, Master Viticulturalist, edited by David S. Shields.