Home > History of Wine > “A great field is open for the wine-grower in the vicinity of Washington”: The brief success of Azadia Vineyard in Washington, DC 1863-1869

“A great field is open for the wine-grower in the vicinity of Washington”: The brief success of Azadia Vineyard in Washington, DC 1863-1869


It was purported that experienced horticulturalists saw the hills of Washington, DC, as favorable to the cultivation of a vineyard and the production of “native wine”.[1]  This was still regarded as theory when Dr. John B. Keasbey (1833-1886) began experimenting at his Azadia Vineyard.  Dr. John B. Keasbey was a surgeon in the Union Army, surgeon of the Metropolitan Police[2] and a professor of “obstetrics and diseases of women and children” at the Columbian College in Washington, DC.[3]  His interests extended beyond medicine for he cultivated a 10 acre vineyard from which he made wine.[4]  His property was located in a hilly area on Rock Creek Road north of Pierce’s Mill on the way to Tenleytown.  As I have written before in “Cultivated with so much success”: The Vines and Vineyards of Washington, D.C. 1799-1833 there were both nurseries and vineyards in this area since the turn of the century.   While the cultivation of vines in Washington was in no way theoretical by the 1860s, there are but few accounts of the production of a significant quantity of wine since John Adlum.

The American Farmer: Devoted to Agriculture, Horticulture and Rural Life. 1867. URL: https://books.google.com/books?id=e19TAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false

The American Farmer: Devoted to Agriculture, Horticulture and Rural Life. 1867. URL: https://books.google.com/books?id=e19TAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false

The majority of the Azadia Vineyard was set out in 1863. The vines were planted with a southern exposure on diverse soils that were mainly sandy, gravelly soils of decomposed granite.  In 1865 Dr. Keasbey was able to sell $500 worth of grapes and in 1866 he not only sold grapes but also made 1,300 gallons of wine.  By 1868 he sent bottles of “’American Burgundy’ (dark)” to New York where, when tasted blind, were thought to be “a fine sample of French Burgundy.”  Other samples that were tried by local “connoisseurs” caused surprise for their “fine quality.”  He produced at least two types of wine, the Burgundy made from the Concord variety and a “heavy red wine” made from Norton’s Virginia.  Unfortunately, I cannot find any reports of the “American Burgundy” in New York newspapers.

Topographical sketch of the environs of Washington, D.C.  Michler, N. 1871. URL: http://www.loc.gov/item/87693316/

Topographical sketch of the environs of Washington, D.C. Michler, N. 1871. URL: http://www.loc.gov/item/87693316/

Azadia Vineyard produced both grapes for the table and for wine making.  It was regarded as an experiment so “almost every known variety of grape” could be found “including the hybrids.”  Both of these products had potential for profit because table grapes had a market in New York and the wines could be a “formidable competitor” to  those of the west.  The “early grapes” ripened around August 15 which was one week earlier than in New York and one month earlier than in the west.  This meant the grapes could briefly command the highest prices before massive amounts arrived from the west.  The Concord grapes were shipped by steamer in 20 pound boxes and the Delaware grapes were sent by express in one to two pound boxes.  The Concord proved most profitable earning $0.14 to $0.25 per pound.

Mildew was a significant problem and the aversion of it was one focus of Dr. Keasbey’s experiments.  It was believed that mildew could be averted by preventing “too rapid radiation under the sun” or simply keeping the dew off of the vines.  With that goal in mind, Dr. Keasbey tried at least three different methods.  He employed trellises holding hardier vines trained to have foliage over the weaker vines.  This showed some success.  Dr. Keasbey also used a method invented by Mr. Sanders, Superintendent of the Propagation Garden near the U.S. Capitol.  This involved attaching a shed roof on top of the trellises.  The protected vines showed more success than the foliage method.  The greatest success came from the smallest trial in a field of vines.  A single sash of unpainted glass was suspended over two or three vines.  Like an open-air hot-house this is similar to a method that was often employed in England.

Dr. John B. Keasbey was not just tending his own vineyard and producing wine, he was selling grapevines as well.  Several advertisements appear during the years 1866[5] through 1869.[6]  He advertised stock for Adirondac, Delware, Concord, Iona, Rogers Hybrids 1,2,4,5,7,9,15,22,30,33, and Salem.  One advertisement alone listed 30,000 Concord grapevines 1 and 2 years of age.  Sold in groups of 1,000 it appears that Dr. Keasbey planned to operate in the three areas of propagation, table grapes, and wine.

Topographical sketch of the environs of Washington, D.C. Michler, N. c. 1901. URL: http://www.loc.gov/item/87693341/

Topographical sketch of the environs of Washington, D.C. Michler, N. c. 1901. URL: http://www.loc.gov/item/87693341/

Despite the early success of the Azadia Vineyard accounts fall silent after 1869 with no apparent explanation.  During the summer of 1871, Dr. Keasbey advertised his country residence “Dunbarton Hall” for sale.[7]  This is not to be confused with Dumbarton Oaks.  The Dunbarton property contained about 23 acres of land of which 7 acres were bearing grapes.  I wonder if the acreage of the vineyard reduced from 10 to 7 acres due to attrition from experimentation.  We do not yet know why his property with the Azadia Vineyard was put up for sale.  Perhaps work took him elsewhere or that the death of his daughter just a few months after birth prompted him to leave.  Whatever the reason, the listings continued to point out the “Seven Acres In Splendid Grapes” through 1875.  Whether the vineyard survived after this date is not known.  The death of Dr. Keasbey in 1883 and the purchase of Dunbarton Hall in 1887 by William K. Ryan certainly gives closure.[8]


[1] Native Wines. Date: Tuesday, April 7, 1868                 Paper: Evening Star (Washington (DC), DC)   Page: 2
[2] Boyd, Andrew. Boyd’s Washington and Georgetown Directory. 1864. URL: https://openlibrary.org/books/OL25514389M/Boyd’s_Washington_and_Georgetown_directory
[3] Advertisement. Date: Friday, October 13, 1865         Paper: Daily National Intelligencer (Washington (DC), DC)   Volume: LXV   Issue: 16584   Page: 4
[4] Grape Culture Near Washington. Date: Tuesday, October 8, 1867         Paper: Alexandria Gazette (Alexandria, VA)   Volume: LXVIIII   Issue: 232   Page: 2
[5] The Country Gentleman, Volumes 27-28. 1866. URL: https://books.google.com/books?id=ieMxAQAAMAAJ&pg=PR1#v=onepage&q&f=false
[6] The Cultivator & Country Gentleman, Volume 33. 1869. URL: https://books.google.com/books?id=-S0_AQAAMAAJ&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false
[7] Date: Monday, April 3, 1871           Paper: Evening Star (Washington (DC), DC)   Page: 2
[8] Date: Saturday, July 9, 1887            Paper: Evening Star (Washington (DC), DC)   Page: 8

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