What do a Spanish conquistador, the Dutch East India Company, the British First Fleet, a missionary and a railway have in common? The answer is that they all played a part in establishing the vineyards of the New World. Hernan Cortes planted vines in Mexico in 1522; Dutch colonists introduced them to the Cape in 1655; Captain Arthur Phillip, the first governor of New South Wales and a keen amateur gardener, tried his luck with a few cuttings at Sydney Cove in 1788; Samuel Marsden brought vines and a prayer book from Australia to New Zealand in 1819; and the completion of the railway line from Buenos Aires to Mendoza in 1885 transformed the production of Argentine wines. The link between convict ships and a bottle of Hunter Valley Chardonnay might , seem slight, but the New World's present is securely tethered to its past. Though we think of the New World as a place brimming with fashionable modern ideas, its vineyards have been around for a long time. Areas such as Constantia in South Africa and Baja California in Mexico have venerable winemaking traditions. Similarly, Pais in Chile, Criolla in Argentina and Mission in California are all descended from a grape variety first imported by the conquistadors.Nevertheless, compared to the Old World winemaking countries of Europe, the Middle East and the Mediterranean, where grape varieties have been cultivated since antiquity, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and North and South America are viticultural parvenus. In vinous terms, all these countries bear the badge of European origin, although each of them has developed inimitable specialities of its own.It was a combination of conquest, migration and exploration which carried European vines from the harbours of Portsmouth, Amsterdam and Seville to the countries of the New World. Sooner or later, they were all colonised by vine-bearing European settlers. Most of these countries are situated in the Southern Hemisphere. The exception is North America, where many winemakers feel a closer affinity with France and Italy than they do with Australia or South Africa. 'Beaune in the USA, the tongue-in-cheek slogan adopted by the Napa Valley's Saintsbury winery, has a semi-serious side, too. Ironically, it was California which launched the modern New World boom. When Robert Mondavi set up his attractive Napa Valley winery in 1966, complete with a public tasting room and a Spanish, colonial-style courtyard, it was the first building of its kind since the gloomy days of Prohibition. There had been other New World pioneers - at Penfolds in Australia, Max Schubert had been making Grange Hermitage, albeit in the face of considerable criticism, since the early 1950s; and at Beaulieu in the Napa Valley, Andre Tchelistcheff had produced some wonderful Cabernet Sauvignons - but Mondavi's new venture was crucial to the self-esteem of New World wines. The success of his first Cabernet Sauvignon, followed by the invention of a new style of barrel-fermented Sauvignon Blanc, called Fume Blanc, set new standards for California. Mondavi's lead was followed by other winemakers, such as Ric Forman at Sterling, Warren Winiarski at Stag's Leap, Mike Grgich at Chateau Montelena, Dick Graff at Chalone, Paul Draper at Ridge, Joe Heitz at Heitz Wine Cellars and expatriate Frenchman, Bernard Portet, at Clos du Val. California began to raise its sights. Instead of apologising for the origin of their wines, the new breed of Californian winemakers were actively proud of it.