Wine was a staple of the daily diet in many European societies for hundreds of years before regular contact was established between Europe and the Americas. By the 1500s, wine was widely consumed in those regions of Europe where it was produced (especially in the Mediterranean area), and by the better-off social strata elsewhere, such as Britain, the Low Countries, and Scandinavia. Not only did wine embody social and religious status, but it was consumed, like ale and beer, in preference to the often polluted water that was available. Although it is important to consider wine within two broad contexts—alcoholic beverages (including ale/beer and distilled spirits) and diet more generally—wine has a discrete history. It had strong associations with health, fertility, and spirituality (and was important in Christian ritual and symbolism), and some categories of wine (such as port and champagne) carried immense significance for class and gender. Although various commodities were fermented to make alcoholic beverages in the Americas before European contact, Europeans transferred viticulture and winemaking across the Atlantic. From the 1520s, the Spanish planted vines and produced wine in their Mexican and other American colonies. Their successes were the beginnings of the important wine industries of Chile and Argentina. Other imperial nations—notably the British—tried to follow suit in North America, but it was not until the 19 th; century that a significant North American wine industry emerged, first in the Midwest (especially Ohio and Indiana) and later in California. Perhaps because of the late start of their wine industry, North American consumer preferences ran to spirits (especially whiskey) and rum, rather than to wine. Wine was imported from Europe to serve the American wine market, and the wine trade has been one focus of historians of wine. Other prominent themes in the literature are viticulture and winemaking, the cultural meanings of wine (including its associations with class and gender), links to health and religion, regulation of production and distribution, and consumption patterns. In the broader context, wine is integral to histories of alcohol. Historians have examined varying attitudes toward wine, beer, and distilled spirits, as well as the place of wine in secular and religious commentaries on alcohol consumption and drunkenness.