Welcome to Episode 30 of the Make America Grape Again Podcast, where we explore North Carolina through the lens of one of the most unique indigenous grape species in the US: Muscadine! Specifically, we drink the Hinnant Family Vineyards Scuppernong, made and grown near Pine Level, North Carolina. The Scuppernong grape, as it turns out, is also the state fruit of North Carolina.
Muscadine grapes consist of various varietals within a unique genus of grape known as Muscadinia rotundifolia (although some botanists disagree that it should be a separate genus… but I’m going to trust whatever Gary, our resident botanist says on the subject.) Native to the American Southeast, Muscadines have been cultivated extensively for fruit, juice, and wine production for hundreds of years. Indeed, the oldest cultivated grapevine in the world is a Scuppernong vine in Roanoke, Virginia, known as the Mother Vine. It should also be noted that Scuppernong is one of the most abundant Muscadine varietals used for winemaking.
North Carolina has a vibrant winemaking history. In the mid-19th Century, there were some 25 wineries in North Carolina, with extensive independent vineyards, to such an extent that North Carolina dominated the national market for American wines at the time. The American Civil War ended that market dominance, via damage to the industry through the loss of manpower and scarce capital, alongside various revocation of winemaking licenses due to regulatory retribution following the war. Prohibition killed the final bits of the wine industry in North Carolina until the industry was born again in the 1950’s.
This revitalization began with the Scuppernong grape itself; when ten farmers in Onslow County planted twenty-five acres of this historic grape as the result of a promise made by an out-of-state winery. This winery canceled the agreement when the grapevines started to produce, and so Raymond A. Harsfield opened a winery, called Onslow Wine Cellars, located at Holly Ridge. Scuppernong lead the charge in the rebirth of the wine industry in North Carolina, with French-American hybrid varietals following in their wake. The first Vinifera grapevines were planted in North Carolina in 1980. Today, the North Carolina wine industry is booming, with four American Viticultural Areas (Haw River Valley AVA, Swan Creek AVA, Upper Hiwassee Highlands AVA, and the Yadkin Valley AVA), over 400 vineyards, and around 200 separate wineries. Indeed, today North Carolina ranks tenth in both grape and wine production in the United States.
This bottle was acquired from Total Wine in Phoenix by yours truly, and there is an amusing anecdote associated with this bottle–find out more in the podcast! The podcast also now has a Patreon: check it out here if you wish to support our habit of talking about what we drink.