Episode 39: South Dakota

Welcome to episode 39 of the Make America Grape Again podcast, where we focus on the Mount Rushmore State: South Dakota.  Our wine of the podcast today is the Red-Ass Rhubarb from Prairie Berry Winery, which is acclaimed by many as the best wine South Dakota has to offer. This blend of Rhubarb and Raspberry wine has won a slew of awards in multiple competitions across the US. The fact that this is a “wine” made mostly of a vegetable lead us in a long rambling philosophical discussion in this episode of “what is wine, exactly, and if this is not a wine, what do we call this?” (I personally like the UK categorization of vintages like this as “Country Wines,” but I talked about that before way back in episode 17.)

While the family heritage of fermentation at Prairie Berry Winery goes back to settlers from Moravia in the late 1800’s, the commercial industry as a whole in South Dakota is far more recent, dating back to 1996, when the Nygaard family established Valiant Vineyards. The cold climate and harsh conditions of South Dakota favor wines made from fruits, as well as those made from French-American hybrid varietals such as Seyval Blanc, Frontenac, and their ilk.  Currently, South Dakota has 20 wineries, but as of yet, there are no American Viticultural Areas in the state.  Many of these wineries are clustered around the Black Hills region, which actually has a thriving wine trail.

I acquired this bottle directly from the winery website.  Interestingly, this particular bottle came to my attention during the planning stages of this podcast, as multiple people (unaware of each other) all recommended that I review this bottle–this episode is dedicated to those folks: Margaret Ashton and a man whose name I sadly don’t remember, who suggested this vintage in the tasting room where I have my day job.

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The Red-Ass Rhubarb from Prairie Berry Winery is our introduction to the rugged winescape of South Dakota.

Episode 38: Florida

Welcome to Episode 38 of the Make America Grape Again Podcast, where we explore the wine scene of Florida. While the Sunshine State is known for citrus, beaches, and marshes, it is not widely known for its strong wine culture. Indeed, there is a lot of difficulty growing grapes in this humid, hot climate, meaning that most grapes which are grown in the state are Muscadine varietals. However, this has lead to a lot of winemaking experimentation with other sorts of fruits grown in Florida’s tropical climate; including the fruit used for our wines du jour: avocado. Yes, Avocado. In this episode, Gary returns and hangs out with Megan, James, and myself as we explore both the Sweet Avocado and AvoVino made by Schnebly Redlands Winery, which is located in Homestead, Florida.

The history of winemaking in Florida begins early on with the colonization of Florida by both the Spanish and Huguenot refugees from France in the 16th century, for use as the sacrament in the Catholic Mass. Because of the dank tropical climate and various grapevine diseases and parasites, these plantings did not fare well, and eventually, plantings of Muscadine became more popular… until Prohibition, of course, collapsed the local industry. The commercial wineries of today came about as a result of the Florida Farm Winery Law in 1979, primarily due to efforts from the Florida Grape Grower’s Association.  This law reduced the winery license fee from $1000 to a mere $50.  In addition, researches in Florida began to develop new bunch grape varietals such as Stover, Lake Emerald, and Suwanee which were more resistant to Pierce’s Disease, and there was also intensive development of new muscadine varietals such as Magnolia, Noble, and Welder. Today there are approximately 20 wineries in the state of Florida. Some of these wineries are making wines from local fruits, or grapes imported from California, but others are using locally-grown muscadine varietals. The state of Florida has no American Viticultural Areas at this time.

These two bottles were purchased by Megan and myself directly from the winery website, and shipped directly for me for this podcast.  I’m sad that I didn’t bring up my favorite avocado fact in the podcast; that these trees were originally the food of giant ground sloths and would have gone extinct if it were not for human interaction with this plant.  Womp-womp. Lastly, just a reminder that the podcast has a patreon account, so if you like what we’re doing here, a few bucks extra for wine acquisition goes a long way!

Are millenials ruining the wine industry? The avocado toast we used to pair with these two wines suggests that no, we really aren’t.

Episode 35: Alaska

Welcome to Episode 35 of the Make America Grape Again podcast, where we explore the final frontier: Alaska! Our first wine for the Land of the Midnight Sun is the Haskap Wine from Alaska Berries.  Haskap, also known as honeyberry (scientific name Lonicera caerulea), is a plant native to the cooler regions of the far Northern Hemisphere, such as… Alaska.  The Ainu name Haskap used by Alaska Berries roughly translates to “many presents on the end of branches.”

You see, Fruit Wines are the only major staple form of wine production for Alaska, at this time; though there is one grower who is trying to change that.  By and large, any grape wines made in Alaska are made from concentrate sourced from California, or even as far afield as South America and Europe!  In fact, outside of nurseries, there are no grape vines being grown in the state, which means there are no American Viticultural Areas. At this time, there are only four wineries in the state of Alaska.  Some wines found at Alaska wineries are made from a blend of both concentrates as well as locally-grown fruits. That all being said, I am told that Alaska does have a thriving mead industry, which I hope to talk about in a future episode.

I acquired this bottle online through the website for Alaska Berries myself for this podcast. Their orchard is located on the Kenai Peninsula, and they do ship! Hope you enjoy listening!

The Haskap Wine from Alaska Berries situated against a gloomy Arizona Sky.

Episode 25: Michigan

Welcome to Episode 25, the halfway point of our first season! It is time that we, as Sufjan Stevens has done before us, say yes to Michigan.  (And mispronounce the name of the state repeatedly, a deliberate homage in this podcast to episode 99 of “Welcome to Night Vale.”)

Michigan’s wine story is one of great success, I think largely due to support from the state itself–versus other states that are still lurking at the edge of the Prohibition Era.  The state of Michigan currently has over 140 wineries, along with 5 unique trails for regions within the state, as well as a well-made website devoted to viticulture within the state–something many states lack.  Each of these five wine trails largely follows the landscape of Michigan’s five AVA’s: the Fennville AVA, Lake Michigan Shore AVA, Leelanau Peninsula AVA, Old Mission Peninsula AVA, and my personal favorite (for the name), Tip of the Mitt AVA.

The history of Michigan wine before Prohibition is spotty at best, but there does seem to have been an industry present there prior to that black mark upon America’s viticultural history.  Unlike many other states, however, wide plantings of Concord and other native grape varietals which were commonly used for juices allowed the state of Michigan to bounce back very quickly, with eleven wineries existing by the time of 1946.  Traditionally, these were sweet wines, and even today, many growers switch back and forth between the production of sweet wine and grape juices with varietals such as Catawba, Concord, and Niagara–only about 14% of Michigan’s grapes are planted exclusively for wine production.  Michigan also produces many fruit wines, with the Traverse City area being especially known for Cherry wine.

The Michigan viticultural landscape began to change in the 1970’s, with Tabor Hill Winery (located in Southwest Michigan) opening in 1971 as the first regional winery focusing on wines made from vinifera varietals.  A few years later in 1974, Chateau Grand Traverse opened, with a similar operation in mind.  Today, a host of different varietals, vinifera, hybrid, and indigenous varietals are grown in Michigan, with new varietals being tested on a consistent and regular basis; grapes like La Crecent, Frontenac, and other hybrid strains coming out of the University of Minnesota lab.  There are also fears that Global warming may affect some of these AVAs, as a warming climate may interfere with Lake Michigan, which is what makes most of these growing regions possible.

The wine in our first Michigan episode is the Cherry Riesling Wine, from Traverse Bay Winery, a subsidiary label from Chateau Grand Traverse.  The wine is a blend of 25% Cherry wine and 75% Riesling; the Riesling is sourced from the estate vineyard, located in the Old Mission Peninsula AVA.  My friend Aly Pocock bought this bottle for the podcast earlier this year while she visited family in the state.  I’m especially pleased she chose this bottle as I feel it is a good introduction to the Traverse City area, based on what I’ve heard from visitors to Arizona from this region.  We also introduce a fabulous concept called the Wine Spritzer in this episode, so stay tuned and enjoy.

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The Cherry Riesling Wine from Chateau Grand Traverse/Traverse Bay Winery is our introduction to both Michigan, and the fabulous cocktail known as the Wine Spritzer.

Episode 22: Hawaii

Many times the first response someone has when I tell someone that there is a licensed and bonded winery making their own wine in all 50 states is, “Even Hawaii‽ Really‽”

Yes, listeners!  Hawaii has wineries!  Two of them in fact! Volcano Winery, on the big island of Hawaii itself, produces quite a few vintages, both from estate-grown grapes such as Pinot Noir, Symphony, Syrah, and Cayuga White, but also from fruit such as Jabuticaba grown elsewhere on the island and grapes imported from California.  The other, Maui Wine (formerly Tedeschi Vineyards), mostly focuses on fruit wines.  There are, as of yet anyway, no designated AVAs in the Hawaiian Islands.

The wine we focused on for our introduction to Hawaii is the Volcano Red (Pele’s Delight), which is a blend of Hawaii-grown Jabuticaba, estate-grown Symphony grapes, and Ruby Cabernet from California.  These come together to produce a delicious wine in a style that we both really enjoyed.  In this episode, Gary returns to our Podcast, and we have a surprise guest star: Kendall, who is one of the tasting room managers at Volcano Winery who was kind enough to answer the questions Gary and I had about this wine, growing grapes, and wine production in Hawaii–thanks so much Kendall!

This bottle was acquired from the vineyard itself by my friend Andi Boyce, specifically for this podcast.  Aloha, y’all.

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The Volcano Red (Pele’s Delight) from Volcano Winery provides proof that Hawaii not only makes wine, but that it is delicious.

Episode 17: Maine

Maine is the focus in our 17th episode of the Make America Grape Again Podcast.  The wine in question is the first fruit wine we’ve explored in our podcast, the Wild Blueberry Wine (Semi-Dry) from Bartlett Maine Estate Winery, located in Gouldsboro, Maine.

At this time, Maine has only 17 wineries and vineyards, which are largely focused on fruit wines, as well as French-American Hybrid varietals, because of the cold, harsh climate of the region.  The oldest winery in Maine, which happens to be the winery we are focused on in this episode, opened in 1983.  This focus on fruit wines makes the industry in the area a little different than other regions we’ve explored thus far in our podcast.  Fruit wines, for me, are hard to pin down and discuss, as we explore in this episode, as they stretch “sommelier speak” to the absolute limit.

Generally speaking, fruit wines are defined as fermented alcoholic beverages that are made from a wide variety of base ingredients which are not grapes.  These wines may also have additional flavors taken from other fruits, flowers, and herbs. This definition is sometimes broadened to include any fermented alcoholic beverage except beer, which of course is the state of the ground in American liquor laws, making this definition so broad as to be effectively useless. (Although, for historical reasons, mead, cider, and perry are excluded from the definition of fruit wine.) In other parts of the world different terminology is used; as an example in the UK, fruit wine is commonly called country wine. As a rule, these wines in the United States are labeled according to their main ingredient: in the case of this wine, blueberries.

Anyway, onto the show!  This bottle was brought to me for use in this podcast by my friend Elizabeth Krecker, who acquired this bottle from a bottle shop in Maine.

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The Wild Blueberry Wine from Bartlett Maine Estate Winery in Maine was pretty fun to explore, as I don’t have much experience with fruit wines.