Episode 45: Montana

Welcome to episode 45 of the Make America Grape Again Podcast, where we examine the wine scene in Big Sky Country: Montana. Our wine of the episode is the Dandelion Wine from Hidden Legend Winery, located in Victor, Montana. Now, we’ve looked at some particularly odd “Country wines” (as they’re known in the UK; in the US as I’ve discovered, they’re known more mundanely as “Agricultural Wines”) in previous episodes before, but this wine style, admittedly, is something I’ve always personally had on my bucket list.  I never expected to find one being made in commercial volumes, so I had to snatch this vintage up, despite the fact that Hidden Legend also produces award-winning meads and vintages made from Montana-grown grapes.

The fact that there are Montana-grown grapes is, in and of itself, miraculous.  The landscape and climate of Montana is harsh and unforgiving often in the best of times, which means that most wine-making in the state until fairly recently has focused on fruits such as huckleberry, cherry, and apples, along with vegetables such as rhubarb… and dandelions.  (Dandelion wine actually does have a long history associated with prairie settlement, apparently.) In other cases, wineries in Montana would bring in grapes from Washington or California to make wine: a facet of the industry we will cover in a future episode, I promise.  However, thanks to the tireless work of viticultural scientists at the University of Minnesota, cold-tolerant “hybrid” varietals have been bred that can tolerate or even thrive in the harsh Montana conditions.  There are no American Viticultural Areas in Montana yet, but today, the state has eight licensed and bonded wineries.

I acquired this bottle directly via the website for Hidden Legend Winery, specifically for this podcast. I also want to make a shoutout to Derrek for sharing a link to my other blog, who has an interest in Dandelion wine. As for this wine itself, the winemaker, Joe Schultz, reports that “Our dandelion wine is made by combining dandelion flowers and cane sugar with water and fermenting with yeast just like wine. The flowers are removed after the right amount of time and the wine finishes fermenting and is racked and clarified just like grape wine. We strive for balanced flavors concentrating on acidity, alcohol, and sweetness/dryness. It is then filtered and bottled.”

Next Episode: It’s time for Miles’ least favorite Varietal.

Montana Dandelion Wine
The Hidden Legend Winery Dandelion Wine is our introduction to the wine scene in Big Sky Country.

Episode 44: Mississippi

Hello, and welcome to another splendid episode of the Make America Grape Again Podcast, centered around the Magnolia State: Mississippi. In this episode, we drink the 2018 Delta Dry mead from Queen’s Reward Meadery, located in Tupelo, Mississippi. Now, there’s a fair bit of argument in the drinking community on whether or not mead truly counts as a style of wine, but I’m going to err on the side of the TTB on this one, which defines mead and honey wine as being the same thing. And even if you are a purist, and feel mead should truly be its own entity, the fact of the matter is that the 2018 Delta Dry is technically what is known as a pyment; a mead (or if you want to be super pedantic, a melomel) made from honey and grapes. In this case, the Riesling in the Delta Dry was sourced from Oregon, while the honey was local wildflower honey sourced from just down the road.  The grapes and honey were fermented together to produce this beverage.

So… what do these terms all mean, anyway?  Before we cover the history of the industry in Mississippi, let’s clear some mead terminology up. Mead, which etymologically comes from the Old English meodu, is an alcoholic beverage created by fermenting honey with water, often with the additions of various fruits, spices, grains, or even hops.  The key defining characteristic of mead is that the majority of the beverage’s fermentable sugar is derived from honey.  That all being said, there are different styles of mead under that umbrella. Cyser, for example, is a mead made with honey and apples or pears. A mead that uses spices or herbs (or both) is often referred to as a metheglin. As mentioned above, meads made with fruits other than apples and pears can be referred to as a melomel, and a mead specifically made with grapes can often be known as a pyment. As if that wasn’t enough, Wikipedia has an even bigger list… suffice to say, Mead is rather more complicated than it seems at first glance.  Anyway, I digress: onto history.

At one point in time, Mississippi ranked rather high in terms of American viticultural production. Muscadine grapes were grown in many locations throughout the state, but the dramatic loss of life from the Civil War, combined with a statute enacted in 1907 which banned the manufacture and sale of Mississippi Wine, meant that the industry went into a nosedive. Due to the long-lasting effect prohibition created in the deep south, Mississippi was, as it turns out, the last state to repeal the Volstead Act in 1966, and many counties in the state remain dry through present day.

This means the wine industry in Mississippi still has yet to recover. Along with Queen’s Reward Meadery, the state has only three other wineries: Almarla Vineyards, Gulf Coast Winery, and Old South Winery. The State does have one AVA: The Mississippi Delta AVA, formed in 1984, is shared with Mississippi’s border states of Tennessee and Louisiana. However, this AVA has not attracted any large-scale viticultural endeavors as of yet. This is due to an additional factor along with the long history of Prohibition in the region: climate.

Mississippi’s location, between 30 degrees N and 35 degrees N in latitude, produces a sub-tropical climate with long, humid summers and short, mild winters. This means that Fungal diseases like mildew and Pierce disease are often widespread. In addition, unpredictable weather patterns stemming from the proximity of the state to the Gulf of Mexico also present a large risk for growers. The unpredictable Mississippi climate makes it difficult to grow most varieties of grapes, other than those within the Muscadine family–which are often not associated with “fine” wine production. (Though as we’ve discussed before, most of us who are associated with this podcast rather enjoy them anyway.)

I acquired this bottle online through the meadery’s website, specifically for this podcast.  In addition, we were lucky enough to catch Geoff Carter, the mead-maker and co-owner on the phone for this episode, to answer a few of our questions. (We now realize, after seeing just how complex of a topic Mead can be, that we probably should have asked more of them.)

Delta Dry
The Delta Dry Grape Mead from Queen’s Reward Meadery in Tupelo, Mississippi is not only our introduction to the wine industry in Mississippi, but also to mead as a whole.

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.

south dakota
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 33: West Virginia

Welcome to episode 33 of the Make America Grape Again podcast, where we focus upon the state of West Virginia! The wine for our first WV episode is the Sweet Mountain Spiced Wine, from West-Whitehill Winery, located in South Moorefield.  This is our introduction also to one of the oldest styles of wine in the world: spiced wine. While a popular winter drink today, this is a style that also dates back to the Ancient Greeks and Romans, who would also add spices to their wine, both during and after fermentation.  This makes a unique and timeless vintage, perfect for heating up on bitter winter nights (like the night of our recording), or even served at cellar temperature.

I was not able to find any viticultural history for West Virginia wines pre-Prohibition, but the post-prohibition history of wine in this state is a bit of a doozy. The first vineyard in the state was planted by Stephen West in 1973, but it wasn’t until 1981 that a farm winery bill was finally passed for the state of West Virginia, after having been vetoed three times previously by the governor at the time, John D. Rockefeller IV. This was because he believed it would be “an abuse of public office to foster the public consumption of alcohol.” Indeed, this bill only passed the fourth time after the state legislature actually overrode his latest veto of the bill!  While Stephen West planted his vineyard first, West-Whitehill Winery was actually the state’s second licensed winery.

Today, the state of West Virginia features in parts of three AVAs: the Shenandoah Valley AVA extends from Virginia into the panhandle, while the Kanawha River Valley AVA is located in the watershed of the Kanawha River in West Virginia, between the city of Charleston and the Ohio border. This AVA includes 64,000 acres (25,900 ha) in portions of Cabell, Jackson, Kanawha, Mason, and Putnam counties.  The Kanawha Valley AVA is a subset of the larger Ohio River Valley AVA.  Currently, there are 11 wineries in the state of West Virginia.

I acquired this bottle while visiting Maryland from Old Line Bistro, which I highly recommend if you’re in the area. We weren’t able to figure out what grape this wine was made from, but are guessing that it was largely a base of Chambourcin, as that seems to be the grape they are planting most at that vineyard site.

A random list of things deleted from this episode to make it fit the time allotted: a brief discussion of the biology of Arrakis, a random Frasier Theme Song karaoke interlude, comments upon the dietary habits of seals, and really bad jokes.

west virginia
The Sweet Mountain Spiced Wine from West-Whitehill Winery is great as an early morning warm drink, too.