Last week, I went to visit the rocky landscape of Moab, Utah, in pursuit of the state’s oldest wineries. This is not a podcast about this experience, though the winemaker for the vintage in this episode, Evan Lewandowski, is based out of Utah, and features the state on his fantastic labels.
Ruth Lewandowski Winery, named after the Book of Ruth from the Old Testament is a natural wine label that focuses upon minimum intervention in the cellar, and Evan tends to only use sulfites at the very end of fermentation. (Coming up soon will be a whole episode where we talk Natural Wines, so stay tuned). The operating philosophy of this winery is based on a cycle of death and redemption, both in physical and spiritual realms. After all, as Evan states: “Death is, indeed, the engine of life. Nothing that is alive today could be so without something having died first. This is the nature of our universe, of our planet, of our soils, plants, and ultimately you and I.”
With this philosophy in mind, I decided to take my bottle of the 2018 Dinos to Diamonds on vacation to Maryland with me last spring. The idea was to drink this bottle with my paleontologist friend John-Paul Hodnett, hopefully, to talk about deep ideas such as extinction, ecosystem rebirth, wine and deep time, and fossilization. Instead, this wine, a blend of 60% Sangiovese and 40% Merlot, proved to be a surprisingly perfect beach wine for the Calvert Cliffs. You won’t hear much philosophy and paleontology in this podcast (if you want that instead, go check out the episode JP did in the Paleo Nerds podcast), but what you will hear is him, his wife, and me enjoying a good bottle of a vaguely Super-Tuscan wine by a beach while we are taking a break hunting for fossil9 shark teeth. Cheers!
Lately in the American wine scene, a new beverage with ancient roots has been taking the world by storm: Piquette.
Occasionally described as “White Claw for Wine Lovers,” Piquette is a low-alcohol fizzy beverage made from adding water to the grape pomace left over after grapes have been pressed for wine. This water-pomace mix is then fermented until the result reaches somewhere between 5%-9%; about the same percentage of alcohol that one normally finds in beer or hard seltzer. Incidentally, this makes Piquette the nigh-ideal beverage for day drinking in the warm summer months. The oft-made comparison to White Claw is where the title for this episode comes from, courtesy of Mitch Ermatinger of Native Species Winery in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He has made some very entertaining stickers and T-shirts with that saying that you all should check out.
However, unlike hard seltzers, Piquette has a long history. The name most commonly used to describe these beverages, Piquette, is derived from the French word for “prickle”; referring to the slight fizz present in most versions of this drink. Piquette was said to have been the preferred drink of vineyard workers at the lunch table, since the low alcohol content encouraged post-lunch productivity, rather than the alcohol-fueled stupor that could be expected from wines with a higher percentage of alcohol. In Italy, Piquette has various names including acqua pazza, acquarello and vinello. That being said, nearly all European winemaking countries have their own version of Piquette, which is usually made and consumed by field workers and their families. The fact is, Piquette was a great way to stretch what one could make from a given harvest. But, Piquette has ancient roots too. The Greeks and Romans made versions of this drink too. The Romans, calling it lora, often considered this beverage to be a meager, cheap-to-produce drink. Since it was made from what basically amounts to the leftover scraps of winemaking, it was usually given to slaves and field workers.
Times have changed, however. What was once seen purely as a drink for the poor working folk has rapidly skyrocketed into popularity in the twenty-first century. Why this is the case, I’m not sure, though I have my theories. The Marxist in me wants to complain about the gentrification of poor culture to appease the ever-thirsty desires of the rich bourgeoise for novelty, I’m not so sure that has a lot to do with it. There is the simple fact of the matter that most wineries are on the knife-edge of a budget and making Piquette increases the amount of inventory, and therefore the amount of money that flows into a winery, but I’m not so sure that’s a major cause either. Instead, I would argue that modern sanitization techniques, even in wineries focused on Natural Wine, has made it possible for winemakers to combat and prevent the bacterial infections which could easily occur otherwise, and controlling the ones that do occur… which can partially lead to the intriguing flavor profiles you get in many Piquette wines.
Basically, this means that modern Piquette tastes far better than its ancestors. Combined with a plague which often lead to day drinking in quarantine, and you have a perfect storm to increase this beverage’s popularity. But I digress. In this episode, podcast newcomer Brianna Nation of Page Springs Cellars joins all of us to drink some Piquette, and share her experiences about making it– she made the Piquette de Vidal that features as the second vintage of the recording. We also drink two Piquettes from Saeculum Cellars, another Arizona Winery, and one from Old Westminster Winery in Maryland.
Drink up folks! Remember, No regrets when drinking Piquettes! Oh, and since one of the Piquettes from Saeculum Cellars is made of Cabernet Franc, that brings our current total for this varietal to 8.
While more famous for being the heartland of country music, Tennessee actually has a thriving wine industry. The Volunteer State is home to one of the largest wine industries in the American Southeast, with just shy of 50 vineyards and tasting rooms. Our wine focus for the state is the White Zinthiana Blush from Amber Falls Winery, located in Hampshire, Tennessee. This wine is made from 100% Zinthiana, which is a cross between the Cynthiana clone of Norton, and Zinfandel, recently released from UC Davis.
This wine, as you may also have guessed from the name, is a Southeastern take on the whole “White Zinfandel” phenomenon of semi-sweet pink wines known as blushes. (A general rule of thumb: pink wines with under 1% residual sugar are labeled as rosé; anything over that tends to get labeled as a blush). Zinthiana is a varietal that I had never even heard of, and it is always fun to meet a new grape; I’m kind of boggled at how to classify it, because while it is technically a hybrid cross, it’s not quite like some of the other hybrid varietals we’ve looked at over the course of this podcast, like those in our previous Iowa episode for example.
The state of Tennessee was home to a reportedly vibrant wine industry in the 19th century that was greatly impacted when that old bugaboo and nemesis, the Volstead Act, was introduced in the early 20th century. However, unlike in much of the Southeast, amateur winemaking and grape growing continued to thrive in the region, which allowed for a renaissance to begin starting in 1980 with both Highland Manor Winery and Tiegs Winery opening in that year. In 1985, the state legislature passed the Tennessee Viticultural Policy act, which greatly assured the stable development of the industry; perhaps this state support is why Tennessee has so many more wineries than most of its neighbors. Like elsewhere in the American South, humidity and associated grapevine diseases are the major challenges associated with viticulture in the region, so many of the varietals grown here are growing French hybrid and native grape varietals, but the state does have some Vinifera varietals grown in higher elevations. So far the only AVA in Tennessee is the small portion of the Mississippi Delta AVA that extends into the southwestern part of the state.
I acquired this bottle from the winery website, myself, for this podcast. We actually acquired two bottles: one for Gary and one for me. If you like this podcast, Gary and I would greatly appreciate it if you rated us on iTunes or whatever podcast app you use, and please do remember that we have a Patreon which can be found at https://www.patreon.com/TheMakeAmericaGrapeAgainPodcast. (I know that I haven’t been terribly good at putting things on Patreon, but I promise I will try harder for season two. Speaking of, while we have indeed completed fifty states, there are still three more episodes coming to wrap up season one, so we are not done yet!)
Welcome to Episode 49 of the Make America Grape Again Podcast, where we explore The Palmetto State, South Carolina. Our wine focus for this episode is the Lowcountry Red from Deep Water Vineyard, located on Wadmalaw Island. The Lowcountry Red is made from 100% Ison grapes; a red muscadinevarietal, grown in Charleston County, South Carolina. In this episode, featuring Peter and Sophia Gardner, we focus not only on the history of wine in South Carolina, but upon the use and theology of wine within the Eastern Orthodox Church which the three of us have in common. You see, Ison–the grape varietal used in this vintage–shares the same name as a major feature of Byzantine Chant… We also talk about synesthesia and wine tasting, which is a fascinating examination of just how subjective wine description can be-complete with how this wine tastes in song form.
The modern wine industry of South Carolina begins in 1953, with the establishment of Tenner Brothers, which focused on muscadine varietals. Next to open was Truluck vineyards in 1978. The owner, Jim Truluck, was instrumental in getting a farm winery bill passed in 1980, which allowed tastings and sales of wine on estate premises. Despite this, he closed his winery in December of 1990. Most ambitious was the attempt made by Oakview Plantation in Woodruff; to make a 600,000-gallon winery. Sadly, as this was prior to the farm winery bill, wholesalers opposed the winery. Montmorenci vineyards opened in Aiken in July 1990, and as of the writing of Wines of Eastern North America, by Hudson Cattell, was the oldest still-operating winery in the state. Deep Water Vineyard, formerly Irvin-House Vineyard, opened in 2012, and is situated on 48 acres of muscadine varietals.
Wine in South Carolina, like most of the deep south, is a difficult proposition. Hot and humid summers require growers to adapt their forms of canopy management so as to minimize direct sunlight on the grapes, Furthermore, these grapes are often harvested earlier in the summer, to avoid possible risk from Hurricanes which can strike later in the season. This humid climate in the lowlands of South Carolina means that most grapes grown in the state are muscadine varietals (such as in this particular case). There are also many fruit wines being made in the state. A few vineyards located in the mountains are growing vinifera varietals. Currently, the state has approximately 21 wineries, and there are no American Viticultural Areas in South Carolina.
This bottle was kindly donated for use in the podcast by Deep Water Vineyard themselves after I reached out to them. Thank you for providing this fantastic vintage!
Welcome to Episode 46, where we focus on the Natural State, Arkansas. Arkansas is known for the state’s natural scenic beauty, clear lakes and streams, and abundant wildlife, but also has quite a few wineries. It is also one of the few states that even has a “State Grape” as well: Cynthiana, one of the oldest clones of Norton in existence. However, the wine we’re looking at today isn’t a Cynthiana vintage; it’s the Majestic Merlot, from Hot Springs Winery, located in Hot Springs, Arkansas. (I tried really hard, for the record, to find a Cynthiana from Arkansas, but nobody would ship one to me here in Arizona.)
Now, before we get into the nitty-gritty of the history of wine in Arkansas, let’s talk about that much-maligned varietal: Merlot. We’ve had a fewblendswith Merlot in our podcast so far, but never on its own, and it’s time to fix that. The grape became maligned after the movie Sideways, with the main character stating, bluntly, “I will not drink any fucking Merlot.” This film caused the market for Merlot to tank precipitously. In fact, Merlot is used to create some of the finest vintages in Bordeaux–including the vintage that Miles drinks in a styrofoam cup at the end of the film. The name of the grape comes from the French word for Blackbird, both for the dark color of the grape, and that these birds really do seem to love gorging themselves on the ripe grapes still on the vine. In reality, Merlot is actually pretty popular: it’s the second most abundantly planted wine grape in the world, coming in just after Cabernet Sauvignon with 657,300 acres planted across six continents. One of the reasons for the popularity of Merlot with winemakers (and wine drinkers) is the “softness” and “fleshiness” of the flavors, which combine well with the sterner character of the later-ripening Cabernet Sauvignon.
The history of wine in Arkansas begins to the first French Catholic settlers, who were then followed by German and Swiss settlers who came to settle in the town of Altus. This region began making wine commercially beginning in the 1870’s, and today the four oldest-running wineries in the state are located here. (One of the notable settlers and winemakers of the area is Jacob Post, who emigrated in 1872, and his descendants are sixth-generation winemakers at Post Familie vineyards today.) At one time, Arkansas had over 100 wineries and was producing produced more wine and grapes than any other state. Prohibition, however, intervened, (oddly enough, regarding the wine industry in the state, after prohibition ended elsewhere) and the industry in Arkansas has yet to fully recover with only fourteen wineries in existence as of 2019.
If there is one person responsible for stabilizing the precipitous drop in wineries in Arkansas and thereby setting the ground for future growth, it would be Alcuin C. Wiederkehr, of Wiederkehr Wine Cellars, who was responsible for penning and supporting many bills relating to wine in the Arkansas State Legislature. Despite the lackluster growth in Arkansas wine in the last few years, the state does have three viticultural areas, nestled inside each other like matryoshka dolls. The Ozark Mountain AVA, the sixth largest AVA in the US, surrounds the Arkansas Mountain AVA, which in turn surrounds the Altus AVA. As I mentioned above, the area surrounding Altus is where wine in Arkansas began.
I acquired this bottle from the winery website for this podcast, where it was shipped to me here in Arizona. I was not able to encounter any other wineries in Arkansas that shipped here, though I hope to get more bottles from Arkansas (including a Cynthiana) later this year when I will (hopefully) be passing through the state. If you like this podcast, please donate to us over on Patreon, at https://www.patreon.com/TheMakeAmericaGrapeAgainPodcast
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.