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.

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

Episode 31: Louisiana

Welcome to our 31st episode, featuring Louisiana!  In this episode, we will be drinking the Redneck Red, from Landry Vineyards.  The Redneck Red is a non-vintage Muscadine wine (a species we met the last episode), made specifically from a Muscadine varietal known as Noble. Noble, I’ve noticed, is also often spelled as ‘nobel’ by many wineries in the deep south, but the two seem to be interchangeable.

The history of Louisiana wine began in the mid-eighteenth century, when wines were made by Jesuit priests for use in the Eucharist.  No records survive of what these wines were made of, or how good they were.  The main focus of the wine industry in the area seems to have been around orange wine–that is, wine made from oranges, rather than grapes, in Plaquemines Parish.  The last of these wineries, Les Orangers Louisianais, closed in 1987.  This winery closed due to a combination of a hard freeze killing their orange trees,  the end of a $1000 exemption in State licensing fees, and the passing of a law that forbade wineries from selling their products at the wholesale and retail markets: state-sponsored prohibition in action.  Three years later, this prohibition was ended through the passing of the 1990 Native Wines act, which once again allowed wine sales at retail and off-licensed premises.  Today, thanks to this law, there are four commercial wineries in Louisiana that collectively produce about 20,000 gallons (75,000 liters) of wine per year.  There are, as of yet anyway, no American Viticultural Areas in the state of Louisiana.

The climate of Louisiana is extremely hot and humid, and viticulturists in the state face Pierce’s disease, powdery mildew, and various other grapevine diseases.  Many of these maladies strongly affect vinifera wines more than other varietals, which is why most varietals grown in the state of Louisiana are Muscadine or French-American Hybrid strains; most vinifera wines are made from juice or grapes imported from out of state.  Both of these aspects will be discussed further in later episodes focusing on Louisiana.

I acquired this bottle online through the winery website.

The Redneck Red is our introduction to the Muscadine varietal Noble.

 

 

Episode 30: North Carolina

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.

north carolina
Gary is in his happy place with our North Carolina wine of choice for season one: the Hinnant Family Vineyards Scuppernong brings back fond memories.

 

Episode 26: Texas

Howdy Partners!  Welcome to another episode of the Make America Grape Again Podcast!  This time around, we’re looking at Texas, through the lens of the 2016 Petit Sirah from Grape Creek Vineyards, located in Fredericksburg, Texas.

Texas actually holds a very special place in the history of wine not just in America, but in the world as a whole.  It was in the high plains of Northern Texas (in what is now the Texoma AVA) where horticulturist Thomas Mundson used indigenous American varietals to create hundreds of hybrid grapes, as well as finding particular root stocks that were immune to the Phylloxera epidemic of the late 1800s. This saved the French wine industry (indeed, possibly most of the Vinifera wine industry worldwide) from total ruin.  (I hope to go in depth about him in a future episode in a later season.)

The History of Texas Wine begins in a similar fashion to other landscapes in the American Southwest, with Franciscan priests and friars planting Mission vines in the deserts near El Paso for use as the Eucharist.  The industry grew, culminating in Thomas Mundson’s heroic labors to save the industry as a whole.  Yet Texas, like the rest of the United States, thanked its native son with the institution of Prohibition; one which still strongly affects the state today: a quarter of Texas’ 254 counties still have Dry Laws on the books.  (A few wineries did survive through this time, namely Val Verde winery, which made medicinal and eucharistic vintages.) The wine industry in Texas really only began to recover in the 1970’s, with the founding of Llano Estacado and Pheasant Ridge wineries in what would eventually become the Texas High Plains AVA, along with the La Buena Vida winery in Springtown, Texas.  The first AVA in Texas was the Bell Mountain AVA in 1986.

With 436 Wineries and approximately 4,500 acres of vineyards total, the state of Texas is actually the fourth largest producer of wine in the United States. The problem is that most people do not know about this because Texas wine is not widely distributed, and shipping outside of the state is notoriously difficult for local wineries.  Texas also has 8 AVAs, scattered across the state.

As a note: Texas Wine Geek has a great explanation of what For Sale in Texas Only actually means.  In short, while confusing as all hell from a consumer standpoint, it is crystal clear from the standpoint of federal legislation–something which arguably matters as much, if not more, from a wine sales standpoint.  After all, you need your federal approval if you’re going to sell wine at all, to begin with.  In short, when you see that label, know that it is a wine that is made in Texas, probably from mostly Texas grapes, probably scattered from among multiple AVAs.

In this episode, we talk a little about what “For Sale In Texas Only” means, and a bit about the concept of terroir, as we drink this side by side with an Arizona Petit Sirah from D.A. Ranch.  My friend Megan Looser (who is also a CSW) brought this bottle while on a recent trip to see her favorite band in concert.

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American wine shines big and bright, deep in the heart of Texas. *clap* *clap* *clap*

Episode 18: Georgia

It is said that Georgia is a state of mind, but perhaps in actuality, wine in Georgia can be considered a state of confusion! The reason for this, is, of course, the American state of Georgia shares a name with the Republic of Georgia in the Caucasus Mountains, which has a very long history of winemaking going back an absolute minimum of 6,000 years.

The history of winemaking in the State of Georgia, on the other hand, is decidedly recent by this timescale.  While Georgia was an important winegrowing region of the United States in the 19th century (ranked sixth in production among U.S. states by 1900) this state suffered very early on from Prohibition.  The prohibition movement in Georgia took hold in 1907, derailing the industry here until, like so many states, the early 1980’s.

Today, Georgia is the leading producer of wines made from the various Muscadine grape varietals–a type of grape we will eventually meet on this podcast, I promise.  Georgia is also home to two AVAs, the Upper Hiwassee Highlands AVA, a bi-state appellation which covers parts of Cherokee and Clay counties in the southwestern North Carolina; along with Towns, Union and Fannin Counties in northwestern Georgia, and the Dahlonega Plateau AVA, (established in 2018) which covers most of Lumpkin, Dawson, White, Pickens, and Cherokee Counties. This AVA is about 133 square miles in size and includes (at last count) 7 wineries and 8 commercial vineyards totaling just over 110 acres of planted vines.

The wine we are looking at today, the 2011 Propaganda from Frogtown Cellars, comes from the Dahlonega Plateau AVA itself.  This wine is a blend of 57% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Petit Verdot, and 13% Malbec.  This, as we discussed in the Idaho episode, makes this wine a Bordeaux-style blend, which are often called Meritage blends in the USA–though that’s a subject for a later episode.

(As a tangent, I found myself rather impressed with the list of varietals they’re growing as a whole, incidentally: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Sangiovese, Tannat, Touriga National, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Nebbiolo, Chambourcin, Teroldego, Norton, Chardonnay, Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne, Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris, Seyval Blanc, Petit Manseng, Vidal Blanc, Greco di Tufo and Muscato.  Dang.  Some of these are grapes we will visit in future podcasts, but I digress.)

This bottle of the 2011 Propaganda was kindly provided by friends Aileen and John, who also form my drinking cohorts for this episode, alongside an appearance from Mark Beres, the CEO of Flying Leap Vineyards.

It’s time for some Pro-Georgian wine Propaganda. Specifically, the 2011 Vintage.

Episode Four: Virginia

Viognier is a grape with an intriguing history. This white grape, originally from the Northern Rhone Valley of France, and was almost extinct in the 1960’s, has now made a home here in America. For some reason, the State of Virginia has chosen this grape as its State Grape.

The Monticello AVA, where this particular wine we examine today is from, happens to be associated with Thomas Jefferson, one of the earliest American Vinophiles.  One of the earliest attempts at American viticulture was sponsored by this founding father.

In this episode, drinking the 2016 Viognier from Horton Vineyards, Gary and I honestly wonder why the heck this particular grape has become the State Grape of Virginia… because to be honest, this wine was disappointing for both of us. Why? Take a listen. (You can’t win them all, especially if you’re going in blind.)

This bottle was acquired by yours truly on a vacation trip to Washington DC, not from the tasting room, but from Wegman’s Grocery store… which has a surprisingly decent wine selection.

Horton 2016 Viognier
The 2016 Viognier from Horton Vineyards in Orange County, Virginia, is the center-point of Episode Four.

 

Episode One: Kentucky

In Episode One of the Make America Grape Again podcast, we will look at Kentucky, home of America’s oldest commercial winery. Yes, that’s right! The oldest commercial winery in America was not in California or Virginia.

The wine in question is the 2014 Reserve Kentucky Norton, from Cave Hill Vineyard and Winery, located in Eubank, Kentucky. What is Norton, anyway? And why is Kentucky home to the oldest commercial winery in the United States? Is there such a thing as a “good” vintage of Norton? Tune in and find out!

This bottle was provided by Gary Kurtz of Greater Than Wines.

Kentucky Norton
Wine number One: 2014 Kentucky Norton Reserve from Cave Hill Vineyard and Winery