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 43: Oklahoma

Welcome to our 43rd episode of The Make America Grape Again Podcast, where we visit a state we should have visited Sooner: Oklahoma. Our featured wine in this episode is the Glitz, a sparkling Norton and Pinot Gris blend sold by Whirlwind Winery, located in the town of Watonga.  This particular wine was not made by the crew at Whirlwind–coming from a second, now defunct winery, but the owner, Brad Stinson thought this wine was fascinating enough to be worth saving from oblivion and thus acquired all remaining inventory.  We’ve met Norton before in our very first episode of the podcast, so it is fascinating to see this grape in an entirely different mode.

According to the Oklahoma Historical Society, by the late 1800s and early 1900s, Oklahoma had thousands of acres of domesticated table and wine grapes. The acreage of grapes planted in 1907 and 1908 were estimated to be 3,700 and 5,425, respectively, which happens to be about ten times more than is planted in the state of Oklahoma today. The first report on varieties of grapes that were suitable for the state was released as early as 1894 by what was then known as the Oklahoma A&M College. (A later publication detailed other aspects of a whopping 175 varieties!) The oldest documented winery in what is now Oklahoma was opened in 1898 by Charles Fairchild, though I could not find any information on the name of this winery. In 1926 the USDA and Oklahoma A&M co-published Grapes in Oklahoma. Yet the end was near as both the Dust Bowl and the introduction of Prohibition into the state’s constitution sounded the death knell for the Oklahoma wine industry. The industry slumbered until 1982, when Cimarron Cellars in Caney, Oklahoma opened.

A survey in 2006 showed that growers in the state preferred red grapes, which took up a majority of the acreage. Vitis vinifera-derived varieties, in turn accounted for 80 percent of all plantings. V. vinifera varieties are the most widely grown in Oklahoma because they are generally considered the premium grapes for winemaking; however, observation and research has shown most of these varieties are highly susceptible to cold damage and fungal infection. In the 2006 survey interspecific hybrid grapes made up less than 15 percent of vines, American species grapes approximately 7 percent, and muscadine grapes less than 1 percent of the total. Today, the state of Oklahoma has about 52 different wineries, and ranks thirty-first among the fifty states in terms of wine production.  There is also one AVA which extends into Oklahoma: the Ozark Mountain AVA.  The sixth largest American Viticultural Area in terms of total size, this appellation covers Northwest Arkansas, southern Missouri, and extends into the northeastern part of Oklahoma.

This bottle was graciously donated to the podcast (along with several other vintages) by the winemaker and part owner of Whirlwind Winery, Brad Stinson. Some of these bottles will be covered in later episodes.  Thank you once again!

oklahoma wine
The Glitz, a sparkling NV blend of Norton and Pinot Gris sold by Whirlwind Winery, is our introduction to the wine scene of Oklahoma.

Episode 42: North Dakota

Welcome to Episode 42 of the Make America Grape Again podcast, where we explore the wine scene of North Dakota.  I hope you have your towel ready, this being episode 42 and all that.  Our first examination of the North Dakota wine scene is the Pride of Dakota Tomato Wine from Maple River Winery, which is located in the historic town of Casselton. Ginger joins the team again for this episode!

While wild grapes and a host of other fruits were found growing along North Dakota’s riversides by early settlers,  the climate in the state and the adoption of prohibition at the time of statehood in 1889 mean that the commercial wine history of North Dakota stretches back only to the 1990s.  This puts North Dakota wines in a very recent mode.  Yes, although North Dakota repealed its ban on alcohol in 1933 when Prohibition ended, but restrictive local laws surrounding winemaking lead to a distinct lack of any winemaking traditions in the state until very recently: 2002.

Viticulture is full of challenges in North Dakota due to the extremes of the local climate. The wine industry here is growing here, however – albeit slowly – and in 2011, there were nine wineries and 40 vineyards spread across the state. Most viticultural production in North Dakota is focused around cold-climate varietals created at the University of Minnesota, or local fruits and produce: hence, this episode’s Tomato wine.

This bottle was acquired by yours truly from the winery website itself.  While none of us was, in the end, super fond of this wine (it was out of the wheelhouse for all of us), we did find the experience fascinating.  I also admit I made a pretty nice Bloody Mary the next day with it, as seen in the photo below.  Sometimes, you just need to make cocktails out in the middle of nowhere, you know?

north dakota tomato wine
While none of us were admittedly super fond of the Tomato Wine from Maple River Winery, it made a pretty fun Bloody Mary the next day.

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.