Welcome to Episode 37 of the Make America Grape Again Podcast, where we focus on the Heart of Dixie: Alabama. Our wine is the 2013 American Oak Cabernet Sauvignon from Maraella Winery, located in in the foothills of the Appalachia Mountains near the town of Hokes Bluff. Maraella Winery is, from what I have been able to discern, home to the only Cabernet Sauvignon grown in the state. Maraella winery is a bit unusual since it is one of only two vineyards I could find which are growing vinifera varietals in Alabama; most others are exclusively growing muscadine varietals, or some French-American hybrids. The reason why Maraella is able to do this is the higher elevation of their vineyard site; located away from the humid lowlands, issues such as Pierce’s Disease are mitigated. In this episode, new guests Nicole Silvestri and Joey Estrada join me in a discussion about the usage of American vs. French oak, as well as just how fascinating this wine really was: suffice to say, this wine bucked most of the traditional stereotypes we tend to associate with Cabernet Sauvignon.
The history of Alabama wine post-prohibition begins in 1979, with the signing of the Alabama Farm Wineries Act. This bill, heavily influenced by the owners of what is now Perdido Vineyards, allowed a “native farm winery” to produce up to 100,000 gallons a year, and sell not only to the local ABC board, but to wholesalers, retailers, and consumers for off-premise consumption. The Alabama wine industry received a further boost in 2002 when additional agricultural reforms lifted additional restrictions on wineries; Maraella is one such winery to benefit from these reforms. Today, Alabama has over 15 vineyards and wineries, though no established American Viticultural Areas as of yet.
I acquired this bottle from the winery website specifically for use in this podcast. I am regretting not acquiring the French Oak version of this wine as well, it would have made this episode even more fascinating to us than it was already!
Welcome to Episode 29 of the Make America Grape Again Podcast, where we return to the Mid-Atlantic region and visit the Garden State. Our wine for this episode is the 2017 Outer Coastal Plain Blaufränkisch, from Tomasello Winery; this winery happens to be one of the oldest in New Jersey.
The history of New Jersey wine, as in so many places in the Mid-Atlantic States, begins with British colonization. In 1758, the Royal Society of Arts sought to incentivize agricultural innovation and cultivation in the North American colonies by offering a cash reward of 100 British pounds for the planting of vineyards and the production of “five tuns of red or white wine of acceptable quality,” and the wine produced equal “those Sorts of Wines now consumed in Great Britain.” In 1767, two men had been recognized by the society for their undertakings. William Alexander (the self-styled “Earl of Stirling,” which is a much cooler title than “Wine Monk”) informed the society in 1767 that he had planted 2,100 vines at his estate in Basking Ridge, located in what is now Somerset County in central New Jersey. Sterling reported that his plantings were “chiefly Burgundy, Orleans, Black, White and Red Frontiniac, Muscadine, Portugals, and Tokays.” Edward Antill, another colonial grower, advised the society that he had a vineyard of 800 vines of Madeira, Burgundy, and Frontenac grapes as well as a few “Sweet-water Grape vines, and of the best sort of the Native Vines of America by way of tryal.” The award was split between the two, but their work did not lead to any sort of long term success or the establishment of a thriving industry for viticulture in the state. This instead had to wait until the 19th century, when New Jersey was again recognized for its suitability for growing grapes, largely by new German immigrants to the area. In 1859, an agricultural society was organized in Egg Harbor City and tested over forty different grape varietals for local cultivation.
However, as in so many places, Prohibition killed most of the wine industry in New Jersey, except for one winery that received an exemption to produce medicinal wines. At the end of Prohibition, legislation was enacted in New Jersey that limited a winery license to one winery per million people; effectively limiting the number of wineries in the state to seven; one of these was Tomasello. The industry here remained largely stagnant until 1981, when the state legislature passed the New Jersey Farm Winery Act, which sought to facilitate a rebirth for the state’s wine industry by exempting low-volume family-owned wineries from these restrictions, and also allowed wineries to create outlet stores. This act effectively allowed anyone with a minimum of three acres and 1,200 vines to apply for a winery license, which began the meteoric rise to the state of the industry today.
Today, New Jersey is home to over 48 wineries, spread across the state, with over 1,043 acres devoted to the cultivation of grapes. New Jersey also has three AVAs spread throughout the state, though only two of these have wineries and vineyards planted in them. The odd one out here is the Central Delaware Valley AVA, which covers includes 96,000 acres surrounding the Delaware River north of Philadelphia; on the New Jersey side, its southern border is near Titusville. At this time, all of the wineries in this AVA are located on the Pennsylvania side of the river. The oldest planted AVA located in New Jersey is the Warren Hills AVA, which was created in regulation in 1988. Roughly 100 acres (with 5 wineries) are planted with grapes in this AVA, with a primary focus upon French-American Hybrid varietals. Currently, there are 5 wineries in the Warren Hills AVA. In terms of vineyards, however, the Outer Coastal Plain AVA is the heart of the New Jersey Wine scene. The Outer Coastal Plain, created in 2007, is home to over 28 wineries and covers over 2.25 million acres in Southeastern New Jersey. (I couldn’t find a total number of vineyard acreage for this AVA, however.)
This bottle of the 2017 Outer Coastal Plain Blaufränkisch was acquired by my fellow wine junkie and podcast cohort Megan (@venivididrinki on Twitter) from the winery tasting room, specifically for this podcast. Thanks, Megan! In other news, the Make America Grape Again podcast now has a Patreon! Check it out at https://www.patreon.com/TheMakeAmericaGrapeAgainPodcast if you are interested in supporting the podcast.
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.
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.
Mysterious, ancient, and full of both Uranium and Mormons, you would expect the Utah landscape to be hostile to winemaking, and among the last places one would imagine wine to be made in the United States. And… in some ways, you are absolutely correct. Utah is indeed somewhat hostile to winemaking these days, both climatically and politically. Perhaps that is why the wine in this particular episode was vinified in Colorado at Sutcliffe Vineyards (the same vineyard who produced the Cabernet Franc in our Colorado Episode) from Grapes grown in Montezuma Canyon, near the Four Corners area. This white blend is made of Chenin Blanc, Viognier, Riesling, and Chardonnay; percentages of each grape within this vintage were not available.
The Mormons weren’t always hostile to the grapevine, though; the earliest wine grapes here were planted in the 1860s, right after Mormon settlers colonized the area. However, the Mormons enthusiastically embraced Prohibition, and it was not until 1989 that hope was rekindled. The winery which opened that year, Castle Creek Winery, produced 1,500 gallons of quality wine off the bat. Today, there are several small estate wineries producing both vinifera and French-American hybrids, as mentioned in this episode. Vineyards in Utah tend to be located in mountain valleys, with elevations up to 6,000 feet, which create a unique set of circumstances and challenges for growers and winemakers. Winters here are cold, so winter kill and frost damage are real risks; therefore protecting vines in the winter and keeping a watchful eye towards the sky are essential for success.
Currently, Utah has six wineries–somehow making Utah now less of a Prohibition state in terms of viticulture than Nevada. (Go figure!) That being said, the local liquor board does have its own stranglehold on the industry, as it is state-controlled, and does not allow much exporting of finished products outside the state. This will mean I will have to make a visit to Utah myself… soon.
This bottle was purchased by yours truly at Vino Loco, a wine shop located in downtown Flagstaff, Arizona.
The smallest state in the US, as it turns out, has a wine industry that rivals some of the biggest states. Rhode Island is about the same size as the Greater Phoenix metropolitan area but has almost three times as many wineries as the capital of Arizona! With 13 licensed and bonded wineries, the state (okay, technically Commonwealth) of Rhode Island has one of the most vibrant winery scenes in New England.
The history of wine in Rhode Island begins in 1663 when KingCharles II of England specifically included wine production among the land uses approved in the royal charter which established Rhode Island as a British colony. As in so many other parts of the United States, the nascent wine industry in the region was wiped out by Prohibition in the early 20th century. The industry picked up again in 1975 with the opening of Carolyn’s Sakonnet Vineyard, located near Little Compton. Half of Rhode Island lies within the Southeastern New England AVA, and most of the wineries found in the state are found in this region, with few exceptions. (Key among these exceptions is Verde Vineyards, which we will hopefully meet in a later episode in season 2 of this podcast.)
The wine we’ve chosen to look at for our first look at Rhode Island viticulture is the NV Gemini Red from Newport Vineyards, which is a blend of 50% Merlot, with varying percentages of Landot Noir (a French-American Hybrid), Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Franc. This bottle was acquired by yours truly on the same trip I acquired the 2014 Cinco Cães for our Massachusetts episode. That episode also happened to be our introduction to the Southeastern New England AVA–in this episode, however, Gary and I focus a bit more on the nature and purpose of wine blends.
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.