Episode 46: Arkansas

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 few blends with 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

arkansas wine
The Majestic Merlot from Hot Springs Winery/Bath House Row Winery is our introduction to the Arkansas wine scene, as well as Merlot.

Episode 40: Minnesota

Welcome to Episode 40 of the Make America Grape Again Podcast, where we explore the Land of Ten Thousand Lakes: Minnesota. Located at roughly the same parallel as Bordeaux, Minnesota has many challenges due to an often bitterly cold climate. That being said, the 2017 Voyageur from Alexis Bailey Vineyard is a vintage which shows that this state can hold its own against all comers.  The 2017 Voyageur is a blend of Frontenac, Marechal Foch, and Leon Millot, sourced from the Upper Mississippi River Valley AVA. All of these varietals are complex French-American Hybrid varietals, adapted to cold-weather climates; a topic we discussed a bit at length back in episode 34. It should be noted here that Alexis Bailey Vineyard is home to the oldest planted vineyard in the state of Minnesota, dating back to 1977, and is the second oldest winery in the state.

The climate of Minnesota is harsh, making viticulture difficult. Prior to prohibition, most winemaking in the state seems to have been focused around fruit wines. It can be honestly said that the history of Minnesota wine truly only begins with the work of Elmer Swenson. Indeed, it might be said that without this man, cold-weather viticulture would not exist. Elmer Swenson started to breed grapes in Wisconsin, thanks to an interest in grapes brought on by his grandfather, along with a reading of T.V. Munson’s Foundations of American Grape Culture. On a whim, Swenson brought some of his early hybrids to a field day at the University of Minnesota Horticultural Research Center. This led to him being hired by the department. The first varietals released from this program were in 1977: Edelweiss and Swenson Red. Many more varietals bred and adapted for cold climates have been released since then, including the Frontenac in this blend.

As mentioned above, Alexis Bailey was the first planted vineyard in the state, and also the first to produce a vintage made entirely of 100% Minnesota-grown grapes. Of note also, The Minnesota Grape Growers Association has had a dramatic role in promoting grape growing and winemaking not only in the state but also in other cold-hardy climates. Hosted annually with the support of both the MCGA and the University of Minnesota, the International Cold Climate Wine Competition is the only wine competition solely dedicated to the promotion of quality wines made mainly from cold-hardy grape varieties.

Today, the state of Minnesota has 70 wineries, and two American Viticultural Areas, including the largest in the United States; the Upper Mississippi River Valley AVA. This AVA covers an area almost 50 times larger than Bordeaux in France; a total of 29,914 square miles (77,477 square kilometers) located along the Upper Mississippi River and its tributaries in northwest Illinois, northeast Iowa, southeast Minnesota and southwest Wisconsin. Minnesota’s second AVA is the far more modest Alexandria Lakes AVA, which is also Minnesota’s oldest AVA.

This bottle was purchased online from the winery website, by yours truly. If you like this podcast and want to throw a few dollars into the bottle fund, you can find us on Patreon at http://www.patreon.com/TheMakeAmericaGrapeAgainPodcast, and there are various rewards available for supporters.

2017 Voyageur
The 2017 Voyageur is a stunning exploration of Minnesota terroir, from Alexis Bailey Vineyard in the Upper Mississippi Valley AVA

Episode 29: New Jersey

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.

New Jersey episode 1
The 2017 Outer Coastal Plain Blaufränkisch, from Tomasello Winery, provides our introduction to the wine scene in the state of New Jersey

Episode 28: Indiana

Welcome to episode 28, where we focus on Indiana!  Our featured wine for this episode is the Creekbend III, from the Creekbend label of Oliver Winery, located near Bloomington, Indiana.  This wine is a blend of barrel-fermented Vignoles and Chardonel, along with some stainless-steel fermented Vidal Blanc.  Oliver Winery, as it turns out, is one of the oldest post-prohibition wineries in the state of Indiana, opening its doors in 1972.  Oliver winery was founded by Professor William Oliver, who was instrumental in passing the Indiana Small Winery Act in 1971, kickstarting the Indiana wine industry. Today, Oliver Winery is entirely employee-owned, which is pretty impressive considering that it is among the largest wineries east of the Mississippi River in terms of production.

Prior to Prohibition, the wine industry in Indiana was surprisingly fruitful, being the  10th largest state in the country in terms of wine production.  In many cases, the wines being produced were hybrid varietals, with Catawba (a grape we have not met yet) being a popular option.  It took the Indiana Small Winery Act of 1971 to change the winery landscape, and now the state is a success story; as of 2015 there were 76 wineries in the Hoosier state. Today, Indiana produces about 1.4 million gallons of wine a year and grows approximately 650 acres of grapes, from a variety of French-American Hybrids (such as the three varietals used in vinifying the Creekbend III) to vinifera varietals such as Cabernet Franc and Gewürztraminer.  There are also two AVAs in Indiana: the Ohio River Valley AVA (which actually happens to be the second largest wine appellation of origin in the United States, covering 16,640,000 acres of portions of the states of Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia, along with Indiana), and the Indiana Uplands AVA, which has 17 wineries totaling around 200 acres under vine.  (Oliver Winery is located within this AVA)

In this episode, I am again joined by Megan and James, and we talk a bit about the two major varietals in this wine (Vignoles and Chardonnel), as well as some techniques for white wine vinification: Malolactic fermentation, barrel-fermentation, and sur lees aging.  My occasionally crippling dyslexia also shows up as well, as does James’ penchant for bad jokes.  Enjoy!  (And thank you, Oliver Winery, for including the tech sheets! You have no idea how much that is appreciated!)

This bottle was acquired by yours truly, online through the Oliver Vineyards website.

indiana episode 1
The Creekbend III from Oliver Winery is our introduction to Indiana wines and several wine-making techniques used for white wines.

 

 

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.

episode 26
American wine shines big and bright, deep in the heart of Texas. *clap* *clap* *clap*

Episode 23: Rhode Island

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.

Cabernet Franc Count: 5

rhode island
The Gemini Red from Newport Vineyards is our introduction to Rhode Island wines.