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 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 Six: Idaho

Welcome to Episode 6 of Make America Grape Again! In this episode, we visit Idaho and meet up with one of the most abundant styles of wine blends: the Bordeaux Blend. Blends in this style, often referred to as “Meritage” blends in the New World, typically are a blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot, with additional grapes associated with the Bordeaux AOC of France in these blends. The wine in question is the 2014 Seven Devils Red from Hells Canyon Winery, located in the Snake River AVA.

This wine provides us with an introduction to a region associated with Wine Gags (Like Arizona, Idaho has been subject to a number of gags over the years). The 2014 Seven Devils Red is also a fantastic introduction to the nature of Wine Flaws–are they always bad, or can they provide additional points of interest into a wine? (In this case, the flaw was VA–volatile acidity.)

Again, sorry for the choppy audio quality in this episode– Audacity was being difficult. This bottle was purchased for this podcast by Gary Kurtz, my erstwhile cohost, while he was on vacation.

Cabernet Franc Count: 1

Episode 6
The focus of Episode 6 is the 2014 Seven Devils Red from Hell’s Canyon Winery, located in the Snake River AVA.