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 32: Nebraska

Welcome to episode 32 of the Make America Grape Again Podcast, where we return to the Great Plains and imbibe the 2016 Chambourcin from Glacial Till Winery, located in Palmyra, Nebraska.  Chambourcin is a grape we have not yet met in the podcast. This French-American hybrid is a cross between Chancellor and Seyve-Villard 12-417. Chambourcin is also one of the most abundant hybrid varietals still grown in France today, and it is known across the world in colder, wetter, regions for producing full-flavored, aromatic reds. It is a grape we will meet again in future episodes.

The history of the wine industry in Nebraska begins in the late 19th century, by the end of which 5,000 acres of grapes were in production. Most vineyards of this era were located in the counties of southeastern Nebraska which were adjacent to the Missouri River. The Nebraska wine industry was devastated in the 1910s by Prohibition; after the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, the remaining commercial grape industry in Nebraska was destroyed by a massive winter storm in November of 1940.

The wine and grape industry in Nebraska was essentially dead after the storm until the mid-1980s; the passage of the Nebraska Farm Wineries Act by the Nebraska Legislature in 1986 increased the amount of wine that a Nebraska winery could produce from 200 US gallons to 50,000 US gallons. Even in the early 1990s, though, fewer than 10 acres of vineyards were in cultivation in the state.  This changed with the opening of Cuthills Vineyard, in Pierce, Nebraska, in 1994. Following shortly thereafter, James Arthur Vineyards opened, and in 1998, the Nebraska Winery and Grape Growers Association was created to enhance the prestige of Nebraska wines and vineyards. Since then, 28 additional wineries have opened across the entire state, sourcing grapes from roughly 100 planted vineyards which are found scattered across Nebraska. As of press, Nebraska has no established American Viticulture Areas, nor am I aware of pending legislation to create any.

I should also note that the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has four experimental vineyards in Nebraska, and there is a breeding program for the creation of new grape varietals associated with both the university and Cuthills Vineyards. This program seeks to cross European varietals with indigenous Nebraska grape species. The first grape varietal released from this grape breeding program is a varietal known as Temparia.

While I have actually visited the tasting room for Glacial Till Vineyards in Ashland, Nebraska, many years ago, (as well as the James Arthur Vineyards tasting room in Lincoln on that same trip), this bottle was acquired through their website by yours truly a few months ago.  The fact is when I tasted an earlier vintage of this Chambourcin, I fell in love because of the use of French, rather than American Oak… but had an already packed suitcase. Lamentations ensued, but now the world is right again.

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An earlier vintage of this wine was the bottle that got away… yet the 2016 Chambourcin from Glacial Till Vineyards stands up to the memory of lost vintages and lost chances and is our introduction to the budding Nebraska wine industry.