Over my holiday hiatus, I was thinking recently about what 10 varietals might define the overall Wine industry in the United States. Would it be defined by which grapes are grown by highest amount of acreage? What about grapes that may not tip the scales in terms of total acreage, but have found themselves to be widespread around the country? Would it be defined by which grapes have had the largest influence in the history of winemaking here? Would it be defined by grapes used to make historical vintages that alerted the Old World to the New?
I haven’t quite finished that list yet, but I will say that Norton, a grape we’ve metseveral times before on The Make America Grape Again Podcast, should qualify for that top ten list. After all, any indigenous American varietal that manages to have its own Riedel Glass is definitely important. This glass, unveiled in 2009 at Les Bourgeois Winery, indicates the importance that Norton has to the wine industry in the American Midwest. As a matter of fact, the vintage we drink in this podcast comes from Les Bourgeois. Kim, a longtime Norton aficionado and friend of mine, has for years been trying to convince me that Norton is actually worth my time and energy to understand, but I have been tragically dubious. She comes from Missouri, where this grape is, unquestionably, the king of the local industry there.
I first became convinced there was something to Norton with our first ever episode, featuring a Norton from Kentucky, but when she brought this vintage over, I was truly smitten. Take a listen, and learn about Norton.
We’ve had a couple of sparklingwines in this program before, but we’ve never really had a traditional method sparkling wine on the show before. Let’s change that, with a look at the 2007 RJR Brut Cuvée, from Westport Rivers Winery, in Massachusetts.
In case you were not aware, “traditional method” is code for the same method which is used to make Champagne in France; it’s just that nobody outside of Champagne can use this word to describe a wine method, due to very strict provisions laid down by the EU and France. You will occasionally see wines made in this method labeled as ‘Classic Method,’ also. What these words mean is that the sparkling wine in question was bottle-fermented; that secondary fermentation which produced the bubbles occurred in the bottle in which the wine was sold. This can be a time-consuming process if done by hand, but other places (such as Gruet in New Mexico, as an example) have figured out how to do mass-production of such bottles.
As you may have guessed from the implication above, sparkling wines made in the traditional method undergo two separate fermentations. The first, which is usually carried out in tanks, creates what is known as the base wine, which is still–no bubbles. If the wine in question is a non-vintage blend, the base still wines will be blended according to whatever style and quality requirements exist for the given produced to produce a unified flavor for the brand; or still wines from a given year will be blended together (which is likely what happened with this wine in question). This process, known as assemblage, ends with the blended wine put into bottles, along with a mixture of yeast and sugar to kick off a secondary fermentation. The bottles are then closed with the same sort of cap you see on a beer bottle. (In case you wanted to expand your French wine terms, this mix is known as the liqueur de tirage).
Next up, the bottles are then placed on their sides in cellar environments, while that secondary fermentation begins. It is this secondary fermentation that creates the CO2 which gets trapped to become bubbles. After the second fermentation is complete the wines are left ‘sur lie‘ (resting on its lees – wine terminology for the dead yeast cells in each bottle) for any period of time the winemaker wishes. This could range from a mere 6 months to upwards of several years, like in the case of this vintage. The longer the wine rests on these lees, the more amino acids and other compounds that are in the dead yeast cells will break down and be released into the wine. Known as autolysis, this process is what adds toast, bread, and the yeasty character and aromas that are often associated with higher-end vintages made in this style.
The final steps of this process are known as remuage and disgorgement, where the lees are removed from the bottle. The bottles are carefully rotated and shaken and slowly moved upside down so that the sediment in the bottle is slowly moved towards the neck of the bottle. This process is known as riddling–it can either be done by hand, or by automatic machinery. After the sediment has been gathered to this part of the bottle, the material must be disgorged–something done by freezing the neck of the bottle in a freezing brine bath. After being frozen, the cap is removed, and the bottle of frozen lees sediment will shoot out. The final step of this disgorging process is quickly topping off the bottle with a mixture known either as the dosage or ‘liqueur d’expédition. This is a mixture of wine and sugar, the amount of which is determined based on the eventual style of the wine. As an example, the dosage for the RJR Brut Cuvée probably contained somewhere between 6g and 15g/l of sugar; pretty standard for wines labeled as ‘Brut’.
After this, the bottle is closed with the traditional Champagne-style cork, with the wire cage (known as a muselet) and foil. The wine can now wait and age as long as the winemaker demands before being released to the adoring public. These styles of wine can age very well; as evidenced by our reaction to this bottle in the podcast.
I get asked somewhat often, “What are tasting notes, really?” Or rather, to be honest, I get asked: “What am I supposed to be tasting, anyway?”
Well, when you get down to it, you taste what you taste. Sure, I can help, but really, wine is such a subjective thing that I generally hate to push what I think I’m tasting or smelling onto the drinker I’m with. This can also make tasting notes (and notes on the aromatic profiles of wine) seem somewhat arbitrary to the beginner. And that’s okay!
Basically, tasting notes refer to a wine taster’s (or, in some cases, a coffee taster’s!) testimony about the aroma, taste identification, acidity, structure, texture, and the balance of a wine, designed to allow the reader to get an idea of what the experience of imbibing that particular vintage is like. They can get as creative as you like, or as simple as you like. Often-times, such notes may seem like gibberish, but this Sommelier-speak has a code that isn’t as difficult to translate as beginners think. In short, what you taste, is what you taste.
These notes are NOT related to what is in the wine or how it was made, usually; these flavors are not added. The winemakers for this wine didn’t pour in pickle juice during fermentation, for example. In many cases, they aren’t even the same molecule, but they hit the receptors in the olfactory lobes of the brain in the same way as those flavors in food, drink, or spices do. Wine Folly has a great article on how to approach writing your own tasting notes which can be found here.
For this podcast discussing Tasting notes, Elizabeth Krecker and I decided to drink the 2014 Sémillon from Dirty and Rowdy Family Winery, based out of Napa Valley, though they source grapes from multiple vineyards across the state of California. This wine is a complex blend of two different styles of fermentation; one on the skins (a.k.a., Amber Wine) and another aged in concrete. Elizabeth and I loved the tasting notes that they used to describe their wines and thought it would be fun to explore what we tasted in this wine versus what the winemakers tasted. They’ve got a lot of fun wines, and I highly recommend them.
¡Bienvenidos amigos, al episodio cincuenta y dos del podcast Make America Grape Again! ¡En este episodio, volvemos a hacer uva de México con el Rosado 2017 de Casa Madero, la bodega más antigua del Nuevo Mundo!
Okay, sorry for my horrible Spanish there. Welcome to Episode 52 of the Make America Grape Again podcast, where we’re going to sneak across the border and explore the 2017 Rosado from Casa Madero, which happens to be the oldest winery in the New World! Founded in 1597 as Hacienda San Lorenzo, Casa Madero has been producing wines intermittently in the Parras Valley of Coahuila over the course of the last 422 years. There have been times when the vineyard was left fallow, but the winery is currently producing again. I wanted to do at least one Mexico bonus episode, so I was stoked to stumble across this bottle randomly at Total Wine in Phoenix.
The 2017 Rosado is made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, and for more information on production, we do a ceremonial reading of the tech sheet in this episode. (I should also note that I will have at least one more Mexico episode in the future… probably.)
Mexico is a wild frontier for winemaking, with only about 7,700 acres under vine. As I mentioned above, the history of Mexican wine begins with this winery. Winemaking here, and in other vineyards in New Spain produced such fantastic vintages that King Charles II decided to prohibit the production of wine in Spain’s colonies, except for the making of wine for the Church in 1699. This prohibition stayed in force until Mexico achieved independence from Spain in 1821. Naturally, this meant that from the end of the 18th century to the middle of the 19th, most wine production was done by clergy. The Santo Tomás Mission, founded in Baja California in 1791 by the Jesuits, reactivated larger-scale production of wine in Mexico. In 1843, Dominican priests began growing grapes at the nearby Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe del Norte mission, located in what is now called the Valle de Guadalupe.
Today, the Valle de Guadalupe is largely touted as the premium wine-producing area of Mexico. No longer just a gag in Frasier, vintages of wine from this are, along with the neighboring San Vicente and Santo Tomás Valleys produce 90 percent of all Mexican Wines. The region has become famous for wines made from Nebbiolo, Mission, and Zinfandel. Part of the reason for this region’s popularity is the ease of travel to this area from tourist ports and towns in Baja Californa, such as Ensenada. In addition to the wine regions in Baja, wines are also being made in Durango, the aforementioned Parras Valley in Coahuila, Aguascalientes in Zacatecas, and Queretaro in Central Mexico. Wine Folly does have a brief intro guide and overview of Mexican wine on their website. In short, Mexico is producing some good wines, and those vintages are well worth exploring.
We’re not quite done with season one yet! Sorry for the late post; it’s the height of crush and harvest here in Arizona, and I’ve been working myself raw. Our last non-bonus episode for the season is focused on Washington D.C. In this episode, Michelle Petree (a friend of mine who dates all the way back to freaking Grade School) and I drink the 2017 Cuvée Noir, from District Winery; which is so far the District’s only urban winery and tasting room. This wine, a blend of Grenache and Petit Sirah, is their house take on Rhone-style blends, sourced from vineyards in California. (I affectionately referred to this wine repeatedly as a GPS, because boy howdy do I love puns.) In this episode, Michelle and I tackle some of the “darker” sides of the wine industry: wine additives and the grape trade. It turns out that we feel one of these is much darker than the other.
That being said, let me be emphatic right here: the trade of grapes and bulk wines from California is NOT necessarily a bad thing. It’s all in what you do with what you get. I, for one, really enjoyed my experience at District Winery so much that I actually sent them my resume. They’re doing good stuff. It’s not their fault that nobody grows grapes in Washington D.C. anymore! They are also wonderfully open both on their website and in the tasting room how things are done. And frankly, there’s no getting around the fact that sometimes, you absolutely have to source grapes from elsewhere because of market demand, a bad harvest, or because the grapes you want to work with don’t grow anywhere near where your winery is. It is really hard, after all, to make a Barbera in, say, Maine. Also, let me be clear: the only “additive” in the wines from District is the Sulfites which are pretty much standard in everything; they’re not using Mega-Purple (which, dibs on that name for my future wine-themed metal band by the way) or anything else, but our conversation just went that way. (This reminds me: I need to do an episode about why Sulfites Are Not Evil at some point.)
Now that the disclaimers are out of the way: once upon a time, as I alluded to above, there were vineyards and wineries in Washington D.C. It is, as far as I could find out in my research, unknown what varietals were grown in the area. Space was limited, of course, and after Prohibition hit, these vineyards were torn out, and the land where these vineyards once grew was urbanized. Today, there simply just isn’t the space to grow vineyards in Washington D.C. itself. However, this aspect didn’t stop the founder and winemaker of District Winery, Conor McCormack, from opening the first winery in the area since Prohibition in 2018. As I alluded to above, many of the grapes being made into wine here are sourced from vineyards across California, but he is also sourcing grapes from vineyards in New York and nearby Virginia. (In fact, the amazing amber wine made of Virginia-grown Petit Manseng was the bottle that I took home for “research” and shared with some local Arizona wine folks. Frankly, it was really hard to choose just what to drink for this podcast.)
Anyway, stay tuned for the next two bonus episodes… then a short break before Season Two begins!
Welcome to Episode 49 of the Make America Grape Again Podcast, where we explore The Palmetto State, South Carolina. Our wine focus for this episode is the Lowcountry Red from Deep Water Vineyard, located on Wadmalaw Island. The Lowcountry Red is made from 100% Ison grapes; a red muscadinevarietal, grown in Charleston County, South Carolina. In this episode, featuring Peter and Sophia Gardner, we focus not only on the history of wine in South Carolina, but upon the use and theology of wine within the Eastern Orthodox Church which the three of us have in common. You see, Ison–the grape varietal used in this vintage–shares the same name as a major feature of Byzantine Chant… We also talk about synesthesia and wine tasting, which is a fascinating examination of just how subjective wine description can be-complete with how this wine tastes in song form.
The modern wine industry of South Carolina begins in 1953, with the establishment of Tenner Brothers, which focused on muscadine varietals. Next to open was Truluck vineyards in 1978. The owner, Jim Truluck, was instrumental in getting a farm winery bill passed in 1980, which allowed tastings and sales of wine on estate premises. Despite this, he closed his winery in December of 1990. Most ambitious was the attempt made by Oakview Plantation in Woodruff; to make a 600,000-gallon winery. Sadly, as this was prior to the farm winery bill, wholesalers opposed the winery. Montmorenci vineyards opened in Aiken in July 1990, and as of the writing of Wines of Eastern North America, by Hudson Cattell, was the oldest still-operating winery in the state. Deep Water Vineyard, formerly Irvin-House Vineyard, opened in 2012, and is situated on 48 acres of muscadine varietals.
Wine in South Carolina, like most of the deep south, is a difficult proposition. Hot and humid summers require growers to adapt their forms of canopy management so as to minimize direct sunlight on the grapes, Furthermore, these grapes are often harvested earlier in the summer, to avoid possible risk from Hurricanes which can strike later in the season. This humid climate in the lowlands of South Carolina means that most grapes grown in the state are muscadine varietals (such as in this particular case). There are also many fruit wines being made in the state. A few vineyards located in the mountains are growing vinifera varietals. Currently, the state has approximately 21 wineries, and there are no American Viticultural Areas in South Carolina.
This bottle was kindly donated for use in the podcast by Deep Water Vineyard themselves after I reached out to them. Thank you for providing this fantastic vintage!
Iowa may be a state that is associated in pop culture with endless waves of corn and soybeans, but the Hawkeye State has a vibrant wine culture too! Our first wine from this state that we will be looking at is the Iowa Candleglow White, from Tassel Ridge Winery, located in Leighton. The Candleglow White is a non-vintage dry white blend of La Crescent, Brianna, and Edelweiss grapes grown in Mahaska County, Iowa.
We have met La Crescent before during our exploration of the Tectonic from Iapetus Winery, but Edelweiss and Brianna are new varietals to the Make America Grape Again podcast. Like La Crescent, both Edelweiss and Brianna are complex, cold-hardy, French-American hybrid varietals. Both of these varietals came into being as a result of Elmer Swenson, and the University of Minnesota’s cold-hearty grape breeding program. Indeed, the genetic history of these grapes is pretty tangled, as seen in the diagram below.
Growing wine in Iowa is filled with challenges. Warm summer days can create conditions conducive to promote fungal vine diseases, while the extreme cold nights of winter can kill many other grape vines; this is why there are relatively few plantings of Vitis vinifera in Iowa, versus complex hybrids and native American varietals.
There was some viticulture in Iowa prior to prohibition, but records are spotty at best. Prior to 2000, there were only thirteen wineries in the state, and eleven of them were in the Amana colonies, which was a religious communal society which had originated in Germany and settled in Iowa in the 1850s. These wineries benefited by a native wine law which passed after Repeal, which allowed them to sell wines to anyone. It was in the year 2000 when the Iowa Grape Growers Association was formed, and this group wasted no time in creating an action plan for the growth of the wine industry in the state.
The group decided that the three main things which were needed were favorable legislation and basic education relating to viticulture. Within a year, the team had gained the involvement of the Iowa Department of Education involved, along with some basic assistance from Iowa State University. A year later, funding for viticultural research and promotion became a reality with a five percent tax on wine. In 2003, the team created a ten-year plan, with the aid of interested parties, and within a mere four years, 62 wineries had emerged in Iowa.
Today, despite the challenges of growing in the harsh conditions of the high plains, the state of Iowa contains 100 commercial wineries, with more than 300 vineyards that cover approximately 1,200 acres. There are no American Viticultural Areas that are solely in Iowa, but Northeastern Iowa is included within the area covered by the Upper Mississippi Valley AVA.
This bottle was kindly provided to the podcast by Greg Gonnerman of Laramita Cellars, who also guest-starred in this episode. He acquired it from the Tasting Room directly.