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 37: Alabama

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!

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The 2013 Maraella Cabernet Sauvignon, aged on American oak, is our introduction to the wine industry of Alabama.

 

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.

Episode 31: Louisiana

Welcome to our 31st episode, featuring Louisiana!  In this episode, we will be drinking the Redneck Red, from Landry Vineyards.  The Redneck Red is a non-vintage Muscadine wine (a species we met the last episode), made specifically from a Muscadine varietal known as Noble. Noble, I’ve noticed, is also often spelled as ‘nobel’ by many wineries in the deep south, but the two seem to be interchangeable.

The history of Louisiana wine began in the mid-eighteenth century, when wines were made by Jesuit priests for use in the Eucharist.  No records survive of what these wines were made of, or how good they were.  The main focus of the wine industry in the area seems to have been around orange wine–that is, wine made from oranges, rather than grapes, in Plaquemines Parish.  The last of these wineries, Les Orangers Louisianais, closed in 1987.  This winery closed due to a combination of a hard freeze killing their orange trees,  the end of a $1000 exemption in State licensing fees, and the passing of a law that forbade wineries from selling their products at the wholesale and retail markets: state-sponsored prohibition in action.  Three years later, this prohibition was ended through the passing of the 1990 Native Wines act, which once again allowed wine sales at retail and off-licensed premises.  Today, thanks to this law, there are four commercial wineries in Louisiana that collectively produce about 20,000 gallons (75,000 liters) of wine per year.  There are, as of yet anyway, no American Viticultural Areas in the state of Louisiana.

The climate of Louisiana is extremely hot and humid, and viticulturists in the state face Pierce’s disease, powdery mildew, and various other grapevine diseases.  Many of these maladies strongly affect vinifera wines more than other varietals, which is why most varietals grown in the state of Louisiana are Muscadine or French-American Hybrid strains; most vinifera wines are made from juice or grapes imported from out of state.  Both of these aspects will be discussed further in later episodes focusing on Louisiana.

I acquired this bottle online through the winery website.

The Redneck Red is our introduction to the Muscadine varietal Noble.

 

 

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.

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

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.

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