Episode 51: Washington D.C.

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!

2017 Cuvée Noir
Michelle and I drank the 2017 Cuvée Noir side by side with a Châteauneuf-du-Pape; the only Rhone wine she had in her cellar. Such a tragedy.

 

Episode 49: South Carolina

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 muscadine varietal, 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!

deep water vineyards
The Lowcountry Red from Deep Water Vineyards is made from 100% Ison, sourced from their estate vineyard on Wadmalaw Island.

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 43: Oklahoma

Welcome to our 43rd episode of The Make America Grape Again Podcast, where we visit a state we should have visited Sooner: Oklahoma. Our featured wine in this episode is the Glitz, a sparkling Norton and Pinot Gris blend sold by Whirlwind Winery, located in the town of Watonga.  This particular wine was not made by the crew at Whirlwind–coming from a second, now defunct winery, but the owner, Brad Stinson thought this wine was fascinating enough to be worth saving from oblivion and thus acquired all remaining inventory.  We’ve met Norton before in our very first episode of the podcast, so it is fascinating to see this grape in an entirely different mode.

According to the Oklahoma Historical Society, by the late 1800s and early 1900s, Oklahoma had thousands of acres of domesticated table and wine grapes. The acreage of grapes planted in 1907 and 1908 were estimated to be 3,700 and 5,425, respectively, which happens to be about ten times more than is planted in the state of Oklahoma today. The first report on varieties of grapes that were suitable for the state was released as early as 1894 by what was then known as the Oklahoma A&M College. (A later publication detailed other aspects of a whopping 175 varieties!) The oldest documented winery in what is now Oklahoma was opened in 1898 by Charles Fairchild, though I could not find any information on the name of this winery. In 1926 the USDA and Oklahoma A&M co-published Grapes in Oklahoma. Yet the end was near as both the Dust Bowl and the introduction of Prohibition into the state’s constitution sounded the death knell for the Oklahoma wine industry. The industry slumbered until 1982, when Cimarron Cellars in Caney, Oklahoma opened.

A survey in 2006 showed that growers in the state preferred red grapes, which took up a majority of the acreage. Vitis vinifera-derived varieties, in turn accounted for 80 percent of all plantings. V. vinifera varieties are the most widely grown in Oklahoma because they are generally considered the premium grapes for winemaking; however, observation and research has shown most of these varieties are highly susceptible to cold damage and fungal infection. In the 2006 survey interspecific hybrid grapes made up less than 15 percent of vines, American species grapes approximately 7 percent, and muscadine grapes less than 1 percent of the total. Today, the state of Oklahoma has about 52 different wineries, and ranks thirty-first among the fifty states in terms of wine production.  There is also one AVA which extends into Oklahoma: the Ozark Mountain AVA.  The sixth largest American Viticultural Area in terms of total size, this appellation covers Northwest Arkansas, southern Missouri, and extends into the northeastern part of Oklahoma.

This bottle was graciously donated to the podcast (along with several other vintages) by the winemaker and part owner of Whirlwind Winery, Brad Stinson. Some of these bottles will be covered in later episodes.  Thank you once again!

oklahoma wine
The Glitz, a sparkling NV blend of Norton and Pinot Gris sold by Whirlwind Winery, is our introduction to the wine scene of Oklahoma.

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 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.

west virginia
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.

Nebraska
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.