Episode 44: Mississippi

Hello, and welcome to another splendid episode of the Make America Grape Again Podcast, centered around the Magnolia State: Mississippi. In this episode, we drink the 2018 Delta Dry mead from Queen’s Reward Meadery, located in Tupelo, Mississippi. Now, there’s a fair bit of argument in the drinking community on whether or not mead truly counts as a style of wine, but I’m going to err on the side of the TTB on this one, which defines mead and honey wine as being the same thing. And even if you are a purist, and feel mead should truly be its own entity, the fact of the matter is that the 2018 Delta Dry is technically what is known as a pyment; a mead (or if you want to be super pedantic, a melomel) made from honey and grapes. In this case, the Riesling in the Delta Dry was sourced from Oregon, while the honey was local wildflower honey sourced from just down the road.  The grapes and honey were fermented together to produce this beverage.

So… what do these terms all mean, anyway?  Before we cover the history of the industry in Mississippi, let’s clear some mead terminology up. Mead, which etymologically comes from the Old English meodu, is an alcoholic beverage created by fermenting honey with water, often with the additions of various fruits, spices, grains, or even hops.  The key defining characteristic of mead is that the majority of the beverage’s fermentable sugar is derived from honey.  That all being said, there are different styles of mead under that umbrella. Cyser, for example, is a mead made with honey and apples or pears. A mead that uses spices or herbs (or both) is often referred to as a metheglin. As mentioned above, meads made with fruits other than apples and pears can be referred to as a melomel, and a mead specifically made with grapes can often be known as a pyment. As if that wasn’t enough, Wikipedia has an even bigger list… suffice to say, Mead is rather more complicated than it seems at first glance.  Anyway, I digress: onto history.

At one point in time, Mississippi ranked rather high in terms of American viticultural production. Muscadine grapes were grown in many locations throughout the state, but the dramatic loss of life from the Civil War, combined with a statute enacted in 1907 which banned the manufacture and sale of Mississippi Wine, meant that the industry went into a nosedive. Due to the long-lasting effect prohibition created in the deep south, Mississippi was, as it turns out, the last state to repeal the Volstead Act in 1966, and many counties in the state remain dry through present day.

This means the wine industry in Mississippi still has yet to recover. Along with Queen’s Reward Meadery, the state has only three other wineries: Almarla Vineyards, Gulf Coast Winery, and Old South Winery. The State does have one AVA: The Mississippi Delta AVA, formed in 1984, is shared with Mississippi’s border states of Tennessee and Louisiana. However, this AVA has not attracted any large-scale viticultural endeavors as of yet. This is due to an additional factor along with the long history of Prohibition in the region: climate.

Mississippi’s location, between 30 degrees N and 35 degrees N in latitude, produces a sub-tropical climate with long, humid summers and short, mild winters. This means that Fungal diseases like mildew and Pierce disease are often widespread. In addition, unpredictable weather patterns stemming from the proximity of the state to the Gulf of Mexico also present a large risk for growers. The unpredictable Mississippi climate makes it difficult to grow most varieties of grapes, other than those within the Muscadine family–which are often not associated with “fine” wine production. (Though as we’ve discussed before, most of us who are associated with this podcast rather enjoy them anyway.)

I acquired this bottle online through the meadery’s website, specifically for this podcast.  In addition, we were lucky enough to catch Geoff Carter, the mead-maker and co-owner on the phone for this episode, to answer a few of our questions. (We now realize, after seeing just how complex of a topic Mead can be, that we probably should have asked more of them.)

Delta Dry
The Delta Dry Grape Mead from Queen’s Reward Meadery in Tupelo, Mississippi is not only our introduction to the wine industry in Mississippi, but also to mead as a whole.

Episode 25: Michigan

Welcome to Episode 25, the halfway point of our first season! It is time that we, as Sufjan Stevens has done before us, say yes to Michigan.  (And mispronounce the name of the state repeatedly, a deliberate homage in this podcast to episode 99 of “Welcome to Night Vale.”)

Michigan’s wine story is one of great success, I think largely due to support from the state itself–versus other states that are still lurking at the edge of the Prohibition Era.  The state of Michigan currently has over 140 wineries, along with 5 unique trails for regions within the state, as well as a well-made website devoted to viticulture within the state–something many states lack.  Each of these five wine trails largely follows the landscape of Michigan’s five AVA’s: the Fennville AVA, Lake Michigan Shore AVA, Leelanau Peninsula AVA, Old Mission Peninsula AVA, and my personal favorite (for the name), Tip of the Mitt AVA.

The history of Michigan wine before Prohibition is spotty at best, but there does seem to have been an industry present there prior to that black mark upon America’s viticultural history.  Unlike many other states, however, wide plantings of Concord and other native grape varietals which were commonly used for juices allowed the state of Michigan to bounce back very quickly, with eleven wineries existing by the time of 1946.  Traditionally, these were sweet wines, and even today, many growers switch back and forth between the production of sweet wine and grape juices with varietals such as Catawba, Concord, and Niagara–only about 14% of Michigan’s grapes are planted exclusively for wine production.  Michigan also produces many fruit wines, with the Traverse City area being especially known for Cherry wine.

The Michigan viticultural landscape began to change in the 1970’s, with Tabor Hill Winery (located in Southwest Michigan) opening in 1971 as the first regional winery focusing on wines made from vinifera varietals.  A few years later in 1974, Chateau Grand Traverse opened, with a similar operation in mind.  Today, a host of different varietals, vinifera, hybrid, and indigenous varietals are grown in Michigan, with new varietals being tested on a consistent and regular basis; grapes like La Crecent, Frontenac, and other hybrid strains coming out of the University of Minnesota lab.  There are also fears that Global warming may affect some of these AVAs, as a warming climate may interfere with Lake Michigan, which is what makes most of these growing regions possible.

The wine in our first Michigan episode is the Cherry Riesling Wine, from Traverse Bay Winery, a subsidiary label from Chateau Grand Traverse.  The wine is a blend of 25% Cherry wine and 75% Riesling; the Riesling is sourced from the estate vineyard, located in the Old Mission Peninsula AVA.  My friend Aly Pocock bought this bottle for the podcast earlier this year while she visited family in the state.  I’m especially pleased she chose this bottle as I feel it is a good introduction to the Traverse City area, based on what I’ve heard from visitors to Arizona from this region.  We also introduce a fabulous concept called the Wine Spritzer in this episode, so stay tuned and enjoy.

episode 25
The Cherry Riesling Wine from Chateau Grand Traverse/Traverse Bay Winery is our introduction to both Michigan, and the fabulous cocktail known as the Wine Spritzer.

Episode 11: New York

The 2016 Dry Riesling from Empire Estates provides our introduction to New York State in our eleventh episode of The Make America Grape Again Podcast.  This wine is sourced from a number of different vineyards in the Finger Lakes AVA.   With 100 wineries and roughly 11,000 planted acres of vineyards, the Finger Lakes AVA has one of the highest concentration of wineries outside of California.  Indeed, New York as a whole ranks third in terms of grape production (by volume) after California and Washington.

In this episode, we talk a little bit about the history of Riesling, and about the etymology of grape names, which can be a fun, exciting philosophical endeavor.  We also talk about how simplicity can be a very good thing with wine, and why Riesling does not have to be sweet, despite what the few bottles in your grocery store seem to tell you.

From the Tech Sheet for the 2016 Dry Riesling (which we did not have when we recorded this episode, sadly): Harvest occurred over a two-week period from October 6th right up to a major rain event on October 21st; allowing the grapes to be picked at peak ripeness. Each vineyard site was vinified entirely separately to best bring out individual character; from cold soaking decisions, to fermentation style, to storage in stainless steel or neutral oak. After resting through winter and spring, the wines were then blended together and bottled in early summer. The vineyard sites have a mix of mineral soil types ideal for dry Riesling, including: shale & gravel, shale & clay, sand over shale, and limestone & shale.

This bottle was donated for the cause by my friend Nicole Silvestri.

Empire Estate Dry Riesling
The 2016 Dry Riesling from Empire Estate in New York provides our introduction to the Finger Lakes AVA.