Season 2, Episode 24: “Uncle Jake’s Elderberry Wine”

For many of us city folk, our first introduction to Elderberry (and its alcoholic potential) was probably the infamous line from Monty Python and the Holy Grail: “Your mother was a hamster, and your father smelled of Elderberries.” Yet, as it turns out, berries of the Sambucus genus have been used to make wine (and other alcohols: the blooms of Elderberry are used to make St. Germain.) for hundreds of years. And so it is that we return once more to West Virginia in this episode.

James, Megan, and I have never had any wines made from Elderberry, and Uncle Jake’s Elderberry Wine, made by West Virginia Fruit and Berry Company, seemed like a good beginning. Well, there’s also the fact that it was one of the first bottles of West Virginia wine I was able to find in a liquor store in neighboring Maryland! Located in Bridgeport, West Virginia, this winery began life as a fruit company, making jams and preserves, then wines, and is now beginning to make bourbon and rye whiskey as well. The owners, Bob & Becky Titchenal, pride themselves on not using high-fructose corn syrup for their jams and preserves. They also mention that their fruit wines would be a great cocktail mixer; something I wish we had thought of while drinking this bottle.

Anyway, this wine was a really fascinating experience for us, and we hope you enjoy this episode! We never did find out just who Uncle Jake was, but as long as he wasn’t like John Gault, I’m sure I would have enjoyed drinking with him. I will try to get back on my previous upload schedule in July (First and Third Mondays); I truly apologize that uploads have been so erratic. The main problem is that I haven’t been able to find the time to edit my backlog of recordings as often as I’d like, and executive function thanks to ADHD isn’t helping either…

Uncle Jake’s Elderberry Wine is the cornerstone of our second West Virginia Wine Experience. Take a listen!

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.