Episode 36: Pennsylvania

Welcome to episode 36 of the Make America Grape Again podcast, where we focus on the Keystone state: Pennsylvania. Our wine du jour this time around is the NV Oaked Vidal from Spyglass Ridge Vineyard, which is located in Sunbury, Pennsylvania. This episode is our first real introduction into the major workhorse grape of the cooler regions of the United States and Canada: Vidal Blanc. Indeed, this grape is among the most cold-hardy varietals known, and it is used to make late harvest and icewines across most cooler climates throughout the Northern Hemisphere.  (We will meet a Vidal Icewine in season two of the podcast.)  Vidal Blanc is a white hybrid grape variety produced from the Vitis vinifera varietal Ugni blanc and another hybrid varietal, Rayon d’Or.

The history of Pennsylvania wine prior to the onset of Prohibition is nebulous and mysterious, though urban legend and the factsheet from Pennslyvania Wines tell us that the first vineyard in the state was planted by in 1863 by William Penn himself, in what is now Fairmount Park in Philadelphia. Post-prohibition, the industry restarted in the 1970’s, with Presque Isle Wine Cellars and Penn-Shore Vineyards receiving their licenses on the same day in 1970. Today, Pennsylvania is the eighth-largest wine producing state in the country, with roughly 119 wineries and 5 AVAs: Central Delaware Valley AVA, Cumberland Valley AVA, Lake Erie AVA, Lancaster Valley AVA, and the Lehigh Valley AVA. The sale of Pennsylvania wines has historically been crippled by the state’s notoriously byzantine State Liquor Board, with made it difficult for those outside the state (and even in some cases, inside the state) to acquire local wines. This situation seems to be improving of late, however.

This bottle was acquired by my mother specifically for this podcast, from the vineyard tasting room in Sunbury while she was visiting members of my extended family.  Hi Mom!  We also have a new podcast guest member in this episode: Kim Musket, who is a cellar hand and winemaker at Arizona Stronghold Vineyards; though she got her first-hand education in Missouri.

spyglass ridge vineyard
The Oaked Vidal from Spyglass Ridge Winery is our introduction not only to the surprisingly vibrant wine scene in Pennsylvania, but to Vidal Blanc as a varietal.

 

Episode 30: North Carolina

Welcome to Episode 30 of the Make America Grape Again Podcast, where we explore North Carolina through the lens of one of the most unique indigenous grape species in the US: Muscadine!  Specifically, we drink the Hinnant Family Vineyards Scuppernong, made and grown near Pine Level, North Carolina.  The Scuppernong grape, as it turns out, is also the state fruit of North Carolina.

Muscadine grapes consist of various varietals within a unique genus of grape known as Muscadinia rotundifolia (although some botanists disagree that it should be a separate genus… but I’m going to trust whatever Gary, our resident botanist says on the subject.)  Native to the American Southeast, Muscadines have been cultivated extensively for fruit, juice, and wine production for hundreds of years.  Indeed, the oldest cultivated grapevine in the world is a Scuppernong vine in Roanoke, Virginia, known as the Mother Vine. It should also be noted that Scuppernong is one of the most abundant Muscadine varietals used for winemaking.

North Carolina has a vibrant winemaking history.  In the mid-19th Century, there were some 25 wineries in North Carolina, with extensive independent vineyards, to such an extent that North Carolina dominated the national market for American wines at the time. The American Civil War ended that market dominance, via damage to the industry through the loss of manpower and scarce capital, alongside various revocation of winemaking licenses due to regulatory retribution following the war.  Prohibition killed the final bits of the wine industry in North Carolina until the industry was born again in the 1950’s.

This revitalization began with the Scuppernong grape itself; when ten farmers in Onslow County planted twenty-five acres of this historic grape as the result of a promise made by an out-of-state winery.  This winery canceled the agreement when the grapevines started to produce, and so Raymond A. Harsfield opened a winery, called Onslow Wine Cellars, located at Holly Ridge. Scuppernong lead the charge in the rebirth of the wine industry in North Carolina, with French-American hybrid varietals following in their wake.  The first Vinifera grapevines were planted in North Carolina in 1980. Today, the North Carolina wine industry is booming, with four American Viticultural Areas (Haw River Valley AVA, Swan Creek AVA, Upper Hiwassee Highlands AVA, and the Yadkin Valley AVA), over 400 vineyards, and around 200 separate wineries.  Indeed, today North Carolina ranks tenth in both grape and wine production in the United States.

This bottle was acquired from Total Wine in Phoenix by yours truly, and there is an amusing anecdote associated with this bottle–find out more in the podcast!  The podcast also now has a Patreon: check it out here if you wish to support our habit of talking about what we drink.

north carolina
Gary is in his happy place with our North Carolina wine of choice for season one: the Hinnant Family Vineyards Scuppernong brings back fond memories.

 

Episode 28: Indiana

Welcome to episode 28, where we focus on Indiana!  Our featured wine for this episode is the Creekbend III, from the Creekbend label of Oliver Winery, located near Bloomington, Indiana.  This wine is a blend of barrel-fermented Vignoles and Chardonel, along with some stainless-steel fermented Vidal Blanc.  Oliver Winery, as it turns out, is one of the oldest post-prohibition wineries in the state of Indiana, opening its doors in 1972.  Oliver winery was founded by Professor William Oliver, who was instrumental in passing the Indiana Small Winery Act in 1971, kickstarting the Indiana wine industry. Today, Oliver Winery is entirely employee-owned, which is pretty impressive considering that it is among the largest wineries east of the Mississippi River in terms of production.

Prior to Prohibition, the wine industry in Indiana was surprisingly fruitful, being the  10th largest state in the country in terms of wine production.  In many cases, the wines being produced were hybrid varietals, with Catawba (a grape we have not met yet) being a popular option.  It took the Indiana Small Winery Act of 1971 to change the winery landscape, and now the state is a success story; as of 2015 there were 76 wineries in the Hoosier state. Today, Indiana produces about 1.4 million gallons of wine a year and grows approximately 650 acres of grapes, from a variety of French-American Hybrids (such as the three varietals used in vinifying the Creekbend III) to vinifera varietals such as Cabernet Franc and Gewürztraminer.  There are also two AVAs in Indiana: the Ohio River Valley AVA (which actually happens to be the second largest wine appellation of origin in the United States, covering 16,640,000 acres of portions of the states of Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia, along with Indiana), and the Indiana Uplands AVA, which has 17 wineries totaling around 200 acres under vine.  (Oliver Winery is located within this AVA)

In this episode, I am again joined by Megan and James, and we talk a bit about the two major varietals in this wine (Vignoles and Chardonnel), as well as some techniques for white wine vinification: Malolactic fermentation, barrel-fermentation, and sur lees aging.  My occasionally crippling dyslexia also shows up as well, as does James’ penchant for bad jokes.  Enjoy!  (And thank you, Oliver Winery, for including the tech sheets! You have no idea how much that is appreciated!)

This bottle was acquired by yours truly, online through the Oliver Vineyards website.

indiana episode 1
The Creekbend III from Oliver Winery is our introduction to Indiana wines and several wine-making techniques used for white wines.

 

 

Episode 27: Delaware

Delaware is an often overlooked state in the US, but like all states, does have a winemaking tradition.  Today’s wine focus is the 2017 Delaware, from Pizzadili Vineyard, located in the town of Felton. This slightly sweet skin-contact white wine is made from 100% Delaware, a grape which is ironically not named after the state at all. (It actually gets its name from a place in Ohio, but you’ll hear about that in the podcast itself.)  Delaware is a cultivar derived from Vitis labrusca, in case you were wondering; it is also a grape with a long history in the United States and was historically for making some of America’s first sparkling wines… which is why this is a grape varietal we will meet again on a later episode, mark my words.  This is our second “amber” wine of the podcast, as this wine saw extensive skin contact before fermentation began, according to the folks I met in the tasting room.

The state of Delaware lags behind other parts of the Mid-Atlantic states in terms of wineries and vineyards; I was able to visit three out of the state’s five vineyards when I was in the area in November of 2018.  The history of viticulture here begins with Swedish colonists in the area who planted grapes and made wine in Delaware as early as 1638. (Yes, at one point Sweden was a colonial empire with American interests!) When the Dutch took over the area in the mid 17th century, they similarly promoted viticulture in the area but found the area more suitable for apple orchards and cider instead.  It wasn’t until 1991 when the Raley family sponsored and wrote farm winery legislation (which passed in a near-record two months) that the situation changed. This change in winery legislation allowed for the founding of Nassau Valley Vineyards, which opened in October of 1993. Pizzadili Winery is the state of Delaware’s second oldest winery, opening in 2007. At this time, the state of Delaware has no AVAs.

I acquired this bottle directly from the tasting room for this podcast in November of 2018. Megan joins us again for this episode.  Interestingly; she didn’t like this wine while I found it completely fascinating… but you’ll hear more about that.

Delaware Wine
The 2017 Delaware from Pizzadili Winery is our introduction to the state of Delaware wine. This wine underwent extensive skin maceration prior to fermentation… so I’m calling it a skin-contact white wine.

Episode 19: Arizona

Arizona, as you might have guessed, is the state I call home. It is the state I focus on with my other wine blog and podcast, The Arizona Wine Monk.  With two registered AVAs, a third on the way, and an additional fourth region of growers, Arizona is making some noise in the Arizona wine scene.  In an article by Vogue Magazine (yes, THAT Vogue), the Verde Valley of Arizona was listed as an up-and-coming wine region to visit… even if the two varietals they listed in that article, Zinfandel and Cabernet Franc, aren’t the grapes that Arizona is going to be known for in the long run, let alone in the Verde Valley.

Still, the point is Arizona is getting a lot of press right now. Right now there are about 1,000 acres under vine in Arizona, and as of the last time I checked, about 104 licensed and bonded wineries in the state; this number is increasing steadily. The two AVAs in Arizona currently are the Sonoita AVA, which was Arizona’s first, and the Willcox AVA, which is where the wine in question we will be exploring today is from. (The application for the Verde Valley AVA has been perfected, but has yet to be posted for public comments, or approved by the TTB.)

Say hello to the 2014 Malvasia Bianca from Sand-Reckoner.  Malvasia Bianca, in the opinion of many Arizona winemakers, is our best white grape in terms of reflecting local terroir; it is one of my favorite grape varietals, period.  This grape here in Arizona is known for its intense, aromatic character, which is why I sit with my friend Tiffany Poth (a.k.a. @wine_hippie on Instagram) with a Le Nez du Vin kit and talk about what we mean by wine aromatics and aromas.  We also talk a little bit about lees aging and what that means in wine.  Enjoy!

This bottle was acquired by yours truly from the winemaker himself at the Willcox Wine Country Festival, before the Sand-Reckoner tasting room in Tuscon opened to the public.

Arizona
The intense aromatic character of this 2014 Malvasia Bianca make it a fantastic wine to explore what we mean by wine aromas.

Episode 16: Vermont

Vermont is the focus of our 16th episode here at the Make America Grape Again podcast.  Barely more than a stub of a Wikipedia page, Vermont so far has only seven wineries, and a very recent beginning, with the first commercial vineyard there being only since 1997.  But boy howdy, have they been running to catch up with the rest; the wine we selected for the first episode examining the viticultural industry in this state has absolutely blown me away.  It is not every day that I meet a wine that can single-handedly make me doubt my commitment to Arizona viticulture, but the 2016 Tectonic from Iapetus Wine (a label from Shelburne Vineyard) has done just that.

The 2016 Tectonic is our vintage introduction to a number of new wine concepts, as well as a continuation of some themes we explored in our last episode about Wisconsin wine. This vintage is an all-natural, skin-contact wine made from a grape called La Crescent.  We touched upon natural wines a little bit in our first California episode; to explore the idea further, these wines can be roughly defined (since there is no official legal definition as of yet) as wines that are farmed as organically as possible, and are made/transformed without adding or removing anything while in the cellar.  The idea is that these wines are fermented using the natural yeast growing on the grape, without any additives or processing aids, and that intervention in the fermentation is kept to a minimum. These wines are not fined, nor filtered, and it can be argued that the result is a wine that is “alive”–still full of naturally occurring microbiology and the truest expression of the terroir of a region possible.

Like the Seyval Blanc we examined in our last episode, La Crescent is a complex American hybrid varietal, and one which is very recent; only developed by the University of Minnesota and released in 2002.  The genetics for this grape look like something out of a Habsburg family tree: with ancestry including Vitis viniferaripariarupestrislabrusca and aestivalis. Saint-Pepin, and a Muscat of Hamburg crossing feature among this grape’s progenitors. (I really wish I still had the genetics diagram I referenced when recording this wine–I lost it somewhere. Alas.)  Also like Seyval Blanc, this grape is a white wine varietal; to make a Skin-contact wine such as the 2017 Tectonic (also known as Amber wines or Orange wines),  the grape skins are not removed from the must, (unlike in as in typical white wine production) and instead remain in contact with the juice for days or even months. As in red wines, these skins provide pigments and tannins to the resulting vintage. This is actually a very ancient style of wine, dating back at an absolute minimum of about 6,000 years in the Caucasus Mountains.

That, in my mind, is one of the coolest things about the 2016 Iapetus: it is made from an ancient style of production for one of the newest-developed grape varietals out there.  I look forward to hopefully trying more wines from this label: Ethan Joseph is doing some pretty cool stuff up there in Vermont.

While I first encountered this wine via a #winestudio event on Twitter, this bottle was provided to me through the kindness of Elizabeth Krecker who purchased this wine for me directly from the vineyard when she visited New England earlier this year.

Vermont episode 1
The 2016 Tectonic from Iapetus wine is, without a doubt, my favorite wine of this podcast so far. There, I said it.

Episode 15: Wisconsin

Apologies for this late post; I was working for the last few days on the crush pad in Willcox, and I was too swamped to post on time. Future episodes should continue loading every 10 days. Onto the show!

Episode 15 focuses on Wisconsin.  This state is part of the largest American Viticultural Area, the Upper Mississippi Valley AVA. There are also two smaller AVAs in the state: the Lake Wisconsin AVA and the Wisconsin Ledge AVA. It must also be noted that Wisconsin has a surprisingly important role in the history of wine in America. As it turns out, Agoston Haraszthy, back in the mid-19th century, was the first to plant and grow wine grapes in Wisconsin. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because Mr. Haraszthy eventually migrated to California, and kickstarted the wine industry there when he founded the Buena Vista Winery in Sonoma, in the year 1863.

The vineyard he planted was located overlooking the Wisconsin River, at what is today the Wollersheim Winery, located near Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin. The bottle that Elizabeth and I talk about today is from this very same vineyard: the 2016 Prairie Fumé. This wine is 100% estate-grown Seyval Blanc, and is the center point of our discussion. This wine has more or less been declared the best wine that Wisconsin makes, so I was eager to try it: vintages of this wine have won 2018 Best of Show, 2017 Best Seyval Blanc, 2015 Best Seyval Blanc & Hybrid White, 2013 Best Wisconsin White Wine and 2013 Sweepstakes Best White.

This bottle was provided by my friend and fellow Arizona wine blogger Elizabeth Krecker, and was purchased from the winery when she visited Wisconsin earlier this year. Thanks Elizabeth!

The 2016 Prairie Fumé from Wollersheim Winery was a very enjoyable Seyval Blanc and a fun introduction to Wisconsin wines.

Episode 14: Washington

In Episode 14, we focus on Washington. Washington produces the second largest amount of wine per capita in the United States, after California.  Established in 1984, the Colombia Valley AVA is the largest wine region in the state of Washington. This AVA includes over 11,000,000 acres (4,500,000 ha), of which over 40,000 acres (16,000 ha) are under vine.  Indeed, about 99% of the vineyard area in Washington is under this AVA, and subsequent Sub-AVAs.  (American Viticultural Areas, like some of their Old World Counterparts, can be nested within each other like Matryoshka dolls.)  This particular suite of AVAs has become well known for producing traditional Bordeaux varietals, like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc.

But you know me. (Or, at least, are getting to know me at the very least.) I don’t like to review and look at the common stuff, necessarily. I like to look at the less usual things, when possible. Which is why I chose to look at the 2012 Pinot Gris from Maryhill Winery, instead of, say, a Washington Merlot. (which I do have lined up for the second episode discussing Washington Wines at a much later date).  Gary and I found ourselves extremely disappointed with the 2012 Colombia Valley Pinot Gris, and it is telling that it seems that Maryhill has uprooted their Pinot Gris vines since the production of this wine.  Why is it disappointing?  Take a listen to find out.

(In retrospect, we should have talked more about Pinot Grigio vs. Pinot Gris in this episode, but we ended up far too disappointed in this wine to do that.  Suffice to say, they’re largely the same thing, except not; there are some stylistic differences. Italian-style Pinot Grigio vintages are typically lighter-bodied, crisp, fresh, with vibrant stone fruit and floral aromas and a touch of spice, while Pinot Gris, especially from Alsace, tend to be more full-bodied, richer, spicier, and more viscous in texture, meaning this particular vintage does align more on the Gris side of the spectrum.  And now you know.)

This bottle was acquired by yours truly via Underground Cellar.com

washington wine
The 2012 Pinot Gris from Maryhill Winery is our introduction into Washington wines.

 

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.

A Snooth Interlude: Murietta’s Well Tasting

A few days ago, I did an online tasting with Snooth, focusing on the wines from Murietta’s Well, which is located in the Livermore AVA in California.  It was my first experience doing an online wine tasting; the center point was the winemaker, Robbie Meyer, on video chat talking about his wines while we all sipped along and inquired about the processes and ideas behind each wine–something I enjoy doing rather often with local winemakers over on podcasts at The Arizona Wine Monk wherever possible–the main difference was in the distance, and tasting with a group of others was particularly fun.

All the wines from Murietta’s well are small lot (though larger lots than anyone in Arizona, by and large), and wild-fermented, which is fascinating.  Wild fermentation can be difficult to do well, after all, as wild yeasts can be a bit… Well, cantankerous to deal with, to say the least.  Overall, these wines had a more Old World feel to them than most wines I’ve encountered from California.  Here are the wines we tasted, and some thoughts I had about each.  The next podcast episode will load in another six days–we will stick to the every tenth-day cycle which has worked so far. (There won’t be any Riesling to miss it, so stay tuned.)

muriettas well tasting
Here is their 2017 Sauvignon Blanc which was fermented in neutral oak; resulting in something very like a Sancerre. This was nothing like the over-bearing oak bombs I usually encounter with California Sauvignon Blanc. Notes of pear, apple, gooseberry, and apricot intermingled with crisp minerality and high acidity.

 

muriettas well tasting
Next up was The Whip (2016), a blend of 33% Sauvignon Blanc, 29% Semillon, 21% Chardonnay, 12% Orange Muscat, and 10% Viognier. This was a well-balanced white blend that really struck me as quite sophisticated and versatile. What was particularly interesting for me was that I could pick out the role of each grape in this blend, which is always a fun exercise. The Viognier provided the strong apricot character, the Sauvignon Blanc provided most of the skeletal structure, while the Semillon provided the heavier body to this blend, and so on. I honestly wanted to pair this wine with Pad Thai, which is odd to me because I normally don’t want to pair white wines with this sort of body with such spicy food.  (I also think it could work well with enchiladas, but that’s just me.)

 

Third up for the tasting was their 2016 Dry Rosé. This was a well-structured, high acidity savorfest blend of 42% Grenache (farmed specifically for rosé), 39% Counoise, and 19% Mourvèdre. Watermelon/Cotton Candy notes imparted by the Counoise were especially prominent,. intermingling with the bright strawberry notes imparted via the Grenache. Overall, this wine was evocative of some of the heftier rosé blends from Provence or Bandol. This wine was probably tied for second out of all the wines. I really do wish more winemakers played with Counoise.  I would serve this wine as it is–no food needed–it is a great summer sipper.

 

muriettas well tasting
The rosé was tied with The Spur (2015) for second place in the tasting as far as I was concerned. This was a blend of 48% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Petite Sirah, 18% Merlot, 8% Petit Verdot, and 6% Cabernet Franc. Livermore Valley is apparently well-known for Petit Sirah, which adds in a dimension of place, according to Robbie Meyer.  Apparently, it is pretty common in the Livermore Valley to blend in a bit of Petit Sirah into otherwise “Bordeaux-Style” blends there. (This aspect made me think of how often in my homeland of Arizona, we add in Petit Sirah to our GSM-style blends for color and tannins.)  The 2015 vintage of The Spur (named, of course, for a part of the grapevine) was savory, fruity, and well-balanced, with an elegant scaffold of tannins. Nothing was over the top here on this vintage, which again struck me as unusual for most California “Bordeaux-style” blends which usually require me to decant extensively to enjoy them in any form.  This elegance will lend this wine to being paired with a wide variety of foods–I ended up pairing the rest of this bottle with a crockpot pork roast with root veggies and green chili and it worked fantastically.

 

muriettas well tasting
My favorite wine of all the Murietta’s Well vintages was the 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon, which was a pre-release preview. Now, I normally do not like California Cabernet at all; I find them generally to be too brusque, masculine, and inelegant. I usually find that I either need to decant wines of this sort for three hours, or smoke a cigar with them, to peel back the insane use of oak that seems to be the de jure style.  I am convinced that many winemakers in Californa use this insane level of oak to hide flaws that are resulting from potentially shoddy winemaking, or to hide an otherwise unexciting vintage.  Now, that being said, the 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon from Murietta’s Well was completely the opposite of that.  I was amazed by this wine.  This was an elegant, balanced, well-structured and sophisticated vintage–sort of like a well-dressed professor in tweed. Notes of olives and Connecticut shade-grown tobacco wrapper intermingled in this wine with earth, vanilla, cassis, and blackberry, alongside hints of lighter fruits such as plum and raspberry. It is, I think, a wine well suited for a New York strip steak and a nice cigar like an Ashton Symmetry. I was deeply impressed by this wine and was sad when I finished it off. If I didn’t already have all of my wines lined up for the California episodes of this podcast, I would have used this bottle in a heartbeat.  It is everything that a California Cabernet Sauvignon *should* be.