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.

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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 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 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.

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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 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*

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.

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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.