Local Grapes

The Tennessee Valley will not rival the Napa or Loire Valleys as a wine region anytime soon. Soil and climate in the Southeast are unfavorable to popular wine grape varieties. But some grape varieties thrive here and good wine can be made here. My experience has also shown that certain grapes likely fail here and that bad wine can also be made here.

The first grape I planted here was a success; the first wine I made from it was awful. The grape I started with was a Cowart muscadine. Muscadines are native to the Southeast and have good disease resistance. One year a late April frost wiped out my blueberries, figs, and apples, but the muscadine grapes produced well. They require a very sturdy trellis and annual pruning. Netting will prevent birds from taking a share. Spraying is not required.

When the two vines I started with were 4 years old, they were really producing. I made all the jelly I cared to, but still had extra fruit. That led to my first attempt at wine making. I had lived for two years in the Tokay Valley in northeastern Hungary. They make a great dessert wine there and I remembered a bit from visiting cellars. Their best wines come from more lightly pressed grapes. I pressed the muscadines with a clean fist and added some sugar and yeast. The next day I removed the cloth cover from the crock and the bubbling and aroma confirmed that fermentation was happening.

I followed some simple online instructions and transferred the liquid to a jug with an airlock after a week. The bubbling airlock showed that fermentation was happening. What I tasted when I transferred to the jug was fruity, sweet, and yeasty. I had high hopes. Weeks later the bubbling stopped and it was time to siphon (rack) the liquid off the sediment. What I tasted at this time was incredibly sour. Further reading explained why.

American grapes have a very different acid to sugar ratio than European grapes. So what produces nice wines with European grapes doesn’t work with American varieties. I have since made decent wine from muscadines. Addition of water and sugar or honey to the grape juice can produce the right acid sugar balance. Muscadine is not merlot or cabernet. It’s a country wine that won’t rival a Bourdeaux.

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