Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Some Down Home Southern Cookin'

Boo found some fresh catfish filets and decided to go to town, summoning those Southern roots of his, by fixing up some fish fry, okra and hush puppies.  Seemed like an opportune time to open one of the bottles we picked up when visiting his family in North Carolina last year.

1295.  2007 Hinnant Family Vineyards - Norton (North Carolina)

One of the joys of travelling - at least for me - is discovering local wines.  There wasn't much opportunity to visit the wineries that are starting to hit running speed in this burgeoning area of winemaking.  But that doesn't mean that I couldn't stop by a couple of wine shops to check out the local bottles that were available.

Then there's that part of my brain that's always thinking Wine Century Club and gets all tingly when there are new varietals to be tried.  This is actually the second bottle of Norton to be added to The List, but I was pressed for time when the Horton Norton was added about 100 wines back at #1194.  So, I'll try to expand a little bit more on this distinctly American varietal that's been called "arguably the only variety of American Vine Species origin making a premium quality wine" in the Oxford Companion to Wine.

Before discussing the grape varietal itself, I should mention the winery a bit first.  Hinnant's website states that it "is the oldest and largest commercial Muscadine vineyard in the state of North Carolina." But Muscadine isn't the only grape that they make wine from (in addition to their many fruit wines).  Their vineyards now boast 80 acres of grapes - where they grow 14 main varietals.  Two of those acres are currently dedicated to Norton that they brought down from Virginia.  Interestingly, they have also planted another American hybrid grape - the Blanc du Bois - that hails from Texas (but that will have to be another story should I ever run across a bottle).

Although the Hinnant family has been growing grapes in 1971, they only started making and selling wine under a family-named label in 2003.  They've grown to the point where they produced 25,000 cases of wine in 2010 but the addition of new tanks recently will allow them to expand to between 40,000 and 50,000 cases down the road.

They must be out of stock of the Norton wine at this point as I couldn't find any mention of it on the website.  With our bottle being a 2007 vintage, I'm not even sure that they still produce a Norton themselves.

Once again, a short online search regarding Norton resulted in my finding the most comprehensive treatise to be Rob Tebeau's post on his informative Fringe Wine blog.  I'll just refer you there for the full goods, but a brief synopsis would be that the Norton grape's history seems to stem from Richmond, Virginia, in the 1820's where Dr. Daniel Norton experimented with crossing grape varietals in an attempt to create a new grape that could both withstand harsher climates and result in a drinkable wine.  Norton seemed to be a grape that couldn't be distinguished from European vinifera grapes and it started taking hold in American vineyards - particularly as the phylloxera louse devastated European vineyards.  A Norton wine, made in Missouri, is actually noted as having won an award for the best red wine in the world at a Vienna competition in 1873.

Norton vines didn't take all that well to soil compositions found in French vineyards when it was experimented with as a solution to the phylloxera riddle and the grape never gained a foothold in Europe.  Prohibition then took its toll on American production of wine - and, by the time, winemaking was being reintroduced in the United States, not many wineries were interested in hybrids and native grapes like Norton.  Most efforts at re-establishing vineyards were directed at the noble vinifera grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

As interest in local grapes gains steam, Norton is seeing a bit of comeback in some American vineyards - particularly in North-East and Mid-West.  I doubt you'll find vaunted Californian Norton, but I suppose stranger things could happen.

I found that I wasn't quite as enamoured with the Hinnant version as I was with the Horton bottle awhile back.  This version was a little lighter in structure and juicier/grapier in its profile.  I'll categorize this as an intriguing, local bottle and chalk it up to experience but we had no issue finishing off the bottle with our catfish.  None whatsoever.

No comments:

Post a Comment