Muscadine is a type of grape mostly indigenous to the Southeastern United States but also found from Delaware down to Georgia and as far west as Texas. Not only do they grow best in humid climates within this region, their distillation into wine is exclusive to this area as well. The first European settlers in America were introduced to Muscadine by the Natives. Sir Walter Raleigh is considered the first in 1584 and the “Mother Vine” is still living today on Roanoke Island, North Carolina.
Also known as Bullace, Scuppernong, fox or swamp grapes, Muscadines were only recently combined with other cultivars perfecting the vines for commercial production. They are known as smart grapes since they have 20 pairs of chromosomes, one more set than European and American Concord grapes enabling them to survive the humidity and colder temps..
Muscadines can be grown in other prominent wine regions like California’s Napa Valley but don’t adapt as well as other more popular grapes. Coastal areas of the West lack sufficient summer humidity producing berries that tend to be small and lacking in sugar. Growing 60-100 ft. in the wild, these grapes contrast the large, tight bunches characteristic of European and American grapes with their small, loose clusters ranging in number from 3-40. The round, 1 to 1-1/2 inch fruits have a thick, tough skin containing up to 5 hard, oblong seeds.
Most importantly, Muscadine grapes are much less affected by diseases that typically inflict American and European grapes. They are essentially immune to
phylloxera, nematodes and Pierce’s disease. Although they are pleasant enough to eat off the vine despite their seeds and somewhat tough skin, they are best savored in distinctive jellies, jams and of course wines reminiscent of Muscat.
I recently had the pleasure of tasting several Muscadine varietals made by Still Pond Vineyard located in Arlington Georgia. Over 130 years ago during the height of the Civil War, sitting on the banks of an isolated pond in the red Georgia clay, a still turned out peach brandy for exhausted Confederate soldiers on leave. Today, the “Legend of Still Pond” continues but instead utilizes the hardy Muscadine. Founder Charlie Cowart started over 25 years ago by planting a few Muscadines growing it into what has now become the largest commercial vineyard in Georgia. Not only do they use these grapes for their own wine production but they also supply fresh Muscadine juice for a growing list of wineries across other Southeastern States. There is no automation at Still Pond…even down to the labels…and it shows in the taste. Here are my tasting notes for the varietals I sampled:
Plantation Red – musky on the nose, floral flavor no fruit, lilac on the palate…fresh spring flowers. Heavy on the nectar. Thai food and BBQ a good pairing.
Notchaway White – Sweet but not a cloying dessert wine. Perfect for softer cheeses and cream-based desserts.
Confederate Peach – Straight up peach nectar from bouquet to mouth feel
Photos courtesy of Steve Mirsky and www.tiftongeorgiablogspot.com. Coverage made possible by a sponsored trip.