The first recorded commercial wine-making in America was not in Napa Valley – nor the Finger Lakes – not even in Washington state. Two years before William Shakespeare was born in England, French Huguenots settled along the St. John’s River in Florida and began making wine from the native grapes they found growing there. Florida is America’s original wine country.
A few years later, English explorers discovered those same grapes growing along the coast of North Carolina, and logged that fact in their ship’s log to report back to Sir Walter Raleigh, the patron of their exploration. Those grapes were, and are, known today as Vitas rotundifolia, Muscadine grapes.
Since then, the Southern states, and regions all across America, have successfully cultivated a variety of grapes, both European varietals and American hybrids. The Muscadine grape is also making a name for itself, although in the South, despite Prohibition’s effort in the 1920s to annihilate “demon drink,” it never really disappeared. Muscadine wine has been made in Southern families since the early settlers developed their recipes. Some of those recipes have been handed down to today’s commercial wine makers, who are making wines just like granddaddy used to.
So, it is my mission to seek out, taste, and report back here on wines made in the South. One of the things I’ve always said is that wine is a very personal experience. Not every wine is liked by every wine drinker, and the range of wines can run the gamut from super sweet to oak barrel dry. You just have to taste, and try, to find out if you like it or not.
Today, Southern wine makers are producing some really surprising vintages, and not just from Muscadines. You’ll find some exceptional Chardonnays, Cabernets, and blends at the hundreds of wineries now scattered across the South. There are also some fun things like wine slushies, wine sorbets, and wine ice creams that you can enjoy at the wineries. And remember. the great thing about visiting wineries is that you can taste the wines before you buy. You can’t do that in the grocery store.
So, are you ready to start exploring Southern Wine Trails? I’m already ahead of you, come on!
(Florida Wine Country Guide to North Florida Wineries by Pamela Watson is due out in paperback, Fall 2017. Look for it in bookstores, Florida wineries, and on Amazon.com)