Which Came First, Florida or Carolina?

Wine Chair Travel Series ~

If you ask state agritourism officials which one was the first to make wine in America, they’ll each say it was them. It’s an ongoing Florida versus North Carolina battle and neither side is ready to give in. We’re only talking about a few years here, but for these states, bragging rights are primo.

Muscadine vineyard in Florida

Florida claims that wine was first made by French Huguenot settlers in 1562, utilizing the native grapes that were abundant along the St. Johns River. North Carolina says that in 1524, Florentine Explorer Giovanni de Verrazano sailed up the Cape Fear River and saw wild grapes growing along the shore that would “yield excellent wines.” Later in 1587 Sir Walter Raleigh’s colony on Roanoke Island discovered the “Mother Vine,” a gigantic Muscadine vine that, legend has it, has been growing for hundreds of years.

Young Muscadine vines at Duplin Winery, North Carolina

We don’t actually know who bottled the first American vintage, but what we do know is the hardy native grape called Muscadine has supplied the essential ingredient for winemaking to European settlers since the 16th Century. Described as having a “foxy” aroma and earthy flavor, Muscadines come in both dark and white versions with names like Noble, Magnolia, and Carlos, also called Scuppernong.

Scuppernongs getting ready to harvest

Muscadines are found primarily in the Southeast United States in areas too hot and humid for European varietals to grow. The grapes are large and round, with thick skins, and they are harvested in the late August to September. Wine making happens from September through October and vintages for early drinking; no need to let these bottles sit on a shelf.

Noble grapes are a Muscadine variety.

We may never know for sure where or when the first wine was made in America, but the same grapes used to make that wine are still grown today. Both Florida and North Carolina wineries ship wine to other states. Sounds like a home wine tasting competition to me.

Happy Wine Trails!

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