Sunday, September 6, 2020

Unraveling The Mystique Of North Carolina Muscadine Grapes

Cypress Bend Livy EstateStill seeking Chardonnay and Cabernet? Perhaps its time to sample the native North Carolina grape: Muscadine.

The Heritage Of Muscadine

Winemakers in North Carolina have something their counterparts in France and California don’t. While Napa and Burgundy can boast plentiful Chardonnay and Pinot Noir vines, you won’t find any muscadine wine to sample.

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Muscadine grapes are native to the American Southeast ranging north to Kentucky and as far west as Texas. Muscadine grapes are bigger than other wine grapes with a thicker skin – and they don’t like cold weather.

The Roots Run Deep

Muscadine history in North Carolina is long and deep. The Mother Vine, legendary for its size and age, is located on North Carolina’s Roanoke Island. The scuppernong vine is estimated to be more than 400 years old.

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The wine industry in the south was largely based on muscadines and scuppernongs (a variety of muscadines named after the Scuppernong River) in the 1800s and 1900s. In the years before prohibition the most popular wine in America was Virginia Dare, a scuppernong-based wine. Prohibition delivered a crippling blow to the muscadine wine business, but you can’t keep a good grape down.

Although lesser known than the popular international varieties like Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, muscadine grapes and wines made from them are immensely popular. In fact, the muscadine grape is the North Carolina state fruit. In North Carolina 50% of the grapes grown are muscadine, according to Debby Wechsler, executive secretary of the North Carolina Muscadine Grape Association. When home gardens are taken into account, she adds, muscadine totals more than half of all grapes grown in the state.

Cypress Bend Sweetness ScaleAndy Zeman of Benjamin Vineyards in Graham says part of the appeal to growers is the hardiness. “They are hard to kill,” said Zeman. “They are resistant to just about everything.” Since they require less care to prevent disease, they are less expensive for winegrowers to raise.

The fruit is also popular as table grapes. The colors range from green to bronze to red to almost jet black. The grapes, almost all of which have seeds, have a delicious sweetness.

Beyond Sweet Wine

While muscadines can produce wine to tickle the sweet tooth, its not all sweetness. “Sugar is a great way to cover up your boo-boos,” said winemaker Nadia Hetzel of Cypress Bend Vineyards in Wagram. She adds that Cypress Bend focuses on drier muscadine wines.

We had the opportunity to sample Cypress Bend’s Livy Estate, a white wine made with the Carlos variety of muscadine. It is produced in an off-dry style. Conveniently, the winery uses a sweetness scale on the back to help you find muscadine wines that suit your palate.

For those used to sniffing a very mild bouquet from your typical wine – hold onto your socks. The aromas from muscadine wines are bold. The smell is grapey and somewhat musky. The Livy Estate is a welcome wave of refreshment – especially if properly chilled on a hot day. It’s light and crisp and a good match for chicken or seafood. It retails for $16.

Wine To Extend Your Life?

The benefits of muscadine grapes may go beyond your wineglass or dinner table. According to Dr. Patricia Gallagher of Wake Forest University Medical Center, the extract of muscadine grapes has shown promising results in breast and prostate cancer studies. Resveratrol, an antioxidant found in the skins of grapes, has long been studied for its health benefits. The thicker skins in muscadine grapes means this potentially beneficial substance is there in abundance.

Initial research findings at Wake Forest shows that muscadine grape extract may reduce the spread of certain cancers in the body. The extract may also improve the safety of radiation and chemo treatments for cancer patients.

Pour a glass of muscadine and drink in a North Carolina tradition.

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