I’ve had a rough couple of weeks, the economy’s had a rough couple of weeks, Ted Cruz had a rough couple of weeks… 2016 hasn’t got off to a great start for everyone. However, just like Steven Avery’s interactions with the criminal justice system, we always know there are downs before some serious ups (and then major downs again.)
No state’s wine history better exemplifies that volatility than North Carolina. North Carolinian viticulture has had the shit kicked out of it not once, not twice, but thrice in its lengthy American history. You have likely never heard of North Carolina’s wine output, but in the 1850s, the southern state boasted some of the largest wineries in the country. Many of these vineyards were cultivated by slaves, so it’s not a big surprise that during the Civil War, the NC wine industry crashed.
By the 1890s, things were back up and running as NC farmers were “encouraged to grow grapes as a solution to the depressed economy.” (That solution was to get everyone so drunk, they couldn’t see the real Depression coming down the pipes…) The state flourished with its native grape “Scuppernong,” (which is your grandma’s word for eggnog after one too many sherries at Christmas) a grape more commonly known as ‘muscadine‘. Today, muscadine wines are generally written off by the wine community, but in the early 20th century, North Carolina wines were the belle of the ball.
Then, the Phyllis Schlafly of alcohol legislation came through: Prohibition. Prohibition destroyed the wine industry in the 1910s and then again in the 1940s when North Carolina counties voted to make the state dry. It wasn’t until the 1980s that the state could truly re-enter the American wine game.
What makes this history really frustrating (apart from the slavery, which perhaps transcends the word “frustrating”) is that North Carolina has terroir perfect for a wide and varied wine industry. The Yadkin Valley, NC’s first approved AVA, is an incredibly diverse wine growing region, with soil and a climate that sees very warm days but sharply cold nights (#diurnals yo!!) ideal for many French and Italian grape varietals (including Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Viognier, Vidal Blanc, and Cabernet Franc). The sub-region of Swan Creek gained its own AVA to reflect its unique microclimate and today, there are two more AVAs in Haw River Valley and the Upper Hiwassee Highlands. Muscadine, which thrives in the hot sandy conditions of the coastal region of North Carolina, is at its absolute best here.
North Carolinian wines still have a ways to go before they are competing even on the level of their northern neighbor Virginia, but a number of winemakers – particularly in the Yadkin Valley – are starting to produce exciting wines which demonstrate this South Eastern terroir. The one we tried for this post was the Jones von Drehle 2012 Petit Verdot, obtained from Bond Street Wines.
Petit Verdot is that guy in your college literature course who occasionally turns up, is often very aggressive when he chooses to speak, dominates the discussion if he is awake too long, but might be really interesting to know outside of class. Almost no-one in the major wine-making regions of both the Old and New Worlds makes single-varietal Petit Verdot, often because it is so difficult to wrap your head around. This rarity works in North Carolina’s favor, as their Petit Verdots don’t have a lot of marketplace competition.
von Drehle’s Petit Verdot screams of blueberry jam and ripe plum, with hints of menthol and spice on the mid-palate. The tannins are pretty unobtrusive, but they do a good job of slowing you down, letting you appreciate the texture of the wine. The grapes have seen some oak, but not enough to really show through in any major way. I’m not a huge fan of the aroma, which had a stagnant dark fruit tone. For the price ($24.99) it’s a bit of a reach, but at $15, this would be great value.
Here’s the breakdown on NC:
North Carolinian wine is going to be really hot in the next 2-3 years. Jancis Robinson and Karen MacNeil didn’t find room for it in their most recent wine guides, but you can bet they will be checking out Yadkin Valley for their next editions. The wine industry is only increasing in the state and the quality is beginning to move rapidly.
Until then, you probably won’t find it anywhere outside of the south. Dan had to get me this wine from Charlotte during his recent visit. Due to inter-state commerce laws, many of the wineries cannot ship their wines to more than a handful of states.
If you can try it, make sure to try single varietals that are being ignored elsewhere. Like that intriguing weirdo Petit Verdot, North Carolina is also making Vidal Blanc (a sweet wine that could be a game changing dessert wine in a few years) and Petit Manseng (that is like, a unicorn grape.)
“6 Wineries to Visit in North Carolina” (Food & Wine)
“Carolina’s Wine Country” (Southern Living)