The All American Grape

I’m trying to stick to my goal of learning something new about wine every week. I thought I’d test it out and put the post up here this week.

This week’s bit of knowledge was inspired by our trip to Chrysalis Vineyards this weekend. Even before going, I looked at their website and saw much propaganda about the Norton grape and how they make wines entirely of this grape. I had no idea what to expect on tasting wine made with Norton grapes. It also intrigued me that it was referred to as the “true” American Grape.

Apparently there is a reason why Chrysalis touts this grape: It is believed to have been named by and is first attributed to Dr. Norton of Richmond, Virginia. Otherwise, it appears that most of the origins of this grape area mystery. It was first available for commercial purchase in the 1830s and was apparently a huge success, even wining an international wine competition from a vineyard in Missouri, which became the central producer of wines made from Norton grapes. Today, Missouri remains the most prolific producer of Norton Wines, though Virginia wineries continue to produce the wine and it appears to be gaining popularity here.

As a grape, it is very resistent to both pests and typical diseases that affect vines and the fruit. However, at the same time, Norton is a hard grape to cultivate. The vines do not do well if producers attempt to get cuttings to root. The mystery of why the Norton plants will not root has not been solved, and producers have to resort to other and more time consuming techniques in order to grow new vines.

There are at least two producers of wines made with Norton grapes in Virginia, Chrysalis Vineyards and Horton Vineyards. Though as far as I can tell, only Chrysalis makes a wine from 100% Norton grapes. As I mentioned in my tasting notes from Chrysalis, I found the 100% Norton wine to have a grape jam and raspberry flavor with a nose of grape juice. One page of information notes that Norton grapes can sometimes have the scent of a Concord grape, which I guess would be what gave me the grape juice nose! The blended Norton wines I tried displayed more red fruits and earthy characteristics than the 100% Norton wine.

Sources: Appellation America
The Wine Man

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8 Responses

  1. I think the Norton was the root stock sent over to Europe at the turn of the 19th century when France et.al were battling phyloxera. At any rate, check out my blog when you feel the urge, barrld.blogspot.com.

    Cheers, Barrld

  2. You are more certainly right Barrld. But it didn’t work out so well, the soil wasn’t right for the vines to take root in!

    Thanks for visiting!

  3. Hi Sonadora,

    Very good info! I did a piece on Norton a while back and have been trying to get my hands on the Missouri stuff but have had no suchluck. Wine Compass has tried some and said it was very well done there and the best he has tasted. Matter of fact it was promoted to their state grape and to add to the mystery of its origins its believed to be a cross.

    Veritas also does a very good Norton that is nice and jammy, somewhat Zin like.

    Since you do very well with pairings, what would you pair with the jammy Nortons ?

    Happy Sipping!

    Dezel

  4. Yeah norton! I’ve been a fan ever since I visited Horton Vineyards. I think their norton has a bit more complexity than other versions, but it is a blend. Plus, it’s one of the few VA wines I can get down here in SC.

  5. Dezel-When I tasted this, it struck me that it might do really well with a slightly spicy lamb dish or a hearty lamb stew. I like a jammy zin with my lamb, and I think the Norton could hold up quite well to the lamb too!

    John-I’m looking forward to a day trip to Horton Vineyards. We haven’t been to that one yet. It seems like they garner a lot of praise for their Norton blends though!

  6. I like the way the phrase “Horton Norton” rolls off the tongue…*)

  7. Curiously, I was introduced in South Carolina to a Norton wine nine years ago by a close friend whose relative had helped in establishing Robller Vineyard in Missouri(www.robllerwines.com). From that wine introduction I have made pilgrimages with my wife recently to twelve Virginia and twenty-five Missouri Norton vineyards! Before continuing, please understand that I have no great knowledge about wines, but only relate to you what I personally enjoyed tasting in dry red wines.

    The two Virginia heavies in Norton wine production out of the state’s twelve Norton vineyards would be Horton (www.hvwine.com) and Chrysalis Vineyard (www.chrysaliswine.com). I would say that Horton’s mission is to introduce to the general public good wines at fair prices and to this they unquestionably succeed. Chrysalis, on the other hand, obviously wants to produce the very best Norton’s on the east coast regardless of price. And to that I would state, they do this quite successfully. Both are wonderful examples of the east coast Norton varietal. But I would like to add, our two favorite east coast Norton wines on this exploration turned out to be from two small farm-like venues: Cooper Winery (www.coopervineyards.com) and from Pennsylvania’s Stone Mountain Wine Cellars (www.stonemountainwinecellars.com). Both were wonderful variations on a theme of Norton grapes. As for a soft and easy tasting table-wine Norton, don’t pass up Abingdon Vineyard’s Norton (www.abingdonwinery.com).

    On to Missouri where the choices became harder. Whereas Virginia has only 12 out of 133 wineries producing Norton wines, Missouri has 53 out of 77 wineries producing Norton wines! One statement made from a Norton web wine page was not to compare a Norton wine to any similar wine from Europe or from California. Likewise, I would say not to compare Virginia Norton wines to Missouri Norton wines since they are produced under different climatic and soil situations. The same grape, but two different scenarios.

    We found several large producers of Norton wines in Missouri; as, Crown Valley (www.crownvalleywinery.com), St. James (www.stjameswinery.com), Stone Hill (www.stonehillwinery.com), etc. Crown Valley has an enormous wine production program which makes a nice Norton in tremendous volume. St. James Winery has a similar mission as the Horton’s Winery of Virginia in that they want to educate and introduce to its public good affordable wines. Don’t let these affordable prices dissuade you into thinking that these are only “cheaper” wines. On the contrary, they are bargain wines and stand up well to the best-that-Missouri has to offer. St. James goes the next step in offering “reserve” wines that are markedly finer, but still at wonderful prices. But to tell you our favorite Missouri Norton wine becomes a hard chore. Let me list a few with comments:

    Chandler Hill Vineyards (http://chandlerhillvineyards.com/) may be the new kid on the block, but what a taste explosion they laid introducing their Norton “Savage” wine. After participating in a dinner tasting of six of Missouri’s Nortons at St. Louis’ Norton Wine Festival 2008, this came out an overall second at our table to a Stone Hill’s Norton selection that was not publicly available. An interesting winery that is proud of its historic surroundings and goes to great lengths to preserve this history.

    Blumenhof Winery (www.blumenhof.com) produces a Norton they have cleverly named “Original CYN” which won the 2008 Tasters Guild International Wine Judging and the 2008 Missouri Wine Competition gold medals. Unfortunately they ship directly only to MO & CA and at this time have depleted their 2006 Norton wine holdings. This is a vineyard that works hand-in-hand with nature providing a vineyard tree edge which accepts a 10% loss of grapes to it’s fine fed feathered friends. I think it maybe possible to have their wines shipped by larger Missouri distributors, but more inquiry is needed here.

    Montelle Winery (www.montelle.com) is a sister winery to Augusta Winery. Simply put, a fine Norton at great case prices after discounts added.

    I throw in at this point another Norton wine producer for different reasons. And that would be River Ridge Winery (www.riverridgewinery.com). Friendly out-from-the-beaten path winery with a Norton offering that is unique in that you get to contrast two barreled Norton wines. The same grapes from the same location, but one called Norton (aged in American Oak) and the other named Cynthiana (aged in French Oak).

    Röbller Vineyard Winery (www.robllerwines.com) makes a Norton that sits right in the middle offering a great value wine that successfully caters to tastes that go the gamete north-to-south / east-to-west. Need a picnic or dinner wine? This one can go either way.

    And to conclude my Missouri tasting treats, let me add Heinrichshaus Winery (www.heinrichshaus.com). I include this small winery because its proprietor insists that Cynthianna grapes were a sport of Norton grapes and his wines are “true” Cynthianna. He’ll even show you the picture difference between the growing habits of the grape clusters. Supposedly there is not any controversy about the Cynthianna/Norton grape any more, . . . . . . . . . ., or is it?

  8. Thank you for the incredibly informative comment rhodies. I hope you won’t mind if I republish it so that other readers will see all the info you’ve provided!

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