Among my favorite wines are those made from old-vine zinfandel, defined as vines with an age of greater than 50 years. Immigrants to the US from Italy, as well as Croatia and Eastern Europe, planted vines in various parts of California over 100 years ago, well before systematic irrigation.
Most of these old, untamed vines were ripped out when the California wine industry exploded in the 1970s and were supplanted with nicely manicured and trellised vines possessing a more defined genetic heritage (and much greater yields per acre). The wily old zin vines that remain are true survivors, gnarly old growths that produce low yields and a concentrated, spicy flavor that is big but balanced. Not until I moved to North Carolina did I realize that these old vines are actually youngsters.
Catherine Kozak of the The Virginian-Pilot reports that a wine is about to be released on Tuesday made from grapes that trace to the 400-year-old “Mother Vine,” a scuppernong vine found on Roanoke Island, NC. Duplin Winery in Rose Hill, NC, will be offering this MotherVine Wine:
Wine from the same vine that Sir Walter Raleigh’s colonists likely plucked grapes from will soon be available to the public. MotherVine Premium Scuppernong Wine will be introduced on Tuesday on Mother Vineyard Road, the site of the more than 400-year-old Mother Vine, reputed to be the oldest cultivated grapevine in the world.
“Nobody in Europe has come up with one as old as that – and we’ve challenged them,” said David Fussell Sr., the owner of Duplin Winery in Rose Hill.
Going through the archives I realize that I spoke once before of the Mother Vine in this post, written originally to discuss prostate cancer chemoprevention work with a low-resveratrol extract of muscadine grapes. Our muscadines generated international attention as the grape with the highest content of the antioxidant chemopreventive stilbene, resveratrol, following publication of these two papers (1, 2).
Scuppernong is a variety of muscadine (“all Scuppernongs are Muscadines but not all Muscadines are Scuppernongs”) from which one can produce a very sweet, fragrant wine. If you’ve been around a Southern US farmer’s market in the fall, you’ll know that floral aroma of which I speak (usually accompanied by annoying bees). Unlike California wine grapes that are small, tannic, and not much fun to eat, muscadines are equally a table and wine grape. They have a tough skin and a slimy interior that pops out when the skin is broken – this sounds gross but they are actually quite fun to eat.
But back to the wine. From the Duplin Winery website:
After five years of planning and cultivation, The Mother Vine, LLC has produced the first wine made from the Mother Vine in over 100 years. The Scuppernong grape is the official fruit of North Carolina and its wines have been enjoyed by many people throughout history.
Sir Walter Raleigh and early explorers, who had already traveled through many grape-filled regions of Europe, observed that North Carolina’s shores seemed to fill the oceans with her fruits.
Thomas Jefferson’s favorite wine was Scuppernong and he often touted North Carolina as having the the merit of taking the lead in the wine culture, “her Scuppernon (Scuppernong) wine would be distinguished on the best tables in Europe, for its fine aroma, and crystalline transparence” (Thomas Jefferson – 1817).
In May, 2005 a new vineyard was planted using cuttings from the Mother Vine. In July, 2008, the first Premium Scuppernong was released and the tradition of history and heritage continues.
Meh. It was the next-to-last sentence that bummed me out. This is not really Mother Vine wine in the sense of the California old-vine zinfandels. These are grapes off 3-year-old vines derived from Mother Vine cuttings. I should’ve known when I learned that the wine would be selling for $12 or $13 (US dollars).
What I’d rather have is some wine made from grapes from the gnarly old behemoth on Roanoke Island. (Kozak’s article has a copyrighted photo of The Big Mama). Although a relatively small lot of 224 cases of wine were made from this first release of MotherVine, it pales in comparison to what could probably be made from the Mother Vine itself.
Me? I’ll buy one for novelty’s sake but you’ll find me calling up my local heroes to score me some old-vine zin.