If you have any interest in wine then you already know all about the wine “kings” like Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. If you are a Heringer Estates fan, then your wine knowledge and tastes might extend to Aglianico, Petit Verdot and perhaps a nice Teroldego. We’re so fancy! But there are over 10,000 varieties of grapes in the world of which only about 1,300 are commercially produced by wine growers and winemakers. Have you tried 1,300 types of wines? We haven’t either. Join us as we rediscover a wine grape that changed the entire course and history of winemaking in America!
When British settlers first arrived on American soil at the start of the 17th century, the native grapes growing in the Eastern part of North America were vastly different from those of Europe and did not produce a wine anywhere near what the European colonizers wanted or expected. When they tried to grow European varieties here (before the growing regions in CA and the West were discovered), the grapes would often fall to pests, rot and horrible diseases. Many newcomers and children of settlers attempted to grow and produce an All-American wine. Most notably, Thomas Jefferson, an avid wine enthusiast, spent many years experimenting with grape growing and wine making at Monticello.
Fast forward to the early 19th century and meet Dr. Daniel Norton from Virginia – a budding botanist with a devastating past and a mission to grow and produce wine in America for Americans that could hold its own against the notable wines of France and Europe. Norton’s experiments hybridizing native grapes with European grapes were leading him in the right direction. But it took an accidental pollination of one of these hybrids to produced a strong, healthy vine, with small, but powerful grape clusters resistant to local agricultural challenges.
This is where the story of the rise and fall of the Norton grape really begins as summarized in this excerpt from the article The Noble Grape by James Knight:
“Listed in a nursery catalog in 1822, the Norton vine was later taken up in Missouri, where a wine industry thrived until Prohibition. Norton wines were served at the White House and won top prizes in European competitions. When the business picked up again in California, nobody cared about Norton anymore, and the five acres grown by Heringer Estates, a fourth-generation operation in Clarksburg, doesn’t even register on official acreage reports.”
All the things that come to mind when you think about the founding of the United States of America are associated with the Norton grape. Everything from pioneering souls, religious persecution, new and unknown terrain, disease, conflict and mistreatment of peoples, struggle, perseverance, and even those iconic founding figures of our nation. If you want to learn more, we strongly recommend reading Todd Kliman’s The Wild Vine: A Forgotten Grape and the Untold Story of American Wine for a much deeper investigation of this fascinating history.
Be a part of the wine revolution, try our All-American, 100% Clarksburg, CA grown Norton and discover for yourself the true American wine and the ultimate expression of American Terroir. Cheers!