North Carolina's Toast to the Mother Vine
This gnarly old girl still propagates new life in the North Carolina wine industry. In addition to its history, native varietals also offer health benefits with dramatically high levels of heart-healthy resveratrol.
RALEIGH, N.C. — Sir Walter Raleigh had no idea that the vine his sailors stumbled upon when they reached the Outer Banks would be so beneficial to North Carolinians. His men reported that the coast was "so full of grapes as the very beating and surge of the sea overflowed them."
Perhaps what his mates spotted was the Mother Vine on Roanoke Island, still growing and producing scuppernong grapes since explorers first sighted it in 1584. The vine has a trunk two-feet-thick, and its tendrils stretch along wooden arbors that support their tremendous weight across almost an acre of land. The scuppernong is a type of muscadine grape.
During the 17th and 18th centuries, settlers planted cuttings from this parent vine in the Washington County town of Scuppernong, quickly dubbing their new bronze crop with the same name. Vine growers have now cultivated more than twenty bronze, red and purple-black muscadine varieties that produce both red and white wines.
North Carolina's native Vitis rotundifolia have become the rave among health-conscious wine drinkers. Even the Greeks' Dionysus did not know that these fruity orbs have as much as 40 times more resveratrol and antioxidants than viniferous American and European grapes. Prone to clear arterial walls in a most tasteful way, resveratrol also demonstrates anticarcinogenic activity, inhibiting tumor promotion. It contains ellagic acid that researchers believe inhibits the start of cancer cased by certain chemicals. (Source: The North Carolina Muscadine — A Historical Timeline" and "Boosting Ellagic Acid in Strawberries." Agricultural Research, September 1991, pp 24-25)
For the muscadine grape's benefit, resveratrol offers a high tolerance to pests, diseases and other threats that enables the grapes to thrive in North Carolina's warm climate.
The distinct "musky" aroma of muscadines is nostalgic to many who grew up within sight of the familiar vines winding through the woods or stretching across grape arbors. Traditionally considered an extremely sweet concoction, vintners now create both red and white blends from very dry to sweet. Whatever your palette, there's a wine to match.
Even if you're a teetotaler, you can benefit from this North Carolina legacy. Wineries make undistilled juices, jams and sauces from their vineyards' abundance. The fruit is also popular to use for pies.
In the early 1800s, Thomas Jefferson noted North Carolina taking the lead with wine culture, estimating its "wine would be distinguished on the best tables in Europe, for its fine aroma, and chrystalline transparence." The 1840 Federal Census listed the state as the number one wine producer in the U.S.; it remained one of the highest-ranked until Prohibition in the early 1900s. Today, the state's industry is enjoying a vigorous resurgence, shared this time with the imported European-style vinifera.
In summer of 2008, Duplin Winery began bottling The Mother Vine white table wine. It is the first wine in more than 100 years to be produced from the native Mother Vine. The Mother Vine LLC in Rose Hill, N.C., supplied grapes for the wine. Planted in 2005, the vineyard's plantings were cuttings from the Mother Vine. www.MotherVineWine.com
With new wines made from Mother Vine fruit and new research constantly making headlines on the value of resveratrol, North Carolina travels and wine drinkers can certainly toast the heritage ... and future of the Mother Vine.
In North Carolina, the wines are as beautiful as the place itself. For more information on North Carolina wineries, go to www.VisitNCWine.com. For more information on muscadine grape health, visit www.ncmuscadine.org/healthfacts.html.