Black Spanish sound like an odd name for a grape variety. The grape goes by several other names including Lenoir. Which is not French for “the black one”, as well it might. Like so many other supposed facts about this grape, the truth is lost in the mists of time. It might be named after Lenoir County in North Carolina (unlikely, as the consensus is that this grape was first found near New Bordeaux, South Carolina, on the Savannah River). It might be named after the first breeder, an unknown French person, possibly a Huguenot settler, called Lenoir. What is clearer is that the grape is a cross between a classic American vine, vitis aestivalis and the classic European grape vitis vinifera.
The Spanish part of the name is probably after a Spaniard named Jacques grew the vines in MIssissippi at Natchez.
This crossbred “hybrid” was very desirable to early growers as it was resistant to two scourges of vineyards, phylloxera and Pierce’s disease. Both of these diseases, originating in North America, can (and have done in the past) completely wipe out vineyards around the world. In the 1860s, millions of these vines were imported into Europe to provide a solution to the phylloxera plague which was wiping out French vineyards. It was called Jacquez and was used both to produce grapes for winemaking and also as a phylloxera-resistant rootstock for classic French varieties.
Jacquez varietal wine eventually fell out of fashion in France in the early 20th Century and production declined. In the 1950s it was declared illegal and remaining plantings were compulsorily grubbed up. But it is still popular in USA under the name Black Spanish, especially in Texas
Unusually for a red grape, this grape produces a red juice. Almost all red grapes actually have a clear juice and it is only color bleeding from the skins during wine making that makes red wine red..
So, what is interesting about Black Spanish?
Black Spanish vines have been re-introduced to Georgia (there were plenty of them before Prohibition, but not after!). And Cavender Creek has been lucky to obtain a supply of local grapes for their winemaking. I tasted two samples, both a 100% Black Spanish and a blend with Norton. They were both very good, and I look forward to when they are bottled and released later this year following a suitable maturing period.