Norton is one of the grape varieties grown at Cavender Creek. Whilst this grape is grown widely in North America (in the Mid-West and East of USA), it is almost unknown elsewhere.  In the opinion of European wine regulators, Norton is not a “real” wine grape, which may explain its low profile internationally today. However, at the height of its fame, the 1873 Vienna (Austria) world-wide wine exhibition awarded a Norton wine from just south of St. Louis, Missouri the accolade of “the best red wine of all nations”.

Norton (also called Cynthiana) is named after Dr. Daniel Norborne who had an experimental vineyard in the Carver neighborhood of Richmond, Virginia.  Sometime between 1818 and 1828, Dr. Norton identified a seedling growing there with potential as a wine grape. But somehow its promise at Vienna was never realized and plantings decreased. However, it now thrives in vineyards across North Georgia and used for winemaking either on its own or blended with other red wines like cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc.

But how American is it? DNA testing of Norton reveals that it is really a hybrid, a crossing two vine species, of vitis vinifera (the classic Eurasian domesticated grape which is used for making almost all wine) and native American vine called vitis aestivalis. Vinifera grapes wines are made from a large number of varieties, from Aglianico to Zweigelt. The vinifera parent of Norton is believed to be an obscure historical variety from the Jura Mountains in France – so obscure that there are today only 3 acres of this vine left. So, this archetypal “best American wine grape” is half an immigrant.

The American half of Norton’s parentage gives it some real benefits. It is unaffected by the louse carrying the dreaded phylloxera plague that decimated vitis vinifera vineyards around the world. It is also more tolerant of the heat and humid conditions in southern parts of USA. The downside of Norton is that it can be killed by the sulfur based pesticides often sprayed in vineyards to protect vinifera vines.

If you want to try this ruby red wine with rich flavors of red fruits, cocoa and peppery spice, have a tasting at Cavender Creek Winery on your next visit.

Robin Hall

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