Just like collards in the garden, it was common in years past to have at least one grapevine around the house. Although it was not always the case, it was claimed that the grapes from these vines were used for jams and jellies. But in truth, many bushels of grapes wound up in barrels in the back of the tobacco packhouse in hopes it would “work off” enough to be drinkable by the holiday season.
There are many reasons why wines have gained so much popularity during recent years. Probably the most obvious reasons relate to the health benefits of red wines, especially muscadine wines.
Recent research indicates that grapes and grape products contain high levels of a powerful antioxidant called resveratrol. This antioxidant is linked to increasing the good levels while decreasing the bad levels of cholesterol. Cholesterol levels are directly linked to heart problems, so the claims are that consuming grape products could reduce a person’s chance of a heart attack.
Since it is known that antioxidants also reduce the chances of developing cancer, it can also be assumed that consuming grapes and grape products may reduce a person’s chance of developing cancer as well.
Research conducted in Copenhagen, Denmark, and published in the British Medical Journal indicated that the age of death of those who consumed wine daily was much higher than those who consumed other alcoholic beverages. In fact, age of death of those who consumed wine daily was higher than those who consumed no alcoholic beverages at all.
More recent research indicated that muscadine grapes have as much as seven times more resveratrol than other varieties of grapes. This further suggests that it may be beneficial to drink wine but even more beneficial to drink wines made from muscadine grapes.
North Carolina is the home of scuppernong grapes, our nation’s first cultivated wine grape. Scuppernongs are a type of muscadine that thrives only in the piedmont and coastal plains areas of all the southeastern states.
The first recorded account of these grapes comes from Giovanni da Verrazano, a French explorer and navigator. In 1524, Verrazano discovered scuppernong grapes while exploring the Cape Fear River Valley. He wrote in his logbook that he saw “many vines growing naturally there that without doubt would yield excellent wines.”
Sir Walter Raleigh’s explorers, Capts. Phillip Amadas and Arthur Barlowe, were a little more colorful in their description of what they saw. In 1584, they wrote, “The coast of North Carolina was so full of grapes that the very beating and surge of the sea overflowed them. They covered every shrub and climbed the tops of high cedars. In all the world, a similar abundance was not to be found. Their smell of sweetness filled the air as if they were in the midst of some delicate garden.”
Raleigh’s colony is credited with discovering the famous scuppernong “mother-vine” on Roanoke Island. This vine still exists, and even though it is on private property, it is somewhat of a tourist attraction. Its trunk is two feet thick and its tendrils spread out over more than one-half acre. It, along with some neighboring vines, supplied the Mother Vineyard Winery that operated in Manteo until 1954.
North Carolina’s first commercial winery, Medoc Vineyard, was founded in 1835. When the War Between the States erupted, there were 25 commercial wineries in the state, and by 1904, the sixth federal census reported that North Carolina was the leading wine-producing state in the United States.
But all this changed with prohibition. Wineries could not exist, and following prohibition, virtually every county in North Carolina voted “dry.” Grape production and wine making shifted to California, and by the early 1950s, there were no wineries left in the state.
During the early 1970s, commercial grape production again became established in North Carolina, spurring the construction of several new wineries. Today there are more than 60 commercial wineries in the state and several more are being constructed.
We actually have two small wineries in Robeson County. Charlie Locklear operates a vineyard in the Red Banks area and has built a small winery with a tasting room. James Stephens has just been permitted by the state and has opened a small winery in the Smith Mill Pond area. Several other vineyard owners in the county have indicated they plan to develop wineries as well.
These wineries will not be allowed to enter their wines in the Amateur Wine Exhibit and Competition at the county fair. But all other amateur winemakers in the area are encouraged to enter not only their muscadine wines but their fruit wines as well.
Maybe we can develop enough local interest that someone would decide to build a nice winery with gift shop, restaurant and meeting facilities right next to Interstate 95. That would be one way we could get more tourists off the interstate to spend a few more dollars in our county. In addition, it would provide additional opportunities for those of us who live in the county.
I’m just thinking. Is anyone interested? Here’s to your health.
— Everett Davis is county Cooperative Extension director.