This is the first article of a two part profile on the Norton grape. The first article discusses the characteristics of today’s Norton and includes a report on the 2012 Norton Harvest. The next article will focus on Norton winemaking techniques and research into the origins of the grape.
Norton, the oldest commercially grown native American grape, is a red variety with a unique flavor, a dramatic history and a cult-like following. The grape produces some of the best dry red wines in the Midwest. However, even in Missouri, where Norton is the state grape, many locals have never heard of it. Despite being an unsung hero, the number of wineries producing quality Nortons has grown in recent years and the grape continues to inspire wine enthusiasts like no other native variety.
Norton is grown commercially in more than 20 states, from as far south as Florida to Pennsylvania in the north. Missouri has the largest acreage of Norton with more than 300, but Chrysalis Vineyards in Virginia claims to have the largest single planting of Norton vines with about 40 acres.
The grape is called Cynthiana in Arkansas. Although some wine enthusiasts say the two grapes are different, studies have shown that Norton and Cynthiana are genetically identical. The flavor profile of this deep purple colored wine includes acid, spice, dark fruit and pomegranates. Other native American grapes can produce sweet or ‘foxy’ flavors, but Norton is very dry, full-bodied and generally improves with aging.
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