Norton: Dark Knight of American Wine

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12 Responses

  1. It’s a busy time right now, but be sure to get your hands on a copy of The Wild Vine:A Forgotten Grape and the Untold Story of American Wine, by Todd Kliman. Loved it. Highly recommended read. Focus is on Norton, but the history of American wine-making, the personalities, and political history is fascinating.

  2. Jim Butler says:

    Has Norton been around longer that Catawba which made it’s apperance in 1823?

    • Danny Wood says:

      Hi Jim,
      Thanks for your comment…I believe it is very hard to be precise about the exact date of Norton’s discovery by Daniel Norton, but usually the date is referred to as the 1820s, sometimes 1820, sometimes 1823 and sometimes 1830 ! So it could be a tie!
      Danny Wood

  3. I don’t think it is not correct to say that Norton is plagued with high malic but instead with high postassium levels. A seasoned winemaker can easily get rid of malic with a secondary fermentation but it is the postassium that is the achilles heel?

    • Danny Wood says:

      Hi Michael,
      Thanks for taking the time to comment…can any Norton winemakers clarify the potassium issue that Michael has raised?

      Danny Wood

  4. jim king says:

    took this off a posting that i put on wine a year or so ago. was easier to cut and paste versus retyping it

    The way I understand the potassium
    Norton grape roots do well in taking potassium out of the soil. This is the key reason potassium is not added during fertilization of the vines, Just Nitrogen for the most part. The potassium taken in by the roots is stored in the fruit. The effect of the potassium on the wine is an increased ph. The Norton wine will have a high ph and high acid content. To reduce the ph you need to lower the potassium and the way to do that is to add tartaric acid to the wine until the ph is at 3.55 when Tartaric acid is added to a ph below 3.45 a buffering action takes place or “buffering capacity” and is better explained on page 535 of “principles of wine making” – a book that is available to read online- you can google it.
    anyway, if tartaric acid is added below 3.55 the potassium ions will attach to the tartaric acid which can be dropped out of the solution by doing a cold stabilization at 28 degrees for 2 weeks. If you add tartaric acid to the wine but do not get down to the 3.55 range the potassium ions will never attach to the tartaric acid as you have yet to reach the buffering zone of the solution. I am not a chemist but I feel that it does not matter if you do this early on or if you wait right before bottling. Either way the potassium will be reduced early on or later with the addition of Tartaric acid. However, most chose to do this early on so the wine has time to integrate with the oak and tannins

    • Danny Wood says:

      …thanks very much Jim for both your comments and the detail on the potassium factor and how to reduce it. If anyone else would like to venture a comment on their experience making Norton wine and how difficult this process of removing the potassium is and whether it might be Norton’s Achilles heel, please do…

      all the best

  5. Shaun Turnbull says:

    I have been fortunate enough to be vinifying Norton for the past 7 years with (in my opinion) one of the most modern pioneers and unsung heroes of the wine itself and this is what I can add.

    I would say that high potassium levels and malic acid is the Bane and Ra`s al Ghul to Norton. The best way to try and control the high potassium levels is to really pay attention to shoot positioning. This will not completely solve the problem but make it a bit easier to manage in the winery. Different rootstocks have been trialled but with no real good success.

    In the winery the malic acid combined with the high pH (related to high potassium) after crushing makes for a tricky situation. The most common way to reduce pH is to add tartaric acid. But being Norton with its already very high malic acid content, which gives a very sharp and unattractive mouth feel for a red wine, adding acid on top of the already high malic acid content is just going to alleviate this already improper organoleptic aspect. Obviously to have a healthy fermentation it is necessary to try and get the pH down to more manageable and safer level (below 3.60 pH). The lower pH will also help to stabilize and improve color. So reducing the pH during fermentation is necessary.
    Post fermentation malolactic fermentation would indeed help reduce the malic acid but it would again raise the pH which will leave the wine more prone to spoilage and browning. Thus again pH management is needed. The most common way? To add some tartaric acid. Too much and the wine will be too acidic for a red wine.

    Thus, it is a very delicate process getting the Norton palatable in regards to a balanced red wine acid profile having grapes with high potassium and malic acid content.

    • Danny Wood says:

      Thanks for your comment Shaun. It’s great to be reading all these insights into the complexities of Norton winemaking. For those readers who don’t know, I’m pretty certain the Norton pioneer you refer to is your colleague at Stone Hill Winery, Dave Johnson, who has been making Norton wine for more than three decades.
      all the best

    • Ala says:

      The acid balance of Norton is predicated on the canopy and cluster exposure to the sun. The reality is that Norton does have a high malate, however, if the grapes get adequate sun exposure then the numbers become much more in balance.