On Catawba Grapes

There’s weirdly little history on catawba grapes. I find this incredibly strange because this particular vinaculture saved the American wine industry, wholly on accident. In a weird twist of Jonny Appleseed kind of legend, Nicholas Longworth established the cawtaba grape vine in Ohio. Similar to Maynard’s comments in Blood Into Wine, the vines had lived through temperance, prohibition and just about every major American military engagement since 1800. Why don’t we know more about him? Because no-one really has published anything about him. Wikipedia is weirdly quiet on the topic, but I think this is largely because they’d have to put the Republicans in a positive light. Wikipedia has a clear policy against this, so once again history is lost to personal agenda.

There is exactly one source google coughs up which I consider credible: You can read the story here. The Wine Historian has graciously transcribed Great Fortunes and How They Were Made which also has an excerpt on Longworth. If you try to read the book, which is available on google reader, it’s just badly written and can’t stick to a topic.

General Davy, of Rocky Mount, on that river, afterward Senator from North Carolina, is supposed to have given the German in whose garden Major Adlum found the grape a few of the vines to experiment upon. General Davy always regarded the bringing of this grape into notice as the greatest act of his life. “I have done my country a greater benefit in introducing this grape into public notice,” said he, in after years, “than I would have done if I had paid the national debt.”

Weirdly enough they made carbonated wine back then. Considering that the wine was generally fermented and served in barrels, actually spending it’s entire life in a barrel, this suprises me greatly. But, with the popularity and custom of making fortified wines to ensure they wouldn’t spoil from Europe, it’s not too much of a stretch to think someone looking to make a European style wine (which was the only popular style in colonial America) would toss in some sugar and bottle it. The result would be a homebrewer bottle grenade, as the newly fortified wine wouldn’t get to age on a sea vessel in a barrel for several months in the Atlantic crossing.

When I get the first six-ish pounds of grapes off these vines, I plan on doing a 1 gallon batch in the traditional colonial American style. Save those champaign bottles for me.

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