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Norton, a grape cultivar believed to be largely derived from Vitis aestivalis, is grown in the Midwest, Mid-Atlantic States and northeastern Georgia. Norton was first cultivated in Richmond, Virginia and is the official grape of the State of Missouri and is considered the cornerstone of the Missouri wine industry. Although some believe that the Norton is a true native of North America, most experts suspect that it is a hybrid of one or more native varieties and one Vitis vinifera grape. The fact that it is self-fertile is seen as an indication of at least some Vitis vinifera in its background, and there are hints of Vitis labrusca as well, though the variety is still overwhelmingly Vitis aestivalis in character. In 2009 Riedel designed stemware specifically for wine made from the Norton grape. The glass was unveiled at Les Bourgeois Winery near Columbia, Missouri.
It was introduced by Dr. Daniel Norborne Norton of Richmond, Virginia, who selected it from among what he believed were seedlings of a long forgotten grape variety called Bland, though there is some doubt as to whether it was the actual source of the seed which yielded Norton. The male parent, presumably, was a wild vine of Vitis aestivalis. Another cultivar, called Cynthiana, closely resembles Norton, but has traditionally been considered a separate variety. Genetic studies, however, have shown the two to be indistinguishable. Because there is some evidence indicating differences in wine quality and season of ripening, Cynthiana may be a mutation of the original Norton.
This grape became available commercially in 1830 and very soon after that came to dominate wine production in the eastern and midwestern United States. Since this grape lacks most of the distinct flavors that are typical of native American grapes, it is quite suitable for making dry wine. At the 1873 Vienna World Exposition a Norton wine from Hermann, Missouri won a gold medal. Henry Vizetelly, a noted critic of the time, said that Norton from Missouri would one day rival the great wines of Europe in quality and quantity. Prohibition ended the wine industry in the United States for a period of time. Vineyards were pulled up and Concord grapes were planted in their place, for juice and jam. After prohibition the wine industry in the eastern half of North America never recovered to the same degree that California's wine industry did.
Today, United States wineries along the east coast and throughout the midwest are re-cultivating and producing wines from Norton grapes. The largest single planting of Norton in the world is located at Chrysalis Vineyards in Middleburg, Virginia, which has 69 acres (28 ha) of the grape. A planting of 6.5 acres of Norton was introduced into the Texas Hill Country in 1999.
Our Vineyard Information
Year Vines Planted: 2005
Type of Wine Produced: Red
Harvest: Late September to Early October
Harvest Quantity: 2.0 tons per acre
Used in our wine Grand Rouge