Until you move to the South, you don’t truly realize the subtle differences in culture, compared to Ohio where I come from. One of those differences is the place that Muscadine grapes hold in the hearts and taste buds of the people.
Muscadine grapes are a favorite to be sure. Sweet, yes! After all, people like their sweet tea down here, and Muscadine wine is normally very sweet as well, with a distinctive musky scent. But it does not always have to be sweet. I learned this first hand from a recent trip to Tsali Notch Vineyards west of Knoxville (directions) where I tasted my first dry Muscadine wine.
Tsali Notch Vineyards is what is called a “farm winery”. They sell most of their 35 acres of grapes but reserve a few that they contract out to a winery to make into wine for them to buy back and sell at their vineyard. So, yes, they have wine tastings as well as pick-your-own.
Tsali Notch Vineyards grows only Muscadine grapes — six varieties in all. The day we visited this vineyard was the week before their National Muscadine Festival. We hoped to beat the crowds, but there were still quite a few people on this beautiful, fall day. They were there with their families to pick-your-own muscadine grapes to make into jelly and simply to eat.
I had never eaten nor picked grapes from the vine, much less Muscadine grapes, so we got our bucket and ventured out. I was amazed at the beauty in the red-skinned and yellow-skinned grapes that grow, not in bunches, with which we are familiar, but individually, in huge quantities on vines that can stretch for 100 feet.
The lack of grapes in bunches is due to the fact, I am told, that the wild Muscadine grape has an extra chromosome.
There is nothing like hands-on experience to truly get to know something. Muscadines are so different from what we buy at the grocery store. The skins are VERY thick and they have multiple seeds, so it can be an effort to eat.
We ended up picking a bucketful and went inside to check out and taste some wine.
We prefer dry wine, but have come to appreciate and like the sweet Muscadine wine that we had been introduced to thus far. So, we were surprised to learn that they offered two dry versions of Muscadine wine – a red and a white. We bought a bottle of each.
To be a dry wine, the wine must have less than 1% sugar. By comparison, sweet wine may have 5- 8% sugar or more.
When we got ready to leave, we put our grapes in the trunk of the car. It was such a treat to open the trunk and smell that wonderful musky scent that is so distinctive to Muscadines. We had a wonderful time and definitely plan to make this into an annual event.
Life is an Adventure!