The Vineyards & Grapes
Norton Varietal: Renown since Colonial times, Norton stands alone among American grapes for producing a dry, barrel-aged red wine in the finest European tradition. It is also America’s most unusual wine grape in that it is the only high-quality red wine grape grown in America that is a cross between a European wine grape and a native American grape. Norton (a.k.a. Virginia Seedling) is highly particular when it comes to soil and climate and grows well only in a narrow band stretching from Virginia through Illinois and Missouri (where it has been declared the official “State Grape”). Mary Michelle’s planting of Norton, at the winery in Carrollton, defines the northernmost range of the grape which allows for an extended “hang time” during the cooler weeks of September and October.
Chardonel: All Chardonel vines in the world, are descended from one single Chardonnay seed planted in 1946 by Dr. John Einset in Geneva, New York. When well made, the wine from Chardonel is virtually identical to that of Chardonnay. The primary advantage of Chardonel is that it is more cold-resistant than its parent and can suffer winter temperatures that are ten to fifteen degrees lower. This is important because almost all grapes make their most expressive wines in the northernmost reaches of their growing zone. Carrollton is about as far north as Chardonel can ripen its crop and still not be killed back by sub-zero temperatures. Mary Michelle only makes Chardonel in very special growing seasons. Most years it is blended with other wines in making dry, semi-sweet, and sweet wines. The years we do make a Chardonel we will announce it as a Special White Wine Cuvee because we will produce between 200-500 cases. We have not had a growing season for 4 years that allowed us to produce this wine.
Vidal Blanc: Developed in the Cognac region of France, Vidal is a cross between Trebbiano and Rayon d’Or. It ripens quite slowly and has a thick, tough skin that allows it to hang on the vine into late fall to develop its rich soft smooth taste. Mary Michelle uses this grape to blend with other wines in making dry, semi-sweet, and sweet wines.
St. Vincent: Named after the patron saint of Cote d'Or in the Burgundy region of France, St. Vincent can make a wine similar to an Italian Chianti with cherry and citrus flavors and a long and complex aftertaste. St. Vincent can also make an excellent sparkling rosé. The St. Vincent plant was discovered as a chance seedling in Missouri in 1973 and is believed to be a cross between Pinot Noir and Chambourcin, an old French Hybrid from the late 1800s growing in a Missouri vineyard where both grapes were growing. This grape grows very well in the sandy soils of Central Illinois and the grapes look like the fruit of Pinot Noir. It makes an excellent light wine with flavors similar to Pinot Noir.