Muscadine: SC's glorious native grape

South of the Mason- Dixon line, we aren’t known for our wines and there is a very good reason for that. We have a strong tradition of whiskeys and corn liquor in our fair South. But we do produce good quality wines from our thick-skinned native grape known as the Muscadine. When most people think of wines they think of California and thinskinned grapes similar to table varieties. No one thinks of the barely cultivated grape South Carolina is known for.

This ugly and perfectly round grape looks more like over-sized buckshot than a wine grape. Growing up here I called them “bullets” for this very reason. That old name has been around for quite some time in these parts, but today, there are wineries in our state producing top quality wines from these long ignored treasures.

MUSCADINEThe Muscadine grape is gaining respect in our country and abroad. When most Americans think of grapes, we think of the familiar Labrusca grape that many American wines are made with. It is a thin-skinned grape that almost “skins itself” during the wine making process. This quality makes it ideal for wine production. These popular grapes grow well from 30 degrees north of the equator to 50 degrees north of the equator. South Carolina is fairly close to the high temperature limit of grape production in North America. That means that the varieties that grow well in our North American climate are often limited in South Carolina. Most types of grapes flower between 63–68 degrees Fahrenheit.

This gives most non-native grapes a very short reproductive season in South Carolina. While cross-pollination is not required for most varieties, it is nice to have the option to grow and sustain a vineyard. South Carolina’s level of precipitation is yet another challenge.

Too much rain can harm grapes and South Carolina can easily have driving rain storms and high levels precipitation during certain years. The end result is that most non-native varieties of grapes are limited to the upstate and mountains where the conditions are much more friendly to these tasty foreigners.

In recent years we have started cultivating our native grape – the hearty Muscadine grape. Being native not only does it grow well, it thrives during our hot summers and heavy rains.

In the Lowcountry, the Muscadine is the dominant variety and whole vineyards are devoted to this grape in Columbia, Newberry, Hilton Head and Myrtle Beach.

It is unmatched in its growth and disease resistance in these areas. Other vines may fall prey to Pierce’s disease, which is common in South Carolina. The Muscadine is so common and hearty in South Carolina it grows wild all over the state.

Since the Muscadine has both golden and black varieties, growers easily produce both white and red wines.

The range of flavors among growers is astounding as some of these same growers also produce wines from local peaches and blackberries.

Some vineyards and distilleries that offer Muscadine wines and spirits are:

  • Irvin-House Vineyards in Wadmalaw Island: Irvin-House offers muscadine wines and vodka. It appears to be one of the only South Carolina-based companies producing local vodka. They also make a product called Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka. This sounds interesting and is definitely worth a visit.

  • Mercer House Estate Winery in Lexington: Mercer House is a true winery and vineyard offering a large selection of Muscadine wines. Mercer offers wines that go from “blistered whites” to sweet reds to semi-dry reds.

  • Hilton Head Island Winery on Hilton Head: Hilton Head Winery offers both native and non-native wines for customers. They have Zinfandel, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Cabernet Sauvignon, Reisling and Muscadine varieties. Three customer favorites are Southern Passion, Peach on the Beach, and Cranberry Sunset. These wines offer samples of some of the more unique wines developed on the edge of the American grape-growing zone.

  • La Belle Amie Vineyard in Little River: This vineyard and winery offers both red and white Muscadine wines and wine tastings for as little as $3 to taste six different wines. Their wines go from very dry to very sweet.

  • Enoree River Vineyard in Newberry: This vineyard offers many types of wines from Merlot to Chardonnay to Muscato to Muscadine wines. Although Newberry isn’t in the Lowcountry, it is worth it to check this winery out. It is one of the few wineries that offers a very wide selection of locally produced fruit wines in the state. They offer fruit wines like apple, peach, mango and blueberry and cranberry.

  • Copper Horse Distillery in Columbia: This distillery is devoted to locally made vodka. It is one of the only two locally made vodkas in the state. We have explored wines produced locally in our state and found some nice surprises. Like most Americans I grew up drinking California and European wines, but I never knew what treasures were in my backyard. Now that you know, you owe it to yourself to try South Carolina native wines and open a new bottle of flavor for your taste buds.