It started with a comment, a persistent friend, and a Groupon, and resulted in a day touring wineries specializing in Muscadine grapes. Yep. You heard me. Muscadine wine. I do live in the South ya’ll. What it didn’t end in (thankfully) was a massive headache (or hangover) from the sugar in the sweet wines.
The Comment from The Wandering G – “I’d like to try a Muscadine wine. I love all things Southern. I mean, it can’t possibly be worse than Niagara or Concord wines.”
The Friend – We’ll refer to her as the Public Defender
The Groupon – Two bottles of wine, four tastings, and a winery tour at Treehouse Vineyards purchased by the Public Defender
And we were off to Treehouse Vineyards in Monroe, North Carolina. Of course, I couldn’t just stop at one winery. You know me. I had to make an afternoon of it. I pulled up the Visit North Carolina Wine Web site and plotted out a track that would take us to four wineries. The problem was, Treehouse wasn’t really close to any other wineries. It would be a half hour drive between stop one and two out towards Albemarle. The second problem was that ALL the wineries specialized in Muscadine wine. While that’s an afternoon that would make Aunt Alice giggle with glee, it’s not really my cup of tea (er, glass of wine). But what the hell, I was up for some adventure. Mrs. Gourmand and the Public Defender were game, also.
Treehouse Vineyards was cute. It was located a few blocks from downtown Monroe in a residential neighborhood. Yet, the land was huge. The story is a typical of North Carolina for wineries. The land was in the family for generations (meaning paid for) and the current owners wanted to pursue their passion. As you can guess, Treehouse Vineyards is not only known for its wines, but also its treehouses. There are two on the property. One can be rented for the night and is booked until the Spring. The second can be rented by the hour. I, too, chuckled when I heard that and eyed a couple suspiciously while they were descending the stairs. I am pretty sure both were tucking in their shirts. I like the premise behind the treehouses though, be they hourly or nightly. The owners were looking for a getaway while caring for children and aging parents. The idea snowballed into a business.
The visit started with a group tasting. Unlike most wine tastings where you belly up to the bar and enjoy a series of swallows, Treehouse gathers large groups to be led through their swallows. There were close to twenty in our group. I seemed more relaxed and more of an event than most wine tastings. While I enjoyed tasting the various forms of Muscadine wines (and there are a ton), the tasting focused more on the “cute” stories behind the wines. I wanted to learn more about the difference between the various varieties of Muscadine grapes. What makes a Magnolia a Magnolia, a Carlos a Carlos, a Doreen a Doreen, a Noble a Noble? Where did the fruit in the two dry wines come from (they offered a Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon) – other North Carolina vineyards? I didn’t really care that Bailey’s Blend was named after the horse that eats both white and red grapes.
Truth be told, I didn’t hate the Muscadine Wines. They were sweet but had more character that Niagara or Concord wines. They had some resemblance of wine. The range went from sweet to semi-dry with Sweet Union being the sweetest. It has the most grape flavor of the bunch probably because it has been through the least amount of fermentation. We came home with a bottle of Bailey’s blend. It was a Muscadine blush and in our opinion the driest of the bunch. The Public Defender also took home a bottle of the Bailey’s. After our wine tasting we roamed the grounds picking and eating muscadine grapes from the vines. Muscadines are large berries with a very sweet center and thick, bitter skins. We snapped photos of the horses and what used to be the old Monroe quarry on the grounds of Treehouse Vineyards.
The next stop was Dennis Vineyards. There was a crazy large variety of wines. There had to be at least 25. All were either Muscadine or fruit wines with the exception of Four of a Kind which was a blend of Reisling, Pinot Grigio, Viognier, and Chardonnay. Of course you couldn’t try all twenty in a tasting. You still have a drive home. We opted for the selection of six. But trying to pick the six was intimidating. Each grape seemed to come in various combinations of sweet to dry and white to blush to red. Some were even oaked. I tried a few oaked Muscadines. These had the most tannic structure of the day but still weren’t a Cabernet Sauvignon. I did enjoy the fruit wines since they were made with 100% fruit where most fruit wines are blended with white wine. I selected the blueberry in my tasting. There is a huge difference from the wine blended fruit wines. The fruit character really shines. I also tried their sweetest wine – Harvest Gold. It was so sweet it made me pucker like it had a sour affect. We ended up purchasing a bottle of the Four of a Kind (big Viognier fans here) and the Carnola (semi-dry red blend that Mrs. G. thought would be good in a Sangria).
All in all, it was a good day stretching my conception and comfort level with wine. While I may not find myself looking forward to a bottle of Muscadine with dinner, I can envision the occasional bottle on a warm summer evening sitting on the balcony. Although judging from the crowds at these wineries (each surpassing what I am used to in Yadkin Valley), I may be alone in my opinion. These people seriously enjoy their Muscadine. What are your thoughts on Muscadine Wines?