Are you an aspiring winemaker? I have tried my luck at making wine but it is like fly fishing for me; many times of trying, a few lucky catches, but the skill and patience eludes me. When I heard about the French Broad Vignerons, I just had to check them out! This group is headed by Chuck Blethen. You may know Chuck, as he has written a book on and taught “Wine Etiquette” at the Asheville Wine and Food Festival, and he has taught classes at AB-Tech, and at the Madison County Extension Service Center.
Chuck has the wonderful experience and knowledge of viticulture and wine making and has been motivated to discover grape varietals that do well here in high altitudes, short summer – hence colder climates. He is particularly interested in native species such as the Muscadine and Scuppernong grapes as they require very little if any chemicals, unlike the European varietals and most hybrids.
The French Broad Vignerons meets almost monthly at different vineyards, wineries, and homes to ruminate (chew the cud) about their experiences, trade root stock, share the best places to pick grapes, buy equipment or just to sample each other’s wines. Just such a meeting recently took place at Yancey Vineyard, way up a beautiful mountain holler just past Mars Hill. Cynthia Yancey has a beautiful old farmhouse, an unbelievably large wood plank table on the back porch, where one shares food, wine, and news of the day while looking over the fall colors dominating the ridges. Tonight’s conversation centered on a bottle of wine that John Kinnaird had produced and brought, a delightful blackberry and “Norton” grape – dry and ruby red. He had balanced the blending of these two wines and I found the taste to be very satisfying and the nose to be interesting. We spent the rest of the evening talking about vine cuttings, pruning (should it be done in the winter, spring or both?), biodynamic agriculture, planting in the signs and phases of the moon, how much wine one needs to bottle to be self sufficient (at least 185+ according to one expert!), – and everything else under the sun and moon that night.
Saying my goodnight, I drove slowly down the darkened lane, thinking about the conversations that evening, the pumpkin soup (with sweet potato mixed in!), the scuppernong pie (and the antics of removing the seeds), and of course the wines we tasted. While I am not a good fly fisherman or wine maker, I do enjoy the company and creativity of those who try their luck at these crafts.
To attend one of their gatherings or just to see if you are interested, go to the blog at http://frenchbroadvignerons.blogspot.com/ or see Chuck’s website at http://jeweloftheblueridge.com/. Chuck also has a book “Wine Etiquette” and a list of speaking engagements you can locate on the website. He is developing and selling steep slope, high-altitude, cold-hardy native Muscadine grapevines and his company is called Jewel of the Blue Ridge Vineyard & Greenhouse Nursery – “The only native cold-hardy Muscadine vineyard in the world at 2100 feet” up the mountain in Marshall.