There are several species of grapes, but the great classic wine grapes are all Vitis vinifera. Maybe that’s because Norton isn’t well known outside the eastern and mid western US. It’s parentage isn’t known exactly, but it’s predominantly Vitis aestivalis with hints of Vitis labrusca and, despite being known as an all-American grape, Vitis vinifera. Growers treat it and Cynthiana as different varietals, though they are genetically indistinguishable, and call it “the Cabernet of the Ozarks.” When I hear something like that, it’s usually a less-worthy grape trying to piggyback on the stature of a noble grape. Not this time. Here’s what Jancis Robinson says about Norton in the The Oxford Companion to Wine, 3rd Edition, “Norton is undoubtedly underrated because of the entrenched bias against non-vinifera varieties … The grapes are acidic, but the wine is indistinguishable by taste from wine made from vinifera grapes.”
It gets better. Norton is tolerant of many fungal diseases, including the common ones in my neck of the woods, and phylloxera. Sounds like a grape I’d like to grow! Well there are at least two drawbacks. First, it’s difficult to propagate from hardwood cuttings. Ok, that would be a nuisance, but it is being grown and propagated, so I don’t think that’s a deal breaker. The deal breaker is that it requires a long growing season. There’s a lot to like about the Puget Sound, but we are limited in the wine grapes that will ripen here.
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