Grape trivia

29 02 2012

Muscadine vineyard at September Oaks.

By Aliceann Toole

Someone asked recently how much wine an acre of grapes produced. There’s no hard and fast rule, but depending on the grape variety, an acre will produce one to three tons of fruit.

That question got me interested in other trivia about grapes and wine, so here are a few additional facts:

** Up to three pounds — amount of fruit required to make one bottle of wine

** 30-35 years — productive lifetime of a vine … although the quality may remain good, the yield begins to diminish

** 75-100 — number of grapes in a cluster

** One — number of grape clusters in a glass of wine

** 100-125 — number of calories in a 5-ounce glass of dry wine

** Zero — amount of fat in a glass of wine

** On average, a grapevine needs 1,300 to 1,500 hours of sunlight during its growing season, and 27 inches of rain throughout the year to produce grapes suitable for winemaking.

** The optimum weather during the growing season is a long, warm summer that allows the opportunity to ripen fully and to develop a balance between the levels of acids and sugars in the grape.

Now, if a grape category comes up at a pub trivia quiz, you’re ready.


America’s oldest cultivated grapevine is a Muscadine

18 02 2012
Scuppernong ‘Mother Vine’ in Manteo, NC

By Aliceann Toole

Roanoke Island in North Carolina is home to what is believed to be the oldest cultivated grape vine in the U.S. … and possibly the world. At about 400 years of age, it has withstood centuries of hurricanes, bugs, mildew and an inadvertent spraying with weedkiller in 2010.

According to John Wilson whose family owns about half of the vine, it covers a quarter of an acre and two people embracing it would have trouble touching one another.
At September Oaks Vineyards, we are branching out to develop wines from grapes other than Muscadine, but we will always honor the heritage of the Low Country, and the Mother Vine from which all cultivated Muscadines … including those in our own vineyard … originated.

How ’bout those legs

24 03 2011

By Aliceann Toole

“Legs” may also be called “tears.”

This is incredibly embarrasing to admit, but until a few months ago, I didn’t know that wine “legs” were a physical phenomenon. When the issue came up and I realized how completely in the dark I was, I did what I usually do and researched the heck out of it.

Sometimes I hear tasting room guests musing about legs to themselves and their friends, and while they’re way ahead of where I was — at least they know what legs are — they are caught up in some of the myths that surround this curiosity.

The simple truth lies in physics.

Legs form because of the alcohol content of the wine and the effects of surface tension, adhesion and evaporation.  Because alcohol has a lower surface tension, it tends to crawl up the glass. And it evaporates faster than the water in the wine because of its lower boiling point. As more alcohol evaporates, the water concentration increases. The greater surface tension of the water causes the wine to pull together into a teardrop that then runs down the inside of the glass. This is called the Marangoni effect.

A persistent myth is that long legs indicate a sweeter or better quality wine. In truth, it just indicates a higher level of alcohol. Because a wine’s “body” is affected by the alcohol content, there is some relationship between legs and body, but there are so many other factors involved that legs are a poor indicator of quality. In fact, if you cover the top of the glass with your hand, legs will stop forming because you have eliminated the alcohol evaporation.

And now you know.

What’s in a name?

18 03 2011

By Aliceann Toole

Factoid: There are more than 5,000 varieties of wine grapes.

A recent September Oaks visitor asked if the Muscadine grape is the same as the Muscat. The answer is “no,” but there is confusion about “musc” grapes, and explanations can get complicated in a hurry. I’ll try to boil this down to the simplest terms:

The Muscat Blanc grape is thought to be the “alpha” or oldest grape, with centuries of documented history around the Mediterranean. It is used primarily for semi-sweet and sweet dessert wines. The Muscat of Alexandria is another ancient grape grown in Mediterranean climates, although wines produced from it are considered inferior to Muscat Blanc wines. Muscat of Alexandria grapes grown in California are used primarily for raisins.

Muscadet (or Muscadekke) is one of the white grapes grown in Bordeaux. It has a grapey flavor, but is not related to the Muscat grape. The best-known Muscadet wines are the sweet Tokays produced in Australia.

The Noble muscadine grape.

The Muscadine (Muscadinia) grape is a separate branch of known vinifera (see note below) grapes. It is a hearty species with large fruit with thick skin that grows primarily in the southeast US and Mexico. The September Oaks muscadine vineyard includes the Noble and Carlos varieties, which are primarily wine grapes. We also grow Doreen, Magnolia, Tara and Triumph varieties that may be used in wines, but also make good eating.

The Carlos muscadine variety.

(Note: Vinifera refers to a grape from a cultivated variety of the common grape vine of Europe. The appearance of Vitis vinifera has been dated to between 130 to 200 million years ago, with the “human relationship” to the plant dating from the Neolithic period. More on this another time.)

To learn more about any type of grape, a website called Cookery Online has a great index of variety names and descriptions.This glossary is further broken down into “classic” and “lesser/crossed” varieties.(

A spoonful of wine helped the medicine go down

8 03 2011

By Aliceann Toole

Back in the day, I wanted to be an archeologist … not the folks finding dinosaurs and bones, but the ones on a dig who sifted through the local “dump” and could determine how ancient people lived by studying their “trash.” That’s why I was fascinated by an online article about University of Pennsylvania professor, expert in ancient alcohol and “archeochemist” Patrick McGovern, who is recognized as a pioneer in the emerging field of biomolecular archeology.

Detail from jar found in the tomb of Egyptian Pharaoh Nakht ... treading grapes, courtesy British Museum

Holy cow!

These biomolecular guys don’t just study physical artifacts. They can, for instance, analyze residues contained in jars — specifically wine jugs, even though the contents have long since evaporated. And that brings us to the meat of the article.

Dr. McGovern’s team applied their cutting-edge techniques to investigate the medicinal properties in the earliest-known Chinese and Egyptian alcholic beverage residues. The world’s first physicians mixed organic materials with healing properties into wine. The ancient Egyptians, famous for medical knowledge and the use of organic products as treatments, turned wine into medicine by adding herbs known to treat disease and improve health. A wine jar from the tomb of one of the first pharaohs, Scorpion I, was found to be steeped with herbs including balm, coriander, mint and sage, as well as pine tree resin.

The goal of Dr. McGovern’s research was to look for anti-cancer and other medicinal benefits and determine if any of the “lost” ancient natural wine remedies might be useful today. Last year, the “Archeological Oncology” team confirmed that several compounds showed promising and positive test tube activity against lung and colon cancers. The next stage, testing of these compounds against lung cancer in an animal model, is being planned.

Just think, we have millenia-old wine residues to thank for contributing to the knowledge of modern medicine.


Is it a vine, a tree or a bush?

2 03 2011

By Aliceann Toole

Since September Oaks introduced its new Kiwi Gold blend last month, several guests have asked if the kiwi is a vine, a tree or a bush.

The answer is yes!

According to Raintree Nursery in Morton, Washington, kiwis are propagated from cuttings and grow into vigorous vines. Their lifespan is about 50 years, and the vines twist into thick trunks resembling trees. The vines cannot support their own weight and require strong support such as a trellis or arbor. The plants will spread up to 30 feet, and a mature kiwi can produce 200 pounds of fruit.

The 2000+ pounds of kiwi fruit used by September Oaks for its new kiwi/muscadine blend were harvested by hand at the Malphrus kiwi plantation in Ridgeland. Mr. Bobby Malphrus dropped by the SOV tasting room last week and told us that visitors may stop by the plantation on Rt. 462 to buy kiwis from the last harvest that have been kept in cold storage.

Good to know: kiwi fruit are high in Vitamin C (2x that of an orange; 10x that of a lemon), as much potassium as bananas and a good amount of beta-carotene.

Why do I smell raspberries?

23 02 2011

By Aliceann Toole

Not long ago, I poured SOV Family Reserve White for a visitor and explained that it is a blend of muscadine and two French hybrid grapes from the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. He breathed it in, took a sip and exclaimed, “I can taste the lake!” 

According to, “the most important and revealing aspect of a wine’s personality and quality is its smell. In fact, most of what we take to be a wine’s taste is actually its aroma. Think of how the taste of food changes when you have a bad cold and can’t smell.”

When you swirl the wine in your glass and sniff it, thousands of nerve endings in your nasal cavity transmit the scents to your brain. When you sip and swallow wine, the retronatal passage in the back of your mouth transmits similar information. In essence, the flavors you sense are actually odors in your mouth. Swirling opens up the wine’s aromas and sniffing draws them into the olfactory bulb of your brain, which “decodes” them by comparing them to other familiar smells.

This is a complex process, because a wine consists of over 300 different chemical compounds, many of which are identical or similar to those found in fruits, vegetables, spices, herbs, and other substances. So when we describe a wine’s aromas in terms of various fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices such as apple, melon, citrus, cherry, berry, honey, peach, mint, bell pepper, grass, green olive, clove, licorice, cedar, and so on, there actually are chemical correlations.  

To make opening a bottle of wine more interesting, September Oaks’ consultant vintner Joe Smith suggests that we look for three fruit and three non-fruit scents. And don’t forget that this is completely subjective … SOV’s new Kiwi Gold might smell citrusy to me and berry-like to others. Either way, it is absolutely delicious.