Ask most people and they’ll tell you that muscadine grapes don’t grow in the mountains of Western North Carolina.
It’s too cold.
But grape grower and wine expert Chuck Blethen kept hearing from locals about a variety of native, wild muscadines that could survive the cold winters and thrive in the mountains. So he went out and found them – and he’s now cultivating muscadine vines using biodynamic methods from the seeds he harvested in the wild.
This isn’t just a horticultural endeavour, argues Blethen, these grapes could hold the key to economic revival in some of the struggling rural counties of Western North Carolina. He may be onto something. Muscadine grapes are being regularly named among the trendy supefoods of the day for their high antioxidant content, and there’s growing interest in the nutritional benefits of wild and relatively undomesticated plant varieties. (A recent article in the New York Times explores how we’ve been unintentionally breeding key nutrients out of our foods for nearly 10,000 years.) So building a rural, agricultural revival off of a specialist, highly-valued native grape could be an opportunity for Western NC growers to benefit from a higher priced crop and value added, regional products too.
Visit Jewel of the Blue Ridge Vineyards for more information on Blethen’s endeavors.