CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- I am a locavore. I love to eat locally grown produce and meat that has been raised on nearby farms. I also love wines produced in our state, and I am constantly on the prowl for good Mountain State sippers. And there are a number of them being produced among the 20 state wineries scattered throughout these here hills.
So why don't we see more of the European varietals like cabernet, chardonnay and pinot noir being grown in West Virginia? There are practical reasons that are explained below, but one state winemaker is proving that it can be done.
Vitis vinifera is the official classification of grapes native to Europe and the Middle East, and it produces the world's greatest wines. In addition to the famous vinifera grapes such as the ones mentioned above, there are literally thousands of other varietals in the classification.
There are two other classifications of wine grapes produced in the United States: Vitis labrusca, a native American vine producing grapes such as Concord and Catawba; and French-American hybrids such as seyval blanc, vidal blanc and chambourcin.
Labrusca can make decent but distinctly flavored wines, while French-American hybrids (which are French vines grafted onto American rootstock) can produce wines closer in quality to vinifera.
So, in the quality hierarchy, vinifera grapes produce the best wines followed by French-American hybrids and then labrusca varietals.
Why, then, don't more West Virginia winemakers produce vinifera grapes if these make superior wines?
Well, the fact is that labrusca and French-American hybrids are considerably more hardy and prolific than vinifera. They are also less susceptible than vinifera to mold, diseases and the sometimes harsh realities of West Virginia weather. That's why you see state wineries growing mostly labrusca and French-American hybrids.