When it comes to food and drink, humans have always made good use of the nearby flora and fauna to create their dishes. So it is with libations and other adult beverages. The Deep South and the northernmost Caribbean city of New Orleans have a rich history with the alcohol known as fruit wine. Unlike traditional wine, which incorporates the use of fermented grapes, fruit wines include a diverse spectrum of fruit which provides the "food" for the yeast, which convert the fructose to carbon dioxide and alcohol. Because the climate of New Orleans does not provide adequate conditions for happy grapes, resourceful natives have sought to local fruit to provide them with a base for an alcoholic drink.
Winemakers typically label their fruit wines by their main ingredient (e.g., blueberry wine or elderberry wine) because most authorities and some governments legally define wine as a beverage fermented from the juice of grapes. Also known as country wine, fruit wines are usually produced with additional sugars and/or honey in order to produce a more palatable drink.
Muscadine wine is considered the Deep South's first fruit wine. Initially used in wine-making in St. Augustine, Fla. since the 16th century, muscadine is a grapevine species but of a different subspecies than traditional grapes. Normally found as a loose cluster of wild grapes, the muscadine berry ranges in color from bronze to dark purple to black (when it ripens). Not only is the fruit eaten fresh and used in producing wine, it is also used in producing juice and jellies.
Antebellum plantation owners along the Mississippi have been known to have adequate stock of fruit wines in their cellar and currently the New Orleans area is witnessing a recent resurgence in this time-honored tradition as is evident with local wine-related businesses.
Jeff and Libby Landry of Landry Vineyards (www.landryvineyards.com) produce Louisiana wines that are distinctive to the region while complementing the rich Cajun foods of their French Acadian heritage. They grow traditional grapes on their vineyards, so the operation offers not only fruit wine but also traditional wine and alcohol that incorporate a blend of grapes and other fruits. The family secured their license as a Louisiana Native Winery in 2003 and established the operation in Folsom, LA. However, Hurricane Katrina forced the company to higher ground in West Monroe on a 20-acre site and there the family established a new winery, vineyards and tasting room.
Jeff and Libby describe fruit wines in general and how they incorporate them in their operations: "Having grown up in Louisiana, we have enjoyed the various fruits that naturally grow well here including blackberries, strawberries, blueberries, citrus and muscadine. Without sufficient acid, which wine grapes typically have, fruit wine has a short life. In earlier days, most of the fruit wines were likely consumed very young for this reason. Low sugar levels found in most fruit (including ones mentioned above) would have produced low alcohol wines decreasing stability without the addition of sugar before fermentation. For stability without pasteurization, wine should have an alcohol volume above 10 percent. Fruit wines should continue to appeal to many locals, especially those just starting to appreciate the delectable drink 'wine,' and will likely always find a place in a culture that remembers its past and local natural fruit heritage."
The couple also reveals that new wine grape hybrids have been developed such as Blanc Du Bois, which are disease resistant (especially Pierce Disease or "PD" Resistant), and with better varieties on the horizon (Auburn University is testing some now), the South will soon be producing higher-quality grape wines which should be able to compete with some of the wineries around the world.
Some of the fruit wines and blends that Landry Vineyards creates include Blackberry Merlot, whose result is a fruit-forward wine that is semi-sweet; Blueberry Merlot, which is slightly sweet; and Muscadine Blush, which has done so well for the family that they plan to increase production soon.
NOLA Tropical Winery (www.nolatropicalwinery.com) is a unique retail store and wine bar located in the Riverwalk. In keeping with fruit wine's old Deep South tradition, they offer tropical wines that are made with 100 percent all-natural fruit. The wines in the shop are all crafted at their winery in central Florida. Their selection of nearly 40 wines range from totally dry to sweet and include Citrus Wines (orange, tangerine, pink grapefruit), Berry Wines (muscadine, blackberry, cranberry, strawberry, raspberry, cherry), Tropical Fruit Wines (watermelon, mango, pineapple, passion fruit, kiwi, banana) and Blended Wines (Coco Polada-An Orange and Pineapple-Coconut wine).
So the next time you have an urge for alcohol (and knowing the fine citizens of this fair city, that moment may be now), consider fruit wine, especially those provided by local artisans who create the fermented fruit.