Until recently the Alabama Native Farm Winery Act posed a major obstacle to wine enthusiasts in this southern state. The Act required wineries to source 75% of their grapes from vineyards near the winery, and also decreed that wineries could only be located in ‘wet’ counties. This proved quite a hurdle for producers in a state that is one-third ‘dry’.
Fortunately for the nascent industry, this restrictive Act was finally overturned in 2002. It will still take much promotion and education to bring Alabama up to the national average for wine consumption, but it is a task which the newly formed Alabama Wineries and Grapegrowers Association is keen to take on. Currently there are seven wineries in the state working with both Muscadine and French hybrids.
Don’t look for Chardonnay in Alabama, as Vitis vinifera vines are generally overwhelmed by Pierce’s disease in this hot and humid environment. The Alabama signature grape variety is the native Muscadine, which flourishes along the sunny coastal plain, growing in the sand-clay soils typical of the state, and basking in the "deep South" warmth which they require. French hybrids are moderately successful in the Upper Piedmont region, north and northeast of Montgomery, where limestone soils are found and the climate cools sufficiently. These hybrids do require considerably high maintenance for survival, but local wineries are achieving desirable results which make them worth the effort.
In the southern Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina and Georgia vineyards are small and few, yet the establishment of the Upper Hiwassee Highlands could bring much more.
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