As someone who has visited many vineyards in Missouri*, I was quite familiar with the taste of the Norton grape this past weekend when my parents opened a bottle they had been given as a gift. They had never heard about the Norton, and were impressed with the taste. (This particular Norton came from Mount Pleasant Winery)
However, I’ve never been one to focus strongly on a grape’s history, or trying to define the taste beyond whether or not I like it. For example, I had no idea it was declared the “state grape” back in 2003.
Norton | Cynthiana
Your history is crazy, even a little wild. You first surfaced in the state of Virginia as Mr. Norton, a man with a regal character. Proudly American, but respected in Europe where they flattered you as the â€œbest of all nationsâ€. Then we met you in Missouri, posing as a demure and elegant lady, impressing with subtle charm. The locals knew you as Miss Cynthiana, their â€˜Cabernet of the Ozarksâ€™. As it turns out you were a little mad, for Mr. Norton and Miss Cynthiana, you are one in the same! Youâ€™ve been diagnosed with a split personality affliction.
A more serious and indepth look at the history of the Norton grape
Sauce Magazine article on our official state grape.
Although the fruit has many fawning admirers, they cannot agree on what to call it. In the late 1800s, a grape discovered in Arkansas was given the name Cynthiana. It was sent to vintners in Hermann, who deemed it a separate species from Norton, which was already under cultivation at the time. Today, many people still swear that Norton and Cynthiana are different. In 1992, to settle the dispute, Bruce Reisch of Cornell University took samples of the two grapes from 10 local vineyards. DNA analysis revealed the study specimens to be genetically identical. Still, both names persist, a fact acknowledged by the Missouri state government in calling the grape â€œNorton/Cynthiana.â€
*(I’ve visited between 15 and 20 of the wineries in that list)