All grapes belong to the genus Vitis. Most wine throughout the world is made from the Vitis vinifera species (also known as European Vines) significant amounts are made with other species native to North America. V. aestivalis is one of many species used for wine production and the principal variety is Norton. Other species including V.labrusca, V.rupestris, V.riparia are used in the US for winemaking but with declining popularity.
The wine produced from American vine species often has a distinctive flavour, often referred to as 'foxy'. This is mildly unpleasant to most consumers and winemakers try to minimise it.
American can vine species are resistant to many diseases and to the Phylloxera louse. Thus they are used extensively as rootstocks with European varieties grafted on to them.
The other important use of American vine species is as co-parents of hybrids with V.vinifera species. These hybrids, called French Hybrids have resistance to pests and diseases such as Downy Mildew and Powdery Mildew which are common wherever and whenever there is summer rain and humidity. Unfortunately the wines made from these hybrids often retain a hint of 'foxiness.'
In Australia the most successful hybrid with American parentage is Chambourcin. This is used in NSW and Queensland where summer rain can be a problem. Another Hybrid, Isabella or Fragola is popular with home winemakers, especially of Italian descent and is also used by some commercial wineries.
Norton is widely regarded as the best of the American vine species to produce a wine which tastes most like wine made from V.vinifera. In fact many tasters cannot distinguish Norton from wines made with European varieties.
The variety originated in Virginia in the Ninteenth Century. Here is a description of the origin according to Brian Yost of The Virginia Grape
It is believed that Dr. Norton was actively experimenting with grape cultivation, but the Norton may have been a mutation occurring outside of any controlled conditions. Mutation from seeds can easily occur, so there is some doubt surrounding the actual lineage of the grape.
The male parent, however, is almost certainly the wild vine Vitis aestivalis, which was crossed with an unidentified vinifera. Unlike other American varietals, it didn't have the 'foxy' flavors and produced a very drinkable wine.
In 2010 Bago Vineyards in the Hastings River Region commenced a trail with this variety. It will be a few years before we know if the vines grow well and make some good wines.
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