Norton is a red wine variety from the species Vitis aestivalis, originating in the eastern United States. It is now being trialled in the Hastings Rivers region of New South Wales.
All wine grapes belong to the genus Vitis. Most wine throughout the world is made from the Vitis vinifera species (also known as European Vines). However, significant amounts of wine are made with other species native to North America.
V. aestivalis is one of many North American species used for wine production and the principal variety used 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 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 Nineteenth Century.
There is some mystery surrounding the actual creation of the Norton varietal, but in the 1820s Dr. Daniel Norborne Norton, of Richmond, Virginia produced the hybrid that bears his name.
It is believed that Dr. Norton was actively experimenting with grape cultivation, but the Norton variety may have been a mutation occurring outside any controlled conditions. Mutation from seeds can easily occur, so there is some doubt surrounding the actual lineage of the grape.
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.
A small planting of Norton is also grown by Norton Estate in Western Victoria, just outside the Grampians region.
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