In creating a perfect way to understand the history of this mysterious and unique white grape along with its association as part of the North Carolina wine history, I sought to find what everyone's real claim was. I heard story after story from the locals here in Tyrrell County about the "Mother Vine" and it being the mother of all "Scuppernong Vines." Found on Roanoke Island, it is estimated to be over 400 years old and has been protected for many generations. However, there is no doubt that as Sir Walter Raleigh’s explorers, a couple of fellows named Philip Amadas and Arthur Barlowe, were referring to when they wrote in 1584 about our coast, that it was “so full of grapes, as the very beating and surge of the sea overflowed them … in all the world the like abundance is not to be found.” Amadas and Barlowe sent back reports from the Outer Banks about grapevines that covered “every little shrub as also climbing towards the tops of high cedars.”
Jack Bishop, avid hunter, fisher and the owner of 300 acres of land along the Scuppernong River, found these same wild grapes growing on his land... and as he exclaimed to me "could these same vines be part of something bigger than he even imagined when he had planned to turn this land into a subdivision?" Did Amadas and Barlowe travel up this river exploring and discover, along the tall cedars which lined the river, the real first sightings of the Scuppernong Grape... now known as "Our State Fruit?" So we begin to ask... which came first, the mother vine that resides on Roanoke Island and is said to be over 400 years old or the land that was full of wild grapes and still lines the Scuppernong River today with tall cedars and wild grapes right here in Tyrrell County? No one really knows for sure because unless you can find someone to vouch for such a thing... and would be more than 400 years old... it stands as one of those incredible mysteries about our state and nation. What we do know is that it has climbed the symbol ladder since 1584, becoming the state toast in 1957 and decreed to be the state fruit in 2001.
Today, North Carolina can boast about the many things that make the state great. It is full of gorgeous and clean beaches. Its mountains and trails on the western part of the state are far more beautiful than anything you have ever seen. But even more than that, North Carolina can truly boast that it was the place where the first wine was made. In 1835, the first, commercial winery was founded by Sydney Weller in Halifax County, later renamed Medoc Vineyards. By 1850, North Carolina led the nation in wineries with 25 and unfortunately in 1860, the Civil War devastated them all. Thirty years later, North Carolina was encouraged to give it another try and until Prohibition in 1909, had a thriving grape and wine business, winning countless National and International awards. Some of these included the wine exposition in Paris, followed with the Virginia Dare White and Red wines winning the Grand Prize in the Louisiana Purchase Exhibition. The Virginia Dare wine, made right here in North Carolina, was the #1 wine produced in the United States in 1909. To read the countless stories about the history of wine almost feels like an emotional roller-coaster and for many of the grape farmers... it probably felt this way to them as well. Today, North Carolina is 7th in the nation in wine production. I believe folks... North Carolina wine is here to stay for good and there is no doubt that the Scuppernong grape, like it's tough outer skin, forced North Carolinians to keep hanging in there. The characteristic of the Scuppernong is what reminds us where it all began and why it has risen to success. I can only imagine what farmers are saying today while they bring in this fall's harvest... "Isn't it time to return to some of the things that made North Carolina great!"
Written By: R. Wade for VOTS