Ah Catawba


I’m sure someone is going to write and tell me to get serious about wine and stop wasting time talking about extinct species.  However, to know where you are going, you have to understand where you’ve been.  That’s why this week’s Griffy on Wine will be looking at Catawba.
I know it’s hard to take Catawba seriously, especially when your bottle is from the world famous “Honeymoon Trail Winery.”   Hey folks, I don’t make up the names I just drink the wine.  For those of you who live outside New York State, the Honeymoon Trail refers to NY  State Route 104, which was once the main road leading to Niagara Falls and Lake Ontario.
Catawba is an original American Grape that in its day was a pillar of the American Wine industry.  Its origins and future are both obscure. At this time I think it’s only grown in three states, NY being the bulk of it.  But, in its day, Catawba was world-renowned and as popular as Champagne.  From 1825 to 1850 if you were toasting and putting on at the Ritz, you were doing it with Catawba.  Then, at about the time of the Civil War, America’s taste shifted to Norton, and Concord became the rage.
The most popular rendering to Catawba is “PINK” Catawba.  I’ll try and give this wine some class and call it a Rose.  The color, well, it’s PINK!  It’s pretty in pink as a Rose should be.  As for the nose, it is sweet, like driving past the PEZ factory in Orange Connecticut, or cotton candy at a fair.  Perfect for the American Palate, the wine is also quite sweet, but not syrupy.  Think of it more like a kids drink with a kick.  It does have a spicy after taste.  To be honest not a bad drink, but I’m hard pressed to call it a wine.
It’s funny but I was thinking no one is going to write about this wine, yet no lesser a Literary Great than Henry Wadsworth Longfellow did write about it in “Ode to Catawba Wine.” So at one time this wine wasn’t a joke, in fact it made the first commercially successful winery in America possible.  It is said if a man knows his history he will know his wines, and I’d like to believe that is true.
Taste and attitudes change, this much we know is true.  The Norton Concord and Catawba are all but gone, replaced by Cabernet, Merlot and Chardonnay.  We shouldn’t forget that with modern wine production techniques it is possible for these wines to find their way back to the table.  However doubtful, I’d love to see it.   Do yourself the favor of trying an American Original, you can hate it later, but it deserves a taste.
Let’s finish with Longfellow:
While pure as a spring
Is the wine I sing,
And to praise it,
one needs but name it;
For Catawba wine
Has need of no sign,
No tavern-bush to proclaim it.
And this Song of the Vine,
This greeting of mine,
The winds and the birds shall deliver
To the Queen of the West,
In her garlands dressed,
On the banks of the Beautiful River.

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