Winery crushes sweetest muscadines ever at Loudon plant
By Iva Butler | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
In the heat of the Southern sun on Sunday, Tennesseey Valley Winery employees began crushing four tons of the sweetest muscadines they have ever processed.
The Ison’s Deluxe red muscadines grown by Greg Gordy of Ringgold, Ga., rated 20 to 22 for sweetness. The average rating for red muscadines is 13, and 15 to 16 is considered good, said Cameran Birkholz, the wine maker at Tennessee Valley Winery. A 20 to 22 rating is exceptional.
The sugar in the muscadines gets converted to alcohol in the fermenting process. If there is not enough sugar in the fruit, you have to add it, said Cameran Birkholz.
“For years California wine makers poo-pooed muscadine grapes because they can’t grow them. It turns out muscadine wine is the healthiest wine you can drink by far. All of a sudden they (California vintners) want to import muscadines and juice. That proves the good old Southerners know what they’re talking about,” said Matt Birkholz, husband to Cameran and a law school student who helps out at the winery.
Because of their thick skins, muscadine grapes are loaded with polyphenols, anti-oxidants and other healthy substances, he said
Muscadines thrive in the hot, humid climate of the Southeast, where they are native, and residents in this area have made muscadine wine since the 16th century.
Started in 1984, Tennessee Valley Winery is located off Interstate 75 south of Knoxville and Lenoir City. Operators process, bottle and sell their wine on-site using no concentrated juice. They sell 75,000 to 100,00 bottles of wine a year.
It is the oldest winery in continuous operation in Tennessee, according to Bill Birholz, whose family works there.
The Birkholz family and Jerry Reed are interested in starting Cades Cove Winery on property they want to purchase behind the Apple Valley Store Complex in Townsend.
Townsend City Commission recently passed an ordinance permitting wineries.
Muscadine grapes are harvested in the fall, meaning winery workers don’t get much sleep during that period, said Matt Birkholz,
The Niagra grapes ripen in mid-August, but a lot of the grapes come in later. “We have been known to press in the snow in early November,” he said.
Earlier in the year, they crushed 66 tons of red and white muscadines in a 10-day period. “It was a rough 10 days,” he said.
The good part was they did the work at night so as not to inconvenience their customers, which meant the muscadine-loving yellow jackets didn’t show up. That was not true Sunday.
They first crush the red muscadines with rollers to break the skin and let a little of the juice seep out. It is then left for five days to absorb good color and flavor from the thick skins, before being pressed to get all the juice out.
Reed, Cameran and her father, John Smook, own the winery. Reed has a 60-acre farm in the Paint Rock community, growing muscadines and traditional grapes. In the spring the vines had a great bloom and bud set, but 70 percent of them were killed by a frost, Matt Birkholz said. The winery sits on 4.5 acres in Loudon County.
In addition to the muscadines they grow, the business buys product from other Tennessee and Georgia farmers. “We contract with as many local farmers as we can,” he said.
Matt Birkholz said his wife, Cameran, has won awards in vintner competitions all over the country. The wines she entered in the international upper New York Finger Lakes competition have always won prizes. She won a gold medal in the Wines of the South competition at UT.