Get ready to drink outside the box!

What makes a mountain wine?

Most folks associate American wine with Napa Valley and Sonoma County, California. And why not? The Golden State makes darn good reds and whites.

But did you know that West Virginia used to be almost as famous? Until blight arrived in the late 1800s, our state produced most of the nation’s wine. It might take a while before we’re back up there. Meanwhile, the Mountain State is making up for lost time. Its varied terrain and microclimates are stoking all kinds of craft industries.

That’s especially so in Southern West Virginia. Thanks to moderate elevation and acidic sandstone soil, cold-climate grapes thrive. So does wild mountain fruit. The combination inspires a delightful medley of wines, from traditional to unorthodox. It’s not uncommon to find Chardonnay rubbing shoulders with a bottle of strawberry-rhubarb vino!

Photo Courtesy: Daniel Vineyards Facebook

The scientist of Crab Orchard

It looks like a something from a magazine spread. Rows of shaggy vines, rolling lawns, and cheerful rosebushes fill the landscape. A gazebo overlooks a pond and shade trees encircle a wooden deck.

Yet Daniel Vineyards in Crab Orchard has a few surprises up its sleeve. Since 1990, owner Dr. C. Richard Daniel has specialized in cold-climate grapes. The estate’s high elevation suits hardy cultivars like his, which range from French-American hybrids to a Native American Norton. His Espirit is the only kind in West Virginia, too. He even raises blueberries.

Altogether, Daniel has experimented with more than 100 cultivars. Because everything is grown on site, the winery is a true estate. That’s a rare distinction. All that dedication has paid off with multiple awards, too. His prize-winning wines include the 2008 Cayuga, 2008 Vidal Blanc, and blackberry.

Swing by the vineyard for samples (call in advance to confirm hours), or attend the annual West Virginia Spring Wine Festival. It’s a family event with tastings, live music, art, and food vendors. Bring a camp chair and soak up the sights. Even the kids are welcome!

Photo courtesy: Kirkwood Winery Facebook

Summersville’s stash

Kirkwood Winery has broad horizons. Established in 1984, the Summersville vineyard became the region’s first. It yields 40 tons of grapes every year from more than 30 French hybrid varietals.

The winery is also ambitious. You can buy reds, whites, blush, even mead. The Facemire family raises rhubarb and berry bushes, too. So if your stash needs some dash, you’ll find it here!

Kirkwood’s fruit wines are especially intriguing. Blueberry, pear, apple, and cherry are just some of the flavors available. Sweet and decadent, they’re ideal for dessert. But others — like red currant — are pleasantly tart. Try some samples and see what you like.

Kirkwood also has mountain exotics like dandelion, wild elderberry, and ramp — a garlicky wild onion. As you can imagine, this particular wine is best for cooking. You can also take home spirits; Isaiah Morgan Distillery, which belongs to the winery, produces rye, grappa, and moonshine.

Another highlight is the Grape Stomping Wine Festival in September. Splash barefoot in vats, savor wine samples, dance to live music, or go on a wagon ride. It’s an old-fashioned family event that everybody — from kids to grandparents — will enjoy.

Ever visited a Southern West Virginia winery? What’s your favorite mountain flavor?