The Norton Grape was believed to have been discovered by Dr. Daniel Norton of the Richmond, Virginia area in the 1820s. It is unknown if Dr. Daniel Norton made this discovery of a native growing wild grape, or if he was practicing the cross-breeding of grapes in his gardens and the Norton developed from this. In his growing experiments, Dr. Norton found one grape to produce a quality wine that was drinkable and could potentially stand up to European wines. In addition, Dr. Norton found a vine that was resilient and could withstand Virginia’s harsh climate, unlike the European vinifera vines. (1)
In the 1830s, Dr. Norton received credit for his discovery from the renown author, William Prince, in his book A Treatise on the Vine. Prince called Dr. Norton’s grape “Norton’s Virginia Seedling” in his book as he went on to note the resilience of this new vine discovered and the fruit it produced. After over two centuries of failed attempts, Dr. Norton brought hope to the Virginia wine industry through the discovery of the grape that became his namesake. (2)
It has been debated that Dr. Norton was not the original discoverer of the Norton grape. Soon after Dr. Norton’s death, another man, F.W. Lemosy came forward and attempted to discredit Dr. Norton for his discovery. He claimed it was not Dr. Norton, but he who had discovered the grape originally. While controversy ensued following Dr. Norton’s death tainting his name and discovery, credit today is still widely given to Dr. Norton for being the founder of the Norton Grape, a native grape of Virginia.
Wines produced from the Norton grape have gone on to win international awards, helping to put Virginia on the global wine map. In 1873 at the Vienna World Fair, a Norton wine produced by the Monticello Wine Company went on to win honors for its fine taste amongst red wines. However, only a few decades following the Vienna World Fair, Prohibition hit Virginia, striking the Norton grape from the lands. According to Todd Kliman in his book The Wild Vine, “[f]ederal agents had swept the state and ripped out the Norton vines, along with every other winemaking variety that had flourished in Virginia.” (Kliman 201) The Norton grape all but disappeared from its native Virginia landscape.
Around the late 1980s/early 1990s, Dennis Horton of Virginia reintroduced the Norton grape to the state from Missouri where it had been growing through Prohibition. Thanks to Horton, the Norton grape had returned home to the state where Dr. Norton had first successfully bottled a Virginia-native wine. (3)
Today, the Norton grape is still a popular vine grown in Virginia. Chrysalis Vineyards, located in Loudon County, Virginia, is one of the leading growers of this native grape and producers of Norton wine. In addition, Dennis Horton’s Horton Vineyards is also a producer of Norton wines, amongst many other vineyards throughout Virginia. So go ahead…try this local wine for yourself and dive into its controversial and promising history for the state.
(1) For more information on this, please visit Todd Kliman’s book, The Wild Vine, pages 19-23, and Richard Leahy’s book, Beyond Jefferson’s Vines, page 26.
(2) More information on the Norton grape can be found in William Prince’s book, A Treatise on the Vine, page 186.
(3) For more information on this, please visit Todd Kliman’s book, The Wild Vine, page 201, and Richard Leahy’s book, Beyond Jefferson’s Vines, page 27.