In 1970s, Mississippi State University began researching whether muscadines could be used for winemaking. The facts that the horticulture department’s project is dealing in large part with the growing of muscadine grapes, the fermentation of the juice, and the processing of wine have evoked some humorous speculation. However, to the scientists involved, the research is serious business, the results of which could be beneficial in the economy and agriculture of Mississippi. A major facet of the research is in ascertaining the feasibility of domestic production of native wines from grapes grown in Mississippi.
The data derived from the enology research with muscadines may provide farmers and vintners with the information needed to initiate and develop a winemaking industry in the state. From available statistics, it appears that there is already a large market for wine in the state. According to a recent issue of Wines and Vines publication, the consumption of wine in the state increased 62 percent from 1971 to 1974 with Mississippians consuming 1,287,000 gallons in 1974. The question is, can a palatable and commercially saleable wine be processed from native muscadine grapes? This is the initial focus of the project, although research will not be limited to wines, but will encompass experimentation in the processing of juice concentrates, vinegar, jellies, jams and preserves of other fruits, berries and vegetables.
The current laws regulating the production of wine in Mississippi do not prohibit commercial production but do impose high fees. These, along with staff competitions in the industry from established wineries in California and New York are not conductive to an individual taking the gamble on an unproven product. Legislation has been introduced in the state legislature to reduce the $1800 annual privilege license fee for wine manufacturers to $10 per 10,000 gallons on native wine. Under the proposed law, native wine producers would be required to post a $5,000 bond instead of a $100,000 bond required of other wine producers; and the $.35 per gallon excise tax would be reduced to $.05 per gallon on native wines. The proposed regulations would also allow retailers and consumers to purchase native wines directly from the producer and not be limited to sale to the State to the State Tax Commission that acts as the wholesale distributor and seller of alcoholic beverages in Mississippi.
The MSU research is concentrating on the muscadine grape, which is native to the southeastern area of the country and is highly resistant to disease and decay. Four vineyards producing various varieties of muscadines have been established in diverse areas of the state at agricultural experiment stations in Verona, Crystal Springs, Stoneville and Beaumont. Dr. Gene Overcash of the horticulture department, who is overseeing the viticulture, pointed out that the climate and soil of Mississippi are excellent for growing grapes. He explained that muscadines have been grown for experimental purposes on the MSU campus for at least 50 years.
The muscadine is absolutely native to the southeastern region and is found in other areas of the world only where they have been transported from this region. They were found growing wild around the river bottoms of eastern Northern Carolina when the colonists landed there. The oldest known variety, the scuppernong, was named for a river in North Carolina.
Grapes are hearty plants and will produce for over 50 years. It takes three years after a vine is planted for it to produce a crop. Dr. Overcash said, “ that an average acre of muscadines would yield two to three tons of grapes a year.” He also pointed out that information gleaned from these projects would be helpful to farmers and individuals who want to grow muscadines for their own use.
Dr. Boris Stojanovic is the enologist in charge of this phase of the project. A native of Yugoslavia where his father owned a vineyard, he was a microbiologist with the MSU agronomy department for 19 years before becoming involved with the enology research.
Winemaking is one of man’s oldest industries.
The researchers will look at the total picture of production and processing of fruits and vegetables. Whatever the future of native wineries in Mississippi, the research at MSU will provide a store of scientific information for farmers and individuals as well as for farmers and individuals as well as for other scientists in the continuing development of agriculture.
Since the creation of the American Viticultural Area in 1984, there has been very little viticulture in the Mississippi Delta region. Mississippi State University established an enology laboratory to research grapes cultivation in the area, but little commercial activity has resulted. The few wineries that have produced wine from the Mississippi Delta AVA have used native muscadine grapes according to wikipedia.
The research did lead to development of muscadine ice cream, muscadine juice and muscadine jelly which is available for sale at the MSU MAFES Sales Store.