The road to Wilmington, North Carolina runs through Muscadine (Vitis rotundifolia) wine country and adjacent to the world's largest muscadine producer: Duplin Winery. I've always wanted to visit the winery after seeing their lighthouse themed labels in the Outer Banks and learning about Muscadine in the early days of WineCompass.com. Last week I finally had an opportunity during a trip to Wilmington and stopped into their popular Rose Hill tasting room. The winery traces its inception to the early 1970s when D.J. Fussell, Sr. and his two sons, David and Dan planted muscadine to meet a strong demand for those grapes. When the wholesale market collapsed they started Duplin Winery becoming the first post-prohibition winery in the south. The winery grew rapidly until the 1980s when government regulations virtually strangled the winery and David Fussell Sr. almost closed the operation. The family persisted and today a third generation of Fussells manage not only the oldest, but also the the largest winery in the south.
Duplin Winery grows and sources mostly muscadine grapes, although a few labrusca grapes such as Niagara and Catawba are included in some blends. Carlos, Scuppernong, and Magnolia are the primary white muscadine varieties with Noble, James, and Coastal James the major red players. Their wines are obviously grapey and mostly sweet, with the driest being the Carlos and Burgundy. Regardless of the sugar level, all the wines I tasted had generous amounts of acids to help balance the sugar. In fact the sweeter Scuppernong was my favorite of the group for that very reason. Duplin also produces a limited release Mother Vine Scuppernong from clippings from the 400 year old Mother Vine, acquired when the winery helped save the historic vine. As for the reds, the semi-sweet Goin' Coastal blush wine was my favorite red as the grapey character is muted in exchange for a more citrus flavor. There is no charge for the tasting of twelve wines and if you find one to purchase, the retail price will most likely range from $7 to $15. Definitely priced to experiment. Cheers to Muscadine, the Mother Vine, and Duplin Winery.