Like many other states, Tennessee had an up and coming wine industry during the late 1800's. The industry was destroyed by Prohibition in the 1920's and it would take a half-century for the industry to rekindle. In the late 1970's Judge William O. Beach championed legislation that enabled the wine industry in the state to move forward. Judge Beach was an amateur winemaker who wanted to open a commercial winery in Tennessee. Another industry leader is Fay Wheeler who was instrumental in passing the Wine and Grape Act of 1977. In 1980 Fay Wheeler started the first licensed winery in the state. To many, Fay is considered the grandfather of the Tennessee wine industry.
According to TTB data prepared by Wine America, in 1975 Tennessee had no wineries. Twenty years later the state had 15 wineries. In the period from 1995 to 2005 the number of wineries almost doubled to 27. As of 2010, Tennessee has 45 wineries. The numbers continue to increase.
American Viticulture Area
The Mississippi Delta AVA was established in 1984. This large area includes parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee. Unfortunately, it was later discovered the southwestern corner of Tennessee included in the AVA has had difficulty successfully growing grapes. Wineries can use the state designate Tennessee as the AVA if the grapes used to make the wine are sourced from the state.
There are between 500 acres and 750 acres of wine grapes grown in Tennessee. The number of acres of grapes continues to increase. Many vineyards are small, under five acres. This is a challenge to growers, since wineries juggle the decision to buy small quantities locally or purchase larger quantities from out of state. Grapes grown include vinifera, hybrids and Native American. These include vinifera varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Gewürztraminer and Merlot as well as Native American varieties such as Catawba, Concord, Niagara, Norton (Cynthiana) and the Muscadine family of grapes. Hybrid grapes growing in Tennessee include Chambourcin, Chardonel, and Traminette.
Cultivars include Carlos, Doreen, Magnolia, Sterling, Black Beauty, Fry, and Noble. There are many other cultivars for the Muscadine grapes. Vineyards that were planted decades ago with Muscadine grapes have a mixture of grape cultivars. As a result there is a tendency to call a wine Muscadine rather than using the specific name of the grape.
Fruit wine lovers will discover many fruit wines. These include Black Raspberry, Peach, Blackberry, Strawberry, Rhubarb, Blueberry and Apple.