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Anyone making 100% Norton wine here?

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Snafflebit

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I have a love-hate relationship with Norton. I want to like it but I have had too many bad Norton wines. I will also say that I have had both Chrysalis and Stone Hill Nortons when I toured their wineries, and I was not terribly impressed. The winemakers were quite dismissive and zip lipped also. I just roll my eyes, no winemaker in California acts like that.

I would love to try to make my own Norton, to get a feel for how this wine evolves, but I doubt that I can find a source of frozen grapes that ship. I would like to attempt to grow a vine in California. Any ideas how it would handle the hot, dry climate?

How do you make Norton wines?

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cmason1957

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how do you make Norton wines (with Norton grapes). I know wrong answer. and no you probably won't find anyone that ships frozen grapes, at least not from Missouri. It really isn't that much different than other grapes, except you can toss those ideas of perfect PH and TA right out the window, it is almost always near 4.0 ph and 0.9 TA. Many folks around here will use a malic removing yeast. MLF is almost always done. It does make a wonderful rose wine, but don't soak for long or it will be a very dark rose wine. Oak is very often used, although I have had a few young wines without oak that are very good.

and I am with you on the Stone Hill Norton, not my favorite and yes, the winemakers are pretty tight-lipped, until you get to know them and they see you a few times. Probably the Germanic influence or something crazy like that.
 

Snafflebit

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I think the winemaker at Stone Hill is from South Africa. Definitely were some cultural differences. I did enjoy the Vignoles and Chardonnel during my tour of Hermann, MO.
 

stickman

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I don't have direct experience with Norton, but I've read some publications that describe some very unusual characteristics of this grape. I've summarized a few of these below.

As mentioned above, Norton must is usually high in titratable acidity (up to 15 g/L), malic acid (up to 6 g/L), and potassium (up to 6 g/L) and has a high pH (> 3.5).

TA measurements of the must are inaccurate unless the sample has been properly prepared by heating to 165F and pressed through cheese cloth, then cooled to 70F before testing. An increase in titratable acidity of up to 40% is seen with heating.

Brix measurements of the must will be higher than the true percent fermentable sugar by 10% to 20%, so potential alcohol will be lower than expected if the uncorrected brix measurement is used.

It is suggested that Tartaric acid be used to keep the pH below 3.6 even when the initial TA is high. Because the potassium content of the must is so high, the excess acid will all fall out of solution as potassium bitartrate upon cold stabilization. Numbers have been reported where the initial juice had tartaric acid at 11.8 g/L + 19 g/L added = 30.8 g/L (3.08%) total tartaric acid, yet the finished wine only had 2.1 g/L (0.21%) tartaric acid. The finished wine TA was 9.8 g/l, and even at a titratable acidity of almost 1%, the wine was reported to have good structural balance and gave the perception of a wine of much lower acidity.


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Snafflebit

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@stickman that is surprising information, the witch's brew, as we say in engineering. Norton wine can have a very deep color, almost black. Maybe this explains the zipped lips.
 

CoteRotie

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Wow, would be really interesting to see what CA planted Norton is like. I haven't tried much and what I have hasn't been impressive, but who knows what's possible?

Another variety you don't see planted much here is Pinotage. I've tried it and the "burnt rubber" is something I can't get past, but supposedly some winemakers/growers are able to control it.
 

mainshipfred

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How long ago did you go to Chrysalis, they had a winemaker a few years ago that was a real A-hole, he didn't even like himself. The one before him and the current are really nice. Last year I got Tannat and Norton from them and this year I will be adding Viognier to the list. I'm not aware of @stickman's findings although I do know Norton needs a lot of oak unless you like fruit bombs. It also doesn't seem to have much of a mid palate so I prefer to always blend it keeping near 80% Norton. In 2017 my final pH was 3.56 and in 2019 3.66 and neither had any acid adjustments. I can't seem to find the numbers at crush or the original brix. I just bottled my 2019, its 80% Norton, 8% Nebbiolo, 7% Tannat, 5% Merlot , 2% PV. Probably should have added more tannins but it's really drinking just fine for a young wine.
 

VinesnBines

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Ducard in Madison VA makes a great Norton single and a port style Norton. We helped pick last year and I think the secret is to crush into a bin lined with a filthy tarp. Ha! Seriously Julian is a master with Norton.
 

cmason1957

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My favorite Norton made is Missouri is by a very small almost boutique winery. It isn't far from Hermann, MO, where several very large wineries are. He uses all natural yeast, picks early, lets MLF just happen over the two to three years it ages. Small amounts of oak are added. It produces a very fruity non-bite filled Norton.

My big question, is why grow Norton in California, when you can grow so many better vines and make such better wines?? I drink Norton, but only due to most of the local wineries grow it. Even around Missouri, I prefer the Chambourcin wines so much better.
 

cmason1957

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Side thought and I don't know if you can buy a small amount of these yet or not. Have you tried a Crimson Cabernet? I have had it from I believe three or four wineries in the area around St. Louis. Nobelisis, La Chance (wine made by Nobelisis winemaker), Blumenhoff, and Hermanhoff. Parents came from Norton and Cabernet Sauvignon. Same disease resistance as Norton.
 

dralarms

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I’ve made straight Norton, and blended with scuppernongs and it’s better blended. Straight it’s got an “inky” taste (unless you water it down)
 

VinesnBines

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Side thought and I don't know if you can buy a small amount of these yet or not. Have you tried a Crimson Cabernet? I have had it from I believe three or four wineries in the area around St. Louis. Nobelisis, La Chance (wine made by Nobelisis winemaker), Blumenhoff, and Hermanhoff. Parents came from Norton and Cabernet Sauvignon. Same disease resistance as Norton.
I think growers still have to apply to Davis Vines to become a grower of Crimson Cabernet, commit to an acre of vines (green potted), and commit to 1000 gallons of wine. The only time I tasted Crimson Cabernet in VA, it was fine but nothing to write home about. I would like to try and outstanding sample.
 

jgmillr1

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I want to like it but I have had too many bad Norton wines.
I've been making Norton just about every year. As noted above, it is a temperamental grape as far as pH and TA run. So far, so good with this year's batch. I like the blackberry overtone it has and the higher acidity is similar to Barbera or Tempranillo. Of the things I do, I only let my Norton have upwards of 4 days of skin fermentation before pressing. While this limits some tannin extraction, it also reduces unwanted flavors. Some complaints I've heard from others about Norton involve it tasting like "rusty nails", which thankfully is something I've never produced.

So, a well controlled experimental mindset into the parameters around making the wine will help guide you to making better Norton wines. I'm still experimenting and improving the process every year.

Have you tried a Crimson Cabernet?
I planted an acre of the crimson cab. Unfortunately we had a cold winter (-15'F or so) the season after it was planted and we lost some of the vines. The vines are also very sensitive to competition with grass. Keeping them fertilized well and free from weeds/grass is important. This year they have rebounded well.

I've been pretty impressed with the crimson cab wine I've bought elsewhere so far. I haven't had enough for a crop yet myself though. The wines have had a moderate tannin structure and light pepper than reminded me of pinot noir. It has potential to make some really nice wine, but is still pretty undefined for agricultural zone and particular sensitivities for growing. I've experience occasional random trunk death for the young vines. At least they put out new suckers. I haven't pulled them out yet for something better.
 

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