Years later, on my most recent trip to Charlottesville (Virginia) in late December 2012, I saw these juices at Market Street Wine Shop. The new owners decided to keep the vines after all; they kept only varieties with partial native scion DNA, though, and by working with these hardy grapes they could transition to a mostly organic regimen. The big difference though, is that Oakencroft Winery became Oakencroft Farm, and now they produce grape juice instead of wine. On their website they mention guidance from several of the world's leading producers of organic/biodynamic grapes, including James Millton who makes incredible biodynamic chenin blanc (and other wines) in Gisborne, New Zealand.
What's interesting about these three grapes from Oakencroft is that they are all hybrids that emerged in the 20th century, and they all have some unique connections. The bases for these hybrids date back to the work of Albert Seibel (1844-1936) who worked extensively with French-American breeding.
A brief side note for those who don't know much about grape geneaology: there are several species of grapes that exist in the world, though only one main species is used to make most of the world's wine. This species is Vitis vinifera and is native to the Fertile Crescent area. Other species native to North America are much better suited to certain climates, but are popularly considered to produce inferior wine as opposed to superior Vitis vinifera grapes. Most Vitis vinifera grapes are grafted onto North American rootstocks to increase their resistance to phylloxera, so there exists a strong interdependency between the different species-- but the scion (fruit bearing portion) is almost always Vitis vinifera. Several viticulturalists, especially in the early and mid-20th century (in part response to the phylloxera epidemic in the 1890s) began experimenting with interbreeding the species, creating what are known as "hybrids." Hybrids are the black sheep of the wine world-- despite their hardy DNA and the fact that they are in their infancy of experimentation (and that it could take centuries of breeding them to find grapes that will make wine on par with Vitis vinifera), they are often looked down upon, and the EU even forbids the use of most hybrids (there are a few exceptions). And so, we don't find many hybrids in the EU, but the US and Canada have some plantings.
Albert Seibel was a leader in hybrid breeding. He bred several famous hybrids which are the bases for these three grapes grown at Oakencroft. Bertille Sayve (1864-1939) created Seyval Blanc when he crossed two of Seibel's hybrids. Bertille's son, Joannes Sayve (1900-1966) also worked with the Seibel hybrids and created Chambourcin. Many hybrids were named after their breeders, and Joannes had one of his named "Joannes Seyve 23.416" (probably a cross of two Seibel hybrids). In 1964 Herb Barrett at the University of Illinois crossed Joannes Seyve 23.416 with Gewurztraminer to create Traminette.
Thus, if you follow the genealogy of these three grapes, they are three different generations of hybrids that all lead back to Albert Seibel. Barrett built upon the work of Joannes Seyve. Joannes built upon the works of his father Bertille (and through him, Seibel). Bertille built upon the works of Seibel.
Traminette is a variety that emerged in 1965 at the University of Illinois during an experiment to breed a table grape that tasted like gewurztraminer. It's a cross between gewurztrminer and a hybrid.
Tasting Note: This is densely concentrated and packed with peachy flavor. The juice has high acidity and high sweetness.
Seyval emerged around the 1930s in France. It's a crossing of Seibel's hybrids.
Tasting Note: This juice has a bright, fruity flavor like granny smith apples.
This grape emerged in the 1960s and is pretty popular on The Atlantic East Coast.
Tasting Note: Tart, crisp and refreshing. This really reminded me of cranberry juice cocktail.
But more importantly, these grape juices make me think about what the world of wine may have been like if we hadn't honed in on grafting. These three grapes are indirectly the result of Albert Seibel, and I think he is a character in our history that needs to be investigated a bit more. If phylloxera had won, we might not have any Vitis vinifera (or, at least, not enough to fuel today's voracious wine market). Under this hypothetical scenario, Seibel may be have been our savior-- he could have saved wine, saved vinifera indirectly by breeding it with heartier species. Instead, because we saved Vitis vinifera through grafting, his contribution goes mostly unheeded and, especially in the EU, perceived as a nuisance. But things could have easily unfolded another way. Seibel is one of those historical figures who, if key events had happened differently, he would have been at the forefront of our industry and a main character in our history books. I wish I could read his diary and see firsthand, what he felt his contribution to be. In a way, by drinking these Oakencroft grape juices, I get hints of what he was after.