Yeast is a sucker. You can give it sugar, and it will give you alcohol in return.
For more than 8,000 years, people have taken advantage of this chemical transaction, fermentation, by adding yeast to grape juice. Yeast, over the course of weeks, will then turn that grape juice’s sugars into alcohol. The result is wine.
Other fruits also have sugar: apples, cherries, peaches, pineapples, pomegranates and so on. All of these fruits can be picked, juiced and turned into wine using the same process we use for grapes.
The cool news, as I learned on a trip to Italy, is that winemakers are increasingly turning their attention from grapes to other fruit. There, in Le Marche, I had the fortune to drink (repeatedly) a wine made from cherries and grapes — visciolata. I drank the sour, sultry, cinnamon-tinged wine on hot nights after long days working in the sun.
Fruit wines have global appeal and a long history. Ancient Romans swilled wines made from dates and figs. Plum wines are popular in Asia, banana wines in Africa and wines made from various fruits are gaining traction here in the U.S.
You can sip a pumpkin wine or a sparkling cranberry wine in New Jersey (at Four Sisters Winery, at Valenzano Winery). There are plenty of other places in the area, especially in Connecticut and New York, that do fruit wine. It’s also getting big in the Midwest. Sour cherry wines are having a moment in Michigan. Wine makers are now using fruit across the country — in Florida, Indiana and Alaska, and even in spots where grapes thrive, like Oregon and California.
Here are some of today’s coolest bottles:
1) Ethan’s Pumpkin, Four Sisters Winery (New Jersey)
Get fired up when fall hits and so do pumpkin beers? You probably want to get your lips on a glass of pumpkin wine. It won’t be easy if you live in a state to which alcohol can’t be shipped. Pumpkin wine isn’t nearly as common as the more popular fruit wines, such as berry and apple wines. Four Sisters Winery makes a light, semi-sweet pumpkin wine named after the wine maker’s grandson. Yes, it’s orange.
2) Hula O’Maui (Pineapple Sparkling), Maui’s Winery (Hawaii)
Proponents of terroir will be interested to know that Maui’s Winery crushes pineapples for wine on the slopes of Haleakala, an active volcano. The winery does three pineapple wines: a semi-dry wine, a sweet wine and a sparkler. As you might expect, the bubbly — Hula O’Maui — brings huge fresh citrus flavors. Maui’s Winery recommends matching the wine with Hawaiian seafood.
3) Cherry Wine, Good Harbor Vineyards (Michigan)
Before the Simpson family made cherry wine, they farmed cherries and sold them whole. Now, they do grape and cherry wines on Michigan’s Leelanau Peninsula. Cherries bound for the bottle spend an extra four weeks on the vine to develop more sugar. Good Harbor blends a pair of tart cherry varieties, Montmorency and Balanton, to make a darkly ruby-red cherry wine. To taste? After a sweet and sour sip, as Good Harbor Vineyards puts it, “You will wonder how it is possible to put northern Michigan cherry pie into a bottle.”
4) Blueberry, Bear Creek Winery and Lodging (Alaska)
There are a few beautiful things about fruit wine in addition to its vibrant character and ecstatic, gemlike colors. It gives people something to do with extra fruit. It gives people something to make wine from if the grapes don’t work out. And it gives people a source for making wine in places where grapes struggle. Like Alaska. Bear Creek Winery, open for just ten years, does spunky, award-winning wines from more than a dozen fruits (and some vegetables, like rhubarb). One of their best bottles is a sweet blueberry wine.
5) Midnight Sun, The Key West Winery (Florida)
All kinds of fruits flourish in the Florida sunshine. The Key West Winery turns these — bananas, mangos, grapefruits, kiwis, key limes, and so on — into wine. But it’s Florida’s oranges that are the stuff of legend, and these, too, are made into fruit wine. The winery makes dry and sweet orange wines. Its Midnight Sun — an orange wine aged with coffee beans — captures the freewheeling spirit of fruit wines, a colorful world where the only limits are those of your imagination.