A Toast to Virginia Dare

In honor of Virginia Dare’s 425 birthday tomorrow (8/18), it seems fitting to highlight some of the treasures of North Carolina cultural heritage collections relating to a product that perpetuated her name and memory—muscadine wine.

In 1901 Sallie Southhall Cotten published The White Doe, her version of the legend of Virginia Dare in poetry. Exemplifying the Colonial Revival Movement, Cotten’s work promoted North Carolina as the earliest British colony and Virginia Dare as the first British child born and baptized in America. Cotten combined a romanticized legend of Virginia Dare, a maiden in the wilderness whose frustrated suitor used magic to turn her into a white doe, with a contemporary local industry. Cotten’s version of the story told of red scuppernog grape vines (a muscadine variety) sprouting from drops of Dare’s blood upon her tragic death. The book includes photos of the ancient “mother vine” on Roanoke Island and of “modern” scuppernong vineyards—one even bearing the caption “A ‘Virginia Dare’ Vineyard.” Cotten advocated further muscadine cultivation in the region. “The manifest destiny of North Carolina as the rival of Southern France in the production of wines seems inevitable.” (xiv)

The Mother Vine

H.1992.57.16

H.1990.48.1

Proponents of Prohibition, however, prevented North Carolina from fulfilling its “manifest destiny,” at least during the 20th century. In 1908 it became the first state to pass a Prohibition law, driving its most successful scuppernong wine producer, Paul Garrett, north to Virginia and later New York. Perhaps influenced by Cotten’s book, Garrett began producing “Virginia Dare” wines. Still partially a scuppernong product, these wines enjoyed widespread popularity during the years surrounding national Prohibition, which forced Garrett to diversify into extract and flavoring manufacture.

early cask from Duplin Winery’s collection

Whereas the “Virginia Dare” brand name endures on flavoring products, muscadine wine cultivation in North Carolina is a growing business. Duplin Winery now processes scuppernongs from clippings of the Roanoke Island mother vine for a new wine line. In addition, The winery’s museum collection reminds visitors of the area’s rich heritage of muscadine cultivation and wine production. Duplin and other area muscadine producers now sponsor the Muscadine Harvest Festival late September each year in Kenansville. Consider attending and tipping a glass to the memory of Virginia Dare.

For more on the history of North Carolina wines, see http://www.nccommerce.com/wine/about-us/nc-wine-history and http://www.raleighbottleclub.org/index_files/ncwine.pdf.

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About collectionsconversations

This blog will contain posts from the C2C project staff on a variety of topics related to collections care and disaster preparedness. Enjoy the posts and let us know if you would like additional information or have a topic you would like for us to address.

Posted on August 17, 2012, in collections access, public programs and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Happy Birthday Virginia Dare! This is such a fun article. Thanks! We hope that you and all of your readers will plan to celebrate by trying some great NC Muscadine wine. And you can find a collection of Muscadines at North Carolina’s only on-line wine store for our wonderful boutique wineries @ http://www.northcarolinawinegifts.com/muscadine-wines?maxrows=12.

  2. James Mockoski

    Does anyone know a collector out there that has Virginia Dare material?

  3. James Mockoski

    Thank you for your response.. I am looking for collections of Virginia Wine Memorabilia. I am trying to do a survey of collectors around the U.S. who have dedicated collections on Virginia Dare Wine artifacts. I am hoping to find someone out there that is the definitive collector and hoping you might have someone to suggest?

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