Norton is a little known grape whose history is inextricably intertwined with that of the wine industries in two states not generally known for viticulture: Virginia and Missouri.
Virginia settlers began experimenting with wine making in 1609. Two centuries later a Richmond physician finally found a grape hearty enough to sustain the region's tough climate. The result, Dr. Daniel Norton's “Virginia Seedling”—what one grower calls “bulletproof”—is naturally resistant to the American-born plagues that still haunt European grapes.
The grape grew in popularity not only in Virginia, but also in Missouri, where German immigrants made the state the country's leading winemaker. By the early twentieth century, however, the thriving viticulture in both states fell victim to a sweeping wave of prohibition. The wine industries vanished, taking Norton with them.
Norton returned to Missouri in 1965 when a vintner found the grape growing wild in a bootlegger's back yard. It didn't reappear in significant quantity in Virginia until fifty-six years after the repeal of Prohibition, reintroduced to its native land by a Missourian. In the decades since, the grape's production has grown partially as a result of the state's blossoming wine industry, but Norton still remains a little known varietal, championed by a handful of passionate growers.