Wadmalaw Island, South Carolina – Irvin-House Vineyards

South Carolina SC Newsletter SCIWAY News: September 2008 Stirring Up Local Flavor: Muscadine Wine and Firefly Vodka

Stirring Up Local Flavor: Muscadine Wine and Firefly Vodka

If you live in South Carolina, you probably know a thing or two about muscadines. These thick-skinned, juicy morsels comprise a unique variety of grape native to our neck of the woods. In fact, muscadines and their close cousins, scuppernongs, can be found growing all over the South and have long been used in jams, jellies, and pies. Of course, they're also delicious right off the vine.

When crushed and fermented, muscadines make a sweet wine – so sweet, some say, it resembles grape juice. Early colonists drank it by the gallon in Spanish Florida, and along with moonshine, it enjoyed considerable popularity during the long years of prohibition. Since then, however, many have come to eschew the strong flavor, opting for more subtle, conventional wines instead.

Muscadine Vines Bluegrass Band Muscadine Grapes

Wadmalaw Island, just south of Charleston, is home to Irvin-House Vineyards where muscadine wine is making a welcome return. When avid gardeners Jim and Ann Irvin decided to retire to a quiet life in the country, they purchased 2,600 muscadine seedlings in four different varieties. Carefully planted along rows of posts and guide-wires, the seedlings have since been cultivated into tremendous vines, burgeoning with ripe fruit.

August 30th marked the fifth-annual Grape Stomping Festival at Irvin-House Vineyards, and SCIWAY was on hand to help celebrate. Visitors brought blankets and picnic baskets, opened bottles of muscadine wine, and enjoyed the celebration of the Irvins' annual harvest. Sack racing, hula-hooping, and face painting accompanied a live bluegrass band, and folks left bearing buckets of hand-picked fruit.

The grape stomp also highlighted Jim and Anna's newest undertaking – flavored vodkas. In 2006, veteran distiller Scott Newitt partnered with the Irvins to create Firefly, a muscadine wine-infused vodka that has seen tremendous success. After two short years, they also released a second flavored vodka – Firefly Sweet Tea – which has caused quite a stir with locals.

The tea used to make this popular beverage is harvested from the Charleston Tea Plantation, just a few short miles down the road. Due to considerably lower taxes on alcohol production, the Irvins ship their wine and tea to a distillery in Florida, where it is added to the vodka, bottled, and sold in retail locations throughout the Southeast.1 Both Irvin-House Vineyards and Firefly Vodka seem to be working their way into the local vernacular, so let's all raise our glasses and toast these SC originals.

  1. Update: In the four months since we published this article, Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka has become so popular that the Charleston Tea Plantation is no longer able to keep up with the distillery's demand and alternate sources must be used. Furthermore, Firefly now distills some of its vodka on Wadmalaw Island, but it has moved its main operations to Kentucky. The vodka it sells in South Carolina, however, is distilled locally. (Read a full update on SC-born Firefly Sweet Tea, published January 2009.)

SC Muscadine Wine and Firefly Vodka Resources

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