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Norton, a grape cultivar believed to be largely derived from Vitis aestivalis, is grown in the Midwestern United States, Mid-Atlantic States, northeastern Georgia and, most recently, in California. Norton was first cultivated in Richmond, Virginia and is the official grape of the State of Missouri and is considered the cornerstone of the Missouri wine industry. Strong evidence indicates that Dr. Daniel Norton first purveyed the Norton cultivar during the early 19th century from his vineyards in Virginia, USA. Further evidence has been reported that Dr. Norton developed the cultivar from seeds from a now extinct variety with unconfirmed parentage, Bland, pollinated by a Vitis Aestivalis grapevine. In 2009 Riedel designed stemware specifically for wine made from the Norton grape. The glass was unveiled at Les Bourgeois Winery near Columbia, Missouri.
It was introduced by Dr. Daniel Norborne Norton of Richmond, Virginia, who selected it from among what he believed were seedlings of a long forgotten grape variety called Bland, though there is some doubt as to whether it was the actual source of the seed which yielded Norton. The male parent, presumably, was a wild vine of Vitis aestivalis. Another cultivar, called Cynthiana, closely resembles Norton, but has traditionally been considered a separate variety. Genetic studies, however, have shown the two to be indistinguishable. Because there is some evidence indicating differences in wine quality and season of ripening, Cynthiana may be a mutation of the original Norton.
This grape became available commercially in 1830 and very soon after that came to dominate wine production in the eastern and midwestern United States. Since this grape lacks most of the distinct, "foxy" flavors that are typical of native American Vitis labrusca grapes, it is quite suitable for making dry wine. At the 1873 Vienna World Exposition a Norton wine from Hermann, Missouri won a gold medal. Henry Vizetelly, a noted critic of the time, said that Norton from Missouri would one day rival the great wines of Europe in quality and quantity. Prohibition ended the wine industry in the United States for a period of time. Vineyards were pulled up and Concord grapes were planted in their place, for juice and jam. After prohibition the wine industry in the eastern half of North America never recovered to the same degree that California's wine industry did.
Today, United States wineries along the east coast and throughout the midwest are re-cultivating and producing wines from Norton grapes. The largest single planting of Norton in the world is located at Chrysalis Vineyards in Middleburg, Virginia, which has 69 acres (28 ha) of the grape.
Notable for deep blue-purple pigmentation, the skin of Norton grapes has a higher content of total anthocyanins (888 mg per 100 g) than other purple grape cultivars, Concord or Marechal Foch grapes.
Anthocyanins are the largest group of water-soluble pigments in the plant kingdom and belong to the family of compounds known as polyphenols. Major sources of anthocyanins are blueberries, cherries, raspberries, strawberries, blackcurrants, purple grapes and red wine. Numerous studies in basic research have shown that anthocyanins may have broad biological effects including antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and anti-carcinogenic activities.
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