Chasing Cynthiana


Chasing Cynthiana

My Search for America's Native Wines

Lynn Hamilton

208 pages
10 photographs, 1 glossary, index


November 2024


$29.95 Pre-order

About the Book

Why do Americans go to the grocery store to buy wine from California, Italy, or New Zealand, when many of us can find an independent winery within thirty minutes down the road? Why are locally grown and locally produced wines so often disdained when locally grown food is upheld as the gold standard? The U.S. wine industry has lagged behind Europe’s for far too long for reasons that have little to do with taste or quality, and Prohibition’s disruption of domestic wine production provides only part of the explanation.

In Chasing Cynthiana Lynn Hamilton reveals that Americans have far more wine options than they realize. One of those options, made from Norton grapes, has a rich but mostly forgotten history, entwined with the pioneering of America’s western states. But Norton (also known as Cynthiana) is often pushed aside to make way for wine varietals from France and Italy.

Is the wine drinker’s preference for certain grapes rooted in necessity or tradition? How will climate change alter America’s traditional wine regions? Hamilton considers these and other questions as she journeys through America’s hidden pockets of wine in this exploration of winemaking’s history in the United States. Infused with humor and whimsy, Chasing Cynthiana challenges the wine industry’s snobbery as well as its complacency when it comes to American vintages.

Author Bio

Lynn Hamilton is an independent scholar and the former editor in chief of two Georgia community newspapers, Creative Loafing and the Tybee News. She blogs on environmental policy and animal advocacy and is the author of several books, including Florence Nightingale: A Life Inspired; Florence Nightingale’s Sister; and Gandhi: A Life Inspired.


Chasing Cynthiana details the history of the elusive Norton/Cynthiana grape, a native American fruit whose story was largely obliterated by the popularity of California wine. . . . Lynn Hamilton’s book is a must-read for wine lovers and students of American history. You will wish you had a glass of Cynthiana wine in hand while reading this intriguing narrative.”—Amanda Bochain, chef and food writer

Chasing Cynthiana opened my eyes to the lost world of American wines. Lynn Hamilton connects this lost history to the ways climate change imperils traditional winemaking today. She also takes a close look at the winemakers who have been on the frontlines of the climate crisis for decades. . . . This book offers us a roadmap to a sustainable future for winemakers and drinkers alike. (And poses the important question: Is mead finally making a comeback?) Chasing Cynthiana is a powerful, informative read for anyone who underestimates the labor, time, and centuries of knowledge that go into a bottle of wine—or mistakenly think the best ones must have Napa or Bordeaux on the label.”—Alexis Ancel, sustainable food systems consultant

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Chapter I: Fat Boy to Cynthiana
Chapter II: Origins of Cynthiana
Chapter III: My Old Kentucky Home: Where’s the Wine?
Chapter IV: The Cult of Norton: Hermann Rises Again
Chapter V: The Cult of Cynthiana
Chapter VI: The Screaming Canary: What Climate Change Does to Wine
Conclusion: Return to Three Sisters

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