Tennessee is a state located in the center of the American south, between the Mississippi River and the Appalachian mountain chain. The state has a fairly long viticultural history, beginning with European settlers in the 1800s and peaking at the turn of the century, but its wine industry is dwarfed by its whiskey production.
The state is the home of Tennessee whiskey, a regional style of Bourbon that requires filtering through charcoal, a common practice that is not mandated in other American whiskeys. It was the abundance of oak trees for barrels that initiated the thriving whiskey industry in the state. This combined with the ideal geography that provided access to waterways for distillation and historical distribution methods.
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The exact definition of Tennessee Whiskey has been the source of some confusion and disagreement. Unfortunately, the era of Prohibition in the 1920s led to distilleries being closed, and vineyards ripped out in favor of tobacco crops, a situation Tennessee didn't reccover from as quickly as its neighbor, Kentucky.
Whiskey production was introduced to Tennessee in the 18th Century by Scotch-Irish immigrants moving south from Pennsylvania and Virginia. Production skyrocketed, and by 1820 Tennessee had one of the four largest spirits industries in the United States. However, the temperance movement began to gain momentum in the 19th Century, and in 1910 Tennessee enacted a state-wide prohibition. Many distilleries moved to neighboring states, including two of Tennessee's most prominent distilleries, Jack Daniel's and George Dickel, although both later relocated back to the state. National Prohibition followed in 1920, and Tennessee continued the practice to varying degrees for decades after the 21st Amendment was passed in 1933.
There are several conflicting definitions of Tennessee whiskey set out by various trade agreements. State legislation created its own definition in 2013 by requiring anything labeled Tennessee Whiskey to meet all the quality requirements for Bourbon, as well as being filtered through charcoal before cask aging, a method known as the Lincoln County Process.
A number of distilleries also produce Whiskey outside of the Tennessee or Bourbon definitions, often in a Corn Liquor style that doesn't involve oak aging or the use of charred barrels. These spirits are sometimes labeled as Corn Liquor or more broadly as Moonshine.
Tennessee's wine production is mainly concentrated in the center of the state around the city of Nashville, where the rich soils of the Highland Rim provide a suitable environment for wine grapes. There are also a few wineries scattered at higher altitudes along the western slopes of the Appalachians. The state's only sub-AVA is the Mississippi Delta, which it shares with Mississippi and Louisiana.
The state's humid, subtropical climate makes winegrowing a particular challenge, but staunch vignerons persist with hybrid grape varieties and other kinds of fruit. Year round persistant rainfall provides the adequate precepitation for viticulture, but also ideal conditions for mildew diseases.
Temperatures drop as low as 27°F (-2.7°C) here, requiring a careful selection of hardy, cold-tolerant grape varieties to be planted. Vineyards are found on exposed elevations creating a microclimate with good airflow to ease the pressure of frosts as well as mildew diseases.
Most Tennessee wines are made from Franco-American hybrid varieties such as Vidal and Chambourcin that are more resistant to the mildew diseases that are prevalent in more-humid climates. There are also plantings of Muscadine and Norton, native to this part of the country.