Guest post by Adam Coulter
Sipping a North Carolina Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon beneath the shade of a white oak or in the cool shadow of a downtown building may not bring to mind the people behind the wine. From the winemakers who toil and tinker with balance, tone, and clarity to the men and women seeing the grapes from flower to fruition, countless people have contributed to the growing success of wine in North Carolina.
John Hoyt, whom many know from his famous Engadine Estate, once claimed his fame in growing grapes on his western Buncombe County property.
“Of the grapes there are the Concord, Etia, Goethe, Herbemont, Delaware, American, Perkins, Cynthiana, Massasoit, Norton, Noah, Aminia, and Catawba,” the September 24, 1895 edition of the Asheville Daily Citizen brags of Hoyt’s grapes being on display in a lawyer’s office window in downtown Asheville.
Hoyt, born May 20, 1840, was a native of Washington, North Carolina, a small town at the convergence of the Tar and Pamlico rivers of eastern North Carolina. A son of James Edmund Hoyt, a merchant from New York, and Marina Brickel Hoyt, from North Carolina, he joined the 3rd Alabama Infantry Regiment at age 21 and served the Confederacy until the end of the Civil War. (Hoyt’s letters to his family from this period are held in BCSC and can be viewed online: MS031.001T and MS031.001U.)
After the war, Hoyt relocated to New York, where he worked as a merchant for RH Macy, founder of Macy’s department store. It was in New York where Hoyt met Mary Bensel Brush, a married mother of three daughters. Five years after Brush’s divorce from her husband, Dr. Francis Brush, she and Hoyt married January 1, 1877 in Hoboken, New Jersey. Listed on the 1880 census, Hoyt and his new family, including a one year old fourth daughter, reside on Clifton Place in the Bedford Stuyvesant area of New York.
In 1883, the couple, with their children, moved to Buncombe County where they lived in a cabin while their estate, Engadine, named by Hoyt after a valley in Switzerland, was completed.
On these 107 acres Hoyt became a successful vintner, growing grapes on the property and producing wine sold to visitors to his estate as well as customers that included Asheville’s Battery Park Hotel.
On more than one occasion during the 1880s and 1890s, the Asheville Citizen touted Hoyt’s famous grapes and keen knowledge on the subject. On August 24, 1897, one article summarized the meeting of John Hoyt, Harold Doubleday, and famed Southern writer and resident of Polk County, Sidney Lanier. All three men successfully grew grapes but only Hoyt could brag of twice blooming grape vines. The article goes on to claim the possibility of a second harvest from these Scuppernong vines.
Despite his success and notoriety, the laws of Prohibition reached the area in 1910. It is reported that he cried when government officials destroyed his wine, breaking barrels and spilling the contents onto the ground of his beloved Engadine estate.
Afterwards, Hoyt, now in his late 60s and in declining health, left Buncombe County for his childhood home, Beaufort County, where he lived his final years. While visiting family in Binghamton, New York, for Christmas, Hoyt died December 28, 1912 at age 72.
Today’s visitors to Hoyt’s Engadine estate can still enjoy the opulence of the 1885 mansion and one of Hoyt’s original grapevines, still growing on the property, standing the test of time, and serving as a symbol of the history of winemaking in Buncombe County.
“1880 Census – Kings County, New York.” Ancestry® | Family Tree, Genealogy & Family History Records, www.ancestry.com/. Accessed 26 June 2023.
“A Fine Exhibit.” Asheville Citizen Times, 24 Sept. 1895, pp. 4, Accessed 26 June 2023.
“Fine Grapes.” Asheville Citizen Times, 7 Sept. 1887, pp. 1, Accessed 4 Jan. 2021.
“Grape Talk.” Asheville Citizen Times, 24 Aug. 1897, pp. 1, Accessed 4 Jan. 2021.
Helsley, Alexia Jones. “Chapter 3 – Virginia Dare and Friends – Western North Carolina.” A History of North Carolina Wines: From Scuppernong to Syrah, History Press, Charleston, SC, 2010, pp. 67–68.
“New Jersey, U.S., Marriage Records, 1670 – 1965.” Ancestry® | Family Tree, Genealogy & Family History Records, www.ancestry.com/. Accessed 26 June 2023.
Neufeld, Rob. “Lively History, Occasional Ghosts at B&B.” Asheville Citizen Times, 27 Oct. 2014, pp. D1–D2.
About the Author
Adam Coulter is a lifelong resident of western North Carolina, having grown up in Haywood County and residing in Buncombe since 2010. He enjoys local history and traveling the mountains, photographing the Americana of back country roads.
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