Grape Expectations

Clinton winemaker is growing a business.
BrookMeyer Creative Photography

“I learned how to make wine in Catholic school,” vintner Mac Cazedessus jokes as he
leads me through his winery. Hulking stainless steel cylinders of fermenting muscadine wine line one
wall of the warehouse, and the faint smell of vinegar hangs in the air.

Cazedessus grows several varieties of muscadine grapes on his farm in the East Feliciana Parish town of Clinton, which he sells under the label Casa de Sue, an adaptation of his last name. 

Kidding aside, Cazedessus taught himself to make wine more than 20 years ago after he moved to the area from outside of Baton Rouge, where he grew up. As a kid, he learned to grow vegetables from a man
who worked for his family.

“I loved planting things – watermelon, tomatoes,” he says. “I told my wife when we got married that if she didn’t want to live in the country, she shouldn’t marry me.” Cazedessus and his wife have lived in Clinton for almost 40 years in a house he built with his brothers.

In the `80s, Cazedessus read an article about muscadine grapes, a variety native to the South that thrives in the area’s heat and humidity. The handful of original wild muscadine varieties were cultivated beginning in the 1500s,
and now the varieties number more than 300.

Cazedessus became intrigued with the grape.

He called the article’s author, who sent him additional information. He later planted his first vines and, after a
trip to the Old South Winery in Natchez, cemented his interest in winemaking.

The large building that now houses Cazedessus’ winemaking operation was originally constructed in the 1970s for veal calves. The building, which was made to be washed down, turned out to be perfect for winemaking.

“Every time you make wine, you’re going to spill it somewhere, so you have to have a way to clean it,” Cazedessus says.

The gnarled tendons of Cazedessus’ muscadine vines spread out in rows across his property.  In late summer,
the vines hang heavy with the perfectly round globes of muscadine grapes. Cazedessus harvests, presses and ferments the grapes into nine varieties of wine ranging from dry to sweet. He also makes two blueberry wines from Louisiana berries. Although his Clinton winery is a bit off the beaten path, Cazedessus operates a tasting room just off Interstate 10 in Sorrento, where visitors can try his wine for free.

Cazedessus’ grapes are entirely organically grown, meaning he does not use fertilizers, pesticides or chemicals of any kind on his vines. Muscadines, because they’re native, don’t have much of a problem with pests or disease.

 “The major pest here is wild hogs,” he says. “They root up under the vines.”

Cazedessus is passionate about changing a 2005 law that would increase his ability to sell his wine in Louisiana.

Currently, winemakers, like other Louisiana alcohol producers, must operate in
a three-tier system. Under this system, alcohol-makers must sell their products through a third-party
distribution company unless they’re selling at festivals or farmers markets.

Before the 2005 law, local wineries such as Cazedessus’ had built relationships with the stores that carried their products. Now, distributors deliver their products for them, which raises the prices of the wine and limits sales. The winemakers also have trouble keeping track of where their wine is being sold because they’re not the ones controlling the accounts.

Cazedessus currently produces between 2,500 and 3,000 gallons of wine a year, though he’d make more if the market could support it. “If I was outside the country, I’d have an easier time selling my wine in Louisiana,” he says. “It’s kind of stupid.”

Before the law changed, Cazedessus handled the distribution for several Louisiana wineries and had amassed 244 sales accounts. “We were making out like gangbusters,” he says. “The tremendous potential we have is wasted.”