Wine and place, the place for wine – I was thinking about these on a recent trip to South Carolina, visiting my son at Clemson University to celebrate his birthday. Accompanied by my daughter, the three of us made excursions into the beautiful, and yes deep-South-rustic, countryside of the upcountry part of the state. We also had a number of lovely family meals. Yes, there was the great barbeque, but we also had more elegant fare — stuffed chicken and sole at one restaurant, with a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand; roasted root vegetables, an heirloom tomato risotto, and a filet of beef at the university’s showcase restaurant for local ingredients, accompanied by a 2010 Wilson Daniels Pinot Noir from Central Coast California. The wines were modest, fruity and aromatic, young. Yet they were also both dry and lean, wine as wine should be at a meal.

While there, I was reading Lawrence Osborne’s The Accidental Connoisseur, an entertaining book which at the same time makes you jealous of this man wandering casually around the world visiting some of its most storied and expensive wineries, eating at the kind of restaurants I usually only experience by reading about someone else’s meal. Globalization, Parkerization, price, terroir, tradition versus innovation, Osborne’s book is an irreverent but knowledgeable exploration of these well-trod paths of discussion and debate in the wine world. Along the way he meets and talks to many winemakers from marquee wineries – Opus One, Chalone, Mount Eden, Lafite. Despite the marketing and luxury branding frenzy surrounding them, their interest in the grape comes through. This is how winemakers are. They want me to enjoy a meal and enjoy their wine with it, that’s pretty much it. Nicolo Incisa della Rochetta of Sassicaia, the Tuscan producer, puts it best in Osborne’s book. “All one can do is work and produce. The rest is…psychology.”

At our hotel, a brochure caught my eye, featuring those timeless winery marketing images: planted vines with hills in the purple distance and a close-up of a cluster of ripe grapes in golden sunlight. With my son needing to be on campus, one afternoon my daughter and I set out for Chattooga Belle Farm. As we drove, the chain-store, fast-food retail strip receded, and gave way to hills, woods and creeks; a beautiful yet vaguely ominous landscape of rural Southern poverty. We didn’t know what to expect, but Chattooga Belle Farm — operated by Ed Land and his wife — is a spectacularly situated fruit, vegetable and beef farm. Gnarled ancient apple trees punctuate fallow fields (this was historically an apple growing area, Land explained), vine plantings climb a gentle slope to the modern farm house. Down the valley a bit, Black Angus cattle graze.

Land is a genial man, a construction contractor who has reinvented himself as a farmer after the economic collapse took his first livelihood away. He is keen on being a part of the movement for quality local food, but his farm’s real selling point is its spectacular setting, and the wedding parties  attracts. Without these, the farm’s viability might be in question, he notes.

Land tells me the vinifera he planted didn’t take so he will have to pull the vines out. His wine is made from his plantings of indigenous Muscadine grapes, not at his farm but by a third party winemaker. Muscadine is known for producing a sweet low-acid wine without much character. I had never tried Muscadine before so I asked if we could have a tasting. But it was the off-season and Land said he didn’t offer tastings then. Undeterred, I purchased a bottle of Scuppernong Muscadine and two glasses (Long threw in a corkscrew at no extra charge). Cady and I went to the picnic tables outside, enjoying the blustry bright atmosphere, with the beautiful backdrop of the mountain peaks on the horizon in Georgia and North Carolina.

I used to tell people in the tasting room how much our own perceptions, moods, company, expectations, surroundings affect how we perceive a wine. How even a humble, raw wine might be delightful if consumed at an intimate dinner with someone you are falling in love with. By these standards, with my daughter and I in a lovely setting, how could this South Carolina wine not taste good. But it didn’t. Acrid, with a green wood nutty taste, which somehow managed to overwhelm the not inconsiderable sweetness. I drank a glass fast, and regretted it. My daughter barely touched hers. Later that night I poured the remaining contents down the hotel-room sink. If wine is about the land from which it comes, are there some lands from which wine should never come? Maybe. Land’s vines were young, and the winemaker he chose was obviously not up to the task. But give him time. I will try other Muscadines, as maligned as they are, and other South Carolina wines too, as unlikely as they are.