wine basketballI love wine. I love basketball. So once again this year, I will use wine as my criteria for breaking down the Sweet Sixteen matchups. As always, I will attempt to keep my own basketball knowledge and basketball biases out of the analysis. Here are the Thursday games.

Midwest Regional, Cleveland, OH.

Wichita St.-Notre Dame. Kansas was a major wine producer in the mid 1800s, as German immigrants spread their craft from Missouri (where the first two designated American Viticultural Areas are located). But unfortunately, Kansas was also the state known for Carrie Nation and the early temperance movement and the first state to pass state-wide prohibition, in 1881. Grape-growing (and wine bootlegging) still thrived as the Missouri wine industry flourished and needed grapes, but national Prohibition ended that. Wichita State’s nickname is The Shockers, because early on in the school’s history, students would shock, or harvest wheat locally to earn money. I suppose if it had been a wine region, they’d be known as The Pickers today. There are now over 20 wineries in the state, but I cant forgive them being at the forefront of temperance though.

Notre Dame is in Indiana. There are a number of wineries and wine trails in Indiana today but the industry’s heyday, started by Swiss settlers in the early 1800s, peaked by 1830. That’s a long time ago, but they didn’t start the temperance movement. For that reason alone…Edge: Notre Dame (but this is a close one)

Kentucky-West Virginia. Choosing between the two coaches in this game is as distasteful to me as having to choose between Charles Shaw and Franzia. West Virginia has 11 wineries according to Wikipedia. That’s not terribly significant.

Although known for bourbon, Kentucky is the sight of the first commercial winery in the United States. The Marquis de Lafayette’s winemaker, Jean Jacques Dufour, looked for land to grow grapes, and settled near Lexington, the “Athens of the West”. Dufour, with the help of backing from a group that included Henry Clay, made his first wines by 1803 at what he called “The First Vineyard”. At one time, Kentucky produced over half the grapes and wine in the United States, and by the late 1800s, was still ranked third in the country. Then with Prohibition approaching, many turned to tobacco. Today, there are over sixty wineries, and since the 1980s, many tobacco farms have switched to grape production…”Cigs to Swigs” is not the motto however. UK alum Tayshaun Prince partnered with Elk Creek, the state’s largest winery, and released 21,000 limited-edition bottles of its best-selling Kentucky Blue Riesling for $21 per bottle in honor of Prince’s uniform number at UK, with some proceeds going to raise awareness of better eating and childhood obesity in the state. I begrudgingly have to give the nod to the Wildcats. Besides, maybe Ashley Judd will be at the game rooting for UK. That’s always nice to see. Edge: Kentucky

West Regional, Los Angeles, CA.

Wisconsin-North Carolina. Wisconsin, despite not having the most hospitable climate for grape growing, does have great significance in…California’s wine industry. Agoston Haraszthy immigrated from Hungary in the 1840s and settled in Wisconsin where he planted grapes and made wine, despite the challenges. An incredible personality and entrepreneur, he is known as “The Father of Modern California Winemaking”, eventually going to California where he first planted grapes near San Diego (where he was sheriff) and then into Sonoma. He founded Buena Vista Winery but more importantly, is credited with having over 300 varieties of grapes shipped from Europe and other parts of the United States and planted in California. Maybe it’s kismet that they are playing in LA, home of the first (and still in existence) commercial winery in the state.

North Carolina has over 100 wineries, and although it ranks tenth in production, it ranks fifth in wine tourism. There is even a native grape, scuppernong, cultivated since shortly after the arrival of Sir Walter Raleigh, that still produces wine today. In fact, it was the first native grape cultivated for wine making, and there is a 400 year old vine in the state still producing grapes…that isn’t to say its great wine however. The Biltmore Estate and Winery in Asheville is the most visited winery in the country. Edge: North Carolina (unfortunately)

Arizona-Xavier. Wine was first made in what is now Arizona in the 16th century by Spanish Jesuit missionaries. Today, there are almost fifty wineries, but the most famous of all is owned by Tool lead singer Maynard James Keenan, who has successfully made wine in the desert near his home, despite the challenges. His winery is Caduceus Cellars (caduceus being the name for Hermes’ staff and an ancient symbol of commerce) and his vineyard is Merkin Vineyards (a merkin being a pubic wig, so Im not exactly sure why he chose the name). Keenan schedules all recording and touring around harvest and winemaking now. Coincidentally, he is originally from the state of Ohio, home to Xavier, but he hasn’t tried to make wine there evidently.

Ohio was at one time the largest producer of wine in the United States and Cincinnati was the center of the wine trade for the country (long before soap operas). Nicholas Longworth was known as “the father of American winemaking” when he established a commercial wine industry in 1803, the year Ohio gained statehood.Today there are over 100 wineries and Ohio is a top ten wine producer, yet the official drink of the state is tomato juice. Xavier is a Jesuit school, and Jesuits were historic and skilled winemakers, doing much to spread not only the Good Word but the Good Juice. But still, Zona has to give the edge to ‘Zona. Edge: Arizona