In August of 1996, a young woman from Tennessee made her country music debut with a song of what seems to be an ode to teenage romance and lost innocence. Newcomer Deana Carter released “Strawberry Wine” as the lead single from her debut album Did I Shave My Legs For This?
And it went on to become one of the biggest hits of the ’90s as it reached No. 1 on the chart just two months after its release – it even stayed in that position for two weeks. But not only that, “Strawberry Wine” won Song of the Year at the Country Music Association Awards, and it was voted Song of the Year by the Nashville Songwriters Association International and the Nashville Music Awards.
The song was also nominated for three additional awards: Country Music Radio Awards for Song of The Year, Academy of Country Music Awards Best Country Song, and Grammy Award for Best Country Song.
Indeed, “Strawberry Wine” did not only change the direction of Carter’s career but as well as for country radio as it continues to resonate with country fans of all ages over twenty years later.
A Song About First Love and Lost Love
Written by Matraca Berg and Gary Harrison, “Strawberry Wine” describes the delight of first love, as well as the reality of what happens when that love fades – something you can’t quickly shake off your mind even decades later.
Berg found inspiration for the song through her childhood memories on a farm in Wisconsin, where her father worked as a dairy farmer. “I just wrote the title down, “Strawberry Wine,” because Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill — that’s what all the teenagers used to sneak off and drink and get sick on. I wasn’t sure what it meant,” she recalled.
“But I figured out what it was about,” Berg continued. “My Grandma Berg just kept having babies, so my aunts were my age. So we used to run around and get in a lot of trouble together — chase boys and whatnot. I told Gary this story, and he latched right onto it.”
Berg and Harrison wrote the song “in about three or four hours.” And just like every great country song, it gets down to specifics. You can absolutely feel the nostalgia of thinking back on lost love.
“I was caught somewhere between a woman and a child. When one restless summer, we found love growing wild. On the banks of the river on a well-beaten path. It’s funny how those memories they last like strawberry wine, seventeen. The hot July moon saw everything. My first taste of love, oh bittersweet,” it sings.
It’s definitely a five-minute saga that everyone could relate to — or wanted to.
But Berg revealed that they pitched “Strawberry Wine” to various record labels in Nashville, but no one wanted to pick it up, including Trisha Yearwood. And just when it seemed like the song would go unrecorded, Deanna Carter came along. She heard Berg performing it at a showcase, and she knew right then and there that she wanted to cut it for her first album.
Today, “Strawberry Wine” remains to be Carter’s most successful single and is considered her signature piece. Go watch Deanna Carter’s wonderful performance of “Strawberry Wine” below.