When the venue for the 4th Annual Wine Bloggers Conference was announced, many in the audience gasped. Virginia was chosen over Paso Robles and the Finger Lakes region of New York. How could that be, many cried? I heard one blogger shout out “Virginia wine is not that good.” We attended the wine bloggers pre-conference on Wednesday and Thursday of this week and had the opportunity to visit four wineries in the Loudoun County in Northern Virginia. I have to conclude that after tasting wines at these four wineries, the wine is very good in this part of Virginia, and a few of their varietals are stellar. I’m not about to suggest the wines are overall as good as California wines or those of the Napa Valley, but several I tried certainly measure up to our standards. I know these wineries were hand picked by the local tourist office, but this did gives us an eye opener into the quality and potential for Virginia wines.
We visited Tarara Winery, Breaux Vineyards, Chrysalis Winery, and Boxwood Winery. At each winery the winemaker and owner presented their wines, and much like at any winery in California spoke glowingly about their wines.
We loved all the Viognier we tried, and we can easily see why this wine is so popular in Virginia. I wish I’d had some California Viognier on the spot for comparison. These Viognier wines have excellent floral and tropical characteristics and a great mouth feel. I was less impressed with the Chardonnay wines and maybe that is because I just don’t drink that much Chardonnay to begin with. At Breaux Vineyards I rated their Meritage and the Nebbiolo at 90 points. I had not tasted as delicious a Nebbiolo in some time.
The most fun was at Chrysalis Winery on Thursday morning. The winemaker Alan Kinne and owner Jenny McCloud were really a treat, so sincere and passionate about their wines. Jenny gave us our first taste of the famous Norton grape, the grape that is said to be the only truly American wine grape. It is the one Thomas Jefferson should have toyed with and used in his fruitless endeavor to make great wines in Virginia that would match his Bordeaux favorites. We tasted three different Norton wines. They were all different, from fruity to deep flavored and robust. It is a different taste than anything made in California. We liked it but not as much as some of the other wine bloggers did.
Boxwood is the newest winery of the four and everything is first class with no expenses spared. They grow only Bordeaux grapes and make two Rosé wines and two Bordeaux style reds, one in a Medoc style and one in St. Emilion style. The consulting winemaker is French winemaker Stéphane Derenonocourt and his style of wine clearly shows through in the Boxwood wines. The reds all have that old world characteristic of earthy and tobacco flavors, and all are deep-colored and balanced wines. These two Boxwood wines sold for $25 a bottle and we thought that was a very good value.
Many of the wines we sampled were not exactly inexpensive, and I am guessing the cost of growing and maintaining the vines is expensive. The Nebbiolo I enjoyed so much varies in price each year with a range from $40 to as high as $80. An Albariño I liked at one winery was $24 but not as good as a decent Spanish Albariño wine for much less.
It was also fun to hear several references to the Napa Valley. Once again, as at the Washington bloggers conference a year ago, everyone is shooting to topple the king. I don’t see any Virginia wines available where I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. Much of it is consumed in Virginia and much makes its way to Canada and the U.K. There is much more to learn about Virginia wines as the wine bloggers conference rolls along.
Aging and letting your Norton wine breathe for an extended time is crucial. If traveling, several states have good representative Norton wines which are, as Jeff Siegel from The Wine Curmudgeon once stated “varietally correct, balanced, and interesting enough to buy again”: White Oaks (AL); Mount Bethel (AR), Three Sisters (GA); Elk Creek (KY); Heinrichshaus, Stone Hill’s Cross J, Augusta/Montelle, Westphalia (sulfite free drink now Norton), Peaceful Bend (MO); Stone Mountain Cellars (PA); Century Farms (TN); Stone House Vineyards’ Carlos drink now Norton (TX); and from Virginia, ~ Castle Gruen (a drink now Norton which can be held if your constitution allows you to do so), Cooper (consistently best Virginia Norton year in and year out), DuCard (Scott Eliff is the new kid on the block), and Chrysalis’ Locksley Reserve (if you are willing to put this $35 bottle away for a few more years). I’m glad you are going to read Todd Kliman’s The Wild Vine. A wonderful Norton documentary that reads like a novel. I’ve opened a 2003 Robller Norton from Missouri tonight for our grilled hamburger meal. Last of that year, but have another case of 2004 Robller waiting patiently.
Glad you got to experience Chrysalis’ Norton wine. Your description of “robust” aptly describes this wine when young, but the changes in temperament after five or more years of quietly waiting will astound you. Today 242 wineries in 23 states produce Norton [Cynthiana] wines with Virginia having four or five outstanding examples from their 35 Norton vineyards. Though many states all have good examples of this grape varietal, of course Missouri leads the pack with the best of what can be found for the almost cult following of Norton wines.
Thanks for the aging tip. When we return to our home, I plan to read the “Wild Vine” and learn much more about the Norton grape.
I imagine these Loudon County wineries were picked for good reasons, like Chrysalis for their Norton. I favor several others in Loudon County.
Chris Parker says
I enjoyed your report on first impressions of Virginia wines. We established New Horizon Wines to develop the international market for Virginia wines. If you would like to discuss impressions from the UK I am at the WBC.
Thanks for reading the post. I will check out your website and hope to see you at some point at the conference.
Manish M. Shah says
To learn about some of these and other wineries in the Virginia region, check out http://www.allvineyards.com . There is even a regional page for Virginia area – http://www.allvineyards.com/region/virginia
(and consequently New York – http://www.allvineyards.com/region/new-york, Napa Valley – http://www.allvineyards.com/subregion/napa-valley, and Washington – http://www.allvineyards.com/region/washington).
Dezel Quillen says
Looks like you kicked things off with four of Loudoun County’s top producers. All four producers share a focus on wine quality and much of what’s bottled is 100% estate fruit. Jenny’s Albarino is a rare treat here (not much of it planted), which is why it may be priced as such. I’m glad to hear the positive early impressions and sorry to be missing the festivities. You have a lot more delicious Virginia wine to taste this weekend, friend 🙂 Nice post + Thanks for sharing!
mike Beltran says
Given climate and humidity alone to make premium wine is a hard job. Very pretty land and hills. They are for sure a market in the East Coast. Glad to see they are working on producing wine from grape clones from our early American days. My question is are the whites better than the reds? Very good reading and pictures.