Virginia’s Grape Experiments

I read this interesting article – never heard of the magazine / site before, but I enjoyed the read.

They’re pointing out the Cab franc, viognier and chardonnay are the big early hits in VA, but that we’re growing lots of other good varietals now too – especially Bordeaux grapes – merlot, cab sauv, malbec, and petit verdot (along with cab franc!).

The author really settled on cab franc as doing the best job of “expressing terroir” – noting that when grown at different sites it showed different characteristics of the grape:

However, Paschina and many of Virginia’s other vintners believe that another Bordeaux variety will be the one to really stand out in the state’s wine landscape. “The most iconic grape of Virginia is, with no doubt, Cabernet Franc,” he says. “It grows well in Virginia and overall is very resilient in adverse conditions like intense rain, which affects Virginia about 2 years out of every 10.” Cabernet Franc was one of the first grapes planted, in 1977, at Barboursville Vineyards, where, Paschina notes, the area’s relative warmth tends to diminish the grape’s sometimes-abrasive pyrazines without creating a baked fruit profile. While rocky, well-drained soils are ideal for Cabernet Franc, it also performs handily in Virginia’s common heavy, water-holding soils, creating a fresh, if simple, wine.

“In the past, the overall Virginia Cabernet Franc style was a little too similar from winery to winery,” notes Melissa Boardman, the wine director at Fleurie Restaurant in Charlottesville. “We can now see producers homing in on their own styles.” Jordan, for instance, works with Cabernet Franc in four distinct sites at Early Mountain Vineyards, and he hopes to release several site-specific varietal wines in order to distinguish between the areas. “As we develop the next generation of vineyard plantings,” he says, “Cabernet Franc will likely be the grape variety most able to express sites across the state.” He notes that warmer, lower Cabernet Franc vineyards tend to have intense, dark flavors, in contrast to the bright, aromatic character of the Shenandoah Valley’s high-elevation fruit and adds, “It’s definitely a grape that is transparent of terroir in the context of East Coast viticulture.”

I completely agree – cab franc was always a blending grape, and has to be handled carefully in order to bring out the best in it.  Arterra does this well with their single varietal cab franc – made with native yeast fermentation and sporting a clean robust taste.  It’s not a big wine, but it has a pleasant, dark fruit flavor and is so super-drinkable that you’re likely to open the bottle and finish it in one evening.  Cab Franc from other sites shows up very differently, some with earthy richness, some more fruit forward, and some just, well, tasting like watered down red wine.  It will be interesting to watch the evolution of this grape as a single varietal.

Likewise, the bordeaux blends are becoming remarkably good.  RdV has the Rendezvous and Lost Mountain blends, which taste more cab-sauv heavy to me, and their intensity is amazing.  While Malbec is very hard to grow in Virginia because of the harsh winters, when it is grown, it tends to carry incredible earthiness into the wine and be a rich, dark, incredible experience.  You already saw my thoughts on Petit Verdot…. and I drank one of my bottles of the 2016 varietal from Arterra this week! MMMM.

The discussion of whites was interesting too, and focused on Viognier.  The author glossed over the increased planting of Sauvignon Blanc in Virginia right now, and I’d like to see this expand.  When it’s done well, it’s really very amazing – 868 Estate is making a good one now, as is Stone Tower (if you can bear the crowds there). Viognier can be done very well, but if it’s not done well, it’s just not good.


The article is a good read.  Stay tuned – with family coming in to town next weekend there may be a ton of winery visits and subsequent posts.  I’m also planning a Tannat taste-off and petit-verdot comparison.  Good times!

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