About Virginia Terroir, and Comparing Around the World

I’ve been looking forward to this class for a long time.  Wine Friend 1 signed us up for it right after we attended the Understanding and Perceiving Wine class in January.  We had a blast then, and this class was even better.

Wine Friend 1 (I’m gonna abbreviate WF1 because I’ve had a good bit of wine today and I’m slowing down a little now) and I started the day with an early lunch at King Street Oyster House in Middleburg.  Their oysters are fantastic and fresh and wonderful.  We split a dozen and then I had a great Salmon BLT with fries.  WF1 is being super-healthy and seeing a nutritionist and ordered salmon with asparagus, and had the nerve to recommend I give up fries.  This is unlikely in the short term.  However, I respect what she is doing, and I’m refraining from further comment.  So there.

Off to Arterra after that.  We got there early and had a lovely glass of cab franc.  This is their 2016, which I think is one of the best cab francs in Virginia at this point – all grown on Arterra property, nothing sourced.  The other folks in the class started to arrive, and we all headed to the cellar to get started.


Dale was already pouring wine, and I saw him come back to my glass #4 in the first flight, and when I saw it was Arterra Chenin Blanc, I thanked him profusely.  You know that Chenin is my favorite.

I take notes, in a notebook, and all over whatever they give me.

The agenda was fantastic, and Jason and Dale poured flight 1 and got started right away.  The classes started with a prelude that was really about defining what makes a growing region in terms of climate during the growing season – either cool days with cool nights (like Bordeaux, upstate New York, Ontario, or Germany), Warm days with cool nights (like Napa) or warm days with warm nights (like Virginia).  It’s important to note that Virginia adds to the warm/warm equation the moisture and humidity, especially at the end of the growing season.

So – the first flight – 3 chardonnays comparing a cool climate from Burgundy, a warm/cool from Sonoma, and a warm/warm from the Eastern Shore of Virginia. The three wines had lots of similarities but a few keys differences that highlight the impact of the weather during the time when they ripen, and how that impacts when they can be picked.   WF1 and I loved the Burgundy Premier Cru, and liked the other two chardonnays less.  Jason and Dale spoke about the impact of cooler nights on the development of malic acid and that when the fruit becomes very ripe and full of sugars the wine becomes very fruit and crisp, unless they use the malolactic fermentation to create the creminess.    Flight #1 was rounded out with 2017 Arterra Chenin Blanc and Roussane.  Yum. WF1 loves the Chenin Blanc but wasn’t as excited about Roussanne.  I think both are outstanding. We did learn that Roussanne is also one of those grapes that can shut down water intake when it’s done ripening, like petit verdot and tannat.  That bodes well for our crazy weather here in Virginia.  Unfortunately the Chenin Blanc is less tolerant, and while it doesn’t mind warm days and nights in the growing season and tolerates the cold snaps we often get here, it cannot tolerate the humidity well and is prone to rot in the moisture.  It’s no wonder I see so few Virginia Chenin Blancs.

These two play well off each other, sharing their perspectives, and they make it a great time.

Flight #2 was the medium weight reds.  They modified this flight on the fly, starting us with a Cab-Franc dominated Bordeaux style blend from South Africa.  This had a lot going on in it.  I honestly felt it was almost too much, maybe because I set myself up for a medium weight red and I was excited about the malbec on the flight.  We had the 16 Cab franc, a malbec from Argentina, the 16 Arterra Malbec, and a 100% cab franc from South Africa.  All of these grapes soak up water, and so Virginia is a tough place for them with the variability possible in the seasons. This really showed in the comparison with the Argentinian malbec, which is grown in a drier climate and gets manipulated to make it taste the way they want – as concentrated as they like based on how much irrigation it gets.

This flight led into a very interesting discussion of the importance of choosing grapes that can manage the weather here.  We discussed how Cabernet Sauvignon is a tough one to grow, as is cab franc, because of the tendency to keep absorbing water.  Grapes like Petit Manseng, Petit Verdot, and Tannat control that water intake and slow it down when they’re done, so they don’t get diluted or plump.

And there we were in flight #3, focused on a coastal Virginia Bordeaux, a Mountain Virginia Bordeaux (which turned out to be Linden’s Hardscrabble Red 2015), Barrel tastings of the 18 Petit Verdot and Tanna, and a Norton from Missouri.  You know I love the Hardscrabble, and have a ’15 at home.  The ’18 Petit Verdot won this flight, as its mellowing beautifully.  I think this will be a great 2018 Va Wine, a star from a tough year.

The conversation continued, and we discussed how there was no “light bodied reds” flight because people too silly after four flights of wine, and because in Virginia, the light red grapes tend to turn into mush.

This was another awesome Arterra event because of the structure and information shared, lots on the characteristics that define a wine region, but also because of a few really cool things that happened – one, a reader of the blog was there and said hi!  That was seriously cool – I rarely run into anyone who actually reads this, that isn’t an actual friend or relative.  Second, the couple next to WF1 and I asked Jason about blogs that describe Virginia wine and Jason shouted this out! Wooohooo!  Thanks to anyone who jumped in and hit the blog because of today – you were a fun crew to spend the afternoon sipping wine and learning with!

There was a lot of information I’m going to have to digest here from today, as I think about how it fits together, and how to share it out – a lot fits in with what I’ve been writing about.

There are so many exciting things happening at Arterra in the coming months – with the 2018 white wines release in May, along with a cab-franc based rose, and then in the fall the 2017 reds. Most exciting of all, is the experimentation with ancient winemaking techniques, including the gigantic clay vessel:


Next time this session is offered, I highly recommend it.  Tons of fun, good wine, and a great way to spend the afternoon!

3 thoughts on “About Virginia Terroir, and Comparing Around the World

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