For a week in early November, the prestigious London-based Circle of Wine Writers (which included this writer) took an intensive trip across Virginia wine regions, and were impressed with what they saw. They tasted wines in Loudoun, Albemarle, Nelson and James City County as well as ciders, craft beer, mead, fruit wine and spirits in Nelson County.
Vivienne Franks MA, a Circle member who organized the 2014 trip, explains that having visited the wine regions of Virginia 15 months ago, she anticipated little change. “I was very impressed to find that even in that short time quality is improving fast. Certain grape varietals perform really well in the humid climate, particularly viognier, petit verdot and cabernet franc. The meritage blends are showing good depth and intensity too.”
Toronto-based wine writer Charles Byers said “The fact that so many grape varieties are now being grown and experimented with [in Virginia] shows the commitment that these persons have to their trade,” commenting especially on the norton grape; “I had never heard of norton as a grape variety and was impressed that it was this grape that really spearheaded the wine revolution, so to speak, in Virginia. It also impressed upon me of what can be done a native grape cultivar if careful selection is used.”
Tanya Mann, a native Russian and naturalized Briton, declares “Virginia has created its own way and I would say Virginia could be a prototype for the Integrated Wine World with a huge variety of grapes for different wines. Winemakers from around the world bring a piece of their culture in the development of Virginia’s wine industry…Give Virginia five years and it will take pride of place on the global wine scene and undoubtedly win in international competitions.”
The Circle had visited Virginia first in 2010, and Franks had decided to organize the annual “long haul” wine region visit for the Circle to Virginia, after reading in Beyond Jefferson’s Vines (by this author) that fine pinot noir was being grown and made here (at Ankida Ridge). This was affirmed in a visit to that winery, but in addition, we tasted viogniers, meritage blends, sauvignon blanc, vermentino, tannat, both cabernets, merlot, petit verdot, dry roses, port-style wines, a lot of ciders, and even craft beers (and very good ones at that).
Some of the most memorable and varied tasting experiences were in Nelson County, where in addition to fine wine we tasted a hopped chardonnay that drank like a New Zealand sauvignon blanc (Cardinal Point Vineyards), fine cider from Bold Rock Cidery, and expertly matched craft beer and fine food at Wild Wolf and Devil’s Backbone breweries. Some Circle members who never drink beer were converted (for that particular beer) by what they tasted there.
I’m pleased to say that the full details of the visit, complete with tasting notes, will be in the second edition of Beyond Jefferson’s Vines, with 60 more pages and 25% more material than in the first edition, complete through this writing and containing a vintage chart and major grape glossary, which will be available next month (December 2014); more details to follow soon.