Location: Whitby, Ontario, Canada

Born in Malta but in Canada since age 5. Has written three books and presently does several columns about wine and food for various magazines.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Virginia: Day One and Two

Virginia Preamble          
About 400 years ago English settlers tried to produce a wine industry in Virginia! They met with little success since what they did not know was that the vinifera grapes they were using were being destroyed by various diseases----one that would, in the late 19th Century, almost decimate the vineyards of  Europe.
President Thomas Jefferson, a great wine expert, spent almost 30 years  growing grapes and trying to make wine. His work responsibilities which kept him away from his beloved Monticello home as well as the difficulties in growing vinifera vines left him frustrated.    
Success in making fine wine was later reached in Virginia with a grape called "Norton".  In 1873 it won "Best Red Wine of All Nations" at the World's Fair in Vienna and a gold medal in Paris.
Some believe that this grape may have been a "natural cross" between vinifera species and a wild native grape variety. As it happened in Canada  in the early 19th Century where a German winemaker by the name of  John Schiller founded a winery in Cooksville, Ontario with "natural hybrids" he purchased, the Norton grape was successful in proving that Virginia could make wine.
Enter Gianni Zonin in 1976! A member of one of Italy's most prominent wine families, he saw what many others did not---that Virginia was an excellent place to grow vinifera. With ways to control the devastating effects of vine diseases and pests, he purchased the 800 acre estate of 1812 Governor James Barbour. The estate now produces over 40,000 cases of wine per annum.
Virginia's wine has industry flourished and now with over 255 official wineries operating in the state, it ranks fifth in acreage and grape production.
The wineries have unique names such as North Gate, Box Wood Vineyards, Flying Fox, Wild Wolf, Tarara, and Deer Rock. There are many more of course.
Virginia's signature grape is the Viognier, which is certainly well made. However the other wines I have tried have shown the same excellence as that of the above grape. The Cabernet Franc and Chardonnay are certainly excellent examples of character driven wines.
The Bordeaux blends or Meritage Wines (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot) are equally well made.
Some interesting wines also involve a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Tannat and/or the Portuguese grape, Touriga Nacional  with a Cabernet Sauvignon mix. 
Despite the high summer humidity which sometimes drives the vintners to distraction,  grapes do grow well here and include Syrah (Shiraz), Nebbiolo, Sauvignon Blanc, Vidal, Petit Manseng,
and a host of other varieties.
Virginia is a wine paradise which is certainly a World contender producing robust, powerful reds and whites.