The popularity of Virginia wines is exploding, and local farmers are working hard to catch up. Like many of our fellow Virginia winemakers, we’re currently not able to grow or purchase enough Virginia grapes to keep up with demand for our wines.
But that will change. Our goal is to be using 100% Virginia appellation within the next four years. It’s an aggressive plan, and we’ll be planting more grapes each year to meet it.
The Goal: 100% Virginia Appellation by 2022
At Williamsburg Winery last year, we processed 311 tons of Virginia grapes. A third of those were our estate-grown grapes from Wessex Hundred. The rest come from our leased vineyard property in Winchester along with our contracted partners throughout Virginia.
Our winemaker, Matthew Meyer, stays in close touch with our vineyard partners during the growing season. They send us updates on how well the grapes are growing and setting fruit, and what the sugar and pH levels are. We look at the weather together and decide when we can harvest. Those close relationships will stay intact, and even expand. We will always buy various wine grape varietals from other Virginia growers because they have different soils, climates, and grapes types. That gives us more choice for flavor profiles, which results in better blending potential.
In addition, we are expanding our own vineyards. When we grow our own, we have total control over key inputs like spraying, thinning, trellising and leaf cover. Our estate expansion will focus on the grapes that grow well in the Tidewater region.
New Grape Varieties on the Horizon
We have about 20 acres still to plant here in Williamsburg, and another 20-plus acres available to us in Winchester. These are the five wine grape varieties we are excited about growing on this land.
The Williamsburg Winery had Chardonnay vines about 15 years ago, but those are long gone. We planted five acres of Chardonnay in 2015, along with five more in Winchester. The vines produced fruit last year, but we “dropped the fruit” – removed it but didn’t use it – to let the gangly teenaged vines put more energy into maturing. We will harvest our first Chardonnay vintage in 2018!
We stand solidly behind this reliable, world-class wine grape varietal. It’s been a very consistent grape for us, maturing well even in “bad” years. It carries good color and good structure, and it’s a key component of our Adagio and other high-end blends.
Ten years ago, we planted four acres of Petit Verdot at Wessex Hundred, but we want/need a lot more. We will plant another five acres this spring in Williamsburg, with a few more acres in Winchester. It will take at least three years for these new vines to mature and give usable fruit.
We see a lot of potential for Tannat in Virginia, and we are trying it for the first time. We will plant two acres of this versatile grape this spring. If it does well, we will certainly add more vines.
We think Tannat vines have a lot in common with Petit Verdot, and the varietal has the potential to deliver just as strongly. It will take a few years to test, but this is an investment we feel confident about. We feel so strongly about Tannat, that for the first-time ever, we blended it in our 2015 Adagio – the first vintage of Adagio that is not a true Bordeaux-style blend.
We are very excited about growing Norton, Virginia’s native grape that hails from Richmond. We have had recent success with Norton, getting a double gold in San Francisco and 91 points. Currently we purchase the grapes from a grower in Northern Virginia, but this spring we will plant a test acre of Norton on a little chunk of land near the pond at the Winery.
Every year we hope to plant an experimental wine grape variety, but these will be long-term tests. The first year is all about training up the vines and hoping they survive the winter. The second year the vines bear fruit, which we drop in order to strengthen the plant. By the third year, we can taste the fruit and see how it is proving out.
This spring, Matthew is talking about trying a brand-new varietal, perhaps a Granache Blanc or other white wine varietals s from Spain.
More Grapes at the Crush Pad
More Virginia grapes means more processing, and we’ll be expanding the crush pad to accommodate this aggressive growth. We hope that within the next two years we’ll add more holding tanks, and update the heating and cooling system, and general grape processing.
These changes aren’t just to handle the coming volume, but to improve quality as well. We are currently researching optical sorters. The sorter examines every grape. If the grape is moldy, shriveled or split, the sorter shoots out a jet of air and rejects it.
In the longer term, we will need to completely redesign our processing flow to account for more grapes. As a result, you might notice some construction, and some shifting locations at the winery.
Bear with us as we work toward our goal!
As Patrick says “the best is yet to come” and he is correct!