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This post marks the final part in this Virginia Winemaker Interview Series – What Grape Works Best In Virginia.

As I noted in Part I and II, this series is a follow up of sorts to the ‘Thomas Jefferson was right: The grapes that work best for Virginia’ session at the Drink Local Wine Conference last month.  Since the session resulted in such robust discussion, this series is intended to provide a forum for more Virginia winemakers to share their opinions on what grape they feel works best in our climate (or works best in their micro-climate).

Part I of the Virginia Winemaker Interview Series featured:

Part II featured:

Today, in Part III, we hear from:

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Matthieu Finot, Winemaker, King Family Vineyards

What grape do you feel is ideally suited for the Virginia climate?  Why?

Chardonnay:  Classical grape, easy to grow and I think can make very good wine, better balance in VA than CA (I think) but doesn’t have the best reputation (a little bit like merlot).  If we’re careful to not over oak the wine and keep a balance with the acidity, it will make great wine.

Viognier: Very aromatic varietal became VA white signature wine and I think it is justified.

Albarino: More suitable than Sauvignon Blanc to produce fresh aromatic white wine.  This varietal likes heat, clay and doesn’t need lot of difference of temperature between night and day to maintain freshness.  Not widely planted but probably one of the white varietals with the best potential in Virginia.

Petit Manseng: Perfectly suited to produce desert wine – high brix with low pH and high acid, tough skin, and good resistance to rot.

Merlot: Despite the ‘Sideways’ effect I think merlot is great for Virginia (at least in central Virginia) and can produce wines more Bordeaux style.  Same thing as the chardonnay, we can keep a better balance with the acidity, we can have the phenolic ripeness without having the flat “sweet” overripe jammy merlot.

Petit Verdot: If we’re looking for big bold wine this is it – small berries produce dense, dark, tannic wine.  Can sometimes be a little too simple or monochrome, but with good acidity.  Perfect for blending but can overpower the blend – It can also stand by itself quite well.

Tannat:  Tannat is tannic and produces high brix with good acidity (like the petit manseng in white).  This varietal likes clay, and if it’s grown properly can do very good in VA – very hedgy varietal that needs to be ripe to be good but can produce outstanding wines.

What grape would you say is not well suited for our climate?  Why?

The very hot and humid climate – not lot of difference of temperature between night and day – and clay soil can be a problem for some varietals.  Although I do not like to name what doesn’t grow well here in Virginia because I am sure that somebody will prove me wrong.  Here’s a list of varietals that I would not plant in central Virginia for myself (it doesn’t mean that we can not make good wine with them):

Pinot Noir:  Too sensitive to rot doesn’t like hot weather.

Sauvignon Blanc: Difficult to keep a good acidity, like cool weather to keep sauvignon flavor.

Cabernet Sauvignon:  Will make good wine on very good year, when it can get very ripe, the other years it will make only average wine.

Riesling and Gewurtz: Cool weather varietals.  We’re loosing too much acid.  Riesling is very sensitive to rot.

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Andy Reagan, Winemaker & Vineyard Manager, Jefferson Vineyards

What grape do you feel is ideally suited for Virginia’s climate?  Why?

With all of the advances in root stock, and clone selection, it is hard to single one variety out.  I would have to go with Petit Verdot, it seems no matter how rainy the season, if cropped properly and well maintained even in the wet years you can have a well-ripened PV.

Conversely, what grape would you say is not well suited for our climate?  Why?

I would have to go with Pinot Noir, with the exception of really high and cool sights in the Valley, the heat and humidity and length of the growing season really inhibits the development of any real structure, color or tannin.

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Thank you Matthieu and Andy for taking time to participate in this Virginia Winemaker Interview Series.

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