The latest in Virginia wine news is a decision by the Virginia Wine Board ‘to pursue a marketing plan that will include the designation of Viognier as Virginia’s signature grape for national branding purposes.‘
As I’ve noted here on a number of occasions, I believe Viognier could be the future of Virginia white wine in terms of gaining prominence in the global marketplace. Though Viognier can be a major differentiator for Virginia, one challenge with such focus on one grape variety may be the loss of focus (perhaps enthusiasm) for other equally deserving grapes. This of course, is just the opinion of someone with virtually no viticulture or winemaking experience.
As part of the Industry Release, Rock Stephens, Chairman of the Virginia Wine Board, noted the success other regions have had with similar focus on a ‘signature‘ grape as a way to increase attention and drive tourism and sales on all wines for the region – like New York Riesling, Oregon Pinot Noir, Argentina Malbec, and New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.
Of the 191 Virginia wineries, just 74 of them currently produce a Viognier. Will be interesting to see if this new single-varietal focus encourages more wineries to make the investment to produce Viognier.
From a personal perspective this is a timely announcement as I’ve been working on a small side project, a modest e-book of sorts (I emphasize modest). The working title is ‘Virginia is for Viognier – A Guide to the Viogniers of Virginia.’ Virginia’s Rhone Ranger, Jordan Harris winemaker at Tarara Winery, is graciously writing the Foreword.
The Guide – which is organized by region – is intended to serve as an educational and reference document (in pdf format) for Viognier and/or Virginia wine enthusiasts. In addition to a brief history of the grape along with the history of Viognier in Virginia, this guide will also contain basic information about each Viognier including the winemaker, alcohol content, residual sugar, aging method, tasting notes as well insights from several winemakers. A June release date is planned.
No doubt there will be more chatter about Virginia’s newly designated grape.
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Jordan Harris said:
The question on focus can be two fold. You mention not paying as much attention to other varieties which is a possibility, however I have seen the same thing happen to the variety of focus. Once there is a marketing machine behind a grape variety and it starts selling itself on the name of being a Virginia Viognier, many producers then can take the approach of trying to look mainly at ways to lower the cost of production on the certain variety, often leaving quality as a secondary factor since it will sell anyway. On the reverse side it will also cause many producers to aim at making the ultimate Virginia Viognier trying to be the top of the top which will raise the bar.
In many areas of the world there are some vintners that go against the grain and fight for varieties that aren’t “the marketed norm” for the region and do quite well. Look at Burgess on Howell Mountain aiming at Rhones, not Cab, Look at all of Central Otago who grows no Sauv Blanc, but has focus on Pinot in NZ, Cabs in the Finger Lakes, Syrah in Oregon and the list goes on. The upside to having a focused energy is that it creates acclaim to a region, then consumers create more of an interest in everything else you are making.
I look forward to seeing Viognier grow as the focused variety of Virginia. We will see more stylistic improvements, Single Vineyard wines, and several bottlings from individual produces. These wines can help raise Viognier to greater heights in Virginia that we have not yet even seen. As top producers focus on Viognier with a new outlook and bring these bottlings to us we will see a better emphasis on the top terroirs and really understand our State and where Viognier truly shines best.
It is an exciting time for Virginia.
Good Morning Jordan – thank you for stopping by to share your thoughts. Much agree with what you’re saying here – in particular ‘will also cause many producers to aim at making the ultimate Virginia Viognier trying to be the top of the top which will raise the bar.’ I see this as great for Virginia wine and expect this will be the case.
I believe the key, as you point out, is gaining a deeper understanding of the top terriors and where Viognier truly shines best. I recently had the opportunity to spend the day at one of Virginia’s newest, and perhaps most talked about (recently) vineyards – RdV Vineyards. What an interesting and educational experience – spent much of our time that day talking about soil, soil, soil, soil, and the importance of finding ‘the’ right grape for a particular micro site.
Thanks for all you do in supporting this industry (and the blogger crowd), and leading the way with Rhone varietals (and, glad to hear Delaplane and Veritas will be joining you at RR). Cheers!
Jordan Harris said:
I actually just ordered my allotment of RdV and look forward to trying it soon.
It will also be great to have both Jim Dolphin and Emily Pelton helping showcase the Rhone varieties in DC next month with the Rhone Rangers.
Hi Frank – That’s a bold move on the part of the wine board, for sure. There’s so much clutter out there in the world of wine marketing, though, that putting a stake in the ground for everyone to rally around makes tons of sense. I’m sure there could have been (and probably was!) endless discussion over which grape should do the honors…Cab Franc, Viognier, Norton. Would be interesting to know more about how Viognier was ultimately chosen (over, say, Cab Franc, which has been the other darling for quite a while).
As for Viognier itself, can’t wait to see where this goes! I’ll always remember (cue the violin music) my first introduction to Viognier, at Horton Vineyards a million years ago. What a revelation, at a time when Chardonnay was all the rage (or was it, yikes, Chablis?). On our 150 wineries tour last summer/fall, we sipped lots of truly lovely Viogniers…at Veritas, Notaviva, Delaplane, North Gate. Some real charmers.
I’m with Jordan when he says that this is an exciting time for Virgina wine!
Hi Nancy – no doubt there was robust discussion at the Wine Board meeting around this topic. Given the relative youth of the Virginia wine industry, this is certainly a pretty big stake to put in the ground (but, very much needed!). I too look forward to observing how this is received throughout the industry, and then implemented. Cheers!
Kurt Jensen said:
I am sure Viognier will be an important grape for Virginia from now on. But I wonder if Petit Manseng may eventually eclipse Viognier as the white wine that ultimately becomes Virginia’s signature white, regardless of designation. Time will tell.
The issues with Cabernet Franc being the signature grape are many, even though many wineries make outstanding ones in Virginia. First, many other regions grow good Cabernet Franc, while far fewer grow Viognier. Further, many people suspect that Petit Verdot or even Tannat may eventually emerge as Virginia’s signature red.
Wine About Virginia
Thanks for your comment, Kurt. I too wonder what the future will hold for Virginia wine and the ‘signature’ grape. But for now – and the foreseeable future – Viognier is a great call. There are just under 170 acres of Viognier planted in Virginia, with many wineries making significant investment in expansion of their Viognier vines. The most notable recent planting of Viognier is Barboursville, who recently planted 12 acres of the grape (this is a huge commitment to this grape). There is a fraction of Petit Manseng planted relative to Viognier, so I’m not sure the role Petit Manseng will play in Virginia – just not enough planted yet. There are some really nice PM’s being made (namely, by Lovingston)… will be interesting to watch…
Though I am a huge Virginia Cab Franc fan, and feel CF can play a significant role in the future of Virginia red wines, I agree with you that many other regions – like New York in particular – are producing a number of excellent Cab Francs. There seem to be fewer regions producing Viognier.
Definitely a great time in Virginia Wine – Cheers!
Jordan Harris said:
I think there are some great Petit Mansengs being made in Virginia, but it will never be a signature grape in any region. It’s natural chemistry is simply way to out of whack to create consistency throughout a region with different winemaking techniques. It is high alcohol and high acid and struggles to have flavors ripen at a similar pace. Not that it can’t and isn’t done, it is just hard for an entire area to work with. It is also not a grape that can appeal to everyone with it’s unusal natural ways. However, I do love it and love making it.
It was Andy at Jefferson that gave me the best outlook on Cab Franc. It got popular in Virginia following a string on incredible vintages for growing CF from 97-02 (save 2000). Since then it has been hard to see consistency showing ripe CF year in year out. It might work for some areas of Virginia, but not all.
I love the idea of Tannat, but it would have to be Tannat and “something”. Anywhere Tannat is the dominent variety it is the norm to blend something else in up to about 20%, often Merlot. This is just to soften it’s naturally massive structure. Unless we learn to not release them until they re 6-8 years old, they are just too much for so many palates. I would like to see it happen, but not sure.
I have my own personal problems with PV. It is great when its great, but there are too many one dimensional wines to make it a regional favorite. The problem is we can get great, and structural elements, but flavor development and complexity is a different story. It is a very late ripener (later then Cab Sauv or Franc) traditionally to get those flavors.
I also have my own personal agenda on this one, but what about Syrah? I know there isn’t much right now, but I think it is a grape to watch. My favorite ayway for reds in our vineyard.
This has been talked about for a while. There are more wineries that do not grow Viognier than do, but the main thing is to support the industry. I don’t think too many will run out and put Viognier vines in the ground right away, but I am all for it if this leads to more cohesion and overall growth.
I agree with Jordan that the upside to promoting Viognier as a signature grape outweighs any possible negative consequences. And it gets into quality. Most Virginia wineries craft good Viognier wines; probably more he result that the grape grows well in this climate. Some Virginia wineries craft excellent Viognier wines and its time for the industry as a whole to reach that same level. Designating Viognier as the signature grape is a major incentive to do so.
Thanks for commenting, Todd. I too hope this move will begin to ‘raise the bar’ for all Viogniers throughout the state… we’ll see. Definitely a good time in Virginia wine!
Derek Pross said:
Nice discussion on the intent of the Wine Board’s designation of Viognier as a signature grape. Thanks for posting Frank.
Not much further to add except to say I’m very happy with the designation and agree with the reasons to make Viognier our horse in the race. Winemakers consistently construct quality Viognier in a variety of styles across the state expressing a variety of terriors. Even the ubiquitous Chardonnay grape does not find itself expressed in the array of styles that Viognier is produced – Steel, Oaked, neutral oak, dry, semi-dry, sweet, late harvest, ML, partial ML, sur-lie, sparkling. Vintage in and vintage out the Viognier harvests have brought us high quality vino to bring to the market. It’s the right decision in my opinion to brand Viognier to the national/international market place.
I do find it hard to believe that only 74 wineries produce Viognier. I suspect that number is a bit higher, but it does prove the point that there is not enough Viognier grown in VA to support the industry.
I’ve enjoyed reading all the comments. Go Vio!
Derek – agreed, nice discussion. I appreciate your input on this subject. I like that analogy ‘…our horse in the race.’ Viognier is indeed a versatile grape, and that versatility is fully expressed here in Virginia in the ways you noted – ‘steel, oak, neutral, dry, semi-dry…’ I’m not sure there are too many other areas that have the diversity of expression of Viognier as we do here in Virginia.
Regarding the number of Viognier producers, I pulled this from the release (which came from Virginia Wine info site). I suspect this number is accurate within a few wineries. I too was surprised by the number.
Jordan Harris said:
It really is not all that shocking that there are only 74 wineries producing Viognier. The one thing i disagreed about with Hunter’s note below is the idea of planting it because it is easy to grow. Viognier is anything but easy to grow. It is one of the most tempermental varieties for uneven fruit set and can very easily have rot issues before ripening. If you sneeze the wrong near Viognier you can have poor fruit set.
The other problem with the data though is that some wineries have Viognier based wines that are not labelled Viognier. I am probably one of the biggest supporters of Viognier, but our wines are generally just named for the vineyard like Nevaeh or Honah Lee. Even though they are mainly Viognier based, these wines might not be counted.
Jordan – I suspect you are correct, that the ‘Viognier based’ wines are not counted. I’m trying to round up that source data now… will report back once I’ve managed to gather.
Derek et al – I suspect there are more than 74 wineries producing Viognier as well. That number was pulled from http://www.VirginiaWine.org – when you do a filter under the winery database by variety. As we all know (and this is the bane of my existence), wineries do not update their content on a regular basis on the industry website. If I had to take an educated guess, I would feel comfortable stating that the actual number is closer to (if not more than) 100 that produce Viognier (purely basing that on response rates on the website)… Thanks for your kind remarks throughout btw.
It’s interesting to see for sure. I think if nothing else it’s great to see concerted efforts being made to market Virginia wine on a more-than-local scale. Seeing as we don’t produce Viognier at Afton we don’t have a dog in the fight so to speak, but I think it’s a good idea to have a direction. Certainly raises a few eyebrows since less than half produce it, a number of which who don’t being some older, more established wineries. It is, however, a consistently nice wine, which can’t necessarily be said for Cabernet Franc or Petit Verdot, as much as I personally prefer them to Viognier when done right. As for many planting any as a result, I know it’s something we won’t be doing, just because we have the opportunity to grow some things that are difficult to and wouldn’t under-utilize the site to grow something that’s more marketable or easier. Looking forward to watching the discussion!
Hunter: Thanks for stopping by to comment. Since Afton Mountain does not currently grow Viognier and doesn’t have near-term plans to plant Viognier, I appreciate your view on this subject. I feel your view is probably consistent with other wineries that do not currently produce Viognier – you see this as a benefit to the overall wine industry. (I believe the old JFK adage – ‘a rising tide lifts all boats.’) I can understand what you’re saying that Afton can grow some of the more difficult to grow grapes at your site and will stick with them (do you guys have plans for any other unique plantings there on your land?). I do wonder if any of the 120 VA wineries that do not produce a Viognier will make a decision to put some focus on this grape. I am hoping a few more wineries that do not produce a Viognier will weigh in as well. Thanks again, Cheers!
Frank – Actually, yeah. We’re planting just under 2 acres of Albariño this year, and expanding Cab Franc, PV, and Merlot into a recent expansion adjacent to the current vineyard. Totally on board with the ‘rising tide’ mentality though.
Christine Vrooman said:
As a vineyard and winery owner in Virginia, I am enthused about the new designation of “Virginia Viognier” as our signature wine and the marketing of it as a means to put us on the world stage. At Ankida Ridge we grow the Burgundian grapes of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay but in our expansion hope to include some Rhone varietals such as Viognier. I personally love Virginia Viogniers, but I do have a concern that widespread promotion of this new designation might leave many equally wonderful Virginia wines in its shadow. I feel that the last few years Virginia has taken huge leaps in the quality of many of our wines, both red and white. I feel these wines are poised to make an impressive leap onto the global market.
Virginia has many micro-climates due to its unique terrain and from each of these sites, a variety of vinifera wine grapes are grown, many creating distinguished wines of high quality that are specific to their terroir. I would hate to see these wines of stature go unnoticed. I suggest the marketing of Virginia Viognier be thoughtfully considered and structured to allow for and encourage the marketing of all distinguished wines now coming out of Virginia, wines that reflect the terroir from which they are grown. We truly are poised to hit the world market, Viognier or no Viognier. What an exciting time for the Virginia wine industry!
Thanks for commenting. Virginia does indeed have many micro-climates and it’s exciting to see some of these micro-climates’s expressing their potential. Although I suspect quite a lot of focus will be put on Viognier, I don’t think focus this will adversely affect any other varietals.
It was great to try your Pinot a couple weeks ago, and look forward to trying the Chardonnay. Drop me a note when you’re back here in C’peake. Cheers!
I still think it is way too early to pick one variety and run with it. There is still way too much bad wine out there and the focus needs to be on making good wine. Viognier’s “versatility” depends soley on how well it is ripened in the vineyard. There are way too many Virginia Viognier’s posing as Sauvignon Blanc, and that is not an impression that many of us wabt out there. As for making Viognier in different styles you guys listed, that is done with any other variety white or red as well. I personally see way way way more versatility in Chardonnay, and Merlot than Viognier (come see me in November and I’ll prove it). The emphasis as an industry right now needs to be on overall quality, of each and every variety not just one. On one hand it seems like a great idea to get behind Viog. and really push it, but on the other hand will we back ourselves into a marketed corner of “they don’t do anything else well” If you are hungry and don’t want to eat pasta are you going to go to an Italian restaurant? We have a very bright future with today’s breakthroughs in clonal selections, rootstock, trellising, global warming and a host of new and improved winemakers and palates. We should be focusing on improving quality as a whole, and celebrating the diversity of the Virginia industry. I don’t drink the same wine every night, and I’m proud to offer an array of wines that can suit most any palate. By pushing one variety, a white variety, what does that say to the red wine drinkers? Thats my humble opinion anyway. I don’t think the quality is there yet to push one variety, I don’t think the need is there, I think there are as many great wines made from other varieties as there are from Viognier. For those of you who know Jefferson Viognier you know I should stand to benefit tremendously from any added Viognier marketing. Oh well wish I could have been at that board meeting.
Andy – thanks for weighing in on this subject – appreciate your opinion on this. First – you will definitely see me in November to see what you have going on with Chardonnay and Merlot (and, I’ll probably stop by in July, August, Sept., and Oct… :). I disagree that it’s too early to pick one variety – my feeling is this will put some much needed focus (again, I should note my disclaimer – I know very little about ‘branding and marketing’ and even less about viticulture and winemaking so there is a possibility that I’m wrong about this little item.) You are right there is still too much bad wine out there, and there certainly needs to be a ‘strong’ emphasis on overall quality.
You suggest that ‘we should be focusing on improving quality as a whole…’. *’How’* exactly could this be accomplished? Raising overall quality – a needed and worthy goal – is a much larger undertaking (not sure how that would be measured).
From a marketing/branding perspective, this focus on Viognier could be win-win for the Virginia wine industry as a whole by brining ‘new’ attention to our region. (again, I defer to the ‘disclaimer’ above). This ‘new’ attention can then be used to share the diversity of Virginia wine industry – Petit Manseng, PV, Cab Franc, red blends, and Chardonnay (?).
Thanks again for your thoughts on this subject.
For future ref – all board meetings are public. Notice of meetings are always posted here along w/ draft and final minutes from prior meetings. http://www.virginiawine.org/industry/wine-board/ … wish you would have read the first round draft of the industry strategic plan and provided feedback as requested. I think that would have answered a lot of your questions…
We already have the stigma of making lesser red wines in Virginia. So by that stand point maybe marketing the daylights out of one specific white grape makes sense. Why it doesn’t make sense to me is that there are too many bad Viogniers out there. So say we put all of our marketing or a good portion of our marketing tools and energy behind one variety. When customers hit the wrong winery and taste a crap bottle, what do you think their opinion would be then? “Virginia can’t even make their state grape in to a decent wine?” What about the other 117 wineries not making a Viognier, do they start making one now? Out of the 74 wineries that do make a Viognier how many are actually well made and stand out that much more in terms of unique flavors and balance moreso than Condrieu, Oregon, or Cali.?
Focusing on overall quality as opposed to pushing one specific variety is definitely a bigger undertaking. This is something that can only happen if the owners of wineries swallow a bit of their pride and ask for help and or guidance as opposed to bottling poorly made wine. The industry has always tried to get a quality alliance together and it always meets resistance, tpically from wineries that make subpar, flawed wine.
It is almost impossible to satisfy everyone, like I have said, JV and I stand to benefit greatly from the marketing of Viognier. Especially when you consider how amazing the 2010 vintage was/is (in bottle). I still have to ask though, why alienate a great percentage of other producers with a state marketing plan that focuses on one variety. Thats one of my big questions. Also are we going to create strain on a variety that is already in short supply? Whats that going to do to the price per ton on the market? Whats that demand going to create in terms of quality viticulture from a ton per acre standpoint? Do vineyards start overcropping because this increased emphasis on Viognier has driven the price per ton beyond 3000/ton? SO now the larger vineyards that have been supplying Viognier to the majority of the state crop at 5 or 6 tons to the acre? What if one of these larger vineyards decides to open a winery and stop supplying Vigonier (which is a popular rumor). Awesome now we are marketing a state grape that no one can really seem to get their hands on to make a wine that can meet any real demand from the consumer. Yes it will be great if more people begin planting more Viognier but that is still 4 years from now, seeing as how its probably too late to put any in this year.
By only pushing one variety we run the risk of ignoring a greater percentage of wineries than we are helping. I would feel the same way if someone picked any other variety as well. We’re at a point when everyone needs to come together as an industry, put all of our resources behind one entity and market our industry fairly and responsibly, as well as police our industry in terms of quality, making sure wines are not chemically flawed. By picking one variety it is going to disrupt many wineries’ production plans, create a marketing plan that does not help every winery which will just lead to more division and infighting and takes us back even further.
Jordan Harris said:
Andy: I have to say I agree with you on many things, but this one I don’t. Focusing on one varuiety does not alienate others. Almost every reknowned region has marketed the hell out of one variety simply to get acknowledgment and therefore market penetration. Once people know Virginia makes wine via Viognier, then the door is already open for the other varieties.
Chile was known for Carmenere, then Cab sauv, but is now also a leader in Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah and even Pinot Noir is hitting its stride because of Carmenere and Cab Sauv.
Napa has Cab Sauv, but almost every winery still sells out of their Sauv Blanc anc Syrah as well from piggy backing.
In Sonoma, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay lead the way allowing from some incredible Red Rhone inspired wines.
Australia launches with Shiraz, but now is very marketable for Grenache, Viognier, Riesling, Cab Sauv and Semillion.
The list goes on with New Zealands Sauv Blanc leading the charge for Syrah and Pinot Noir. Argentina’s Malbec leading for the cooler climate Pinot’s and Torrontes of Patagonia. South African Pinotage and Chenin Blanc led the way for some incredible Rhone inspired wines. Washington State and Oregon led with Merlot and Pinot Noir respectively and now are known for some stunning Syrah, Cabs, Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc.
Even the old world has come to benefit from broadening their outreach by piggy backing off a signature variety. Take a look at Super-Tuscans.
I do hugely agree with the quality statements. The biggest fear I have with this new focus is teh unknown on which direction it will take the majority. Many could rest on their laurels and make mediocre Viognier knowing there is a marketing machine behind it, but it could also force many to aim for even higher standards to be the ultimate Viognier and garner cult-like status. As for a Quality Alliance you will be recieving a notice in the next week or so about the new organization which will be launched to wineries in June and the public in October. It won’t stop bad wine from being made 100%, but it will be a step in the right direction. That said, every region in the world still makes crap, even with their signature wines.
As for availability of fruit. This does suck, I agree. I have been trying to land an extra 30-50 tons of Viognier every year since I have been in Virginia. I am planting some today, but it is still know where near what my needs are. The price could go up, but it will become the responsibility of the winery to work out good terms. I hate by the ton pricing anyway since it is always a starting point for over-cropping regardless the price of the ton. If being priced by the ton, it should be based on the price of the projected bottle, much like Beckstoffer sells his fruit, primarily from To Kalon. I also hope that this will push more growers to plant Viognier instead of Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc. It is harder to grow, so many people hesitate, but there is already too much Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc planted in the state. An incentive like this might help the growers decide to plant Viognier for a brighter future for Virginia.
Does it market less then 50% of the wineries at this time. Sure does, and I am glad I am not answering the phones about that, nor did I have any input on the decision. I give full kudos to the wine board for putting their necks out there for what they believe will help Virginia. It won’t be an easy sell. I do think that even those that don’t make Viognier will benefit from this as it brings recognition to the State as a whole. It simply works as a starting platform to get people to notice us. Once they are here, it is our job to dell them on everything we make. I hang my hat on Syrah for reds and I don’t see that getting any play any time soon with State marketing dollars, but once the customer is here, it is an easy sell.
On a side note, we never had a beer together in Richmond. Will have to catch up sometime and do that. Hope all is well at Jefferson and the 2011 vintage is starting out well for you. We could use a little less rain then what is expected next week. Oh well….The fun.
Over a long period of time I think it will prove to be a great strategy, especially with Annette and Amy’s talent behind it. We just aren’t at the point where it is the best time to do it, I think it should have been a gradual process that would better prepare the industry to handle a decision like this. At least it made figuring out what to plant in my vacant 3 acres alot easier. I agree that we need to give the Wine Board kudos for at least trying to do something a bit more progressive, but to what extent is it the consumers recognition with a regions top variety that prompts the region to market that variety? Kind of like the hot girl in your class doesn’t say she is the hot girl, all of us saps just knew she was. Obviously Viognier has the chops to be the belle of the ball, but we are years away from being able to meet much more new demand, as well as possibly setting ourselves up for disaster if the wine doesn’t meet even the lowest standard. Like I had mentioned before, how many Viogniers right now in bottle are that distinguishable, setting us apart from other regions. 10-15%? 25%?
I guess we’ll see how it pans out, I’m very supportive of the wine board, and was not present for any debate so I’ll defer to the marketing folks experience and hope it pans out.
Beer sounds good to me!
Andy/Jordan: Thank you both again for taking time to share your thoughts and expertise here – much appreciated.
I think we can all agree that big kudos goes out to the Virginia Wine Board Marketing Office (Annette, Amy, MC) for being proactive and moving forward with more progressive ideas/initiatives. And thanks to the voting members of the Wine Board who also took this first step.
Andy posses a great question about ‘how many [Virginia] Viogniers now in bottle are that distinguishable?’ I would say under 15%… but certainly trending upwards!
Overall, it’s clear that Virginia needs much more Viognier vines in the ground… (perhaps the State will kick in a few bucks to wineries who plant new Viognier vines? 🙂
The state actually is doing a great job helping us out with the winery expansion and construction credit. It is awesome having such supportive folks in Richmond.
We at Lovingston just can’t wait for that repeated question from a customer, “You don’t make a Viognier? But isn’t that your state grape?”
Hi Steph – good to see you on Saturday. What a hectic day, eh? Thanks for stopping by to comment. Any near/long-term (ever) plans to plant Viognier? What do you see as the pro/con to planting? As the Borgs were fond of saying, “resistance is futile…”. 🙂 Talk to you soon – cheers!
It was hectic…but more profitable than last year, so who can complain? No plans whatsoever to grow Viognier here or to make one. It’s not this crowd’s preferred grape, and we’re all on board that if we don’t want to drink it, we’re not going to make it. We’re more into the reds anyway, but for whites, Petit Manseng, Seyval Blanc, and some unoaked Chard are where we’re hanging our hats. Really like what they give us, and the customer response has been hugely positive. And if you left it to Riaan, it would be Pinotage, Pinotage, Pinotage…
Derek Pross said:
I’ve been consumed with other tasks, and have now read thru the later comments. I do still believe that this a good idea and not premature. I agree with the myriad of points raised by Andy and Jordan. I believe as Jordan does, that marketing Viognier will not take away from other wines produced. I purchase Cab Sauv from all over the world, same with Pinots, same for every varietal well known or obscure.
We need to start staking our ground if we are to support the current and planned wineries and vineyards. Selling the grand majority of our product in state is not going to cut it in the long run, perhaps even the “shorter” run. I speak as an amateur marketer and produce wines at the micro scale (less than 300 cases/varietal-blend including Viognier).
The quality issue is tough. I know some producers don’t achieve quality consistently or produce wines that just aren’t good, or perceived as good by the majoroity. I believe there will always be a percentage near the bottom end of the quality scale. I know this is the case in establish U.S. wine regions Oregon, Washington, New York and many other countries. How many times have you uncorked a wine and found not of the quality you expected (even something like a DOCG labelled wine from Italy)? I’ve tasted Pinot Noir from OR that I felt was not up to par when I lived there from producers that you do see on the shelves in VA, but does that make me stop buying Pinot and other wines from OR? No. It just lets me know which producer I’m likely to avoid when I purchase. I don’t think lesser of the region nor do I buy only Pinots. What else they have for me I wonder?
As everyone has said, and now it’s my turn, Kudos to the state, VWA board, and VA Wine Marketing program.
Annette Boyd said:
Wow, no need to read the Wine Board minutes for the discussion; this is where all the action is regarding the conversation about Viognier. Lots of great comments. Andy – thanks for the vote of support. I have to say that I think a point of focus is important to get anything noticed through the clutter. It’s too hard to get noticed for several messages, we need to push forward with just one and Viognier was an almost (but not quite) unanimous vote from the Wine Board. No one was ready to put all our marketing support behind one red grape variety yet, but in terms of white wines, Viognier was an easy choice for today. 10 years, things may look different, but for moving the industry forward today and even for the next 3-5 years, this made sense.
Lots of thought provoking remarks from all. And we enjoy seeing the industry’s feedback. In addition to what Annette said — you have to be ahead of the marketing curve. Not behind it (kind of like the old military adage “If you’re on time you’re late.”). There is a lot of positive momentum in the VA wine industry at this time (quality is rising, increasing state support, intensifying media coverage, etc.) – now is the time to capitalize on that. Viognier is a major point of differentiation for Virginia, as our Chairman stated. It’s not a “me too” (been there, done that) variety. Yes, it takes 3-4 years before new plantings become viable, however, rolling out a branding exercise doesn’t happen overnight either. This will be a project that is years in the making. When you think of Oregon, do you only think of Pinot Noir? No. Anybody falling into the “core wine consuming market” will also recognize Oregon Pinot Gris, etc. which will be the same concept here.
Viognier will be used as a ‘springboard’ to bring added attention to Virginia’s burgeoning wine industry.
PS – if anybody needs me to do a quality assurance check on their Viognier then feel free to send it to 1001 Broad St…. :O)
I ran some queries against our wine-compass.com database and came back with basically the same numbers as Amy. We list 73 wineries producing a Viognier, either as a 100% varietal or in a blend. The counts for Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chardonnay were not surprisingly much higher. What was surprising was that there are 64 wineries crafting wine using a Petit Verdot. I knew it was popular, but not that popular.
Todd – thanks for following up! Wow, 64 Virginia wineries producing Petit Verdot is many more than I would have thought. Interesting…
Now these are all wines made with PV, not just 100% varietals. I suspect there are many Virginia Meritages using a small amount of PV
Jordan Harris said:
I would say the percentages of wine being a cut above other regions is not that far off from other regions with their flagship. IMHO, Napa Cabs that are really all that good are probably in that 10-20% range and if you take price into account it would be less then that. Taking the ultimate of specialized areas Burgundy Chardonnay and Pinot Noir is mostly crap. Sure, the profound wines can not be matched on this planet, but there is a lot of garbage.
Do we have some work to do on quality? We sure so and we always will. The first step is to garner attention and show off your flagships. Then you have to continue to get better and stay new so that you don’t fizzle out…ask some Australians..
There are several up and coming regions that are going to be chomping at us, so we always need to be better. There is always a new darling in the wine industry, and my belief is that we can be that next one since we do have such support from the State and a great marketing team. It is great that we are also looking long term, because in the comin years I am sure we will start having more competition from Canada, Uruguay, Brazil, Arizona, and Idaho. They all have great focus as well with some very passionate people and some great wine. It will be great to be ahead of them and with long term focus.
Jordan Harris said:
And for what it’s worth, Amy is very right. So I clearly haven’t updated our page in a while. We don’t have a Viognier based wine according to the website, yet we make three and all were released last month. Hmmmmmm. I thought I was pretty diligent most times. D’oh!!!
VA Wine Diva said:
I’m coming a bit late to the party here, but I figure better late than never to chime in with my 2 cents worth…
Having been part of a number of twitter discussions about a potential signature VA grape, I totally understand the choice of viognier. I also understand the desire to have a centralized draw like viognier around which to market, and I applaud the VA Wine Board Marketing folks for being so proactive and energetic. That said, I don’t think there’s enough viognier being grown in VA at this point to allow for this – people are going to expect to find viognier in most tasting rooms year round and this just isn’t going to happen right now. I’m pretty sure the top grapes in VA are still chard and merlot. I’m not arguing that those should be our signature grapes – anyone who has read our blog knows that’s not my position – but I do think it shows we’re not yet ready for this. Now if this means people will start pulling out some of the overdone chard, that would be great, but I doubt that’s going to happen….
Also, we have to be realistic that there’s a lot of sub-par and even downright bad viognier out there. I love VA wine more than most people, and I enjoy being a cheerleader for the industry, but all wines aren’t created equal and we need to stop pretending they are. Some of the small wineries are producing great products, some aren’t. Same goes for the big wineries. To gain a reputation for quality wines both within and outside of the state, we need to work to raise quality. I know I’m selective about where I recommend people visit and with which wines I open for friends and family new to VA wine.
Also, as a consumer, I need to point out that while I’m fairly familiar with New Zealand sauv blanc, to pick one example, I know very little about what other grapes grow well there. They’ve done a great marketing job, but I’m not that likely to buy another type of wine from New Zealand without a strong recommendation from someone I trust to be really knowledgeable – a sauv blanc, however, I might take a risk on. I sincerely doubt I’m unique in this respect. Given this, we may be setting in motion a problem due to this as well.
VA Wine Diva said:
…on an unrelated note, since RdV wines are out of my price range, I say we all have a party at Jordan’s when he decides to open them 🙂
Jordan: I would gladly trade you several pictures of Va Wine Diva and Grape Envy Guy for a bottle of RdV! 🙂 I had the chance to try all three of the RdV wines during my visit (the 3rd is the ‘friends & family’ wine), and at those price points, I would lay them down for a couple/few years. Although I enjoyed all 3, definitely need some time to show their very best – if you haven’t already opened 🙂 Cheers!
Jordan Harris said:
Well, if I host a party I have to know who everyone is, so you will have to reveal your identity. I will also take pictures to post behind our tasting bar for our staff.
I would hope that this will also help people plant more Viognier and get more wineries to think about making some. Something that is also good to note is that even before this release wineries were planting more. I think it is because not many independents want to because of the difficulties in the vineyard.
Barboursville apparently planted 12 more acres this year, I have planted 3.5 more this year and will be 10 more next year, and likely now for the next three years after. We have a huge 5 year plan of expansion in our vineyard acreage and it was all planned for Viognier and Syrah to have roughly an added 25 acres each. We will likely weigh that heavier now on Viognier.
As for bad wine, the marketing in any direction can’t fix bad wine from any variety or style. We still have to market something.
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As long as we have the support of the entire industry (10% excepttion factored in) I am totally for it, I have been here for a long time and the bickering and division amongst wineries is obnoxious and needs to come to an end. Like I’ve said all along, we are definitely going to benefit from the marketing of Viognier. As far as other regions and their funky, bunk wines most of those wines are drinkable, a lesser napa cab still reminds you of napa cab yet doesn’t have insane amounts of VA, reduction, accidental clumsy ML, browning high ph scary Virginia Viognier. It’d be nice along with the marketing campaign (and jordan you eluded to this with the vqa) to set an industry standard, so people have an idea of who to visit. Of course I suppose thats up to a wineries marketing team. Never mind
Okay, the suspense was killing me on the actual number of Virginia wineries using Viognier. See this post for the best estimate I can make. Viognier doesn’t reach a hundred wineries as we first thought, but I would suspect most are 100% varietal wines. Hopefully this number doesn’t increase because the remaining wineries rush to produce a Viognier. Treat it like every other grape in the vineyard, if it works with your terrior, then grow it; if it doesn’t stay the course.
Kurt Jensen said:
It is a touch ironic that Jim Law (Linden) and Lew Parker (Willowcroft) wont touch Viognier.
Hi—is Maryland one of those the up-and-coming regions that is, as Jordan put it, chomping at you? Just curious.
According to the Maryland Wine Association’s 2011 survey, Chardonnay represents 13% of our states’ vine by variety and Vidal, 7%. We’re also looking at increased plantings of Gruner Veltiner and Albarino. Although we informally discuss the possibilities of a state signature wine, I think we are a ways away from outright declaring one. Appropriately so, as collectively, our state wine region is still finding our way.
Thanks, Frank & everyone passionate about VAwine for posting. Its interesting to see how other states make their decisions and I appreciate Virginia’s government seriously backing its wine region. I think its helped serve as an example to Maryland for the value that a serious wine industry could bring to a state. I’m looking forward to our states’ wine industry growth, but more importantly, to the mid-atlantic region’s wine growth.
Thanks for bringing an out of state perspective to the discussion. I second that ‘looking forward… to the mid-atlantic region’s wine growth.’ Cheers!
Jordan Harris said:
I would say that Maryland has loads of potential. To be fair, we probably have more in common terroir wise to many Maryland wineries then a lot of Virginia wineries since we are across the river from Point of Rocks.
I think the biggest thing holding the Maryland market back is that even though the labelling laws are the same as Virginia, there is way too much fruit allowed to be brought in from out of state. The last numbers I have seen published is that there are 450 acres to produce 130,000 cases. At three tons per acre average that should yield 81,000 cases leaving it clear that there is a lot of fruit from out of State or wines made from fruti other then grape, which takes a whole different marketing approach in my mind. If the average yields are much higher then 3 tons per acre, I would say that it is grossly over cropped for around here. We keep our vineyards well below 2 tons per acre in order to ensure quality concentration and ripening.
There are some awesome wines in Maryland. I would put Black Ankle up against almost anyone, anywhere. I also love their Syrah and Viognier which is not shocking since they are not that far from us and those are my favorites in our vineyard.
Kurt: As far as Jim Law goes, there are two reasons I believe for this. One is that he has some truly profound terroir for Chardonnay. The hardest part about stating one variety for a State is that yes there will be some areas that other varieties do show better. There are many terroirs in the State, but the overwhelming majority does well with Viognier. I would argue that there are very few places in the State that have the terroir to produce Chardonnay’s as great and distinctive as Jim. I also know that Jim is not always a fan of the popular style of Viognier in Virginia. The Viognier’s that have become the most popular are a completely different style then what is classically known as Viognier. Classic Viognier is generally made is either barrel or larger foudre with far less temperature control on very steep slopes, longer elevage, and painstaking attention to detail on the site over the variety. A huge percentage of the Viognier here is about getting simply great ripeness of flavor, trying for more exotic fruit, short elevage, after a very cool ferment in stainless steel. I think both styles do well here, but the brighter, early release style is what has become most popular and I think Jim shy’s away from these wines for his personal wants in wine. In my discussions with him that is whatI have come away with. It should still be in the appropriate sites and style will always be part of the discussion.
Another way to look at is with Oregon. Pinot Noir is the flagship variety, but look at the Rogue Valley and see if you can find Pinot Noir. That is Syrah and Cab country. It is still in Oregon and benefits from the Oregon label led by Pinot, but it certainly won’t be a Pinot in the bottle coming from the region. I look at this as being similar to Linden’s area of the world where Chardonnay and Cab Sauv do work very well. I would never even contemplate using Cab Sauv as our flagship red variety in a blend or not.
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Jeff Sanders said:
To reiterate a lot of what has been said. Though any decision like this has downsides, an industry could be hamstrung by focusing on the downsides. The upsides have been noted and are worth reiterating:
Virginia is making interesting and wide ranging Viogniers.
It is a difficult grape to grow — you don’t find very good Viogniers out there for $9 or $12, which isn’t true of many other varietals, especially given the recent downward price pressure.
It can work in wide ranging wine making styles — as noted most try to ripen it to get full fruit here, but there are other styles. It is typically a varietal, but that is because it is selling out at good prices, so there is still a lot of work to do with blending our styles here — so that seems exciting for the future. Even blending in to some reds?
And for whether this could create an international reputation, I think Viognier is perfect for that. There is no region known for the fruit forward, fully ripe, exotic flavor of Viognier. In that regard, Sauv Blanc in New Zealand is interesting. They took an existing grape and the terroir and style there led to the over the top, grassy Sauv Blanc style that has become so popular and to many casual wine drinkers, now defines Sauv Blanc. Possible for Va?
We do have to be careful — it is a tempermental and challenging grape to grow.
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