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Viognier – A Wine Chat Primer

Tonight, one of my favorite grapes — Viognier — will be the guest of honor at Wine Chat, the weekly virtual gathering of wine enthusiasts on Twitter.

For those that may have a difficulty (like me) keeping up with the #WineChat feed, I thought a Viognier primer — with a few factoids and background information — would be helpful.  Especially since tonight’s Wine Chat will be very well attended given the growing popularity of Viognier. Hat tip to Todd at Wine Compass for putting Viognier on the Wine Chat calendar this evening — excellent topic!

Below are a few general bits of information that may prove valuable if you are ever encounter an Obscure Facts About Viognier category on Jeopardy, or if you find yourself playing Wineopoly.  For a more in-depth study of Viognier, I recommend these articles — here, here, here.

General Viognier Facts:

  • There are approximately 3,943 different ways to pronounce Viognier, but the generally accepted pronunciation is — ‘vee-ohn-yay’  (I may have made that first stat up)
  • Viognier is best known as the only permitted grape in the French wine region of Condrieu, and the enclave AOC of Chateau-Grillet, in the northern Rhone.
  • Cheeses that pair well with Viognier:  Nancy’s Camembert from Old Chatham Sheepherding in New York, French Epoisse, and a Grayson from right here in Virginia.
  • In the 1960’s, Viognier was nearly extinct with only eight acres planted in the Northern Rhone (via Wikipedia) and about 80 acres throughout the world (via Jancis Robinson).
  • Viognier is the most-planted white Rhone varietal in the United States
  • Viognier wines are known for their notable floral aromas, which is due to terpenes (a class of organic compounds) that are also found in Muscat and Riesling.
  • Viognier is sometimes used as a blending grape in red wines, especially with Syrah — or, Shiraz as it’s commonly referred to in that southern and eastern hemisphere — to soften the edges and add complexity (though I personally question how much complexity a dolop adds).  Jordan Harris, winemaker at Tarara Winery in Virginia adds, the high phenolic load of Viognier which helps to stabilize the color for long term in Syrah.’
  • Viognier is particularly susceptible to powdery mildew.
  • Viognier ripens early.
  • Based on DNA research at UC Davis, the Viognier grape is closely related to Freisa grape (red grape variety grown in the Piedmont region of Italy) and is a genetic cousin of Nebbiolo.
  • In my opinion, Viognier tends to pair quite well with spicy Thai food! (Many will disagree with this pairing, but I’m sure those same people have been wrong about other things as well 😉

* Like most statistics, or, um, facts, the aforementioned can (and will) be debated.

Though the Viogniers from (parts of) California and Condrieu seem to receive most of the Viognier-related attention and recognition, this grape thrives in many other regions as well, especially here in Virginia.  For tonight’s Wine Chat, our group will be focusing on these other regions with Viogniers from the other 47 — Virginia, Colorado and Texas.

Our 2010 Viognier lineup: Delaplane Cellars Maggies Vineyard (VA), Brennan Vineyards (TX), Pollak Vineyards (VA), Creekside Cellars (CO)

Virginia Viognier Miscellany:

  • Dennis Horton, founder of Horton Vineyards, was the first to plant Viognier here in the Commonwealth and is known as the Virginia Viognier pioneer.
  • Last May, the Virginia Wine Board designated Viognier as Virginia’s Signature Grape.  You can read more about this decision here, along with over 50 comments about the decision.
  • Of the roughly 200 Virginia farm wineries; about 80 produce a Viognier wine.
  • In 2010, there were 185 (bearing) acres of Viognier planted in Virginia.  There were 44 non-bearing acres planted.
  • Viognier is the 5th most planted grape in Virginia (behind Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot).

Colorado Viognier Factoids:
I’ve had the opportunity to meet a lot of great wine friends in Colorado — Jake from LocalWinos.com (on Twitter: @LocalWinos), Paul Bonacquisti of Bonacquisti Wine Co. (@DenverWine), Michelle Cleveland winemaker at Creekside Cellars (@MCwinemaker), Brooke from Mesa Park Vineyards (@MesaParkWines), and Barb of Creative Culinary (@CreativCulinary) — and taste many excellent Colorado wines.  Below are a few Colorado Viognier wine stats.  Thank you Michelle for sharing your wine with us for this tasting!

  • In both 2009 and 2010 there were 35 acres planted to Viognier planted in Colorado.  This accounts for roughly 4% of total acreage under vine. (most planted varietal in Colorado is Merlot with 140 acres)
  • In 2009 Viognier grape production was 75 tons, and in 2010 the tonnage went down to 35 tons.  The drop in tonnage due primarily to extreme cold weather in the spring.
  • Of the 70 Colorado wineries, less than a dozen produce a Viognier wine.

As you know Viognier is a difficult less hardy grape to grow anywhere. Proper canopy management, nutrient balanced soil and proper winemaking practices can result in a superior wine. Some growers/winemakers harvest with brix levels too high for my liking. With our number of degree days in Colorado we don’t typically have issues with ripening.  I am very particular when I press Viognier-minimal O2. I keep a CO2 blanket on the juice as I press. Oxidation reduction! I also use only a small amount of neutral oak when it ages. Viognier should be all about fruit on the palate and nose. It should be sensual. If I want oak I’ll drink Chardonnay.  ~ Michelle Cleveland, Creekside Cellars

Rounding out the Viogniers from the other 47 that our group will taste tonight is the Brennan 2010 Viognier (hat tip Russ from Vintage Texas for providing this wine). My friends Denise Clarke (@DeniseFraser), Russ Kane of Vintage Texas Blog (@VintageTexas), and James of Straight Shooter Wine Blog  (@JFTxWine) will be joining in Wine Chat from Texas.

According National Agriculture Statistics Service data posted at Vintage Texas, there were 90 acres of Viognier planted in Texas in 2010, which accounted for roughly 3% of all bearing acres of grape vines in the state.

To join us for Wine Chat tonight, open a bottle of your favorite Viognier, log in to Twitter and tweet along with us beginning at 9pm Eastern Time.  Be sure to use the ‘#winechat‘ hashtag for each tweet and follow the #winechat stream via Tweetdeck, Hootsuite or other Twitter tool.

If I’ve missed an important Viognier statistic or factoid, please leave a note in the comments to share.


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