Virginia wines are going places. Where? That remains to be seen—but it could be somewhere really interesting.

A modern wine industry that started with a handful of estates in the late 1970s has exploded to nearly 200 wineries covering every corner of the state, including six AVAs.  According to the Virginia Wine Board, the state ranks fifth in the country in wine grape production, and produces more than 500,000 cases of wine per year.

Clearly Virginia is already a player in the East Coast wine community, but can it go further?

I have now visited Virginia wine country twice, first for the Drink Local Wine 2010 Conference in the Northern Virginia wine region and then, most recently, during the 2011 Wine Bloggers Conference in Charlottesville. Though I do not consider myself an expert on Virginia wines by any means, I have tasted a representative sampling because of those visits, a handful of Twitter-based tastings I have taken part in, and wines I have purchased myself. Like any region, I have tasted good wines, bad wines, and yes, some ugly wines as well. By talking to winery owners and winemakers, as well as a half dozen Virginia-based wine writers, I have also gained insight into where the region is today and where it could go in the future.

I say ‘could’ because I think there are some challenges ahead. Some are simply growing pains that every emergent wine region has to fight through. Others might be more difficult to overcome.

But before I discuss those potential roadblocks, I want to share some of the reasons I am excited about and for Virginia wines and why they are welcome on my table and in my glass.

Diversity and Experimentation

It is difficult to even discuss “Virginia wine” without succumbing to generalities—it is so varied and diverse. Soils, elevation, and growing conditions vary greatly from region to region and from AVA to AVA. There are cooler and higher-elevation regions in the north and western areas of the state, but warmer, flatter regions elsewhere.

Out of that miscellany come several successful varieties—everything from crisp, focused Sauvignon Blanc to beautifully floral and peachy Viognier to intense, almost-brooding Merlots to varietally-correct Nebbiolo to ripe but not over-ripe cabernet Franc to Petit Verdots that burst with ripe black fruit and spice character. I am listing varietals here, but in my experience, red blends may show more potential than any varietal red on its own.

I have yet to find any Riesling I would drink again, but lesser-known (in this country anyway) varieties like petit manseng, rkatsiteli, and vermentino are being experimented with as well, and early results are have been interesting.

There is a wine for every meal being grown and made in Virginia. I like that.

More Than Enough Heat

One thing that often holds less-traditional wine regions back is climate—many turn to hybrids and early-ripening grapes because it is simply not warm enough long enough to ripen other things regularly. That is not the case in Virginia, where late-ripening varieties like petit verdot and nebbiolo ripen consistently when they are planted in the right places. Wines made from Bordeaux varieties usually lack the under-ripe bell pepper quality that sometimes mars them on the East Coast.

And while it is true that too much heat can be a problem—several 2010 white wines I have tasted showed too much alcohol and not enough acidity—those types of problems can be mitigated by better harvest-time decision making.

•••

All is not rainbows and unicorns in and around Virginia wine country, however.

While I have found many good wines, the exquisite, life-changing wines that I would seek out and drink again and again are few and far between. The best Virginia wines belong on any wine list or in any American wine shop, but there are far too few of them for the state as a whole to make a real impact in the greater wine world.

Why is that? I will not pretend to have all of the answers, but I have identified a few contributing factors that will need to be addressed eventually.

Overcropping in the Vineyard

This one is not new for anyone who follows young wine regions. It happens all of the time. You plant a new vineyard, you wait three or four years before they produce usable fruit, and then—to recoup your investment—you want to make much more wine from those vines than you should.

Gabriele Rausse, the founding winemaker at Barboursville Vineyards in the mid-1970s told some of the bloggers assembled in Charlottesville for the Wine Bloggers’ Conference that in the early days, some vineyards were yielding upwards of 9 tons per acre—of vinifera.

That is not the case anymore, obviously, but I was surprised to hear some of the most respected winemakers in the state discuss and champion “low vineyard yields” only to reveal that they were growing 3.5 to 4 tons per acre.

That is lower. That is not low.

Yes, maybe you can “ripen” five or six tons of petit verdot per acre, but that does not mean that you should. Not if you care about making the best wines possible.

I am not saying that increasingly lower yields absolutely results in better wine. We know that is not always the case. But are there Virginia viticulturists and winemakers pushing that down to two tons or fewer? If there are, I have not met hem yet.

Oak. Oak. And Oak.

I mention it three times for affect, but I think this is an important point—there is too much resultant oak aroma and flavor in Virginia wines as a whole—particularly the Viogniers, which otherwise have seemingly endless potential across the state.

The best Virginia Viogniers I have had—and I am thinking about those from Barboursville, Blenheim, King Family, and Pollak—are made either entirely in stainless steel or with small amounts of new oak. They are simply delightful—and more importantly, distinctive—wines. These are wines that you just can not find anywhere else in the United States. Wines like these make it easy to see why the Virginia Wine Board has anointed it the state’s signature variety.

Unfortunately, too much of the Viognier I have tried tastes too much of wood, wood-derived vanilla and spice, and ML-derived buttery notes. Why would you cover up wonderfully ethereal honeysuckle aromas in favor of the Home Depot lumber aisle?

Too Many Varieties: “Signature” and Otherwise

Yes. I know that I referred to diversity as one of the wonderful and promising things about Virginia wines. But it can be both a blessing and curse.

Like so many American wine regions, Virginia has too much chardonnay in the ground. With few exceptions (Jim Law’s wines at Linden Vineyards come to mind) Virginia Chardonnay is not anything special. Sure, there are some well-made wines out there, but they are not great values and they are not distinctive. There is very little you cannot get from elsewhere that will be better and/or cheaper.

Twenty percent of the acreage in the state is still planted with hybrids as well. That is not a huge number and you will never get rid of all of it, but hybrids can—and likely will—hold the state’s image back.

It can be difficult for those outside of the region to quickly grasp but Virginia wines are all about. They very well may ask, “Oregon has Pinot Noir. Napa has Cabernet Sauvignon. What does Virginia have?”

The answer is cluttered and depends entirely on who you speak to. I have asked similar questions myself to no fewer than a dozen winemakers, with responses ranging from Norton to Merlot to Petit Verdot to Cabernet Franc to Viognier.

Maybe it’s simply too early to anoint a single grape as the king of Virginia wine. Maybe it will end up being a grape that is barely in ground right now, but in the meantime, the message is awfully muddled.

For the record, I would like to cast my vote for Viognier on the white side of things and either Cabernet Franc or Bordeaux-style blends for the reds.

Reliance on Tourism May Handicap Quality Improvements

Wine sales at the wineries themselves, in the tasting room, drive Virginia wine country. Some wineries sell everything themselves—at full margin—and many sell 70% or more this way. And who can blame them? If you are a small winery and can sell your 5,000 cases annually for full price, instead of selling half wholesale, why would you not sell it at full price and put that money in your own pocket rather than the distributors’ and shop owners’?

For now, this model appears to be sustainable, and if it is long-term, good for Virginia winery owners. Congratulations.

But if you are selling out of all of your wines every year—consistently—simply doing what you are doing today, what motivates you to lower yields (see above) or invest in and employ new or different vinification techniques to make your wines even better? Where is the spark? Where is the obsessive drive to improve?

Now, before anyone gets angry and thinks that I am saying every winery that follows this model gets complacent, I am not saying that. Yet some are. There are thousands and thousands of wineries the world over making money being “good enough”—but new regions need fewer of those and more wineries pushing the envelope; wineries trying to do things that no one thought possible.

That drive. That spark. I am left wondering where that will come from in Virginia wine country.


Lenn Thompson is a Palate Press Contributing Editor and is the executive editor of The New York Cork Report. Formerly the editor of the Long Island Wine Gazette and a contributor to Edible Brooklyn and Hamptons.com, Lenn contributes to Edible East End and is the wine columnist for Dan’s Papers in the Hamptons.

  • http://www.DrinkWhatYouLike.com Frank

    Lenn:

    Good to see you at WBC11, and congrats on the ‘Best Single Subject’ Wine Blog Award again this year.

    First I take issue with your statement that ‘every thing is not unicorns and rainbows in and around Virginia wine country.’ I would argue there are plenty of unicorns and rainbows; you clearly haven’t visited during unicorn and rainbow season.

    Seriously, we hold many of the same opinions on the use of oak, Chardonnay, and hybrids, but we part company of opinions in your last section on tourism.

    ON YIELDS…
    A few stats for added context to your comment on yields by ‘some of the most respected winemakers in the state’… Although some wineries choose to push yields – to 3.5/4 tons per acres as you note – this is the exception. The average yield in Virginia in 2010 was 2.49 tones per acre (6,557 tons from 2,633 bearing acres). It’s worth noting that 2010 was a very dry year here, which reduced cluster weights. Frost damage early in the season also played a role in lowering yields. In 2008, the average yield was 2.8 tons per acre (~7,000 tons of grapes harvested from ~2,500 bearing acres). Note – these statistics are from the 2010 and 2008 Virginia Commercial Grape Report.

    There are a few winemakers here working with lower yields, but not sure too much below 2 (I am now curious and will check with a few winemakers).

    If anyone would know about Virginia wine, it’s Gabriele, but I can’t imagine a vineyard (of vinifera) yielding 9 tons/acre. Wow. I thought only concord produced those types of yields.

    ON THE HOME DEPOT LUMBER ISLE…
    Like you, I’m not a fan of oaked Viognier. I don’t get the oak fetish many of the winemakers have. In my opinion, oak masks and ruins the (ethereal) honeysuckle, peach and light citrus blossom aromatic profiles of Virginia Viognier. We’re seeing more steel examples here, thankfully.

    ON GLOBAL WINE WORK HORSE…
    “Virginia has too much chardonnay in the ground.” Amen! I’ve had a long-standing grudge against Chardonnay, and in particular, Virginia Chardonnay (although I’m trying more of them, keeping an open mind and starting to come around a little on this). Alas, I think Chardonnay will always be the most planted grape here for many obvious reasons.

    ON FOCUS…
    You ask ‘What does Virginia have?’ In the context of being known for ‘something ‘(i.e. – a specific vareital), Virginia is still defining this message, but the short answer is Viognier. Since there are less than 200 acres of Viognier planted in Virginia, we clearly have a long way to go. And, currently less than half of Virginia’s ~220 licensed farm wineries produce a Viognier. The Virginia Wine Board definitely made the right decision with designating Viognier as the state’s signature grape. Communicating this message is happening, but will take more time.

    I’m not sure the amount of grape varieties here or the amount of hybrids really has an impact on Virginia wine overall, and I’m not convinced “hybrids can—and likely will—hold the state’s image back.” Maybe you can expand on this statement?

    ON TOURISM…
    This is where we part company of opinions. I may be totally misreading/ misinterpreting the point you are trying to make with this section. I believe this section fits snuggly in that ‘generalities’ comment you made in paragraph 6.

    “Reliance on Tourism May Handicap Quality Improvements.” Huh? How, specifically? I believe Virginia is not unique in that most regions have a very strong tourism component, and not sure how this can put downward pressure on innovation (“spark”).

    “Wine sales at the wineries themselves, in the tasting room, drive Virginia wine country. Some wineries sell everything themselves—at full margin…”
    Again, a few stats for context (from Va Wine Board) – 43% of Virginia wine sales in Virginia go through non-direct channels (distributors & ABC). Like many small wineries (sub 3,000 cases/annually) in all other regions, much of their production is moved via the tasting room. Not sure how this reduces the amount of “drive” or “spark.”

    “But if you are selling out of all of your wines every year—consistently—simply doing what you are doing today, what motivates you to lower yields (see above) or invest in and employ new or different vinifcation techniques to make your wines even better? Where is the spark? Where is the obsessive drive to improve?”

    I’m not sure what to make of these questions as these seem to apply every wine region whether those regions are ‘established’ or ‘emerging’ (all regions were emerging at one point). I’m not sure I need point out that increased competition (34 new wineries opened in Virginia last year alone) is one way to ensure that ‘drive’ to improvement continues.

    To your point, of course some winemakers are happy with mediocrity (examples of this in every region) and content with their current production/sales. However, I can tell you from my conversations with MANY Virginia winemakers, the vast majority is in a constant state of improvement – taking huge steps forward in terms of experimentation and innovation in the vineyard (focus on varietal-specific site selection, new varietals, etc.) and in outreach (soliciting feedback from bloggers via virtual tastings, and exporting to new markets like the UK and China).

    Ok, good piece, Lenn. I’ve probably missed the intent of this last section so perhaps I can ask for some clarity from you before I re-aggravate my carpel tunnel with a 1,000 word off-course typothon. Cheers!

  • http://www.newyorkcorkreport.com Lenn Thompson

    Frank: Been waiting all morning for your feedback — you must have had some real work to do today ;)

    On yields: You may be right, but I have not heard a single winemaker talk about ‘low yields’ and mention anything under 3 tons.

    On tourism: That section isn’t so much just about tourism as it is about a complacency I’ve experienced. Saying winemakers are ‘complacent’ an making ‘good enough’ wines makes it sound far worse than I intend. As I mention in the story, I’ve tasted many VERY GOOD Virginia wines. There is good quality in VA overall.

    But, what I’m missing is the group (more than just 2 or 3) of intensely driven, envelope-pushing producers — and I don’t mean parking cab franc in new oak for 24 months — who can be held up as the state’s ‘signature’ wineries. I’m sorry, but as much as I find single-vineyard wines interesting, there is always a marketing component there. Not to mention the fact that many of the single-vineyard wines I’ve tasted have been oaked to the point of watering down any differences!

    And reaching out to bloggers? Reaching into new markets? How are those quality-driving endeavors? Those are sales and marketing projects.

    Is my noted lack of ‘spark’ entirely the result of the heavy reliance on tourism? Maybe, maybe not. But your argument that many of these issues are prevalent in other regions (I won’t argue that) excuses them is a bit silly.

    Tourism leading to ‘good enough’ wines happens in other places too (even New York, where I’m more familiar), but that doesn’t mean that it’s not a problem in Virginia can can and will hold it back.

    If you have suggestions for producers I should seek out that could change my mind, please fire away. I’d be happy to write a follow-up post down the road.

  • frenchy

    just about the yield….
    as a winemaker with a European back-ground i had the same kind of concerns when i arrived here 9 years ago.
    but after several experimentation with different crops load that I’ve done with VA tech, under the VA climate and with our soil, it was showing no difference between 2 tons and acre and 4 tons an acre on the finished wines. i know it is tough to swallow, but no winemakers or analysis where able to show significant differences on the finished wines. we did the experiment 2 years in a row in 2007 and 2008 with the same result.
    one of the reason, without going to technical is the weather and the soil.
    we’ve got a soil in some places that are rich and deep, and also most of time we don’t have too much drought around here.
    it means that if you’ve got a proper canopy management, with enough leaf to ripen your crop load the quality of the fruit is very good and trying to drop too much fruit will not change any thing.
    it is just a question of balance of your vines.

  • http://www.newyorkcorkreport.com Lenn Thompson

    Not at all “tough to swallow.” I think I covered that base by saying:

    “I am not saying that increasingly lower yields absolutely results in better wine. We know that is not always the case.”

  • http://swirlsipsnark.com VA Wine Diva

    Lenn,

    It’s great to hear your take on the VA wine industry in this more formal format as opposed to our more informal twitter discussions. As a local, I agree with you on many of the points you make.

    For example, I’ve become more and more frustrated by the love of new oak, and while I agree with you on the role of oak in white wines, I also think we could use less new oak with many red wines as well.

    I also agree that the diversity of grapes being grown can be both a blessing and a curse. It’s really clear to me that most wineries in VA are still actively trying to figure out which grapes (and clones) do best in their particular micro-climates, so experimentation is necessary. At the same time, I’ve been to many wineries that seem to be struggling to define an identity. For example, will they work with French, Italian, or German grapes – make age-able big red or sweet, “drink now” party wines. In the end, too many try to do all of the above. I firmly believe that you can’t please everyone, so you need to pick a target market and focus there. At the same time, this can mean alienating some who used to frequent the business, so this is a scary risk for many owners/managers to take (although Jordan Harris from Tarara Winery is doing well with this type of defined identity shift, in my opinion).

    As for the signature grape issue – I’m in the “it’s too early” camp. Honestly, I agree that viognier is probably the best signature grape for us right now, and I’d like to see our reds hat hung on blends. That said, as Frank makes clear in an earlier comment, there’s just not enough viognier in the ground right now for this designation to make a lot of sense (although I’m betting Frank disagrees with me). Too few wineries are making viognier, and many that are being made are still unremarkable (and some outright bad), so I see this signature grape issue as being more aspirational than representational.

    As far as overcropping/yields, I’ve also been surprised to hear the target yields for many wineries in the state. I don’t have the numbers that Frank cites above, but based on my conversations, many are very happy to be in the 3-4 tons per acre. That said, Jordan Harris (from Tarara) generally strives for much lower yields, so he’d be a good person to get involved in the discussion for that perspective. It’s also important to keep in mind that many wineries are working with 3rd party growers, and if they’re being paid by the ton, it’s in their best interest to keep yields high, so payment structures need to be considered as part of this issue.

    As far as tourism, like Frank, I think we’re going to have to agree to disagree here. I get your point about needing distribution (although I don’t necessarily think you can tie that to a quest for quality). At the same time, I don’t think we’re ready, in most cases, for that kind of distribution yet. Overall, VA wines need to get more consistent before we can really look to that kind of growth. In the meantime, direct to consumer sales help the bottom line of cash strapped agricultural businesses. From my perspective, a bigger problem is that too many wineries (particularly the newer ones, but this issue is not exclusive to those opened in the past few years) release wines way too soon. When you have no history of production and you’re selling me a 2010 red in April of 2011 and telling me that I really shouldn’t drink it for another 2 years, I’m just not going to take that risk (at least not often). Too many wineries are too undercapitalized to be able to hold product for the time they need to before release, and this becomes a viscous cycle as they’ll sell out and have to release their next wines sooner than they’d wish as well.

    Finally (I promise, I didn’t set out to write a book), I want to address the idea of a quest for improvement. This is something we constantly struggle with. There are a number of wineries throughout the state that we’ve enjoyed, but we just wonder if they’ll be able to push through to that level where they truly stand out. A plateau of consistent and good isn’t a bad place to be, but it’s also not a great place to be. I have no idea what will get wineries there, but places that are just happy with how everything is make me nervous. There is always room for improvement…. That said, in the 6 years I’ve been living in VA and drinking local wine, I’ve seen tremendous improvement (not just growth – which is another issue altogether). Hopefully I’ll see as much improvement in the coming 5-6 years!

  • http://www.newhorizonwines.com Chris Parker, New Horizon Wines

    Lenn: Loved the headline – “Virginia Wines: Ready to Take Off … But Where To?”

    Well one very important place is the UK, the largest importer of wine in the world. I launched my company, New Horizon Wines, in 2009 specifically to develop the international market for Virginia wines. We have made excellent progress over the last two years. The UK market welcomes the best of Virginia wines that are truly seen as exciting discoveries. You commented – ” It can be difficult for those outside of the region to quickly grasp but Virginia wines are all about. They very well may ask, “Oregon has Pinot Noir. Napa has Cabernet Sauvignon. What does Virginia have?”” I probably have the best view of current trends from my experiences and demand in the UK. It is Viognier and Cabernet Franc, followed by Bordeaux-style blends and Petit Verdot. If I were to pick one now it would be Viognier. However, market trends can change and to have a strong suit of three varietals and blends is not a bad place to be over the long term.

    There are many reasons why the UK market is vitally important to the development of the Virginia wine industry and I should write about that some time. I believe that many Virginia wines are underestimated locally and nationally and that long-held biases obscure how much progress has been made over the last 10 years.

    We are establishing a strong reputation in the UK, and it is having a positive impact locally. Wineries directly involved with me are reporting increased interest and local sales due to the exposure they are receiving in the UK.

    We are at a very interesting and exciting stage of development in the region, which is why I decided to to develop a cohesive and sustainable strategy working with 10-12 wineries initially, but ultimately to fully realize the commercial growth potential of the Virginia wine and wine tourism industry.

    I noticed Frank posted a comment on your blog. Frank has had some exposure to Virginia wines in the UK on a visit earlier this year. We met at Bar Boulud, Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Hyde Park. Bar Boulud has Boxwood Winery on the list. Frank also visited Whole Foods Market in London. where we have a “Virginia Wine” section of 15 wines. Recently the sommelier at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, Mandarin Oriental selected Barboursville Vineyards for his list. We have Virginia wines at acclaimed restaurants in London, Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire, and Kent, and at top wine merchants in the UK.

    I think Virginia wines are already taking-off and we are in for a great ride!

    I look forward to continuing the discussion.

    Regards,

    Chris Parker

    Twitter: @newhorizonwines
    Blog: winesofvirginia.blogspot.com

  • http://www.tarara.com Jordan Harris

    First I have to say thanks to VWD for the plug.

    Yields are a funny subject that are just part of viticulture. I am a huge proponent of low yields. Our vineyard ranges from about 0.8 to 1.7 tons per acre depending on variety and vintage. In the end the wines also sometimes cost more though. It depends on what you are trying to do as well though. The main differences between a vineyard cropped at 3-5 tons and one at 1-2 tons per acre can be so small, but they are there. It is the added small elements that can often come through like showcasing more soil influence, the tannins can get slightly longer grained, the flavor development can expand, but not necessarily alway be more intense. All this also needs to be in balance with the vine age, spacing, variety, soil type, training system, etc. The problem is I can grow double the amount of fruit of what we do and still maintain or even increase our Brix with massive canopies (think GDC or Lyre systems). There is far more to it then yields, but I do believe it is one crucial piece and yes there is a lot of over-cropping and 3-5 tons per acre is not low yielding any way you look at it.

    The oak comments I won’t touch, because we use a lot of oak. There is so much more that oak does then adding “oak character”. One of the problems is that we are drinking so many of these wines way too you. With age, oak starts to integrat better and oak adds some of the oxygen elements for more red wines to be able to age and in general it requires a fairly long (or traditional) elevage time. I will fight this battle another day.

    I do understand the point being made about the tourism industry, but thinks it needs to be further elaborated to be better understood. Driving the wrong market through tourism can be detrimental to a wineries progression. Because we have long been known for some cloying (sweet does not always equate to cloying), thinner styles wines and many wines made from less attractive varieties and fruit other then grape, we have developed a feeling of need for these wines. Much of our tourism traffic is based on these wines currently. We dropped our 2 largest selling SKUs two years ago that equated to 4000 cases in sales to concentrate on what we do. This is not the norm. Often times these wines are thought of as cash cows, but in my opinion they do not have long term sustainability and are part of what defines our reputation. These wines exist because of the tourism side. We need to re-define our tourism look to be more based on a premium wine experience, not clowns, dunk tanks and Carrot wine (I used carrot specifically because I don’t knwo of one and didn’t want to offend anyone). If we are going to be a serious contender outside our own back yard for years to come, our tourism needs to match the product we are trying to sell elsewhere. That is how other regions have been very successful with both.

    The biggest comment I have though about what is holding us back is part of this whole conversation. Talking about “Virginia” as one lump area. You somewhat eluded to this to start the piece, but there is no way of saying a set variety, style, yields, etc when discussing Virginia. Viognier is about as close as you can get, but there is far too much difference from area to area to generalize and I think it holds us all back. I think all of the major regions have something they are great at, but it is not always the same thing. There are a couple varieties in my opinion don’t work anywhere in the State, but there is several that work in some areas on not others and can have matching styles to the variety and the site.

    Two questions that prove this point would be, “What is California’s grape?” and “Why are Chablis and Montrachet so wildly different?” It shows style and variety needs to adapt to it’s own micro climates.

    Being a New York guy, here is where I challenge you. When you discuss NY wines, is it NY wines or is it Finger Lakes, Hudson Valley, Long Island and even Lake Erie South Shore and Niagara? All these areas are wildly different and if I simply tasted wines from Lake Eries South Shore I could assume that NY wine is made from hybrids and native varieties like Concord and tend to be cloyingly sweet. Obviously not every wine from there even fits in this catagory, but it far more the norm then in Finger Lakes or Long Island and therefore should not be compared and discusses as being one.

    • http://www.JamesonWine.com Paul Jameson

      Always enjoyed your Tarara blog, Jordan. Didn’t know you had such low yields.

      I’m bringing a small busload of Georgetown alums to Tarara on September 17th. I imagine you’ll be in the middle of harvest right around then, or I’d stop and say hi.

      • http://www.tarara.com Jordan Harris

        Hi Paul:

        Thanks for thr note. I will be in the middle of harvest but that means you will be walking right by me probably on the crush pad on your way up to the store. Please do say hi when you come by. I will be the completely frazzled looking one.

  • http://ancientfirewineblog.blogspot.com/ Jason Phelps

    Lenn,

    Good stuff. You took to thinking about what you experienced and tried to consider some of the ideas, coming out on both sides in the “what if” category in several instances. I had both similar and different experiences with many of the same variables showing up in my takeaways. I’ve written less about my own state recently, and although it is considerably smaller the questions and concerns raised here surely apply here as well.

    Your piece is a good segway for an unexplored idea you present, the red blends. I’m working on piece for late in the week that goes there.

    My overall take is that there is enough going on in Virgina for continued attention which will spur growth if there continues to be investments, some that work and some that don’t from that attention.

    Anybody know if post #WBC11 discussion has spurred any of the decision makers to take a look at anything new or different?

    Jason

    • http://www.newyorkcorkreport.com Lenn Thompson

      Jason: I agree. There is plenty of potential in Virginia, for the reasons I mention.

      I know I’ll be following the goings on closely — and drinking the wines too.

  • andy reagan

    First off I’d like to say who the f%&* are you? Have you traveled the world over and tasted the miriad of wine styles and varieties? Are you so well educated when it comes to wine that you’re exempt from rational thought? Do you have the palate to rival my own or so many others in Virginia that your uneducated simple minded punk ass blogger give me a catch phrase within 140 characters or less pea brain presumptive mindless arrogance would have the wherewithal to explore Virginia vineyards before posting this bullshit. We crop maximum 2 to 3 tons per acre. We make wine that puts regions known for that wine to shame. Are we new to the stage? Yes. Are we still finding ourselves? Yes. Are there some crap wines here well show me a region in the world proud of everything they make. Your post was disrespectful, asinine, and poorly researched. You sir are the reason we hate wine bloggers. You give your colleagues a bad name and undermine their hard work. Do us a favor…..lay off the keyboard or man up and do some real work and learn about what you’re going to write about before you lump us all into one pot. Typically I’d invite you to come try some of the best wine made in the us but I’m happy knowing a narrow minded fool such as yourself will NEVER have that opportunity ……dick.

    • bob

      I like the way your signed your name…dick

      • zing

        I think Andy needs to be clear when he writes “we hate wine bloggers.” He actually loves the anonymous couple that are bloggers at the snarky site. Guess they haven’t been snarky about his wines – yet.

  • andy reagan

    Btw you just spit in the face of all of us who have bled for this industry. You have lessened the passion we have put forth you’ve shit on the sacrifices we’ve made. Thanks pal.

    • bob

      Hey Lenn, dick is now your pal

      • http://www.newyorkcorkreport.com Lenn Thompson

        One can never have enough friends, right?

  • andy reagan

    Sorry I’m not done yet. Either get an editor or proofread your post. Your typos speak to your ignorance and actually makes you even less reputable not that you actually could lay claim to being reputable before

    • bob

      Dick, not dick

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  • http://www.newyorkcorkreport.com Lenn Thompson

    Jordan: You make some excellent points, both around oak and around diversity. You’re right, of course — New York wine is extremely diverse — as is Virginia. As I mentoined in a previous comment — I’m looking for insight and suggestions about wineries I should explore and get to know. Yours is already on my list.

    The challenges I highlight in the post are by no means limited to Virginia. “Cash cow” wines hold back wineries and regions in New York as well. The good news is that they are slowly be killed off, like you’ve done at Tararra. It’s a risk and a leap of faith — and you should be commended for that.

    Andy: It is extremely disappointing for me, as a writer and as someone who is intensely interested in regional wines, to see a winemaker at a prominent, important winery like Jefferson Vineyards post comments like the ones you’ve left on this post.

    I’ve had several of your wines in the past and have enjoyed them — particularly the meritage (one of the reason I mention red blends as a high point in VA) and the petit verdot.

    I’d be more than happy to discuss any specific issues or topics with you — you clearly would like to challenge some of my assertions — but you seem far more interested in attacking me personally. I don’t know you so I won’t respond in kind.

    I will apologize if — with a single post that shows both positives and negatives in Virginia wine — I’ve ‘lessened the passion’ you feel for your job or for Virginia wines. I don’t think that’s true however. I know it’s not for other winemakers, some of whom have contacted me privately thanking me for the story and for the outsider’s insight.

    • Andy Reagan

      Lenn, I do let my passion get the best of me at times, definitely later in the evening after a few glasses of wine. I took issue with your comment about your belief that memorable wines from Virginia are few and far between. That is not true. I could list many a bottle that has been received as more than memorable by numerous writers. Wines from the past 4 decades at that. I felt that there was an extreme lack of research on your part before posting this article. Yield info was way off. Overoaking does occur but most wineries have reigned that in for the most part. Relying solely on tourism and having that handcuff the desire or motivation to make better wine was perceived by me as an attack on our devotion to our craft. There are numerous roundtables, viticultural and enological trials conducted all over the state each year to help improve our product. We have a tremendous amount of support from our State government, an outstanding marketing office and a top notch program at Virginia Tech. Where for the past 20 plus years Dr.’s Tony Wolf and Bruce Zoecklein have gone above and beyond the call of duty to get the industry where it is today. We aern’t sitting back and saying “well the wine sells out every year so I must be doing something right”.

      My comments do not reflect the entire industry, I cannot speak for anyone but myself. I felt you harped on the negative opinions you had of our region and I took a very unfiltered approach to letting you know that. Was it a wise decision, yes and no.

      In your closing your passive agressive comment:

      “Now, before anyone gets angry and thinks that I am saying every winery that follows this model gets complacent, I am not saying that. Yet some are. There are thousands and thousands of wineries the world over making money being “good enough”—but new regions need fewer of those and more wineries pushing the envelope; wineries trying to do things that no one thought possible.

      That drive. That spark. I am left wondering where that will come from in Virginia wine country.”

      Simply making wine in Virginia is doing something that no one thought possible. As I mentioned above the efforts put forth by 90% of the wineries here and the support from the state proves that the majority of us found that spark, we are a driven idustry, we are striving to create something unique and amazing here.

      In hindsight I attacked you personally and I do apologize for that and regret I did not stick to dissecting the written word.

      • http://www.newyorkcorkreport.com Lenn Thompson

        Andy: You don’t need to apologize for me. You have every write to speak and behave as you’d like — even in cyberspace.

        I stand by my post as written. It was never meant to be an comprehensive expose on Virginia wines. I’m not qualified to write that and I made sure that I provided context on my experience with and perspectives on VA wines at the outset.

        It also feels — based on your comments — that you’re ignoring half of the article. This is anything but a hit piece. There are good and bad things about Virginia wine. I hope you are able to agree with that. At no point do I say or imply that Virginia is alone in the challenges it is facing.

        I’ll say this again, because it’s a point that you take issue with: there are a great many good wines in Virginia. I’ve highlighted many of them both in the post and in the comment thread. But I have found very few transcendent, memorable wines when taken with a global perspective.

        With regard to over-oaking — it’s interesting to hear you say that many have moved away from that, when I have had several VA-based writers and winery folks tell me that with 2010, it came back with a vengeance and that might be why I feel that way. I think that’s a disconnect.

        I’m sorry that you feel personally attacked. That isn’t the case and I guess I’m used to winemakers have thicker skin. Roundtables and all that are all well and good (I’ve attended them myself here in New York) but often it seems that they are much ado about nothing. I’m not willing to directly tie those to a larger drive for quality improvement. I don’t think local govt funding or selling wine in the UK or having a great (and it is great) wine marketing board has anything to do with quality either.

        I do think that our definitions of passive aggressive are quite different, by the way. That statement isn’t that. It’s an honest statement from a writer who prides himself on being a straight shooter.

        Your closing point does little to contest my original point about ‘that spark’:

        “Simply making wine in Virginia is doing something that no one thought possible. As I mentioned above the efforts put forth by 90% of the wineries here and the support from the state proves that the majority of us found that spark, we are a driven idustry, we are striving to create something unique and amazing here.”

        Wine is made in every state now. Simply making wine is a feat, okay, but this statement comes awfully close to the concept “good enough” — which was part of my original point.

        Support from the states proves that you have that spark? I don’t agree. The two have little, if anything, to do with one another.

        Simply saying something doesn’t make it true, Andy. I think your pride is amazing and inspiring, but some of this comes across like it was written by a PR agency. It rings somewhat hollow.

        • http://www.newyorkcorkreport.com Lenn Thompson

          Wow…every RIGHT, not WRITE.

          The post WAS edited…clearly my comments have not been.

        • Sarah

          Lenn – Andy’s initial post was albeit, harsh in tone. However, I agree with his top level sentiments that there were a few passive-aggressive and poorly researched statements made in your article. It seems like after WBC11, a lot of bloggers jumped on the “What can I post that is controversial about Virginia bandwagon.” I didn’t expect that from you seeing as you’ve always been a steward.

          Also, in Andy’s defense, I don’t see where he said he felt like he was being “personally attacked,” perhaps I missed it…so where you indirectly stated “I’m used to winemakers having thicker skin,” kind of seemed like an indirect low-blow. There’s a lot of people in the Virginia wine industry that will go to the mat for Andy. He’s a very a talented / beyond passionate winemaker (don’t let that go to your head Andy) and he has consistently produces top notch (and in my humble opinion, “transcendent”) wines. Was he right for delivering his message in the manor that he did last night? Absolutely not. Will he dial it back a notch or two in the future? I hope so. I also hope you take a little more time researching your facts in the future.

          Lesson learned boys… let’s all go back to work. I’m sure the Grammar Police has better things to do w/ his or her time than (or is it then?) moderate these discussions. Who wants a glass of wine?

          • http://www.newyorkcorkreport.com Lenn Thompson

            I’m stunned that everyone is completely ignoring half of this post — the half where I highlight the great things about Virginia wines and its future.

            I guess it’s not as fun to rally behind the good as it is to defend ones self against the bad.

        • Andy Reagan

          I wish I had a PR agency, think the first 3 comments I posted would have ever made it? Certainly not. The wording was ill advised, and the points needed to be made were shoved to the back burner. And sadly will have me perceived as a sniveling twit. Oh well, whats done is done.

          You are as obligated to stand by your post as I am obligated to defend my poisiton on where VA is at as an industry. I am not ignoring half of the article, in life, an unfortunate reality is that most everyone weighs the negatives much much more heavily than the positives. Am I guilty of that? Certainly. Were all of the positive things you said actually positive or followed up with a bit of a backhanded remark like:

          “While I have found many good wines, the exquisite, life-changing wines that I would seek out and drink again and again are few and far between. The best Virginia wines belong on any wine list or in any American wine shop, but there are far too few of them for the state as a whole to make a real impact in the greater wine world.”

          Before making a statement such as that, in the future perhaps ask yourself how many of the wines have I actually had? What vintage were they from? Am I drinking them at the proper age? Many of us smaller wineries do make wines that are meant for aging. Why is that so lost on some today, the beauty of fine wine is NOT drinking a 2010 wine in 2011, but drinking a 2002, 2005, or 2007 wine in 2011. That statement tells readers unfamiliar with this region exactly what you say, yet how many Virginia wines have you tried? How many of them were you tasting at the proper age? I bet you a shiny quarter that I could line up over 100 beautiful wines from all over the state, wines that you can purchase. Certainly more than “few and far between” I could list plenty of them but will not do so for times sake.

          Over oaking: refer to tasting the wine at the proper age.

          I have pretty thick skin, get to know me personally and you’ll see that, Sarah gets it in the fact that there were way too many posts that took shots at us as an industry, as I mentioned before negatives tend to stick with most people longer than positives so a month and a half of reading alot of negative posts, snide comments etc. pushed me to a point where I had had enough, and thus the pot boiled over.

          a personal note, Today is actually my 15th anniversary of graduating from The United States Marine Corps Recruit Training Depot Parris Island, SC. You don’t make it through there without thick skin.

          If you feel that my prior remark still shows there is no spark, then you are reading with the same pair of glasses I had on last night.
          The spark is the 15 hour days we are about to put in 7 days a week over the next 2.5 months. The spark and passion is in the trials and info we share with other winemakers at the roundtables or even through email etc. What more needs to be explained? Pick a winemaker, any winemaker and tell me you can call him and he won’t have one new exciting trick he’s going to try this year. Or that their isn’t something he or she is going to do to avoid or correct a problem from a prior year. That effort and all of that work is what led to the popularity of Virginia Wines, it is what made us stand out as an industry and it is why the state has backed us so heavily. The Governor gets it, he and the First Lady of Virginia love the wine and want to see Virginia succeed. So in a sense they have “that spark” themselves.

          As for “good enough” I am struggling to see where you are not getting my point. Come down and talk to most any winery owner or winemaker and tell me they haven’t found that spark and they’re cool with hangin where they are. The people that feel that way are not going to last in this industry. I’ll gladly supply you with a list of who to see.

          If you feel my words ring hollow, get some brown bags, your favorite wines and come on down. I would love to find out what “memorable” and “transcendent” wine really is. (now thats passive agressive)

          In the end you are going to have your opinion, it is what it is. I’m going to make sure my smart phone is off and hidden by 8pm every night and therefore, properly refute remarks I feel are inaccurate between 9 and 5.

          • http://www.newyorkcorkreport.com Lenn Thompson

            Andy: Here’s the thing — I provided what I consider ample context in my original story. I’m not a Virginia wine expert. I don’t even play one on the Internet. But, I’m someone keenly interested in them and in other “not left coast” wine regions. Ask anyone who knows me personally (if we’re going to play that game) and they’ll tell you the same. There may be no bigger supporter of “drinking local” than me. Period.

            I’ve met some great people in Virginia wine and that has hooked me. I will continue to buy and drink Virginia wines — despite them being nearly impossible for me to get in NY.

            Have I tasted many 10-year old Virginia wines? Nope. Have I tasted at least two hundred wines from — I think — 2004 up to 2010? Yes. But remember — I’m not a Virginia wine expert and I don’t pretend that I am.

            I think it’s safe to say that I’ve tasted many more wines, with much more focus and intensity than 99% of your ‘average consumers’ (I hate that phrase, so let’s not get caught up in defining that).

            Based on my experience tasting VA wines, and speaking with at least a dozen winemakers (again, a small-but-representative number) I wrote this balanced, realistic story. This is absolutely not the drive-by bashing you are trying — unsuccessfully — to make it out to be.

            It is completely insane for anyone to lump this story in with the rest of the post-WBC stories. Many of those were over-the-top and amateurish. They painted with far wider brushes than I did and were based solely on WBC experiences (which were hit and miss). You’ll notice that I didn’t once mention it being “too hot” to taste wines or complain about the food :)

            I’ve been extremely vocal on Twitter, Facebook and on some of those blog posts themselves, that they were wrong to write posts like that. Again, I’m a “drink local” champion.

            That said, if there is some overlap between what I’ve said and what was said by several bloggers — might there be an issue? I know that it’s probably easier to shoot the messenger and pretend that there aren’t ANY issues in the wonderful world of Virginia wine, but come on. Are there plenty of hack bloggers in the world? Absolutely. I would be a fool to say otherwise. But there were also plenty of smart, thoughtful wine lovers and bloggers at WBC who share some of my concerns. If it’s not true, it barely matters — because there is a strong perception that it is. I’m not PR expert but wine-filled diatribes (and trust me, I’ve been known to construct plenty of my own) aren’t going to help change that perception.

            I think you would argue that maybe I’m finding too much oak in new releases and need to taste older wines. I’d counter by suggesting that maybe you shouldn’t release then wines so early then (fully knowing that you probably NEED to to keep the lights on). I’m not dealing with hypothetical “down the road” tasting. My story is about my experiences and the reality of today’s wine consumer. Only a small sliver of your wines are being aged. You know that. If they show too much oak now, they are probably going to show too much oak when they are drank. That’s just the way things are in this country.

            I’m not going to argue anymore about whether or not the “spark” is there with most winemakers. I don’t think we’re making up any ground there and I don’t think we will. We’ll agree to disagree.

            You don’t know me. And I don’t know you. We haven’t met in person, but I know that we’ve shared at least one oak-related exchange via Twitter when tasting your viognier a couple months ago. You attacked my personally (and professionally in some ways) but I’ve shrugged it off. I respect the opinions of others even if I don’t agree with them.

            Maybe this was all a perfect storm of strong opinions, too much WBC-related VA wine bashing and one too many glasses of wine. I don’t hold grudges and one of these days you and I will taste wine together. I will give you my honest opinion and you can take it or leave it. I can promise you this though — you will always know where I stand.

            Thank you for serving our country, by the way.

          • Andy Reagan

            I love the “I’m not a Virginia wine expert and don’t pretend that I am” line. That leaves a lot of wiggle room in what you write about. Why did you tell us what we’re doing wrong in the vineyard and winery? Just wondering.

            Now, my comments from last night, definitely the product of all of the aforementioned perfect storm ingredients. Problem was that there were not really very many common denominators other than the one thing you didn’t complain about, the heat and the food. And I found some incredibly well written insightful blog posts too.

            My comments today will have to speak for themselves I am pretty sure I’ve made my point as to how motivated and dedicated we are as an industry, you don’t start a winery to make money, so whats left? Oh I can’t wait to get covered in grape juice and chased around by bees today!!??

            I implore you to try older vintages of wine. We make a very elegant old world style of vino in this state. They aren’t always ready to be had today and perhaps not even tomorrow. If we could push the futures market here we would, doesn’t really pan out though, and yes we need to keep the lights on but I believe there are some Chateaus in France that do the same thing. We do love rolling out a 7 or 8 year old bottle and showcasing it in the hopes that we can teach patience and the reward of allowing a bottle of wine to age.

            I imagine what you may perceive as over oaked wine would be due to the balance of a wine being a little out of whack whether a result of bottle shock, or many other varied winemaking practices that can supress fruit and aromatics to the point where the oak and or natural tannin is a bit more prevelant than it will be when everything comes full circle, whether that is 2 months or 2 years down the road. We are (at JV) working very hard to get to where we are pouring our wines when the wine is ready to go and not just because we need to sell something. That takes time, and it is hard for a winery to have that much capital tied up in something just chilling out in the warehouse.

            I appreciate that you are so involved with the drink local movement and I admire you for not taking my initial comments to heart and really turning this in to a 3rd grade shouting match, kudos.

            As a region we certainly do have issues. What region doesn’t? There is a great, open dialect amongst most of us to try and help correct those issues. But if the overlapping issues are a result of the writer not understanding the wine, the story behind the wine, where and how it was made and what the purpose of that exact wine is……..then the issues are not always “issues” I make 14 different labels here, some wines meant for today some meant for 10 years from now.

            I do realize that 95% percent of wine purchased is consumed within a week of purchase, well you have an audience, help change that. Put the wine in a dark place that doesn’t get too hot and forget about it. How about writing something like “wow! this wine is tight now but will be great a year or two from now”? Lets teach some patience especially to those who read your stuff and are going to take your word as scripture or even just a highly regarded suggestion.

            At this point I don’t feel it was a “drive by bashing” as you put it, more of a sending someone into battle with an M16 but ammo for a 12 gauge. You and subsequently your readers are not armed with the proper ammo to make a legitimate conclusion as to the quality, the practices employed, nor the motivation behind what we are doing here. I think it is the lay people the folks reading this that are not getting the big picture. You painted a very grey picture of the VA wine industry. Not totally negative but the positives weren’t necessarily positive.

            As for the twitter tasting, I do recall the comments about oak. We laugh about it often here its kind of just one of those things, you know when you know for an absolute indisputable fact that there is absolutely no way something can exist and yet someone insists that it does? Kind of like if I argued with the grammar police on the proper spelling of myriad. Or told Einstein E actually equals MC to the 4th power minus 5.

            Glad you are not a grudge carrying type person. I don’t carry grudges either. I have plenty of hatchets buried in my backyard to show for it. I’m happy to move on, I think we’ve both spoken our mind and thats all there is to it really. I’m sure Obama and Bohener aren’t going out for a beer tonight so………….

          • http://domenicoselections.com Strappo

            Are you friends with John Zuccarino?

  • Grammar Police

    hey andy…it’s ‘myriad’ not ‘miriad’

    • Andy Reagan

      wheres the auto correct when you need it?

  • http://www.vtwinemedia.com Todd – VT Wine Media

    Wow, and I thought it was HOT when we were in Virginia!
    Thanks to you in the VA crew for the helpful information.

    As an ‘outsider’ with some similar impressions of the area, I was enjoying the commentary on this post until [August 15, 2011 at 10:23 pm]…when the batch took a turn sideways. If one has enough confidence in what they are doing, and muscadine skin, a response to general, let alone direct criticsm should easliy be handled more gracefully. I’ll definitely be visiting VA again, and this post has helped me decide who I might like to visit, and who not…yes, it is about the wine, but the peope are a most important part of the formula.

    Here in VT, the ‘industry’ is at late gestational stage, compared to VA’s relative toddler, and I’m going to point people in the direction of this discussion, as it might help with a sense of perspective.
    Cheers.

  • http://swirlsipsnark.com G.E. Guy

    Why are the grammar police commenting on spelling? Jurisdiction, people. At least troll correctly.

    Say what you will about appropriate responses, etc., but out of 200 wineries in the state, two winemakers (and frenchy, though I don’t know who s/he is) have weighed in on a post about the industry. To me that makes a statement about who gives a damn and is trying to be part of the conversation. I’d love more voices from the VA wine community to jump in here. There are a lot of winery folks with a lot to add, I’m sure.

    Now come on, let’s hug it out.

  • http://swirlsipsnark.com G.E. Guy

    whoops, messed up my italics tags. Hopefully this fixed it.

  • http://www.phillywine.com Mark Cochard

    Chris, just a minor correction at least form my research.

    “Well one very important place is the UK, the largest importer of wine in the world”
    From OIV summary on the global situation of the vine and wine industry in 2009
    They clearly indicate German is the worlds largest impoorter of wine followed by the UK and The US.

    GERMANY 14,110 thousand hectoliters 16.8% of total world imports
    UK 11,859 thousand hectoliters 14.2%of total world imports
    USA 9219 thousand hectoliters 11%of total world imports

    Lenn, I get your points, In PA we have many of the same issues as well as even more hybrids and tons and tons of natives. To show where the state is, a Niagara won best wine in the state at the PA Wineries Association 2011 competiton.

  • Kay Bogart

    “That is not the case anymore, obviously, but I was surprised to hear some of the most respected winemakers in the state discuss and champion low vineyard yields only to reveal that they were growing 3.5 to 4 tons per acre. That is lower. That is not low. Yes, maybe you can “ripen” five or six tons of petit verdot per acre, but that does not mean that you should. Not if you care about making the best wines possible.
    I am not saying that increasingly lower yields absolutely results in better wine. We know that is not always the case. But are there Virginia viticulturists and winemakers pushing that down to two tons or fewer? If there are, I have not met hem yet.”

    This quote is so biased and inaccurate that I find I must comment. You simply cannot draw such a generalized conclusion on crop size based strictly on anecdotal musings; it is nonsensical. There is NO evidence, or good data, to prove that decreasing yield in winegrapes is directly correlated to increased quality in the resultant wine in any cultivar grown anywhere. This is an urban legend, if you will, perpetuated by writers and, too often, promoted by winemakers who haven’t taken the time to actually test the theory. It may sound credible, and without a good scientific background that prompts professionals to question such generalized statements, it may be easier to just accept the possibility.
    Research conducted by Dr Mark Matthews, at the University of California at Davis’ Department of Viticulture & Enology has disproved the decreasing-yield-leads-to-increasing wine-quality myth in several studies. There are so many variables involved in wine quality that it simply cannot be distilled down to such a simple principle. What’s true for one variety grown in one AVA in one given year and vinified by one winemaker in one winery, is just NOT always true when the variables change. Wine is much more complicated than that, no matter what a writer states so confidently.
    Perpetuating this myth is detrimental to winegrape growers and to winemakers. It forces growers to manually manipulate their winegrape crop, which increases their labor costs and, in turn, decreases their potential crop size, which decreases their bottom line at harvest. And then some winemakers accept the premise that smaller grapes have more concentrated color, flavor and mouthfeel components and make better wine. It may seem plausible, but there is no proof that theory is true in any, or all, cases.
    So don’t let writers dictate anything as important to a winegrape grower as how to manage his crop size; 6 tons per acre may be OK for that grower in that AVA in that year. A goal of 2 tons per acre, given all the variables involved in wine, seems ludicrous. Why should a grower and winemaker take such a tremendous risk with their shared crop based on unfounded theories? No wonder no one in VA is doing it!
    Before you ask a grower to meet this, or any, crop management goal, go to Virginia Tech and fund research into the impact of crop size on wine quality parameters. This outdated yield-vs-quality paradigm has too many far-reaching, critical repercussions on the wine industry to simply accept at face value.

    • http://winecase.ca Remy Charest

      As you quoted above: “I am not saying that increasingly lower yields absolutely results in better wine. We know that is not always the case.” Which sort of answers your main criticism here.

      There are cases where somewhat higher yields make sense to balance the wines – say, for instance, that they are in rich soils, where the vines become very vigorous. The wines will probably be better, but they’re not going to draw very intensely from the terroir and give the best possible expression of the grapes, something that has to do with site as much as yield, mind you.

      Without going in the particulars of each location, there is no place I know in any established region in which 3.5 tons per acre would be defined as a low yield. Roughly, that corresponds to the *maximum* yield allowed in Bordeaux’ general appellations. It’s not exactly grand cru level restrictions. Yet I heard that figure designated as “low yields” a couple of times too, when I was in Virginia in July, and that surprised me a lot.

      Like Lenn, I think this may be the kind of thing that makes the difference between making good or very good wines and making great wines.

  • Sarah

    Lenn – tone the ego back a hair. It’s unbecoming and uncomfortable to read…

    • http://winecase.ca Remy Charest

      Funny, with the level of insult that have been leveled at him by Andy Reagan, I find Lenn rather reasonable. For instance, I’m not sure I would have said that no apology was necessary.

      Deep breaths, everyone, please.

  • http://www.tarara.com Jordan Harris

    This has turned into quite an intriguing thread?!?!

    Without wanting to get involved in the battles, I do think there are some valid points by all parties. Many of them warrent a post on their own and have more to do with wine in general then Virginia, bloggers or winemakers. Oak, yields, tourism and diversity can all be argued both ways and likely always will.

    As much as there are pieces of Len’s blog I would love to sit and debate, I do think there are also some true statements and we all did forget to include the positive aspects of what he wrote. Len is a huge advocate of regional wine and I have seen him be supportive and at the same time debate Virginia and any wine for that matter. I actually recall the first time I discussed wine with him was also on a twitter tasting where we had some great debate that stemmed from the oak in one of our wines. I think he was being constructive and that type of feed back does help me when i am making my wine to ensure that my wine is always getting better. I do think this blog would have been better excepted had there not been a roller-coaster of Virginia wine and weather debate less then a month ago, but I do not put this particulat post in that same realm.

    Andy and some of the other Virginia wine peeps here are also extremely passionate and I love some of the wines I try on a regular basis. We all as winemakers do get caught up in that passion and it can obvioulsy show. I think is is great when we challenge bloggers and protect our industry.

    I also think it is great that reputable bloggers challenge us. Even those less knowledgable or reputable show be understood as long as it is done with courtesy and respect. Don’t dismiss us without knowledge of us and don’t offer critical scores unless you are qualified. niether of these things happened here. It was an opinionated blog about our industry and its direction. Some will agree some won’t.

    Enough said about that because, really this should be able making and writing about awesome wine, so I will get back on my wine soap box.

    Kay, you mention that there is no scientific data that shows lower yields increases quality through set quantitative quality parameters and you are absolutely correct. I however still disagree that grapes grown at some of these higher yields are generally going to be of the same quality. There is actually times where you can also loose by having lower yields. If we get slammed with massive amounts of rain at harvest and there is still uptake from the vine, I do believe we can battle worse dilution issues.

    That said, I will keep my yields low. I would rather aim at a better wine, then just hang on the side of caution. Scientific data will never replace my palate. I have tasted wines side by side from neighboring blocks grown at different yields, and year in year out there has been differences. We are talking in general keeping 2 clusters on healthy shoots, one on average shoots and none on stunted shoots vs ono more then on per shoot and never one on a shoot of less then 10 leaves. It usually equated 1-2 tons vs 3-4 tons per acre. In regular years the lower yields offered silkier or more velvety tannins, better acid balance at time of ripeness (for me this is not an analytical parameter, but based on taste), and better flavor development. There is also more complexity from the right sites. Can this all be scientifically proven, absolutly not! However, it can also not be scientifically proven that minerality is actually uptaken from soils to have a presence in wine. There are people who will argue terroir does not exist because there is no scientific proof of soil minerality uptake. Well…I then say taste some Chablis, Mosel or Rheingau Rieslings, or Gevrey Chambertin. It may not be scientifically proven, but something sure is giving them their minerality.

    It is also scientifically proven that the use of the catalogue of flavor, aromatic and color enhancing enzymes work, that gum arabic will increase mouthfeel, etc. There is many major catalogues that we receive every year selling us items to craft our wines to be a homogenized “perfect” wine. It doesn’t mean it is teh best way to go if you are aiming at diversity, intrigue and complexity.

    I guess my point is that science has a place absolutely. But for small artisanal style producers (which Virginia is with the possible exception of 5 medium sized wineries) I would love it if we trusted our palettes and faith in centuries of wine growing, then what some scientific data shows. Wine can be a great mix of both science and faith. I have graduated for Oenology and Viticulture, but now the only items I have set up in our lab are a refractometer and hydrometer for sugars, a pH Meter with some NaOH for total acidity and pH and some re-agents to test sulfites. Aside from that, I don’t really care, and even with that data I generally don’t care and let my palette and the palettes of those around me make the decisions. That has worked for me so far both in the cellar and vineyard and I have very little inventory of yeasts, enzymes, fining agents, etc to keep control of.

    • http://southernwinetrails.blogspot.com TLColson

      Jordan,

      While I appreciate your often very thoughtful, polite and well reasoned approach when you comment on blog posts – and I always enjoy tasting your wines when I get a chance – this one comment just set me on edge.

      “Don’t dismiss us without knowledge of us and don’t offer critical scores unless you are qualified.”

      I agree that no wine writer should dismiss a winemaker without due diligence and research, however – I take slight offense on the second half of that statement. If a consumer tastes a wine and has an opinion of it, what “qualifications” should they possess before they are “permitted” to voice it?

      A winemaker can have a wine that WS, WA or any other critic finds to be a “darling” (and that’s a whole other conversation) but if consumers do not care for it on a broad enough basis, how much of that wine will go unsold?

      This is the great equalizer, this internet, with blogs, Yelp, and other review sites. Consumers vote with their opinions and their dollars – and all opinions are valid… we have the choice to ignore them, but that doesn’t make them less valid in one group or another. Someone is usually listening, and being influenced.

      I sincerely hope you do not so easily dismiss opinions simply because they are critical of something you do and not “Properly Qualified” – whatever that means. You don’t have to agree with a particular criticism’s provenance – but outright dismissal insults the intelligence of your potential customers.

      And for the record, I like most of your wines, and I like what you are doing at Tarara. Its a credit to VAwine.

      • http://swirlsipsnark.com G.E. Guy

        I just wanted to lend some context to Jordan’s remarks about scores and qualifications. We wrote a blog post about objective scores and Jordan’s comments there will probably clear up any misconceptions: http://swirlsipsnark.com/?p=6325

        If Jordan felt the way you interpreted his comment, Tammy, he would have told me to STFU a LONG time ago!

      • http://www.tarara.com Jordan Harris

        TLColson: I apologise if that came off in a way that I don’t accept criticism. Far from the truth, it helps you grow. I also love that blogging and online media brings forth every persons ability to give their thoughts (except for Yelp, anyone you can pay for better exposure and that can create a “filter” on whatever they feel is best from the public is crap). What I have a problem with is simply describing a product based on a score (whether it be a number, letter, stars, etc) without the background knowledge to back up that critical analysis. Giving a wine a 89 is much like giving the wine a number value of pH, VA, SO2, etc which is a set number. If someone has the experience and background to back themselves up and can go toe to toe with a winemaker about the attributes of the wine and understand everything they are saying, great. Otherwise, I am all for the written word where the reading public can make their own judgements based on the obvious preferences of the writer.

        Once again, I am sorry if you by any means felt I am against critical blogs or write ups. I actually think they are great, and I have had good and bad. Just as GEG say below, I would have pretended to beat him up ages ago (I say pretended because he is bigger then me). Not all their reviews of me have been glowing, but I respect their direction and thought.

        • http://southernwinetrails.blogspot.com TLColson

          Jordan,

          thanks so much for replying and adding a bit of context to your comment. I appreciate the fact that you took the time to do so, I understand much better now what you were saying – and frankly, agree with you wholeheartedly.

          I tell people in my wine tastings what I think about the wines we drink, (sometimes I do blind tastings, fun events with inexperienced wine drinkers) but always preface my comments with “you may have a completely different opinion, and that’s okay”

          I’ve been drinking wine and talking about it for a long time, but I’m very new on the wine writing/blogging scene…

          Cheers to you, sir.

          Tammy

          • http://www.tarara.com Jordan Harris

            Thanks Tammy and sorry for the confusion. I should leave the writing to you guys. As much as we may have problems with certain things written about wine, you certainly should have a problem with my writing.

            Thanks again.

            Jordan

  • andy reagan

    I love many many bloggers! Especially frank Morgan, my homies at swirl sip Snark, the coolest most hilarious nicest peeps at vawinetime, Dezel, Steve heimoff, Robert Whitley, Richard leahy…..and many many more. My name is up here zing…..what’s yours?

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  • http://domenicoselections.com Strappo

    Hated is the messenger who tells what is intended to be a balanced and fair story. Lenn was telling it as he saw it, and he staked out the parameters of his position very clearly. And, clearly, emotions, not to mention cheesy boosterism, was inserted into the discussion.

    I happen to have a high opinion of VA wines — higher than NY wines, if truth be told — but it is still a baby wine region. Decades of experimentation and learning, not to mention unlearning, need to occur. Instead of lashing out at the messenger, look within, grasshoppers.

  • andy reagan

    Thank you strappon for your insightful comment. I let my passion and love for this industry cloud my judgement. I am a proud supporter of this industry and should have unclogged my filter before commenting. I truly appreciate your wisdom and spot on comments.

    • http://domenicoselections.com Strappo

      Thanks, Andy. Keep on striving!

  • http://blog.annefieldvineyards.com/ Stephen Ballard

    Fascinating reading.

    A little about us (for context): Annefield Vineyards is a relatively new winery in Southern Virginia — we opened our doors last July. We’ve participated in a fair number of festivals so the public can meet us. Our region isn’t well traveled by tourists, so we cannot rely on tasting room traffic. Thankfully the wine is usually well received — and I say “usually” because it isn’t so popular in our region where a sweet palate predominates, but up north we have no resistance. Often at these festivals we’re asked, “Do y’all have events?”

    Lenn’s post had me thinking about what it means to be an emerging wine region versus a “mature” one — only because of the continuing saga of the powers that be in Fauquier county, Albemarle county and probably others trying to control the activities of farm wineries so that the quality of life of residents isn’t compromised by the traffic and noise generated by such events. The heart of it goes to “events” that are seen as part and parcel of the survival of a winery. Many fall prey to the siren song of easy money from concerts, festivals, weddings, and the like — events that generate large crowds bringing ready money.

    Recently on Twitter I came across material circulating as part of the ongoing dust-up in Fauquier county over their zoning regulations, and one of the participants cited the Napa County California Zoning Code that defines the marketing of wine, which I’ll copy here (sorry, it’s the lawyer in me):

    ***

    18.08.370 – Marketing of wine.

    “Marketing of wine” means any activity of a winery which is conducted at the winery on a prearranged basis for the education and development of customers and potential customers with respect to wine which can be sold at the winery on a retail basis pursuant to Chapters 18.16 and 18.20. Marketing of wine may include cultural and social events directly related to the education and development of customers and potential customers provided such events are clearly incidental, related and subordinate to the primary use of the winery. Marketing of wine may include food service, including food and wine pairings, where all such food service is provided without charge except to the extent of cost recovery.

    Business events are similar to cultural and social events, in that they will only be considered as “marketing of wine” if they are directly related to the education and development of customers and potential customers of the winery and are part of a marketing plan approved as part of the winery’s use permit. Marketing plans in their totality must remain “clearly incidental, related and subordinate to the primary operation of the winery as a production facility” (subsection (G)(5) of Sections 18.16.030 and subsection (I)(5) of 18.20.030). To be considered directly related to the education and development of customers or potential customers of the winery, business events must be conducted at no charge except to the extent of recovery of variable costs, and any business content unrelated to wine must be limited. Careful consideration shall be given to the intent of the event, the proportion of the business event’s non-wine-related content, and the intensity of the overall marketing plan.

    ***

    This definition doesn’t explicitly prohibit certain activities, but it effectively eliminates many of the activities we see in Virginia that the public (in Virginia) has come to associate with wineries — i.e., those aforementioned concerts, festivals and weddings. Most wineries take the position that these activities are part and parcel of being a farm winery, and are therefore protected activities; there are those who take exception, of course, but no names will be offered up here. People who know the Virginia industry know who they are. The Napa Zoning regulation forces the winery to stick to its mission (having the business plan on file with the county seems extreme, but it makes sense). If the wine doesn’t sell, the winery is doomed.

    I’m inclined to think that a mature wine region is one where wineries can support themselves without having to rely on these ancillary activities that distract from what should be our sole mission: making and selling world-class wine.

  • http://www.keswickvineyards.com Stephen Barnard

    An interesting read for sure, but not sure why it conjured up so many emotions, I think he was fair on a few points, although I do not think some of the points pertain to all wineries and winemakers.
    I disagree wholeheartedly with any notion of complacency or a lack of spark, it is true that some wineries may follow a tried and tested formula that make business sense, but there are many winemakers who are very serious about their craft and out their heart and soul into making wine.

    To weigh in on a few points, I think the definition of over-cropping is one that is not clearly defined, one has to take into accounts all variables that is soil, elevation, exposure, clonal selection, rootstock and so forth. Our Viognier for instance is cropped at between 1.5 and 2.5 tons but the Cabernet at 2.5-3.5, our Chambourcin even higher. We feel that those cropping levels give us the best fruit, which in turn makes the best wines. You will not find a hint of bell pepper [pyrazines], which may elude to over-cropping, although it may also be a factor of picking too early. I feel the correct site can produce wonderful fruit at 5 tons an acre where those levels may be totally wrong for another site.

    As for the use of oak, I am in agreement, I find some wines to be masked by the aggressive nature of oak, although the best winemakers in the State, have a deft hand at balancing the right amount of oak for their wines. Think of Blenheim, Barboursville, Linden, Jefferson and King Family Vineyards, and I would struggle to find a wine that feels like you were sucking on a 2×4.

    I have long had the viewpoint that Virginia has to develop an identity, without getting into the discussion of what varietals do well [I think more a question of site specificity], I think for us to be truly competitive internationally, we need to start producing consistent wines year in and year out that consumers might start identifying as uniquely Virginian. Easier said than done, for I am struggling with this at Keswick Vineyards, and I might only have the answer for you in a few years. I would agree that Viognier might be the white grape, as for the red, I have tasted many wines that on their own might be able to make an argument.

    One point for consideration would be that diversity in wines and styles might be beneficial for the consumer, many of who are venturing into the world of wine. Although we make primarily dry wines, I think sweeter wines made from obscure varieties play an important role in our industry, that is to introduce people into wine [after all a sweeter wine is much easier to drink than a tannic Cabernet if you are trying wines for the first time].

    By the way, I do not think bloggers are that bad, yes we do take it personally when negative reviews come in about our wines, but that would mean I hate a lot of people who walk in through the tasting room. I think Andy’s tirade, although maybe harshly worded, shows his passion for wine making, a passion that is shared by many of us.
    Keswick sells out of all the wine we produce, but I am still not happy with the wine I am producing, this year’s wines are better than last year’s but not as good as the next

    Have a pleasant day

    Stephen Barnard
    Winemaker
    Keswick Vineyards.

    I take no responsibility for writing or grammatical errors.

    Andy, lets go take your frustrations out on a golf ball, want to get a round in soon?

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  • Grammar Police

    Isn’t it wonderful how we can all, apparently, act like assholes and then claim “passion” as the reason?

  • http://Www.broadbent.com Bartholomew Broadbent

    Lenn’s post was very good and generally a very fair overview. As to the question of where is VIrginia wine is going to take off, aside from the fact that China is now importing Virginia wine, it is interesting to note that two Brits have recognized the international appeal and decided to pioneer Virginia wine outside the State. Chris Parker is doing a great job in the UK. My company, Broadbent Selections, is the first to make VA wine available in every State. It can now be found as far away as California, Seattle and Montana, to places like Mississippi, Maine and New York.

    My assessment of the Virginia wine industry is that it is showing the pioneering spirit reminiscent to Napa and Sonoma in the early 1980s. Most wineries have proven that they can make good wine from time to time but Barboursville has proven that good wine can be made consistently every year, even great wine can be produced on occasion, sush as their iconic Octagon.

    What makes VA wine so appealing to me is that they show restraint and elegance and acceptable alcohol levels.

  • crockett davidson

    Grammar Police: who was acting like an ahole? The guy that stood up for what he believed in? Wouldn’t you prefer someone tell you what they are really thinking as opposed to sugar coating everything?

    I guess to you what’s really great is hiding behind a title, nitpicking at silly typos (as did the passionate commenter you’re trying to call out) as opposed to owning up to your comment by letting us all know who you are. At least Andy wasn’t afraid to express exactly how he felt. He could have taken your route and advertised himself as john doe. He did not do that though.

    In the grand scheme of things i fail to understand your motivation to comment on this post lest you are also commenting under another made up name?

    Andy: your passion and vigor is amazing! You were right to stand up for yourself and your colleagues. Perhaps email will be a better avenue for you next time though. ;-)

    Lenn you wrote an article based on your experiences yet i would say that next time you might want to shop a rough draft around before you make claims that could be interpreted as aggressive or unfounded.

    The world we live in has become a chaotic mess. Opinions from blogs, twitter, Facebook or wherever are rampant and we all need to weigh the value and intention of what we are saying or reading much more analytically than we do so now.

    Socrates: wish you were here!

  • Mary Anne

    Try Pearmund Cellars Riesling as well as other varietals. You may come back for a second glass. Most people who say they hate Riesling do.

  • Mary Anne

    Try Pearmund Cellars Riesling and some of the other varietals. You may want a second glass. Most people who say they hate Riesling do.

  • http://ArrowheadSpring.com Duncan Ross

    I find the discussion fascinating. It is interesting to me how wine writing can get off track and start going down “rabbit holes” like “low yield”. What exactly is “low yield”? I am sure it is something that the writing community hears about often and because low yield implies more work and lower production, it must be good (and it is good)! However, as with many things, it sounds simpler than it is.

    What the people who grow grapes understand is that there are many variables with “low yield”, such as varietal, soil, climate, and vine/row spacing. To say that 2-3 tons per acre is low yield and universally desirable is naïve. My Niagara County NY vines are in 8’ rows with 4’ spacing on a divided canopy. Low yield in an average year is 4 tons per acre for things like Chardonnay, Syrah and Cab Franc. With a VSP trellis, take a third off. The clones you have also affect Yield – as does the rootstock. Cabernet Sauvignon can exhibit MANY different qualities depending on the clone, the rootstock and all of the other factors above.

    When Warm Lake was in business they claimed low yield of 2.5 tons per acre for Pinot. Sounds great…. Except their rows were spaced at an enormous 10’wide, so the yield per vine was actually on the high side. If the vines were planted in a more typical 8’ row, the effective yield per acre would be more like 3.12 tons per acre. Still within the range of acceptable quality practices for this region, but more average than low. It sounded low though, didn’t it?
    The most important thing about wine is what it tastes like in the glass. How it got there is surely part of the story, but secondary to the wine itself.

    Regarding your praise for VA wines and then the tourism comments…. NY wineries also sell the vast majority of the product at the winery, including Vinifera. A key difference with Virginia is that they are using their excise tax to market Virginia wines in the sales channel (stores/restaurants) to the tune of about 3 million dollars per year. NY spends almost nothing on wine marketing outside of the tourism based things that the Wine and Grape Foundation does. Virginia currently produces about the same quantity of Vinifera wine as NY, and will likely overtake NY in this category.

    And…. It’s not reasonable to look for a signature varietal by state. States are big places (except a few) and the growing conditions can vary from end to end as they do in NY, California, Washington, etc. Looking for one variety per state is oversimplifying the growing capabilities. These regional capabilities don’t respect artificial state boundaries.

  • Lucie Morton

    I’m not a blogger but someone asked me what I thought of this conversation so I’ve had fun reading through it. Duncan Ross has good input on the yield issue. Yields are a huge factor in wine character but what is “best” depends totally on variety, site, vintage, wine price point, etc. Speaking of “best,” I am reminded of the dictum — “The best is the enemy of the good.”

    Without taking up space pulling out big chunks of text, Lenn’s article does contain value judgments about the state’s image and paucity of what he might call “best wines.” I see no problem with his holding out his opinions on this.

    Under this scenario, grape variety racism, for example, is ok as is the dismissal of best selling wines (Our Pet Red/White) that would never make it onto a connoisseur’s “best” list.

    For me what is important about local wines (ok all wine), is that they have the integrity of place and be sound. When they are world class, it is a huge bonus. This means for a place like Indiana, Traminette will work as a state grape and Viognier will not. There are Virgnia vineyards on reclaimed coal fields in southside helping local economies with Labrusca-based wines. While I personally do not drink these, the local populace does. They would not like Ch.Petrus even at $12 a bottle.

    OK so I’m a viticulturist and biased towards local vineyards (or orchards) being the source of local wines vs. pressure for importation of “better” vinifera fruit.

    My late mentor Leon D. Adams used to say that there are three kinds of wines:
    Palatable, Pleasingly Palatable, and Unpalatable. My update of this would be: Popularly Appealing, Critically Acclaimed, and Flawed. Virginia, like the rest of the wine world, has all three. I’d like to ban the latter category and watch our industry grow with both the first two.

  • Ron miller

    You need to visit Glenn Manor Vineyards in Bentonville, VA. Jeff White has been true to your suggested vinicultural practices for about 14 years, and produces world class savaginon blanc, Cabernet franc, & Bordeaux blends.

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