Virginia, Meet Your Native Grape
Her enthusiasm for this native Virginia grape grew out of her passion for enjoying and collecting fine wine.
“Norton reminded me of Spanish reds,” she says from the driver’s seat of her Jeep while rolling over the hills of Locksley Estate where Chrysalis Vineyards is located in Middleburg.
“As they age, they get a Northern Spanish character. I think Norton’s an incredible grape.” So incredible that she has trademarked the phrase “Norton, the REAL American grape!” to make her point.
That passion for Norton was the starting point for Chrysalis Winery back in 1997. Extensive plantings of Spanish grapes like Albarino, Tempranillo and Graciano accompanied the largest planting of Norton vines in the world.
Norton is notable among North American varieties for its unique ability to produce premium quality red wines. And being a native grape, it’s the most disease-resistant varietal that can be grown in the U.S., growing on its own roots and resistant to the phylloxera that devastated so many European vines.
While Norton was internationally recognized in the 1800s as the source of distinctively robust reds, it fell from favor as non-native varietals were planted here.
Today the Norton is enjoying a resurgence of popularity and a big part of that is the Chrysalis Vineyards program is to restore this grape to its position of eminence among fine wines.
“We want to focus on grape varietals that can stand alone on the world stage,” McCloud explains.
Part of that effort includes a greenhouse to propagate Norton vines to sell to other wineries. Today there are 30 varietals labeled Norton being made in Virginia’s 191 wineries.
Chrysalis’ winemaker is Alan Kinne, formerly of Horton Vineyards, and one of the most experienced winemakers working in Virginia.
He was the one who made the observation to McCloud that although completely different in taste, Norton shares a lot of attributes with Pinot Noir. As a result, Chrysalis is treating its Norton much more gently when crafting wine.
And since nothing goes as well as cheese with wine, Chrysalis is also home to cows, a hearty heritage breed called American Milking Devons. A milking parlor was added and Locksley Estate Farmstead Cheese was the logical outgrowth.
Making cheese makes sense because Norton is a food-friendly wine. Unlike many of the California varietals which are stand-up wines for the patio or party, McCloud says, “We’re producing table wines. Norton is a wine to pair with food.”
A new website, www.nortonwine.com, offers those new to Norton a place to learn about its sustainability as a native species, its historical standing and its versatility.
“Those who are long time wine drinkers are looking for something different and that’s Norton” McCloud says with the authority of one who knows.
A visitor to Chrysalis can choose from all styles of the Virginia grape: Norton Estate Bottled (dark, complex with a long finish), Norton Locksley Reserve (big, earthy and elegant), and for those happier with less-hearty reds or white wine-only types ready to experiment, Sarah’s Patio Red.
Part of that is that there are many people who don’t like or can’t tolerate tannic red wines.
“They’re being left behind by wine producers,” McCloud says. “We’re in the vanguard, producing sweeter reds like Sarah’s Patio Red. It’s not made with sugar to mask bad flavors.”
McCloud suggests putting a few ice cubes in Sarah’s Patio Red, which is an easy-drinking wine made with Norton. Straightforward with citrus and floral aromas and a crisp acidity, it has just enough sweetness to create a very distinctive and drinkable wine.
“Red wine, ice and you,” she says. “We’re positioning ourselves against wine snobbery.”
“If a wine is well-crafted with no winemaking flaws, it’s up to the consumer to decide if they like it.”
For wine lovers looking to make their own decisions, Chrysalis Vineyards is open every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day from 10:00 to 5:30, with the last tasting at 5:00.
It’s located in Middleburg at the foot of the Bull Run Mountains, two hours from Richmond, but a world away, with its winery dogs scampering about, happy cows in the pasture and fields of grapes.
“No one’s an ogre when they come to a winery. We have the pleasure of sharing our vision and visiting with folks over wine. I’d rather make the best Norton in the world than the 400th best Merlot,” McCloud says with a satisfied smile.
For more information on Chrysalis Vineyards, visit their website here.
Photo courtesy Jennifer McCloud.
Karen Newton is a freelance writer and full-time nerd who isn’t happy unless she’s going out every night for food, music or art and blogging it at www.icouldgoonandon.blogspot.com.
By Kristina Headrick Amongst hordes of wine loving Virginians, I was lucky enough to to attend the 6th Annual Wine Expo this past Saturday. Hosted at the massive Greater Richmond Convention Center, the event benefited FeedMore, Central Virginia’s core hunger relief organization. More than a collection of wineries, the event featured vendors selling specialty foods, art, [...]February 26, 2013
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