Virginia has a state bird (the cardinal) and a state flower (the American dogwood). It even has a recognizable state slogan — “Virginia Is for Lovers,” which is so much more hospitable from a marketing standpoint than its official state motto: “Sic Semper Tyrannis.”
Now, Virginia has a state wine grape.
The Virginia Wine Board, a state-sponsored trade association that promotes Virginia wine, voted last week to designate viognier as the state’s signature grape. We can now look for some national marketing campaigns aiming to associate “viognier” with “Virginia,” much like New Zealand wine has become identified with sauvignon blanc, Argentina with malbec, Oregon with pinot noir, New York with Riesling, and Napa Valley with cabernet sauvignon.
Regardless, this is a good move, in that it will help sharpen national consumer attention on Virginia wine. Viognier has done well here since Horton Vineyards created buzz with its 1992 vintage. No other U.S. wine region can really lay claim to viognier, which gives Virginia room to run with the alliteration. And Missouri has already stolen the Norton as its official state grape even though it originated in Virginia. Cabernet franc and petit verdot are possible rivals to viognier, but they are increasingly performing better as part of vineyard-designated blended wines than on their own.
Besides, “Virginia is for Bordeaux Blends!” or “Virginia’s Heritage is Meritage!” don’t resonate as well.
In other local news, Dave Collins, the former winemaker for Breaux Vineyards in Loudoun County, has begun planting his new vineyard in Maryland’s Washington County, near Rohrersville, west of Frederick. Collins announced that he was planting 13 grape varieties on 22 acres of vines for his new project, called Big Cork Vineyards. Ultimately, Collins plans to put 50-80 acres of the 110-acre property under vine, which will make Big Cork a major player in helping commercialize Maryland’s burgeoning wine industry.
Collins is planting 1,350 vines per acre, more than the local industry average, though by no means extremely dense, on rolling hillsides that are about 650 feet above sea level. Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait at least three years to taste the fruit of his efforts.
Meanwhile, Breaux Vineyards has hired Spanish winemaker David Pagan Castano to replace Collins. Castano hails from Valencia and has learned his craft in wine regions around the world, including Sonoma County and New Zealand. You can read a nice interview with him on the Swirl, Sip, Snark blog, in which he reveals the Virginia connection that lured him here from his last job in the Canary Islands.
Castano confesses to a love of the monastrell grape (also known as mourvedre), while Breaux has specialized in the Italian nebbiolo variety. Will there be some experimentation in Breaux’s future? Stay tuned.
Arlington wine lovers, take note: The Curious Grape, the boutique wine shop in Shirlington, will close May 29 to prepare a move to bigger quarters. In the meantime, the store is offering special discounts on wines in stock and special orders. Here’s your chance to stock up on your favorite bottles for the summer.