The Williamsburg Winery in Williamsburg, VA: An Overture
An overture to the Virginia Wine Trail, that is!!
Virginia takes its wine super seriously and is an emerging contender on the world wine stage. There are 258 wineries on the Virginia Wine Trail, and as recently as 2013, Forbes asked if Virginia was poised to become the East Coast Napa.
I did not know the state was so far along in its bid for international status I when pulled up the to The Williamsburg Winery last week on a 900 degree day with 900% humidity and signed up for a tour and tasting. I thought becoming acquainted with wine that was touted as being some of the 'best in the world' by Kevin Zraley, founder of the Windows on the World Wine School and courses of the same name, would be a sophisticated and quaint way to spend an afternoon in the history-rich southern city. And learning about wine is sort of my job, so technically, I was working.
The Williamsburg Winery sits on a 320 acre farm known as Wessex Hundred. The word 'Hundred' bore significance in the Colonial Era, and meant the land could support one hundred families, rather than referring to its size. The farm dates back to the 1600s when Jamestown was established, and vines were planted there as early as 1619, although not continuously. The combined French and American armies marched across the Wessex Hundred on their way to Yorktown during the American Revolution in 1781, so the site is not just 'old', its historical.
Owner Patrick Duffeler bought the farm in 1983, planted vines in 1985, and first crushed in 1987, making Williamsburg Winery a relatively very new operation, given that the winery, and Virginia as a whole, seems to want to contend with Bordeaux. "Growing conditions in Virginia are very similar to Bordeaux," I was told, and it's true that Virginia and Bordeaux are on close parallels (Williamsburg is on the 37th and Bordeaux is on the 44th), and Bordeaux is also hot and humid and influenced by nearby bodies of water. But of course they are not totally the same.
After a tour of the grounds, including beautiful event space complete with reconstructed fireplaces brought in piece by piece from France by Duffeler, our group headed toward the cellars, stacked with French, American, and Hungarian oak barrels, and then past the private, reserve tasting room, through steel tanks and even oval shaped cement eggs, where the rotation of the earth gently moves the wine within while it ages, and classical music plays to keep the wine, the yeast, and everything that's alive, happy and harmonious.
Finally, we were on to the tasting. The winery has 45 acres under vine, dedicated to, in ascending order, Vidal Blanc, raminette and Merlot, Viognier and Chardonnay, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, and Albariño, a new addition and admitted experiment. The winery also sources grapes from other Virginia growers and Washington state.
I chose the Fine Wine (instead of the Reserve) tasting, comprised of:
-2014 James River White (Sauvignon Blanc)
-2014 Midsummer's Night White (Traminette/VidalBlanc/Viognier),
-2015 Governor's White (semi dry Riesling)
-Wessex Hundred Dry Rosé (Cab Franc/Vidal Blanc/Traminette)
-2014 Arundell Cabernet Sauvignon
-2014 Aged Claret (Cabernet Franc/Merlot/Norton/Petit Verdot)
along a dessert wine made with unfermented raspberries that I actually liked. My favorites were definitely the 2014 Barrel Aged Claret, and, since I asked nicely with a smile, for some of the Wessex Hundred Estate wine - which other than the rosé was not included in the Fine Wine tasting - the 2014 Petit Verdot and the 2014 Merlot. Let's talk about these three, because they are wines that should be in your portfolio, and they're very gettable.
I don't want to go into tasting notes simply because tasting notes are easily looked up if you really care to, and more importantly because unless we're blind tasting and describing to deduce to a certain grape, we may never really agree or fully communicate on tasting notes. After all, 'medjool dates' is a descriptor written by the winemaker for the Petit Verdot and I don't know what those are.
What I liked about the wines is that they simultaneously showed action and restraint. Dark fruit, purple flowers, spice, earth, and leather were balanced with bright acid to keep them from getting too dark and serious. The layers worked together nicely and lingered appropriately, and the oak integration was subtle. Nothing clunky or hot. No fruit bombs. Restraint is a talent.
The Petit Verdot and the Merlot were grown onsite, in vineyards that were out the window, hence the name 'estate', and this is where the tasting really elevated. So I bought a case.
Unfortunately, the tasting was over and it was time to hit up the giftshop (I pretty much emptied it out, it was a good one!) But I didn't want to leave. I would have loved to delve more deeply into what The Williamsburg Winery has to offer, particularly the Vidal Blanc and Viognier since they are also grown onsite and can really reflect not only Virginia, but the actual Wessex Hundred vineyards. And the history. I want to know more! It doesn't begin or end with the Revolution. And are there ghosts? There have to be ghosts at a place like this.
And isn't that the goal? To want to go back? To return to your glass of wine for the next sip because you enjoyed the first one? To eventually buy another bottle of a wine you love, simply because you love it? To re-experiece the delight? If you want to go back - to anywhere - then something was right.
Equally as interest-piquing are the winery's Adagio, Gabriel Archer, and Virginia Trianon Reserve wines. These are award winners in such competitions as the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, the World Wine Championships, and the Virginia's Governor's Cup and each has been scored over 90 points by Robert Parker.
Winelala would love to embark on a Virginia Wine Tour to get a real sense of place, philosophy, and practice, because Virginia really does seem to be on the cusp of greatness, and not just I think so. Eric Boissenet, famed Bordeaux enologist, has lent expertise to several wineries in the state, and UK wine critic Steve Spurrier has noted in the past that Virginia is a national contender, while Virginia wine exports are popular in the UK and China. The world is noticing.
Thank you to The Williamsburg Winery - I hope to return to my inspiration for the Great Virginia Wine Tour of the Great Virginia Wine Trail and our miniseries of the same name (I perhaps need to work on the name).
You should visit the Williamsburg Winery too. There are several different tour options, and the grounds are extensive, including an inn and a restaurant and lots of preserved land that I didn't even get to really see. A very obvious feeling of pride and love for wine pervades, even on the hot and steamy day, it's just in the land and in the air.
The Williamsburg Winery truly seems to get the 'lala' way... (all pics proudly stolen from the internet!)