Maureen McDonnell and I have at least one thing in common: We both love Virginia wine.
The former first lady took on Virginia wine as a project while her husband was in office -- although she did talk a lot about Anatabloc too, according to wine writers who traveled along with her on some of the vineyard tours -- and did a good job raising its profile in and out of the state. Things outside of the wine world? You can discuss that among yourselves.
I’ve become a convert to Virginia wine as well.
The Williamsburg Winery invited wine bloggers and other media to visit Saturday to see what it's been up to lately. As the 13th winery to open in a state that now has more than 200, this wine-list staple often can be overlooked in favor of newer producers.
It was a cold day outside and in. After a (warm) lunch prepared by Gabriel Archer Tavern and Café Provençal chef Ika Zaken, and his excellent, new-to-me Israeli dish, shakshuka -- a stew of tomatoes, peppers and spinach with feta and poached farm eggs on top -- we went down to the well-chilled cellar to sample everything the winery had to offer, including wine straight from the barrel.
Although Viognier has been touted as the Virginia varietal -- and Williamsburg bottles plenty of it -- winemaker Matthew Meyer planted part of the vineyard with something a little more interesting: Traminette vines. The winery is one of only eight producers to do so in the state. The resulting limited release wine gives Viognier a run for its money. The Traminette is a soft, highly floral and aromatic white wine. “It’s a basically toned-down Gewürztraminer,” he says. “It does well on the East Coast.” Specifically, the varietal is a hybrid of Gewürztraminer and a French-American hybrid with the uninspiring name Joannes Seyve 23.416. The result is hardier and has a similar flavor profile to its better known parent.
Although after tasting nine wines, it might be difficult to recall the 10th one, according to my increasingly hard-to-read notebook, in addition to the Traminette, the 2010 Virginia Trianon Cabernet Franc was my favorite wine that day. According to Meyers, 2010 was a great year to grow grapes -- rainy when the vines needed water and dry when they didn’t. The Trianon’s lush, smooth burst of berry on the tongue exits the mouth with a slight tannic edge, making for a complex, drinkable wine.
The setting has something to do with the wine. The vineyard sits in the middle of the Wessex Hundred, the first spot in 1607 to be considered for Jamestown. Unfortunately, the man who was pushing for it, second-in-command Gabriel Archer, was voted down. We know how that all turned out (not great).
Because Virginia vineyards are small and there aren’t quite enough grapes to go around in the state, margins are thin in the wine business and volume isn't a option. Most Virginia wineries go to great lengths to create reasons for people to visit.
Fortunately for owner Patrick Duffeler, the Williamsburg Winery is about a 15-minute drive from Colonial Williamsburg. Although someone will have to volunteer to be the designated driver to get there and back, the vineyard’s two restaurants, shop and hotel are surrounded by long fields full of grape vines in a setting that produces seriously beautiful sunsets. As good a reason as any to veer to the south before heading back to Richmond.
Correction: This story originally stated that the spot where the Williamsburg Winery sits was considered for Jamestown in 1606. It actually occurred in 1607.