It’s Official!!! The order has been placed, the deposit paid and on April 6, 2017 Graystem Farm & Vineyard will take delivery of our first vinifera grape vines. This first test block planting will include Albariño, Syrah (Clone 100), Syrah (Clone 877), Sémillion, Norton, Cabernet Sauvignon (Clone 337), and Traminette.
Why did we select these particular varieties? The reasons are complex and simple. Most vignerons prefer to grow the grapes that the wineries want to buy. While we also wish to have a market for our grapes (we hate waste!), we also want grapes that make wines we enjoy, which should grow well in our vineyard and that are not commonly available to home vintners (boxed juice base.) If you are a small home-vintner and want to try something fresh and different, give one of these varieties a try!
Albariño is a green-skinned grape variety native to the north Atlantic coast of Spain where it is that county’s version of Chardonnay — the primary grape grown. It is high in acidity, and can produce a range of types from light white wine, to oaked, treated sur-lie or processed batonnage for a fuller, richer style. Albariño grapes make a perfect drink-it-now wine for seafood, with characteristic peach, citrus and mineral traits. It grows well in Virginia and is increasing in popularity.
Syrah (or Shiraz) is a thick-skinned red grape variety that is also great with seafood, especially grilled or spicy fish, shellfish or mussels and other bold flavors from black and blue burgers to barbeque. It also compliments roasted vegetables. As a varietal, it has pronounced up front flavors of dark fruits – from sweet blueberry to savory black olive – with a spicy or peppery note in the aftertaste. Syrah is often blended with grapes that add more mid-palate, such as Cabernet Sauvignon. In France it is one of the grapes found in the classic wines of the Côtes du Rhône. Because Syrah wines have such thick skins with high tannin, winemakers commonly cold soak (aka extended maceration) the grapes for days (or weeks) to increase color and fruit while decreasing tannin and herbaceous flavors . Cold soaking (aka extended maceration) increases color and fruitiness in a wine while also reducing harsh tannin and herbaceous flavor.
Sémillion is one of those grapes like Riesling which tends to be much more appreciated by wine insiders than by the average wine drinker, who, with nose in the air declares, “I do not drink sweet wine!” Once one of the most commonly planted white varieties and responsible for some of the most famous, expensive Bordeaux in the world – Sauternes, Châteaux d’Yquem anyone? –Sémillon is now practically endangered and we can’t let that happen! It may or may not grow well in Virginia or in our vineyard, but we have to give it a try. At the very least it should make an amazing preserve.
A bright golden-green, thick skinned grape, Sémillon is characterized by its autumnal colors in the vineyard. It is vigorous and easy to cultivate, and buds later (but ripens earlier) than its most common blending partner, Sauvignon Blanc. It is also not uncommon to find pink- and copper-colored berries around harvest time. And when affected by the noble rot, botrytis cinerea, it can produce Nectar of the Gods.
Sémillon can have a multitude of flavors, particularly stonefruit such as apricot, peach, nectarine and mango, with secondary notes of citrus, nut and honey. It is also known for its silken texture, caused by the concentration of sugar and glycerol. It needs a partner, typically Sauvignon Blanc, to balance these traits with sufficient acidity. Intensely structured Sémillon wines may be barrel-aged, while fresher examples are typically fermented in stainless steel. It is not a shy white, pairing well with grilled white fish with hollandaise sauce (dry variety) or bold desserts such as citrus cheesecake, or pear tarts with Roquefort crumble (sweet variety.)
Australia makes a phenomenal dry white wine from this grape due to a certain amount of rain that is beneficial to the production of unoaked Sémillon. This brings out an acidity not yet found elsewhere. In its home of Bordeaux France, it excels as the great, dry, oaked whites of Graves and Pessac-Léognan – indeed some would say wines such as Châteaux Haut-Brion Blanc and La Mission Haut-Brion Blanc (both containing substantial proportions of Semillon) express the grape at its very finest in a dry wine. These wines are immensely rich yet dry and can last for decades, taking on an extraordinary depth, density and creamy smoothness with wonderfully lemony acidity, with age. But sweet or dry, Sémillon makes some of best aging white wines in the world. Châteaux Haut-Brion Blanc.
Norton is a Virginia grape of small berries, blue-black and covered with a slight bloom. The Norton grape was hybridized in the gardens of Dr. Daniel N. Norton whose home in 1821, Magnolia Farm, was located “north of the Richmond Turnpike” (Broad Street) in the area now bounded by Bowe, Lombardy, Harrison and Broad Streets in Richmond, Virginia.
Being a Virginia native, Norton thrives in our area and produces a robust red wine with big fruit flavors that ages beautifully. In dry years, it can be high in tannins. In Missouri it is known as Cynthiana and is sometimes referred to as “The Cabernet of the Ozarks.” At the Vienna World Exposition of 1873, a Norton wine won the title “Best Wine of All the Nations.”
Like other robust reds, it pairs well with foods rich in umami – beef tenderloin, venison, lamb or shitake mushrooms. Horton and Chrysalis Wineries make lovely wines from the Norton grape.
In Virginia, Cabernet Sauvignon shines as the major component of Meritage along with its blending partners Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec and/or Tannat. Meritage, pronounced like heritage, is a registered trademark held by The Meritage Alliance which defines the American version of France’s famed – and appellation controlled – Bordeaux. Clone 337 from the French ENTAV, is a unique clone appreciated for its small berries and moderate yield. The wines it produces are typically complex with highly aromatic, floral, varietal characteristics, well balanced with the tannins needed for aging, but much more fruit forward and less herbaceous than older clones. Red berry fruits in a lush international style are typical of this clone.
Unlike the other varieties we will be planting, Traminette is a modern hybrid first released in 1996. A cross of Gewurztraminer and Joannes Syeve 23-416, it produces an excellent quality wine suited to several wine styles including dry and sweet versions with the former displaying good viscosity. With two to five years on it, Traminette will develop rich apricot and honey flavors. The grape also has high acidity and low pH which harmonizes with the fresh fruit aromas and floral-spicy flavors typical of its parent, Gewurztraminer. It does not do well sur-lie and in warm areas, bitterness and high pH can be a risk. It is outstanding paired with spicy seasonings such as chili, curry and ginger.
It is a cold hardy vine bearing large clusters with good yields and excellent fruit quality. It also has good disease resistance to powdery mildew, black rot and botrytis. A wine on the rise, Traminette is considered to be one of the higher quality hybrid grapes.