Winter Grapes for Summer Wines

Cold-resistant grape varietals flourish in Fauquier County and produce some great wines to enjoy in the warm-weather months

Here’s to July, the first month of the second half of the year, when summer is in its blue sky, sun-filled glory. It’s a wonderful time to be outdoors, and if you’re a wine lover, like me, it’s a great time to be making the rounds to all the wonderful wineries that Fauquier County has to offer.

From Upperville in the northern part of the county all the way down to Bealeton in the southern reaches, Fauquier County is peppered with an array of (mostly) family-owned wineries where beautiful spaces, mountain views, picnic areas, and friendly tasting rooms make visiting a pure joy. From Fauquier’s grape-friendly terroir with its granite-based soils, these wineries and their winemakers are producing award-winning wines, from international classics such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, and Merlot, to other varietals that fall into a special category of their own — hybrids and crossing grapes.  

One of the unique characteristics that I enjoy most about Virginia wines, especially in Fauquier County, is the abundance of white wine varietals that are both hybrid and crossed in design and naturally winter-resistant. I’ve often written about Virginia wines and their unique place in both the domestic and global wine world, and these are two of the reasons why they maintain their footing.

The difference between a hybrid grape and a crossed grape is this: a hybrid grape is the offspring between two varietals of different species, and a crossed grape is created between two varietals of the same species. Both types are able to handle very cool, if not downright cold, climates, and are resistant to various diseases that might easily destroy other grapes.

So, for this month’s piece, I’ve decided to preview a few of the Fauquier County’s great hybrid and crossed grapes, and where you might find a bottle for your summer enjoyment.

One of Virginia’s most popular white wine grapes is Vidal Blanc, also simply called Vidal. A French hybrid white wine varietal, Vidal Blanc is North America’s most widely planted hybrid and is well represented in Virginia. It is a hybrid of Uni Blanc, the grape of Cognac, and one of the parents of Seyval Blanc. Its slow, steady ripening and thick skin make it especially suitable for late harvest, sweet wines, for which it is used most famously in Canada for the world-renowned Icewine. To experience it locally, you need not travel any further than Mediterranean Cellars in Warrenton, where Vidal Blanc is offered up as both a clean, crisp, dry white wine as well as a semi-sweet, just off-dry appetizer/dessert wine. Pearmund Cellars in Broad Run also offers up its first bottling of Vidal Blanc, a wonderfully expressive wine, with minerality and citrus on the nose as well as kiwi, peach, and pineapple on the palate and through the long finish.

One of the most interesting crossed varietals available is a grape called Traminette. A mid- to late-season white wine grape, Traminette produces wine with a very pronounced varietal character akin to one of its parents grapes, the Alsatian jewel Gewürztraminer. Like a good ‘Gewurtz’, Traminette is distinguished by its excellent wine quality and good productivity. The name itself is derived from the village of Tramin, in Alto Adige, Italy, where Traminer is the synonym for Gewürztraminer. But you don’t have to go to Italy to get a good Traminette, just head over to Delaplane Cellars and try their 2016 Traminette — it’s a unique wine that is whole cluster pressed (pressed before the grapes are removed from the stems creating a more delicate wine) and barrel fermented. Its experience is textural and fruity, and a great reflection of this very unique white wine.

In the mid-20th century, there was a series of about 100 French hybrids developed by hybridizer Bertille Seyve and his partner/father-in-law Victor Villard, much of it planted in France. Their most notable achievement in this incredible work is the grape Seyval Blanc, which is not only the single most widely planted vine variety in England, used mostly for blending and sparkling wine production, but also popular in Canada and of course, Virginia. Seyval Blanc makes for a crisp white wine. Barrel Oak Winery has produced several award-winning Seyval Blanc wines and is a very enjoyable place to bring the family, including your dog.

Finally, no wine grape journey would be complete without at least one great red wine, and fortunately, the hybrid grape world is well covered there with Chambourcin, a French-American interspecific hybrid. Chambourcin is considered a very productive grape with a deep color and aromatics. It can be made into a dry style or one with a moderate residual sugar level.

There are some wonderful Chambourcin wines to choose from in the Fauquier County wine country. Among the producers are Molon Lave Vineyards in Warrenton, whose Chambourcin offering is 100 percent single varietal, aged for 18 months in American oak and is true in style, with earthy and spicy notes, plus a touch of fig and dark fruit on the palate. You can also find a cool Chambourcin Rosé at Blue Valley Vineyard and Winery in Middleburg. This is a unique wine, with candied fruit aromas of pomegranate and red cherry. Served chilled, it’s a great summer wine.

Not to be outdone, Philip Carter Winery in Hume offers a great Chambourcin blend called Oatlands. This red wine powerhouse is made with 70 percent Chambourcin and 30 percent Norton, Virginia’s native grape. It’s a full, fruit-forward wine with dark berry fruit, earthy notes, and firm tannins. Aged in both neutral and Virginia new oak barrels, Oatlands is both elegant and strong, very reflective of Chambourcin’s grace and Norton’s power.

So yes, hit the road this July and make your way around Fauquier County, visiting one great winery after another. And when you visit these places, and meet the individuals who make them what they are, ask about their hybrid grapes, open a bottle, and enjoy the whole experience.

Until next time, Happy Vino’ing!

Mark Luna
About Mark Luna 19 Articles
Mark Luna is a Portfolio Rep for Roanoke Valley Wine Company. He has a Level 3 Advanced Certification from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET) and is a member of the prestigious Wine Scholar Guild, where he’s finishing his Italian Wine Scholar post-nominal accreditation. Through and beyond his work for RVWC, Mark writes, teaches and guest-speaks about wine in a variety of both industry and privately held events. He lives in Nokesville with his family. For events, Mark can be reached at mluna96@gmail.com.

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