Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Virginia Estate Bottled Day

Quick, what's Virginia's native grape?

And where in the world can you find the largest planting of that grape?

Norton would be Virginia's own and Chrysalis Vineyards in Middleburg the winery devoted to bringing this native grape to the attention of wine lovers.

I knew after reading Todd Kliman's "The Wild Vine" and tasting Norton that I had to make the trek to the Virginia Piedmont to taste it.

I'd gotten a tease at a wine dinner at Sprout where Norton had been one of the pairings. But it wasn't enough.

A two-hour drive put me in the middle of Locksley Estate where Chrysalis is located.

For many readers of the book who live further away, all they can do is call and order Norton to be delivered to them.

It happened twice while I was there today.

It's not hard to understand people's passion to taste Norton after reading the book, but opening a bottle of it in Oregon can't be nearly as satisfying as drinking it at the foot of the Bull Run Mountains.

Which was where I was as I went through a baker's dozen of Chrysalis wines from their stellar Albarino through the award-winning Viognier to Nortons of every shape and size.

I was fortunate to have the incredibly knowledgeable and charming Eddie pouring for me.

In his elegantly accented voice, he and I talked at length about Norton (he's starting an all Norton all the time blog) and every single wine I tasted, recommending what he'd cook to pair with each one.

Ladies of Loudon County, take note. I think Eddie's a catch.

Afterwards Jenny, the owner of Chrysalis, took me under her wing and gave me a Jeep tour of the estate, rolling over vegetation and dirt hills with ease.

And if that sounds unlike anything I usually do, let me assure you it was.

But as someone who lives mere blocks from Norton Street and Dr. Norton's original farm, seeing fields of Norton grapes heavy on the vine brought the history home.

Jenny had recently bought additional acreage from a neighbor and is building a new tasting room which required a road and bridge to be put in to access it.

Today, she took me down there to see where the river had been dammed and the bridge built (in little over a week, mind you).

Hopping out of the Jeep, she asked what size shoe I wore.

Not quite big enough, but she handed me a pair of serviceable black rubber boots (my friend Danny would say that those boots with my little plaid dress positively made the outfit).

Both of us in boots, we walked over the new bridge, still being graded but fully installed. Landscaping to come.

It's not a big bridge, but it's a strong one. A loaded  eighteen-wheeler will be able to cross it.

What most fascinated me was seeing the river being held back on either side, like some kind of science experiment.

A pipe connects the flow for now and once they finish, the mounds of dirt will be taken down and the river will flow naturally under the spanking new bridge.

Then we got back in the Jeep and climbed the nearly vertical hill to where the new tasting room will be. The views on both sides will be magnificent.

Back in the existing tasting room, bootless and on flat ground, she pulled out a Private Reserve Red, a wine they "play around" with every harvest.

The grapes change, the style changes and only members can buy it. Not being a member, you better believe I savored it.

Honestly, I savored the whole day, driving and all, even though soul-sucking I-95 was involved for part of the trip.

My favorite road trips involve someone else driving, endless conversation and a hand on my leg, none of which I had today.

But with some excellent driving music, plenty of time to sweep the cobwebs from my over-active brain, and more Norton than I'll likely ever get again in one day, life seemed pretty sweet.

Or more accurately, it seemed elegant, supple and earthy with a nice long finish, all qualities I aspire to have.

Just call me Karen Norton.


  1. Hurray Norton! I will always root for it. I wish more Virginians could get on board. I have been wanting to visit Chrysalis.

  2. Another Norton cheerleader! You're a man after my own heart, Josh.

    Chrysalis is definitely worth a visit and you'll be blown away by their array of Nortons, from Sarah's Patio Red (be sure to ask who Sarah is) to the to-die-for Locksley Reserve and everything in between.

    Go for it!

  3. Norton-schmorton. Were they cowboy boots?

  4. No, they were almost knee-high black rubber boots. Very sensible, but probably not chic.

  5. 246 Norton wine producers in 23 states now with Virginia providing 35 of these vineyards. In most cases, Norton wines benefit for being put away for a few years. Be sure to let your Norton wine breathe for 40 minutes or so before enjoying.

  6. Right you are! Jenni recommended ten or more years for the Norton Estate Bottled and up to fifteen years for the Norton Locksley Reserve.