Thursday, June 30, 2011

Nortonians Do Foxy

As historical topics go, some speak to me more than others.

Today's Banner Lecture at the Virginia Historical Society practically screamed my name.

Author and friend Todd Kliman, whom I'd met last year here, was talking about his book "The Wild Vine" and a favorite couple were meeting me to hear the story of the Norton grape, followed by lunch.

Having read Todd's book last year, I knew a lot of the material covered in today's talk, but I always enjoy hearing a writer read his own words aloud.

Like me and unlike many who consider it too "foxy," Todd is a Norton lover ("I love what I perceive in it") who referred to it as the "gumbo of grapes."

But he's also enough of a traditionalist to appreciate researching history he can hold rather than just Googling everything.

"Had I not read Dr. Norton's letters at the Valentine Richmond History Museum, it would not have been the same book." he admitted. RVA's  obsession with the past has once again provided tangible links to what came before us.

Only a true history geek can savor the pleasures of putting on white gloves and holding the actual letters of a long-gone melancholic (big sigh and scent of gardenia).

Those in attendance were noticeably entranced with Todd's discussion of wine growing requirements in the Jamestown colony, Jefferson's acknowledged failure at viticulture and the English obsession with creating a wine-producing colony in the New World.

The smart ones in the audience will purchase the book and take the time to read the entire story of our native grape and the transsexual winery owner now devoted to the propagation and elevation of it in the 21st century.

Take it from me, it's a fascinating intertwining of stories and a stellar read, whether you like history, biography or just want to learn more about wine ( a "foxy" wine being comparable to a wet dog smell).

As one who lives six blocks from Norton Street and has seen Dr. Norton's gravestone at Shockoe Hill Cemetery, I would be the first to encourage locals to check out the limited legacy of the man who brought us the earthy and rustic Norton grape.

Just don't look for it on local wine lists. Todd told a story of going into Comfort when he was researching his book and asking why Norton wasn't on the list.

"They sneered," he said and yet the restaurant is within walking distance of Dr. Norton's former wine-growing farm. Norton's out there (Horton and Chrysalis, among others, make it) but hard to find.

So we knew it was hopeless to seek some out for lunch. Instead we went to Can Can, took a window table and ordered Domaine de Mirail Rose.

Norton was not forgotten, just put on the back burner. The lecture had run long and we were all starving.

I happily enjoyed grilled chicken over arugula with white asparagus, lots of radish, honey roasted peanuts and a rhubarb vinaigrette, while she savored a Salad Nicoise. He went with a manly cheeseburger and generously shared his frites with the womenfolk.

Since we'd all been Virginia winery hopping in the past week, we had to share notes about wines ( none of us had had a Norton on our outings last week, although I did have a chocolate Norton dessert sauce over cookies) and compare impressions of tasting rooms since they run the gamut from chalet-like to wedding-worthy to glorified porches.

The consensus was that it's more about what you're tasting and with whom you're tasting.

Why, yes, I am still working on that part (big sigh and scent of gardenia).

Know any Norton fans?

1 comment:

  1. Yes, we are slowly accumulating a small (very small) group of Norton fans who for the most part are from the very deep South, Missouri, and Nebraska. Though our obsession started over 14 years ago, today that search has been made much easier with the fact that there are now 241 Norton wineries in 23 states. Though vintages vary annually, we've been able to find some individual consistent quality Norton wineries in eight states so far. In the case of all Norton wines, except for three wineries (Westphalia-MO, Castle Gruen-VA, and Stone House-TX), aging for five or more years is paramount and letting these bottles breathe for an extended time is so important to the enjoyment of this unique wine.