Friday, July 30, 2010

Norton and Other Wines of Chrysalis Vineyards in Viriginia

Picture: Drinking a Chrysalis Norton at Oya in Washington DC

Norton and Other Wines of Chrysalis Vineyards in Virginia

I participated with the Virginia Wine Meet-up Group in a Wine Tasting at Chrysalis Vineyards in Virginia.

Meet-up Groups

This was my first meeting with the Virginia Meet-up Group. Meet-up groups are a great thing. There are many of them worldwide. Each Meet-up group has an administrator, who orchestrates the activities. One just signs up via the internet platform and then easily arranges his or her participation in the meetings via the internet. There is no fee. There are currently 1463 wine meet-up groups in the world with 467650 members in 526 cities in 21 countries. See here.

Virginia is the 5th largest wine industry in the US, with nearly 200 wineries and 2,500 acres of vineyards. Over the past 50 years, Virginia wines have experienced a tremendous development - to elegant and balanced, mostly European vinifera-based wines.

As far as white wines are concerned, the European vinifera grapes Chardonnay and Viognier are the leading varieties today. Increasingly they are made “naked” or with little oak only, with the objective of retaining natural acidity and freshness.

For hybrid varieties, Seyval Blanc is still popular, but resembles now the fresh and crisp wines from France’s South West. Vidal has become the backbone of the artificially frozen ice wine, which I am not a great fan of.

Picture: Virginia

The first ice wine was reportedly produced in Germany in 1794. Today, ice wines are highly prized wines that are made not only in Germany, but also in Austria and Canada as well as other countries, including the United States. Canada has experienced an amazing ice wine boom in the past decades. See about German and Canadian ice wine here.

In the context of ice wine, some wine regions, including Virginia, are pushing cryoextraction. This is an approach, which kind of simulates the frost in the vineyard in the wine cellar. It was developed by the French. Instead of waiting for mother nature to produce frosty temperatures in the vineyard, the winemaker subjects the grapes to frosty temperatures in the cellar and presses them while frozen.

As far as red wines are concerned, there was a shift in top Virginia reds from straight varietal wines to blends. And blends have gone from being dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon to Merlot and Cabernet Franc, with a significant amount of Petit Verdot. The latter grape may well be Virginia’s future signature style in this category. There is an increasing focus on neutral oak and clean, vibrant fruit, mirroring the evolution of Virginia white wines.

Tannat, Uruguay’ signature grape from the South West of France, is showing up in more Virginia wines, usually as a blend. The only red French hybrid which has performed consistently well in Virginia is Chambourcin, which, with its bright cherry aromas and flavors, crisp acidity and low tannin, resembles the Gamay grape of Beaujolais. In Germany, a new grape variety, Regent, has been developed as a crossing of Diana and Chambourcin, which is exceptionally fungal-resistant and hailed to be the first “green” grape.

Finally, Virginia sparkling wine from Claude Thibault was served at President Obama’s first state dinner a few months ago. While respectable sparkling wines have been made in Virginia in the past, sparkling wines have been taken to a new level in Virginia by the work of Claude Thibault, a native of Champagne. Thibault now consults for a number other Virginia wineries and produces his own sparkler, NV Thibault-Janisson, made from 100 percent Chardonnay, which President Obama offered his guests at the state dinner.

Chrysalis Vineyards

Chrysalis is owned by Jennifer McCloud, who moved to Virginia in 1996, after a very successful career in the internet industry. She says that she had a dream and settled in the Piedmont area in Virginia to make her dream a reality.

Picture: Jennifer McCloud at a Panel Discussion of the Drink Local Wine 2010 Conference in Virginia

Chrysalis Vineyards -- named symbolically for the rare nectar of fine wine emerging from the barrel so as the butterfly emerges from her cocoon -- was born in 1997. Under the guidance of winemaker Alan Kinne, the initial year produced two excellent white wines. The following year Chrysalis Vineyards established its permanent home on the spectacular 209 acres of Locksley Estate alongside the banks of the Hungry Run in Loudoun County. 1998 brought the establishment of new vineyards into full swing, with extensive plantings of Spanish varieties such as Albariño, Tempranillo and Graciano. Other acreage was planted with French varieties, including Petit Verdot, Tannat, Fer Servadou, and Petit Manseng, and the traditional Chardonnay, along with a large planting of the increasingly popular Viognier, until recently grown primarily in the Condrieu region of the upper Rhone valley in France.


Norton is the only American grape that makes a really good wine. You have all these wines in California that are winning awards and getting praise, but they're all made from European grapes.

Norton is enjoying a resurgence of popularity, and a key element of the Chrysalis Vineyards program is to restore this grape to its position of eminence among fine wines. Presently Chrysalis is believed to have the largest planting of Norton in the world which has 69 acres (28 ha) of the grape.

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller in front of a Norton Vineyard at Chrysalis

Norton was first cultivated in Richmond, Virginia by Dr. Daniel Norton. Norton bred the grape in the early 1820s and gave it his name. Norton's discovery came just a few years before the death of Thomas Jefferson, whose failure to grow European grapes at Monticello still unfortunately defines Virginia wine for many people. Norton apparently tried to get some of his grapes to Jefferson, but there is no evidence that he succeeded.

Norton became available commercially in 1830 and very soon after that came to dominate wine production in the eastern and mid western United States. Since this grape lacks most of the distinct flavors that are typical of native American grapes, it is quite suitable for making dry wine. At the 1873 Vienna World Exposition a Norton wine from Hermann, Missouri won a gold medal. Prohibition ended the ascent of the Norton grape and it got lost. Bootleggers in Missouri saved it from extinction. It is now experiencing a resurgence in Virginia.

Dennis Horton, owner of Horton Vineyards, who grew up in Missouri in the heart of Norton country, returned the grape to Virginia in the late 1980s. Dennis Horton put Virginia on the world stage with his 1993 Viognier. Jenni McCloud with her Chrysalis Vineyards is currently Norton’s loudest, most bombastic booster.

What we tasted

Here is what we tasted with notes by the winemaker.

2008 Viognier, $29

This extraordinary Northern Rhone varietal offers wonderful citrus, tropical and pear aromas, while retaining the classic dry quality of Viognier - eclipsing our award winning 2001 vintage. Unrivaled balance and intensity! Our "flagship" white wine.

Fermented sur lie and aged to perfection in French oak barrels and presented in our distinctive antique Burgundy bottles, this Viognier represents the epitome of Chrysalis Vineyards' commitment to excellence in every aspect of the grape growing and winemaking process.

2009 Mariposa, $15

Mariposa is the Spanish word for butterfly. Made in the style of a Spanish Clarete from Northern Spain, Chrysalis Vineyards Mariposa is a dry rosé wine which derives its vivid color from Norton, Virginia's distinctive native grape.

This is a full-bodied and bold wine, and its bright color foretells its fruity character with fragrant aromas and flavors with hints of raspberry, melon, and cherry.

Whether a picnic or pizza, turkey or tapas, our rosé is ideal with light and full fares. Dress it up, dress it down, Chrysalis Vineyards Mariposa is unpretentious, flexible and practical.

2009 Sara’s Patio White, $13

Sarah's Patio White is named in tribute to Sarah Girtrude Lynn, the patron of Sarah's Patio at our beautiful location in the rolling hills of the Bull Run Mountains.

This straightforward and attractive wine offers classic characteristics of citrus and floral aromas, and its crisp acidity is balanced with the right amount of sweetness to create a very distinctive and drinkable wine.

2009 Sarah’s Patio Red, $13

The wine in this bottle is unique - unlike any you've ever tasted. Named in honor of our ancestral patron at Chrysalis Vineyards, it's made from 100% Norton, the almost-forgotten great American grape. You'll find the alluring fruit flavors and aromas in this wine simply irresistible. And Norton's natural acidity is in perfect balance with this sweet fruitiness.

A revolutionary new wine, Sarah's Patio Red is perfect for all occasions when friends gather to enjoy the simple pleasures of life. We suggest you serve it chilled, to emphasize its fresh fruit flavors and sweet-tart balance.

2006 Rubiana, $18

Inspired by the alluring wines of Northern Spain, Rubiana is a Spanish-styled red wine, blended from some of the best varieties grown in this renowned region.

Deeply colored, with an intensely aromatic nose of smoke, black fruit, and violets, it displays a firm tannin structure, warmth, and medium body. As it ages, this wine promises to develop its complexity, while it maintains its earthy characteristics.

2003 Norton Estate Bottled $19

In 1873, at the Vienna Universal Exhibition in Austria, a Norton wine was acclaimed "the best red wine of all nations."

Here at Chrysalis Vineyards, we've undertaken a serious commitment to restore Virginia's native grape to its former glory - making wines worthy of international praise.

Estate Bottled Norton is a deeply colored, robust and full-bodied wine. We hope you'll agree that this fine wine is another exciting step forward on our mission "To proudly restore Virginia wines to world renown, and celebrate the homecoming of Norton, the Real American Grape!®"

2005 Petit Verdot $35

Chrysalis Vineyards grows over 20 different varieties of grapes. This provides a broad range of flavors and attributes to support our view that many of the finest wines of the world are the product of skillful blending.

Occasionally, in outstanding years, one of these varieties will distinguish itself with such high quality and intense varietal expression that it warrants being presented on its own. This Petit Verdot, from our Hollin Vineyard, is one of these special bottlings.

We are proud to offer this distinctive wine, which exemplifies the full potential that this traditional Bordeaux variety can attain.

2006 Tannat $35

Hailing from the Madiran region of southwest France, this black-berried grape found a home in Virginia. Perfumed, and layered with smoky roasted meat, leather and cocoa, this complex wine shows a backbone of spicy black fruits with nuances of vanilla, coffee, and background oak. The big structured tannins carry through to a long finish and promise a long life in the bottle.

2006 Papillon $35

Papillon is the French word for butterfly. This wine exemplifies the balance of understanding the grapes that grow well in Virginia with the finesse required to produce an elegant wine, true to its varietal characteristics. Our blending of several rare and traditional grape varieties of southwest France.has produced a big, fruit forward red, with layers of earthy cedar and coffee, and a touch of pepper. Though this wine is age-worthy, the approachable tannin structure allows for enjoyment now, as well as for years to come.

2005 Norton Locksley Reserve $35

In 1873, at the Vienna Universal Exhibition in Austria, a panel of international judges declared Norton "the best red wine of all nations".

Here at Chrysalis Vineyards, we've undertaken a serious commitment to restore Virginia's native grape to its former glory - making wines worthy of international praise.

Locksley Reserve Norton is our very best - our flagship wine, and one we are, indeed, proud to offer as we continue our mission "To proudly restore Virginia wines to world renown, and celebrate the homecoming of Norton, the Real American Grape!®"

Schiller Wine - Related Posting

The 2010 DrinkLocalWine Conference in Virginia, US

Wine Served at President Obama's State Dinner in Honor of Prime Minister Singh from India

Thomas Jefferson, 3. President of the United States, Visited Hochheim, Germany on April 10,1978

Top Virginia Red Wines - Governors Cup 2010

Wine Tasting Notes: Woelffer Wines from Long Island, New York State - Nov. 23, 2009

Wine Tasting: Castello di Borghese, Long Island, New York State - November 18, 2009

New Hampshire, US: Cheese ... Lobster and Oysters ... and Wine!

Wine Tasting: The Pinot Noirs of Patricia Green, Oregon, US

German Wine Basics: Sugar in the Grape - Alcohol and Sweetness in the Wine

When Americans Drink German Wine - What They Choose


  1. I wonder if you could elaborate a little on your comment about Vidal. It is not entirely clear whether you disapprove of Vidal as a grape for Ice Wine or whether you disapprove of artificial freezing.

    I have had many Canadian Icewines, and much prefer those that are based on Riesling versus Vidal. But in Ontario, to my knowledge, neither is artificially frozen.

    Thank you as always for an interesting post!

  2. Louis Biggie: As you do, I like Vidal icewines, but prefer Riesling. I do not at all disapprove of Vidal as a grape. But as a rule I do not drink artificially produced icewines, only those produced by mother nature in the vineyard. Cheers. Christian

  3. Wow, thanks. How nice of you to forward your excellent blog posting. Interesting and well-written.

    BTW, I would like to share our Petit Manseng with you. We have made it both au natural and cryo-extracted (obviously we can't do a real ice wine in VA, as we just don't have that cold a late fall/early winter here, as you know). But I think you'll be impressed - certainly I would think much more so than the Vidal versions one mostly finds in the mid-Atlantic. Petit Manseng is the variety that the Jurançon region in France uses to make their excellent dessert wines. We don't normally pour samples (too little production to do that), so you missed it unless you purchased a bottle. The variety is very interesting in that it ripens to very high sugar levels, while retaining its acidity. We made our first dessert-styled version in 2001 with fruit chemistry (in the tank) at 29.2° brix, 8.6 TA, and 3.46 pH. Those numbers are really quite amazing for white fruit left hanging in Virginia until early November!

    Also a side note of interest; I did the petition to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms (BATF) to get it listed on the List of Prime Names for American Wines, back in 2002. (This is a fed listing that allows the name of the varietal to be used as the legal designation of a wine - e.g., Chardonnay, instead of White Table Wine). Without this approval we'd have had to call it Sweet White Wine, or something of the sort. Hardly very differentiating!

    Thanks again, and take care,


  4. To Jenni... You're my heroine, after reading The Wild Vine. Best wishes to you and a great story, Christian!