Wine Wednesday: The State Grape of Virginia

August 8, 2014

Did you know Virginia has a state grape? It's true, It's Viognier.

And that state grape is now producing wines that win awards from coast to coast.

For Wine Wednesday, CBS19 went to Jefferson Vineyards to find out what makes this grape worthy to be the flagship product for Virginia's huge wine industry.

"We like to call it our red wine drinkers white wine, everyone seems to like," said Chris Ritzcovan, of Jefferson Vineyards.

Chris Ritzcovan is talking about the 2013 Viognier that just took a double gold medal at the San Francisco International Wine Competition, as well as a platinum medal from the Virginia Wine Lover Classic magazine.

It's that kind of quality that helped inspire the Virgnia Wine Board to name Viognier the state grape back in 2011. The way the wine is made in the Commonwealth is unlike similar wines from California or France.

"We have a gentler way of treating the wine, we don't do heavy oaking, we use some stainless steal for fermentation, and I think it's so different and well balanced that wine connisuers and critics can't help but recognize it's quality," said Amanda Charette, of Jefferson Vineyards.

The state grape of Virginia started as a marketing idea to compete with other areas, for example, Pinot Noir, Oregon, when you hear Cabernet Savignoun you think California, Viognier, Virginia... But there's more to it than that.

"I think Virginia produces Viognier unlike anywhere else, we have this perfect harmony between ripeness, alcohol content, full body, and these wonderful notes of tropical flavors, apricot peach," added Ritzcovan.

Which is what makes it stand out ever since the grape was first planted in Virginia in 1992. The way it's grown, handled, and turned into wine makes it a signature wine you can't find in other places. Not only are people noticing, they're coming to town to try it for themselves.

"The tourists love it, we have people coming in from California all the time hearing about Virginia Viognier all the time, and they want to try it, and have to try it," said Ritzcovan.

We make 6,000-8,000 cases of wine so we don't distribute, so the tourists make up a lot of our customers.

All part of what fuels this huge economic engine in the Commonwealth, but there is one drawback.

"It puts a considerable amount of pressure on us, we're in an interesting position because we really want our consumers to get the taste of Virgnia with our Viognier and what the grape has to offer on it's own," said Charette.

Right now it's offering Virginia a signature grape, and a signature wine that's not only turning heads around the world, it's tipping them back.

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