Monday, October 10, 2011

Virginia Varietal Spotlight: Take I


If you’ve been to a few Virginia wineries, then you’re probably familiar with Norton. This intriguing red varietal, named after Dr. Daniel Norton of Richmond, VA, is the official grape….of Missouri. Prohibition stopped the wine industry in the entire country in the 1920s, however Catholic churches got a pass, and Norton was the grape used to make the wine for mass. It was discovered that the climate in Missouri (similar to Virginia’s) works well for Norton, and the soil is in some ways superior (drainage from lakes and the age of the Ozarks and its foothills create soil different than the Commonwealth’s). Plus, Missouri had history on its side. At the 1873 Vienna World Exposition a Norton wine from Hermann, Missouri won a gold medal. Henry Vizetelly, a noted critic of the time, said that Norton from Missouri would one day rival the great wines of Europe in quality and quantity. With friendlier post-Prohibition alcohol laws in Missouri compared to Virginia, the Show Me state had a head start in perfecting Norton wine. But Virginia is certainly no slouch….

Norton is not for everyone. In fact, the blogmasters have a love/not love relationship with the varietal. It has caused some wicked headaches (and hangovers…..) But when a winery gets it right, Norton can be just as complex as a Cab Sauvignon or Merlot. The adjectives used to describe Norton have run the gamut from “smoky,” “leather,” “tar,” “licorice,” and “plum.” It’s a deep red wine and will leave you with a red wine mustache. But some Virginia wineries are doing incredible things with Norton, and finding one that agrees with your palate is like engaging on a vino treasure hunt.

Some Virginia wineries featuring Norton that are worth visiting, for exploring this unique grape:

Barrel Oak Winery
Casanel Winery
Chrysalis Vineyards
Cooper Vineyards
Horton Vineyards
Lexington Valley Vineyard
New Kent Winery

1 comment:

  1. You mention an interesting collection of "recommended" Norton Wineries. After visiting and tasting Norton wines from 31 out of Virginia's 35 Norton Vineyards I would consider Cooper Vineyards as Virginia's Norton standard. Could I add to this list trying Norton wines from Dry Mill Vineyards as a companion visit to Casanel Winery; when available, maybe Virginia's only "drink now" Norton comes from Dean Gruenburg's Castle Gruen; consider traveling to Scott Elliff's solar powered DuCard Vineyards tucked neatly away along scenic Shenandoah mountain valley roads in Madison County; and do not miss the new-kids-on-the-block wineries coming online that do not necessarily grow their own Norton grapes yet, but produce some interesting new Norton tastes as Byrd Vineyards near Goochland, VA.