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Veracity of Viggy Signature Hotly Debated by Two Ducks and a Platypus

Posted by on September 13, 2011

Several months ago, it was announced that Viognier is now Virginia’s signature grape (Frank has a great write-up about it here – be sure to read the comments too). I had mixed feelings about this designation, but I decided to sit on any discussion about it for the time being. Having had time to mull it over (and drink some 2010 Viogniers), I decided, what the heck- it may be time to talk about it again. I don’t have answers, but I have questions.

Click the image and you can buy this painting for fifty bucks (I have a birthday coming up!)

How available should a signature grape be?

In the comments following Frank’s post that I linked to above, the issue was raised that there’s not a metric boatload of Viognier in the ground. What happens if someone shows up at a winery that doesn’t make a Viognier?

Should our signature grape have a signature style?

Having come to Viognier exclusively through Virginia wine, I grew to expect a stainless viggy: no oak and loads of tropical fruit. In talking with other fans of East Coast wines, this seems to be their expectations too. This year, however, I’ve started coming around to more of an oak influence in my Viognier. Tarara, Jefferson, Delaplane… these wineries are skillfully using oak to bring out the awesome in our signature grape. So…will a variety of styles be an issue to the casual wine drinker? Will it be like a picky eater who knows he likes “curry” but is then surprised when presented with choices of Indian, Thai, and British pub curries?

What about the other awesome grapes?

I’m torn on this question. I like some of the Sauvignon Blancs in the state, I’ve tried some darn fine Albariños, Rkatsitelli, and Verdejo, but let’s be honest. We’re unlikely to see those grapes becoming dominant forces in the state, so maybe this is a pointless question. The other major white grape that comes to mind is Chardonnay, which our long-time readers know is a grape with which we’ve had a rocky relationship. If I had to choose which grape to see more of,it would be Viognier. The good Chardonnay in this state is becoming quite good, but there’s still a lot of “meh”.  Ok, maybe I answered my own question. Thoughts?

Is it too soon?

Ok, this question was bandied about as soon as the announcement was made. Is Virginia still growing into its possible grape varieties? As awesome as Viognier is, will something come along and vanquish viggy? Now that everyone has had a chance to chew on this for a few months, conduct a Twitter tasting of several Virginia Viogniers, and roll out the red carpet to 300+ bloggers and wine fiends – what say you?


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12 Responses to Veracity of Viggy Signature Hotly Debated by Two Ducks and a Platypus

  1. Amy

    For the love of god…. STOP using the word “Viggy!” Hugs.

  2. Leanne Wiberg

    I think Traminette deserves more notice than it is receiving now, both as a varietal and in blends. So there! I think it is too early to make broad declarations on “signature” or “trademark” issues.

    But, the word Vigonier starts with the letter “V” and so does Virginia — I suspect the state “powers that be” are looking for a simple minded, alliterative gimmick to quickly and expeditiously promote VA wines.

  3. GrapeEnvyGuy

    Amy – just poking the honey badger! Oh, and… viggy, :)

    Leanne – Traminette’s an interesting case. Done well it’s really cool. Is it fairly easy to grow?I will say that in this case, Viognier is probably helped by its pedigree, which is def not shared by Traminette.


  4. Leanne Wiberg

    I suspect that traminette is not easy to grow. It iss not in the “E-Z quick-to-grow” palette of vines being currently planted, at least. I did hear from one winery that they were very happy sourcing it out on a long term basis because the grapes were problematic and they were happy with their longtime sourcing arrangement. Don’t know the specific growing problems though . . . and that’s just one statement from one winemaker.

  5. Frank the Virginia Viognier Tank

    True to form I am late to the party. If it weren’t for the afterparty, I would never party. First, thanks much for the link love.

    Although the number of acres planted to Viognier is growing – 149 acres in 2007 to 185 acres just three years later, in 2010 – this simply is not enough to hang a state’s signature grape hat on…. yet! Several wineries here have made notable commitments to planting Viggy (like Barboursville’s recently planted 12 acres, and others…).

    One could make a reasonable argument that the state signature decision may have been premature, but no matter what grape was designated as Virginia’s grape, there would be posts like mine and this one that raise questions about the decision. If not now, when? Next year, the year after that?

    I personally think the Wine Board took a slight risk, but made the right decision based on a number of factors (one of which is some of their ‘insider’ foresight). Of course, this is just my opinion… so there is a slight chance I could be wrong.

    I’m hoping this move will bring more global attention to Virginia (although just not enough wine produced here to meet even modest national, yet global demand), and will encourage many of Virginia’s winemakers to up their games. I define up their game in terms of Viognier by using less frackin oak!

  6. VAWineDiva

    Leanne, Given the success with vinifera grapes in VA, I doubt many are going to want to hang their hats on a hybrid – plus it’s already the state grape of Indiana.

  7. VAWineDiva

    ok, time for my 2 cents….

    I’m also in the “it’s too early” for this camp. That said, I think viognier is a good choice if a signature grape had to be named. I don’t think every Virginia winery needs to make a viognier for it to be a signature grape, but I do think we need to have more of it in the ground than we currently do (please, everyone rip up some of your chardonnay plantings). I, however, would rather we’d taken a more Old World model and hung our hats on blends – particularly red blends.

    When you hang your hat on a single grape, if the vintage year is less than ideal, it can create problems. I think 2010 and 2011 are great examples of this. 2010 was so hot and dry that grapes got super ripe, super fast. This has led to a lot of higher alcohol (and consequently hotter) wines than we’re used to from Virginia. Some winemakers, because of this, used a bit more oak to add some structure to their viognier. Many of us don’t love a lot of oak with our viggy, so this makes for a weird year. 2011 may also be weird because we’ve had so much rain, and the whites may end up more diluted than ideal, picked early to avoid rot, etc. Now with blends, the style might change a bit from year to year, but you can blend to make up for issues with any one grape.

    Anyway, those are my thoughts for the time being. It will definitely be interesting to see how all this shakes out over the next few years.

  8. Ed

    It does seem a bit premature given the small amount of the grape currently being grown in the state. Of course, given the variation of climates across VA, perhaps a state grape isn’t practical. Perhaps each IVA should adopt what works wel locally.

    Riesling became the signature grape of the Finger Lakes because of how well it does there and the quality of the wine. It’s a different story on Long Island, in the Hudon Valley, etc.

  9. Jordan Harris

    Obvioulsy I am very late to this conversation, but I blame rain and harvest for my not being in the blogosphere for the past month.

    I would argue quite the contrary to many of the questions or concerns regarding this decision. Is it a perfect decision, no, but what is? We have to make a stand as an industry for something at some point.

    Too Early?!?!? No way!!! This should have been done years ago. As long as there is not a variety that is at the top of the list for marketing, everyone will keep planting everything under the sun that will probably not prosper. We have way too many varieties in the ground in Virginia right now, and this helps to create focus. A great comparison for this is New Zealand. Their modern wine industry is about the same age as ours. Who has had more success and impact around the globe and why. Focus caused this, and it does not stop them from also making some of the worlds best Pinot Noir, some great Syrah, some delicious Bordeaux blends, Riesling, etc. But it is Sauvignon Blanc markteing that got them to that place. Viognier can do the same for us.

    How available should it be? Well it would be great if it were widely available, but something needs to spring board that supply. This will force growers to weight Viognier heavier when planting to an easier to grow, more forgiving variety. Viognier takes skill and attention in the vineyard and in the cellar which causes people to fear. now there is further reward to the risk and maybe more will therefore be planted and made. It should become our number 1 variety, and maybe this will be something to help push it there.

    Signature style? Well I have a huge bias here because I think there are a lot of very one dimensional Viogniers made because of fear of oak. Neutral oak is simply that. Neutral! It will allow some micro-ox to allow the wine to develop some body and it is a smaller volume is easier controlled and allows for better selection for top wines. It also assists in lees managment to help with the body, complexity and sweetnes perception of the wine. Is there over oaking, sure, but the same could be said for any wine region in the world. Some wineries use more new oak, some less. Terroir should always dictate style and there are several variances in Virginia. That also leads to the fact that just because Viognier is the Virginia flagship, does not mean it should be grown everywhere in Virginia. Once again, look at NZ and how Central Otago is all about Pinot Noir, but it is still New Zealand and the road was paved by Sauv Blanc.

    As for other awesome grapes, sure, we shuld still make other great wines, but something needs to lead us outside our borders. With no focused marketing there is mass confusion as to what Virginia does. Can we make good wine from hybrids or Norton, sure, but I would then be quite vocal in opposition against any of them being a flagship. They have no real acclaim or demand outside the East Coast. They are regional wines and nothing more. I bet someone will attack me on that one. That does not mean they are not good, it simply means they will not drive traffic to the wine trails. No one is going to travel to Virginia to taste through the worlds best Traminettes, Chambourcins, Vidal or Norton. Is there potential for other vinifera to stand out, sure, but Viognier is already known as what we do well here outside our borders, so capitalize on that and then show them what else we do.

    VWD – I kind of like the blends idea, but old world is not based on blends. Old World is based on appellation and most of them are single varietal wines. It is really Bordeaux and Rhone (but mostly only Southern Rhone) that leads the blend catagory as well as several Spanish and Portuguese regions, but the biggies would be Burgundy, Loires apps, Northern Rhone Reds and Condrieu, Brunello di Montalcino, Piedmonte apps, etc that are all single varietal wines.

    Now, as you know I swear by this concept of the wine should be labelled by place over variety as I think it is more important, but simply designating us as blends is tough. Besides, what would the blends be allowed to hold as content. Each of the Old World areas have restrictions on the varieties that are allowed in the blends.

    As for vintages, the same story can be said about anywhere. In 2010 and 2011 Napa is struggling to ripen Cab Sauv. In 2011 Bordeaux was decimated by hail. In 2002 and 2008 the Southern Rhone has mass amounts of rain causing all their wines to be more dilute. Unfortunately we have to take the average and look at it that way. No two years are the same regardless of where you are. We are no better or worse off then the West Coast, Europe, Australia, etc in this matter.

    Now the sad part though is that I don’t know if there is a single region in the world with a great 2011 vintage. Between floods in much of Australia, hail in Argentina and Bordeaux, harvest rains here, cold summer in Cali, this year sucks Internationally. Oh well, time to try and make something great from this rainy year…

  10. MEL810

    I am not educated enough in grapes and/or wine to say what grape would make a good ‘official’ grape for Virginia. Although I had heard of Cab France being suggested also.
    But ala GEG & his snappy post titles I can come up with some zippy slogans for ‘viggy.’
    Virginia is for Viggy.
    Virginia is for Viggy lovers.
    Viggy gives Virginians vim & vigor.
    The above three might be mistaken for that little blue pill which has been known to give some men of a certain age….ahem…a little help.
    Viggy is as Viggy does.
    Virginia Viggy is viggy good stuff.
    All of the above are total boo-hissers but what the heck, when you can’t be smart and knowledgable, you can still snow ‘em with BS.

  11. MEL810

    CAB FRANC not CAB FRANCE, athough I am sure some people think of it as that.I am referring to a wine grape not a French taxi.

  12. leb56

    Mel – you missed one: “Virginia – gettin’ viggy wit’ it”. sorry :0

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