We asked RTD Wine & Spirits columnist Jack Berninger to harvest some grape information for thirsty (or simply curious) Virginians. Here's a mouthful – starting with the name.
First, let’s figure out how to pronounce it. And vie-og-neer it is not.
But ask three people, and you might get three different takes: vee-own-yay, vee-oh-n’yay, even vee-ahn-yay. What’s right? Take your pick, and you're on solid ground.
Background: In France, viognier is the only permitted white grape in the northern Rhône wine region of Condrieu, which is the most famous viognier-producing area in the world. In the 1960s, the grape had almost disappeared worldwide before being rediscovered and gradually gaining stature as a top-tier wine grape.
Virginia roots: Credit Dennis Horton, whose Horton Vineyards is in Gordonsville in Orange County. He brought viognier vines to the state in 1989, and he soon produced a wine that received high marks in an international competition in 1993. From there, the popularity of the grape took off, and viognier was designated by the Virginia Wine Board in 2011 as the state’s signature grape – or more commonly, Virginia’s state grape.
By the numbers: Viognier is the fifth-most-grown grape in Virginia, with 78 wineries producing 730 tons from 259 bearing acres in 2015. By contrast, California has more than 3,000 acres of viognier. Worldwide figures in 2010 ranked viognier as No. 61 on the list of most grown grapes, with 28,170 acres.
In the vineyard: Viognier can be a finicky grape to grow. But its skins are thick and rot-resistant, which makes it easier for the grapes to ripen to maturity than many other whites, according to Horton winemaker Mike Heny, whose 2015 Viognier was a Governor’s Cup gold medal winner. In Virginia, viognier vines have loved the red clay soils of much of the Monticello American Viticultural Area – this central Piedmont stretch includes much of Albemarle, Greene, Orange and Nelson counties – as well as granite-laced soils of the Blue Ridge.
In the bottle: Viogniers are light to golden in color. Depending on the vinification process, they are dry, full-bodied and often have intense and complex aromas from floral to light citrus. Peach, apricot and honey sensation in the mouth set it apart from most other whites. Viognier is occasionally used as a blender in its Rhone relative Syrah.