New Kent Winery’s Tom Payette is producing a wine that often resides below the sightline of many wine drinkers. Until they taste it.
New Kent’s Vidal Blanc is a crisp, fruity — think delicious ripe peach — white wine that begs to be tasted as warm weather moves front and center.
Don’t be misled by the 2.5 percent residual sugar. It does have a hint of sweetness, but it’s not a syrupy concoction that will turn you off. And if you’re tasting at New Kent’s fabulous tasting room or at A Taste of New Kent Festival on May 11, be sure to try it in proper sequence with the winery’s seven other wines.
Vidal Blanc has been a New Kent staple since the winery opened in 2008. Actually, vines were planted some years earlier, and the resulting product has been a consistent mouth-pleaser, as have New Kent’s better-known wines, such as Reserve Chardonnay, White Merlot and White Norton.
“Our Vidal Blanc is indeed one of our most popular wines,” New Kent managing partner Pete Johns said. “I believe this wine’s popularity comes from its crisp, clean taste and finish. We use this wine at many of our after-hour events in place of a sparkling wine.
“When we first introduced this wine, it became an instant success with our female guests. (It) became known as the ‘porch wine’; the kind of wine you want to share with your best friend as you reminisce about the good old days.”
Payette takes the description of this Vidal Blanc ($16.95 at the winery) to another level.
“Tropical aromas with pineapple, kiwi and star fruit, fleshy peach and mouthwatering mango follow through on the viscous delicious palate,” is the way he defines it. “A crispy, vibrant acidity backbone that is just delightful and adding to that nondemanding, easygoing ‘porch wine’ described by Pete.”
The Vidal grape does well in Virginia — it’s the fourth most produced grape in terms of tons and has increased that tonnage by 28 percent in the past five years. But it takes delicate handling of the grapes to produce quality wine.
“Vidal Blanc can be very tricky,” Payette said. “Capturing the ripe tropical flavors is perhaps the dominant challenge, and we make sure to prune properly to balance the crop to the growing site and then allow the fruit to ripen to where the tropical flavors are most pronounced.
In a key step in the complex process of producing wine, Payette might have an edge over other winemakers.
“After cold settling the juice, our tanks have the ability to warm the juice,” he said. “So I’ll start the fermentation up near 70 degrees Fahrenheit. This encourages more glycerol (fermentation byproduct) production, enhancing the mouthfeel of the wine. I am unaware of any other wineries that have this unique feature of wine tanks with warmers built into them other than those here at New Kent Winery.”
Many critical steps follow in the process — constant quality control is key — and with careful monitoring, wines such as this Vidal Blanc increase the building reputation of New Kent — and Virginia — wines.
Said Johns: “We believe that Tom has hit this one out of the park.”