Friday, August 1, 2008

Chateau Morrisette

The FloydFest organizers selected the Château Morrisette festival parking lot as the general parking area for their festival. This made it rather easy to visit the winery during the event and we had arranged to meet one of the festival’s performers, Oneside, at the winery. The Château Morrisette’s birth occurred in 1978 when the Morrisette family planted the first grapes in the estate. It turned out to be another "hobby that grew out of hand" as the winery’s production and yields increased. Son, David Morrisette received a degree in enology and viticulture from Mississippi State University and returned home to become the winery’s first official wine maker in 1982. For the rest of the decade the winery’s production and variety of grapes increased and a new change ensued when the Morrisette family invited David’s former classmate Bob Burgin to become the primary wine maker. The wines continued to improve under Burgin, but eventually sales started turning flat. The solution: a change in marketing. The labels of several wines were changed to the “Dog” series in honor of the vineyard dogs and the family’s support for canine charities. Sales soared so the existing production facilities were expanded so that the winery now has capacity to age 130,000 gallons in stainless steel and 50,000 more gallons in oak. The source of grapes has also expanded to 150 acres of vineyards spread out across the commonwealth. Over the years Burgin transitioned to other responsibilities so the winery hired Dan Tallman, the former winemaker of Clos Du Bois Winery, as the head wine maker.

With the large Chateau, weddings, music events, and good wine – the winery is a popular destination. When we arrived, there were already a few visitors from FloydFest, a wedding was being organized for later that afternoon, and the area Kennel club was holding a meeting. Even with this large contingent of visitors, there was ample space for everyone and we headed to the tasting bar. Regrettably we did not get a chance to sample their Tannat or Petit Verdot, but for a $5 tasting fee, we sampled ten wines. That’s a bargain in itself. We started out with what turned out to be our favorite white, the 2006 Viognier. Made dry, this wine still had a fruity aroma and flavor. A lighter wine, the Independence, was next in the queue. This Traminette and Riesling blend had a grapefruit flavor and a spicy finish from the Traminette. Not bad. Our first red was the Liberty, a medium bodied wine made from Chambourcin, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. This was a very good everyday drinking wine, priced at $12. It’s full of black cherry flavors and a smooth finish. The 2006 vintage Chambourcin was next and this wine had a peppery finish – probably from aging in French Oak. I preferred this red to the 2005 Merlot, which just wasn’t full enough for our tastes. Getting a little sweeter – and spicier, we tried the semi-dry The Black Dog, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chambourcin, and Merlot. This is a very smooth wine and is the same formula as the Hokey Red. The Hokey White is based on the Angel Chardonnay, which we liked; the chardonnay grapes were either barrel or tank fermented and then a little Riesling and Vidal Blanc added to the concoction. Pineapple is prevalent in the nose and flavor. The winery’s most popular brand, Our Dog Blue, is a semi-sweet blend of Riesling, Vidal Blanc, and Traminette. We carry cases of wines to friends on our travels so are well aware of its popularity. A good picnic wine – and affordable at $10. The sweet American blend of Concord and Niagara was also a favorite – the winery markets it as a dessert wine – but looking around people were commenting as if it were a table wine. It’s fruity and grapey – the distinctive concord flavor prevalent. The final wine was the 2005 Frosty Dog, an ice wine styled wine made from frozen Traminette and Vidal Blanc grapes. This wine has a great honeysuckle aroma and a semi-honey flavor.

At this time, Oneside joined us and we headed outside with a bottle of Viognier. Front man Ned deBray had worked at a wine shop in his past and was well aware of the grape’s Rhone heritage. He had already selected the vintage Petit Verdot as a gift, without knowing how well the grape grows in Virginia. The band was in awe of the surrounding countryside and estate and we enjoyed the wine having a nice conversation. As one of Virginia’s largest wineries, they don’t need our help in convincing people to visit. There wines are also prevalent in local wine stores so you don’t need to travel the Blue Ridge Parkway to taste the wines. We will see them again at next year’s FloydFest.

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