Visiting Chrysalis Vineyards, Virginia

Visiting Chrysalis Vineyards, Virginia
Chrysalis Vineyards in Middleburg, Virginia, has the world’s largest plantings of the native Norton variety, or to give it its full name, Norton’s Virginia Seedling. As you’d expect, Norton is to the fore in Chrysalis’s line up but they also grow an exciting amount of vinifera varieties including Tannat, Graciano, Tempranillo, Petit Verdot, Nebbiolo and Tinta Cão for red wines and Albariño, Petit Manseng and Fer Servadou for white.

But it was the Norton vineyards I wanted to visit and I took the opportunity of attending the American Wine Society National Conference when it was held in Virginia.

Owner Jenni McCloud took time out from the vintage to show me around. Chrysalis is located in Loudoun County, once given over to agriculture specialising in dairy cattle and grain but now a fast growing commuter suburb of Washington where mowing lawns is practised more than growing crops.

Chrysalis has had to struggle and go to law to be able operate a working vineyard and winery and continue with plans for a farm and new tasting room. 72 of the property’s 412 acres are planted with vines.

In November the countryside is lushly green with rolling hills dotted with forests whose leaves are now red and golden brown.

But there were almost no leaves left on the Norton vines, leaving sweet black multi-bunches of grapes trailing down in the open making them easy to find by the harvesting team working the rows.

This long hang time develops sugars and some grapes are becoming shrivelled. “Raisining is good, it adds to the wine,” Jenni told me. But wasn’t she worried about disease, I asked. “Norton is the most disease resistant variety there is,” she says.

One big problem is deer but she thinks they have found the solution. Deer can jump great heights but Chrysalis have found that laying sturdy plastic netting at a 35 degree slope around the edge of the vines deters them. “Deer don’t like to jump distances,” Jenni says.

Having established a winery, Jenni intends incorporating it in a wider farm project called the Ag District. She showed me the new pack barn where her herd of heritage cows can escape the winter. It has a three foot high wall around it to contain straw for the cows to stand on. As that becomes covered with manure, more straw will be added so that by spring cows will be standing on a compacted bed of straw and manure that will be used as compost. Liquids will run off into a holding tank. “When we open we’ll be only the second commercial dairy operating in Loudoun,” Jenni told me.

The cows will provide milk for cheese, a cheesery is almost ready in the new tasting room. Leftover whey and cheese scraps will be fed to pigs which will eventually provide bacon, sausages and charcouterie. We looked in at Jenni’s Tamworths. “They’re a heritage breed, direct descendents of ones brought from England in 1882. They’re tough and they thrive in the open,” says Jennie.

A field at the entrance to the Ag District will be planted with a heritage grain variety. “We’ve not chosen it yet,” says Jenni, “But it will be one that the early settlers used to grow here earning Loudoun County the nickname ‘Breadbasket of the Revolution’. Jenni showed me the bread ovens being installed next to the cheesery.

All the farm will operate sustainably with care taken to minimise impact on the land.

Jenni McCloud’s vision is for visitors to be able enjoy Chrysalis wines with farm meats and cheeses, served on freshly home baked bread.

Chrysalis is 34 miles west of Washington DC. See for location and visiting information.

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Peter F May is the author of Marilyn Merlot and the Naked Grape: Odd Wines from Around the World which features more than 100 wine labels and the stories behind them, and PINOTAGE: Behind the Legends of South Africa’s Own Wine which tells the story behind the Pinotage wine and grape.

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