Making a case for Chardonnay and Merlot

Hello Friends,

During a recent Northern Virginia winery tour hosted by Virginia First Lady Maureen McDonnell, a huge proponent of the Virginia wine industry, I had the opportunity to discuss Virginia wine with Jason Burrus, winemaker at Rappahannock Cellars in Rappahannock County. When I asked Jason for his opinion on the red and white wine grape that works best for Virginia, he answered, “Chardonnay and Merlot.” Many Virginia wine lovers in and out of the business would probably say Viognier and Cabernet Franc – or the up-and-coming Petit Verdot. Personally, I feel Virginia has the potential to make very good Chardonnay, but quality isn’t always pushed. Additionally, Merlot plays a big role in our Bordeaux-style blends and also makes an exceptional varietal wine in good vintage years. In a small wine producing region where Viognier, Cabernet Franc, and the new “buzz” varietal, Petit Verdot take center stage, Rappahannock Cellar’s winemaker Jason Burrus shares his thoughts on Chardonnay and Merlot!

Rappahannock Cellars Winemaker Jason Burrus 

(Guest Post) Making a case for Chardonnay & Merlot by Jason Burrus:

Virginia’s climb into mainstream wine culture is not unlike winning a battle in any modern day war - we must “win the hearts and minds” of the population. The wine drinking public is, unfortunately, an opinionated one. This is a trendy industry where opinions are set by a few vocal critics who are resistant to sing the praises of anything unfashionable. Right now, Cabernet Franc and Viognier are not those fashionable varieties. Yes, they make great wines. But in this business it is not good enough to make great wines, they must be great wines in the minds of those who will never taste them. Case in point: how many times have you promoted a great Cabernet Franc to someone who remarks (before even tasting it), “isn’t that just a blending grape?” We can retort that Cabernet Franc is prominent in the two most prestigious estates in Saint Emilion (Chateau Cheval Blanc and Chateau Ausone), or how Loire Valley Cabernet Francs are all the rage in Parisian wine bars, but these arguments will inevitably fall on deaf ears to most American connoisseurs that became wine savvy drinking Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. If we want to play this game, why not play to win?

First Lady Northern Virgnia Winery Tour (Dezel and Jason)

Virginia is already successful with two well-known and well-regarded varieties - Merlot and Chardonnay. In fact, we grow three times the amount of Chardonnay as we do Viognier, and Merlot comes in a close third place to Cabernet Franc in terms of the amount grown. It seems the game we need to play is to create the most awareness for Virginia wine in the shortest amount of time.

Beautiful Picture Window at Rappahannock Cellars

The direction of Merlot would certainly not be at the sacrifice of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Many of Virginia’s best Meritage blends are Merlot-based blends of these varieties. We have the best of both worlds with this direction: a popular variety as the base and two locally well-regarded varieties as blenders to provide a unique Virginia-style blend. Chardonnay has such widespread name and critical recognition that it would be short-sighted not to capitalize on this, and Virginia has the climate to properly ripen high quality Chardonnay on a yearly basis.

Have a question about this post, friends? Feel free to leave a comment or send me an e-mail at, and as always, Happy Sipping! Stay tuned friends ...More to come!

Info: Rappahannock Cellars,14437 Hume Road,Huntly,VA 22640, T(540)635-9398

Click here to visit Jason's vintner's blog.

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