Chrysalis Vineyards: Thou Shalt Love Thy Norton

Hello Friends,

Dezel recently jumped back on the Loudoun Wine Trail and rode into the small charm-filled town of Middleburg, VA. Middleburg is a historic (circa 1787) little town in western Loudoun County that is well known by many as horse and hunt country. Additionally, Middleburg is also abundant in beautiful landscapes, fine dining, historic landmarks, and some of Virginia’s most impressive bed & breakfasts and inns.

Follow the sign to Chrysalis Vineyards

Middleburg is also host to Chrysalis Vineyards, a popular Virginia winery nestled amidst lush rolling hills, mature trees, and distant mountain views. Chrysalis Vineyards is somewhat counter-trend in the sense that a glance over their tasting sheet reveals no popular European varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, etc., with the exception of Chardonnay. Instead, owner Jennifer McCloud has planted varieties that are best suited for Virginia’s soil and climate type; for example, an ever popular Chardonnay, a surging Petit Manseng, a rare Spanish Albariño variety, Virginia’s flagship white -Viognier, Petit Verdot, and a soon to be released Tannat, all of which performs particularly well here. The aforementioned varieties are befitting and differing choices from the norm; however, at Chrysalis Vineyards’ the red carpet rolls out for a native variety touted as “Americas Grape” that bears the name Norton.

Arriving at Chrysalis Vineyards

Chrysalis Vineyards has assumed the job of restoring this once popular native grape variety to the rising status it saw over a century ago when it was deemed the “best red wine of all nations” at an international competition. Make no mistake, however, this is no easy task. Native grape varieties already come with a grave reputation of being best suited for juices, and at best, producers of grapey and musky sorts of wines that cannot stand up to their European counterparts. That is what makes Norton so special. It is a native grape variety that produces deeply pigmented, flavorful wines that can be quite interesting and intriguing. It does come with its own set of issues as it is more of a chore in the winery than the vineyard. Those who grow it tell me how prolific and hardy it is; however, it has an awkward acidic structure (high in malic acid) than most wines so the winemaker has to use his or her tricks of the trade to prevent this bad habit from rearing its sometimes harsh and sharp head. Chrysalis Vineyards excels here and does several wines using the Norton grape, including blends and varietal bottles ranging from fruit forward and easy drinking to elegant and complex. Let’s move to the tasting room and briefly talk about some of their award winning wines.

Hump Astorga pouring Chrysalis' tasty Norton wine

The tasting room is cozy and inviting and all the staff appears to be wine lovers themselves, so are very knowledgeable in wine – especially Norton. We were hosted by Hump Astorga, former owner and chef of the acclaimed Middleburg restaurant, Aster. Hump serves as Director of Hospitality & Culinary Operations at Chrysalis Vineyards. This newly formed relationship should spawn off a wealth of wonderful and exciting things for Chrysalis Vineyards so keep your ears to the grapevine! Chrysalis makes over 13 wines and has two tasting options that guests can enjoy. For $5 you can sample their estate wines, which includes their nicely done Viognier, Chablis styled Chardonnay, a few Spanish styled blends, the popular Sarah’s Patio red and white quaffing wines, and an estate bottled base Norton. For $10 you can opt for a reserve tasting that comprises the estate wines and reserve wines, which includes the more elegant Norton examples, a Petit Verdot, and other wines pending availability. I recommend going with the $10 option, which is definitely worth it if you are a Norton enthusiast, or just curious about the grape variety. Unfortunately, the tasting fees are not waived per bottle purchase so this may be something you want to consider. Chrysalis does, however, offer discounts if you become a VIP member, so be sure to ask about these benefits when you visit. Two of their wines that I thoroughly enjoy are their Petit Manseng dessert wine and the Albariño; these are not usually tasted as part of either tasting option, only sold; however, I recommend asking if they have a bottle open and trying these out – you will not find these selections at too many local wineries, and a taste, which is only normal, may lead to a bottle purchase.

Mystery Time !! Be sure to ask how Sarah's Patio got its name

With a full array of red and white wine selections there is something for every palate preference at Chrysalis. They make one of the best Viognier wines in Virginia offering floral and perfumed aromas with good stone fruit flavors and a rich creamy texture. Aptly named, both the Sarah’s patio red and white wines are just that – perfect off-dry patio, deck, or picnic summertime wines that are best served chilled. Looking for a good dry local Rosé styled wine? Try the Mariposa, a reasonably priced wine with good ripe red fruit flavors that is an excellent match for summer salads, pizza, and barbeque, amongst other foods. A good intro into Norton starts with the Norton Estate 2003; a medium bodied wine with good upfront fruit flavors, hints of spice and raisin. Stepping things up a notch, I recommend trying the deeply colored Norton Barrel Select 2005, which is a 100% Norton and done in a fuller-bodied intense fruit style with good balance and structure. This has to be close to what the tasters enjoyed in the Missouri produced Norton that received international praise in 1873 at an international competition previously mentioned. Chrysalis Vineyards flagship red wines, the Norton Locksley Reserve 2003 & 2004 vintages offer the base of the barrel select, but more refined and complex with cocoa, spice and earthy hints – these wines are drinking good now, but are excellent candidates for your wine cellar. Lastly, I had a chance to sample Chrysalis Vineyards’ first vintage Tannat (2005). This wine was just bottled, therefore will spend some time on its side to stabilize before you see it in the tasting room – it shows some smoke and earthy characteristics, and I look forward to tasting it again once everything gels. This is definitely one to get excited about and keep on your palate radar.

Enjoy your wine while sitting out on Sarah's beautiful patio

Found your favorite wine? Good. Grab a glass and enjoy a seat on Sarah’s patio or the covered pavilion, which offers two gas grills for guests to use. So either pack a picnic basket or bring a savory steak meal to pair with Chrysalis’ award winning wines. For more of a park-like feel, head to the lawn area where mature trees and picnic tables, as well as gorgeous pond and piedmont views can be enjoyed.

This lovely location has "picnic" written all over it

Also, be sure to mark your calendars for one of Chrysalis’ most popular winery events; the 7th Annual Norton Wine and Bluegrass Festival. Plan on sharing in good music, great food, vineyard tours, hayrides and a bottle or two of Norton, and have a great time at Chrysalis Vineyards. When you visit, friends, let the staff at Chrysalis know you read about them here on Dezel’s Virginia Vine Spot!

Info: Chrysalis Vineyards - 23876 Champe Ford Road, Middleburg, Virginia 20117

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