Every weekend in October, I have been visiting a Virginia winery to celebrate Virginia Wine Month. So far (knock on wood!), the weather has been perfect. A little warm for fall, yes, but the sun has been shining and the leaves are almost at peak foliage. The views are absolutely breathtaking!
It was on a beautiful day like I just described, even more beautiful due to a slight breeze, when Dr. GP and I visited Chrysalis Vineyards in Middleburg, VA. I had been wanting to visit Chrysalis for some time now, because it is well known for their production of the Norton grape. Norton is the oldest grape in America, and it was first grown in Virginia. Though now it is more commonly grown in Missouri (it is their state grape. Viognier is Virginia’s), Chrysalis grows and produces more Norton wines than any other place in the world.
Ever tasted or heard of Norton? It’s not a well known grape. Before going into the visit at Chrysalis, let’s take some time to learn more!
The Norton grape was first bred by a man named Dr. Daniel Norton in 1821. Dr. Norton had recently lost his wife and newborn child and wanted to end his life. It was his fascination of wine that ultimately saved him! He was on a quest to find an original wine that could be successful grown in America. He experimented with many different types of wine roots to ultimately find two that could survive in Virginia’s terroir. Whatever the parents were (they are unknown), they ultimately crossbred to create the Norton grape.
Norton is different than many other varietals. It is medium bodied and typically has flavors of dark berries, red fruits, cinnamon, earth, and oak. Norton is very acidic with few tannins and has a lower alcohol content. While these flavors may seem like common descriptors, the wine has its own unique identity. Due to the high acidity of the grape, it can easily be paired with fatty foods and heavy meats. However, due to it’s bright fruit flavors and medium body, it would pair well with lighter chicken dishes or even fried fish. It’s even light enough to enjoy without food, on a gorgeous fall day, like I did!
With over 200 acres, Chrysalis Vineyards is huge. About 65 acres are dedicated to the Norton grape alone. From the front gate, you cannot see the tasting room of Chrysalis. Instead, there is a windy, open, rocky road that goes through a large, hilly field. Trees full of fall colors border the field, and the hills that you are going through run as far as the eye can see. When you reach the parking lot, a gorgeous wooden and stone structure is in front of you. Trellises, patios, and small tables are on one side of the building, and covered tasting stations are on the other.
Enter the tasting building, and you see more tasting stations, a store offering wine bottles, jams, and recipe books, and refrigerators full of meats and cheeses that you can enjoy with a bottle of wine. Everyone starts out at the center cash register, where you purchase goods or tastings. What I liked about this set up was that rather than walk up to a tasting counter, you are given a time, a station number, and your wine pourer’s name. No more than eight people are at a station at a time. Your wine pourer is with you the whole time, and it’s more personalized experience.
A tasting at Chrysalis is $15, consists of 10 wines, and you get to keep the glass. This is a great deal compared to other wineries that I have been to. Dr. GP and I had no wait when we purchased our tasting, and walked right up to station 3. Our pourer was Bob, who called himself a “wine educator,” and a wine educator he was! Bob gave us descriptions of the wines and vineyard that went beyond what was on our tasting sheets. He clearly knew not only about the wines that he was tasting, but about wine in general! Oyster crackers are out to enjoy to help cleanse your palate.
Each tasting gives you 10 wines. However, if you’re lucky, there might be an extra wine or two that the winery is sampling that day. Ben had a bottle of a wine off the tasting menu to share, so that gave us 11 wines to sample.
- Albariño Verde (bonus wine!): Chrysalis’ Albariño Verde was picked 2-3 week earlier than their regular Albariño. While 2-3 weeks may not seem much of a difference, the taste between the two was astounding. This wine, fermented in stainless steel, had loads of green apple and honey. It was rather tart, but in a good way. To me, it was a great warm, fall day kind of wine, perfect for the days when the windows are still open and there is only a hint of a chill in the air. We ended up buying one of their last bottles!
- 2015 Albariño. This wine, picked 2-3 weeks after the Verde version, and spending some time in French oak barrels, was vastly different. It was more mellow and balanced than the tart Verde, with lots of pear and floral notes. The smell of the wine was amazing and full of flavor, but the taste was slightly lackluster compared to the Verde.
- 2015 Viognier: This Viognier was rather light. While dry, there were many notes of honeysuckle and citrus. To me it was so light, that I missed many other flavors. I would imagine that this would pair very well with a light salad so not to mask any of its flavors.
- 2016 Mariposa (Rosé). With 2% residual sugar, this Rosé is a bit sweeter. It is made in the same style as several Spanish Rosés, rather than the typical, dry, French rosé style that we see in Virginia. Lots of ripe strawberry on the vine was detected, along with some black pepper. I enjoyed how the fruit flavors were balanced with the more earthy and spicy notes. This would pair well Thai food or spicier meals, as the sweetness would help mellow, but not overpower the spicier flavors.
- 2015 Sarah’s Patio Wine: Using both Vidal Blanc from Breaux Vineyards and Petit Manseng, this wine is meant for the patio, hence it’s name. It has 4% residual sugar and is full of blueberry, pear, and some floral notes. While sweeter, it is not mouth puckering so. It can be paired with most appetizers, which is why it’s such a great “patio” wine. The wine’s namesake, Sarah Girtrude Lynn, was the daughter of the owner of the land during the civil war. Her tombstone was found when creating Chrysalis Vineyards She ran the estate when her parents died until her death. This wine, and the next one, are named in memory of her.
- 2016 Sarah’s Patio Red: Using 100% Norton grapes, this wine also has a slight sweetness to it. It also has 4% residual sugar, and is best served chilled. I detected loads of tart red cherries, cinnamon, and Big Red gum. Again, this would work well with most charcuterie boards, making it a great wine to enjoy on the patio with some friends after work.
- 2015 Norton Schitz & Giggles. Take a minute…say this wine aloud to yourself. I didn’t get it until I said it to myself, but it made me smile 🙂 I ended up getting a glass because I enjoyed it so much! Schitz and Giggles (teehee!) is an extremely versatile representation of the Norton grape. It is light enough to enjoy on it’s own, but can be paired with steaks or roasts. It is very smoky, full of spice, yet light with sweet plum flavors. I wish I bought a bottle of this, but luckily, it can be found at many Wegman’s, Harris Teeters, Whole Foods, ABC stores, or other places that carry Virginia wines.
- 2015 Estate Bottle Norton: Now we’re getting into exploring the Norton grape. A mix of 82% Norton and 18% Nebbiolo, the Estate Bottle is a great wine to eat with dessert. It is not sweet at all, but has flavors of mocha, dark cherry, raspberry, dark chocolate, and mint, making it perfect to eat with a chocolate mousse or chocolate raspberry cake.
- 2013 Petit Vedot: Petit Verdot is a thick skinned grape, and when bottled as its own and not in a mix, it is a bold and rich wine. This one has lots of sweet, jammy, and smoky flavors. Barbecue would be the ultimate pairing!
- 2014 Papillion: Using Tannat as a base (the grape that originally gave tannin its name), this wine is full of tannin and body. Mixed with Petit Verdot and other red wines that grow well in Virginia, this wine has loads of pepper, black cherry, and blackberry. The tannin structure is perfect now, or can mellow when aged.
- 2015 Locksley Reserve Norton: My favorite movie of all time is Robin Hood Men in Tights, and apparently, this wine was named after that movie, which is also the owner’s favorite! This Reserve Norton was amazing! It was so smooth, like a liquid red carpet. It was medium bodied, yet full structure. With Norton as the base of the wine, it is blended with some Tannat and Petit Verdot. Cherry was the fruit that came to mind when drinking, but to be honest, there were so many flavors going on, that I lost track. The color of the wine was gorgeous, and I am kicking myself for not buying a bottle!
Chrysalis was one of the more calming wineries that I have been to in a while. Maybe it was because of the hills and large amount of land, but with groups everywhere, kids running around, and many people happy with their bottles of wine, the environment was quiet and peaceful. I felt like Dr. GP and I were only two of a handful of people there! Dr. GP and I enjoyed a glass sitting at a table, enjoying the views, and were able to do so in tranquility. When you are there, you can bring your own coolers and food, and kids have plenty of room to play. I saw a few pets sitting quietly next to their owners, enjoying the sun.
Chrysalis’ VIP club is one of the better ones that I have seen. Every month, you can enjoy 2 bottles of specially selected wines, along with invitations to wine events, discounts on wine, food, and gifts, and complimentary tastings on each visit. Again, kicking myself for not joining on the spot, but luckily, you can sign up online! Find out more about their VIP club, or more about the winery in general, on Chrysalis’ website, Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter accounts!
Let me know if you go and if you loved the winery as much as I did! 🙂