Monday, November 20, 2017

Barboursville Vineyards (Barboursville, Virginia): The marriage of Italian expertise, international varieties, and the Monticello AVA terroir

Barboursville Vineyards sits in the Monticello AVA -- Virginia's oldest (1984) -- which is named after, and includes, the location where Thomas Jefferson first sought to make a domestic quality wine.

Monticello AVA shown bordering the Shenandoah Valley AVA
in the picture above
The current iteration of the estate was founded by Gianni Zonin -- of the 7-generation, Northern Italian winemaking family of the same name (The Zonin holdings are shown in the picture below.) -- who acquired the 18th-century Barbour Family estate and planted it to Cabernet Franc and Merlot in 1976. In 1990 Gianni brought Luca Paschina from his Piemonte home to be the General Manager-Winemaker at the estate with the mandate to "renew those vineyards and restore them to the path of producing the fine wines of great stature which Jefferson and he (ed.: Gianni) envisioned ..."

The Zonin portfolio (Source:

Monticello AVA
The Monticello AVA extends over 1,250 sq. miles in the Upper Piedmont between the Blue Ridge Mountains to the west and the Southwest Mountains to the east and includes most of Greene, Albermarle, and Nelson counties. The climate is characterized as humid subtropical/maritime and its summer warmth is effective in ripening most of the major international cultivars. The soil is complex, medium- to well-drained, and is well-endowed with granite-based red Virginia clay. Vineyard exposures have great diversity.

Vineyards and Vines
Frank Morgan and I were scheduled to meet with Luca, the GM-Winemaker, during the course of our morning visit to the estate. We arrived earlier than scheduled so took a detour to visit the ruins of the old Barbour estate which sits on the winery grounds and can be visited free-of-charge during winery-open hours.

The Barboursville Vineyards property covers 900 acres, 185 of which are planted to vine. The humid subtropical climate, according to Luca, is associated with cold winters, warm summers, and wet springs. Luca sees severe dry conditions in two of ten vintages while another two of ten vintages are too wet. In general, he can make very high quality wines in eight of ten vintages. After all, not that different from his native Italian Piemonte, he claims.

Frank Morgan, one of the most stylish vineyard visitors I have
ever encountered

The soil is comprised of Davidson red clay, loam, and ideal levels of organic matter. Estate vineyards are planted at elevations ranging between 550 and 800 feet.

Vineyard operations are a mix of manual labor and automation: pruning and cluster-thinning are done by hand while leaf-pulling, hedging, and harvesting are done by machine. The company has invested heavily in improving its pruning operation in order to combat Esca in the vineyards.

The table below shows the cultivars currently planted at Barboursville.

White Red
Sauvignon Blanc Cabernet Franc
Ottonell Merlot
Moscato Petit Verdot
Falanghina Nebbiolo
Fiano Sangiovese
Viognier Barbera

*Some purchased fruit

The Merlot and Cabernet Franc were the first vines planted back in 1976-77 and Cabernet Franc remains the estate's most important variety. The number of whites planted reflects the estate's search for a white Italian variety to stand alongside its Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc wines. The future focus will be on Vermentino, Fiano, and Falanghina, to the detriment of Chardonnay.

Five acres of Sauvignon Blanc were planted in 1984 but, over time, it became apparent that the clones employed were not well suited to the Virginia environment. In 2009 the viticulturist Fernando Franco was dispatched to Marlborough (NZ), a climatically similar environment, to seek out clones that performed well there. Three distinct specimens were identified and secured and a total of 7.5 acres of these new vines were planted between 2009 and 2010.

In assessing his winemaking practices, Luca notes that he is not very concerned about keeping first- and second-press juice apart; he is not afraid of some astringency. With the exception of the passito wine, all wines are fermented using selected yeasts.

Luca Paschina, GM-Winemaker

White wines are made in a reductive style with malolactic fermentation suppressed in order to preserve acidity. In the case of the Viognier, they had started out making it in the traditional N. Rhone manner with barrel-fermentation and aging. This style, however, did not seem to fit the fruit that was being produced on the estate. This observation caused Luca to shift to a style for this wine which includes: fermentation in stainless steel; no malolactic fermentation; aging in stainless steel for 9 to 12 months; and stirring on the lees. This style has yielded a wine much more in tune with the fruit.

Red wines are driven by the location of each vineyard block and the wine style. Early-drinking wines do not undergo extended maceration, are fermented with high-vigor yeast, and are aged in used barrels. Wines intended for extended aging are treated as follows:
  • Lower vineyard yields
  • Traditional/extended fermentation
  • Automated pumpovers
  • Two-week post-fermentation macerations
  • The use of some press wine
  • Racked twice before being placed into barrels and then again 6 months later.
Gamba French oak barrels are used for all red wines. Extended-aging wines spend 1 year in oak and then 6 months back in stainless steel tanks before bottling. Wines are never cold-stabilized or fined. I have covered the estate's use of cross-flow filtration in an earlier post.

The flagship red wine is Octagon, first produced in 1991. The wine is a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Petit Verdot. The composition of the components is determined after repeated blind barrel tastings conducted between December and March and the final blend is barrel-aged until the following December. The wines that do not make it into the final blend are declassified and bottled as varietals.

I will cover the wines we tasted in a follow-up post.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

No comments:

Post a Comment