September 23, 2019|In Winery Spotlight

Chardonnay & The Golden Trio: Virginia Dare

If ever a wine was to embody mystery and history it is Virginia Dare. If you’re anything like us (and we know you are) a good story behind a wine makes it all the more enthralling. You feel as though you’re drinking more than just a beverage.

Being only human, the more mysterious the story, the better! We are drawn to anything that alights the sense of curiosity lurking within all of us, which brings us to this winery’s namesake. Virginia Dare. As she appears on the label of this bold chardonnay, Virginia was the first English child born to the colonists of New England (America) in 1587. She was born into what is now a very well-known colony – The Lost Colony of Roanoke. For any of those who aren’t fans of American Horror Story, the Lost Colony of Roanoke is a mystery still unsolved today. It cemented itself in history when all 115 residents vanished, seemingly into thin air, with nothing but the word “Croatoan” carved into a wooden post as a clue to their disappearance. This disappearance was discovered when the governor of the Colony, John White, who was also Virginia Dare’s grandfather, returned from an overseas voyage to find his family and community gone.

Investigations heeded no results and even now, there is little more than speculation when it comes to the all important question – What happened to the colony of Roanoke? From this, of course, came legends and stories. People told tales of a young girl from the colony who had integrated into a nearby native American community, with light hair and a radiance about her that drew all those in her presence.. As she grew, she was beautiful in every sense of the word, and her reputation for kindness preceded her. She fell in love with a young warrior, which in the eyes of another young suitor, was simply unacceptable. The jealous young man was said to have dabbled in dark magic, and so he turned the young lady into a pure white doe, a beautiful creature whose fate was to be hunted by men for the remainder of her life. And she was. Tales spread of the elegance and sprightliness of the white doe and many hunters made it their life’s goal to claim her. Two men, in the end, were successful. One was her true love, who carried a charmed arrow which would return her to her human form. The other was a hunter, with an arrow that would end her life. Both arrows hit the doe at the same time, so the white doe returned to human form, albeit, as she lay dying. Before her death, she whispered her name. Virginia Dare.

It is said where Virginia died, the soil was soaked with blood. White grapes grew lush on this spot, but were stained red, and this is how red wine came to be in America. This grapevine is widely believed to be the 400-year old Mother Vine, reportedly the oldest cultivated grapevine in North America which still exists today – a clipping of which will soon be planted in Virginia Dare Winery’s estate vineyard.

And this brings us full circle, back to our Virginia Dare Chardonnay. The Virginia Dare winery, originally founded in 1835, once adorned the dinner tables of many a family, including the Coppolas. A young boy by the name of Francis Ford Coppola was entranced by ‘the pretty girl on the label’. Her image, coupled with the Virginia Dare song that played on the radio, made a lasting impact on the young child that would grow to become both a legend in filmmaking and a kingpin of Californian wine. Over the years the successful Virginia Dare Winery fell into disrepair. Francis Ford Coppola jumped at the opportunity to revive this winery that had left a lasting impression on him as a youngster. And who better to take it on than a storyteller extraordinaire, and a passionate wine aficionado?

The Virginia Dare Chardonnay comes in an embossed bottle with a label reminiscent of its heyday. This creamy Russian-river chardonnay is 100% barrel fermented and offers notes of apple, brioche and lemon with just a touch of honeycomb.

We are counting our lucky stars this year in the chardonnay department. It’s no secret that we are all avid fans of this voluptuous, versatile variety and represent a number of them that are simply delicious – from lean Chablis’ to quaffable Cali’s. Imagine our excitement when the opportunity arose for us to get in a bottle of the renowned Château Souverain Chardonnay. They do say good things come in threes, and in this case it really rang true. After seeing roaring success in New Zealand with Bogle Chardonnay, we were offered an offshoot from the Bogle brand, ‘Phantom’ Chardonnay – a good step up from everyone’s staple. And then Virginia Dare followed – a wine with so much history and mystery it’s impossible not to be captivated by it. The golden trio. 2019 is definitely the year of chardonnay!

If the world of wine were to hold a crown, chardonnay would certainly be the golden jewel at its centre.

Chardonnay holds the title for being one of the most widely planted grape varieties in the world. It is a direct descendant of the pinot noir variety (a little fun-fact not known by many.) It was a cross between the pinot noir grape and another ancient variety, the gouais blanc. But unlike the temperamental (albeit delicious,) pinot noir vines from which it came, chardonnay shows an extraordinary adaptability to thrive in almost every region and terroir where it’s cultivated.

Chardonnay had its humble beginnings in none other than Burgundy, and was quickly spread around all the French regions by the monks who tended the vineyards. But it was not the impressive speed of its growing popularity that to this very day makes this golden grape so famous. It was the wine it produced and still continues to produce. The most celebrated Crus in Burgundy, as well as the Blanc de Blancs in Champagne are made from chardonnay.

When the ‘new-world countries’ stepped up to bat, they took reference from the old-world gurus. What was the best made from? How were they doing it? And so, French grape varieties started to spread once more, including chardonnay.

Chardonnay saw nothing but success for centuries. It was the pinnacle of fine wine, with only one rather recent speedbump marring its good name. The ABC (“Anything but chardonnay,”) movement is one which took hold after yet another particularly booming decade in the 90’s. The extreme popularity of chardonnay meant many new-to-the-game producers wanted in on this trend. They started to turn out chardonnays that were heavily oaked in order to poorly mimic the qualities of Burgundy Crus. The oak wasn’t inherently bad, but it was heavily overused in many respects. And thus the ABC movement began – “Anything but chardonnay” were the words uttered by many a consumer for a number of years.

This movement of course, was but a blip for this variety. It takes a little more than a few years of naive over-oaking to permanently damage the glowing reputation it has spent so many years building. In 2016, the Wine and Spirit Trade Association found 32% of people had consumed chardonnay in the last month, making it the UK’s third most popular wine behind Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc (47%). Even the strictest ABC’er not yet willing to let go of the grudge against chardonnay can sometimes be found enjoying a sneaky Chablis every so often…

The chardonnay grapes produce elegant wines with aromas of acacia, hazelnut, almond, brioche and citrus fruit when the wine is young, but that isn’t to say the grape isn’t versatile. Quite the opposite, in fact it boasts a large variety of aromatic possibilities, different palate structures, acidity and body levels, but it almost always remains rich and complex, making this grape variety remarkably easy to pair.

With the spring coming, you will be able to enjoy your glass of chardonnay with all kinds of fish & seafood – to have it cooked or raw will be your only concern. The richness of chardonnay is particularly marvellous with lobster, crab or sushi for example. You could also relish this golden goodness with a large variety of white meats like chicken or pork (perfect for the barbeque…) but also with different cheeses because of its natural acidity.

So pour your glass and enjoy the New Zealand springtime with one of our chardonnays from the golden trio!

2015 Virginia Dare Chardonnay
“Floral in jasmine flowers, this wine aromatically could trick one into thinking it’s Sauvignon Blanc until more developed layers of anise, apple, lime and peach come to the fore. The backbone of supportive oak adds complexity.”
Wine Enthusiast (88 points)