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Vines & Wines: Williamsburg Winery hustling to meet demand for its Wessex Hundred estate wines
Vines & Wines

Vines & Wines: Williamsburg Winery hustling to meet demand for its Wessex Hundred estate wines

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Matthew Meyer says don’t call it an experiment.

Late in 2014, Williamsburg Winery introduced its Wessex Hundred wine series in which five upper-tier wines were made exclusively from estate-grown grapes.

Sporadically in the past, winemaker Meyer had produced estate wines, but the Wessex Hundred was something different, a new direction.

But not an experiment, said Meyer, winemaker at WW since 2002.

“We have always wanted to showcase the quality of our Wessex Hundred fruit,” he said. “I was confident that Wessex Hundred could grow excellent fruit. After taking over the vineyard management (in 2012) and getting an exceptional team, we have made great strides in proving that theory.

“(In the past) we did not have the marketing in place that we do now. We have made a strong, concerted effort to focus attention on the Wessex Hundred wine series since these wines provide a clear — and delicious — expression of the coastal Virginia growing region.”

Wessex Hundred, by the way, is the name of WW’s 300-acre farm, which is home to the winery, Wedmore Place hotel, Café Provençal and Gabriel Archer Tavern.

The success of the Wessex Hundred series has created a problem, though a nice problem.

“The sales of our estate wines are outpacing the amount I can make,” Meyer said. “We are seeing a larger number of restaurants interested in carrying them as well as an increase in tasting room visitation as a result of this relatively new wine program.”

The Wessex Hundred wines (with winery prices) are 2015 Viognier ($24), 2014 Vidal Blanc ($16), 2015 Dry Rosé ($16), 2014 Merlot ($24) and 2014 Petit Verdot ($32). The viognier is available at Libbie Market; the viognier and petit verdot are at the Tobacco Company; Bucket Trade in Petersburg carries the rosé and petit verdot.

The popularity of the series also has spurred WW to make a move that eventually will allow it to increase annual production from 40,000 cases to 50,000.

“Because of this (success), we are actively increasing our planted acres at Wessex Hundred to keep up with the demand,” Meyer said. “We currently have 40 acres under vine. We have committed to an aggressive vineyard expansion plan of 5 acres per year until we reach 70.”

Williamsburg makes 28 wines, including the renowned Bordeaux-style blend Adagio, whose 2010 vintage was Governor’s Cup winner in 2014. Also, a Limited Edition series with four 90-point-plus wines last year is available to only WW wine club members. And lastly, WW produces entry-level wines such as popular Governor’s White, James River White and Plantation Blush, all less than $10.

The juice for the lower-priced wines often comes from out of state. That could be changing soon.

“Yes, for our entry-level wines we have to contract with outside fruit,” Meyer said. “These grapes predominately come from Washington state, where we have a close relationship with the growers. Several trips are made back and forth to ensure we are getting what we need.

“However, it is important to know that in addition to the marketing of estate-grown fruit, we are actively working on having all of our wines be 100 percent Virginia Appellation. We are working with two growers in the Shenandoah Valley to grow grapes specifically for us. Currently, if all goes according to plan — we are still at the whim of Mother Nature — we should be on track to accomplish this in the next three to four years.”

Meyer says based on sales and restaurant request, the viognier and petit verdot seem to be the most popular estate wines, but don’t ask him to name his favorite.

“You tell me who your favorite child is, and I will tell you what my favorite wine is,” he said. “To me, they are all my children and sometimes one child may win an award and the whole family is happy for them, and the next week another child may do something that makes us proud.

“Every wine that I create makes me proud in one way or another, but myself and the entire team do take a great deal of pride in producing estate-grown wines. These are vines we have managed and nurtured from beginning to the end that are crafted into wines that truly reflect the flavors of coastal Virginia — which is incredibly important to all of us here.”

Vines & Wines appears every other week in Dining. Contact Jack Berninger at jberninger@timesdispatch.com.

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