Chatham Vineyards Review
Address: 9232 Chatham Rd Machipongo,Virginia 23405.
Phone Number: 757-678-5588
Tasting Hours: Apr-Dec: 10:00-5:00 (Jan-Mar: closed on Tues & Wed)
Region: [“Virginias Eastern Shore AVA”, Virginia
Reviewer: Mark and Sonja
Review Date: 5/17/2016
Reviewer: Mark and Sonja
Down a dusty country road that looks as if it came straight out of a James Taylor song sits Chatham Vineyards, where John Wehner crafts his Church Creek wines. The Chatham estate, which adorns the Bordeaux-like labels of Wehners wine, was built in 1818 and named for the English 2nd Earl of Chatham, a looming example of period architecture that sits adjacent to the property of the winery, towering over the tightly planted vineyards of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and other European varietals. The name Church Creek is another holdover from colonial times, this one even further back into the annals of American history, when a small Church of England chapel sat perched on the banks of the nearby creek during the 17th century. Chatham Vineyards is in many ways a tribute to another era.
The tasting room, an industrial-looking building, is far less grandiose than the Earls estate. Inside the front door is a rounded bar topped in smooth concrete, supported by wooden beams and braced with stainless steel panels, with places set for customers to step up to the bar and begin tasting. Before we even had both feet, and all four wheels of my tiny sons stroller, inside the front door, Lynne was giving us a tour. A devoted employee and excellent representative of the winery, Lynne offered us the best in service from start to finish, sharing her vast knowledge of the winery and passion for the product as she escorted us around the facilities and poured out samples for our tasting.
The tasting consisted of four wines: a 2013 Merlot, 2013 Cabernet Franc, 2014 Vintners Blend, and 2014 late harvest red dessert wine. Both the Merlot and Cab Franc were 100% varietal, full-bodied and dry, and had spent significant time in French oak. The blend, a complex one consisting of 37% Cabernet Franc, 25% Merlot, 25% Petit Verdot, and 13% Cabernet Sauvignon, all estate-grown, was to us the most exciting, and we undertook to fly a bottle home.
It is said that Thomas Jefferson believed that a nation in which the people drank wine would never be a drunken one. This isnt shocking coming from a man who estimated his nightly consumption at 4-5 glasses and thus considered himself a mild drinker. But Jefferson never had any luck planting Vitis Vinifera European vines on his own property some 150 miles west of the 2nd Earl of Chathams estate as the crow flies, and as a result spent most of his nights imbibing imported French wines. Had he somehow tasted John Wehners crafted reds, however, we rather suspect he may not have given up on growing grapes in Virginia quite so quickly.
The only disappointment was that they were out of their famous Chardonnay, a wine that is said to have wowed critics such as Steven Spurrier and casual imbibers like ourselves alike. Wed have enjoyed trying it of course, but in fairness, the fact that they were sold out of it was clearly a tip of the hat to the wines popularity, and certainly not a personal offense. Though we live far from Virginia, well look forward to trying it the next time were out.
Outside, guests seemed to be enjoying the warm, May afternoon, as they sat at tables with a grand view of the estate, tossing a Frisbee to their dog, conversing, and enjoying wine. There is no shortage of seating on the grounds, and spending an afternoon talking with friends or Lynne while consuming a bottle of elegant wine made from grapes estate grown right there on Virginias Eastern shore is an experience that made two Nebraskans unfamiliar with the area excited to return.
Several days later, at Norfolk International Airport, I was intercepted by TSA agents for questioning. Is there anything sharp or dangerous in your bag? a rather severe looking woman inquired. My heart sank. A corkscrew, I responded, as she produced my Chatham Vineyards branded wine key, intended to be the newest addition to my growing collection of such sentimental trinkets. These usually have a knife on them, she informed me, flipping open the serrated blade intended to cut foil from the neck of a wine bottle. My plans to hijack the airplane in order to spend more time in Virginias beautiful wine country thwarted, I surrendered this deadly weapon to the TSA, and grumpily walked through the terminal. Oh well, I thought to myself with a little smirk, at least she didnt take the wine!