A brief history of our beloved Viognier

I prefer Viognier, pronounced vee-own-yay, to most white wines because it has a distinct natural profile; maybe that’s why it’s the white wine for red wine lovers.

For example, Viognier has more natural aromatics and minerality than Chardonnay. I prefer the style locally produced by Walsh Family Wines for October One Vineyard. It is full-bodied, rich, and weighty with an attractive oily texture, low in acid, and only a gentle touch of barrel aging to add balance.

Viogniers produce perfume aromas suggesting sweetness, although typically made in a dry style with no residual sugar (RS). Floral and fruit notes such as peaches, pears, dried fruit, violets, and white flowers are on the nose. More exotic notes like anise, star fruit, and melons occur with Viogniers made from ripe sun-drenched grapes. Due to its extraordinary combination of perfume and body, wine critic, journalist, and wine writer Jancis Robinson says, “Viognier could truly be said to be the hedonist’s white grape variety.”

Note what winemaker Chris Radovan of Jefferson Vineyards thinks: “Virginia produces Viognier unlike anywhere else. We have this perfect harmony between ripeness, alcohol content, full-body, and these wonderful notes of tropical flavors, apricot, peach.”


Cluster of Viognier grapes

Juicy Viognier grapes freshly harvested at October One Vineyard


But it was almost gone forever! In 1965 only about thirty acres of Viognier remained on the planet!

The Viognier grape has been around since the time of Christ; however, its popularity dwindled through the years to almost the point of extinction. At some point in the mid-nineteen sixties, its value as a blending grape emerged, using it to add perfume aromas to reds like Syrah and an aromatic lift and body to whites such as Marsanne or Roussanne. Little by little, through the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s, plantings increased until two thousand, when two hundred fifty acres existed in Comrie, France, in the Northern Rhône River valley.

Rangers to the rescue

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic in the 1980s, a group of California wine people formed a not-for-profit organization called The Rhône Rangers. The group’s charter was promoting, marketing, and growing the twenty-two Rhône grapes, Viognier included.

Subsequently, since the 1990s, Viognier plantings have steadily increased worldwide. Today in North America, it’s grown in seventeen US states, three provinces of Canada, and Mexico. In South America, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Uruguay grow Viognier. Australia has many acres dedicated to Viognier, while New Zealand and South Africa have embraced it.


Rhone river    Panoramic view of Condrieu – by Goudan07


Virginia embraces Viognier

No one could have predicted that a forgotten Northern Rhône grape would find fame in the US, but here we are. Since its first plantings in Virginia by Horton Vineyards of Orange County in 1989, it has earned acclaim, winning over two hundred gold and silver medals in the Virginia Governor’s Cup since 2012. Virginia has embraced Viognier to the point of the Virginia Wine Board in 2011 naming Viognier Virginia’s signature white grape!

Today there are hundreds of acres of Viognier in Virginia alone. And Virginia’s latest Commercial Wine Grape Report shows that Viognier plantings are only second behind the ever-present-everywhere Chardonnay. So, when Virginians visit local wineries, they know, seek out, and expect good quality Viogniers.


Viognier grape vines at October One Vineyard

Rows of Viognier grapes growing at October One Vineyard

Shop online or stop by our October One Vineyard’s tasting shop at 7 Loudoun Street in downtown Leesburg, Virginia. Currently, we offer the delicious 2021 vintage of Viognier for tasting and the 2020 vintage for our Share members. You can learn more about the benefits and discounts for our Share members here, O1V Share membership.

P.S. here’s a little secret, soon, October One Vineyard will add a steel-fermented Viognier and a sparkling Viognier to their lineup. Sign up for our newsletter so you can be sure to catch these new releases!