Cabernet Franc vs. Viognier: A Case for Virginia’s State Grape

When Virginia officially selected Viognier as its state grape in 2011, the decision was met with both applause and controversy. Viognier, known for its aromatic complexity and versatility in Virginia’s terroir, certainly has its merits. However, one can’t help but wonder if Cabernet Franc, a grape with a rich history and significant impact on Virginia’s viticulture, should have been given this prestigious recognition.

Firstly, let’s consider the acreage dedicated to each varietal. As of our latest reports, Virginia has over 4100 acres of vineyards. Viognier accounts for 306 acres, while Cabernet Franc is planted across a more substantial 424 acres. While acreage alone isn’t a determinant of quality or importance, it is an indicator of the significance of Cabernet Franc to Virginia’s wine producers.

Cabernet Franc’s popularity among Virginia growers isn’t surprising. Known for its resilience to Virginia’s humid climate and susceptibility to diseases, Cabernet Franc vines consistently yield high-quality fruit. Its adaptability to a variety of soil types, coupled with its winter hardiness, makes it an ideal fit for Virginia’s varied terroir.

Moreover, Cabernet Franc has proven its ability to produce high-quality, single-varietal wines and its aptitude as a blending grape, providing winemakers with remarkable versatility. Its light to medium body, moderate acidity, and complex bouquet of raspberry, violet, and distinct vegetal notes make it a hit among wine lovers.

On the other hand, Viognier, with its highly aromatic profile, offering notes of peaches, apricots, and floral undertones, is undoubtedly a treasure in Virginia’s wine portfolio. Despite being more challenging to grow due to its susceptibility to powdery mildew and late spring frosts, it has been cultivated with increasing success across the state.

Both varietals have significantly contributed to the reputation of Virginia as a prominent wine region in the United States. Yet, given the hardiness, versatility, and broader acreage of Cabernet Franc, it might have been a stronger contender for the title of Virginia’s state grape.

The selection of a state grape isn’t just about favoritism; it’s about recognizing a varietal’s contribution to the state’s wine heritage and future potential. Whether Viognier or Cabernet Franc, the true winners are the wine enthusiasts who get to enjoy the rich and diverse wine scene that Virginia offers.

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