Some grape varieties seem to like certain other varieties. They both do well in the same terroirs. To think of just a few:

  • Viognier and Syrah are both characteristic of the Northern Rhone river region in France (and are blended, white and red, to make the famous Côte-Rôtie area.)
  • In the exalted regions of Burgundy, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir thrive.
  • Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc are the standard varieties along the Loire River, and have transplanted well to South Africa.
  • In Uruguay, the signature grapes are Tannat and Petit Manseng, both immigrants from close to the France/Spain border.

The fact that different grape varieties do well in specific regions, taking advantage of the microclimate, the geology and geography, could be a valid pointer for what might happen in North Georgia. Wine growing is a relatively new business here, starting with the first vinifera plantings in 1979. There is not the centuries of experience to call upon as found in traditional wine areas. So it appears to makes sense for local producers to see what works well here – and then maybe try the traditional companions from the original home of the grape.

But already, we are finding that this is not necessarily a successful approach. I was discussing the unique nature of Georgia’s vineyards with a very experienced and successful winemaker (just count his gold medals). We agreed that the success of Chardonnay here is not an indication that Pinot Noir will do well (I know of only two vineyards in Georgia with plantings of this grape, neither very successful). I wondered aloud if a Pinot Noir-like varietal like Gamay (which grows in the slightly hotter region of Beaujolais, south of Burgundy) might work, but was firmly put down. Apparently, local experience says that the relatively humid conditions of the ripening season in Georgia has the effect of flattening the flavors of the resulting wines.

So the search for the signature Georgia grape variety continues. At present my guess is for the pairing of Viognier and Cabernet Franc (which work very well in Virginia) – but I am open to suggestions.