The vineyards at Willowcroft date back to the early part of the modern viticulture era of Virginia. They were planted at a time when advisors from the Virginia Extension Service still considered growing European varieties to be very risky business indeed. The first vines were planted in 1980, Those first vines died and were replanted the following year. The second planting survived. Many of those vines grow to this day, and you can see them in the home vineyard. This early planting was of Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling, Chardonnay, and Seyval. In those days, little was known about how to grow grapes in Virginia. It was all trial and error.
Today Willowcroft farms 15 acres containing 12 different varieties of vines in five different locations atop the Catoctin Ridge, an ideal location which has a long history of horticulture dating from the 1800s. With elevations from 600 to 750 feet, the vines have excellent protection from late spring frosts. This location also gives us warm summer days but cool nights, perfect conditions to grow outstanding fruit. All of our vineyards are dry farmed, no irrigation. This can be tough on young vines in some years, but it also forces our older vines to spread their roots deep into our silty loam soils. This combination of climatic conditions and healthy, well drained soils, allows our vines to produce aromatic, crisp whites, and vibrant, fruity reds with excellent tannin structure.
As knowledge has been gained about varieties and their suitability to Virginia, Willowcroft has added new types of vines to the original planting. Today there are five red varieties and 6 white varieties. The reds are principally the famous Bordeaux – Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Petit Verdot, with the addition of French American red Chambourcin. The whites are Chardonnay, Riesling, Albarino, Traminette, Vidal and Seyval. The addition of Albarino is recent, and the results are very exciting. Amost all of our vines are grafted on to specially selected roots to protect them against disease and promote positive growth characteristics.
We strive to grow our vines in the most sustainable ways possible. We keep abreast of the most up to date research in viticulture in Virginia and the world. We try to keep our footprint on the land as light as possible. Using techniques such as removing leaves in the fruit zone, in the correct amount, at the correct time, can help in reducing fungal diseases which are the bane of all grape growers. Grape growing, as with all farming, is successful when you know what you can control and what you can’t. Picking the best site, keeping up with the technology available, and using a gentle hand helps us get the best Mother Nature has to offer.
Willowcroft has focused its red grape program on the famous Bordeaux varieties and grows 4 of the 5 classic grapes of that area of southwest France. These varieties are old friends in the old world, where they have been grown together for many centuries. They are meant to be blended together to make the best wines with the best balance.
Cabernet Sauvignon – Makes full bodied, tannic red wine with long aging abilities. Requires long growing season to reach its full potential.
Cabernet Franc – Slightly less tannic than it’s cousin Cabernet Sauvignon. Can show an herbal, spicy component over time. Ripens earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon.
Merlot – Earliest ripening of the group. Least tannic structure as well. Often displays cherry notes on the nose. Soft, round, and more fruity than the others.
Petit Verdot – Last to ripen with small berries that develop high sugar and crisp acidity at harvest. The wine has deep color, long finish, round tannins that develop with age. Originally used mainly for blending this variety is now turning into one of Virginia’s premier reds.
Chambourcin - In addition to theBordeaux varieties, Willowcroft has planted the hybrid, Chambourcin Large clusters that stand up well in our climate, and produce deep colored aromatic juice with soft tannins. This popular wine is blended or used under its own label.
Chardonnay – The number one white grape, by acreage, planted in Virginia. Classic white of Burgundy, yet well adapted to many areas of the world. Ripens mid season. Moderate sized clusters develop nice balance of sugar to acidity. Made in two styles at Willowcroft, oak fermented and aged, and stainless steel fermented. Same grape, two very different wines.
Albarino – Most expensive white wine varietal of the Galicia region of Spain. Early ripener. High sugar and high acidity at harvest. Wonderful peach notes on the nose with minerality and crisp acidity.
Riesling – The premier grape of Germany. Harvested mid season. Crisp acidity, low alcohol wines of distinction. This cultivar is a challenge to grow, but the results are wonderful.
Muscat Ottonel – White grape extraordinaire Eastern Europe and the Alsace region of France. Beautifully fragrant nose with hints of honeysuckle. Earliest ripener we grow. Low sugar and low acidity at harvest make it a wonderful blend with our Reisling.
Traminette – this is a new hybrid grape variety with Gewurtztraminer in its parentage. Mid to late season ripener. Nice sugar and acid balance at harvest. Spice and sweet up front apple blossom nose.
Seyval- French American hybrid. Early season ripener. Good sugar to acidity balance at harvest. Nice citrus notes on the nose. We ferment, then age, this variety in neutral barrels for a short time, which lends a pleasant, slight buttery component to the finished wine.
Vidal Blanc- French American hybrid. Late season ripener. Can achieve high sugar development with moderate acidity. Good blender and nice varietal as well. Often used as the base for many dry to off dry wines. Creates nice mid palate for most blends. Excellent late harvest candidate.