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Savoring the Flavor of the Eastern Shore

by Laura Emery, Field Editor on Wehner, Northern Virginia native and owner of Chatham Vineyards in Machipongo, takes a slow sip of his vineyards finest wine, allows it to properly saturate his palate and alert every taste bud with the tingle of tannins, and then swallows. When you drink our wine, you truly

taste the Eastern Shore, he finally says, with a smile. You taste the soil, the land, the climate, the workers, and all the decisions made. You taste what makes the Eastern Shore distinctive.


Theres no other place like Chatham Vineyards when it comes to offering up the flavor of Virginias Eastern Shore the areas maritime climate, longer growing seasons, and the influence of the Atlantic Ocean and the Chesapeake Bay. The wine that comes from Chatham Vineyards is like none other. The taste and aroma of fine wine are central to the vintners art. For some, including Wehner, enjoying wine is an experience beyond flavor and fragrance. It offers a minds-eye vision of clusters of plump grapes dangling from


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rows and rows of nurtured vines in a verdant, sun-dappled 20-acre vineyard ... on the Eastern Shore. Nobody would think the Eastern Shore would be the best location for a vineyard and winery, but it produces a flavor you cant get anywhere else, Wehner says. The vineyard has more than 32,000 vines and produces a variety of wines, including chardonnay, merlot, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot. Chatham Vineyards is owned and operated by the Wehner family at historic Chatham Farm, which has been a working farm for four centuries. Wehner, a secondgeneration Virginia winegrower, grew up around wineries. It was very much a part of my childhood, he says. His parents, who ran a vineyard in Great Falls, Jon Wehner, owner of Va., for more than 30 Chatham Vineyards
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years, purchased the 300-acre property on the Eastern Shore in 1979 as the familys summer home. It was during visits to his familys summer home that Wehner got a taste of all the wonderful things the Eastern Shore had to offer. As a young boy, his dad would put him on the tractor and ride him around, and he learned to fish and hunt and really enjoyed all those things, his wife, Mills, explains. When he got older, Jon wanted a way to be here on the Shore, but he was interested in vineyards at the same time. He wanted to be outside and work with his hands. So, it all kind of came together. With his parents support, Wehner and his wife moved to the Shore Once in 1999. the red grape Not only was the content [which is young couple excited called the must] is about calling the separated from the stems, Eastern Shore home the pure liquid is pumped Harrison and and starting a family, into a 1,500-gallon stainlessJoan Wehner, but the Wehners steel fermenting tank. The are integral were also beginning white grapes are also parts of the another chapter of transferred to separate business. They their lives. Wehner and steel fermenting make sure the his wife planned on tanks. workers know what starting a vineyard and to do, check on winery on his parents propaccounts, and make phone erty at Chatham. We knew it calls and send e-mails, he explains. was what we wanted to do, he explains. His wife manages the tasting room and Eight years later, running the vinehandles the financial and accounting yard is still a family affair. Everyone sides of the business. I couldnt do it by helps out, Wehner says. His parents, myself. We all work together really well and make a great team, he says. His six-month-old daughter, Lydia, may be too young to help out but Wehners two sons ( Jon, 5, and William, 3) have one of the most important jobs at the vineyard. My sons are the vineyards official grape-eaters, he says, with a laugh. When Wehner speaks of his sons, his demeanor shifts from businessman to family man. Its a cute thing to watch because they can barely reach the grapes, but they still love trying to eat them, he says.


As he leans back in his chair, 36-yearold Wehner exudes confidence and a relaxed persona. He knows he doesnt have to sell his wine. With one sip, his wine sells itself. As a result, business has been good. In 2006, his vineyard, which has a 5,000-gallon capacity, produced

more than 1,800 cases of wine and harvested more than 70 tons of grapes. The vineyard also produces premium wine grapes for several other Virginia wineries. Chatham Vineyards has also received numerous prestigious awards. Our awards prove we can grow premium wines on the Shore, he says. Chatham Vineyards 2002 Church Creek Merlot won the gold medal in the Red Vinifera category in the 2005 Towne Point Wine Festival in Norfolk. It also won the silver medal in the 2005 Virginia Governors Cup in Richmond and a silver medal in the East Coast International Wine Competition. With the 2002 merlot, it was a hot, dry summer and so the wine came out with a very intense flavor and a deep, beautiful color, Wehner explains. More recently, Chatham Vineyards Church Creek wines have won numerous medals for its 2004 Merlot and 2005 Steel Chardonnay. The 2004 Merlot won a silver medal at the 2007 Virginia State Fair and the 2005 Steel Chardonnay won a bronze medal at the 2007 East Coast International Wine Competition. The vineyards wines can be purchased at many local restaurants and stores.


Spend more than five minutes talking to Wehner, and it becomes more than apparent that the man loves his job.

August 2007

Some would even say that wine runs through his veins. I dont think of it as a job; its a lifestyle for us. We take it very seriously, and it affords us the opportunity to work outside and, literally, appreciate the fruits of our labor. Wehner has visited and researched vineyards throughout the world. I understand wine, he points out. This is evident in the meticulous manner in which Wehner manages the vineyard and winery right down to the smallest detail. For example, Chatham Vineyards has planted its vineyards in high-density on a vertical trellis system. The close spacing of the vines is two or three times that of most vineyards in Virginia, he says. The vineyard also cane prunes all of its vines (involves pruning every other cane until there about 10 to 15 buds per cane) because it is a good way of controlling yields early. Most vineyards use the spur-pruning method, according to Wehner. He explains that cane pruning takes twice the time, costs twice as much, and involves twice as much work. But, we do whatever it takes to ensure we have the best wine possible. Wehner also pays a royalty per vine in order to be sure they are ENTAV [Establissement National Technique pour lAmelioration de la Viticulture] certified meaning that the nurseries he buys from adhere to strict quality standards set forth by the French wine authority. The equipment used to produce the wine is state-of-the-art. The process has also been fine-tuned and manipulated to produce only the best wine. The grapes

are handpicked and sorted, and then the white grapes are whole-cluster pressed and the red grapes are de-stemmed (run through a collection barrel and filtered through an auger that separates the grape content from the stems). Once the red grape content [which is called the must] is separated from the stems, the pure liquid is pumped into a 1,500-gallon stainless-steel fermenting tank. The white grapes are also transferred to separate steel fermenting tanks. During the fermenting process, acidity and sugar levels are monitored frequently. The luscious liquid is then barreled and bottled. The red grapes ferment on the skins for an extended period of time and then are barrel-aged for 16 to 24 months, Wehner explains. At this point, says Wehner, the hard work has already been done. Once it gets to the tank, it is what it is and you cant change it. The true art of creating fine wine actually happens on the vines in the vineyard as the plump clusters of berries are growing, he explains. Thats where he tweaks, nurtures and manipulates a variety of growing conditions to be sure the grapes produced have the best flavor possible. Theres more to wine than meets the eye, and the Wehner family hopes to do more than just win customers with their

wine. They want to educate them, too. We want our customers to come here, relax as they enjoy some wine-tasting, and then walk out of here more knowledgeable about the process of creating quality wine. We want to give every customer the full experience, he says. Wehner enjoys interacting with everyone from the most knowledgeable oenophiles to the most novice of wine appreciators. You dont need to be a connoisseur to appreciate our wine, he says. You just need to Wehners two have taste buds. sons (above: Jon, 5, and William, 3) have one of the most important jobs at the vineyard. My sons are the vineyards official grape-eaters, Jon Wehner says, with a laugh. Chatham Vineyards 2002 Church Creek Merlot (below) won the gold medal in the Red Vinifera category in the 2005 Towne Point Wine Festival in Norfolk.



Chatham Vineyards 9232 Chatham Road Machinpongo, VA 23405 (757) 678-5588

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