Owner(s): Jon Wehner
Winemaker: Jon Wehner
Open to Public
Apr-Dec 10 to 5 PM; Jan-Mar Closed Tue, Wed
9232 Chatham Road; Machipongo, Virginia 23405
Chatham Vineyards Profile
Written by Brian—Jul 14, 2013
In order to reach the Eastern Shore, it’s necessary to cross the twenty-mile-long Bay Bridge and Tunnel at the confluence of the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean. When leaving the tollbooth and beginning the crossing from Hampton Roads, the bridge seems to disappear into the horizon. The Eastern Shore isn’t yet visible. If you’ve never made the trip, the crossing alone makes it worthwhile.
Once across, you have arrived in the Eastern Shore AVA, which contains only three wineries. Chatham Vineyards is closest to the southern end and the Bay Bridge. The approach to Chatham is striking. The white-gravel road cuts a straight line through the fields and in the distance one can see the brick, federal-period Chatham estate, which was built in 1818. The drive toward the estate has an almost European feel. This may be, in part, because the property dates back to the early English colonial period and received its patented in 1640. So the estate has been engaged in agriculture for nearly four centuries and grapes are its most recent agricultural venture.
Upon meeting the owner, Jon Wehner, I was struck by his athletic, energetic appearance. He looked to me as though he’d be more at home racing sailboats than managing a working farm, but Jon clearly loves winemaking. Growing up in Northern Virginia, his parents produced wine; so Jon is a second-generation winemaker. He spoke enthusiastically and at length about his property, wines and plans for expansion. Chatham’s first vines were planted in 1999, so they are more mature than many in the state. Additionally, in a period of grape shortage, Chatham is in a position to plant more. Plans are underway to add ten acres to the twenty already devoted to French vinifera.
The maritime climate of the Eastern Shore AVA is slightly cooler than Central and Northern Virginia and offers a near-constant sea breeze. Combine this with the excellent drainage presented by the sandy, crushed-shell qualities of the soil and you have ideal conditions for agriculture in general, but grapes in particular. Chatham’s position on slightly higher ground adds yet another ideal quality. This combination of elements at Chatham seems to provide the perfect terroir for the production of world-class wine. Indeed, the estate does produce a nice range of excellent wines ranging from dry to sweet. There’s something for every palate.
There were seven wines on the tasting menu. All were of exceptional quality and all presented the same distinct minerality, which is typical of the AVA. Of course, I did have a few favorites. The steel-fermented 2011 Church Creek Chardonnay was the first I tasted and I was just blown away. I detected citrus notes on the nose and on the palate this wine presented crisp, dry pear and apple with that nice minerality in the finish. The 2010/2011 Church Creek Rose was exceptional. It presented aromas of peach and melon with a few floral notes and a strawberry flavor with only the slightest bit of sweetness. I could totally make this my summer go-to wine. I’m always partial to Virginia Cab Franc and the Church Creek 2011 Cabernet Franc is a great example of what can be done with this varietal. Barrel aged in new French oak for two years and rounded out with 10% Petit Verdot, this wine presents some floral qualities with nice light tannins, raspberry on the palate and slight bit of pepper in the finish. Loved it. Finally, Jon opened a bottle of Church Creek Cabernet Sauvignon, which was not yet on the tasting menu. The Cab Sauv is blended with 12% Cab Franc and 10% Petit Verdot to make a big wine with lots of fruit, lots of complexity and that same minerality that I keep mentioning. This is a potential award winner and by far my favorite.
As I’m making the rounds of Virginia Wineries, Chatham Vineyards is a real standout. Chatham is representative of the type of operation that is helping establish Virginia as a world-class wine producing State. I strongly recommend a visit. If you live in the Hampton Roads area and have not been over there, you really need to go. If you are at the beach or in the area for any reason, this is a necessary side trip. They have a Summer Concert Series that provides additional incentive. Just get over there. You’ll be glad you made the trip.