“At Muse Vineyards we have planted fifteen different grape varieties,” explains Robert Muse. “No sensible vineyard I know has more than four or five. So, no one could accuse us of being risk averse - though time has demonstrated in a couple of instances we should well have been!
“The varieties planted reflect my interests in wine. For instance, the Sangiovese grape from which Tuscan wines are made. Beautiful wines, mid-weight with cherry notes. The Nebbiolo grape produces the complex wines of the north Italian Piedmont, notably Barbaresco and Barolo - wonderfully cerebral stuff – Jefferson loved it. Beaujolais, properly made, can be an excellent light red wine, so we planted Gamay. All these grapes reflect my tastes in wine, but planting them was also an attempt to determine what worked in Virginia beyond Caernet Franc, Petit Verdot and several other established successes when we began planting.
Some of the varieties that were touted at one time have turned out to be disastrous. For instance, the Tannat grape, which is important in south-west France, was widely promoted for Virginia vineyards, and I bought into it. My Tannat vines died the next cold winter. Syrah has also been a disappointment. Both have come out.
“This isn’t to blame experts. We are not even a quarter of the way to understanding what Virginia’s great strengths in wine might be. So all remotely rational ideas on what to plant are open for discussion.
“I have had great success with Rhône varietals, Roussanne for white wine and Grenache for red. (The latter is the grape that makes Châteauneuf-du-Pape so distinctive). Whether they do well in the long term remains to be seen. The Grenache vines struggled through the severe winter of 2013-14.
“While the objective has always been to create a commercially viable enterprise, in its first decade Muse Vineyards has resembled an experimental research station. The goal has been to find those grape varieties that will, at the same time: (1) flourish in the Shenandoah Valley (2) produce wine to the taste of the proprietors and public and (3) keep us out of bankruptcy.”
“Both Sally and I have been successful in our professional careers, and that has given us the latitude to experiment. We didn’t have to plant high-yielding varieties and rush into wine production and sales as fast as possible to repay a bank. We’re lucky.”