Our series will feature one Virginia winery at a time. A great opportunity for each winery to share why they think Virginia wine is unique and what characteristics make their winery special. We are passionate about Virginia Wine and committed to spreading the word about how the many different Virginia wines have come a long way.
The Inussi Marketing team had a wonderful conversation with Chris Flemer, marketing manager for Ingleside Vineyards. We asked him to tell us their story.
Virginia has a long history in wine-making. The Jamestown settlers were required to plant grape vines but it proved unsuccessful. Thomas Jefferson attempted to grow grapes and that didn’t go well either. Then prohibition wiped out the wine business. Modern wine making in Virginia started in the 1970s.
Ingleside is one of the oldest wineries in Virginia founded by Carl Flemer, Jr. Ingleside Plantation has been owned and operated as an agricultural enterprise since 1890 by the Flemer family. Carl Flemer Jr., chairman of the board, entered the wholesale nursery business in 1949. Under his leadership, the nursery grew to 1800 acres and became known as Virginia’s largest and finest nursery. He originally started making his own wine at home. After seeing wine-making on a trip to France, he decided to make a go of it in Virginia. Taking his knowledge of growing plants & trees, he started to plant grape vines. His son, Doug Flemer ran with the concept. There was a chance meeting on Chesapeake Bay with a Belgian Winemaker, Jacques Recht , who the Flemers invited to stay for their first harvest. Their first commercial year started in 1980 as one of the six initial wineries in Virginia. Jacques Recht ended up becoming the winemaker at Ingleside for 15+ years and helped the Flemer Family put Ingleside on the map, grow the New World wine industry and consult with wineries throughout Virginia and the east coast.
The history of northern neck Virginia and the plantation makes Ingleside Vineyards interesting and unique. There is a small museum on site where you will see wine bottles from the Washington family and American artifacts. Ingleside Winery celebrates the heritage of the region. George Washington’s Westmoreland birthplace is about 5 miles away, and is now a National Park. Stratford Hall, birthplace of Robert E. Lee, and Monroe Hall, James Monroe’s birthplace are close by. Ingleside is located in the backdrop of American history.
The main house on the property was originally an old school, built in 1834 and was called Washington Academy after George Washington. The school only lasted about 10 years, was used as a garrison during the Civil War and later as a courthouse during reconstruction period. In the 1890s, Chris Flemer’s Great-Great Grandfather purchased the plantation so there is a lot of family history at Ingleside. Carl F. Flemer, Jr. is a Historian and has written 2 books, the latest is “Birthplace of a Nation”.
During transition to commercial wine-making, the Flemers learned things about grape growing the hard way. They learned that Pinot Noir & Riesling did not do well at their location due to the heat. Over time they replaced plats with grapes that did better. They also discovered that Petit Verdot does extremely well in their location and became a big medal winner for Ingleside. Petit Verdot is an interesting red wine grape principally used in classic Bordeaux blends but as it turned out is outstanding on its own. The grape ripens before Cab Sauvignon and is consistent year in and year out – a great grape for Ingleside.
Doug Flemer has been working to build the wine industry in Virginia. He has entered Ingleside wine into competitions around the country and world. For example at the San Francisco International Wine Competition in 2012, Ingleside won best Petit Verdot double gold for their 2007 vintage – very exciting to win wine competitions in Napa Valley. Virginia wine does extremely well in blind tastings when people don’t know where the wines are from. Winning awards assist in brand recognition. The winery story captures interest and recognition that there are some great wines in Virginia.
Chris spent summers working in the family vineyards in high school and college – the winery is a key part of who he is. He comes from a PR/Marketing/Branding background and returned to the family business full time about 2 years ago to market his family wine.
There are distinct challenges in growing and marketing Virginia wine. The wine is ever-changing and has greatly improved but it is sometimes difficult to overcome early bad reviews. People remember the wine didn’t taste very good and were turned off. Recently there has been a major leap in quality across the industry in VA. The wine is starting to change from 20-30 years ago; the challenge is to show people what the Virginia wineries are doing now and get people to try the wine again. So there is a little extra work marketing VA wine. However, recognition has grown by leaps & bounds by the European journalists and the Virginia Wine Summit. So great things are happening and people are starting to take note.
Virginia wine as a whole is unique. The grape growing is very different from other areas of the country. The climate in Virginia is unpredictable so each vintage is different but creates interesting wine like Petit Verdot and Viogner. Many grapes that do well in Virginia wine are not hugely known and not pursued by other regions. These wine areas aren’t spending the time experimenting with other varietals. We are making wine alternatives to the cab, merlot and chardonnay; winemakers here are willing to try new techniques and this is putting Virginia on the map.
Winemakers in Virginia have to work harder to produce good wines – they have the work ethic and ability to come up with good wine year in and year out. Dry weather is particularly important at harvest time. Grapes throughout the season will build up the natural sugar and if it rains around harvest time, the grapes could absorb the moisture which dilutes the sugars. Generally the harvest starts in mid-August to early October since grapes mature at different times.
An additional challenge for the wineries is they don’t have big budgets for advertising so social media is becoming important. They rely on word of mouth and Guerrilla Marketing to get their message out. Virginia wine is often priced higher than many California wines. Many wineries are smaller and do not produce enough to make an inexpensive product. The goal is for Virginia to grow more grapes.
Ingleside Vineyard is located 200 feet above sea level close to the Chesapeake Bay, between Potomac & Rappahannock Rivers in the northern neck of Virginia. The climate is milder and warmer so there is less chance of a spring frost. This makes an ideal longer growing season to fully ripen grapes for good quality red wines.
Ingleside Vineyards make about 20 different wines. They offer a wine for almost everyone to enjoy. At a wine tasting at Ingleside, you are going to find something you would like. They make high end reserve wines along with their entry level Chesapeake series with the Blue Crab label. This label is to celebrate the Chesapeake region and makes a great gift or memento of the trip. Their Pinot Grigio is a limited production wine and sells out every year; the 2013 will be released soon. Also in limited production is Albarino (Spanish grape) and Petit Manseng (French grape) – these are brand new and exciting wines – only available in the tasting room.
Looking forward, Ingleside Vineyards is focusing on the grapes that work best in Virginia. That will be the future since the industry has been changing so fast. The industry hopes that Virginia continues to gain acclaim and win competitions. Wine Tourism has been big source of recognition with over 250 wineries to explore in Virginia.
Ingleside Vineyards offers many wines to try:
RESERVE LABEL offers Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, Merlot Reserve, October Harvest (dessert wine), Petit Verdot, Petit Verdot Reserve, Virginia Brut (sparkling wine), and Virginia Gold (red wine).
NOTE: Joe and I (the Inussi Team) tried the Cab, Petit Verdot Reserve and the Virginia Gold – excellent red wines!
PREMIUM LABEL offers Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Grigio, Sangiovese, Sweet Virginia Rose and Viognier.
CHESAPEAKE SERIES consists of Cabernet Merlot, unoaked Chardonnay, Blue Crab Blanc, Blue Crab Blush and Blue Crab Red.
Ingleside Vineyards is part of the Chesapeake Bay Wine Trails. There are 9 wineries that cover the northern neck area and have events together to help get the word out about the wineries and their great wines.
All pictures are courtesy of Ingleside Vineyards.
We will feature Ingleside Vineyards again soon when we visit the winery.
For more information, check out Ingleside Winery’s website: http://www.inglesidevineyards.com/
This blog was the work of Leslie and Joe Crowley of the Inussi Marketing Team – Cheers!!