AWG Correspondent

Mark and Sonja

Chatham Vineyards Photos

Chatham Vineyards Review

Regions: Virginia's Eastern Shore AVA, Virginia

Reviewed: May 17, 2016 by Mark and Sonja
Published: August 31, 2016

Down a dusty country road that looks as if it came straight out of a James Taylor song sits Chatham Vineyards, where John Wehner crafts his Church Creek wines. The Chatham estate, which adorns the Bordeaux-like labels of Wehner’s wine, was built in 1818 and named for the English 2nd Earl of Chatham, a looming example of period architecture that sits adjacent to the property of the winery, towering over the tightly planted vineyards of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and other European varietals. The name “Church Creek” is another holdover from colonial times, this one even further back into the annals of American history, when a small Church of England chapel sat perched on the banks of the nearby creek during the 17th century. Chatham Vineyards is in many ways a tribute to another era.

The tasting room, an industrial-looking building, is far less grandiose than the Earl’s estate. Inside the front door is a rounded bar topped in smooth concrete, supported by wooden beams and braced with stainless steel panels, with places set for customers to step up to the bar and begin tasting. Before we even had both feet, and all four wheels of my tiny son’s stroller, inside the front door, Lynne was giving us a tour. A devoted employee and excellent representative of the winery, Lynne offered us the best in service from start to finish, sharing her vast knowledge of the winery and passion for the product as she escorted us around the facilities and poured out samples for our tasting.

The tasting consisted of four wines: a 2013 Merlot, 2013 Cabernet Franc, 2014 Vintner’s Blend, and 2014 late harvest red dessert wine. Both the Merlot and Cab Franc were 100% varietal, full-bodied and dry, and had spent significant time in French oak. The blend, a complex one consisting of 37% Cabernet Franc, 25% Merlot, 25% Petit Verdot, and 13% Cabernet Sauvignon, all estate-grown, was to us the most exciting, and we undertook to fly a bottle home.

It is said that Thomas Jefferson believed that a nation in which the people drank wine would never be a drunken one. This isn’t shocking coming from a man who estimated his nightly consumption at 4-5 glasses and thus considered himself a mild drinker. But Jefferson never had any luck planting Vitis Vinifera – European vines – on his own property some 150 miles west of the 2nd Earl of Chatham’s estate as the crow flies, and as a result spent most of his nights imbibing imported French wines. Had he somehow tasted John Wehner’s crafted reds, however, we rather suspect he may not have given up on growing grapes in Virginia quite so quickly.

The only disappointment was that they were out of their famous Chardonnay, a wine that is said to have wowed critics such as Steven Spurrier and casual imbibers like ourselves alike. We’d have enjoyed trying it of course, but in fairness, the fact that they were sold out of it was clearly a tip of the hat to the wine’s popularity, and certainly not a personal offense. Though we live far from Virginia, we’ll look forward to trying it the next time we’re out.

Outside, guests seemed to be enjoying the warm, May afternoon, as they sat at tables with a grand view of the estate, tossing a Frisbee to their dog, conversing, and enjoying wine. There is no shortage of seating on the grounds, and spending an afternoon talking with friends – or Lynne – while consuming a bottle of elegant wine made from grapes estate grown right there on Virginia’s Eastern shore is an experience that made two Nebraskans unfamiliar with the area excited to return.

Several days later, at Norfolk “International” Airport, I was intercepted by TSA agents for questioning. “Is there anything sharp or dangerous in your bag?” a rather severe looking woman inquired. My heart sank. “A corkscrew,” I responded, as she produced my Chatham Vineyards branded wine key, intended to be the newest addition to my growing collection of such sentimental trinkets. “These usually have a knife on them,” she informed me, flipping open the serrated blade intended to cut foil from the neck of a wine bottle. My plans to hijack the airplane in order to spend more time in Virginia’s beautiful wine country thwarted, I surrendered this deadly weapon to the TSA, and grumpily walked through the terminal. Oh well, I thought to myself with a little smirk, at least she didn’t take the wine!

Address & Contact Information: 9232 Chatham Rd Machipongo, Virginia 23405. Telephone: 757-678-5588, email:, website: Tasting Hours: Apr-Dec: 10:00-5:00 (Jan-Mar: closed on Tues & Wed).

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