When I visit a new wine region for the first time, I’m most interested in trying the signature wines of that region –– the grapes that grow best and are considered most suited to the terroir. I don’t make a habit of seeking out the stuff I drink back home.

But if I see it, I simply can’t resist trying it. Especially if it’s pinot.

Nothing gets winemakers and wine lovers waxing poetic like pinot noir. Sweeping generalizations, clichéd metaphors about women and sex, and cool-climate superiority complexes abound, and it’s easy to forget that as haunting and beautiful and inaccessible as it can be, pinot noir is just one more grape, and with the right site it can make a serious impression in a surprising variety of places. I certainly wasn’t expecting to find believable examples of Burgundian grapes in hot, humid Virginia, but one of my favorite things about wine is its constant ability to defy my expectations and understanding.

My first taste of Ankida Ridge Vineyards‘ chardonnay and pinot was one of those great TasteCamp 2012 moments. Ankida Ridge is a small producer (sub-two acre site) and there’s a chance I never would have even heard of them, let alone tried the wines, if not for this trip.

At first sip I was amazed by the old-world cashmere luxury of the chardonnay and the earthy, delicate beauty of the pinot –– and because it was TasteCamp, I was able to look up and immediately ask not only the winemaker, Nathan Vrooman, but the grower, Christine Vrooman, just how they managed to do it. Open, soft-spoken, passionate, and genuine, they were two of the coolest people I met in a weekend full of great personalities.

“We have a mountainside site with very rocky soil,” explained Christine, “and [viticulturist] Lucie Morton came out to analyze the site and said, ‘You just might want to try pinot!’”

It was a gamble; we heard several winemakers throughout the weekend mention pinot as a token example of a “don’t even try it” grape in this region. But at 1,800 ft. elevation in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Ankida Ridge vineyards have a unique situation, and they’re using it to its potential. Having released their first wines with the remarkable (for Virginia as well as my home region of Niagara) 2010 vintage, with the help of Morton and winemaker Matthieu Finot working with Christine’s son Nathan, Ankida Ridge started off on the right foot with an outstanding product. I will be following this winery’s progress as they grow; it will be interesting to see how vintage variation comes into play in these delicate wines.

I tried some amazing cabernet franc, petit verdot, Meritage blends, and viognier during TasteCamp, and it seems that even with the warm-climate grapes, Virginia viticulturists have their hands full dealing with a finicky, humid climate. I have the utmost respect for all of them, and I’m grateful that they were willing to open up to us and share their stories. But I simply couldn’t get the Ankida Ridge wines out of my head, and so this post is dedicated to my favorite thing about TasteCamp: the element of surprise.