Wine and History at Aspen Dale

So in the spirit of Wimbledon, I’ve been playing lots of tennis; however, I ended up injuring my left wrist while on the courts last week. As a consequence, I could not write a post about our incredible experience at Aspen Dale Winery last Sunday afternoon. Several ice packs and a few days later, though, the wrist is okay, and now I’m ready to type away.

Paul and I had heard through the “grapevine” that Aspen Dale Winery at the Barn was a “must do” experience. With some research under our belts, we learned that Shay McNeal was the owner and winemaker, and Shay’s winemaking style reflected Old World customs. We also learned that the barn is a 200 year-old facility and that Shay is only the seventh owner of the property in its history! Needless to say, we wanted to experience the wines and the barn for ourselves. Armed with notebooks and gold stars, we proceeded to Aspen Dale Winery at the Barn.

We were warmly greeted by Shay McNeal who informed us that we were her first customers on Day 11 since Aspen Dale opened its doors to the public. As Shay greeted us and prepared for our tasting, we noted the quaint tasting room which is indeed the renovated barn from the 18th century. Maybe it was my history teacher’s sixth sense, but I could not help but feel as though I had entered another time. Shay’s ancestors can be traced back to the colonial period including one, Thomas Parris, who was described as a vintner. Of course, we’re all about the wine, and there were five up for sampling, and I can say Shay’s current lineup is quite impressive. For us, it was really all about personal preference as none were weak. We started with the Rose and the whites, and my own gold star here went to the 2008 Mary Madeleine’s Rose. A lovely pink color was observed with refreshing characteristics of strawberry and melon; it was quite crisp to boot. Paul’s award went to the 2008 Hildersham Sauvignon Blanc with its grassy notes and citrus flavors. Another crisp wine is offered here with a nice acidity which would also suggest a natural pairing with goat cheese and baguette or a shellfish dinner.

The red wines were up next, and Paul and I also reached different conclusions. Paul fancies himself to be a Merlot specialist, and he does indeed have an impressive collection of Merlots on his wine rack. Therefore, his gold-star designation for the 2008 Parris Country Blend, which is predominately Merlot , should not be taken lightly. Paul noted black cherry aromas and flavors with a hint of spice on the nose; he also jotted down “accessible” to suggest that it was easy to drink and ready to pour. I do think it could also rest a while on the wine rack. My own award went to the Cabernet Sauvignon known as the 2007 Rockawalkin’. A more complex blend, the 2007 Rockawalkin’ features Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, and Malbec. I noted dark fruits and spice on the nose and in the mouth with a longer finish and a definite tannic presence. Enjoy now with a steak but don’t be bashful about aging the 2007 Rockawalkin’ for a few years.

Throughout our tasting, Shay chatted with us about wine, food, and history. Our wine tasting came with a plate of cheeses and meats that accompanied each wine sample; the venison sausage is a must try as is the elderberry cheese. Also, Shay revealed that she is also a historian; I immediately engaged Shay in history talk and was fascinated to learn that Shay is the author of The Secret Plot to Save the Tsar. Quite honestly, I could have chatted with Shay for the entire afternoon about Russian history with or without the wine. Her next project will focus on a Tory’s perspective about the American Revolution. In fact, a July 4 event at Aspen Dale Winery will feature a colonial re-enactor and musician, Herb Watson, who will play colonial tunes on the flute.

I do think that Shay brings her sense of history to her wine making. Her style is certainly Old World, and the tasting room also captures an 18th century aesthetic. Shay is also dedicated to quality, and she is committed to producing quality wines from small lots. Currently, 1400 vines are planted for wine making, and these include such varietals as Carmenere, Sauvignon Blanc, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot. Another commitment is to “green”. Call it Old World or 21st-century correctness, Shay maintains her vineyard and winemaking with a minimum of chemical intrusions.

With our tasting and conversation done, Paul and I made our purchases. What did we buy? Between the two of us, we bought a bottle of everything. When we got out to the car, we glanced at our watches and noticed that we spent over 90 minutes tasting and chatting with Shay. We know that we will return soon to Aspen Dale Winery at the Barn, and we urge readers to visit soon. Be sure to tell Shay McNeal that Virginia Wine Time sent you!

Summertime at Tarara Winery

Summertime is here, and it looks like the rain has stopped for a while. Paul and I are big summer concert fans, and we find as many excuses as possible to buy lawn tickets at Wolftrap. We pack snacks and a bottle of wine, listen to music, and watch fireflies light up the sky. An alternative to such venues as Wolftrap is Tarara Winery which offers its own summer concert series. A highlight of the concert series, of course, is a sampling of Tarara’s wines.

While we haven’t yet made our plans for summer concerts at Tarara Winery, we did get in a tasting on a recent Sunday with summer picnics in mind. At the top of the list for picnic fare would be the dry 2007 Rose with its distinct flavors of strawberry and melon. A crisp sipper, this versatile Rose could be destined for more than just a picnic and could be paired with a light entrée. A more complex pour would be the 2007 Viognier with its floral nose. Exquisite layers of tropical fruits here and with a honeyed texture make for an elegant wine.This Viognier is aged in both French oak and stainless steel barrels and blended with a very small amount of Chardonnay. This one would certainly be a splurge purchase to bring along on a picnic, but if herbed chicken and a wedge of brie are in the picnic basket then go for it!

So what if the plan is to grill some steaks later in the day? Try the Long Bomb Edition 1 so named to remember late owner, Whitie Hubert. This red blend is quite bold with a nose of dark plums, dark cherries, and violets. Chewy tannins were noted, too. If burgers are on the grill, the Long Bomb might be too big; Paul suggests the lighter-boded 2005 Merlot with its cherry and spice characteristics. It’s also ready to drink now!

With our tasting done, we were ready to eat our own picnic lunch which included a light chicken and pasta dish, strawberries, and a baguette with soft cheese. Our pairing? The 2007 Rose. As we munched and sipped, we also grabbed a list of performances for the summer concert series for future planning. It’s also worth noting that this year is Tarara Winery’s twentieth anniversary, so cheers to them!

Be sure to plan a trip to Tarara Winery either for a concert, a tasting, or both. Of course, mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.

Willowcroft Farm Vineyard

So before our tasting at Zephaniah Farm Vineyard, we did indeed sample the latest at Willowcroft Farm Vineyards. It had been well over a year since our last visit to Willowcroft Farm Vineyards; in fact, at that time, the 2003 vintages were still on the menu. We were well overdue for a tasting and at a special time for Willowcroft Farm Vineyards as it celebrates 25 years of winemaking.

As always, we started with the white wines. My gold star was awarded to the 2008 Cold Steel Chardonnay with its aromas and flavors of lemon. It was crisp with a refreshing minerality. Give the aromatic 2007 Traminette a try, too with its notes of pineapple and ginger complimented by characteristics of mango and spice.

On to the reds, and Paul’s gold star was given to the light-bodied 2005 Merlot which is actually a blend of Merlot (79%) and Chambourcin (21%). This is an easy, accessible sipper that can be described as fruit forward. Perfect for lighter grilled fare such as burgers or a pizza night with friends, the 2005 Merlot is also fine on its own. My own favorite of the red wines was the 2005 Cabernet Franc with its raspberry characteristics and a subtle herbaceous aroma. For those seeking a fuller-bodied red, the Petit Verdot should do the trick. The current offering is a blend of the 2006 and 2007 vintages and presents dark plums and black cherries in the mouth. “Earthy” is a descriptor that I jotted down, and I did note a tannic presence to suggest lots of backbone and aging potential.

Now in the midst of our tasting, we did meet Tremain and Meredith Hatch of Zephaniah Farm Vineyard, and we all chatted about Virginia wine. As we wrapped up our tasting, Tremain and Meredith did offer to give us a sampling of their own wines, and the results of that tasting were noted in our previous post. However, that did not stop us from buying a bottle of the Cabernet Franc to bring home to enjoy at a future time. We also know that we will return to Willowcroft Farm Vineyard soon; readers will want to visit even sooner in this special year for Willowcroft Farm Vineyard, but please mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.

Congratulations Gray Ghost!

Gray Ghost’s Adieu won gold at the 16th Annual Amenti del Vino International Wine Competition held in Cromwell, Connecticut the end of May! Gray Ghost’s Adieu was the only Virginia wine awarded Gold!

Gray Ghost’s 2006 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon won gold at the Virginia State Fair Wine Competition held Monday, June 8 in Richmond! Produced from 100% Estate Grown grapes and aged three in years in French oak, Gray Ghost only produces a Reserve Cabernet in exceptional years. This is only the ninth Reserve Cabernet to be produced in fifteen vintage years.

15th Anniversary Celebration at Gray Ghost Vineyards
Saturday & Sunday, July 11 & 12, 2009
11:00 am to 5:00 pm

Enjoy wine tastings, winery tours, vineyard tours and live music by the Seth Kibel Jazz Trio! Experience a Civil War campsite and the firing of an operational Civil War cannon! 11:00 am to 5:00 pm. $10 per person includes tasting, Gray Ghost logo glass and all festivities. Barbecue lunch is $10 with 100% of lunch money benefiting the Culpeper Food Closet. Please call for lunch reservations or bring a picnic. Gray Ghost is located at 14706 Lee Highway in Amissville and can be contacted at 540-937-4869.

Information from Amy Payette, Director of Marketing at Gray Ghost and photos courtesy of T. J. Cabrera.

Promising Start for Zephaniah Vineyard

We actually did not have a visit to Zephaniah Farm Vineyard on our agenda as we knew that we needed to make an appointment for a tasting. However, luck was on our side this past Sunday. We went to Willowcroft Farm Vineyards for a tasting, and we met Tremain and Meredith Hatch, whose father, Bill Hatch manages the small operation known as Zephaniah Farm Vineyard. Bill Hatch is the winemaker and vineyard manager. Tremain and Meredith offered to give us a tasting; of course, we could not refuse their generous offer. Once we were all done with our tasting at Willowcroft Farm Vineyard, we followed Tremain and Meredith to their family house, and before long we were swirling and savoring.

Zephaniah Farm Vineyard is actually part of a family farm, and the farming property and its facilities date back to the 1830s. In fact, the farm and vineyard is named after the Hatch’s great-grandfather, Zephaniah. Zephaniah Hatch had been a successful business man, and it was Tremain and Meredith’s grandfather who purchased the farm property in 1950. Vineyards were planted in 2002 with one and a half acres planted in vines. Varietals grown include Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Petit Manseng, and Chardonnay. Zephaniah Farm Vineyards can also claim to be one of the smallest wineries in Virginia with 150 cases produced this year. Tremain has studied viticulture and is dedicated to quality management of the vineyards. Why the emphasis on red varietals? Also grown on the family farm is Angus beef!

So on to the tasting! The tasting room is part of the 19th century family house and is furnished with period antiques. On tap for tasting were two red wines—the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2007 Cabernet Franc. I was quite impressed with both of them. The Cabernet Sauvignon was a fruit forward pour with dark plum and cherry characteristics, and I detected some violet on the nose, too. Of the two, I did prefer the 2007 Cabernet Franc which teemed with raspberry, spice, and some black pepper. Vibrant fruit flavors here with a nice backbone yet accessible due to aging in neutral French barrels.

Tremain and Meredith seemed to relish the challenges of vineyard management and winemaking, and I think that they are off to a very good start. Tastings are indeed held by appointment only, but their beef products can be purchased year round at the Loudon Farmers Market in Leesburg as well as the Cascade Farmer’s Market during the summer. So here’s a plan—make an appointment for a tasting, but stop off at the farmer’s market first to grab some steaks. With dinner already secured, show up for the tasting and purchase a favorite red. Now I’m hungry!

With our tasting completed, we thanked Tremain and Meredith for the impromptu tasting, and we know that we will return to sample future releases. Be sure to visit Zephaniah Farm Vineyard and mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.

Now what about that tasting at Willowcroft Farm Vineyard? Stay tuned for our next post to find out.