Road Trip!

Today we begin a five day wine trip. We are heading to the western part of the state to visit wineries in the Shenandoah region. We have plans to visit about 12 wineries in the western part of the state and the southern part of the state. We’ll be updating the blog along the way. If you happen to see the Virginia Wine Time car on Interstate 81 South, wave and say hi!

Wine and Photography at Catoctin Creek

We continue to gradually add more wineries to our “visits” list, and Catoctin Creek Winery brings our total to 128. As readers may know, we attended the WBC 11 conference that was recently held in Charlottesville, and we met Jim Hanna, owner and winemaker at Catoctin Creek Winery, at the conference. To be more exact, we met Jim at the Monticello tasting event that was held at the historic Monticello residence. Jim was one of the winemakers who participated in the tasting, and we determined to pay Jim a visit at his tasting room to find out more about both the owner/winemaker and the wines.

On a scorching hot day, we met Jim Hanna at his home in Loudoun County to chat with him and to sample his wines. His vineyard and tasting room are all located on his personal property, and the tasting room is located in the basement of his home. Jim started a vineyard four years ago with a small planting of Viognier. However, Jim quickly realized that just managing a vineyard was itself a full-time, challenging job. Having just retired from a career with the World Bank, Hanna wanted to pursue other passions that included winemaking and photography. With these goals in mind, he opted to buy fruit from established vineyards so that he could pay full attention to the skill of winemaking. Therefore, all grapes that are used by Catoctin Creek Winery are grown at either Breaux Vineyards or Fabbioli Cellars, and Jim Hanna plays an active role to monitor the progress of grapes as they evolve in the vineyards. And who are Hanna’s teachers in the school of winemaking? Professors Dave Collins, former winemaker at Breaux Vineyards and now at Big Cork Vineyards, and Doug Fabbioli of Fabbioli Cellars consult with Jim Hanna to produce quality wines that bear the label, Catoctin Creek Winery.

Jim Hanna began marketing his own wines in the spring of this year, and they are tasted in the basement of his home. A basement, you might ask? Words like moldy, dank, and dark might come to mind; however, Jim converted this space into an environmentally controlled facility that is actually quite comfortable. Given his small production level, now at 200 cases, it actually serves his needs quite well. A small room to the right of the tasting bar serves as a barrel room, and the twelve French oak barrels house wines from the 2008 through the 2010 vintages. Converting this space into a small tasting/barrel storage facility allows Hanna to keep overhead costs at a minimum; therefore, he can devote time and resources to his main focus—the production of quality wines.

So what about the wines? Four wines were available for tasting, and these included a 2010 Vidal Blanc, 2009 Cabernet Franc, 2009 Syrah and 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2010 Vidal Blanc was our immediate favorite, and it presented tropical fruit characteristics with a refreshing minerality. Done in stainless steel, it is also bone dry and therefore quite versatile; serve on its own or with foods that might pair with a dry Riesling. We also enjoyed this one at the Monticello tasting event as did a blogger from California who ordered a case to be shipped out to his home! Of the red wines, we both preferred the 2009 Cabernet Franc with its notes of plum, dark cherry, and black pepper. Soft tannins made for an accessible, elegant pour.

Future changes at Catoctin Creek involve the other two red wines—the very peppery 2009 Syrah and the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon. True to his commitment to crafting quality wines, Hanna will change the future lineup of wines and phase out the Syrah with a Malbec. The 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, which earned a medal for Hanna, will give way to a Bordeaux (or Meritage) blend.

As we swirled, sniffed and sipped, Jim continued to present his philosophy on winemaking. Among his many skills, Jim is also an expert photographer who sees winemaking as an artistic craft that is constantly being perfected; as the photographer captures a perspective in the camera, so too does the winemaker with grapes. The winemaker’s point of view is captured in the bottle much like the photographer’s is preserved in digital format. Therefore, Jim will continue to produce small quantities of wine that reflect his own winemaking philosophy in much the same way that pictures present his artistic philosophy. Sounds too serious? Actually, for Jim Hanna, this is all about “keeping it fun”. After we sampled his wines and viewed his photographs, we can conclude that Jim Hanna is having a blast. Light-hearted and with a sense of purpose Jim Hanna and Catoctin Creek Winery are well positioned to experience further success.

While Paul and Jim continued to chat about photography, I enjoyed another sample of the Cabernet Franc (and wondered what I did with that Kodak Insta-matic from 1975 as I was certain that it needed more flash cubes!) We will continue to follow the developments at Catoctin Creek Winery, but readers should be certain to sample Jim Hanna’s current releases. Just remember to mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.

Dinner at The Inn at Meander Plantation

After the wine bloggers conference we decided to spend a few days at The Inn at Meander Plantation. You might remember we spent several days at the inn last year. The inn is not too far from Charlottesville, located in Madison County. This time we thought we’d relax after the conference and maybe go to a few local wineries during our stay. Owners Suzanne Thomas and Suzie Blanchard always remember us and make sure our stay is relaxing and enjoyable. It was great to see them and catch up with them. They invited us to join them for dinner on Monday evening.

The meals at Meander plantation are always elaborate and delicious. Even breakfast has three courses! The dinners are always special because each course is paired with a specific Virginia wine. Check out the menu for Monday night’s dinner:

Each course was a work of art. I took photos of each course. You can see what Warren selected for each course.

First Course

Second Course

Intermezzo-Blood Orange Sorbet (I ate it before taking a picture)



The dinner was delicious! Thank you Suzanne and Suzie! We always enjoy our time at The Inn at Meander Plantation. It’s a very quiet, relaxing place to stay. We are already thinking of booking a weekend in the fall to enjoy the fall colors. If you plan a trip to The Inn at Meander Plantation, be sure to tell them Virginia Wine Time sent you!

Heat Wave!

No, not the Motown hit by the Vandellas—the 100 degree weather that has us all wilting. These hot and humid days require wines that cool and refresh, and we found some wines at Barboursville that may just accomplish the task.

Warren’s summer picks:
Sauvignon Blanc 2010: crisp and citrusy with grassy notes
Viognier Reserve 2009: elegant with floral notes and fuller mouth feel
Phileo: Moscato and Gewürztraminer blend that should pair well with peach cobbler

Paul’s summer picks:
Chardonnay 2010: for stainless steel lovers like myself. Crisp and clean; serve well chilled.
Rose 2009: Strawberry Hills forever! Versatile for this time of year.

Be on the lookout for future releases of Petit Verdot and Vermentino. Bill, our tasting associate told us that Luca created a 2008 Petit Verdot that will probably only be seen at the restaurant, Palladio. Luca also made a 2009 Petit Verdot that should be released later this year. In the meantime, visit Virginia wineries to find your own summer favorites. Be sure to mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.

Face Lift

As you can see, we’ve had a little bit of a face lift here at Virginia Wine Time. It was time to update the theme and modernize it a bit. We hope you enjoy the new look. What do you think? Was it a good move?