Celebrating 250 Years!

Philip Carter Winery celebrated the 250th anniversary of winemaking in Virginia. A black tie event kicked off the celebration on Friday, May 25 and then continued into Saturday with more casual events that included carriage rides, barbeque, fencing, and live music.

The black tie event featured a “history through tasting” that showcased wines from some of the state’s oldest wineries. These included Barboursville Vineyards, Horton Vineyards, Jefferon Vineyards, Philip Carter Winery, and Williamsburg Winery. However, we attended the Saturday event, and while Paul was anxious to wear his period clothing (powdered wig included), we enjoyed a very warm afternoon in our summer attire. In addition to celebrating an important milestone, we also took advantage of an opportunity to sample the latest releases from Philip Carter Winery.

I’ll get into the wines first. I’ve always been a fan of Philip Carter’s Chardonnay, and I really enjoyed the 2011 Chardonnay that was released on the anniversary weekend. Like its 2010 sibling, the 2011 vintage exhibited a creamy texture on the mid-palate due to malo-lactic fermentation; however, a partial blending with Chardonnay from stainless steel tanks also provided a degree of crispness. It presented ripe pear and citrus characteristics with a nice acidity that we increasingly associate with the more positive elements of the 2011 vintage. Just in time for summer, the 2011 Governor Fauquier is a blend of Vidal Blanc and Chardonnay; done in stainless steel, it is full of bright apple flavors.

Of the red wines, I enjoyed the 2011 Cabernet Franc. This is the first bottled red wine that I’ve experienced, and it met my expectations for the 2011 reds. Fruity and lighter bodied, this Cabernet Franc is blended with Petit Verdot (10%) and Tannat (9%) and then aged for nine months in both French and American oak barrels. I noted lots of cherry aromas and flavors with a peppery finish. The smoky 2010 Meritage, though, presented a more complex pour. This blend of Cabernet Franc (42%), Petit Verdot (32%), Cabernet Sauvignon (21%) and Merlot (5%) exhibited elements of dark fruit, sweet tobacco, and black pepper with a notable tannic presence to suggest that an age-worthy wine. Serve now but decant; better yet, buy now and wait to enjoy at its peak.

Other new releases included the full-bodied 2011 Sabine Viognier, a first-ever release of a Viognier from Philip Carter Winery and the fruity 2011 Late Harvest made from Vidal Blanc. The 2011 Rose was also poured, and we’ve written about it in an earlier post; I do think it is a very good Rose and made sure to purchase a bottle for the summer.

In the midst of our tasting, we met up with Philip Carter Strother, owner of the winery. It was certainly a proud day for Philip Strother, whose ancestor, Philip Carter, acquired the original deed to the property on which the first vineyards in Virginia were planted. In fact, Strother can now exhibit both the originial charter and a recent legislative proclamation that recognizes the Carter wine legacy. Strother also shared with us the bottle for the soon to be released port called 1762. Wine expert Richard Leahy was also on hand to help with the celebration, and Richard was available to chat about Virginia wine and to sign copies of his newly released book, Beyond Jefferson’s Vines.

We completed the anniversary celebration with a glass of the 2011 Chardonnay, and an outdoor seat beneath a shady umbrella allowed us to watch antique-style carriages drawn by horses and ponies taxi riders about the vineyards. Fencers in full attire made lunges toward each other, and Paul bemoaned a missed opportunity to wear his velvet knee-britches, buckled shoes, and powdered wig. I assured him that there is always Halloween! We made certain to purchase our favorite Philip Carter wines. Be certain to celebrate the 250th anniversary of wine making in Virginia with a visit to Philip Carter Winery, but be sure to mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.

The Weekend Begins With Wine

Many Friday evenings are spent on my balcony enjoying food and wine. The weather wasn’t too hot on Friday so we continued the tradition.

We began with St. Andre’s cheese and a baguette. We paired it with the 2010 Jennifer’s Jambalaya from Breaux Vineyards. As you may already know, I’m a member of the Breaux Cellar Club and thoroughly enjoy all the wines from Breaux. This is a perfect wine for a warm evening on the balcony. It’s slightly sweet, floral, and fruity. It’s a blend of seven white wines and has just the right amount of acidity. It paired beautifully with our cheese and bread.

For dinner I cooked my mom’s famous meatloaf, baked potatoes, and green beans almondine. We already had plans to visit Naked Mountain Winery & Vineyards this weekend so we selected the 2007 Raptor Red from my wine rack. Some of the 2007 reds from Virginia are beginning to show really well so we wanted to see how well the 2007 Raptor Red was holding up. We were very pleased when we opened it and paired it with our meal. We noted blackberry, raspberry, sweet tobacco, and spice.

Both of our evenings wines turned out to pair very nicely with our food choices. If you haven’t been to Breaux Vineyards or Naked Mountain Winery & Vineyards lately, plan a trip soon and tell them Virginia Wine Time sent you!

Picnic Wine

The weather on Sunday was beautiful so we decided to take a picnic up to the Bishop’s Garden at the National Cathedral. The gardens are gorgeous at this time of the year. The roses are blooming, the birds are chirping, and butterflies fluttering about. It’s a great place to enjoy a picnic.

For our picnic we brought some sandwich items, crackers and cheese, and assorted nuts and selected the 2011 Sauvignon Blanc from 8 Chains North as our picnic wine. The wine was crisp and refreshing and presented some citrus and grassy notes with a hint of oak on the end. We thought it paired nicely with our lunch items.

What Virginia wine will you be selecting for your picnics this weekend?

Dinner Wine

On Fridays we usually have steak but this past Friday Warren decided to have fish. We had fluke flounder that was lightly breaded and pan fried with olive oil and butter. It was topped with capers and a butter sauce. We had it with bow tie pasta with parmesan cheese.

Warren selected the 2009 Viognier Reserve from Barboursville Vineyards. It was a perfect pairing. We noted ripe pear and lichen nut on the nose. It had a full mouth feel with similar flavors and a bit of spice in the mouth. It complimented the butter sauce very well. We have always enjoyed Barboursville wines. It seems like you can’t go wrong with a Barboursville wine.

New Wineries

A few weeks ago we were in the Warrenton area visiting Gray Ghost to pick up some wine when we decided we would visit a few new wineries in the area. Granite Heights Orchard and Winery and Morais Vineyards and Winery are both relatively are new and it was time for us to pay them a visit. We are now up to 144 wineries visited!
Granite Heights – Luke and Toni Kilyk are hands on owners. They do everything on their land from the landscaping to the vineyard management. They have worked with Lucie Morton, who lived on the farm, to set up the vineyards and have worked with wine consultants over the years. They want to make high quality wine and let the wine speak for itself. On their tasting sheets they don’t mention what you should smell or taste. They want tasters to come to their own conclusions. And we did just that.
On the day we visited they had five wines for tasting. We enjoyed them all but a few did stand out as our favorites. Warren enjoyed the 2008 Evening Serenade. It’s a blend of 52% Cabernet Franc, 40% Merlot, and 8% Cabernet Sauvignon. Warren noted raspberry, blueberry, and tobacco on the nose. He noted similar flavors in the mouth as well as cedar. While I enjoyed this one as well, I preferred the 2008 Lomax Reserve. It’s a blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, and 10% Cabernet Franc. My notes included raspberry, plum, tobacco, some pepper, decent fruit, and caramel/toffee.

During our tasting we had a chance to talk with the owners and found out more about the winery, the farm, and their winemaking ideas. They also told us all about their jams and honey. Granite Heights is small winery producing high quality wines. We’re sure you’ll find something you enjoy.
Morais Vineyards – After our visit to Granite Heights we headed on down the road to visit Morais Vineyards. You can’t miss it. It’s a massive concrete structure inspired by buildings in Portugal. The owners are Portuguese. The building was constructed with events in mind. There are huge areas that would accommodate weddings and the like. They have a beautiful tasting bar with lots of space for groups for tastings.

The day we visited they had a full list of wines to taste…six to be exact. Currently they produce small quantities of their wines with hopes to expand in the future. They also have a relatively new wine maker who hopes to put his mark on the 2011 vintage. As with the previous winery, there were some wines that stood out at Morais for us. We both liked the Select White Wine. It’s made with the Rkatsitelli grape. We noticed citrus, grapefruit and an interesting spritz. We thought this one would make a nice sipper for a warm summer day. The Red Select also got our attention. It’s a blend of merlot and cabernet franc. We noted smoke, pepper, dried herb, and blackberry. It’s aged for two years in French oak barrels. We thought this one was a good food wine.

Both Granite Heights and Morais are new wineries. They have room to grow and high hopes for the future. We think we’ll be tasting wines from them both for years to come. If you haven’t visited either Granite Heights or Morais, plan a trip soon. And be sure to tell them Virginia Wine Time sent you!

TasteCamp Day Three

Jim Law of Linden headlined the TasteCamp finale, and he conducted a personal tour of his Hardscrabble site for campers. Jim is something of a god here in Virginia, so this opportunity for campers to meet the man who inspired the sea change in Virginia’s winemaking was truly an incredible experience. Jim’s tour ended with a tasting of his wines, and taste camp ended on the highest note possible.
Taste campers met Jim on a very foggy and chilly morning to tour his Hardscrabble site. Jim has been making wine at the Hardscrabble vineyard since at least 1987, and he began the tour at his block of oldest chardonnay vines; however, lest we think that Jim contently sits on his laurels and lets 25 year- old vines do their thing, campers were informed otherwise. Jim is in the process of renovating and replanting his vineyard so that particular varietals are planted in the most appropriate soils and microclimates. Blocks of merlot are being uprooted and then replanted with chardonnay. Carmenere is being grafted onto merlot to produce more merlot. Poorly performing carmenere will be phased out. New vines will be spaced closer together. Canopy management will change too. A recent trip to Bordeaux vineyards revealed to Jim that merlot grapes actually do not like plentiful sunshine, and overly ripened merlot produces jammy, uninteresting wines associated with the mediocre stuff associated with California. Therefore, Jim will make the necessary adjustments with his merlot vines. What does all of this say about Jim Law? I concluded that Jim stays at the top of his game because he always seeks to improve. Jim constantly referenced his desire to “get better” or “make better wine”; although other area winemakers often acknowledge Jim as their teacher, mentor, or hero, it was obvious to me that Jim still considers himself to be a student. Perhaps it is for this reason that his wines consistently set the bar for quality in Virginia.
Jim then led us to the crush pad for a tasting of his wines. The fog intensified as barn swallows frantically fluttered around, and a Gothic feel permeated the atmosphere as Jim presented his wines. These included the 2011 Avenius Sauvignon Blanc, 2009 Harscrabble Chardonnay, 2008 Hardscrabble Red, and 2009 Avenius Red. As the fog encircled us, it was hard to miss Jim’s Old World style of winemaking. Elegant and focused, integrated and balanced—these wines were indeed at the top of the class. It was here that I heard the highest praises of the weekend with one New York camper commenting that Jim’s wines were “world class.”
Reflections: So what did I learn from taste camp? Winemaking is a tough business, and the phrase, “winemaking starts in the vineyard”, may seem cliché, but indeed it is true. The vineyard management alone should frighten off all but the most dedicated and passionate. There are many decisions and tasks involved just with the vineyard management. Which site to select? Which varieties to plant, and then which clones? What about trellising—smart dyson to maximize production? Mow the lawn or let the weeds grow to soak up some unwanted moisture? Pick now or gamble on the weather? Needless to say, there are many more decisions to be made once grapes are harvested and then fermented and aged. Serious winemaking is not for the hobbyist, and even most seasoned veterans must be opened to changes if they wish to constantly raise the quality of their wines.

I also learned that Virginia winemakers are still sorting out what varieties work for Virginia, and this seems to be a site-by-site decision. Jordan Harris will be focusing more on Rhone varieties while Law will intensify his focus on merlot and chardonnay. Doug Fabbioli, the Bootstrapper, will continue to innovate not only with traditional viniferous grapes but also with hybrids (like chambourcin) as well as fruit wines. Ben Renshaw enjoys the challenge of vineyard management and seems to revel in working with a more diverse crop—his favored Tranquility site grows traditional grapes such as cabernet sauvignon while the Goose Creek vineyard located across the road produce German varieties such as lemberger and dornfelder. What was a common thread between all of these winemakers? The sense of passion that even the most oblivious would have noticed.

Buzz: So which wines generated the most buzz? I tried to document as many comments as possible, so it is likely that I missed a few of the hitmakers from the weekend. With that in mind, here is my list of all-stars that generated the most buzz:

2010 Ankida Ridge Pinot Noir
2011 Boxwood Rose
2007 Boxwood Red (actually a split between this and the 2007 Topiary)
2011 Blenheim Rose
2002 Breaux Reserve Merlot
2001/2005 Breaux Nebbiolo
2008 Linden Hardscrabble Red
2009 Linden Hardscrabble Chardonnay
2010 North Gate Rousanne
2011 Stinson Sauvignon Blanc
2007 Tarara Syrah
2011 Tarara Petit Manseng
2011 White Hall Viognier
2010 Zepahiah Farms Chambourcin Reserve

TasteCamp offered an opportunity for campers to learn (and taste) more about winemaking in Virginia. We thank the TasteCamp organizers for planning this event, and we encourage readers to visit Virginia wineries to sample the latest releases. Create your own buzz (uh-a list of favorite Virginia wines, course). Remember to mention to the winemakers that Virginia Wine Time sent you.

TasteCamp 2012

TasteCamp was held this past weekend in Loudoun County. TasteCamp founder Lenn Thompson of the New York Cork Report and Frank Morgan of Drink What You Like organized the event, and it was attended by bloggers and industry representatives from as far away as Canada and Georgia. In fact, several participants also attended the bloggers conference held in Charlottesville last August. TasteCamp offered an opportunity for enthusiasts and experts to sample an array of wines from around the state; however, participants were also given vineyard tours to get a glimpse of how vineyards are managed by some of Virginia’s most highly regarded winemakers. This was a three-day event, and I will present a day-by-day summary of our experiences.

Friday, May 4 (Day 1): TasteCamp was officially launched at the Boxwood Winery in Middleburg, Virginia. Rachel Martin hosted a spectacular lunch and wine tasting in the facility’s tank room, and wines poured included the 2011 Rose, 2007 Topiary, and the 2007 Boxwood. Rachel Martin also revealed at the luncheon that the Boxwood Winery will serve as the official public tasting room and will replace the current Middleburg site. This change will begin on June 8, 2012. After lunch, we were given a tour of the wine cave.

The ultimate event of the afternoon, though, was a wine tasting conducted on Boxwood Winery’s crush pad. Monticello wineries were represented by Ankida Ridge, Blenheim, White Hall, Barboursville, ; however, wineries outside of that region such as Annefield, Gadino, Hume, Rappahannock, Veritas, and Pearmund were also on hand.

The day ended with an elegant food and wine dinner hosted by Breaux Vineyards. Jen Breaux Blosser greeted guests as they arrived, and it was Jen who had prepared vibrant sunflower and daisy bouquets to decorate the tables. Before entering the tank room for dinner, guests were allowed to mingle outdoors beneath a tent while sampling Breaux wines that included the 2010 Viognier and the legendary 2002 Reserve Merlot.

The four-course dinner was prepared by Tuscarora Mill Restaurant, and each course was paired with Breaux wines. The ultimate pairing was risotto with beef tenderloin served with the 2007 Cabernet Franc Reserve; however, the cheese course partnered with a vertical tasting of Breaux Nebbiolo from the 2001, 2001, 2005 and 2007 vintages was equally decadent.

Saturday, May 5 (Day 2): Vineyard tours offered an educational experience for all of us at TasteCamp. Doug Fabbioli of Fabbioli Cellars held forth on the vineyard practices at his site and presented a hands-on demonstration of how vines are pruned and then thinned at this time of the season. Fabbiolo frequently described himself as a “bootstrapper”, and it was not wonder that he given an innovator award by Loudoun County. Pears being produced for pear wine are literally growing in ship-shaped bottles on pear trees. An new-fangled machine stands guard in the vineyard to ward away late-spring frosts, and industrial curtains line the vineyard and can be drawn at to cut down on freezing winds. Doug likes to teach and seemed in his element while instructing eager students in his outdoor classroom. I also learned that Doug has opened the Piedmont Epicurean Arts Center as part of a “farm to table” educational initiative. The Center is located in Leesburg and includes sessions on raising cattle, growing fruit, making cheese, and (of course) managing vineyards.

After our vineyard tour, we were given a tasting of Fabbioli’s wines that included Something White (a traminette and vidal blanc blend), the 2010 Chambourcin, the 2009 Cabernet Franc Reserve, and the Raspberry Merlot. A bonus pour of the 2009 Tannat was also offered.

Next stop: Tarara Winery. Winemaker Jordan Harris transported us hayride-style (without the hay) to the Tarara vineyard sites. While in route, Jordan provided samples of his 2011 Petit Manseng, 2007 Viognier, and 2007 Syrah. We also got a history of the winery and vineyard along the way, and this culminated with a tour of the vineyard itself. Jordan has certainly made changes in the vineyard since his tenure at Tarara began in 2007. He made a decision to be terrior focused; as a result, some popular (but not so good) wines at Tarara were discontinued in favor of varieties that best suited the elevated terrain rockier soils, and location-specific microclimate. These include Petit Manseng, Viognier, Chardonnay, Syrah, and Cabernet Franc. Not included? Pinot Grigio, Seyval Blanc, and Pinot Noir.

The vineyard tour was followed by a pizza lunch provided by Pizzeria Moto, a private catering business that uses a mobile wood-fired oven to prepare excellent pizza. Prior to lunch, though, another wine tasting was held in the Tarara wine cave, and participating wineries included Corcoran Winery, Delaplane Cellars, Loudoun Valley, Philip Carter, General’s Ridge, Horton, Narmada, Stinson, and Zephaniah. Of course, Tarara wines were available for tasting and were also served with lunch. Tarara’s 1992 Cabernet Sauvignon was poured for the occasion as well as the 2008 Nevaeh Red, 2009 Tranquility, and a sample of the upcoming 2010 Tranquility.

Final vineyard tour: Tranquility Vineyard. Ben Renshaw, winemaker at 8 Chains North and manager at the Tranquility site hosted this tour. Here again the word “terrior” was used to describe the focus for varietal selection at the site as well as vineyard practices that include diligent canopy management. This particular site is known for its favorable ripening of tough-to-ripen grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, a vital component of the Tranquility blend that was sampled at Tarara Winery. As a testimony to his diligence in the vineyards, Ben was just recently married but opted to postpone the honeymoon until after harvest!

The day’s final tasting was held at newly opened Otium Cellars. It was here that Renshaw poured his 8 Chains North wines as well as the wines that he makes for Otium Cellars. 8 Chains Wines included the 2008 and 2009 Furnace Reds; Otium Cellars wines, however, offered a German twist and included a 2010 Pinot Gris made from a German clone, a 2010 Blaufraenkisch, 2009 Dornfelder, and a 2010 Dornfelder.

Yes, it was quite a day of vineyard tours and wine tasting. And yet the day was not done. TasteCamp participants were given a brief respite at their lodgings at the Loudoun Convention Center and then treated to a barbeque dinner hosted by Mark and Vicki Fedor of North Gate Vineyards. The Fedors offered a tasting of North Gate wines, but campers were also allowed to bring their own wines to share at the event. How to manage so much wine? Spit cups were provided throughout the day, and no one was offended with liberal usage of the dump buckets. Yes, wine can be tasted without actually swallowing it! And no, you do not need to drink every drop that is poured into your glass. In fact, much can be known about a wine by simply sniffing it from the glass. (Remember that, readers, when you are on the wine trails.)

Reunion of some of the Wine Mafia Members: Lenn Thompson, John Witherspoon, Frank Morgan, Swirl Sip Snark, and Warren and Paul.

So what happened on Day 3? Any reflections on what I learned from the event? Wines that generated the most buzz? Stay tuned for the next installment; I’m sure the suspense will be nerve wracking!

In the meantime, visit the wineries mentioned in this post. Mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.