The social began with a tour of the winery and vineyards by new winemaker Steve Monson. We learned that the late frost did no real damage to the vineyards but that the current rain patterns did lead to more vigor in the vineyards. Also, the Early Mountain team and Monson in particular are dedicated to producing quality Bordeaux-style red blends; the focus on white wines will remain on Pinot Gris and Chardonnay. Fans of the Early Mountain Viognier may be disheartened to know that the 2011 vintage will be the last. Viognier vines do not perform well at the Early Mountain site, and these vines will be removed.
Once the tour was completed, we returned to the gorgeous tasting room and each selected a flight of wines to enjoy. I opted for the Rose flight, and these included Early Mountain Malbec Merlot Rose, Stinson Vineyards Rose, King Family Crose, and Sunset Hills Vineyards Rose. All were from the 2012 vintage. My favorite of the flight was the 2012 King Family Crose—a classic dry, Old World rose with a light pink color; strawberry and citrus elements prevailed.
Paul sampled the Early Mountain Ascent Flight that featured the 2012 Pinot Gris, the 2011 Chardonnay, the 2011 Handshake Red (a blend), and the 2008 Merlot. The champ here was the 2012 Pinot Gris with its bright, fruity elements and rounder mouth feel. He noted that it was perfect for the summer and a fresh, crisp salad!
We also enjoyed light fare with our wine; I convinced Paul to skip the salad and go for the warm pretzels with caramel sauce. They were quite yummy!
Of course, we compared tasting notes, socialized and chatted about winery visits and other happenings on the wine trails.
We had a great time at Early Mountain Vineyards and thank Kurt and Carol for organizing the outing; special thanks to the Early Mountain team for hosting us. Plan a visit to Early Mountain Vineyards and mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.
Yes, summer is here and it’s time to enjoy refreshing wines during the hot days ahead. We’ve visited a few wineries over the past couple of weekends, and here are some recommendations for wines to enjoy during the summer:
Fabbioli Cellars: We are big rose fans all year long but even more so during the summer. Fabbioli’s 2012 Rose Luna is dry and made from Sangiovese grapes; done in stainless steel tanks, its light pink hue and strawberry notes make for a versatile wine that can be enjoyed on its own, with a picnic, or at a cookout. A crisp finish makes it refreshing to boot. The 2011 fruit forward Chambourcin should pair well with grilled fare especially if spicy rubs and sauces are being used. Of course, we always recommend the popular Raspberry Merlot with any chocolate dessert especially brownies!
Gray Ghost Vineyards: I like crab cakes this time of the year, and the Seyval Blanc from Gray Ghost Vineyards is one that I always keep on hand to pair with them. The 2012 vintage presents citrus flavors and a mineral note too; a short time on Hungarian oak provides a rounded feel not unlike a Fume Blanc. A sweeter option might be the 2011 Vidal Blanc with its floral aromas and fruity palate. Steaks on the grill should pair well with the 2011 Petit Verdot, Paul’s personal favorite. Elements of blackberry, dark plum, and black pepper finished with nice tannins to make it perfect partner with a strip steak and grilled veggies.
Rappahannock Cellars: Since our last visit, Theo Smith has taken the helm as winemaker; however, the wines presented for tasting on our visit were mostly produced by Jason Burrus. Burrus is now winemaker at Chrysalis Vineyards. Our recommendations for summer wines here? Try 2012 Rose with its aromas of watermelon and strawberry; .5% residual sugar elevates the fruit to make for a fruity wine destined to pair well with cheeses, salads, and picnics. My own favorite was the 2012 Viognier. Its floral aromas and notes of peach and lemon zest led to a lengthier finish. This is a nice wine to have around if dining al fresco with seafood, poultry or pork on the menu.
Summertime is a fun time to visit Virginia wineries. Magnolias and honeysuckle scent the air, and butterflies flutter about the vineyards. Plan a visit to these wineries to find your own summer wines, and enjoy summer’s flora and fauna while sipping a glass of at the winery. Of course, be sure to mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.
Lost Creek Vineyards and Winery is experiencing a rebirth under new ownership, and the winery’s fliers declare a “new look, new wines, new style.” We met co-owner Aimee Henckle at the winery to receive a tour and tasting of the new Lost Creek Vineyards and Winery to determine if indeed a new direction was taking place. At the end, we concluded that indeed a new Lost Creek Vineyards and Winery was born.
We met Aimee at the Harvest House, the facility that once served as the home for the previous owners but now re-purposed for club members and events. Aimee and her husband Todd bought Lost Creek last year; they got the wine bug several years ago while visiting the wine regions of Bordeaux and Napa. They also explored wineries in Oregon and contemplated a go at winemaking in the Portland area. However, the couple eventually wanted to part of an emerging wine region with all of its challenges, and Virginia seemed to fit the bill. Aimee and Todd visited Virginia wineries and were particularly inspired by Jordan Harris, winemaker at Tarara. In fact, their experiences with Harris’ wines encouraged them to pursue the purchase of Lost Creek Winery.
There is no doubt that the Harvest House will provide club members with an comfy yet elegant environment in which to appreciate the new wines at Lost Creek Vineyards and Winery. An open floor plan, earth-toned walls and gleaming hard wood floors highlight the well-appointed facility. Aimee shared with us that the new focus at Lost Creek will be on Bordeaux-style dry wines, and these will be sampled at the Harvest House’s all-wood bar. An open indoor kitchen and outdoor grill complete with brick oven will allow for cooking classes and other culinary events to be held at the House.
From the Harvest House, Aimee led us to the tasting room for a sample of current releases at the new Lost Creek Vineyards and Winery. New wines and new style were not understatements. Readers may recall that the old Lost Creek produced mostly sweet wines made in stainless steel tanks. The sugar bowl has been put away, and French oak barrels can now be found in barrel room. Furthermore, Doukenie winemaker Sebastien Marquet serves as the consulting winemaker, and he brings to the new Lost Creek not only a background in French winemaking but also experience with the challenges of winemaking in Virginia. The results of these changes spoke for themselves. A new dry Vidal Blanc 2012 was made from estate- grown grapes and fermented in stainless steel tanks. Melon notes and a refreshing minerality made for a perfect summer wine. Our favorite white, though, was the Chardonnay 2012 that was also done in stainless steel tanks. Honey, pear and citrus notes were evident; yes, we noted a nice minerality here too. And yes, no sugar added! Sweet wine lovers need not despair as the Serenity (made from Vidal Blanc) boasts 1.5% residual sugar and its bright fruity characteristics are destined to please sippers with a sweeter palate.
On to the reds, and the first one was our favorite, the 2011 Cabernet Franc. Aged 14 months in French oak barrels, it presented a smoky nose with cherry notes and tobacco aromas; spice elements reminded us that indeed we tasted Cabernet Franc. The final red wine was likewise well made, and that was the Genesis 2011, a blend of Tannat, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. Aged 18 months in French oak barrels, we detected a whiff of violet with dark plum flavors and earthy/spicy aromas.
And so the Genesis 2011 ended our tasting, and it confirmed for us that this is indeed a reborn Lost Creek Vineyards and Winery. Aimee shared with us that future plans include the release of a barrel-aged Chardonnay; in fact, we got to sample this one, and it will be quite good upon release. Expanded wine production is also on the agenda, and more planting in the vineyard will boost acres planted in vines from 16 to 21. Also, Lost Creek is now part of a new Potomac cluster that includes Tarara and Fabbioli Cellars—good company to keep!
With our tour and tasting done, we decided to each enjoy a glass of our favorites, the Chardonnay and the Cabernet Franc; guitarist Nate Davis provided soothing entertainment on a gorgeous late spring afternoon. We plan to visit Lost Creek very soon, and we encourage readers to experience the “new look, new wines, and new style” at Lost Creek Vineyards and Winery. Mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.
Barboursville Vineyards: We always enjoy the wines at Barboursville Vineyards, and we found a few favorites this time around. Of the white wines, we were both pleased with the Sauvignon Blanc 2012 with its characteristic citrus notes and whiff of fresh grass. A crisp finish makes for a perfect wine for the summer. Of the red wines, I was impressed with the Nebbiolo Reserve 2009; notes of violet, dark cherry, and sweet tobacco were evident with this fuller-bodied wine. The Octagon 2008 was also special with rich berry flavors and earthy elements. This, however, was not the Octagon edition that won the Governor’s Cup. That one will be released later in the summer.
On another note, we could not help but notice that the acclaimed wines at Barboursville are attracting ever-larger crowds, and it may be time for the tasting room managers to consider another system for tasting wines at Barboursville. The current conveyer belt system is simply not conducive to an engaging tasting experience. We like to ask questions and interact with the tasting associate, but on this occasion it simply was not possible. We also had the misfortune of being lumped with a large gaggle of silly bridesmaids, and chatting about the oak nuances of the Cabernet Reserve was not on their agenda. We will return to Barboursville Vineyards, of course, but we will make certain to visit as early in the day as possible.
Lazy Days Winery: This winery is located in Amherst and not far from Ankida Ridge Vineyard. The Chardonnay 2012 was a favorite and presented ripe pear aromas and flavors; some aging in neutral oak imparts a subtle buttery feel. Nice to sip on a hot day or with light cheeses and salads! Paul enjoyed the Merlot 2010 and noted smoky aromas with cherry flavors and a bit of spice at the end. He also appreciated its smooth tannins.
We must admit that we visited Lazy Days at the end of the day, and we did not spend as much time there as usual. The tasting staff was very friendly, too. All the more reason to visit at a later time!
We finally made a trip to Ankida Ridge Vineyard, the small winery located in Amherst, Virginia that has made a very big name for itself in a short amount of time. Nestled atop a steep slope of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Ankida Ridge Vineyard is the only Virginia winery that we know of that produces high-quality Pinot Noir. Positive reviews from such experts as local critic Dave McEntyre have created quite the buzz around this winery that only produces 700 cases of wine each year. Our Memorial weekend plans, then, included a trip to this slice of Burgundy.
So why is Ankida Ridge Vineyard referred to as “Little Burgundy?” When owners Christine and Dennis Vrooman purchased the property, they had no intention of planting a vineyard; however, a tasting of local wines got them to thinking that maybe a vineyard was the smart use of their property. Consultations with viticulturist guru Lucie Morton confirmed that the property’s rocky soils and 1800 ft. elevation made it one of the few sites that could successfully grow Pinot Noir, the grape grown in the Burgundy region of France. The Vroomans planted their vineyard in 2008 with the intent to specialize in the Burgundy varietals: Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. They produced their first crop in 2010.
Christine Vrooman gave us a tour of the vineyard, and from the vineyard’s peak elevation, we noted the lower humidity and brisker breezes. When Christine informed us in the tasting room that they only had two acres of vines planted, we expected to see a relatively small number of vines in the vineyard; however, tight spacing per Morton’s recommendation revealed a different story. We were amazed at how many vines were actually planted. We also observed guinea hens roaming about the vineyard, and they delivered their own unique greeting to us as we walked through the vineyard. These, we learned, thrive on insects and provide a natural way of reducing pests in the vineyard. Less humidity and a regular breeze due to a higher elevation also provide more optimal (or more Burgundian) conditions to produce the ever-fickle Pinot Noir grape. Christine manages the vineyard, and as she conducted the vineyard tour, Christine picked leaves and either separated clustered shoots or secured wayward-growing ones. We got the feeling that these were her babies, and Christine confided to us that her work in the vineyard is indeed conducted with a motherly passion.
So how does this translate to wine in the bottle? We sampled the latest releases in the tasting room; in addition to the Ankida Ridge-labeled wines, the Vroomans have added the Rockgarden label to their lineup. These can be described as second-label wines that feature grapes grown at other sites. Christine’s son Nathan conducted our tasting, and we began with the crisp Rockgarden Cellars Voyage de Vert 2012 that was not unlike a Vino Verde with its green tone and green apple notes. Made from Vidal Blanc and white Pinot Noir, it can be described as the perfect summer wine. Up next was my favorite, the Ankida Ridge Chardonnay 2011 that was aged in neutral oak barrels. Half of the barrels underwent malo-lactic fermentation to provide a creamy mouth feel. Classic pear and apple notes and subtle minerality did indeed conjure images of a classic Burgundy-style Chardonnay.
We then moved on to the Ankida Ridge Pinot Noir 2011. Pinot Noir is typically picked early in the harvest season; that fact coupled with the vineyard’s location farther west and beyond reach of Hurricane Irene’s rainy visit allowed the Vroomans to produce another excellent Pinot Noir. Lush strawberry notes prevailed with flavors of dark cherry and currants, and spice at the end made for a nice finish. The Rockgarden Cellars Voyage de Rouge 2011 followed and featured Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc. Elements of cherry, plum and tobacco were noted along with a more tannic presence. A whiff of violet provided a floral note too. Drink now especially if steaks are on the grill! Our final sample was the Rockgarden Cellars Vin Doux, a port-style wine made from Chambourcin grapes. I always enjoy tasting these “smoking jacket wines” and probably do not have enough of them on my wine rack. Dark fruit and pepper characteristics suggested a cigar was in order or at least some dark chocolates.
I must mention that the rustic tasting room did make me daydream about a trip to Burgundy. With doors and windows open even on a warm (and cicada-filled) day, the soothing breezes and low humidity made me forget that I was in Virginia on the eve of summer. We decided to enjoy a glass of the Ankida Ridge Chardonnay 2011 with baguette, cheeses and sliced deli meat while basking in the lovely weather and gorgeous view.
We made certain to purchase our favorite Ankida Ridge wines and know that we will return soon. In the meantime, readers should plan a visit to “Little Burgundy” and mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.
Winemaker Jake Busching established a reputation for crafting excellent wines at Pollak Vineyards. Jake is now the winemaker at Grace Estate, the winery associated with Mt. Juliet Vineyard. We recently met with Jake to chat about his new venture and of course, to sample the wines at Grace Estate.
On a lovely morning (and yes with cicadas at full throttle), Jake gave us a driving tour of the Mt Juliet vineyard that earned its reputation for being one of the first to widely plant Viognier. In addition, chardonnay and all of the Bordeaux red varietals are grown in the vineyard. One of Jake’s primary tasks upon arrival at the estate was to rehabilitate the vineyard, and this included better management of the vigor in the vineyard and replacing vines that were no longer productive. An experimental vineyard now grows Chenin Blanc and Pinotage. Other new plantings include Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris. The goal is to maximize the vineyard’s site that boasts elevations of between 750 and 1000 feet.
From the vineyard, Jake drove us to the very peak of the estate where we beheld a breathtaking view of the mountains, valleys, and everything else in between. It was truly stunning to behold! An unoccupied mansion overlooks the view, and this may indeed be used in the future as a tasting or events facility. This may be the ultimate destination to view fall colors, too.
Our next stop was the barrel room, and Jake allowed a chance to preview upcoming 2012 releases. Look for several of these to be hitmakers at Grace Estate. The 2012 Chardonnay, aged in French oak barrels, was an immediate favorite of mine. It possessed characteristic pear and apple notes with a fuller mouth feel and softer oak nuances to create a classic Old World Chardonnay. We also got a sample of the evolving red wines. My own faves included the Merlot that Jake is actually aging in two barrels—neutral oak and newer oak barrels. These will be blended to produce the ultimate product—a fruity yet more complex Merlot with earthy/spicy elements. My other favorites included the Petit Verdot and a Tannat complete with chewy tannins. Paul enjoyed the Merlot (of course) as well as the Petit Verdot, but he was also intrigued with the Malbec and its violet notes.
Of course, we also got to taste the current releases being poured in the tasting room. This is the time of year when we seek out summer wines, and the steel fermented 2012 Viognier seemed destined for the wine rack. Floral aromas, peach notes and a crisp feel beg for a shellfish dinner. Our friend Michael Tyler, the lover of sweeter wines, would prefer the off dry 2010 Le Gras Cuve, a fruity blend of Chardonnay, Viognier and Petit Manseng. Strip steaks on the grill? The 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon should fit the bill. Blended with 20% Merlot, this one offers dark fruit flavors, tobacco notes, and a lengthy finish. Paul replenished his stock of 3, the result of Jake Busching’s collaboration with Mathieu Finot of King Family Vineyard and Emily Pelton of Veritas. In addition to the 2010 vintage of 3 (a blend of 1/3 Merlot, 1/3 Petit Verdot, and 1/3 Cabernet Franc), Paul nabbed a bottle of the 2012 vintage that is white. This blend includes 1/3 Viognier, 1/3 Chardonnay, and 1/3 Petit Manseng.
We are always impressed with Jake Busching’s passion for winemaking, and we envision great things at Grace Estate with Jake at the helm. We intend to return to Grace Estate to stay updated on the latest developments and wine releases. In the meantime, plan a visit to Grace Estate, and mention that Virginia Wine time sent you.