A Visit to “Little Burgundy”

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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.

Catching Up With Jake Busching

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.
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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.
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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.

Jake's truck was damaged by Hurricane Sandy and now provides an outback-feel when guests are given a tour of the Mt. Juliet Vineyard.

Jake’s truck was damaged by Hurricane Sandy and now provides an outback-feel when guests are given a tour of the Mt. Juliet Vineyard.


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.
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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.
A re-purposed silo located off of the tasting room provides Jake and guests with a zen-like environment where they appreciate wine and blue skies.

A re-purposed silo located off of the tasting room provides Jake and guests with a zen-like environment where they appreciate wine and blue skies.


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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.