Virginia Wine Time

We Enjoy Virginia Wine

Author: Warren (page 3 of 69)

Shorts, Coats, Snow Boots, and Sunscreen

Yes, the last weekend in March brought with it a variety of weather phenomena. We checked the forecast that predicted sun and warmth then cold and rain for the weekend in preparation for our trip to the Monticello area. We were indeed prepared for anything that Mother Nature could throw at us. At it turned out, it never really got that warm, the sun never came out, and the weekend ended with unexpected snow. Oh well—at least we got to sample some excellent wines while we were there. Here is a round up of three wineries that we visited:

Barboursville Vineyards: Despite the cold drizzle, we went to Barboursville with spring in mind. Perhaps that is why we both enjoyed the Sauvignon Blanc Reserve 2013 with its notes of fresh boxwoods, lemon/lime, and shale. I also appreciated the Chardonnay Reserve 2012 that was barrel fermented and aged in oak for eight months. Pear and pineapple flavors were complimented by a fuller-mouth feel and lengthier finish. Rose lovers should checkout the dry Rose 2012 with its fruity palate and refreshing acidity. Regardless of the weather, the Cabernet Franc Reserve 2011 should be an option when considering a red wine for dinner. Classic berry elements merged with earthy nuances to present a well-balanced wine that should pair well with any grilled meats.
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Blenheim Vineyards: It’s always a treat to sample Kirtsy Harmon’s well-crafted wines. All five of the wines that we tasted were quite good, and it was tough to pick favorites. We did reach some split decisions, though. Of the white wines, Paul preferred the White Table wine, a blend of tank aged Chardonnay (53%) and Viognier (47%). Peach notes and tropical fruit flavors gave way to a fuller mouth feel than expected. Quite elegant, too—this one should prove to be versatile either as a sipper in its own right or on the dinner table. My favorite was the more complex Painted White 2012. This blend of Viognier (44%), Rousanne (30%), and Marsanne (26%) was aged for 10 months in French, American and Hungarian oak barrels. It presented a floral nose with a whiff of white pepper; a flush of tropical fruit flavors swept the palate at the end. I also enjoyed the fuller mouth feel. Elegant and complex yet unpretentious—the current label for the Painted White features something that resembles a mosh pit! The crisp, dry Rose 2012 featured strawberry and citrus characteristics; we love these kinds of Roses during the summer! Of the red wines, Paul preferred the Petit Verdot 2012 with its rich dark fruit and blueberry notes; I opted for the Painted Red 2012 (maybe I was taken back to a younger time when mosh pits were a regular part of my social life.) This blend features a twist of Mouvedre (3%); I noted scent of violets with a berry mix of blackberry and blackberry in the mouth. Other components of this complex blend are Cabernet Franc (29%), Merlot (29%), Petit Verdot (18%), and Cabernet Sauvignon (18%). We had the chance to chat with Kirsty about all things wine. She also let us sample the 2013 Sauvignon Blanc. Melon and Kiwi were notes we jotted down. It’s always fun chatting with Kirsty! Paul even joined the wine club during this visit. We’ll have Blenheim wines all year round!
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Cardinal Point Vineyard and Winery: A steady rain did not deter us from visiting Cardinal Point Vineyard and Winery. The Green 2012 should prove to be a hit for the spring and summer. Petit Manseng (50%) and Chardonnay (50%) were co-fermented to achieve a crisp wine with grapefruit aromatics and flavors. Serve wellchilled and enjoy with shellfish. Paul is always a fan of the A6 , and this time was no exception. A blend of Viognier (59%) and Chardonnay (41%) makes for a richer wine with flavors of ripe pear and stone fruit; a hint of mineral on the finish was also detected. Grilled fair should pair well with the earthy 2012 Clay Hill Cabernet Franc with its cherry and raspberry flavors; expect a spicy finish, too. We both enjoyed the union 2012, a blend of Petit Verdot (72%), Cabernet Franc (17%), and Tannat (11%). Initial aromas of tobacco and coffee gave way to blackberry and plum notes with a tannic finish. Serve with a meaty steak and roasted mushrooms! Towards the end of our tasting Sarah Gorman arrived. We had the chance to sit and chat about what’s going on at Cardinal Point. We enjoyed the new deck at Cardinal Point. While it was raining that day, we could see how it would be a great place to enjoy spring and summer wines. Thanks for the chat Sarah!
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Check in for our next post to find out which other wineries we visited during the topsy-turvy weather weekend. In the meantime, plan to visit these wineries now that warmer weather and spring blossoms are in full swing. Mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.

Two New Winery Visits

In a weekend that can best be described as a tug of war between spring and winter, we planned a visit to wineries in the Charlottesville area. This included visits to Chateau MerrillAnne and Honah Lee Vineyard, and that means we upped our count of new wineries visited to 167.

#166: Chateau MerrillAnne—A cool rain fell as we made our way to the tasting room at Chateau MerrillAnne; however, we were warmly greeted by owner Kenny White who guided us through a tasting of their well-crafted wines. Heralded winemaker Michael Shaps is the winemaker here, and we were instant fans of the 2013 Palace White. This is a blend if Seyval Blanc and Cayuga. What is Cayuga? It is a hybrid grape that mimics the same characteristics as Seyval Blanc. The result of this blend? A crisp, fruity wine with citrus notes and a pleasant minerality. The Palace White should prove to be quite popular in warmer weather when seafood seasoned with a twist of lemon are on the menu. We also enjoyed the 2012 Governor Spotswood Red, a blend of Merlot (60%) and Malbec (40%). Smoky notes were complimented by cherry flavors and a spicy finish. I must add that Kerim Baki of Hillborough Vineyard crafted the fuller bodied 2012 Chardonnay; its creamier texture should prove to be a perfect match with dishes that feature a creamy sauce.
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Kenny White entertained our questions as we tasted, and he shared with us that the property known as MerrillAnne belonged to his parents; his father in particular favored life in the country. Kenny eventually purchased the property and then planted a vineyard in 2010; he yielded his first crop in 2012. The old barn on the property was refurbished into a tasting room that opened this year. The vineyard now grows Chambourcin, Cayuga, Chardonnay, Viognier, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Norton will be planted in the future. This is a small winery with case production less than 500; this may increase over time but remain below 1000 cases in the near future. I might add that the price points are excellent—nothing over $20 here. We made off with a couple bottles of the Palace White ($17) and the Governor Spotswood Red (19$).
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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA#167: Honah Lee Vineyard—Yes, the well known vineyard that has supplied grapes to countless premium wineries in the area is now a winery. Actually, they are currently pouring wines by Michael Shaps, and these include wines made under both the Wineworks and Michael Shaps labels. Shaps has contracted with Honah Lee for exclusive use of their grapes, so no wonder that his excellent wines are being tasted there. The tastings are currently being conducted at the Berrywood Farm Market, and guests can not only taste wines but also purchase baked goods prepared by Brandy Hopwood and her mother-in-law Vera Preddy. Vera and her husband Wayne own the vineyard too!

honah2Brandy and her husband Eric conducted our tasting. The tasting included pairings with homemade jellies and sauces, cheeses and Vera’s famous fudge. We enjoyed the Michael Shaps Chardonnay 2012 with its Burgundian characteristics and fuller mouth feel. The red wines were likewise outstanding with the 2012 Merlot topping our list. It presented notes of tobacco and dark cherry with a round mouth feel and spicy finish. Of course, we had questions, one of which was why the Honah Lee property seems suited to producing quality grapes. He explained that the combination of elevation (around 900 feet), excellent soil composition and drainage, and excellent aeration provide the perfect micro-climate to support their 30-acre vineyard. We tasted the results and concur that wine produced from the Honah Lee site are quite good. (Oh—the fudge was Paul’s favorite treat; he bought some to snack on in the car.) Look for wines with the Honah Lee label sometime in the near future.

So where else did we visit while in the Charlottesville area? Tune in next time to find out. In the meantime, visit these wonderful new Virginia wineries and mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you!

1 Winemaker, 3(+) Questions Continued:

So we continue to ask winemakers their assessment of the long-lasting winter and its possible impacts on the 2014 growing season. In this installment, winemaker Jake Busching of Grace Estate offers opinions.

Jake1. This has been a winter of long-lasting, record-breaking cold weather. This week’s temperatures plunged to below zero in much of Virginia. Are you concerned about stress to the vines? Have you changed vineyard management (i.e. pruning) as a result?

Winter cold has to reach serious extremes (well, by Virginia standards, said the Minnesotan…) to damage grapevines. Most vinifera isn’t damaged until you get down to temperatures close to -4F. Buds go first then damage to the vascular system can occur. Luckily here at my site our low was only -1F. I’ve checked buds in the vines by slicing into them with a knife to see if they are still green following the coldest days we’ve had and so far we are in good shape. Areas of NOVA and all states north of us are going to see bud and cane damage this spring. February 5th, 1996 saw temperatures as low as -22F in areas around Monticello AVA many vineyards were killed down to the snowline that night. A fellow winemaker in NY state reports losses in excess of 80% this spring as they had temperatures around -12F. In that situation you hope the snow was deep enough to shield buds in the trunks so you can start new growth without having to replant an entire vineyard!

The beauty of a cold snowy winter for growers, besides fireside evenings and sledding, is a plentitude of ground water coming into spring and a natural extermination of some vineyard pests. We have bugs like Spotted Wing Drosophila fruit flies and vine diseases like Pierces Disease which are both killed off at repeated temperatures below 7F which means we are going into a vintage where bugs will have to reinvade from the south. Perhaps this will allow vines to recover and put less pressure on us in the fall for protecting our fruit from damage.

We had a very good grapevine growing summer last year. 2013 had lots of moisture and thus, vigor, which allows the vines to uptake and translocate food into storage for use this spring. I am expecting good vine growth and a heavy crop this year, frost willin and the creeks don’t rise…

2. Early bud break is always a concern when it occurs; however, are there worries about a later bud break? What is the optimal time for bud break? (The cherry blossoms are scheduled to bloom much later this year due to the long-lingering winter.)

Bud break has been early for many years now. Back when I started taking care of vines in the mid-nineties budbreak in Chardonnay was expected around April 9th. It is my opinion that bud break doesn’t really happen ‘late’ as the sun always runs on time… I would love to see bud break begin on April 5th every year. However, we’ve lately become accustomed to buds waking up as early as march 19th on some sites which creates weeks of fear of frost damage or even cold damage. The only down side to a normal bud break period is if we have a cool, cloudy summer and our ripening energy is slowed or shadowed in our red wine vineyards. This delaying action can push harvest dates into late October when the vines are naturally shutting down and stopping work on ripening fruit. Then all we have to increase quality is hang time which is mostly dehydration to concentrate fruit flavor.

3. Now that the 2013 harvest is history, how is the 2013 vintage shaping up, and what are the comparisons to past vintages?

Now that my red wines have been racked and my early wines are in bottle, I am happy to say that 2013 was, for the most part, an excellent vintage. The summer long supply of rain had us on the ropes all year until, against all Virginia weather logic, we had a drought through harvest. The result of that weather pattern was early season varieties having slightly less concentration, mid-season varieties being good to very good and late season varieties being excellent. We are looking at red wines with early season elegance and late season structure for 2013. I am looking forward to blending this year and playing mixologist with varieties like Tannat and Petit Verdot. The bottled wines are showing very well with nice acid to mouthfeel balance and beautiful floral qualities. I finally made a rose that I respect in 2013 as well from some early pick Merlot with a bled lot of Tannat added for depth and complexity.

Plan a visit to Grace Estate to taste Jake’s excellent wines; in fact, we did just that this past weekend. What were our favorites? Check in next time to find out. If you get to Grace Estate before our next post, mention to Jake that Virginia Wine Time sent you!

Quality at Quievremont Vineyards

We enjoyed our first sample of wines from Quievremont Vineyards at our Mardi Gras party thanks to our friend Erika Johansen from Cellar Blog. Erika brought over a bottle of the 2012 Meritage and we (and our guests) were quite impressed. As a result, Paul and I decided to make an appointment for a tasting at Quievremont, and we concluded that quality best describes the current lineup of wines.
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We met owner John Quievremont on a chilly Saturday afternoon to taste wines in his very small storage/tasting room. The property can be described as classic bucolic with babbling brooks and mooing cows to transport visitors to a quieter time. John and wife Terri bought the property as a relief from the hectic life of work in the city; however, noted viticulture expert Lucie Morton convinced them to plant a vineyard. This was done in 2011, and the vineyard now grows chardonnay, viognier, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, and malbec. It looks like Morton was on to something. Their 2012 Meritage, for example, earned a silver medal at the 2014 Governor’s Cup competition.
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Our tasting began with white wines, of course, and we were treated to a side-by-side tasting of chardonnays from 2011 and 2012. The 2011 proved to be more acidic in nature; however, the 2012 vintage was my ideal. Minimal oak aging in neutral French oak barrels imparted a nice mouth feel with tropical fruit notes and flavors of apple and pear associated with a classic chardonnay. The 2012 Chardonnay earned a silver at the Governor’s Cup, too!
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We moved on to the red wines, and our favorite was indeed the 2012 Meritage, a blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon, and cabernet franc. It presented elements of dark fruit, sweet tobacco, and spice. Smooth tannins made for a nice feel in the mouth. Looking for an everyday red wine? The 2012 Vin de Maison should fit the bill. Syrah is included in the mix of cabernet franc and merlot to produce a lighter-bodied red wine that is perfect on its own or partnered with meatloaf, pizza, or a mix of cheeses.
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John was gracious enough to answer our questions, and we learned that case production for 2013 was substantially lower than the 800 cases in 2012. The culprit? Late frost followed by hungry critters such as raccoon, turkeys, bears, etc. However, winemaker Theo Smith is dedicated to quality over quantity, and his craftsmanship is responsible for the current lineup of excellent wines. Future plans include a tasting room. John Quievremont opted to plant the vineyards first and then worry about a tasting room later—odd, isn’t it? Many new Virginia wineries boast expansive tasting facilities these days but not much to show in the vineyards. That is not the case at Quievremont where the emphasis is on quality fruit and excellent wines. If all goes according to plans, the new tasting room will open in time for harvest 2014.
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We completed our tasting and left with several bottles of wine. We know that we will return soon; however, readers should make an appointment to taste the award winning wines at Quievremont Vineyards. Mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.

4 Winemakers 3(+) Questions

So what makes for an ideal growing season in Virginia? Hot, dry summers with growing seasons that extend into the fall. Oh, and no late or early frosts. Easy question, easy answer. However, what if winter is unusually brutal with sub-zero temperatures and frequent outbreaks of ice and snow that lasts well into March? It may be easy to dismiss winter as an influence on the vineyards; after all, the grapes have been harvested and the vines lay dormant, right? We weren’t so sure about that and asked four Virginia winemakers to offer their opinions on the Arctic winter and its possible consequences. And what about the 2013 vintage? How are things coming along in the tanks and barrels? In this post, we will compare opinions from two winemakers in northern Virginia: Jordan Harris of Tarara Winery and Doug Fabbioli of Fabbioli Cellars.

1. This has been a winter of long-lasting, record-breaking cold weather. This week’s temperatures plunged to below zero in much of Virginia. Are you concerned about stress to the vines? Have you changed vineyard management (i.e. pruning) as a result?

Jordan Harris (JH): I am certainly concerned but I do not believe that there will be wide spread damage on our sites. The coldest we have gotten to is 3 degrees. I have been through that many times in Niagara and at that point there doesn’t tend to be a lot of damage. There may be some issues with really sensitive varieties like Merlot but I would guess it will be in the 15-20% bud loss range for them. In places where they may have got to -5 they could start to see more wide spread damage as you are then entering the temperature range that can harm buds in most varieties.

My biggest concern is actually that we planted a lot last year so I am not sure how the young vines will have stood up to the cold and if we will have significant attrition rates and have to replant those. Really I won’t be able to tell that until well after bud break.

As for pruning, if I were smarter, I probably would have changed it up a bit this year but hind sight is always 20/20. We are exclusively cane pruned VSP (Double Guyot) and we were done by mid January so there is not much we can do now. We do leave a third cane each year so we can replace one of the two that we lay down in case of frost or I guess now winter cold. This year we may just lay that cane down as a third right over top of another one for more buds but my concern is if they are all fruitful then we will have a lot of shoot thinning to do and wonder if we will be able to keep up and maintain a balanced and clean canopy.

Jordan Harris of Tarara Winery

Jordan Harris of Tarara Winery


Doug Fabbiolo (DF): We had a cold spell in December that got me scared. We did a brief, non scientific bud evaluation and decided to only do a rough pruning. We are leaving a lot of buds on the vines at this point and do not anticipate a final pruning until May when the fruit shows itself and we can make some cuts that will be sure to be fruitful.

2. Early bud break is always a concern when it occurs; however, are there worries about a later bud break? What is the optimal time for bud break? (The cherry blossoms are scheduled to bloom much later this year due to the long-lingering winter.)

JH: You mean like in 2013 when we were so late that there was no risk of frost ☺. After last year I say there is no ideal time in Virginia. I would personally like to see bud-break around the start of April to get a long enough growing season but at least get out of March which is very scary (2012). I actually think there is a good chance we will still see an early to regular bud-break anyway. The soil has a lot of moisture so as long as we get some warmth the vines will come on really fast this year I think. Not that we can accurate guess the weather for tomorrow, but long range it looks like Spring hits pretty well around the 15th which could very well give us bud-break sometime in the first week of April, but more likely the second or third week in many varieties is my guess.

DF: The optimal time for budbreak is after the last killing frost. That never happens. I am hoping with the later start, we will be closer to that situation. The vines will catch up if they have some warm days in late spring.

Doug Fabbioli of Fabbioli Cellars

Doug Fabbioli of Fabbioli Cellars


3. Now that the 2013 harvest is history, how is the 2013 vintage shaping up, and what are the comparisons to past vintages?

JH: I am actually really enjoying the wines, I just wish there was a lot more of it. The later reds struggled a bit to get as ripe as I would like, but varieties like Merlot and Tannat really have some great flavor and striking elegance. The whites (predominately Chardonnay since we got next to no Viognier this year) are beautiful. They are elegant but ripe and are really showing the results of either a great site or meticulous management or both. In the end, I don’t want a repeat of 2013 because it was very trying on my patience and stress level, but the wines are good. Once again, quality is not my concern as much as quantity in this case.

It really is hard to compare our 2013s to another vintage for me given I have only been here since 2007. The closest I can say to any of the vintages I have done would be 2008 but 2013 was a shorter and wetter year for us than 2008. That said I think we have a far better understanding of our site from 2008 so still made better wine. You could say structurally similar to 2012 for us, but the ripeness level is not quite as high.

DF: 2013 was challenging during the growing season but finished up in the best way possible with warm days, cool nights and no rain. I am very pleased with what we are tasting. We will be trialing more blends again today. I am tasting good ripe fruits, rich tannin structure and balanced acids. Some of this is from winemaking techniques done as the grapes came in, but most is because of a decent growing year.

And who are the other two winemakers and how did they respond? Stay tuned to find out. In the meantime, spring is hopefully in the air, and it is time to visit Virginia wineries. Plan a trip to Tarara Winery and Fabbioli Cellars to sample their excellent wines, but be sure to tell Jordan and Doug that Virginia Wine Time sent you.

Cabin Fever Remedy: Virginia Wine

After another polar invasion of snow and arctic air, we decided to defy Mother Nature and get out of the house at least for a little while. Paradise Springs isn’t far away from Paul’s house, so that is where we went for a tasting of current releases.
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Of the white wines, we enjoyed the 2012 Chardonnay with its notes of pear and pineapple and fuller mouth feel. It was aged sur lie in French oak barrels for eight months. The 2013 Nana’s Rose was debuted on the day of our visit, and it presented flavors of strawberry and cherry; it’s dry, too! It also reminded us that spring is around the corner.
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On to the red wines, and Paul’s favorite was the 2012 Cabernet Franc that was blended with Tannat (5%). Raspberry notes with a whiff of dried herbs, it finished with a bit of spice. I liked the 2012 Norton with its plum and cherry elements and spicy edge. A prize winner in San Francisco, I found the Norton to be an elegant pour that would favor hearty meat dishes.
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We weren’t quite ready to return home despite the steady snowflakes falling outside, and so we enjoyed a glass of our favorite wines along with cheese and a baguette. My glass of choice was the 2012 Chardonnay while Paul sipped the 2012 Cabernet Franc. We sat on the spacious back patio that was enclosed for the winter, and a fire in the fireplace provided warmth.
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We’ll be back to Paradise Springs especially in the warmer months to come. In the meantime, readers should plan a visit to Paradise Springs. Mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.

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