The Sparkling Master

Claude Thibaut has earned a reputation for producing excellent sparkling wine. Claude is originally from France, and graduated from the University of Reims located in the Champagne region. He came to Virginia in 2003 to make the sparkling wines for Kluge winery; however, before then he had already sharpened his winemaking skills in California. While there, Claude worked at J, Iron Horse, and Kendall Jackson. The production of Claude’s sparkling wines currently takes place at Veritas winery. During a recent trip to the Monticello area, we were able to chat with Claude about the process of making sparkling wine from start to finish.

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1. Grape varieties, vineyard sites, and preferred climates:
Chardonnay and pinot noir are the grape varietals that Claude uses to make sparkling wines. These are ready for harvest at least three weeks earlier than the same grapes used for still wines. Cooler nights, warm days, and low rainfall is what helps to provide the acid levels needed to produce quality sparkling wines that can age well. Claude considers the environmental challenges in Virginia on par with those he experienced in France.

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2. Vintage versus non-vintage sparkling wines:
Most of the sparkling wine that Claude produces is non-vintage; however, grapes that are harvested during optimal growing seasons are used to produce a vintage sparkling. So does that mean that there will be a 2010 vintage sparkling from Claude? Remember, 2010 was very hot and dry. While those conditions are preferred for age-worthy red wines, they are not welcomed for sparkling wines. So which recent year produced a vintage harvest? 2011—while the year ended up being too wet for most Virginia winemakers, the 2011 growing season up until Hurricane Irene was quite favorable for production of a vintage sparkling wine.

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3. Production:
From the vineyards, the grapes are crushed and then fermented in stainless steel tanks until bottling. However, at least 10% go to French oak barrels to produce a reserve sparkling wine. Once bottled, the tedious process of turning the bottles begins. This is known as remauge and is done so that the lees can eventually settle in the neck of the bottle. This task can be performed manually, but Claude uses a machine that allows for many bottles to be turned at the same time. While in the bottle, a second fermentation process that creates bubbles in the sparkling wines takes place, and this is known as the methode champenoise. Sediment is then removed from the neck of the bottle and the dosage is added. Dosage is the last chance to adjust the wine before labeling, and older wine is usually added to achieve this step; brandy can be added to boost the alcohol level. Once the wines are ready, they are labeled by hand and sent off to the wine shop. Claude’s current production level is about 3000 cases.

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4. Future plans:
Claude continues to set goals for himself. He would like to have an independent facility that would allow him to boost production levels to at least 5000 cases. Thibaut-Jannison sparkling wines are now distributed in New York, and Claude would like to make what he called an “east coast blend” of wines from the best vineyard sites on the east coast. He also mused about making a Chablis-style still wine—-yes, Claude likes to stay busy making excellent wines.

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Be sure to seek out Claude Thibaut’s excellent sparkling wines at your favorite wine shop, and mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.

Seven From ‘07 at the Millers

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Bruce and Silvia Miller, wine educators extraordinaire at Breaux Vineyards, invited us over to their lovely home for a food and wine pairing that featured Virginia wines from the stellar 2007 vintage. Fellow bloggers Alan Liska, Erica Johansen, and Kirsten Gansulous of Cellar Blog, and other wine guests joined us all for a wonderful evening of wine, food, and cheer.

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Bruce and Silvia greeted guests with a glass of the Wild Board Sparkling Wine from Stone Tower Vineyards. However, this was simply the precursor to the evening’s main attractions—red wines from the 2007 harvest. Readers may recall that the 2007 growing season was hot and dry which allowed red grapes more time to hang on the vine before harvest. Robust red wines with depth and complexity were the result. Silvia prepared a plate of small bites that included flank steak, duck, beef tenderloin, cheeses, and macaroni and cheese. These were paired with the following 2007 red wines from Virginia:

2007 Rappahannock Vineyards Meritage
2007 Jefferson Vineyards Meritage
2007 Pollak Vineyards Meritage
2007 Pearmund Cellars Ameritage Reserve
2007 Octagon from Barboursville
2007 King Family Meritage
2007 Avenius from Linden

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I did not take any notes on the wines, but I can say that the 2007 Pollak Vineyards Meritage generated the most buzz. Other comments suggested that the Jefferson Meritage and the King Family Meritage were also quite popular. After the seven from 2007 were poured, Silvia then opened up a buffet of food platters that included flank steak, beef tenderloin and potato salad; desert included chocolate cups filled with fresh berries. Bruce likewise expanded the wine buffet to include the following:

2007 Fratelli from Fabbioli Cellars
2007 Gray Ghost Cabernet Sauvignon
2007 Hodder Hill from Glen Manor Vineyards

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We enjoyed the flight of 2007 red wines from Virginia; for me, it was a good opportunity to taste some 2007 wines that are still on my own wine rack. I can assure readers that the 2007 red wines from Virginia can be enjoyed now but still have time to rest in the wine cellar. (In my case, that would be the closet in my office.) So you already drank your 2007 red wines from Virginia? Then visit the wineries listed in this post to replenish your stock with current releases. Be sure to mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.

Virginia Wine at Wolf Trap

wolftrapwineAttending concerts at Wolf Trap’s Filene Center has become a summer ritual for us, and we start looking forward to our first concert as soon as spring arrives. We also try to attend and experience at least one new or unknown act each year. This year we decided that our first concert would be the performance by the Italian trio, Il Volo. We had never heard of them, but apparently they are billed as “popera” artists who mainly appeal to an older audience. I guess we qualify since Paul and I just turned 50 this year!

So did we bring Virginia wine along for the concert? Of course we did. The dry 2013 Blenheim Rose accompanied our picnic that included bowtie pasta tossed with chunks of grilled chicken, fresh Italian herbs and parmesan cheese. It all paired well with the young Italian trio who belted Italian classics as well as popular standards by Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley and Barbra Streisand. We sometimes bring along an extra bottle of wine in case we want an extra splash to go with fruit and cheeses; this time, we enjoyed an extra pour from the 2012 Pollak Rose. This Rose was dry too; both shared similar profiles to boot—strawberry notes with a citrus twist and a crisp finish. Leftovers were taken home and enjoyed the next day!

Plan to attend a concert at Wolf Trap, and be sure to sit on the lawn so that you can enjoy food and Virginia wine at your leisure. Visit Virginia wineries beforehand, though to sure to stock up on favorite summer pours. Be sure to mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.

Tasting Wines Of America

logoI attended the Wines of America event hosted by WineAmerica, an advocacy group that “serves the interests of wineries in all 50 states by leveraging its formidable grassroots strength to benefit the entire industry.” The event was held at the Longworth House Office Building, and this year 25 wineries participated in the event. These included wineries from the Northeast, Midwest, and Rocky Mountains. Yes, wines are made in states other than California, Washington, Oregon—and Virginia. Here is a brief wrap up of some standouts:

Arizona: 2011 Caduceus Cochise County “Sancha” Red Wine; 2012 Pillsbury Wine Company Viognier

California: 2011 Dierberg Chardonnay

Colorado: 2012 Stone Cottage Cellars West Elks Gewurtztraminer

Finger Lakes: 2013 Anthony Roads Rose

Idaho: 2009 Bitner Vineyards Snake River Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz

Missouri: 2011 Les Bourgeois Vineyards Chardonel; 2012 St. James Winery Ozark Highlands Norton

Nebraska: 2012 James Arthur Vineyards Vignoles

North Carolina: Biltmore Chardonnay (I neglected to record the vintage)

Oregon: 2012 Firesteed Pinot Gris; 2012 Cliff Creek Cellars MRV; 2010 Van Piezer Pinot Noir

Pennsylvania: South Shore Wine Company Gruner Veltliner

Washington: 2012 Basel Cellars Sauvignon Blanc/Semillion; 2011 L’Ecole Merlot

And how do wineries participate in this event? Public Affairs Director Michael Kaiser explained to me that WineAmerica puts out an all call to the state winery associations to send wines, and WineAmerica members also contribute wines to the event. The goal is to get at least 20 states to represent their wines at the event; needless to say, that goal was exceeded in 2014. I sampled wines from Georgia, Iowa, New Mexico and Texas. It was exciting to observe (and taste) the ever-expanding wine industry in America.

The event was well attended, and I was able to chat with wine critics Dave McIntyre and Richard Leahy who were also in swirling and sipping across America. I was also able to stand out on the building’s porch to enjoy a gorgeous view of the Capitol building; from here, I could also witness a spectacular horizon. Did I take any pictures? Well, Paul the photographer did not come along, and though I brought a camera with me, I neglected to snap a few shots. Use your imaginations—it was a lovely spring evening in the nation’s capital.

I did not get to taste every wine that was being poured, and yes, I did taste wines from Maryland and Virginia; however, we write about those wine all of the time. I though it would be an educational experience to focus on wines outside of my own comfort zone. Every state in the country boasts at least one winery; plan to visit any of the wineries mentioned in this post while travelling this summer. Be sure to mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.

We Visited 8 Chains North

Yes, spring is here and summer is not too far away; in fact, we’ve already purchased some of our tickets for upcoming Wolftrap concerts. Of course, we need Virginia wines to enjoy out on the lawn. We found some wines that we will be bringing along with us at 8 Chains North.

The white blend called LoCo Vino is always a summer favorite, and we enjoyed the 2012 vintage. This was a blend of Vidal Blanc (45%), Traminette (35%) and Sauvignon Blanc (20%). Citrus notes prevailed with a twist of lemon in the mouth; it was crisp too. Perfect for a warm evening with light cheeses, fresh fruit, and a crab cake! We’re big rose fans, and we did like the dry 2012 Pink Link made from Merlot; these were grown in the Furnace Mountain vineyard. Notes of strawberries and spice were evident; I detected a creamy notes too. We’d pair this with anything in the picnic basket.

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Grilled meats should pair well with the 2012 Furnace Mountain Red, a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Tannat. Initial aromas of coffee and caramel led to notes of blackberry and cherry. Nice now but readers may opt to age for a bit to enjoy with heartier fare during autumn. During our tasting our wine friends Kurt and Carol from Wine About Virginia entered the tasting room. It was great to see them and they joined our tasting.

We enjoyed a glass of the 2012 LoCo Vino after our tasting and then made certain to purchase bottles of our favorites. Plan a visit to 8 Chains North and mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you!

Winters Weirdness Wrap Up

So here I present the final installment of our recent visit to the Monticello area in the midst of Mother Nature’s topsy-turvy weather.

Grace Estate: This was our second visit to Grace Estate, and this time our tasting was conducted in the new tasting room located in the estate’s spacious mansion. This new tasting space allows for tasters to enjoy the lovely mountain views while swirling and sipping. On a cold, rainy day we pretty much had the place to ourselves. Our tasting featured three whites, a rose and two red wines. Of the white wines, my favorite was the 2012 Chardonnay (of course) that was aged 11 months in 50% new steam bent French oak barrels. Ripe pear notes were complemented by a butterscotch kiss in the mouth. I also appreciated the fuller mouth feel. Paul preferred the 2012 Viognier; he likes his whites from a stainless steel tank, and this one was 100% aged in stainless steel. Rich floral aromas with peach notes and tropical fruit flavors ended with a steely finish yet presented a nice weight in the mouth. We were both fans of the dry 2013 Le Gras Rose; on a cold, wet day this one screamed spring. It was made from Merlot (80%) and Tannat (20%) and presented classic strawberry and cherry characteristics. Nice acidity with a crisp finish—-just how we like our roses! Of the red wines offerings, the 2012 Cabernet Franc earned our unanimous praise. Aromas of cherry, tobacco and cracked pepper were followed by flavors of cherry and blackberry as well as earthy nuances. It was barrel aged for 10 months in 40% new French oak barrels.

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After our tasting, we shared a glass of the 2012 Chardonnay; between raindrops, we enjoyed the mountain landscape from beneath the canopy that covered the patio. We also had a quick chat with winemaker Jake Busching who informed us that a new tasting room will be built at Grace Estate so that parts of the mansion could be used for events. He was also very excited about the release of 3, a red blend that was the product of three winemakers: Jake, Emily Pelton of Veritas and Mathieu Finot of King Family. Tasters will also want to sample the upcoming Vidal Blanc which was aged in neutral oak barrels. Jake gave us a preview bottle and we are looking forward to tasting it soon. Thanks, Jake!

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Pollak Vineyards: It was crowded here, but our tasting associate Casey made us feel right at home with a superb tasting. We were interested in newer releases since our last visit, and that included the 2012 Viognier, 2012 Pinot Gris, 2013 Rose, and the 2010 Merlot. All were quite good. The 2012 Viognier presented aromas of honeysuckle and peach with tropical fruit flavors and a hint of white pepper. The 2012 Pinot Gris should be a summer favorite with its peach notes and rounded mouth feel. Rose is our wine of choice for summer, and the 2013 Rose will be poured with a favorite warm weather meal. Nice strawberry and melon elements here with a crisp finish. Dry too—-yay! Grilled meats should pair well with the 2010 Merlot and its characteristics of tobacco, cassis, black cherry, blackberry and a soft splash of blueberry. Look for some cedar notes too. Complex and should age well to boot; but pour now if you must. Give it some time to breathe, though.

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Trump Winery: Sparkling wine is the forte here, no doubt about it. We tasted four sparklings as well as the Chardonnay 2012, Rose 2012, Meritage 2012, and the CRU. However, it was the sparklings that I was interested in sampling and therefore paid more attention to them. The Sparkling Blanc de Blanc 2008 earned top honors at the recent sparkling tasting hosted at Tarara Winery, and it was just as excellent this time around; however, my ultimate favorite was the Sparkling Rose 2008 with its nonstop parade of bubbles. Made with Chardonnay (95%) and Pinot Noir (5%) it was rich with strawberry notes and flavors with a round mouth feel and lengthy finish. I must admit that I found the Sparkling Reserve 2007 a bit better on this day than I did at the sparkling taste off. This time around I found the acidity that I thought was missing a couple of weeks earlier. It is aged in French oak barrels, so it does have a creamier feel with apple and pear flavors with oaky nuances.

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Mother Nature did not deter us from tasting some wonderful wines, and it looks like spring has finally arrived with cherry blossoms, daffodils and pear trees in full bloom. The dogwoods are sure to follow. Bud break, 2014? It has to be around the corner and for some has already begun. Plan to visit this wineries to celebrate spring, and be sure to mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.

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.