Gray Ghost Events

We attend many of the Gray Ghost Vineyards events all throughout the year. In the last month or so we’ve attend three of those events. Here is a short recap of those events.

On November 3rd we attended the Wine Library Tasting. The Wine Library Tasting is a chance to taste past vintages of some of their best wines. Since we have many of these on our wine racks, it’s a good chance to see how they are developing in the bottle. This time we had a chance to taste the:

1999 Cabernet Sauvignon
2002 Cabernet Sauvignon
2006 Cabernet Franc
2008 Merlot

Here are a couple of shots from the event.

On November 16th we attended the Gala Release Party for the 2010 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s a fun evening of great food, great friends and of course a great wine. Here are a few shots from the event.

On December 1st we attended the Wine Library Tasting with Warren’s parents. They were in town for Thanksgiving and were able to join us in tasting the:

1993 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Gray Ghost’s Inaugural Release)
1999 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
2002 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

Here are a few shots from the event.

We always have a great time at the Gray Ghost events. If you haven’t attended one, think about it joining in the fun. And when you do, tell them Virginia Wine Time sent you!


We are back from our trip to California wine country specifically Napa and Sonoma. This time around we focused our tasting experiences on smaller-production wineries that were recommended to us by others. Our friend Susan McHenry suggested an appointment to Hanzell Vineyards. Readers may recall that we featured Susan’s impressive wine cellar in a video piece, and the mural in her cellar depicts the breathtaking view of Hanzell Vineyards. Susan is also a member of Hanzell’s Ambassador’s Club, and she is an avid collector of Hanzell wines. We trusted her expertise and made an appointment at Hanzell Vineyards; it was hands-down the “Wow” experience of our trip.

Hanzell Vineyards is located in Sonoma, and James Zellerbach planted the first vineyard on what is now called the Ambassador’s Vineyard in 1953. Zellerbach served as the ambassador to Italy under President Eisenhower; hence, the name of the vineyard. In fact, Zellerbach’s interest in wine was piqued during visits to European wine destinations particularly Burgundy. He returned to his Sonoma property determined to make quality wines with a focus on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and named his vineyards Hanzell, a combination of his wife’s first name, Hana, and Zellerbach.

Our tasting included a tour of the grounds and facility, and this was conducted by Ben Sessions, son of former winemaker Bob Sessions. Ben gave us a driving tour of the vineyards including the oldest Ambassador’s 1953 Vineyards, and in the process filled us in on particular features that allowed Hanzell to produce focused, terroir-driven wines. Higher elevations allow for perfect aeration and drainage while volcanic soils provide a minerality that is a hallmark of Hanzell wines. Vines are planted in either west-facing or east-facing slopes so that they benefit from optimal amounts of sun, air flow, and morning moisture; in particular, the Ramos Vineyard is exposed to morning fog that rolls in from San Francisco Bay. In all, Hanzell Vineyards includes 44 acres of planted vines with a maximum production of 6000 cases per year.

A tour of the facility followed our vineyard tour. Talk about rooms with views! Hanzell Vineyards is located on the mountain slopes of the Mayacamas Range, so most opened windows and double doors offer gorgeous views of mountain landscapes. Wine barrels, though, are stored in a cave. A wine library warehouses vintages that date at least as old as 1965, and a sort of museum exhibits the winemaking equipment, including the tanks, from the 1950s.

However, the ultimate part of the tour concluded in the tasting room with its lofty wood-beamed ceiling. We were given a seated tasting at a dining table, and the three currently released wines were offered for sampling. These included 2010 Sebella Chardonnay, the 2009 Hanzell Vineyards Chardonnay, and the 2009 Hanzell Vineyards Pinot Noir. In addition, two older vintages were included in the tasting: a 2004 Hanzell Vineyards Chardonnay, and a 2001 Hanzell Vineyards Pinot Noir. All were excellent. The 2010 Sebella Chardonnay was fresh and almost playful with elements of pear, citrus and mineral; aged for six months in French oak barrels, it presented a refreshing mouth feel. It’s older sibling, the 2009 Hanzell Vineyards Chardonnay was produced from 34 year-old vines and offered more complexity. We noted aromas of pear and lemon zest with similar flavors in the mouth. 30% barrel fermentation and then twelve months aging in 30% new French oak barrels provided a fuller mouth feel. (An interesting side note—Ben suggested decanting the older Hanzell Chardonnays at least two hours prior to serving.) The 2009 Hanzell Vineyards Pinot Noir was likewise complex with full-on aromatic experience—strawberry and cherry notes were complemented by earthy/spicy aromas of sweet tobacco, anise, cloves and bay leaf. Similar fruit and spicy flavors were observed along with the minerality that characterized the other Hanzell wines. This Pinot Noir spends time in 50% new and 50% one year French oak barrels.

Not to be outdone were the older vintages, and these were indeed quite special. The 2004 Hanzell Vineyards Chardonnay was probably my favorite with its whiff of honeysuckle and elements of pineapple and butterscotch. The 2001 Hanzell Vineyards Pinot Noir possessed a faint floral aroma with notes of tobacco and spice; plum and blackberry flavors were savored.

The seated tasting allowed us to proceed at a more leisurely pace, and Ben was more than patient in answering our questions (you know how pesky those bloggers can be.) Ben’s father, Bob, retired from winemaking at Hanzell Vineyards in 2002 and is now the Winemaker Emeritus. Michael Terrien is the current winemaker, and future plans include the production of Cabernet Sauvignon. Hanzell Vineyards did at one point make Cabernet Sauvignon; in fact, I spied a bottle from the early 1990s in the wine library. We also learned that Hanzell Vineyards was the earliest winery in California to use only French oak barrels, and this practice continues today.

Focused vineyard practices along with judicious use of oak barrels resulted in the balanced, exquisite wines that we tasted at Hanzell Vineyards. With our tour and tastings done, we made certain to purchase our favorites Hanzell wines. Ben Sessions was a very gracious host, and thank him for time and attention. Planning a trip to Sonoma? Reserve a tasting at Hanzell Vineyards, and mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.


As most of you know, we have been in California this week visiting wineries. We will be returning next week. At that time we’ll be posting about our trip but until then, enjoy some photographs taken so far on our trip.

Wine Storage

Swirl, Sip, Snark and Cellarblog have posted pictures of their wine racks. I’m very impressed with their wine storage. Frank from Drink What You Like also kicked in his photo on Twitter. They have issued a challenge for all Virginia wine blogs to post about their wine storage. Wanting to be part of the in crowd and participate I decided to show how I store my wine. I have two separate areas for my wine. I store them both in my dining room. I have one rack just for white wines and then on the other side of the room I have two racks for all my red wines. Both racks are organized by winery. My wine collection is almost exclusively Virginia wine so I can store them on the racks by winery. This works out well when I’m looking for a specific wine from a specific winery. So here are the pictures of my wine racks. How do you store your wine?

White wine rack…I also have several bottles chilling in the refrigerator.

Red wine racks.

Not to leave out Warren, I will say that he stores his wine in several places around his house. He has most of them in a closet that keeps a pretty constant temperature and lots of darkness.

Harvesting at Gray Ghost

Yesterday we spent a good chunk of the day at Gray Ghost Vineyards helping to harvest the chardonnay grapes. This has become an annual event for us. This was my 6th year and Warren’s 8th year harvesting. We always have a good time and enjoy meeting new people.

As usual, we got up really early and met others at the winery and enjoyed some breakfast treats before heading out to the vineyards.

Al gave us a quick lesson on how to harvest the grapes.

We then headed out to the vineyards to begin harvesting the grapes.

Here’s Warren hard at work snipping the stems.

We found a small bird nest IN the vines!

A few hours later the lugs were weighed and 11 TONS (yes, tons) of chardonnay grapes had been harvested.

At the end we toasted and cheered for the record breaking harvest and what a good job we had all done! We look forward to repeating this again next year!

On The Road Again!

After a quick visit to the Woodrow Wilson birthplace and museum in downtown Staunton Virginia, we got in the Virginia Wine Time car and headed to our first winery. Our first stop was Ox-Eye Vineyards tasting room in downtown Staunton. They have a very interesting business model. They do not have a tasting room at the vineyards, instead they have a tasting room in Staunton. We’ll write more about it in the near future.

Our second stop was Attimo Winery just east of Radford Virginia. It took us awhile to get there because of all the construction on I-81 south. They have a beautiful tasting room and an interesting way of tasting at tables and not at the tasting bar…kind of like what they do at Hillsboro. Again, we’ll be posting more about Attimo in the weeks to come. Stay tuned.

Our final stop of the day was at West Wind Vineyard and Winery located just east of I-81 in Max Meadows Virginia. We visited them once three years ago and David remembered us when we were at the Monticello tasting during the wine bloggers conference. It was good to see him and Jason. We tasted the wines and will be reporting about them soon.

We have plans to visit two more wineries tomorrow before heading to Tennessee for a family gathering on Saturday. We’ll return to the trail on Sunday. We have now visited 131 wineries in Virginia! Stay tuned! If you happen to visit any of these wineries, tell them Virginia Wine Time sent you!


Yesterday we started a wine trip to visit wineries in the Shenandoah AVA and in the southern part of the state. We will post about each winery in the weeks to come. On the first day we visited Cave Ridge Vineyard, CrossKeys Vineyards, Bluestone Vineyard, and Barren Ridge Vineyards. We tasted some really nice wines and enjoyed our visit to each winery. Here’s a picture from the Cave Ridge Vineyard. As you can see the grapes are almost finished with veraison. The grapes are developing nicely! We’ll post again tomorrow with the wineries we visited and maybe a few teaser pictures