The First Lady Of Virginia’s FLITE Winery Tour

Today we were privileged to join Virginia’s First Lady Maureen McDonnell on a tour and tasting of wines on the Monticello Trail. We were joined by forty other participants involved in promoting the Virginia wine industry, and these included familiar faces such as Frank Morgan of Drink What You Like and Patrick Evans Hylton editor of Virginia Wine Lover magazine. This memorable day began with a continental breakfast at the historic Old City Hall, and we then boarded a luxury bus destined for three Monticello wineries: Pollak Vineyards, Barboursville Vineyards, and Keswick Vineyards.

We arrived at Pollak Vineyards amidst a flurry of media attention. Paul assumed that the television cameras were there to await his final word on Virginia wines; alas, they were there to greet First Lady Maureen McDonnell who has been a tireless and enthusiastic supporter of the Virginia wine industry. Winemaker Jake Busching was also on hand to greet us all, and we made our way to the tasting room. We were first treated to a tour of the barrel room complete with barrel samples of the stellar 2009 Cabernet Franc Reserve and the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon. The juicy Cabernet Franc has already won gold in a California competition, and we await its release.

We were then guided through a tasting in the main tasting room with the First Lady herself helping with the process. We are big fans of Pollak’s wines, so picking our favorites proved to be a tough task; however, we did favor the intense 2010 Viognier. The 2010 white vintages are already creating a buzz in the tasting rooms, and this Viognier present a reason why this is the case. Vibrant apricot and peach characteristics prevailed and it presented a full mouth feel no doubt aided by spending some time in neutral French oak barrels. Of the red wines, we enjoyed the smoky 2008 Merlot with its bold cherry flavors. However it is no longer for sale. Summer sippers will also enjoy the crisp 2010 Pinot Gris.

From Pollak Vineyards the entourage continued on to Barboursville Vineyards for lunch and wine at the heralded Palladio restaurant. Winemaker Luka Paschina guided us through the food and wine pairings, and what an exquisite experience! The salad course featured fresh greens tossed with morels and served atop asparagus spears; a sprinkle of grated pecorino completed the dish. Paired with this was the 2010 Sauvignon Blanc with it’s characteristic citrus, hay and mineral elements. The main dish was a lovely sweet pea risotto topped with seared rock fish, and this was partnered with the lush 2010 Viognier Reserve. Rich aromatics, exotic tropical fruit characters,and a creamy mouth feel best describe this perfect compliment to the equally rich risotto. A cheese course paired the decorated 2006 Octagon, the winery’s flagship Bordeaux-style blend, finished the menu.

The afternoon’s event ended at Keswick Vineyards, and winemaker Stephen Bernard presented his platinum and gold medal winning wines beneath an outdoor canopy that allowed tasters to enjoy a glorious spring afternoon. Stephen is one of our favorite winemakers, and selecting a favorite was a tough decision. The 2010 Verdejo was crisp and clean and should prove popular during the upcoming summer months. I enjoyed the fuller-bodied 2009 Viognier Reserve done in the Condrieu style, and Stephen confirmed that this one will only taste better with time. The complex 2007 Heritage earned my star of approval for the red wines. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, the elements of dark fruit, tobacco and cedar begged for a heavy beef dish.

As we sipped and savored through the afternoon, we learned that First Lady Maureen McDonnell has planted her own small vineyard at the Governor’s Mansion. Mrs. McDonnell opted to plant 15 second year vines in the Mansion’s garden. Why second year vines? The First Lady wishes to produce a wine to commemorate the Governor’s Mansion’s 200th anniversary; therefore, vines in their third year of growth would be necessary. Viticultural expert Lucie Morton provided input into the decision, so look forward to wines produced from the Governor’s garden!

The day ended too soon, and we thanked Annette Boyd, director of the Virginia wine board, for organizing the event and then inviting us to attend. Plan your own visit to these excellent wineries, and be sure to mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.

Appellation Wine Trail

On Saturday we participated in the grade opening of the new Appellation Wine trail near Charlottesville Virginia. The trail consists of five wineries; White Hall Vineyards, Mountfair Vineyards, Glass House Winery, Stinson Vineyards and Moss Vineyards. Stinson had a preview opening this weekend and Moss Vineyards will be opening in 2012. We knew we wouldn’t have time to get to all the wineries so we will plan to visit the rest later this summer.

We began at Stinson Vineyards. We met Frank from Drinkwhatyoulike.com at Stinson and began our tasting. We started with the 2010 Sauvignon Blanc. We noted some nice citrus fruit, a grassy element and some minerality. This one quickly became my favorite. Its not for sale right now because they haven’t received their labels yet. Look for this on the official opening weekend on June 16th. We then moved on to the 2010 Rose. It’s made from 100% mourvedro. Warren noted strawberry on the nose. I picked up red fruit on the tongue and some nice pink grapefruit notes. We then moved on to the refreshing 2010 Sugar Hollow White. This one will be nice for the summer with it’s apple and grapefruit notes. Next up were the reds. We started with the 2010 Sugar Hollow Red. It’s a blend of 95% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc. It was aged in stainless steel and was rustic and earthy. The 2010 Cabernet Franc was next. This one won’t be released until the opening day as well. We noted smoke and spice on this one.

While at Stinson Vineyards we met Nathan Vrooman who, along with his family, is starting a winery as well, Ankida Ridge Vineyards. He brought a sample of their Pinot Noir to taste. Considering how tough it is to grow Pinot noir in Virginia, this one was pretty good. We look forward to tasting more from Ankida Ridge in the future.

Next stop on the trail was Mountfair Vineyards. Mountfair has been around a couple of years and we’ve enjoyed their wines before. This visit was no exception. After surviving the downpour on the way there it was nice to see Fritz, Chris, Jacquline, and Ben once we entered the tasting room. After our hellos we got started tasting wines. While they only produce reds, they were pouring the Fizz and Brut from Thibout Janisson to begin the tasting.

We began the tasting with the smoky 2009 Merlot. We noted dark cherry tobacco,and beautifully smooth finish. This one became my favorite right away. We continued with the 2009 Cabernet Franc. This one had a velvety mouth feel with hints of bramble berries. Next up was the 2008 Belated. We noted bright red fruit characteristics. The 2008 Indigenous was nice. This is the first wine created using their own fruit. It’s a blend of petit verdot and cabernet franc. We noted a smokey nose, plum, tar, tobacco, and black pepper with a silky finish. The final wine was the 2009 Engagement. This is a meritage style blend. We noticed it was tight and needed a good swirl to get the cherry, ash, and coffee to appear.

After our tasting we joined Jacqueline, Ben, and Frank for some of the 2009 Merlot. This one stood out as my favorite at Mountfair. Before leaving we secured a bottle of the merlot for my rack. We always have a great time with the crew from Mountfair.

There are more wineries on the trail and we look forward to visiting them in the future. If you visit Stinson or Mountfair be sure to tell them Virginia Wine Time sent you!

Bloggers Invade the Eastern Shore

Frank Morgan of drinkwhatyoulike.com organized a bloggers’ tour of wineries on the eastern shore of Virginia, and we gladly tagged along; we were also joined by the dynamic duo who write swirlsipsnark.com. On the agenda for the merry band of bloggers was tastings at Bloxom Winery, Holly Grove Vineyards, and Chatham Vineyards. With pens (and iPad) in hand and palates ready, we embarked on our mission.

Bloxom Winery: The first thing we noticed was the wood-fired outdoor oven. Owners and winemakers Robert and Francesca also make authentic Italian pizza in the oven as well as fresh Italian bread, and we can attest to the excellence of the pizza. In fact, Francesca treated us to a freshly-baked pizza as we tasted at the bar—YUM! Robert conducted our tasting, and we learned that the winery opened in 2004. Bloxom Winery produces about 900 cases of wine, and all of the fruit used in the wines are grown on the estate. Robert started winemaking as a hobby while he lived in New York, and he became proficient enough to plant his own vineyard in Virginia. Our preferred wine here was the 2009 Chardonnay with its ripe pear notes and honeyed texture. All of the wines at Bloxom Vineyards are done in stainless steel including the Chardonnay. Sweet wine lovers may find the Some Like It Blush an interesting pour; it contains 3% residual sugar and is very, very pink. A bit too candy-like for my tastes, but I know that our friend and guest critic Michael Tyler would appreciate this one.

Holly Grove Vineyards: Paul and I sampled these wines a while ago at a wine festival, and we recalled being impressed with what we tasted. We were no less impressed with the current lineup this time around. Warm greetings were extended to us by assistant winemaker and enologist Paula Paschall, and our tasting was conducted in the barrel room so that we could also experience some barrel samples. Awaiting us was an impressive spread of cheeses, chutneys, chocolates, crackers and bread that paired with the wines to be tasted. Winemaker and owner Jonathan Bess met up with us to conduct the tasting and to provide some background about the vineyards, the wines, and the winery. Our tasting actually started with some tank samples of white wines, and the most impressive of these was the upcoming Coastal Trio, blend of Chardonnay, Petit Manseng, and Viognier. We noted a floral nose with some tropical fruit characteristics and a refreshing minerality. Look for this one to sell quickly upon released! Of the bottled whites, our gold star favorite was the 2008 Chardonnay with its pear notes and toasty finish. It presented a creamy mouth feel but does not undergo secondary malolactic fermentation. I’m always on the lookout for roses, and the 2009 Sunset Rose was fruity and refreshing; made from Merlot, I noted raspberry and strawberry aromas and flavors. It was slightly sweet but still crisp—one to keep on hand for the upcoming holiday gatherings when a variety of wine preferences may be visiting for dinner. The red wines were likewise well-crafted, and we both favored the Genesis, a non-vintage blend of the 07 Cabernet Franc, the 08 Merlot, and the 08 Petit Verdot. I detected a hint of violet on the nose with abundant dark fruit aromas and flavors and a hint of dried herb. A plummy pour indeed! Merlot lovers might appreciate the lighter-bodied and accessible 2008 Merlot with its smoky nose and dark cherry flavor. Of the barrel-sampled reds, I was most partial to the 2009 Cabernet Franc; it’s a lighter-colored pour, and Jonathan and Paula may decide to blend it with a bit of Petit Verdot for color. However, I’d leave it alone; the lovely raspberry, strawberry, and spice characteristics recalled some of the Cabernet Francs from the Chinon region. The 2009 offering from Holly Grove should prove to be a classic.

Chatham Vineyards: This was our final stop of the day, and winemaker and owner John Wehner conducted our tasting. We had never sampled the wines from Chatham Vineyards, so this was a first-time experience for Virginia Wine Time. On a gorgeous fall day, John guided us through the tasting menu outdoors, and a very generous deli platter awaited us at the table. Cheeses ranged from hard, smoked gouda squares to soft brie wedges; also included were slabs of chicken pate, bowls of olives and almonds, and drops of dried quince. Of course, the white wines were presented first for tasting, and Paul and I reached split decisions here. Paul opted for the 2009 stainless steel Chardonnay with its citrus notes, pear flavors, and crisp minerally finish. I preferred the 2009 Church Creek Chardonnay which is a blend of Chardonnay that was aged in both French and Virginia oak for nine months. Ripe pear characteristics were noted with creme-brulee at the finish. A perfect food wine, this one should complement shellfish and pork. Of the red wines, we both favored the 2008 Church Creek Cabernet Franc with its violet nose, brambleberry flavors and spicy edge. Aged for two years in French oak barrels, this one had a longer finish. I should also note that it is blended with some Merlot and Petit Verdot, so it does offer more complexity. Port lovers may appreciate the Late Harvest Dessert Wine made from Merlot. Serve at the end of a meal or on a cold day with dried fruit and strong cheeses. As we sipped and nibbled, John presented to us some of the history of the Chatham estate. It does indeed have a long history dating back to the 17th century. John and his wife planted vineyards on the property in 1999 with a first vintage produced in 2001. Twenty acres of the historic property are planted in grape vines with Merlot being the most planted grape. John Wehner learned winemaking from his parents who had a vineyard on their property in Great Falls, and we must say that John learned the craft quite well. These wines were all well-made, and John’s dedication to the best vineyard practices and winemaking methods shined brightly in the bottles.

So ended the wine tour with our blogging colleagues. But were we done with food and wine? Of course not! We made our way to the B&B where we all stayed for the evening and began phase two of our writers’ meet and greet. More on that in our next post. With fall colors now beginning to peak through, plan a trip to the eastern shore and visit these wineries, but be sure to mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.