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Category: Winemakers (page 5 of 23)

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.

Bloggers Meet Cicadas in Charlottesville

We decided to spend the Memorial Day weekend in the Charlottesville area, and we can confirm that the totally creepy but very cool cicadas can be seen and heard not too far from DC. The drone of the cicadas was relentless throughout our stay, and we often wondered whether we were trapped in an episode of the Twilight Zone or some other sci-fi show from the 1960s. In time, we did come to appreciate their unique sound. However, we did also taste some wonderful wines, and we even got to visit some new wineries. Today’s post, though, will focus two wineries that we’ve already visited: Reynard Florence and an older favorite, Keswick Vineyards.

Reynard Florence: This was our second visit to Reynard Florence, but this time we got to meet owners Roe and Dee Allison. Readers may recall that the Petit Manseng is a specialty here, and it appears as either part of a blend or on its own in all five of the white wine offered for tasting. The 2012 releases of the Reynard Blanc, a white wine blend, and the Petit Manseng Monticello were less sweet than 2010 and 2011 vintages; we both preferred the off-dry versions. The Reynard Blanc 2012, a blend of Traminette (36%), Vidal Blanc (44%) and Petit Manseng (20%) was fermented dry and presented floral aromas with notes of grapefruit and melon. The Petit Manseng Monticello 2012 contained less than 2% residual sugar; we noted pear and honey flavors with a lengthier finish. These complex white wines should be perfect for summer especially if white fish or poultry were on the menu.
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The red wines were next on the tasting sheet, and I continue to classify the Reynard Florence Cabernet Franc 2010 as a classic from Virginia. Lighter bodied with berry and spice elements make for a perfect wine with light grilled fare including chicken and pork. We both gravitated to the Merlot 2010, a more fruit forward wine with characteristics of mixed berries, tobacco and anise. A tannic presence suggested a wine suitable for a heavier steak dish with a side of grilled veggies.
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Keswick Vineyards: We always look forward to visiting with Stephen Benard, and were lucky to find Stephen behind the tasting bar at Keswick Vineyards. Our tasting began with a creamy 2012 Barrel Select Rose made from Touriga grapes; we’re big rose fans, and this one was an immediate hit for us. However, the 2012 V2 seems destined to be the summertime wine from Keswick Vineyards. A blend of Verdejo (51%) and Viognier (49%), the V2 presented citrus and apple elements with a grassy note to boot. Its refreshing crispness will take the edge off of any warm summer afternoon. Red-wine drinkers who prefer an easy sipper during the hot weather may like the 2012 Consensus, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (50%), Syrah (30%) and Norton (20%). Club members create this blend each year, and this year’s version is very fruity with softer tannins. We were also given a sample of the 2010 massive Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve—yum! Dark fruit, tobacco notes, and noticeable tannins suggest an age-worthy wine.
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Stephen also took us to the barrel room where he treated us to sneak previews of 2012 white wines. Look for more complex Chardonnays and Viogniers from the 2012 vintage as compared to the leaner 2011 releases. Paul noted that the oak-aged 2012 Chardonnay was “beautiful.” Paul is the stainless steel guy when it comes to white wines, so this was quite the endorsement! I agreed—the rich pear notes and full mouth feel were indeed quite beautiful.
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We finished our afternoon with a glass of the V2, and this we enjoyed with cheeses and a baguette. The din of cicada noises provided us with musical entertainment.

Of course, we purchased bottles of our favorites from both Reynard Florence and Keswick Vineyards. Plan a visit to these wineries to find your own summer favorites. Mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.

Stone Tower Plans for Continued Success

This past weekend was quite gloomy with dense fog and constant rain and drizzle; however, that did not dampen our enthusiasm to visit Stone Tower Winery to catch up on the latest developments. We attended the groundbreaking ceremony at Stone Tower last year, so we were eager to discover the latest happenings there. We met with Bryan Toy, the General manager at Stone Tower Winery, this past Sunday; we were treated to a tour of the winery and vineyards and then a tasting of current releases.
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Bryan’s warm welcome made us feel right at home at Stone Tower Winery, and he conducted a tour of the vineyard as well as the winery’s new construction site via golf cart. (I had never been on a golf cart, so I was excited!) Owners Michael and Kristi Huber own over 200 acres of property on the Stone Tower Winery site, and over 20 acres are currently planted as vineyards. Chardonnay and Viognier make up at least six acres of the vineyard with plans to expand white varietals to include Sauvignon Blanc and Semillion. Red grape plantings include Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Merlot. Vineyard practices favor tight spacing to manage nutrients and moisture, and these decisions are made in consultation with viticulture expert Lucie Morton. The vineyards enjoy a high elevation to maximize proper airflow and drainage. However, like all Virginia vineyards, there are indeed challenges in the vineyard at Stone Tower Winery. Unpredictable weather, rot, and disease can throw a curve ball to any vineyard, and Stone Tower Winery stays ahead of the game with a management program that blends both traditional and organic methods to ward off dangers to healthy vines.
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Our on tour was the construction site for the new tasting room and events facility. Space will be cleared in the future for this facility, and it has been designed so that an event such as a wedding and daily business such as wine tasting for costumers can proceed without interfering with each other. In addition to this facility, a new production building is also in the works with an emphasis on state of the art equipment and a sterile environment. The footings have already been poured and construction will begin soon. The goal here is to continue the winemaking excellence associated with Stone Tower Winery. In fact, Napa winemaker Tim Crowe will assume the helm as winemaker at Stone Tower Winery on June 1. Crowe’s appreciation for Virginia’s unique opportunities (and challenges) as well as his dedication to a team effort in the winemaking process suggest that great wines will be poured at Stone Tower Winery.
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Of course, we are all about the wines. Grand tasting rooms and scenic views are one thing, but quality wines to support it all are more important. Bryan led us to the tasting room and guided us through a sample of the current releases at Stone Tower Winery. Three whites were offered for tasting, and these included the 2012 Lacey’s Chardonnay, the 2012 Viognier (a blend of neutral oak and concrete egg), and a 2012 Viognier produced from a concrete egg. (Yes, a concrete egg. It looks like an atomic bomb and is used most often in France.) We both agreed that the 2012 Lacey’s Chardonnay was the best white wine. Abundant pear notes with a fuller mouth feel made for a wine that was not only a sipper on its own but also a food friendly wine. I’d serve this one with poultry or white fish. Of the two Viogniers, we were split. Paul preferred the blended Viognier with its floral notes and spicy finish; however, I really enjoyed the more fruit forward Viognier done in the concrete egg. Characteristic floral aromas were noted but with a richer palate of stone fruits.
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Two red wines were offered for tasting, and these included the 2011 Sanglier Noble and the 2009 Sanglier Noble. Both were blends under the Wild Boar label; label is used to designate wines that were produced from fruit not entirely grown on the Stone Tower estate. Paul and I reached a split decision on the reds. Paul preferred the fruitier, lighter-bodied 2011 Sanglier Noble, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. He noted bright berry aromas and flavors with a note of lavender. My own preference was for the 2009 Sanglier Noble; though a similar blend of grapes, this one was more complex with elements of cherry, sweet tobacco, and dried herbs. I also caught a whiff of violet.
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With our tastings done, we concluded that Stone Tower Winery is indeed making quality wines with a plan to continue a path to winemaking excellence; newer facilities will only enhance the ability to enjoy these wines. This sort of undertaking is only successful if qualified individuals work together to make it happen, and this is certainly the case at Stone Tower Winery. Before we left the winery, we made certain to purchase bottles of our favorite wines. We encourage readers to plan an appointment at Stone Tower Winery, and please mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you!

Gray Ghost Blending Class

On May 4th we attended the third annual Blending Class at Gray Ghost Vineyards. The outcome of the class was to create a Meritage or Bordeaux style blend using at least three of the five Bordeaux grapes. To be considered a Meritage (or Bordeaux blend), a wine must consist of a combination of any or all of these varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot. No single varietal can make up more than 50% of the blend. We were trying to create a blend that was similar to the award winning Ranger Reserve. Our class began with winemaker Al Kellert teaching us about the different Bordeaux grapes. We learned about the flavor profiles for each grape and some history before getting started.
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After our lesson on the individual grapes, we got to work on our blends. We began by tasting each of the five grapes separately. All the wines were from the 2011 vintage. As we tasted each of the grapes we kept notes about each one. We wrote down what we thought was prominent in each wine. We thought about things like the nose, the color, the flavors we were getting, the ending, and the tannins. After taking our notes and thinking about the individual wines, we then began the process of putting certain percentages together to create our blends. Since Al had not told us what the blend percentages were for the 2011 Ranger Reserve, we had no idea how much to include from each wine. It was up to our palates to decide what percentages of the wines we liked best. We used our pipettes to put different percentages in our beaker to create the final blend. We were able to blend two different times to get to the one we liked best. After testing and tasting a few times I came up with my final blend. My final blend was actually VERY close to the final blend of the 2011 Ranger Reserve.
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My blend consisted of 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, 15% Malbec, and 15% Petit Verdot. The 2011 Ranger Reserve blend is 34% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Franc, 16% Malbec, and 16% Petit Verdot. Al was pretty impressed how close I got to the 2011 blend. I was pleased with the outcome.
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My favorite individual varietal was the 2011 Malbec. I think most participants enjoyed the malbec as well. The only problem with using malbec as the main ingredient is that Al doesn’t produce enough to create a malbec dominated blend. He informed us that if we used a high percentage of malbec, he’d only have one barrel of the blend to sell. Knowing this, many of the participants changed their blend in the second round to reflect this. I preferred my first blend as my finest. Warren joined me for the class but his allergies were keeping him from truly enjoying the nose and flavor profiles of each wine. He still came up with a pretty decent blend.
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After our class we enjoyed a box lunch and a glass of wine on the patio. Al and Cheryl joined us during lunch. It was fun chatting about the class and about Virginia wine. We always have a great time at Gray Ghost. If you haven’t been to Gray Ghost lately, plan a trip soon. And tell them Virginia Wine Time sent you!
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Delaplane Cellars

After the special release tasting we attended at Linden Vineyards recently, we decided to visit a few other wineries in the area. Our first stop was Delaplane Cellars. Being a club member and electing to pick up the shipments instead of having them shipped makes it possible to visit Delaplane often to see what’s new and taste the most current wines. Warren had a shipment to pick up so we decided to visit Delaplane.
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Jim Dolphin was there that day and conducted our tasting. The day we attended they were having a special pairing with some of the wines on the tasting menu. Our first wine was the 2012 Rose paired with a pork roulette with strawberry preserves. We noted strawberry, melon, and spice. This would make a nice sipping wine for a concert at Wolf Trap. The second wine/food pairing was the 2012 Viognier paired with toasted cornbread and local honey. Warren and I both thought this was a classic viognier with a floral nose, and honeysuckle and apricot in the mouth. The cornbread was a nice touch with the viognier. We really enjoyed this viognier. The final wine/food pairing was the 2011 Cinq3 paired with Caromont Red Rowe cheese. This one presented some bright fruit flavors with notes of smoke, coffee, and menthol. While I enjoyed the wine, I didn’t care for the cheese so I let Warren finish my piece with his wine. While not paired with foods, we also tasted the 2012 Melange Blanc and the 2011 Merlot.
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During our tasting we chatted with Jim about wine of course and he said of the 2010 and 2011 vintages, “It was the best of times and the worst of times.” That pretty much sums up the differences between the two seasons. Some of the 2010s still aren’t quite ready while the 2011s are wines to enjoy right now. During our conversation with Jim, he let us taste the 2012 Petit Manseng. The petit manseng has 5% RS but is integrated so well you are barely aware of the sweetness. We noted tropical fruit and a nice mouth weight. Jim also let us taste the 2010 Williams Gap. I remember loving this one at the barrel tasting a few years ago so I was curious to see how it was developing in the bottle. The first sip informed me it was coming along nicely. I enjoyed it now as much as I did then. We noted some nice fruit, anise, tobacco, and developing smooth ending. We’ll need to try to get a bottle of this for the wine rack sometime.
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With our tasting and conversation complete, we decided to enjoy a glass of the 2012 Viognier with the wonderful views. We enjoyed the viognier so much that we included it as part of the #vawinechat Twitter tasting on May 2nd. Lots of Virginia wine bloggers and winemakers joined in for a Twitter tasting of Virginia viogniers. We enjoyed the 2012 Viognier as part of the tasting. We shared our impressions of the wine on Twitter for others to enjoy. Join us on Twitter sometime and participate in the #vawinechat events. The next one is on May 16th. We’ll be tasting and Twitting about Virginia red blends. And the next time you visit Delaplane Cellars be sure to tell them Virginia Wine Time sent you!

Special Tasting at Linden

Winemaker Jim Law held a special release tasting of upcoming wines at Linden. We look forward to attending this annual event, and this year was no exception. Gorgeous spring weather, bursting blossoms, and fluttering birds provided an idyllic setting to boot.

Jim Law explains the chardonnays.

Jim Law explains the chardonnays.


The event featured five tasting stations, and the first station was located on the outdoor crush pad and appropriately named First Sip. Chardonnay was the star attraction here, and there were four of them to sip. These included the 2011 and 2010 Avenius Chardonnay followed by the 2011 and 2010 Hardscrabble Chardonnay. The Avenius site is known for its rocky soils and thus produces leaner wines with mineral characteristics; we both agreed that the 2011 better presented these unique qualities of the Avenius vineyard. Shellfish will be perfect with one! The Hardscrabble site with its clay soils produce fuller-bodied wines; of the two, I preferred the 2010 Hardscrabble Chardonnay with its richer mouth feel.
Shari Avenious pours her chardonnays.

Shari Avenious pours her chardonnays.


From the white wine station, we moved on to the red wines held in the barrel room. We moved through four tables that presented a total of seven red wines. The first table featured a 2010 Cabernet Franc, and this will be the first time that Law has released a single-varietal bottling of Cabernet Franc in quite some time; however, the 2010 Cabernet Franc proved to be jammier and more muscular than in previous years. Law therefore opted to bottle it on its own. We approved of the decision and enjoyed our sample with a spicy lamb meatball.
Richard Boisseau discusses the 2009 vintage.

Richard Boisseau discusses the 2009 vintage.


The other tables provided more opportunities to sample wines from the 2009 and the 2010 vintages. In all cases, we tended to prefer the 2009 pours. The most accessible was the 2009 Boisseau Red, a blend of 43% Merlot, 31% Cabernet Franc, and 26% Petit Verdot. The 2009 Hardscrabble Red proved to be the most complex and was dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon (64%) then Merlot (14%) and Petit Verdot (3%). Paul was a big fan of the 2009 Avenius Red with its plum notes and earthy elements.
There were plenty of nibbles at the special tasting.

There were plenty of nibbles at the special tasting.


Though we did enjoy the 2009 vintages, it was hard to ignore the potential for the 2010 red wines. The 2010 harvest was best since the heralded 2007 season, and it was telling that Cabernet Sauvignon heavily dominated all of the 2010 blends. I am always a fan of the Hardscrabble reds, and once again the 2010 Hardscrabble Red was my favorite of the still evolving 2010 blends. Remember, though, that the 2009 blend contained 64% Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2010 version? 83% I have no doubt that the 2010 Hardscrabble Red will have great cellaring potential once it is released.

We completed our release tasting and then opted to try the current releases in the tasting room. Here again we were able to taste a contrast of seasons. Law has released a 2011 Red, a bright and light bodied red blend that would be suitable with a pizza, burger, or spicy fare. (I called this one a Beaujolais-style wine due to its soft, fruity nature, but I’m not sure if Jim would consider it a complement.) Anyway, it was the product of a very rainy and difficult year yet it was very quaffable. Be sure to enjoy soon, though. It might be an option for Thanksgiving dinner, too. (Paul ended up buying two bottles!). On the other hand, the 2010 Claret was more complex with smoky notes and ripe dark fruit flavors. Steak on the grill? This would pair nicely. Unlike its younger sibling, this one will be able to hang out on the wine rack for a while.

Barn Swallow

Barn Swallow


Our tastings were done, and we decided to linger for a while with a glass of our favorites. I savored a glass of the 2009 Hardscrabble Red, and Paul enjoyed a glass of the 2009 Avenius Red. We munched on a smoky gouda cheese, summer sausage, and a baguette, and Paul snapped pictures of barn swallows as they flew back and forth between a dark space beneath the deck and nearby trees.
Chardonnay bud break at Linden.

Chardonnay bud break at Linden.


We enjoyed our special release tasting and made sure to purchase some very special wines. Plan a trip to Linden, and mention that Virginia Wine time sent you.

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