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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!

5th Annual Sparkling Tasting

After the Merlot Vertical at Breaux Vineyards on Saturday we headed over to Tarara Winery for the 5th annual sparkling tasting organized by Frank Morgan of Drink What You Like. It is now our tradition to get together each year to do a blind sparkling tasting to rate different sparklings from both Virginia and around the world. This year we tasted eleven different sparklings. This year the attendees were Frank, Kathy, Nancy, Erica, Kimberly and Brandon, Allison and Tarara winemaker, Jordan Harris.
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Of the eleven sparklings, seven were from Virginia, two were from France, one from New York, and one from California.
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We gathered around the tasting table with about a dozen glasses placed in front of each seat. Jordan and his helpers poured the wines so we wouldn’t know which wines were which. We began our tasting, writing notes, and ranking the wines. When all the rankings were compiled, the results were announced. Here are the results:

1. Trump Blanc de Blanc
2. Green Hill Blanc de Blancs
3. Stone Tower 2009 Wild Boar
4. Boneyard Blanc de Blanc
5. Flat Rock Cellars, Niagara (Tie)
5. Roederer Hermitate 2004 (Tie)
7. Trump Reserve
8. Thibaut-Janisson Blanc de Blanc
9. FIZZ
10. Piper-Hidseck
11. Grower Champagne – Louis de Sasy
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Our top three picks were:
1. Trump Blanc de Blanc
2. Green Hill Blanc de Blancs
3. Stone Tower 2009 Wild Boar

Warren and I were quite surprised the Thibaut-Janisson ranked lower on the list. We absolutely love this sparkling. I have a bottle in my fridge right now! It might be our favorite. Maybe it was a bad bottle, it was too warm, or some other anomaly. We just can’t be sure. But we were surprised. We are very happy though that Virginia sparklings took the top four spots. Each year the rankings are a bit different but Virginia seems to do well each year.
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A huge THANK YOU to Jordan Harris and the staff at Tarara Winery for hosting the event and providing all the glasses, and the wonderful nibbles at the end of the tasting. We had a wonderful time and met some new wine friends along the way! After our tasting we all went to dinner at Palio in Leesburg for dinner. We had a great time!
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We are getting close to the time when people do a lot of celebrating…graduations, weddings, birthdays…so consider a Virginia Sparkling for your celebrating! When you visit one of the wineries that produces a sparkling, tell them Virginia Wine Time sent you!

Breaux Merlot Vertical

On Saturday we attended the Merlot Vertical Tasting at Breaux Vineyards. We try to attend the verticals at Breaux as often as we can. We always have a great time and thoroughly enjoy the wines and the food pairings. This time, as usual, we weren’t disappointed. We were also so pleased to see so many of our wine friends attending as well. Frank Morgan from Drink What You Like, Erica and Kirsten from Cellar Blog, and our long time wine friend Susan were all in attendance.
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The vertical began with an introduction by Jen Breaux. We then heard from winemaker David Pagan Castano about the wines we’d be tasting. The years of merlot we tasted were 2002, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010, and a barrel sample from 2012. The wonderful food pairings were provided by Grandale Farm Restaurant. Throughout the tasting we could taste the wines as we wanted and try different vintages with the different courses.
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The first course was local pulled pork and cremini mushrooms over a gruyere onion risotto cake with plum demi glaze. With this course we preferred the 2010 and the 2012 vintages.
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The second course was caper and mustard braised chicken over tarragon faro with frisee and scallion oil. The wines we preferred for this course were the 2006 and the 2002.
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The third course was beef and bacon stewed over angel hair pasta, Brussels sprouts, and basil in a red wine tomato sauce. This was my favorite course! Both Warren and I paired this course with the 2002, 2007, and 2010.
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The final course was a Breaux Lineage 1st Edition infused truffle. It was served with the Lineage 1st Edition.
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During the different courses we were able to ask David and Jen questions about the vintages and hear his take on the different conditions that helped produce each vintage. Jen Breaux treated everyone to a special treat in honor of Frank Morgan joining the vertical. We each had a glass of the 2002 Merlot Reserve. Everyone was impressed with what an amazing wine it is. I was pleased to taste it because I have one on my rack and was glad to see it can stay on the rack a bit longer.

David informally surveyed the crowd about our favorites. While there were lots of answers, it seemed the 2002, 2007, and 2010 were the favorites. They certainly were our favorites as well as the 2002 Reserve.
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Before leaving we purchased our favorites and posed for pictures. It was great to see Jen, David, Bruce and Silvia. And of course it’s always great to see all our wine friends! If you haven’t been to Breaux lately, check out their events page. You might find one you’d like to attend. And when you do, mention 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.

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