Early Mountain Vineyards

On our way home from Charlottesville over the Memorial Day weekend we decided to stop at Early Mountain Vineyards. We hadn’t been there in awhile so we wanted to see what was new.

Our tasting associate Julie, guided us through a tasting of all the Early Mountain wines. Of the whites we really enjoyed the 2016 Pinot Gris. We noted peach, wet stone, and mineral. Warren described it as clean and delicate. I agreed!

We were split on the reds. I really enjoyed the 2015 Foothills. I noted smoke, cherry, blackberry, and pepper. It made me think of beef! Warren favored the 2014 Novum. He noted seed berries, a hint of leather and smooth finish. I enjoyed it as well but preferred the Foothills. Our tasting associate Julie said of the Novum, “Wine is my favorite color.”

Julie was such a good tasting associate that I decided to join the wine club! We each enjoyed a flight of wines and some nibbles before making our purchases. We left with a case of wine but not before saying our goodbyes and recommending she check out our blog.

If you haven’t been to Early Mountain Vineyards lately, it’s time to return. If Julie is your tasting associate, tell her we said hello! And tell her that Virginia Wine Time sent you!

Bloggers Meet Up at Early Mountain Vineyards

Fellow blogger Kurt Jensen and his wife Carol organized a bloggers’ social at Early Mountain Vineyards this past Saturday. Those in attendance included Kurt and Carol from Wine About Virginia, Erin and Dan from At the Lamp Post, Anthony from Virginia Pour House, Stacey from Virginia Wine Know, and Frederick and Allison from This Is Wine.
The social began with a tour of the winery and vineyards by new winemaker Steve Monson. We learned that the late frost did no real damage to the vineyards but that the current rain patterns did lead to more vigor in the vineyards. Also, the Early Mountain team and Monson in particular are dedicated to producing quality Bordeaux-style red blends; the focus on white wines will remain on Pinot Gris and Chardonnay. Fans of the Early Mountain Viognier may be disheartened to know that the 2011 vintage will be the last. Viognier vines do not perform well at the Early Mountain site, and these vines will be removed.
Once the tour was completed, we returned to the gorgeous tasting room and each selected a flight of wines to enjoy. I opted for the Rose flight, and these included Early Mountain Malbec Merlot Rose, Stinson Vineyards Rose, King Family Crose, and Sunset Hills Vineyards Rose. All were from the 2012 vintage. My favorite of the flight was the 2012 King Family Crose—a classic dry, Old World rose with a light pink color; strawberry and citrus elements prevailed.
Paul sampled the Early Mountain Ascent Flight that featured the 2012 Pinot Gris, the 2011 Chardonnay, the 2011 Handshake Red (a blend), and the 2008 Merlot. The champ here was the 2012 Pinot Gris with its bright, fruity elements and rounder mouth feel. He noted that it was perfect for the summer and a fresh, crisp salad!
We also enjoyed light fare with our wine; I convinced Paul to skip the salad and go for the warm pretzels with caramel sauce. They were quite yummy!

Of course, we compared tasting notes, socialized and chatted about winery visits and other happenings on the wine trails.
We had a great time at Early Mountain Vineyards and thank Kurt and Carol for organizing the outing; special thanks to the Early Mountain team for hosting us. Plan a visit to Early Mountain Vineyards and mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.

Bloggers Judge Sparkling Wines

Yes, we are back on track with our regular posts about Virginia wine, and this entry will present the results of a tasting that featured sparkling wines. This has become something of a tradition for Virginia bloggers, and we thank Frank Morgan of Drink What You Like for his continued efforts in putting this contest together. Other Virginia wine bloggers in attendance were VWD and GEG from Swirl Sip Snark, Anthony and Jaymie from Virginia Pour House blog, Megan Headley who writes for CVille Weekly, Allan and Kris from Cellar Blog, and Pia Mara Finkell from The BuzzBin. This year’s tasting was held at Early Mountain Vineyards, and thirteen bubblies were tossed into the ring.
Of the thirteen, ten were from Virginia, one was from the Finger Lakes, another was from New Mexico, and a final outside entry hailed from Spain.
The judging was done blind. What were the results? How did Virginia’s sparkling fare? When all was tasted, here is how they ranked:

1. Thibaut-Janisson 2008 Cuvee D’etat: This was also my own personal favorite with nice yeasty notes and elements of apple and pear.
2. Thibaut-Janisson NV Blanc de Chardonnay: This also earned the second spot on my own list.
3. Trump 2008 Blanc de Blanc
4. Thibaut-Janisson NV Fizz: This one earned my third place finish.
5. Veritas NV Scintilla
6. Dr. Frank Winery 2006 Chateau Frank (from the Finger Lakes region)
7. Barboursville NV Brut
8. Prince Michel Winery NV Sparkling Wine
9. Gruet Winery NV: Last year it earned the top spot; I placed this one at #11 on my own scorecard. Off aromas and a flatter palate led to a dramatic fall in the ratings this year.
10. Paradise Springs Winery NV Apres
11. Afton Mountain 2010 Bollicine
12. Horton NV Sparkling Viognier: This one earned my #13 rating. It had no characteristics of a sparkling wine. Not one bubble, and I searched in vain for at least one to dance its way to the top of the glass. It tasted like a flat Viognier, and I do mean flat.
13. Jaume Serra Christalino NV Brut Cava: Off aromas and an odd finish sent this one to the bottom of the rankings. It did bubble, though, and for that reason I gave it an edge over the Horton Sparkling.
So cheers to Virginia: in particular, kudos to Claude Thibaut-Janisson for his continued excellence in producing premier sparkling wines. Special thanks must be extended to Michelle, Jacob, and the entire Early Mountain team for not only hosting the event at their wonderful facility but also for providing us with the stemware, cheeses, breads and deli meats to nibble as we sipped.
This is the time of year for graduations, weddings, engagements, and other special events. Celebrate a special occasion with a bottle of sparkling wine from Virginia. The local wine shop may sell the Thibaut-Janisson selections; if not, ask that they do. Mention that Virginia Wine Time recommends them!

New Direction at Early Mountain Vineyards

We attended the officially opening of Early Mountain Vineyards, formerly known as Sweeley Estate Vineyards, this past Saturday. Owners Steve and Jean Case actually re-launched the winery under the Early Mountain name in June; however, this event marked the official debut of the Early Mountain brand and concept with industry experts, journalists, bloggers and state officials (Governor McDonnell and Todd Haymore) on hand to toast the future of what will be a highly successful venture.

A new focus was clearly displayed from the moment we walked into the renovated tasting room. Adjectives such as open, light, and warm came to mind. The already expansive tasting room was resigned with an open concept in mind, and warm earth and neutral tones lightened the walls. Light poured through windows, and mountain views greeted the eye at every glance. We were escorted to the dining room located to the right of the main entrance, and here too the interior design can be described as open, bright, and inviting. Guests were handed champagne flute filled with sparkling wine from Thibaut-Janisson, and Jean Case warmly greeted us to the event.

The day’s events began with a luncheon that showcased seasonal fare from the local area. These included spicy sausage, smoked salmon, artisanal cheeses, and fresh breads. These were paired with the Early Mountain Pinot Gris 2011 and the Early Mountain Merlot 2008. It was at the luncheon that Jean Case addressed the attendees and filled us in on the Early Mountain concept known as Best of Virginia. Jean revealed a lifelong love of Virginia as well as a lifelong love of wine. She became excited about the state’s growing wine industry and wanted to be a part of it; in particular, Jean wanted to bring the best Virginia wines to consumers. The Best of Virginia, then is an initiative designed to “elevate, celebrate and champion the finest Virginia wine to both consumers and the wine industry” with an ultimate goal of increasing consumer exposure to Virginia wine. Therefore, Early Mountain Vineyards will not only feature their own wines in the tasting room but also other Virginia wines from Ankida Ridge, Barboursville, Breaux Vineyards, Chatham, King Family, Linden, and Thibaut-Janisson. Heading the Early Mountain team of experts to identify the Best of Virginia is sommelier Michelle Gueydan who has worked for celebrity chef John Besh; Gueydan travels the state to identify the top wines in Virginia. These selections then become part of Early Mountain’s wine portfolio, and consumers can then purchase these wines in the tasting room.

After lunch, we were then given a guided tour of the vineyard and barrel room by winemaker Frantz Ventre. Frantz had been the winemaker for Sweeley Estate and therefore has intimate knowledge of the vineyard, its soils and microclimate. We were led to a block of Cabernet Franc that looked ripened and about ready for harvest. It was here that Frantz shared with us the advantages of the site’s red clay and quartz soils, and its location allowed the mountains to protect the vineyard from weather hazards such as heavy rain and hail. Mountain breezes help to regulate temperatures while warding off flying pests that can affect the grapes. We also learned that a goal at Early Mountain Vineyards is to move away from heavy chemical sprays with a complete conversion to bio-dynamic practices and products in the near future.

We were guided from the vineyard to the barrel room where we were treated to a sample of the newly released Chardonnay. As we transitioned from the warm outdoors to the cool climate of the barrel room, the crisp Chardonnay proved to be quite refreshing. In the barrel room, we learned that Early Mountain’s focus will be on smaller production of quality wines (about 3000-4000 cases) as opposed to Sweeley Estates’ emphasis on volume. Both the tank and barrel room were spotlessly clean. As we toured the facility, Jean Case commended the Sweeley’s for dedicating their resources to building a quality winery, including the barrel room and the state-of-the art equipment.

Our tour then led us back to the tasting room where we could then taste wines from the Best portfolio and walk about the tasting room. A sumptuous buffet awaited us with wait staff offering oysters on crackers, salmon slices, and mushrooms on toast points. A market shop featured Best of Virginia wines, gourmet food items, and other wine-related products. As we sipped and snacked, we chatted with other bloggers and industry folks such as Annette Boyd, head of the Virginia Marketing Office, Melissa Harris of Flavor magazine, and Claude DelFosse of DelFosse Vineyards.

We were very pleased with the new direction that is being taken by Early Mountain Vineyards. The unique Best of Virginia concept, a sharper focus in the vineyards, and a quality team of passionate experts headed by Jean Case should steer Early Mountain Vineyards to a bright future. We know that we will return to Early Mountain Vineyards in the near future, but readers may want to visit sooner especially with fall colors on the way. Trust me, the views will be spectacular and more so with a favorite Best wine. Be sure to mention, though, that Virginia Wine Time sent you.