Local Vacation to Virginia Wine Country

Paul and I opted not to travel too far this summer and decided instead to enjoy summer fun in the local area. For us, this always includes a visit to Virginia wine country, and our focus this past weekend was the Monticello AVA. Read on to discover our favorites at the wineries which we visited.

Day 1 of our trip included tastings at three wineries: Keswick Vineyards, First Colony, and Michael Shaps Wineworks.

Keswick Vineyards: Stephen Barnard is one of our favorite winemakers in the state, and our tasting here is one that we always anticipate with eagerness. A summer hit for any crowd or event has to be the 2016 V2, an blend of Verdejo (80%) and Vidal Blanc (20%). Its fruity palate makes for a wine that is perfect on its own on a very warm day or with light cheeses and a baguette. My personal favorite was the 2015 Signature Series Reserve Viognier with its pear and tropical fruit notes. A fuller mouth feel makes this Viognier a perfect complement to any dish that features a cream sauce. Serve with seafood, poultry or pork and accompany with a mango relish—-an ideal match at the dinner table! Of the red wines, it was easy to enjoy the superb 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve with its smoky aromas and flavors of black currants, dark plums and oaky nuances. Sparkling lovers should also try the Amelie Black label Chardonnay and the Amelie Sparkling Rose made from the Norton grape.

After our tasting, Stephen Barnard invited us to taste a few wines still in barrels in the barrel room. We tasted 2016s of Chardonnay, Estate Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, a Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc blend and a 2015 100% Cabernet Sauvignon which was Paul’s favorite from the barrels. When asked about food and wine pairings, Stephen had this to say:


First Colony Winery: This was our second tasting on Day 1, and I must admit that we were pleased with the improvements in the winemaking here. Gavin Baum, assistant winemaker, conducted our tasting (and answered our pesky questions, too!). The 2015 Riesling Reserve can be described as summer in a bottle with its floral aromas and notes of peach and orange zest. My nod for favorite white wine was the Burgundian-style 2015 Chardonnay Estate Reserve; I appreciated its aromas of chamomile, lemon zest, and wet stone. Shellfish came to mind as a food pairing—-oysters, scallops, crab, etc. Paul preferred the creamier 2016 Viognier with its peach notes and mango/tropical fruit flavors. Our favorite red wine was the 2015 Meritage; buy now but enjoy later with a fall or winter menu. If impatient, serve with grilled steaks and roasted veggies.

Michael Shaps Wineworks: Our last tasting for the day—-I look forward to Shaps’ Viognier whenever we plan to visit the Wineworks, and the 2016 vintage did not disappoint. Peach and wet stone characteristics were complemented by a fuller mouth feel and tropical fruit palate. Paul was captivated by the 2015 Merlot and noted its elements of smoke and dark cherry; he made note of its rounder mouth feel and commented that he would enjoy this Merlot with grilled lean beef. Michael Shaps also crafts wines from his Burgundy vineyards, and Pinot Noir lovers should enjoy the lighter-bodied 2014 Savigny-les-Beaune with a variety of food options to include grilled chicken, herbed pork chops, or a simple platter of sliced deli meats and cheeses.

Day 1 of our tasting through the Monticello AVA was our favorite of the trip. We made certain to purchase bottles of our favorites to enjoy at home. Be certain to visit these Virginia wineries to collect your own favorite pours; however, be sure to mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you!

Labor Day Wines

Summer is indeed coming to a close, and what a wonderful summer it has been with few days above 90 degrees, humidity levels in check, and rainfall at near average levels. A few weeks of summer still remain, and it’s not too late to enjoy favorite Virginia sippers as summer fades into fall. Here are a few recommendations that we can make as a result of our recent trip to the Monticello area.

First Colony Winery: Lots of changes here with a renovated tasting room since our last visit. We enjoyed the crisp Rose 2013 with its bright strawberry aromas and flavors and refreshing acidity. Rose is excellent any time of the year, but we made sure to purchase a bottle for our last Wolftrap concert of the summer season. (Paul plans to sip this one while gyrating to the beat of the Gipsy Kings!) With an eye on fall menus, be sure to taste the 2012 Petit Verdot with its aromas of violet, dark berry and tobacco; plan to serve it with roasted meats and game.




Moss Vineyards: It was a treat for us to revisit this winery since our initial impressions were quite favorable. Once again, the Rose 2013 was our winner for the summer sipper award. Classic strawberry notes and a crisp finish suggest a pairing with a late summer sunset and a picnic. The Cabernet Franc 2012 was a lighter bodied offering that presented elements of raspberry, dried herbs and spice. Nice to sip on its own, but should partner well with Virginia ham and light cheeses.




Stinson Vineyards: Now is the time to enjoy tomato salads with fresh basil, and the Sauvignon Blanc 2013 should be the go to wine with this treat. Classic aromas of boxwood and citrus were noted along with a crisp, mineral finish. And yes, we liked the Rose 2013 here too. Stock up on dry rose and enjoy them year round—these are very versatile and tend to be crowd pleasers. We added a bottle of this one to our collection.



Plan a trip to Virginia wineries this Labor Day weekend. If you plan to be in the Monticello area, give the wineries listed here a try; be sure to mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.

New Owners, New Vision at First Colony

Our trek through the wine trails in the Charlottesville area brought us to First Colony Winery. A sign that declared, “new owners” intrigued us, and we knew that we had to get the scoop.
No sooner had we approached the tasting bar, new owners Heather and Bruce Spiess extended their greetings to us. They were also gracious enough to answer all of our questions, too. Heather and Bruce and Jeff Miller had just recently purchased the winery and vineyard; although they live in the Richmond area, they felt a need to rescue First Colony, a winery that had a special connection to them. Their son, Austin, works at First Colony as a vineyard manager, and according to Heather, his hands had “touched every vine on the property.” This personal connection inspired them to purchase the property and to create a new vision for future success.

The first phase of this new vision is to focus on the wines and to improve their quality. Jason Hayman will remain at the helm as winemaker but in a new production facility that will offer an improved environment for winemaking. A special thatched roof will cover the facility to create a unique element. New barrels are already on order, and the vineyards will include new plantings that take advantage of First Colony’s own micro-climate. Bruce even envisions an experimental lot that will allow the winemaker to consider Italian varietals.
The next phase will then be the construction of a new tasting room, and this will begin once the production facility is completed. Heather and Bruce foresee a tasting room that will be a bit more expansive yet welcoming to customers. Design features will allow tasters to take advantage of First Colony’s scenic view; in fact, Paul took a quick tour of the outdoor trail to snap picture of birds as they fluttered by his camera lens. Fans of the First Colony name, though may have to make an adjustment as a name change may also be in the future.

Owning and operating a winery is tough work, and Heather and Bruce, a physician, still maintain jobs in Richmond. However, we did not doubt their commitment to this new venture; their enthusiasm was almost contagious, and we felt excited for them. Indeed, they already have wines to help them move forward. Our own favorites were the upcoming 2011 Estate Reserve Chardonnay that was lighter on the oak and more generous with fruit notes such as coconut, citrus and melon. The 1670 Port made from the Touriga grape and fortified with brandy should prove to be an elegant way to end a dinner party, and maybe partner with a dense chocolate dessert.
We will keep abreast of developments at First Colony Winery; in the meantime, be certain to stop by and meet the new owners of First Colony Winery. Mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.