Northern Neck Weekend

We spent the Columbus Day weekend on the Northern Neck visiting our friends, Bob and Jackie. They have a lovely home there, and we always make a point to visit them at least once a year. Along the way, of course, we stopped off at a few wineries to sample the latest pours. And we added to our list of new wineries visited. We visited General’s Ridge which was our 137th winery!

General’s Ridge Vineyard and Winery: Owners Rick and Linda Phillips operated the General’s Ridge Vineyard for several years to sell the grapes to local wine makers; however, they recently decided to open a winery to sell wines that bear their own label. The GRV White, a stainless steel fermented blend of Chardonel and Traminette, was a refreshing pour that presented tropical fruit notes. It is slightly sweet at 1%% residual sugar. We favored the GRV Viogner 2010 with its floral aromas and apricot flavors. Chambourcin lovers may wish to try the GRV Red, a blend of Chambourcin and Merlot. It resembled a bistro wine that could be served with pasta and red sauce, pizza, or burgers. Rick Philips was on hand to greet us, and though he is excited with GRV’s lineup of wines, he still does plan to sell at least 90% of his fruit to local winemakers. Michael Shaps is now the winemaker at GRV, and we look forward to more good things from General’s Ridge Winery.

Ingleside Vineyards: One of the oldest wineries in the state and certainly the oldest winery on the Northern Neck, Ingleside is always a favorite to visit. Favorite wines this time around included the Rosato de Sangiovese 2009 with its strawberry and cherry flavors and crisp finish. Paul and I both enjoyed the Petit Verdot from the outstanding 2007 vintage. A smoky nose gave way to aromas of dried fruit and tobacco; similar fruit flavors gave way to a spicy finish. Drink now but should age well. Paul was also enamored with the Merlot 2006 and noted dark cherry and blackberry flavors with a firm tannic presence. Winemaker Bill Swain is now adding Charbono, a varietal grown in California, to some of his red blends, and this Merlot does indeed include 6% Charbono along with 11% Petit Verdot and 7% Cabernet Franc.

Vault Field Vineyards: This small, family-owned winery continues to make some very nice wines. I enjoyed the 2008 Chardonnay that is aged in French oak barrels for nine months. Nice pear flavors and a honeyed mouth feel make for a fuller-bodied white wine that would pair well with poultry and fish especially if sauces are served. Of the red wines, we reached a split decision, and I preferred the complex 2007 Red Estate Bottled that is a blend of Merlot and Syrah. Owner and winemaker Dan Meenan does indeed grow the Syrah that in included in the Red, and the result is a nose of brambleberries, cherries, and spice with similar flavors in the mouth. With winter stews and roasted meats about to make the cold weather menus, this wine should pair well with these heartier dishes. Paul liked the fruitier 2008 Red Estate Bottled that is more of a Bordeaux-style blend. The 2008 vintage was produced in a more classic Virginia environment than its 2007 sibling—cooler nights and less intense heat with a bit more rainfall. The result is a more accessible red wine that is ready to drink now. The 2008 Reserve Red has yet to be released but we were able to both sample it and bring a bottle home!

With fall colors about to explode, a trip to the Northern Neck should be part of the weekend plans for the autumn season. Be sure to include a trip to these wineries, but be certain to mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.

Ingleside and Vault Field

The last two wineries we visited while on the Chesapeake Bay Wine Trail were Ingleside and Vault Field. Our friend Bob joined us for the tasting at both wineries.

It had been awhile since we visited Ingleside. The tasting choices had changed since our last visit. We opted for the full tasting which included the basic tasting as well as the reserve tasting. With that choice there were 16 wines to taste. Warren and I both selected the 2009 Pinot Grigio to receive a gold star for the whites. Our friend Bob selected the Blue Crab Blanc for his gold star. The pinot grigio had a clean, crisp finish that was perfect for a warm summer day. From the reds, Warren and I both selected the Petit Verdot 2005 Special Reserve for a gold star. This one is not on the tasting list but they had a bottle open and were tasting it the day we were there. This was simply the best red on the tasting menu. We noted plum, currents, coffee, spice, cedar. Bob’s red gold star went to the Cabernet Merlot.

One interesting note about the reds. Ingleside has a 2007 Sangiovese with 9% Charbono. We tasted some charbonos in California but we’ve never encountered a wine in Virginia with charbono. Is anyone aware of another Virginia winery working with Charbono?

Bob’s wife Jackie joined us for our visit to Vault Field. Vault Field produces six wines–three whites, a rose, and two reds. Jackie and I put our gold star for the whites next to the 2008 Chardonnay. We both enjoyed the mouth feel and the citrus aroma. Warren and Bob liked the 2008 Vidal Blanc. They noted pineapple and pear. Of the reds, Jackie and Bob enjoyed the 2008 Red which is a blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon and chambourcin. They placed their gold star next to this one. Warren and I both agreed the 2007 Reserve Red should get our gold star. We noted extracted fruit, coffee, and tobacco.

We had a great time on the Chesapeake Bay Wine Trail. If you haven’t been to the Northern Neck, you should plan a trip to visit the Chesapeake Bay Wine Trail. And if you visit the wineries we’ve mentioned, tell them Virginia Wine Time sent you!

Reflections on The Drink Local Conference

Paul certainly captured the spirit of the Drink Local Wine Conference that was held at the Lansdowne Resort this past Sunday. I thought that I would add a few of my own thoughts on the event:

1. We’re on the verge of something really big!
Readers of our blog know that we’ve been heralding Virginia wines for five year now, and the treat for us has been to witness the tremendous growth in the local wine industry. The number of wineries and vineyards in the area has exploded in the past few years; however, the most successful wineries have kept a focus on wine quality. It was fascinating to me to listen to and even interact with successful owners and winemakers such as Mathieu Finot of King Family, Jenni McCloud of Chrysalis, Luca Paschina of Barboursville and Jordan Harris of Tarara. Their quest is to discover what varietals work for Virginia, to experiment and take risks, and to ultimately put Virginia on the map as a region that produces unique yet world-class wines. Which ones will be the flagship grapes? Opinions seem to converge on Viognier, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot with Merlot and Chardonnay in the running. The panel discussions with wine makers and social media experts confirmed what I have known for years now—Virginia is on the verge of something big!

2. Social Media connects consumers to local wines.
Ok—I must admit that I am not a Twitter or Facebook fan. Paul handles all of that for Virginia Wine Time. However, after Sunday’s panel discussion on social media, I am now a fervent believer that Twitter, Facebook, and blogs fill the gap between local wineries and traditional media. Virginia wineries may not be headlining Wine Spectator, but then again most wine drinkers don’t really care. A tweet about a favorite Virginia wine creates a buzz that Wine Spectator could never create. Jenn Breaux Blosser of Breaux Vineyards is by far the most engaged with social media, and she had never been shy about networking via Twitter and Facebook. I do believe the testimonial that she delivered at the conference—social media pulls in customers that she could never reach via traditional media.

There are exceptions, though. I was thrilled to meet Dave McIntyre, wine critic for the Washington Post. Dave’s wine column in Wapo’s food section is one that I never miss, and he has been an active promoter of local wines. I’ll take Dave’s word about wine over Robert Parker’s any day of the week. However, I’d apply the same standard to bloggers and “tweeters” and admit that an expert palate like Dave McIntyre’s certainly trumps mine; so, if Dave recommends a Virginia wine, trust him—it’s really good and worth seeking out!

3. Virginia (and Maryland) makes some excellent wines.
The highlight of the day had to be the wine “Twitter Taste-Off” when we all got to sample the best wines that 21 local wineries had to offer. Paul noted that Breaux Vineyards’s 2002 Reserve Merlot and Chrysalis’ 2008 Albarino took top honors, and those were certainly excellent pours. However, there were a number of outstanding wines that included Michael Shaps’ Viognier (my own personal fave), King Family’s 2008 Meritage (which may give the successful 2007 vintage a run for its money), and Boxwood’s 2007 Topiary. The sleepers of the event had to be the 2005 Petit Verdot from Ingleside and the current Syrah from Maryland’s Black Ankle. (For those who like a fuller-bodied Chardonnay, Maryland’s Elk Run offering may be worth a try, too.)

I was definitely inspired by the day’s events, and now I am even more anxious to hit the wine trails to discover the quality wines that Virginia wineries have to offer. And now I am determined to visit Maryland wineries, too! Of course, another pleasure was to meet other bloggers, and who knew that we would be dubbed the “wine mafia”! Could this be a movie in the making? The Winefather?

Be sure to visit Virginia wineries this spring, and mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you!