Jim Law of Linden headlined the TasteCamp finale, and he conducted a personal tour of his Hardscrabble site for campers. Jim is something of a god here in Virginia, so this opportunity for campers to meet the man who inspired the sea change in Virginia’s winemaking was truly an incredible experience. Jim’s tour ended with a tasting of his wines, and taste camp ended on the highest note possible.
Taste campers met Jim on a very foggy and chilly morning to tour his Hardscrabble site. Jim has been making wine at the Hardscrabble vineyard since at least 1987, and he began the tour at his block of oldest chardonnay vines; however, lest we think that Jim contently sits on his laurels and lets 25 year- old vines do their thing, campers were informed otherwise. Jim is in the process of renovating and replanting his vineyard so that particular varietals are planted in the most appropriate soils and microclimates. Blocks of merlot are being uprooted and then replanted with chardonnay. Carmenere is being grafted onto merlot to produce more merlot. Poorly performing carmenere will be phased out. New vines will be spaced closer together. Canopy management will change too. A recent trip to Bordeaux vineyards revealed to Jim that merlot grapes actually do not like plentiful sunshine, and overly ripened merlot produces jammy, uninteresting wines associated with the mediocre stuff associated with California. Therefore, Jim will make the necessary adjustments with his merlot vines. What does all of this say about Jim Law? I concluded that Jim stays at the top of his game because he always seeks to improve. Jim constantly referenced his desire to “get better” or “make better wine”; although other area winemakers often acknowledge Jim as their teacher, mentor, or hero, it was obvious to me that Jim still considers himself to be a student. Perhaps it is for this reason that his wines consistently set the bar for quality in Virginia.
Jim then led us to the crush pad for a tasting of his wines. The fog intensified as barn swallows frantically fluttered around, and a Gothic feel permeated the atmosphere as Jim presented his wines. These included the 2011 Avenius Sauvignon Blanc, 2009 Harscrabble Chardonnay, 2008 Hardscrabble Red, and 2009 Avenius Red. As the fog encircled us, it was hard to miss Jim’s Old World style of winemaking. Elegant and focused, integrated and balanced—these wines were indeed at the top of the class. It was here that I heard the highest praises of the weekend with one New York camper commenting that Jim’s wines were “world class.”
Reflections: So what did I learn from taste camp? Winemaking is a tough business, and the phrase, “winemaking starts in the vineyard”, may seem cliché, but indeed it is true. The vineyard management alone should frighten off all but the most dedicated and passionate. There are many decisions and tasks involved just with the vineyard management. Which site to select? Which varieties to plant, and then which clones? What about trellising—smart dyson to maximize production? Mow the lawn or let the weeds grow to soak up some unwanted moisture? Pick now or gamble on the weather? Needless to say, there are many more decisions to be made once grapes are harvested and then fermented and aged. Serious winemaking is not for the hobbyist, and even most seasoned veterans must be opened to changes if they wish to constantly raise the quality of their wines.
I also learned that Virginia winemakers are still sorting out what varieties work for Virginia, and this seems to be a site-by-site decision. Jordan Harris will be focusing more on Rhone varieties while Law will intensify his focus on merlot and chardonnay. Doug Fabbioli, the Bootstrapper, will continue to innovate not only with traditional viniferous grapes but also with hybrids (like chambourcin) as well as fruit wines. Ben Renshaw enjoys the challenge of vineyard management and seems to revel in working with a more diverse crop—his favored Tranquility site grows traditional grapes such as cabernet sauvignon while the Goose Creek vineyard located across the road produce German varieties such as lemberger and dornfelder. What was a common thread between all of these winemakers? The sense of passion that even the most oblivious would have noticed.
Buzz: So which wines generated the most buzz? I tried to document as many comments as possible, so it is likely that I missed a few of the hitmakers from the weekend. With that in mind, here is my list of all-stars that generated the most buzz:
2010 Ankida Ridge Pinot Noir
2011 Boxwood Rose
2007 Boxwood Red (actually a split between this and the 2007 Topiary)
2011 Blenheim Rose
2002 Breaux Reserve Merlot
2001/2005 Breaux Nebbiolo
2008 Linden Hardscrabble Red
2009 Linden Hardscrabble Chardonnay
2010 North Gate Rousanne
2011 Stinson Sauvignon Blanc
2007 Tarara Syrah
2011 Tarara Petit Manseng
2011 White Hall Viognier
2010 Zepahiah Farms Chambourcin Reserve
TasteCamp offered an opportunity for campers to learn (and taste) more about winemaking in Virginia. We thank the TasteCamp organizers for planning this event, and we encourage readers to visit Virginia wineries to sample the latest releases. Create your own buzz (uh-a list of favorite Virginia wines, course). Remember to mention to the winemakers that Virginia Wine Time sent you.
The Linden Barrel Tasting is an event that we always mark on our calendars. This year’s tasting featured some white wines from the 2011 vintage, a 2011 Claret, and special releases from the 2008 and 2009 vintages. Paired with the wines were delicious treats from the Ashby Inn and Restaurant.
Our tasting started on the right note with a sample of the 2011 Avenius Sauvignon Blanc paired with mussels. We’re big fans of the Avenius Sauvignon Blanc, and we were huge fans of this 2011 vintage. Lots of citrus and soft melon notes with a nice acidity made for a refreshing wine that is destined to please summer palates. From there we proceeded to the barrel room where we tasted samples from the 2011 Avenius Chardonnay, the 2011 Hardscrabble Chardonnay, and the 2011 Boisseau Chardonnay. Each offered a unique style—the Avenius presented a Chablis-style wine while the Hardscrabble seemed reminiscent of an Old-World, Burgundian white wine. The Boisseau offering most resembled a New World Chardonnay with a heavier mouth feel and pineapple flavors. All were lovely. Favorites? That might depend on what’s for dinner. Oysters? Avenius. White fish or chicken? Hardscrabble. Anything with a cream sauce? Boisseau.
The 2011 Claret was enjoyed with a sample of specialty sausages from Croftburn Market in Culpeper. Was 2011 the year of dismay for Virginia red wines? This Claret would answer, “No.” Fruity and light bodied, its mix included Merlot (44%), Cabernet Sauvignon (36%), and Cabernet Franc (20%). I thought that it paired best with the spiciest meat sample, the pepperoni. Like other 2011 red wine samples that we have tasted, I suspect that this 2011 Claret will be enjoyed upon release rather than later.
We moved on to the special release room where we were able to compare and contrast the 2008 and 2009 red blends from the Boisseau, Hardscrabble, and Avenius vineyards. I noted a distinct difference between the vintages that suggested something other than different years or blend composites, and it was in this room that I recorded the quote of the day from Jim Law. When asked about the more fruit-forward style of the 2009 vintages by another taster in the room, Law responded, “I lost the fear of my grapes.” Law explained that he learned from winemakers in Bordeaux that extraction is the ultimate key to crafting good red wine rather than intense ripening in the vineyard. With this lesson learned, Law described the 2009 season as a shift in his own winemaking style. The difference was most evident in the 2009 Hardscrabble Red. The 2008 vintage represented a style that was characteristic of the Hardscrabble wines— very structured with earthier nuances and berry flavors. The 2009 vintage, though, presented layers of fruit at the start with deep plum and dark cherry characteristics. A similar style was evident in the rounder 2009 Boisseau Red in which Merlot dominated (44%), and the Petit Verdot-led 2009 Avenius Red.
The tasting seemed to end too early; however, we took advantage of a nice spring afternoon to sit on the deck with a glass of a favorite Linden wine. Barn swallows fluttered about, and the scent of wisteria wafted from below. It could not have been a more perfect afternoon. Be sure to visit Linden for a tasting of Jim Law’s exquisite wines, and mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.
We always look forward to an afternoon at Linden, and we make certain to sign up for the cellar tasting. Linden fans know that these tasting are verticals of white, red and dessert wines, and they allow tasters to compare vineyard-specific wines from the Boisseau, Avenius, and Hardscrabble sites. On a recent occasion, we were able to sample three 2009 Chardonnays, three 2008 red blends, and one dessert wine. Our favorites are presented here.
Readers already know the differences between the three sites and the wines that they produce, so no need to repeat that information here. (See previous posts to find out more about them.) A brief summary, though, might provide some review and perspective. The Boisseau Vineyard is the warmest site with more vigorous soils; they tend to produce the most accessible wines. Avenius Vineyards are on higher elevations and features very rocky, flinty soils while the Hardscrabble site is located on rocky slopes that contain granite and clay soils. Hardscrabble wines tend to be more complex.
With that review in mind, I’ll present our favorites at the cellar tasting. Our first vertical presented three 2009 Chardonnays, one from each site. We both concurred on the 2009 Hardscrabble Chardonnay. A true Burgundian-style wine, this complex Chardonnay was truly exquisite with floral, citrus and pear aromas; a tart apple flavor component suggested a crisper wine. My second choice was the rounder Boisseau Chardonnay that seemed more New World compared to the Hardscrabble. A creamier texture and toastier edge suggested a more food-friendly wine, but I’d sip it on its own.
We reached a split decision on the red wines. I favored the complex 2008 Hardscrabble Red with its dried berry and cocoa flavors. I underlined the words firm and dusty on the tasting sheet, so I concurred with those notes. I’m a big Hardscrabble Red fan anyway, so my decision may have already been made before I tasted the 2008 vintage. Paul preferred the more fruit-forward Boisseau Red; Petit Verdot prevails here and may explain the darker fruit and spice components that he noted on the tasting sheet.
The 2006 Late Harvest Vidal concluded our tasting, and it was paired with a Gorgonzola cheese. Lovely apricot, citrus and honey elements prevailed here, and it was a decadent way to end the experience.
With our tasting done, we opted to enjoy summer sausage and cheddar cheese on the veranda while gazing upon Linden’s gorgeous mountain views. Jim Law promises a Zen experience, and he does indeed deliver. We enjoyed a glass of the featured library wine, the earthy 2003 Claret with our lunch. 2003? The year of Hurricane Isabel? Yes, it offered proof that experienced and diligent wine makers can make quality wines even in off years. Smoky aromas with dried fruit and tobacco notes were observed, and tannins were velvety smooth. It proved to be the perfect local wine to enjoy with local foods and local landscapes.
Plan a trip to Linden and be sure to participate in the cellar tasting. A knowledgeable staff member conducts these sessions, and you are sure to get an education in micro-climates, vineyard-specific sites, and the wines that are produced by the premier winemaker in Virginia. Be sure to mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.
We had a very busy weekend and had the chance to enjoy some really nice Virginia wines. Each evening there was one wine that stood out. While we normally write about all the wines we enjoyed, we thought we’d focus on just two this time. Unfortunately I didn’t have my big spiffy camera to take some nice photos. The first one was taken with the iPad and the second was taken of an older vintage of the same wine.
On Saturday evening we decided to have some nice filets for dinner. Warren selected the 2001 Cellar Selection Merlot French Oak Select from Breaux Vineyards. How many ten year old Virginia wines do you get excited about? This one was amazing. We opened it about an hour before dinner just to let it breath. We had thick filet mignon, roasted potatoes, and veggies for dinner. This wine went perfectly with the filets. It started with a dark fruit nose which gave way to dark fruit and tobacco flavors in the mouth. What amazed me was how smooth it was. Ten years in the bottle treated this wine well. Even after dinner we continued to enjoy just sipping it. It’s the kind of bottle you don’t want to end. The next time we’re at Breaux, we need to see if they have any more!
Sunday evening we had some friends over for dinner and served the 2009 Seyval from Linden Vineyards. We had this with soft cheeses, crackers, and olives. On the nose we noticed lime and melon. On the tongue we noted wonderful lemon flavors that complimented the cheeses and olives. The acidity and crispness of this wine was perfect for a warm evening. Our guests talked about how much they enjoyed it. I think I have one more bottle on my rack. Even though the weather has cooled down somewhat, this one still remains one of our summer favorites.