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!

Changes at Virginia Wineworks

Michael Shaps Wineworks announced today (June 12, 2015) that Jake Busching has joined the winery as the new Head Winemaker & General Manager.  Jake Busching comes with 17 years experience and an outstanding reputation in the Virginia wine industry. He most recently held the position of General Manager, Winemaker and Vineyard Manager at Grace Estate, and prior to that he performed similar roles at Pollak Vineyards and Keswick Vineyards.  Working alongside Jake, our current enologist Joy Ting will take on a more elevated role of Production Manager & Head Enologist.  Joy will work closely with Jake to ensure that the logistics of the production facility and the cellar crew are managed efficiently.  Working directly under Joy, Jessica Trapeni will be our new full time lab technician, performing the daily functions of the laboratory to maintain and ensure our high standard of wine quality.

“I have known Jake both personally and professionally for nearly twenty years in his various roles of vineyard manager and winemaker and am very enthusiastic about the future of our winery” comments owner Michael Shaps. “Jake’s wealth of experience and industry knowledge has already made him a key addition to the Wineworks family. The increasing demand from our custom winemaking clients led us to look for an addition to our team who will fit in with our standards of innovation and exceptional service and quality. I feel very fortunate to work with such a talented team and have the utmost confidence in them.”

Michael and Jake photo

Located just south of Charlottesville, Virginia, Michael Shaps Wineworks is Virginia’s largest custom contract winemaking operation, with a total production reaching 30,000 cases per year with over a dozen clients. Known for his innovation in the industry, Michael Shaps introduced the “bag in a box” to Virginia wine consumers and most recently introduced a refillable wine growler. In addition to the Virginia winery, Michael owns a winery in Burgundy, France (www.maisonshaps.com) and imports these wines to the United States, where they are sold throughout Virginia and in the tasting room at Michael Shaps Wineworks.

Just Married!

Paul and I have not posted lately because we’ve been preoccupied with a very special event—our wedding! Yes, we got married on February 20 and then hosted a celebration dinner on February 21 at Chef Geoff’s restaurant in DC. And yes, Virginia wines helped to make the event very memorable.

weddingWe were officially married at the DC Courthouse on February 20 at 11:30 AM. Our good friends, Jill and Michael Dail as well as family members that included my parents, sister, brother-in-law, nephew and Paul’s mom joined us to witness the brief ceremony. The Dails then treated us all to a spectacular lunch at Black Salt restaurant. ShapsA round of bubbles paired nicely with fresh oysters from both the New York and Rappahannock beds; seafood entrees that included crab cakes and pasta topped with ahi tuna proved to be perfect matches with the Michael Shaps Wild Meadow Vineyard Chardonnay 2010.

The celebration dinner was held on the next day, and Mother Nature threw a day’s worth of snow, ice, and freezing temperatures our way. However, we were not deterred, and family and friends gathered at Chef Geoff’s restaurant that evening. Dinner options included crab cakes, hanger steak, and pasta tossed with a walnut pesto. Cabernet Franc Reserve_230x627 Viognier Reserve_230x627Barboursville’s Viognier Reserve 2012 and Cabernet Franc Reserve 2012 were poured for our guests. We all had a wonderful time in spite of the wintry mix falling outdoors; in fact, the evening seemed to fly by all too quickly. Before we knew it, Paul and I were cutting the wedding cake and bidding adieu to guests who made us feel very special.

Virginia wines have always played a special role in our relationship, and we were very excited to be able to enjoy these special wines during our very special weekend. Hosting a special occasion at a favorite venue? Ask the events planner to serve Virginia wine, and mention that Virginia Wine Time made the suggestion.

Michael Shaps Works Wine

While the title is a twist on Shaps’ Wineworks , it is literally true. Michael Shaps produces wines for his own successful venture, Virginia Wineworks, but he also either makes wine or consults for a number of wineries in the state. This would include the winemaking at Pippin Hill Farm and Vineyards located nearby his Wineworks tasting room. During our recent visit to the Monticello area, we made an afternoon by visiting both wineries.

We always enjoy the no-nonsense tasting experience at Virginia Wineworks, and this time around we got to sample wines in boxed containers. Yes, wines in boxes. There is a trend underway to reconsider how traditionally disreputable methods of packaging wine (and that includes screw cap enclosures) are being viewed. However, we’ve had boxed wines from Bordeaux that were very good, and so we tasted the Wineworks boxed wines with open minds. We both concluded that they were very good, and for the amount of wine that they hold (four bottles) well worth the price. The Box Wineworks White Blend is a perfect aperitif; however, Paul favored the Box Wineworks Red, a blend of Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Tannat. This was a fruity, lighter-bodied wine that is perfect on its own or with simple meals such as meatloaf, grilled chicken, or pork chops.
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We also got to sample the Michael Shaps-labeled wines, and these are his premium wines. I remain a fan of his Viognier, and the 2009 vintage was my favorite of the white wines. Nice aromatics and a fuller mouth feel make for an elegant wine. However, I also enjoyed the Chardonnay 2008 with its pear notes and creamy finish. Of the red wines, my preference was for the Meritage 2008. Petit Verdot leads the blend at 44% and contributes to the earthy/spicy notes and dark fruit aromas. Merlot (33%) and Cabernet Franc (23%) add elements of cherry and raspberry. Paul favored the Petit Verdot 2009 and its characteristics of black currants, dark cherry, tobacco and pepper.
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Vintner and wine educator Santa Rava conducted our tasting and expertly answered our questions (which can be numerous). Santa hails from the Sonoma area and is herself a winemaker. The quality of Michael Shaps’ wines and his reputation as a winemaker attracted her to the area in order to become part of the winemaking team at Wineworks. She also share with us that Michael is a full owner of a winery in Burgundy; in fact, Michael and his wife Christie also own and rent a 200-year old home in the winemaking village of Meursault, France. The home boasts two master bedrooms, a large kitchen with a private chef upon request, and heated towel racks. Perfect for a wine-tasting trip to Burgundy, a relaxing European getaway, or a honeymoon—or all of the above!

With our tasting completed, we were ready for lunch and decided to enjoy a bite at Pippin Hill Farm and Vineyards. The focus here is wine, too, and Michael Shaps is the winemaker. Before lunch, though, we had to select a wine to pair with lunch. This, of course, required a trip to the tasting bar. Our favorites? Of the white wines, the 2010 Chardonnay Reserve earned my top honors with its pineapple and pear notes and fuller mouth feel. Paul liked the 2011 Viognier and noted fruity aromas and peachy flavors. The red wines brought us to a joint conclusion—the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon was our favorite. Smoky notes with cherry, blackberry, and earthy elements made for a more complex yet accessible wine. We opted to enjoy this one with lunch. So what was for lunch? For me, it was the steak frites with parmesan fries; for Paul, it was the homemade pizza. The foods are all the products of local farms, too! A bluegrass trio provided entertainment.
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Plan a trip to the Monticello area to sample Michael Shaps’ wines, and then enjoy wine and lunch at Pippin Hill. Be sure to mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.

Merlot Vertical Tasting

On Saturday we attended the Merlot Vertical Tasting at Breaux Vineyards. We arrived a few minutes early and had time to do a regular tasting. While we were tasting we were able to chat with Jen Breaux. It was great catching up with her. She informed us that Breaux will be announcing their new winemaker in about a week. They’ve had some great candidates and are excited about the new energy coming to Breaux. She also told us that famed winemaker Michael Shaps will be consulting with Breaux over the next year to help make the transition a smooth one. We were excited to hear that Michael Shaps would be conducting the Merlot Vertical Tasting. As our tasting came to an end and the vertical about to begin, Jen told us of the plans to expand. There are plans to build a new inventory building and tasting room. There will also be a club room! We are looking forward to the additions coming to Breaux.

After an introduction from Jen Breaux and a taste of the 2010 Cabernet Rose (pre-release) the Merlot Vertical began. Michael Shaps informed us about the wines we’d be tasting. We tasted merlots from 2000, 2001, 2002 (reserve), 2004, 2006, and 2007. The wines were presented in pairs with a delicious course to enjoy with each pair of wines. We began with the 2000 and 2001 vintages. These were served with grass fed beef stewed with shitake mushrooms and grape tomatoes served with roasted turnips and grilled zucchini. Of these two both Warren and I enjoyed the 2000. We noted extracted fruit, anise, plum, and toffee. I thought this one paired perfectly with the grass fed beef.

The second course of free range chicken over gnocchi tossed in pumpkin sage cream sauce and dusted with smashed pecans and served with sliced pecorino-romano cheese was served with the 2002 reserve merlot and the 2004 merlot. Of these two vintages the 2002 reserve merlot was the hands down winner. We have written about the 2002 reserve before and absolutely love it. We noted raisin, dates, tobacco, anise and plum. I only have one bottle of this vintage left on my rack and I’m hanging on to it. It only gets better with time.

The 2006 and the 2007 merlot vintages were served with grilled lamb and roasted onion terrine served with warm over rosemary roasted fingerling potatoes and peas with lamb gravy. The 2007 merlot stood out during this course. We noted its dark color, dark fruit characteristics and light tannic presence. Once again the pairing was perfect.

After each course Michael Shaps surveyed the participants to determine their favorites. The consensus was pretty much on target. Warren and I both selected the 2002 Merlot Reserve as our favorite of the day. Our second and third selections were split. I selected the 2007 as my second and Warren selected the 2000. In third place I selected the 2000 and Warren selected the 2007. We thought all these vintages were excellent examples of the merlots being produced by Breaux.

We finished the event with a taste of the Lot 816 Merlot barrel sample. While tasting the sample we chatted with other attendees and Breaux friends. Before leaving we picked out Cellar Club selections. Michael Shaps did a wonderful job leading us through the vertical. With all the news of changes coming to Breaux, the future looks bright! The next time you visit Breaux Vineyards be sure to tell them Virginia Wine Time sent you!