Gabriele Rausse

It’s Regional Wine Week: Drink Local!

This week marks the fifth annual Regional Wine Week. It’s a week put together by Drink Local Wine encouraging wine writers to write about wines from the Other 47 States (wines that aren’t from California, Washington or Oregon…the biggest wine producing states in the country) to encourage you readers to drink wines from the Other 47!  With wine now produced in all 47 states, everyone has options.

Drink local for me means Virginia. If you’re looking for some Virginia wine to explore this week, here are some of my recent posts for recommendations.

There’s also a great event this Saturday, the Thomas Jefferson Wine Festival at Mr. Jefferson’s personal retreat Poplar Forest, where you can sample from fourteen Virginia wineries and meet Gabrielle Rausse, the father of modern Virginia wine.

Cheers to the other 47! What’s your favorite?

Virginia Wine Expo: Some Old Favorites, Part 2

In this last article on the 5th Annual Virginia Wine Expo, I’ll cover my last five of my old favorite wineries, all located around Charlottesville, from the last year and my favorite wine they were tasting at the Expo.

Blenheim Vineyards Petit Verdot 2010

  • Varietal: 100% Petit Verdot
  • Aroma: Spicy, jammy
  • Taste: Blackberry jam with nutty caramel
  • Price: $24
  • My thoughts: I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know winemaker Kirsty Harmon over the last year and I just love all her wines! So approachable & drinkable. It was great fun to taste through Blenheim’s line-up with her and introduce them to friends at the Expo. This wine is delicious and I can’t wait to open the bottle I got with my wine club shipment.

King Family Vineyards Crosé

  • Varietal: 100% Merlot
  • Aroma: Grapefruit and cranberry
  • Taste: Crisp citrus and tart berry
  • Price: $16.95
  • My thoughts: This wine made me smile! 🙂 It’s a dry rosé named after the town where King Family is located, Crozet. About five years ago, this was the first Virginia winery I visited with friends while spending a weekend in Charlottesville. I knew the wines in Virginia were up and coming.

Veritas Vineyard and Winery Viognier 2011

  • Varietal: 100% Viognier
  • Aroma: Peaches and orange blossoms
  • Taste: Rich peach and apricot with a nice acidity
  • Price: $22
  • My thoughts: As Virginia’s official grape, this is a great example of it! I met winemaker Emily at the Wine Bloggers Conference… so nice and doing great work!

Afton Mountain Vineyards Cabernet Franc Reserve 2009

  • Varietal: 100% Cabernet Franc
  • Aroma: Rich red berry
  • Taste:Deep raspberry and cherry with hints of vanilla and cinnamon
  • My thoughts: This delicious wine, great example of Virginia Cab Franc, was a 2012 winner in the Virginia Governor’s Cup.

The last winery of my favorites was Gabriele Rausse’s Pinot Noir. Gabriele is the father of modern Virginia wine! I was so excited to meet him last year at the Wine Bloggers Conference and it was great to see him at the Expo. I was so caught up in talking to him and tasting his wines with him and my friends that I didn’t make copious notes to share here but can tell you I loved his Pinot Noir. You are not seeing a lot of Pinot Noir in Virginia yet. All his wines are hard to find unless you’re in Charlottesville.

That’s a wrap on the 5th Annual Virginia Wine Expo! Hope you enjoyed the series and found some wineries to visit / wines to seek out. All of us living in Virginia should be drinking some of these great wines!

Cheers to Virginia wine!

Exploring Virginia Wine Country: The Birthplace of American Wine

Virginia, the fifth largest wine producing state in the U.S., now has over 193 wineries in production and 22 wine trails to explore. And what better place to start your tour than where it all began? In 1807 Thomas Jefferson, often called America’s first wine connoisseur, planted grapes at Monticello imagining his home state would make great wines to rival those of Europe. Now you can visit the Monticello Wine Trail around Charlottesville in central Virginia, the Birthplace of American Wine.

On Saturday morning 23 July, as part of the North American Wine Bloggers Conference, we hit the trail. Attendees boarded numbered buses, not knowing their destination, to visit wineries on the Monticello Wine Trail. My bus #3 turned out to be a fantastic pick giving me the chance to visit two favorite wineries and a new discovery just 10 miles south of Charlottesville.

* Virginia Wineworks 

Our first stop was Michael Shaps and Philip Stafford’s warehouse in the country, home to Virginia Wineworks and Michael Shaps Wines. Michael, who trained in France and currently has a winery there, came to Virginia in 1995 as winemaker for Jefferson Vineyards. After five vintages he started consulting and began his own Michael Shaps label in partnership with King Family Vineyards before moving his wine making to Virginia Wineworks.

Michael and Philip started Virginia Wineworks in 2007 to meet the need for value oriented Virginia wines. They produce a Chardonnay, Viognier, Rosé, Cabernet Franc and Red (65% Cabernet Franc, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon), and now the only ‘bag in a box’ wine in the state, equivalent of four bottles at a cost of $30. Michael’s Michael Shaps label is higher end Virginia wines. He believes ‘wine is made in the vineyard’ so he naturally ferments using no yeast. The label has a Chardonnay, Viognier, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Merlot, Meritage and Raisin d’Entre. No vineyards to see here. Michael believes in finding the best location for the right wine variety so they buy by the acre and work with the owners and growers.

The winery is also the first in Virginia to offer a custom crush operation allowing individuals and other wineries to produce their wines here. Of the 15,000 cases produced by the winery annually, 13,000 are custom crush.

In their rustic tasting room, so rustic in fact you can sip and spit right onto the floor drain, we had a good time as Michael tasted us through the full line of both labels. My favorites?

  • Michael Shaps Viognier 2008: great example of Virginia Viognier done well, $32
  • Wineworks Rosé: nice pink fruit forward picnic wine; blend of Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Merlot; $12
  • Michael Shaps Petit Verdot 2008: up and coming grape variety in Virginia; heavy tannins, earthy, floral; $32

You can visit their tasting room daily 11am to 5pm.

* First Colony Vineyards

For our second stop just down the road from Virginia Wineworks, Jason Hayman, the 26-year-old winemaker, greeted us for a tasting in their tasting room of six wines: 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, 2009 Petit Verdot Estate Reserve, 2008 Meritage Blend, 2010 Seyval Blanc and 2009 Chardonnay. The winery produced their first vintage in 2002, and after apprenticing here, Jason has made the 2009 vintages forward. My favorite?

  • Petit Verdot Estate Reserve 2009: 100% fruit from their vineyards; black pepper and wild blackberry taste; $24

Their welcoming tasting room is open Monday-Friday 10am to 6pm, Saturday-Sunday 11am to 6pm.

* Blenheim Vineyards

Our last stop is my favorite winery! They rolled out the red carpet for us with a mid-day wine tasting, tour and lunch. Kirsty Harmon, Winemaker and General Manager, and her team happily greeted us at the barn with their fantastic Rosé and a snack of gazpacho with fresh made bread and goat cheese. The perfect welcome on a hot summer day!

Blenheim was started in 2000 by Dave Matthews (yes, the Dave) and the first grapes were planted in 1999. The winery and vineyard are a gorgeous! Dave and his mom, an architect, designed the a-frame wooden structure with upstairs tasting room and downstairs cellar. You can see the cellar’s barrels and tanks from the tasting room thanks to glass flooring. From the deck you can enjoy sweeping views of the Albemarle countryside. The winery makes 5,000 cases per year from their ten acres and they get 50% of their grapes from growers across the state.

Kirsty joined Blenheim in 2008. Her winemaking philosophy is to make wines that are approachable, balanced and drinkable now. She also introduced the screw top bottle to all their wines when she joined. After training in New Zealand and France, she was exposed to early 1990 wines aged in screw top that were all fabulous. No risk of cork tainting. She was sold.

Why is this my favorite? First, every wine I’ve tasted of Kirsty’s is great. You don’t often have that experience with a winery. No matter what you like, they have one for your taste. Second, Kirsty is super cool, knowledgeable, a University of Virginia graduate and apprentice of Gabriele Rausse, the father of modern Virginia wine.

We tasted six more Blenheim wines over a bbq lunch in the library with special guest Gabriele: the 2009 Blenheim Farm Chardonnay, 2010 Viognier, 2009 Seven Oaks Merlot, 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon and just bottled 2010 Syrah. My favorites?

  • Rosé 2010: 100% Merlot; bright pink color, fragrance of banana and rose with light, crisp taste, $14
  • Chardonnay 2010: aroma and taste of pear and honey, very little oak, $15

When on this part of the Monticello Wine Trail, you can also stop by Jefferson Vineyards.

While you’re here, why not make a weekend of it? Central Virginia, only 2 1/2 hours south of Washington, DC, is beautiful with over 20 wineries on the Monticello Wine Trail and Charlottesville is home to the University of Virginia. I love to stay at the Boars Head Inn. The Omni is a central point close to great restaurants like Brookville Restaurant (225 Main Street) and Maya (633 W. Main Street). And definitely make time to visit Jefferson’s home, Monticello, the namesake of the wine trail. They have a great wine weekend itinerary on their site as well.

Two other clusters of the Monticello Wine Trail have great wineries worth visiting…King Family Vineyards, Veritas Winery and Afton Mountain Vineyards west of Charlottesville and Barboursville Vineyards, Keswick Vineyards and Horton Cellars to the north.

Cheers to Virginia, the Birthplace of American Wine!

* This is the second in a series of articles I wrote for Snooth as winner of their Wine Itinerary Contest held in July for attendees of the Wine Bloggers Conference.

Proud to be a Virginia Wine Lover: 2011 Wine Bloggers Conference Highlights

Last weekend I was extremely proud to see my home state of Virginia roll out the red carpet as host of the fourth annual North American Wine Bloggers Conference in beautiful Charlottesville, Virginia (also home of my alma mater University of Virginia). The three-day event brought together wine bloggers and wine industry leaders giving them the opportunity to see there’s lots of wine to love in Virginia, the fifth largest wine producing state in the U.S. with over 193 wineries.

This was my first year attending the conference and I had some great experiences. My highlights from the 2011 Conference…

* The Wine

As you can imagine the wine was plentiful! Over the three days, I sampled 126 wines, at least that’s how many I captured in my notes.

My favorite wineries continued to be my favorite…Blenheim Vineyards, Barboursville Vineyards, Horton Vineyards, Virginia Wineworks and King Family Vineyards in Virginia and King Estate Winery in Oregon. It was great to see others enjoying them as well!

I also discovered some new favorite wines…

* The People

Mixing and mingling, networking… there was plenty of it from morning until late into the night! It was very cool to hear from and meet wine speakers/authors I regularly read like Jancis Robinson (even got her to sign my World Atlas of Wine), Eric Asimov of the New York Times, Dave McIntyre of The Washington Post. They shared insights and tips for those of us in the wine writing/blogging world.

It was also cool to meet and/or reconnect with people that work with or make some of my favorite wines…

  • Kirsty Harmon, the super cool, knowledgable Winemaker and General Manager of Blenheim Vineyards,
  • Luca Paschina, the famous Italian Winemaker from Barboursville Vineyards,
  • @Kobrand_Wine, @aburich, @fermented, @RachelTaylor Chi, @NewHorizonWines, @gwendolwine, @camilaxavier, @TheGoodWineGuru, @epicureanways, @ReverseWineSnob, @1WineDude, @DrinkWhatULike, @WCWineGuy, @winecompass, @OddBacchus, @suburbanwino, @vitisdivine, @GregoryDalPiaz, @Diane_Letulle, @Tabarrini, @WinebowWine, @WineHarlots, @VaWineInMyPkt, @Stevenraye, @mariepayton, @SwirlGirls, @palatepress, @WinesofCroatia, @melanie0, @krischislett (used their twitter handle so you can check them out),
  • and I was THRILLED to meet Gabriele Rausse, Father of Modern Virginia, and drink his wine with him!

* Into Wine Country

Charlottesville is the center of the Monticello Wine Trail, one of 22 in the state, and the Monticello appellation. It is here that it all started for Virginia wine with Thomas Jefferson planting his first grapes in 1807 at Monticello. So it was only appropriate that Friday evening’s Virginia Wine Reception was held at Monticello. We sampled wine from 32 Virginia wineries on Jefferson’s lawn (he even made an appearance 😉 ) and checked out his newly reconstructed wine cellar. (We also did a lot of sweating in the 100+ degree heat.)

On Saturday morning, attendees boarded numbered buses not knowing their destinations to visit one to three wineries on the Monticello Wine Trail. I got on Bus 3 … the BEST…with a great group of people AND the chance to visit two of my favorite wineries, Virginia Wineworks/ Michale Shaps and Bleinheim Vineyards, who gave us the royal treatment, and a new discovery in First Colony Vineyards.

* Aromas of Wine

In this interactive session we learned ways to sniff out the differences in wines from different regions through a blind tasting of Winebow Wines. Sheri Sauter Morano MW talked to us about how our sense of smell is much more acute than our sense of taste and in wine there are thousands of scents to uncover. I’ll write a full post on this cool session.

* Live Wine Blogging

This was a first for me. It’s like speed dating…you stay at one table for one hour and 12 wineries come by your table for five minutes each to tell you about their wine. It was a lot of fun. Check out my posts on the two sessions… Live Wine Blogging on Reds…it’s like speed dating! and Live Wine Blogging on Whites & Rosés…ready, set, go!

A BIG thank you to organizer Zephyr Adventures and premier sponsors Virginia Wine Marketing Office, Virginia Tourism Corporation and Charlottesville/Albemarle County Convention & Visitors Bureau. And thank you to my sponsor Snooth, a revolutionary web-based social wine shopping experience, who held a Wine Itinerary Writing Contest for conference attendees that I won!

In upcoming posts I’ll share more on my favorite wines, wineries, our wine country tour and the Aromas of Wine seminar.

Cheers to Virginia!

Virginia’s Father of Modern Wine

As wine bloggers and industry leaders convene in Charlottesville, Virginia this weekend for the Wine Bloggers Conference, I thought it appropriate to highlight the man many call the Father of the Virginia’s modern wine industry. While Thomas Jefferson started it all at Monticello, Gabriele Rausse made Virginia wine country a reality.

In 1976 the Italian vintner family, Zonin, brought over Gabriele Rausse from Italy (both are from the northern Italian town, Vincenza) to grow and harvest grapes for their newly started Barboursville Vineyards. The land was actually purchased on 13 April… Thomas Jefferson’s birthday. Gabriele did what many said couldn’t be done and in 1979 produced his first vintage for Barboursville. He stayed with them and went on to work with several other wineries in the Charlottesville area.

Now appropriately the Assistant Director of Garden and Grounds at Monticello, Gabriele started his own wine label, Gabriele Rausse, in 1997 and is still producing elegant European-style wines. His winery, open by appointment only, is located in Charlottesville with 7 acres of vineyards and he also purchases fruit from vineyards he has planted for several growers. His wines include a Pinot Grigio, Viognier Reserve (Virginia’s official grape), Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon and can be found in the central Virginia area.

Cheers to Gabriele Rausse!