Virginia Wine Month

October is Virginia Wine Month: Out on the Wine Trails

This month marks the 25th Anniversary of Virginia Wine Month! Restaurants, retailers and wineries across the state are celebrating providing plenty of opportunities to explore!

Virginia is home to more than 230 wineries and vineyards, seven American Viticultural Areas (AVAs), nearly two dozen wine trails and rates fifth in the nation for wine grape production.  Just last year, Wine Enthusiast magazine named Virginia one of the 10 best wine travel destinations. In August, Governor Bob McDonnell announced that the sales of Virginia wine reached an all-time high in 2013, with more than half a million cases sold.

Out on the Loudoun Wine Trail this week, I visited …

  • Breaux Vineyards: One of my favorites as it’s the most gorgeous Autumn spot. Be sure to try their newly released Equation…red wine made of 5 different grapes that are a fabulous combination for only $17. And there were still grapes plumping on the vine.
  • Sunset Hills Vineyard: I’ve heard great things about this winery and really enjoyed our visit. The restored Amish historic barn is an impressive tasting room and it’s decks are the perfect spot for a sipping a glass looking out over the vineyards. For us that meant the Cabernet Sauvignon about to be picked. The Tasting Room Team was excellent and I really enjoyed their 2011 Sunset Red, a delicious combination of Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
  • Salamander Resort & Spa: This gorgeous new spot recently opened outside Middleburg! We stopped in for lunch and wine in The Gold Cup Wine Bar where they are offering a special Virginia White Wine Flight for Virginia Wine Month. It featured an excellent example of the greatness in Virginia wine, Linden Vineyards 2011 Sauvignon Blanc. Look forward to returning here to enjoy the spa and equestrian programs.

The Virginia Wine Marketing Office has a site featuring all the ways you can explore the month of wine. They’re also hosting a Scavenger Hunt you can participate in for great prizes.

And Virginia Wine Month will culminate in The Second Annual Virginia Wine Summit which is sure to be a great event, featuring wine expert Oz Clarke and some great toasts to Governor McDonnell. He leaves office early next year and has been a huge proponent of Virginia Wine. He will surely be missed by the industry.

Cheers to Virginia Wine Month!

Here’s more on Virginia wine.

It’s Virginia Wine Month: A Visit to Early Mountain Vineyards, one of Virginia’s newest wineries

It’s the last weekend of October and Virginia Wine Month. With Autumn colors in full bloom, this is a great weekend to get out and enjoy wine country. Early Mountain Vineyards will be a great stop, especially with their Fall Family Festival taking place Saturday.

I’ve visited their picturesque location in Madison, just off Route 29 on the Monticello Wine Trail, twice since their opening, and it truly is a fabulous winery to visit. Where else in Virginia can you get history, a sampling of Virginia’s best wines, delicious locally produced food, a beautiful setting in which to enjoy it all, AND give back to the state’s wine industry?!

Early Mountain, formerly Sweeley Estate Winery, was purchased by Jean and Steve Case, former AOL executives and Founders of the Case Foundation, last autumn and re-opened in June. Jean and Steve are on a mission to help elevate the entire Virginia wine industry with their winery. They believe Virginia wine has the potential to compete with the best wine regions of the world.

The winery’s name comes from the property’s history. Revolutionary-war veteran Lt. Joseph Early, the first landowner of the property, learned of a stranger traveling through the region in search of shelter. He sent word they were welcome at his home. Turns out it was Gen. George Washington, under whom he served at Valley Forge. Their’s a gorgeous historic barn still standing on the property that dates back to 1787.

The 300-acre property, with 40 plantable acres, came with a state-of-the-art winemaking facility. There’s everything from electronic punch down equipment for the temperature controlled fermentation tanks to modular sorting equipment and a new bottling line. Current production is planned to be around 5,000 cases, but the facility could do upwards of 15,000.

The Cases assembled a top notch team to make the best wine possible and serve guests in their tasting room, including Vineyard Manager, Jonathan, driving their sustainable growing practices, and Sommelier, Michelle, hand selecting the best of Virginia wines for their program.

The four current Early Mountain wines on offer are…

  • 2011 Pinot Gris: My favorite, this wine is a combination of crisp orange and melon.
  • 2011 Viognier: Big white fruit and peach.
  • 2011 Chardonnay: Just released in September, it’s full of honey and tropical fruits.
  • 2008 Merlot: Bordeaux-style black fruits and lavender.

You can sample all of these in the tasting room, along with some of Virginia’s best wines thanks to their Best of Virginia program.

Best of Virginia is an initiative created to celebrate and champion the finest wines of Virginia by featuring them in the tasting room. This is your virtual tour across the state. Their partner wineries include Thibaut-Janisson, King Family Vineyards, Linden Vineyards, Barboursville Vineyards, Chatham Vineyards, Breaux Vineyards and Ankida Ridge Vineyards. Wines from the partner wineries are tasted in flights, offered by the glass and sold by the bottle, along with the local curated food program of panini, salad, cheese, charcuterie and sweets.

Best of Virginia also feeds into Early Mountain Vineyards’ larger goal of elevating and supporting the whole Virginia wine industry. As such, Early Mountain Vineyards is a social enterprise, and all profits will go toward strengthening the industry. You’re giving back with every dollar you spend!

Early Mountain regularly hosts events like this Saturday’s. The tasting room and grounds are family and pet friendly. And they have a gorgeous event space looking out onto the vineyards.

What more reason do you need for a visit?

Cheers to Early Mountain and all they’re brining to the Virginia wine scene!

For more on Jean Case’s and Early Mountain Vineyards’ innovative plans to support the wine industry, read my piece on Palate Press.

It’s Virginia Wine Month: What Will Virginia’s Official Red Be?

Virginia’s official grape variety is Viognier. At this month’s Virginia Wine Summit, kicking off Virginia Wine Month, a panel session on the official grape talked and tasted through the reasons why. But in this burgeoning wine industry, the official red variety is still to be determined.

At the panel on this very topic, we hard from four leading wineries in the state about their thoughts and tasted it in the glass. As Luca Paschina, General Manager and Winemaker for Barbousville Vineyards, said to kick off the discussion, “What is the grape of Bordeaux? I don’t think they said this many years ago. It just happened.”

Here’s each case on what Virginia’s red variety should be.

Barboursville Vineyards Cabernet Franc 2010

  • This wine is full of berries, plum and cedar.
  • They planted this variety in their vineyards back at it’s start in the 1970’s.
  • It does well from wet to dry conditions.
  • It’s an easy grape to grow. You can have confidence when you put it in the ground.
  • When a not so great vintage, the wine is still good. When it’s a good vintage, it’s incredible.
  • It ages well.
  • It’s a great food wine.
  • Luca also feels Merlot, always the key component in their award-winning Octagon wine, is even more bullet proof.

Veritas Vineyards Petit Verdot 2010

  • This wine is big violet and dark berries with vanilla hints. 2010 was a hot, dry vintage so more berry and violet forward.
  • This is Emily Pelton, winemaker at Veritas, favorite grape.
  • It’s a very unique grape that not many other regions can grow.
  • It produces a very interesting wine with weight and heaviness.
  • Gives you variety from year to year which is fun for a winemaker.

RdV Lost Mountain 2009

  • This wine is 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and a touch of Petit Verdot.
  • The blend is a very nice carmelly, cherry, blueberry.
  • Rutger de Vink, RdV General Manager, said their planting is all about soil type matched with the right grape. They are focusing on blends so year to year they can use the best mix to make the best wine.

Chrysalis Vineyards Norton 2011 Barrel Selection

  • As Jennifer McCloud, Chrysalis Vineyards owner, said, “this is a wild wine with a unique character.”
  • Norton is the only native grape of the United States so you don’t have any issues growing it at all.
  • Can be challenging in the cellar.
  • Norton is a major grape variety in their portfolio.

As you can see, it’s not a unanimous decision on red. What everyone did agree on is Virginia’s blends are a stand out in the state, similar to Bordeaux. Look at Virginia’s 2012 Governor’s Cup… five out of the twelve wines were red blends.

Check the reds out for yourself this Virginia Wine Month!

It’s Virginia Wine Month: A Look at Virginia’s Official Grape, Viognier

It’s Virginia Wine Month! With nineteen days left in October, there’s still time to discover your local Virginia crush…which one of the 210 wineries AND which grape variety?

One of my favorite grape varieties is Virginia’s official grape, Viognier. A grape and wine variety originating in the French region of Condrieu in Northern Rhône, Viognier grows very well in Virginia’s climate and soil. Typically a dry or slightly off dry white wine with a lovely bouquet of tropical fruit, pear and honey in nose and taste. Horton Vineyards helped put Viognier on the map in Virginia with its first vintage in 1992 which received many accolades.

At last week’s Virginia Wine Summit, there was a panel discussion about Viognier…why this grape makes a great wine in Virginia and what the characteristics are. Wines represented on the panel were all lovely with slight variations…

Overall sentiments from the panel, which included Jennifer Blosser (Director of Sales and Hospitality at Breaux Vineyards), Matthieu Finot (winemaker at King Family Vineyards) and Stephen Barnard (winemaker at Keswick Vineyards), were this…

  • Viognier in Virginia tends to be closer to the French Old World style of the wine than the often heavier New World California style.
  • Aromatics express themselves very nicely thanks to Virginia’s climate and soil.
  • There’s lots of variation with the variety based on the year’s conditions which is a great thing for Virginia.
  • One of biggest challenges with the grape is acidity. Achieving balance in Virginia’s climate is tough, and all wineries agreed, they acidify the wine if needed. As Luca Paschina, Winemaker and General Manager at Barboursville Vineyards, attending the discussion said, “Why not add acid if the wine needs it? It’s like a chef that adds salt or lemon juice to a recipe if it needs it.”
  • Viognier is a great example of how Virginia wines are a bridge between West Coast wines and European wines.

Tasting the wines and listening to the discussion, you could see, taste and hear why this is a great official grape for Virginia, a distinguishing variety for the state.

As Jennifer Blosser put it best, “Viogner is like Chardonnay with perfume and heels.”

Get out their and discover your local crush!

Inaugural Virginia Wine Summit Officially Kicks Off Virginia Wine Month

Tuesday’s Inaugural Virginia Wine Summit marked the official kick off of October as Virginia Wine Month, the 24th annual event, highlighting and celebrating the state’s 210 wineries.

Hosted by Virginia’s Governor Bob McDonnell and First Lady Maureen McDonnell in Richmond, the Summit was planned by the Virginia Wine Marketing Office and brought together domestic and international wine experts and industry leaders to taste Virginia wine and discuss the industry.

First Lady Maureen McDonnell, a huge proponent of the Virginia wine industry and a lovely lady, opened the day with news that the Governor’s Mansion grape vines had been harvested and the grapes will be joining others from across the state to produce the 1813 Virginia’s Historic Blend wine coming out next year.

The other big news of the day was Virginia’s performance in the Breakfast of Champions. This comparative tasting of eight Virginia wines against top wines from other globally recognized wine regions was led by a panel of wine experts including internationally acclaimed British wine authority Steven Spurrier, noted wine importer and lecturer Bartholomew Broadbent, Food & Wine‘s Anthony Giglio and Master of Wine Jay Youmans.

Virginia wines showed very well, ‘winning’ five of the eight match-ups, including victories for:

  • Barboursville Vineyards’ 2009 Cabernet Franc Reserve ($23) over a 2010 Bernard Baudry Les Grezeaux Chinon from the Loire Valley ($23)
  • Potomac Point Vineyards’ 2009 Heritage Richland Reserve ($27), a Bordeaux-blend style wine, over a 2008 Chateau du Tertre Margaux ($39)
  • Keswick Vineyards’ 2009 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($49) edged out the 2009 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon ($37)
  • 2008 Barboursville Nebbiolo ($32) was preferred over 2008 Vietti Barolo ($39)
  • Foggy Ridge Cider’s Sweet Stayman Cider ($15) over Crispin’s Original Hard Apple Cider ($7.99 4 bottle pack)

The two other tastings, Virginia’s Ducard 2010 Signature Viognier ($24) vs 2010 Guigal Condrieu ($39) and Barren Ridge 2007 Touriga ($18) vs Quinta do Crasto Touriga Nacional ($70), showed varying preferences by the panel and attendees due to the stylistic differences.

Over lunch we heard from the Governor, Jean Case (owner of one of Virginia’s newest wineries Early Mountain Vineyards) and Steven Spurrier. The crowd anxiously awaited Steven’s comments. He was very complimentary of the region stating it is clearly a national contender. He also said….

  • Virginia wine goes well with food and it’s the kind that calls for a second glass.
  • Petit Verdot is a good grape for the state.
  • In the five years since he first tasted Virginia wine, he’s very impressed with how they’ve developed more definition and precision.
  • Virginia is eclipsing New York in wine quality.
  • “For me, it is more the ‘three Ps’ – the place, the product and the people. Before coming out here, I knew already that Virginia could stand tall for the product. But in just three days I now know that the place and the people fit perfectly into the equation and that Virginia stands tall on all three and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.”

His closing words of advice, “Just BE Virginia.”

The morning and afternoon breakout sessions included food and wine pairings and focus on Virginia’s wine varieties. I attended Virginia’s Viognier Tasting (the state’s official grape) and What Will Be Virginia’s Red. More to come on those two sessions.

Overall it was a proud and celebratory day for Virginia wine. As Governor McDonnell said, “The Judgement of Richmond this morning showed Virginia wine can compete with the world’s best!”