Virginia Wineworks

Nine Virginia Wines Worth the Sip

My goal at Sunday’s 36th Annual Virginia Wine Festival was two part…1) Buy a few great examples of Virginia wine for my upcoming girls’ weekend, and 2) Discover a few new Virginia wineries I haven’t tried.  Success on both fronts!!

The two-day event held in Centreville, Virginia (about 30 miles west of Washington, DC) brought together 40+ wineries sampling wine, workshops and seminars presented by the Atlantic Seaboard Wine Association, and 100 artisans and vendors. Sunday was a great day to attend … smaller crowds = tasting table waits.

After visiting 12 winery tents and tasting 75 wines, I bought 9 bottles to share with my girlfriends. The wines below should give them, many who are skeptical about Virginia wine, a great taste of our state’s offerings. This is also a great list for those of you new to Virginia wine!

* Montdomaine

This was a great new discovery….a winery with a long Virginia history re-introduced in 2008. The wines are made by Michael Shaps of Michael Shaps Wines and Virginia Wineworks.

  • 2009 Chardonnay: Citrus aromas and taste, minimal oak, a result of the old French Oak cooperage. $20

* Breaux Vineyards

  • Equation Merlot “X”: This Merlot blend with 12% Cabernet Sauvignon and 4% Petit Verdot is a fabulous wine! Red fruit aromas followed by a dark red fruit taste that’s round and smooth. $15

* Horton Vineyards

  • 2008 Cabernet Franc: Aromas of violets pair with spicy, peppery, cassis flavor. $15

* Barboursville Vineyards

It’s hard to showcase Virginia wine without the great wines from Barboursville so I had to pick up some of their festival offerings.

  • Barboursville Brut: This was my first time tasting their sparkling wine. A very nice blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes. Fruit aromas and a great pear taste. $18
  • 2010 Chardonnay: This wine is aged in stainless steel creating a crisp Chardonnay with apple aroma and flavor, and a touch of pear and lemon. $11
  • 2010 Chardonnay Reserve: This is a great contrast to the regular Chardonnay as its aged seven months in barrel creating a rich and complex Chardonnay with heavier apple aroma and flavor now adding pear and vanilla to the mix. $15
  • 2010 Pinot Grigio: True Italian style…aromas and flavor of apple, pear with a touch of pineapple. $15
  • 2009 Viognier Reserve: Great example of Virginia’s official grape. Smooth tropical fruit and floral aromas and flavor.$22
  • 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve: This wine is only created in the best vintages. Strong berry aromas combine with pepper and currant flavors. $30

(I’ll also take a few Virginia bottles from my wine rack this weekend…Blenheim Vineyards, Virginia Wineworks and Breaux. More to come after our tasting!)

Tomorrow an overview of the informative Wine Judging Seminar I attended at the Festival.

Tried these Box Wines?

Yesterday at this great little Alexandria, Virginia neighborhood cheese & wine bar / specialty cheese shop, Cheesetique, I saw the biggest display of ‘box wines’ I’ve seen (other than the grocery store display of Franzia types). Being in a specialty shop I assume they are relatively good but wondering if anyone’s tried them.

  • Yellow + Blue: 100% certified organic wines come in South American Sauvignon Blanc, Malbec and Torrontes, and Spanish Rosé;
  • Vina Borgia: 100% Spanish Grenache;
  • From the Tank: White Grenache blend with dash of Viognier and Red with Syrah, Grenache and Carignan;
  • Powers Box Wine: Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon;
  • J. Baumer Reisling.
The only decent box wines I’ve tried are Virginia Wineworks line up of Viognier, Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc. They put this line of value oriented Virginia wines in a box because its better for the environment and the bags are super durable. In addition to these reasons, many do it because the wines last longer in this format.
Let me know if you’ve tried any of these and if they’re worth pick up. 🙂

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 Wines I’m Loving, Part 2

My goal at last weekend’s Viginia Wine Expo was to taste wines from many of the wineries I’d heard about (I hit 15 wineries and sampled 88 wines) and find some favorites (I did!). Yesterday’s post covered Blenheim Vineyards and DuCard Vineyards. Here are three more favorites.

*Afton Mountain Vineyards: On the southeastern slope of the Blue Ridge Mountains sits one of Virginia’s pioneer farm wineries with the oldest vines dating back to the late 1970s. I had a great chat with owner Tony Smith about their wines and their recent 2011 Governor’s Cup Gold Medal for their 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Reserve (picked up a bottle for $25… its on my wine rack to open in 6 months). They have a great selection of 15 wines including a Pinot Noir, a Sparkling Wine and even a Gewürztraminer (typical white German grape) and a Sangiovese (Chianti red grape). At the event I enjoyed their…

  • Cabernet Franc 2009: Also a medal winner, 2011 Silver, this medium bodied red has the nose of cherries and tastes of dark cherry and currants. $22
  • Steel Chardonnay: Fermented and aged in stainless steel tanks, this Chardonnay is crisp, delicate and fruity. $19

You can purchase their wines online or visit their gorgeous vineyard and tasting room outside of Charlottesville.

* Rosemont Vineyards and Winery: The Rose Family estate has been farming since 1858 and in 2003 planted 22 acres of grapes. By fall 2008, they opened the doors of Rosemont of Virginia Winery. Their lively booth at the Expo was offering samplings of 8 wines (7 of which are award winners) and I found some really nice ones.

  • Pinot Grigio: Being a Pinot Grigio fan I enjoyed the tasting and took home a bottle. I really liked the aromas of green apple and citrus with taste of both and a splash of honey. It drank more like a Sauvignon Blanc to me. This Silver Medal Winner at the Virginia Wine Lovers Classic is $17.
  • Meritage: This blend of traditional Bordeaux grapes (52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Cabernet Franc, 18% Merlot) won Best in Show at the Atlantic Seaboard Wine Competition last summer. The vanilla nose and flavor are paired with cedar, tea and cocoa…very nice!

Rosemont is located in LaCrosse, Virginia close to the North Carolina a border. Order wines from them directly to ship to Virginia, North Carolina and Florida.

* Virginia Wineworks: These wines are made from 100% Virginia grapes and have been created to meet the need for value-oriented wines.  Not only are they good price points but they are good wines! Wineworks is also home to Michael Shaps Wines. They are located in the former Montdomaine winery south of Charlottesville. The other cool thing is they are a “Custom Crush” facility allowing individuals, grape growers and wineries to use Wineworks expertise and facility to create wines for their own brand.

  • 2009 Wineworks White, Viognier: I brought home a bottle of this bright floral and citrusy blend of 75% Viognier and 25% Vidal Blanc. Made in stainless steel tanks its crisp and perfect for springtime. $16
  • 2009 Wineworks Bag in a Box, Cabernet Franc: It’s Virginia’s first box wine and this one was tasty! Deep color, aromas of dark blackberry and currants with tastes of berries and vanilla. $30 (equivalent of about 4 bottles)

I’ll share more of my Virginia grape finds in the coming weeks. Cheers!