Loudoun County

Taste Camp 2012: Walking the Vineyards with Virginia Winemaker Ben Renshaw in Tranquility Vineyards

Walking Tranquility Vineyards outside Purcellville with Ben Renshaw was an interesting Taste Camp discussion. We were literally in owners Al and Mary Taylor’s backyard. Planted in 1999, Ben has managed the five acre vineyard since 2005. His first season in the business was 2004. Tranquility supplies grapes for Ben’s 8 Chains North Winery as well as Tarara Winery, Willowcroft Winery, North Gate Vineyard and Otium Cellars, so Ben is managing not only what he wants from the vineyard but also what the other winemakers want. For example, Jordan Harris of Tarara Winery wants higher brix (sugar content) and darker fruit.

With Ben we talk disease, season and canopy. Tranquility is currently battling grapevine yellow disease so they had to pull out Pinot Gris grapes, the source of it, as the disease was creeping onto the Cabernet Sauvignon vines. 2012 is the earliest season he’s seen since his first year in 2004. He feels like so far we’re looking at  2007 or 2010 year but only the following months will tell. Of the growth we were seeing during our visit, two-thirds grew in the last few days. He loves this vineyard as it’s very balanced and the nutrients are spot on. Clearly other wineries like it too.

Ben manages 75 acres of vineyards across Loudoun County including 8 Chains North Vineyard at his winery in Waterford. You can follow his vineyard activities here.

When it comes to winemaking, Ben’s style is very old world. 2008 and 2009 Furnace Mountain Red Bordeaux blends he poured for us at Otium Cellars after the walk were great examples.

Our final walk, Jim Law of Linden Vineyards.

Taste Camp 2012: Walking the Vineyards with Virginia Winemaker Jordan Harris of Tarara Winery

It’s not every day you ride through vineyards in a wagon with a glass of Petit Manseng. That’s how we started our Taste Camp vineyard walk with Jordan Harris of Tarara Winery.

As we rode across the 475-acre property that stretches along the Potomac River outside of Leesburg, Jordan shared with us the history of Tarara. Founded in 1989 by Whitie and Margaret Hubert, Tarara was a destination for events and weddings but now their primary focus has shifted to the grapes planted in the beginning and making true artisan wine. We passed event pavilions, Shadow Lake, groves of fruits and vegetables and finally arrived at the vineyards, now 110-acres strong.

Jordan joined Tarara in 2007 from Niagara, Canada where he built an excellent reputation in winemaking. As we stood among the Chardonnay grapes of Nevaeh Vineyard, the oldest vines planted in 1987, Jordan spoke about his philosophies. He’s very focused on terroir…let the vines grow very deep and let them stress so you can get the good stuff from them. He’s opposed to irrigation which allows the vines to stay toward the surface. But this terror focus can take 25 to 30 years to really show in the vines. “Planting now is investing in the future generation.”

Tarara focuses on low yields and vertical shoot positioning to allow for even ripening and better concentration. Jordan’s winemaking approach is minimalist…let the vineyards best express themselves. The wines are made in their 6,000 square foot cave to allow for consistent cellar temperatures and perfect humidity as the wines are aged in mostly Virginia oak barrels.

With regards to vintages, Jordan said if you couldn’t ripen fruit in Virignia in 2010, you should not be in the business. Unfortunately in 2011, he left twenty tons of Cabernet Franc on the vine because of the bad September weather. But it did produce some great whites like the 100% Petit Manseng they don’t usually do.

For our return trip, Jordan poured us the 2007 Syrah full of smokey charcuterie notes. You could taste the passion we heard from Jordan in glass.

Tarara is a beautiful place to visit and enjoy a glass of Jordan’s work while relaxing on the deck looking out to the river.

Taste Camp 2012: Walking the Vineyards with Virginia Winemaker Doug Fabbioli of Fabbioli Cellars

Smart, entrepreneurial, industrious…that’s Doug Fabbioli.

Now in the business for thirty years, Doug started his career in Sonoma at Buena Vista Winery. When he decided to come to Virginia he went to work with Jim Law at Linden Vineyards. Now he’s growing his own grapes on his seven acre property just outside Leesburg, Virginia…Fabbioli Cellars.

We started our Taste Camp 2012 vineyard walk in what Doug called the worst part of his vineyard…the lowest lying area that in May 2010 cost him a pretty penny. A late season frost destroyed the grapes. Lesson learned. He bought a crafty frost protector machine, looks like a little alien in the vineyard, to prevent future casualties. His other comment about this area…it’s a great learning experience for others. Pick the right site!

We talked pruning, suckering and canopy management. On top of the hill is his big healthy growth of Cabernet Franc. Doug works to 4 to 6 shoots per canopy foot. Early in the season, it’s time to prune. “People are scared to throw away buds but you must…that’s 1 of 150 things you need to know about growing grapes in Virginia.” He grows his rows nine to ten feet apart which allows use of regular size tractors. “If yours is on the fritz, you can borrow the neighbors.” He’s also growing Tannat as his ‘big boy,’ the grape originally from South West France and now seen frequently from South America, as his ‘big boy.’

Doug has great analogies and wisdom to share…”All farmers are solar energy engineers. We use the sun to make what goes in the bottle.” “As the leaves and grapes grow, you want to be able to see a naked person on the other side of the row and know if it is a man or woman.”

While growing grapes and making wine are the main focus, there’s a lot going on in the Fabbioli Cellars world. Next to the vineyards are rows of garlic and asparagus. They’ve started doing wine pairings with the vegetables, an interesting comparison as all grow in the same soils. Doug also introduced us to his Asian pear tree. He’s using these and pears he’s growing on a leased orchard to make Pear Wine. There are even pears growing in glass bottles on the tree…they make a great statement bottle when filled with the wine. He recently won an innovation award for that.

Most importantly Doug believes in passing on his knowledge. Doing a “So You Wanna Be A Winemaker Series?,” he realized people need more agricultural skills in Loudoun County. “Two-thirds of the county is designated rural and the kids aren’t learning agriculture.” So he’s partnered to start the Piedmont Epicurean Arts Center dedicated to educating “the next generation of people to be responsible for the land and the bounty that comes from it.”

Sitting on their patio outside ‘Chateau le Garage’ (what they call their tasting room built quite nicely in the bottom of Doug’s house), we tasted the 2011 Pear Wine paired perfectly with a ginger cookie to pull out the spices from the wine. Doug pointed out their cellar…buried shipping containers under the hillside. Then inside with Doug’s friendly team, we tasted through five Fabbioli wines…2011 Something White, 2010 Chambourcin, 2009 Cabernet Franc Reserve, NV Raspberry Merlot, 2009 Tannat…as rock music played in the background. Fabbioli focuses on red wines, but as people were always asking for ‘something white,’ they introduced the Something White made of Traminette and Vidal Blanc.

Fabbioli’s motto is “real people, earth friendly, fabulous wines.” We left with a true sense of what Doug and the team have set out to accomplish.

Cheers to Doug and Fabbioli Cellars!

Our next walk, Jordan Harris with Tarara Winery.

Taste Camp 2012: Walking the Vineyards with the Winemakers

The most exciting and educational part of Taste Camp 2012 was walking the vineyards with the winemakers. We spent time with four Virginia winemakers and their grapevines…Doug Fabbioli of Fabbioli Cellars, Jordan Harris of Tarara Winery, Ben Renshaw of 8 Chains North in Tranquility Vineyards, Jim Law of Linden Vineyards…discussing everything from canopies to climate.

While every vineyard had a different look and feel, we heard key themes across all the walks…

  • Virginia winemaking is a collaboration. Everyone is working together to make Virginia a great wine region.
  • Pick the right site for your vineyard and match your soil to your grape variety.
  • North / south rows are ideal.
  • Canopy management has been key in helping Virginia make good wine.
  • Most vineyards are currently battling grapevine yellow disease.
  • Everybody prefers a normal growing season, like 2008 and 2009.
  • 2010 was a very easy year to grow grapes in Virginia and thus make a great wine.
  • 2011 was one of the toughest years ever but Virginia winemakers learned they can make good wine in a difficult year. Unfortunately for most it also meant walking away from fruit on the vine. 2011 was especially good for white wines.
  • 2012 is earliest growth ever they’ve seen. As we stood among the grapes, most said they were about three weeks early vs. regular growth schedule.

You feel the passion from this talented group. They are smart, open and honest, all farmers who love their jobs! The TLC required for the job is amazing…it really makes you pause as you sip that next glass of wine.

It was an extreme pleasure to have the opportunity and I so appreciate the candor they had with our group of writer.

Let’s take a walk with each of them and learn more about grape growing and winemaking in Virginia. First up, Doug Fabbioli.

Taste Camp 2012: The Wine Stand Outs, Part 2

In The Wine Stand Outs, Part 1, I covered five of the eleven stand out wines from Taste Camp 2012, focusing on wineries I was tasting for the first time. Now let’s take a look at the six wines from wineries I’ve tasted and/or covered before.

Boxwood Winery Boxwood 2007

  • Variety: 42.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42.5% Merlot, 15% Petit Verdot
  • Aroma: Dark red fruit with hints of spice
  • Taste: Nice concentrated spicy cassis
  • Price: No longer available
  • My thoughts: 2007 was a very good year for their signature wines, Boxwood and Topiary. I like this Left Bank Bordeaux-style blend (Topiary is a Right Bank style). Adam McTaggart told us this was a huge turning point vintage for them…it set their style for going forward. I loved the big fruitiness of this wine. Rachel told us there may still be a few bottles out there to find. For more on Boxwood and our time Taste Camp visit, see Loudoun County, DC’s Wine Country.

Blenheim Vineyards Rosé 2011

  • Variety: Blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Mourvedre
  • Aroma: Big bouquet of strawberry, honey and a touch of cinnamon
  • Taste: Refreshing red fruits with a watermelon finish
  • Price: $14
  • My thoughts: Regular readers know I love Rosé and I love Kirsty Harmon, the fabulous winemaker at Blenheim. I’m always thrilled when I see Kristy and Greg Hirson, assistant winemaker, pouring their wines at events or in their gorgeous tasting room in the country outside Charlottesville. Every wine they make is approachable, easy to drink and delicious. On by BEST of Virginia wine list!!

Veritas Winery Vintner’s Reserve Meritage Blend 2010

  • Variety: 42% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Franc, 25% Petit Verdot, 16% Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Aroma: Cherry, chocolate and cedar
  • Taste: Cherry with a hint of pepper finished with vanilla and caramel
  • Price: $35
  • My thoughts: I tasted this 2012 Virginia Governor’s Cup Gold winner back in late February at the Virginia Wine Expo and it was even better this tasting! It’s really opened up nicely…a great Meritage blend with chocolate, red fruit, vanilla and caramel hints. What more could you ask for! This again is one of my Virginia winery favorites… Emily is a fabulous winemaker and she is doing amazing work at her winery in red and white! Located outside of Charlottesville.

Breaux Vineyards Nebbiolo 2007

  • Variety: 100% Nebbiolo
  • Aroma: Red fruits with hints of tobacco
  • Taste: Spicy dried red fruits
  • Price: Coming 2014
  • My thoughts: Another 2007 wine shaping up very nicely and it’s not even bottled yet. We were lucky enough to have a barrel sample during our Friday evening dinner at Breaux. They will bottle it this year and then hold for two years before selling. This was a grape Paul Breaux really wanted to grow after his visit to Piemonte, Italy. As Jen Breaux Blosser told us over dinner, “it’s a hard grape to grow and always changing.” Breaux is another one of my Virginia favorites…with their breadth and variety, they have a wine for everyone and their 475-acres are worth the visit for a sip on their patio. For more on our time Taste Camp visit, see Loudoun County, DC’s Wine Country.

Tarara Winery Petit Manseng 2011

  • Variety: 100% Petit Manseng
  • Aroma: Pineapple & citrus
  • Taste: Refreshing crisp citrus and pineapple notes
  • Price: $20
  • My thoughts: This grape is becoming a specialty of Virginia. Most versions I’ve tasted are sweet but this one was perfect! As we boarded the wagon at the winery for a ride into vineyards with winemaker Jordan Harris, he poured us a glass of this. It hit the spot…crisp and refreshing…as we rode in the sun! Jordan said they don’t usually do this wine but with the conditions of 2011 (cloudy & wet September), they decided to try it. Great results! I brought home a bottle and its chilling in the fridge. You can buy it on their website. Located in Loudoun County.

Linden Vineyards Avenius Chardonnay 2009

  • Variety: 100% Chardonnay
  • Aroma: Tropical bouquet with hint of oak
  • Taste: Peach, pear with hints of white pepper
  • Price: $28
  • My thoughts: We had the great pleasure of tasting five wines with Jim Linden, owner/winemaker and one of Virginia’s greats, on his crush pad after our vineyard walk. They were all fabulous and really demonstrate the terroir in which they are growing. I really like this Chablis-style, nice balance of fruit with hints of pepper which Jim said is due to the Avenius vineyard it comes from. Bottled August 2010. This wine should plateau from 2013 to 2017. Guess I’ll have to cellar the bottle I bought. 🙂 Located in Fauquier County.
  • Cheers to some of Virginia’s best wineries and winemakers showing Taste Camp writers everything Virginia wine has to offer!