Monticello Wine Trail

Bubbles in Virginia: Trump Winery

Virginia now has eleven wineries producing sparkling wine and Trump Winery is making two great examples.

Last week #VAWineChat featured Trump Winery, their Sparkling Winemaker Jonathan Wheeler, and the SP Blanc De Blanc 2008 and SP Rosé 2008. Jonathan shared with us some background on Trump Winery, formerly Kluge Winery, and their sparkling wines…

  • Their Sparkling vineyards, planted with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, were chosen because of their unique microclimates in the Monticello AVA.
  • Largest planting is 95 acres of chardonnay. 50% of vineyard production is dedicated to Sparkling.
  • They hand pick all the fruit for Sparkling by night and gently press to retain the fruit’s best qualities.
  • They are only making vintage Sparkling wine which is very different than others in Virginia.
  • Their Sparkling wines are made in the true tradition of Champagne using Méthode Champenoise.
  • Trump Winery has the capacity to produce and finish over 100,000 gallons of wine a year. The 2008 Blanc de Blanc produced 8,000 cases while the 2008 Rosé was only 1,200 cases.

While the 2008 Blanc de Blanc is delicious…100% Chardonnay and aromas / tastes of cooked apple & pear pastry…the Rosé was my favorite.

SP Rosé 2008

  • Region: Monticello AVA in Charlottesville, Virginia
  • Variety: 95% Chardonnay, 5% Pinot Noir
  • Aroma: Raspberry and strawberry
  • Taste: Crisp red fruits with hints of toast
  • Price: $29
  • My thoughts: The gorgeous color and delicious taste make this a great every day or special occasion sparkler.

Trump Winery continues to receive accolades and awards for their work, building on what Kluge Winery started helping put Virginia wine on the map. Most recently Trump Winery’s 2008 Blanc de Noir was named Top Ten American sparkling wines by Gayot. And their Tasting Room is a beautiful place to visit.

Cheers to bubbles in Virginia!

March is Virginia Wine & Dine Month

Virginia Wine & Dine Month, with its Love by the Glass promotion, is a celebration of Virginia wines at more than 500 participating restaurants and wine shops across Virginia making March the perfect month to explore Virginia wine.

Visit Virginia Wine’s Wine & Dine site to find special events, restaurant offerings and retail promotions. Here’s a sample …

Virginia Wine’s website is a great place to find your closest of Virginia’s 200+ wineries to visit this month. And if your local restaurant or retailer isn’t carrying Virginia wine, March would be a great month to suggest they get in on the fun.

Cheers to Virginia wine!

“Napa is for auto parts and Virginia is for wine”

That’s what Virginia’s Governor Robert McDonnell said at Thursday night’s Virginia Wine Month celebration hosted by the Virginia Tourism Office and Virginia Wine Board at Lincoln Restaurant in Washington, DC. 🙂

Unfortunately I was out of town so couldn’t attend but luckily Virginia Wine TV covered it so I was able to catch the highlights thanks to their great coverage!

The event featured four great wineries you can put on your list for this last weekend of Virginia Wine Month…

The Governor’s remarks also included…

  • Virginia wine sales increased +13% last year and this year already up +11%.
  • Virginia is taking it internationally not only with sales in the UK but shows in Europe last year, Asia this year and India coming up.
  • The newest vines in Virginia are in his backyard with 10 Chambourcin vines.
  • Even though Virginia is #5 in the country in wine production, look out #1 California here we come!

All in all a fun evening celebrating the continued growing success of Virginia wine now up to 200 wineries.

Virginia is for wine lovers. Cheers!

A Look Inside Thomas Jefferson’s Wine Cellar

It was a hot July evening at Monticello and people looking for cool shelter were told to check out the wine cellar in the passageway under the house. When they did, Wine Blogger Conference attendees stepped into Thomas Jefferson’s now fully restored wine cellar and got a glimpse into the important role wine played in his life.

Jefferson, in addition to being third President of the U.S., is often called America’s First Wine Connoisseur. His appreciation and knowledge of wine grew greatly serving as Minister to France in Paris, 1784-1789, where he was able to tour wine regions of Germany, France and Italy. Upon his return to the U.S., he began his prized wine cellar; served as wine advisor for Presidents Washington, Madison and Monroe; and in 1807, planted grapes at Monticello with hopes of his home state producing wines that rivaled those of Old World Europe.

Prior to the cellar restoration, you could only peer into the room from behind iron bars. Now thanks to Justin Sarafin, Assistant Curator and Project Coordinator at Monticello, and the restoration team’s great work, you can step onto a raised platform in the cellar to take it all in. Jefferson letters and an archaeological dig under the very spot provided insights and artifacts into his wine consumption. The restored cellar tells you that story.

  • Wine Consumption: Monticello consumed 400 bottles per year. Wine was served in the formal English manner, following dessert after the table cloth was removed (vs. French manner where wine is served throughout the meal). They used glass decanters, silver and wood wine coasters and a seau crenelé for chilling and rinsing glasses. The cellar is just below the Dining Room and the dumbwaiter carried the wine straight up for serving. One of the two dumbwaiters is now restored to working condition.
  • Wine Shipments: Jefferson’s good taste included wines of the great French château, Château Margaux, Château Latour, Château Haut-Brion and Château Lafite. Once back in the U.S., Jefferson would write directly to the vineyards to acquire the wine to ensure their quality. At the time, wine dilution and blending once wines left the vineyard happened often. Wooden crates on display in the cellar show you how Jefferson would receive his shipments.
  • Wine Storage:  Excavation did not expose any remnants of wall attached wine racks so it’s thought the cellar used freestanding racks (similar to those now on display). The cellar also features the house’s only original double-thickness door. The door and iron bars over the window shows the importance of his collection.

While Jefferson’s dreams for Virginia wine were not realized in his lifetime, his love of wine can be felt and seen at Monticello and across Virginia and the now vibrant winescape of the Monticello Wine Trail.

* Special thanks to Monticello and Justin Sarafin for the reception and insight into the Wine Cellar. Photo credits: Monticello, Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Inc., photograph by Philip Beaurline.

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.