Taste Camp 2012

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?

Taste Camp 2012: Walking the Vineyards with Virginia Winemaker Jim Law of Linden Vineyards

For our final Taste Camp vineyard walk, we ventured outside of Loudoun County to Fauquier County for a Sunday morning with one of Virginia’s great winemakers, Jim Law of Linden Vineyards.

As you drive out there, and it is out there (65 miles west of DC), you’re struck by the beauty, rolling hills and climate change. You’re now in the Blue Ridge Mountains. This particular morning was about 15 degrees cooler than the previous already hot Virginia days. As we stepped out into the original Hardscrabble Vineyards, the clouds thickened creating a gentle background for soft spoken Jim to share his years of wisdom.

Jim is a learner, a tinkerer. He’s very patient and methodical. He grew up in Ohio with wine loving parents. In the Peace Corps in Zaire, Jim discovered he loved agriculture and in particular growing grapes. After returning to Ohio, he decided to move to Virginia to pursue this passion in 1981. He purchased an abondoned Hardscrabble farm in 1983, planted grapes and after years of hard work, released Linden’s first vintage in 1988 with the opening of the winery. Jim has been working grapes and wine in Virginia for 30 years, now producing about 4,000 cases per year.

We started off in one of the original Chardonnay vineyards planted in 1985. This is one of the few original plantings still left. Why? Because Jim’s key philosophy is ‘match the grape type to the soil type.’ Then the wine makes itself in the vineyard. He learned this early on in his work in Virginia. But as a pioneer in Virginia, he had to learn which soils matched which grapes. He’s discovered the ideal sites on his land to grow everything from Riesling to Vidal Blanc to Cabernet Sauvignon. He’s currently in a five to ten year plan to reorganize his vineyards…Hardscrabble Vineyards’ 25 acres, Avenius Vineyards’ five acres and Boisseau Vineyards’ four acres…in this way. Starting from his 2009 red wines, you’ll taste the bigger results.

Jim’s inspiration comes from Europe in growing and winemaking, particularly France’s non-Mediterranean viticultural areas that experience similar situations to the Virginia mountains. He likes elevation…we were at 1,300 feet with breezy, cool, damp, moist conditions. He likes minerality and vibrant acidity.

Over in the Hardscrabble Merlot vineyard, we saw Jim’s philosophies at work. He grafted Merlot over a Carmenère experiment. The grape works in Bordeaux so he thought he’d give it a shot. But no fruit was produced so he changed to Merlot as it likes the clay soil and it’s a hardy grape. Jim spent time in Bordeaux this winter to focus on Merlot.

“Every year is different which makes it interesting.” The bird pest issues are getting worse so more and more netting is required each year. Grapevine yellows have also struck here. The cherry tree host was taken down to stop the spreading. Jim prefers a normal year like 2008 and 2009. In these years, you can express terroir, unlike 2010 which was just easy.

“Climate is what you plan for and weather is what you get,” Jim quoted Mark Twain. His fear on the 2012 early ripening is an early harvest. It could force August picking of the whites which then miss the cool nights they need for the final development of the grape prior to harvest. And picking decisions are very complex. In whites, he looks for mineral acidity not green apple. In reds, he wants tannin. Jim picks 150 grapes and tastes for acidity or tannins over several days. When they peak, they’re harvested.

Our last stop, the crush pad. As Jim poured some of his proud wine examples, the fog thickened and the mist began. Jim’s philosophies rang true as we tasted.

  • 2011 Avenius Sauvignon Blanc: He loves this wine, even though in his 32 vintages, 2011 was the worst ever. This grape needed just three to four more days on the vine, but as the rains continued in September, they wound up picking in pouring rain to get it off the vine. We tasted that green apple acidity but he said it should be gone after three to four more months in the bottle.
  • 2009 Avenius Chardonnay: This wine is the Chablis-style like he likes. 2009 was a great year for white. This one had a tropical nose and fruity white pepper taste.
  • 2009 Hardscrabble Chardonnay: This wine came from the buds we first saw on the vineyard, the oldest vines. You could taste the complexity and depth coming through.
  • 2008 Hardscrabble Red: 2008 was a classic red year. This combination of 71% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc, 7% Petit Verdoux and 7% Merlot was full of cherry and cedar.
  • 2008 Avenius Red: At 72% Petit Verdoux and 28% Cabernet Sauvignon, we heard from Jim, as the other Virginia winemakers we spent time with, about Petit Verdoux being a big grape. Because of that, it’s the only varietal red they do. This combination was caramel and red fruit forward.

Linden’s website states the feeling you get from Jim…”never content.” That’s great news for wine lovers as there are many more years of great winemaking to come from this Virginia classic.

That wraps up Taste Camp 2012. Thank you for coming along on what was a great journey through DC’s Wine Country!

For more on Jim’s vineyard and winemaking approach, visit his website.


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.