Virginia Norton Film Wins First Place with Wine Spectator

Sep 20

According to the Virginia Wine Marketing Office, Virginia’s native grape, Norton, received a significant boost in public awareness this week as the historical grape was featured in Norton, the Most American Grape that You’ve Almost Never Heard Of, the winning video in the 2014 Wine Spectator Video Contest. The short film, featuring Chrysalis Vineyards‘ owner Jennifer McCloud, tells the story of Norton, a red grape named after Daniel Norborne Norton of Richmond, Virginia. Dr. Norton was a physician-turned-vineyardist, and first grew the grape sometime around 1820. McCloud’s Chrysalis Vineyards is the largest Norton producer in the world.

The video was produced by Marina Cracchiolo and Pierre Marcelin, and filmed onsite at Chrysalis Vineyards, in Middleburg, Virginia and in their studio in Washington, DC. The video received the most votes in a field of 9 finalists, and according to Wine Spectator, this year’s contest had a record number of entries, with submissions received from around the globe. “Narrowing the field to the top nine finalists was very difficult”, stated Gloria Maroti Frazee, Director of Education and Video for Wine Spectator.

Ms. Cracchiolo, a CNN news assistant, was thrilled when she heard the news. “Pierre and I are honored that the video, which started off as a fun project for the two of us, has been so well received and generated so much buzz for the Norton grape and Chrysalis Vineyards.”

McCloud remarked, “I’m so happy Marina and Pierre won the contest, not only for the recognition and acknowledgment they received as young filmmakers, but for the exposure their wonderful short film offers our native grape, Norton. Their great storytelling, along with the educational theme made their piece very interesting and engaging. It certainly helped my mission in spreading the word about Norton, The Real American Grape!”

The video is featured on Wine Spectator’s website at

Food and Wine Courses for Stratford Hall Benefit Dinner 9/19 Made Public

Sep 12

A blind tasting – pairing candidate Virginia wines with the elegant courses planned for a beautiful outdoor dinner in front of the majestic Great House At Stratford Hall on September 19, 2014, prior to the 2014 Stratford Hall Wine & Oyster Festival has resulted in a fine and eclectic blend of top Virginia wines and adroitly imagined and prepared local Virginia delicacies.

This exciting evening will include an oyster demonstration by celebrated Assistant Chef Pete Woods of Rappahannock River Oysters and Merroir Tasting Room while guests enjoy cocktails, hors d’oeuvres and half shells. A four-course gourmet dinner will follow featuring Stratford Hall and Northern Neck sourced ingredients.  Virginia wines were selected by a committee in a blind tasting with the featured dishes, presided over by Virginia wine expert and author Richard Leahy. “I’m very impressed by the chef’s creative menu and the excellent Virginia wines that the panel determined made the best matches,” says Leahy. “We tasted the wines with the courses and I’m confident the dinner guests will be impressed with the quality, diversity and compatibility of these fine Virginia wines with the fine food.” Leahy adds that by coincidence wines range across the state in origin and include both well-known varieties and new versions of same, such as the rose of cabernet sauvignon, and even a blaufrankisch (an Austrian grape) from the fairly new Glass House Winery. “It’s one thing to pick fine wines but another to ensure that they match every course and I’m looking forward to enjoying these wine and food matches with the dinner guests,” says Leahy, who will be signing copies of his book on Virginia wine, Beyond Jefferson’s Vines, at the Stratford Hall Wine & Oyster Festival on Saturday Sept. 20th from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. at the Ingleside Vineyards tent. The wine and food menu for the gala dinner will feature:

  • Beet Carpaccio with Truffled Microgreens and Shaved Pecorino Ramano, paired with Ingleside Vineyards Rosé of Cabernet Sauvigon 2013.
  • Cinnamon Dusted Seared Duck Breast with Vanilla Scented Stratford Hall Grits and a Cranberry Duck Jus, paired with Barrel Oak Winery Cabernet Franc 2010.
  • Devon Beef Filet and Soft Shell Crab with Tomato Corn Succotash and a Smoked Tomato Vinaigrette, paired with Glass House Winery “One Lane Bridge” (blaufrankisch) 2012.
  • Stratford Hall Honey Pot De Creme with a Ginger Cookie Crumble, paired with Barren Ridge Vineyards “Christof” 2011.

Seating for the 6:30 p.m. dinner is limited and reservations are required. There are two Preview Benefit Dinner packages to choose from:

  • The first package includes a four-course dinner, a wine taster ticket to the Wine & Oyster Festival and a $50 tax-deductible donation to Stratford Hall. The cost is $175 per person (all inclusive).
  • The second package includes a one night stay at the Inn at Stratford Hall, a champagne reception in the historical Great House, a four course dinner, a wine taster ticket to the Wine & Oyster Festival and a $155 tax-deductible donation to Stratford Hall. The cost is $375 per person (all inclusive).

For more information, including the complete menu, and to make reservations visit the Preview Benefit Dinner  event webpage. For any questions, please call Regina Pitts at 804-493-8919. The reservation deadline for the dinner is September 16, 2014.

Gala Wine & Oyster Benefit Dinner 9/19 Will Precede Stratford Hall Wine Festival 9/20

Sep 01

Join Virginia wine author Richard Leahy for a beautiful outdoor dinner in front of the majestic Great House on September 19, 2014, for a gala benefit dinner for the 2014 Stratford Hall Wine & Oyster Festival.

This exciting evening will include an oyster demonstration by celebrated Assistant Chef Pete Woods of Rappahannock River Oysters and Merroir Tasting Room while guests enjoy cocktails, hors d’oeuvres and half shells. A four-course gourmet dinner will follow featuring Stratford Hall and Northern Neck sourced ingredients with Virginia wines paired by Virginia wine expert Richard Leahy.

Seating for the 6:30 p.m. dinner is limited and reservations are required. There are two Preview Benefit Dinner packages to choose from:

  • The first package includes a four-course dinner for two, two wine taster tickets to the Wine & Oyster Festival and a $100 tax-deductible donation to Stratford Hall. The cost is $350 per couple.
  • The second package includes a one night stay for two at the Inn at Stratford Hall, a champagne reception in the historical Great House, a four course dinner for two, two wine taster tickets to the Wine & Oyster Festival and a $310 tax-deductible donation to Stratford Hall. The cost is $750 per couple.

For more information, including the complete menu, and to make reservations visit the Preview Benefit Dinner event webpage. For any questions, please call Regina Pitts at 804-493-8919. The reservation deadline for the dinner is September 12, 2014.



“Carolina On My Mind”: a Visit to the Yadkin Valley of NC

Aug 06

Two weeks ago en route to visit a friend in  Boone, NC I made a point to stop at as many Yadkin Valley (and a High Country) wineries as I could, taste wines and report the results to you.

The Grand Estate  The winner for this award, despite North Carolina also being home to both the Biltmore (the most visited winery in the entire nation) and Childress Vineyards, was the elegant Tuscan-style estate and winery of Raffaldini Vineyards, in the Swan Quarter sub-appellation of the Yadkin Valley. Some forty-plus acres of gently sloping vineyards roll north from a the tasteful yet grand winery. The walk to the tasting room wends through gardens with rose bushes, willows and a pond, for maximum effect of the “dolce vita,” with the grand view of the winery and vineyards as the climax. Raffaldini only grows and produces Italian grapes and wines, and all are done with style and elegance, echoing the track record of Barboursville Vineyards some 300 miles northeast in Virginia. Whites include a most excellent pinot grigio, a regular and reserve vermentino (also being grown successfully by Barboursville), an outstanding dry rose (“Girasole”) and a fun fruity moscato (called “La Dolce Vita”). Reds include a sangiovese, sangiovese riserva, montepulciano, and montepulciano riserva, the last made by drying the grapes in the appassimento style to create a high alcohol, richly concentrated but smooth sipping wine.


  • 2013 pinot grigio: Usually a pinot grigio is either correct or not, and there isn’t much else to say since it’s a subtle wine. In this case, it’s not only correct, it’s wonderful, with vibrant apple and citrus on the nose, and the same on a dry but full-bodied palate; a great food wine.
  • 2013 Girasole: Complex nose of strawberry and watermelon with hints of parmesan. On the palate, it is dry with fresh watermelon flavors, finishing with strawberry notes; impossible not to think of prosciutto and mozzerala with basil.
  • 2011 Sangiovese Riserva: includes some malbec and petit verdot, accounting for the dark color. Nose: spicy black fruits with a bit of lift. On the palate, rich black cherry and spice. Fruit-driven, complex.
  • 2011 Montepulciano Riserva: I reported on this wine in my post of Feb. 5th of this year. Since then it has opened up and fleshed out nicely. On the nose, it has dried black fruits and spice. On the palate, alcohol is noticeably high but well-integrated with rich, dense fruit of dried cherries, and a long complex finish. Will age well, a decade or more.

Hidden Gems:

I call McRitchie Winery & Ciderworks “Hidden” because you can (or I did) drive past their road several times because 1) they don’t have the state winery sign with an arrow and 2) their road has the same name as another road 2 miles away that your googlemaps will take you to; don’t believe it! They are on the Thurmond “Post Office” Road, NOT the Thurmond Road. They tell me they’re getting a state road sign, so that should help but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

North Carolina veteran winemaker Sean McRitchie and his wife have been vineyard and winery consultants to many newcomers to the local industry, and their cozy but lovely inlaid wood tasting room is an appropriate set for their eclectic but also consistently high-quality product line.

2012 Fallingwater, inspired by the Frank Lloyd Wright house of that name near Ohiopyle, PA is fresh, fruity but surprisingly dry blend of traminette, vidal and chardonnay. Very aromatic on the nose but crisp, dry and with nervy acid on the palate; refreshing and stylish.

2013 muscat blanc has a classic muscat nose; bright fresh floral and citrus. On the palate it is fruity and freshly dry with fine acid balancing the forward fruit.

2011 Ring of Fire is an original blend of merlot, syrah and petit verdot that is stylish and rich but still refreshing. On the nose, there are fun spicy cherry and black fruits. On the palate, the wine is smooth and round then tannins kick in (14 mos. in French oak).Good now, will improve for another year.

Semi-Sweet Cider: Despite the name and 1.5% residual sugar, this fruity and delightfully crisp cider (made from 100% Pink Lady apples) tastes almost completely dry, but has that fun riesling-like flavor that Pink Ladies give.2014-07-26 12.37.24

Banner Elk Winery is high in the Blue Ridge Mountains west of Boone, and the area has the look and feel of Boulder, CO or the Sierra Foothills of California. Banner Elk’s vineyard is at nearly 4,000 ft, and they grow only cold-hardy hybrids like seyval blanc, foch, and steuben. The winery tasting room sits in front of carefully landscaped grounds that include a pond and firepit. The tasting room is an upscale log vacation-style house and is tastefully and elegantly appointed. The wines are in sync with the appearances. Due to its high elevation, the vineyard gives grapes high acidity and fresh, vibrant fruit. They buy in fruit from other NC growers and cabernet sauvignon from Virginia, but all the wines show the same style of clean, fresh, vibrant fruit and minimal oak.

Seyval blanc 2013: loads of green apple, citrus and crisp minerality; a perfect very dry white for a hot Carolina summer and very food-friendly.

High Country Rose 2013: a dark rose from Steuben, also dry but nicely fruity with lots of strawberry and some red cherry, one could either enjoy sipping alone or with food.

Marechal Foch 2012: Light ruby color, nice fragrant red and black cherry on the nose and like flavors on the palate. Short finish typical of the grape but not as tart as most northern versions, with more full fruit. Very much like a light Beaujolais, fresh, juicy, dry and crisp.

Other Wineries Visited:

A few miles from each other are Rag Apple Lassie and Sanders Ridge wineries.

Rag Apple Lassie was running low on product ahead of a bottling of the 2013 vintage later that same week, but the pinot gris and barrel-fermented chardonnay (2012) were both impressive and stylish. the Pinot Gris had a deep gold color, a clean nose with a palate of fine spicy pineapple, racy acidity, a full dry texture and firm acid in the finish. The chardonnay also had rich, spicy pineapple on the palate, and the sur-lie aging gave yeasty hints well-integrated with the fruit and a fine representation of the style.

Sanders Ridge offered two whites and three reds to taste, yet the wine I was most impressed by was the least sustainable for them to grow year to year; the muscat canelli 2013. From nose to finish, the wine is a perfect expression of the grape. The nose gives a zesty orange and citrus aroma, with melon and tangerine on the palate which is juicy and fresh, finishing with well-balanced acid (r.s. 0.5%)

I was impressed with the dedication to fine wine and sustainable agriculture at Carolina Heritage VineyardsThey only farm organically, and so they grow natives, cynthiana (a k a norton), hardy hybrids like traminette, and blueberry bushes. Even so, when I drove in, I noted how healthy and flourishing their vines were, even as so many others had been half-denuded by Japanese beetles. The tasting room is very cute, the wines all clean and honestly made (even vegan-friendly as well as organic!) and the prices are very reasonable.

The wines are also thoughtfully original, with blends of chambourcin and blueberry, chambourcin and cynthiana, and a wonderfully juicy Jimmy Buffet-meets-Dolly Parton blend of red and white muscadine grapes making a natural sangria-like wine that needed nothing but some yukeleles and lampshades for a pretty fun party.

My favorite wine was their Chambourcin-Cynthiana Nose was faint, but the palate  was clean, juicy, fresh and dry, with great finesse of texture and black cherry flavors with long crisp finish.


3rd Annual Wine Summit To Be Held in Richmond 10/21

Aug 05

The third annual Virginia Wine Summit-hosted by The Office of Governor McAuliffe-will bring wine experts and industry leaders from around the country to Richmond on October 21, 2014 to discuss, taste, and celebrate the exciting state of Virginia’s wine and food culture. Panels, tastings, and discussions will be held throughout this day-long event, featuring an address by keynote speaker Ray Isle, Executive Wine Editor of Food & Wine. Isle will be joined by some of the nation’s foremost influential wine professionals.  To register for the event and for more information on speakers, please visit

Le Metro Wine Underground “From Sea to Shining Sea” July Tasting #2: Ankida Ridge Pinot Noir 2012 (VA) and Creekside Cellars (Cabernet) “Franc”, (CO) 2011

Aug 03

Ankida Ridge VineyardsIn a recent post I explained that I took place in a tasting and intermittent tweeting about the 6 wines of the month selected for consumers who subscribe to Le Metro Wine Underground. For July the theme was “From Sea to Shining Sea,” with a thoughtful and very eclectic collection of wines from Colorado, Virginia, Wisconsin, Vermont and Texas.

The last pair of the month were a pinot noir from Ankida Ridge, VA 2012 (Amherst Co.) and a cabernet franc from Creekside Cellars in Colorado (2011). Both wines were distinctive, and could hardly have been more different within the category of dry red table wines.

I have blogged recently about the excellent Ankida Ridge pinot noir, describing it as “grand cru from young vines” and very Burgundian in style, with lively almost electric cherry fruit and bright acidity, clean and fresh and below 13% alcohol with oak well in the background. Due to high humidity in the Eastern time zone, making a pinot noir this good is no accident and means a lot of work in the vineyard and a good vineyard site, but this one proves it can be done.

I have been a fan of Colorado wines for almost a decade, and interestingly, cabernet franc is their star red grape as it also is in Virginia, despite different climates, soil types and hydrology. Many people feel that cabernet franc tolerates a lower level of oak than its more famous offspring, cabernet sauvignon (a cross between cab franc and sauvignon blanc). However, in Colorado cabernet franc can ripen to 14% alcohol and achieve much darker color than here on the East Coast, probably due to higher elevation and ultraviolet light.

Winemaker Michelle Cleveland of Creekside Cellars is talented and versatile, making aromatic and dry gewuztraminer, dry and full-bodied red blends, and in this case, a Gran Reserva (Spanish) style cabernet franc, labeled simply “Franc”. The wine was aged 24 months in oak, surprisingly long for cabernet franc. The color was impressively deep garnet. The nose was complex, like Grand Reserva Rioja with tea leaves, vanilla, coconut, dried mocha, and dried red cherries. On the palate, the wine was brisk, with crisp acidity typical of the grape up front and fine integration of fruit, oak, and acidity. A crisp, lively finish is also typical of the grape (alc. 13.9%).

For a Gran Reserva style, this is a young release; in Rioja they would typically release this 15+ years after the vintage to get the best balance, and the oak is a bit dominant now, but shows the potential of solid, ripe cabernet franc that is still true to the variety. So, two fine red dry red table wines, from very different states with very different climates, and with very different oak regimens, but both showing the fine potential for each grape variety in each state.

Dave McIntyre Awarded 2014 Monteith Trophy

Jul 25

Dave McIntyre, Washington Post wine columnist and co-founder of DrinkLocalWine (disclosure: I am also a Board member and Dave wrote the foreword to my book Beyond Jefferson’s Vines) was awarded the 2014 Monteith Trophy this week by the Atlantic Seaboard Wine Association. The award is presented “to individuals or organizations that have performed exceptional contributions to the development and sustainability of the American wine industry…”

Gordon Murchie, president emeritus of the ASWA, presented McIntyre with the trophy, citing his frequent writings supporting local and regional wines as well as co-founding the non-profit advocacy organization Drink Local Wine.

View this content on Dave McIntyre's website

ASWA President Carl Brandhorst (left) and President Emeritus Gordon Murchie (right) present the Monteith Trophy to Dave McIntyre – photo by Michael Birchenall