Summer Season Author Signings at Wineries

May 20

The summer winery touring season has started, and I will be appearing in various regions at various wineries this summer doing personalized autographing of the new, second edition of Beyond Jefferson’s Vines, which makes a fine Father’s Day gift.

To see the listings of dates and wineries, as well as all Virginia wineries that carry the new second edition, click here and view the tables on the right.

Richard Leahy Presents New Second Edition of Beyond Jefferson’s Vines to VA. Secretary of Agriculture Todd Haymore in Richmond

May 13

Richard Leahy Book SigningRichmond, VA (April 28, 2015) — Wine writer Richard Leahy  presented and autographed copies of his newly released second edition of Beyond Jefferson’s Vines to Secretary of Agriculture Todd Haymore at the Patrick Henry Building today along with copies for Governor and Mrs. McAuliffe.

“Wine industries in many other Eastern states are envious of the strong, enthusiastic support the Virginia wine industry receives from Richmond,” says Leahy, noting that there is a chapter in the book explaining the difference that financial and political support has made to the industry over 30 years, and features a photo of First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe cutting the ribbon to open Loving Cup Vineyards in July 2014. Secretary Todd Haymore is also quoted in this chapter.

Beyond Jefferson’s Vines was published through CreateSpace and is currently available on and at designated Virginia wineries The newly released second edition is the complete story of Virginia wine from the Jamestown settlement to the present, focusing on the last decade and explaining how, despite many natural challenges, vintners in Virginia today are making world-class wine that Jefferson had foreseen would come to pass 200 years ago.

Originally published in 2012, Leahy explained, “Forty wineries having opened in the three years since the first edition. The book has been revised and expanded with a new chapter on craft beverages focusing on cideries, and additional resources including a vintage chart and a grape glossary. Now in paperback format, the new edition includes tasting notes through November 2014 and many new winery entries.

“This autographed copy is my thanks to Secretary Haymore for the difference his support and the support of the Governor and First Lady have made for the Virginia wine industry,” says Leahy.

The rapid growth of Virginia’s vibrant wine industry has made it one of the fastest growing agricultural sectors in the state. In 1979, there were only six wineries in Virginia. Today, there are over 385 vineyards that cultivate over 3,500 acres of grapes and over 250 wineries in Virginia. The state’s wine industry’s growth is escalating as fast as the state’s advancements in wine quality and reputation.

For further information or photos from the book signing, or about Virginia wines, wine events, tours and tastings, please call 1‐804‐344‐8200.

Annette Boyd
Virginia Wine Board Marketing Office
1001 E. Broad St., Suite 140
Richmond, VA 23219
P: 804.344.8200
F: 804.344.8332
Virginia Wine

Virginia Named 1 of 8 of “World’s Next Big Wine Regions” by

May 05

On May 1st, Elin McCoy, wine writer for, wrote a piece called “The World’s Next Big Wine Regions,” including Virginia in the list of eight total. These regions include both Old and New World, Northern and Southern Hemispheres, and only two of the regions were in the U.S. (the other was Lodi). “If you’re still rattling off the names of the old, long-famous regions, you’re way behind the times. In these eight spots, good wine is on its way to becoming great wine, with a few stars leading the way,” wrote McCoy.

As Dave McIntyre, wine blogger and columnist for the Washington Post noted in giving the keynote at the Monticello Cup awards ceremony last month, it’s hardly new, or news today, that Virginia makes fine wine, to those who cover the American wine scene should know. However, McCoy writes eloquently in making the case for Virginia, showing she has indeed been following the evolution of quality wine in Virginia.

She names the Cases of Early Mountain Vineyards and Trump Winery as names that draw recognition, but also mentions viognier as the leading white grape and the red Bordeaux blends as the category with the most promise. She says of RdV’s Lost Mountain 2010, 2010: “This complex, spicy, rich, and velvety cabernet/merlot blend rivals a French cru classe. ”

The other seven “Next Big Wine Regions” of the world are: Tokaj in Hungary, Mt. Etna, Sicily southern England and the Republic of Georgia in the Old World; and Lodi, CA, Maule Valley, Chile, Yarra Valley, Australia in the New World. Virginia was mentioned second on the list.

For those of you, like McCoy, who want to stay current with trends on the world wine scene, you can read her blog at

In Memorium: William Steers of Well Hung Vineyard

Apr 16

William Steers M.D., the head of UVA’s Urology Department and husband to Amy Steers, co-owner of the Well Hung Vineyard located west of Ivy on Rt. 250, passed away on April 10th at the age of 60. He is survived by his wife Amy, his sons Colin and Ryan, daughter-in-law, Ali; and grandson, Rex.

The Steers settled in the Charlottesville area in 1988; Bill to pursue a urology practice and Amy as an oncology nurse. Having an “outsize interest in wine since college” and having suitable land, the Steers’ planted a small vineyard in 2000. Finding that wines from the grapes won awards, Amy formed a business with two other partners and the wines were made by Michael Shaps in a “custom crush” arrangement.

An accidental pun about how the grape bunches looked so “well hung” led to lots of laughter…and a name that stuck. “Serious fun” became the motto of the small operation, and besides many awards for wines of Old World finesse, the iconic label (featuring the legs of Bill Steers and his two sons, below the cordon of strategically placed grape clusters) went on to be featured in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art exhibition: “How Wine Became Modern: Design & Wine 1976 to Now”.

This writer was grateful to be invited to the Steers’ annual holiday party featuring home-made chocolate truffles and wines to match from champagne to madeira. Despite being a major university hospital department head, Bill Steers “lived large” in the present, and was always eager for a wine anecdote or to share a wine of his own. His obituary in the Daily Progress notes that he “was as active as his mind and lived more in an hour than most people live in a lifetime. While he was passionate about saving lives at work, he derived equal pleasure from sharing a good bottle of wine with friends and family.”

He will be missed and fondly remembered by all who knew him.


Strange, Unique and Wonderful Dessert Wines from the North

Apr 13

As I explained in my recent blog, I was attending (and running the conference for) the 2015 Eastern Winery Exposition last month and three attendees gave or sent me what turned out to some strange, unique and wonderful non-grape wines.

Fernleigh Cellars in Springfield, VT says it is Vermont’s “First maple winery”. I tasted two wines in half bottles. The first, a pale brown, was a sophisticated blend of manzanila/amontialdo sherry aromas and flavors integrated with flavors of maple on the finish, medium-dry. The second, the “special dark” maple reserve, still had a complex (and pleasing) sherry pungency on the nose with like flavors to start, then a sweet recognizable caramel/maple flavor and finish. Both are better slightly chilled; the pale brown is good as an aperitif, while the special dark is a fine port substitute with ripe cheese or nuts.

Two very good wine friends agreed with me that the next wine, the “passion popper kiwi wine” from Hermit Woods Winery in New Hampshire was unique and amazing.

Winery owners Bob Manley and Ken Hardcastle gave me an experimental bottle of their first attempt at kiwi berry wine, made from local kiwi berries. It is probably the most unique wine I’ve ever had, and it blew my mind (and palate). Deep golden in color (375 ml bottle), the wine has a fascinating bouquet that combines the botrytis-apricot pungency of Tokaij with the juniper/evergreen scent of Marlborough sauvignon blanc, with hints of basil and cilantro along with butterscotch and marmalade. Talk about a (legal) nose party! The wine is a ramped-up and intense yet perfectly balanced combination of ripe fruit and savory herb aromas and flavors. On the palate, the wine is at first rich, supple and round, then the minty kiwi-like aromas flavors and acidity kick in for the finish.  The wine is over 15% alc. But despite some residual sugar, the kiwi berry and acid give it a bright, lively citrus-like clean finish.

The biggest question is, what to do with this wine? Some enterprising bartenders might employ it as a secret ingredient in a cocktail with a spritz of soda, a leaf of basil and a savory herb gin. For food matching, this would be a fun project for sommeliers. I see this being best with a cheese, such as an asiago, aged mancheo (for an aperitif) or with a rich pungent cheese like epoisse, morbier, Galax farmstead or tallegio after dinner, perhaps also with hazelnut or bittersweet chocolate. If I were the proprietors of Hermit Woods, I’d start a twitter campaign contest to get the best food match to go with this wine.

Alas, I hear there are a scant 14 cases (of half bottles) of this wine in the current release, but any “foodies” out there who want an amazing, incomparable and unique palate experience should order some up.

The final wine was a bit more intense for my palate than I could enjoy but it may work for you. Named “fire and ice” and produced by Seven Mountains Winery in Pennsylvania, it is a highly original blend of extremes; the sweetness of a vidal ice wine with the heat of cayenne pepper (one is inserted into the wine like a red-hot worm in a mezcal bottle). It is sweet and hot but mostly very hot, with the subtlety of a sledge hammer on the palate (I have a “sensitive” one). Those who like very tannic wines and loads of hot peppers in their food will find this a welcome jolt of electricity on the palate, but it’s a higher order of capsican than works for me. If you’re a big hot Thai food fan or “3 alarm chili” fan, then bring it on.

Trump Wins 2015 Monticello Cup for 2008 Sparkling Brut Reserve

Apr 10

The Monticello Cup awards ceremony took place at the Jefferson Theater in Charlottesville on April 9th. Finalist awards for best red, white, sparkling and dessert wine were presented, with the top-scoring of these receiving the overall best wine or the Monticello Cup.


Best Sparkling Wine, which also won the Monticello Cup, was the Trump Winery brut reserve 2008. Winemaker Jonathan Wheeler accepted the award for the winery. Best red wine was awarded to Barboursville Vineyards for their cabernet franc reserve 2010; best white wine went to Michael Shaps Winery for their viognier 2014, and best dessert wine was the Stinson Vineyard petit manseng 2012.


The 32 wineries of the Monticello, Virginia AVA entered a total of 71 wines in the competition. There were 10 gold medals including the best of category winners, 25 silver and 31  bronze medals. Other gold medals were awarded to: Barboursville for their Cabernet Franc Reserve 2007, Jefferson Vineyards for their Estate Reserve 2012, Keswick Vineyards for their Cabernet Franc Reserve 2013, Pollak Vineyards for their Meritage 2012 and their Viognier 2013,  and White Hall Vineyards for their Soliterre 2012.


The judging was organized and coordinated by Doug Hotz of Rio Hill Gourmet, and the judges were:, Robert Jones, Master Sommelier, Kysela Pere et Fils LTD, this writer, Vanessa Moore, Country Vintner, Virginia Governor’s Cup Judge, Cynthia Smith, Wine Enthusiast, Former Fine Dining Restaurant Wine Buyer, and Chad Zakaib, Former Manager Jefferson Vineyards, Wine Guild.


Dave McIntyre, wine columnist for the Washington Post and a blogger who has covered the Virginia wine scene for many years, gave the keynote address before presenting the awards for best of category wines. He pointed out that while many wine writers profess to “discover” how good Virginia wines are today, the many young wine consumers out on the wine trails are not surprised to find good Virginia wine wherever they go. This hasn’t just happened; he pointed out that Luca Paschina of Barboursville Vineyards has just managed his 25th harvest in Virginia. He also mentioned many local wineries and how many acres of grapes they had recently planted to keep the industry moving forward.


“These are some of the best wines from the top Virginia wine region,” said President of the Jeffersonian Grape Growers, Jeff Sanders of Glass House Winery.


Tasting the Best of Category Winners

Trump Sparkling Reserve 2008: This wine is 100% estate chardonnay. The cool 2008 vintage was an excellent one for classic chardonnay, producing wines of firm acidity and nervy lemon citrus and this blanc de blancs is a great example. The wine was also kept on the lees for five years, as the great champagne houses do with their vintage-dated wines. This yields wines of depth and complexity, and the wine is fresh and bright having been bottled just last December.


On the nose, there are bright lemon, citrus and custard notes. On the palate there is firm acidity and a touch of oak and smoke in the background, with butterscotch notes. The wine is dominated by firm lemon/citrus flavors and the finish is long and complex with mineral and earth tones. This sparkling wine is a fine example of its type and will be a fine ambassador for Virginia wine quality.


Barboursville Cabernet Franc 2010: In the past Barboursville cabernet franc wines have been dense and concentrated with black cherry and black pepper. Despite the heat of the vintage, this wine is very Loire Valley-like with fresh red cherry, and bright crisp acidity.


Michael Shaps Viognier 2014: This wine was a “ringer” as it was the only viognier finalist from the very recent and fine 2014 vintage. The wine was fresh, bright and delicate without being too “flowery” and was fruit-driven; it will be a fine example of minimal or non-oak style viognier for Virginia.


Stinson (sweet) Petit Manseng 2012: As this wine shows, two years of age are a good thing for the high-acid petit manseng. This wine has 89 grams/liter of residual sugar but is perfectly balanced with the wine’s acidity, with lovely fresh pineapple aromas and flavors.

Around Virginia Wine in the 1st Quarter

Apr 05

I just returned from a two week (seemed like a month) marathon running the Eastern Winery Exposition (a great success) and then recovering from same skiing in the Adirondacks. While at the show, I had the opportunity to try many fine wines, and many exotic ones as well.

But first, a recap on winery visits on the way to Syracuse where EWE was held, and back.

Aside from judging in the Virginia Wine Governor’s Cup and the Monticello Cup, I also judged with a group at Keswick Vineyards to choose what we felt was the best team blend from six teams whose members belonged to the Keswick Wine Club. A benefit of belonging to this club is being invited to join a team on a weekend in February to concoct a blend that the team feels is best, to enter in the competition for “best team blend.”

The components were all chambourcin, syrah, touriga and norton, and each team had chosen a different blend. After some back-and-forth discussion, we all agreed on one blend. That team is  prominently featured on the top of the label for the 2013 Consensus, which turned out to be a blend of 45% syrah, 37% touriga  and 18% Chambourcin.

Next on the Virginia scene was a visit to Early Mountain Vineyards where Jonathan Hollerith and Steve Monson are now co-winemakers. Although it’s not publicized, Paul Hobbs of California is working with them on a chardonnay from 2014, currently in barrel.  Steve explains the wine was made in an oxidative style, instead of the more common anaerobic style, and was whole-cluster pressed with four chardonnay clones which were co-fermented with native yeast with spontaneous malolactic fermentation (some barrels developed it and some didn’t).

The wine was twelve months in 33% new oak. The nose had lemony citrus fruit with an elegant yeastiness, and well-integrated oak. On the palate, the wine has incredible texture—plush with lemon curd and bright fruit and fresh acid finish.

Steve explains they are planting a few new varieties experimentally in “micro-lots” and also doing clonal trials with cabernet franc based on soil type and pH. They have bought the Quaker Run vineyard where they will plant new whites including sauvignon blanc and malvasia bianca.

Many Virginia vintners are working to find a way to balance the high acid of petit manseng for a table wine. I like the way Early Mountain is doing it, in a “Block 11” blend of 75% petit manseng and 25% muscat which had a portion of malolactic fermentation to reduce acidity. The nose has great lemon/grapefruit Alsatian muscat notes. On the palate, I first get hints of lemongrass, basil, and kiwi then huge pink grapefruit, mango and peach on the mid-palate. The wine is almost dry and a versatile match for food but also an aromatic orgy (in a good way!)

At the Virginia Wine Governor’s Cup awards, the winning meritage-style blend “Clio” from Muse Vineyards in the Shenandoah Valley was youthful, fresh and balanced and seemed like a 2012 instead of a mature 2009. Granite Heights Winery poured their gold medal-winning 2012 petit manseng, showing that a couple of years of age can mellow this grape nicely, but they also poured the 2013 (with partial MLF and 2.5% residual sugar to balance higher acid) as well as the young but fresh 2014 vintage. Winemaker/owner Luke Kylick explains that his winemaking philosophy with this grape is to “match the vintage” and these three wines are a great illustration.

On March 3rd, the 2013 vintage of “3” was officially released (at 3:33 pm). A three-way collaboration between Monticello AVA winemakers Emily Pelton, Matthieu Finot and Jake Busching, the wine is a 33% blend of merlot, petit verdot and cabernet franc. For the 2013 vintage, Matthieu of King Family Vineyards made the petit verdot while Emily Pelton of Veritas Vineyards made the cabernet franc and Jake Busching of Grace Estate Vineyards made the merlot.

Matthieu says he’d prefer to wait another six months to release the wine and that it will be best in 2018. The wine was aged 50% in new French oak and the rest neutral. Matthieu says “3” is made to show the vintage style well. “2013 is not as complex as 2009 or 2010 but has more depth than 2012,” he says.

On tasting, the nose opened to lively, fresh red and black fruits. The palate was smooth with a burst of fruit mid-palate with a fresh, crisp finish and smooth tannins. I agree with Matthieu that, as with most 2013 Virginia reds I’ve tasted, this is still too young, but it will be stylish and approachable after decanting.

Elsewhere around Virginia, I tasted and enjoyed the wines of Carroll Vineyards while doing a book signing at the Leesburg Vintner. The proprietor of the retail store, Mike Carroll, also has a small vineyard and bottles wines which he can sell at the store (although sadly, the law required him to give up beer sales to do it). I liked his elegant St. Emilion-style merlot and fragrant, delicate and crisp viognier the most.

At Pollak Vineyards west of Charlottesville, I tasted the new wines, so new that the 2014 rosé had only been released that day (bright cherry fruit but needs another month or so). The 2012 reds were all showing well as well as the rich, stylish 2012 chardonnay. My favorite of the 2012 reds was the meritage (40% each merlot and cabernet franc and 20% petit verdot); red fruits, mocha, herbs with a plush smooth texture and velvet finish.