Great Northern Wine Country Tour Part 3: Finger Lakes of New York

Sep 22

I finally finished writing my 3-part tour cycle of  visits to northern wine regions this summer, with loads of tasting notes; the longest with the most wines was the Finger Lakes tour. Check it out on my “Adventures on the Wine Road” section to read;

1st Annual Virginia Wine Summit for the Trade to Take Place October 2 in Richmond

Sep 19

Commonwealth of Virginia
Governor and First Lady McDonnell will host  the inaugural Virginia Wine Summit on October 2 at the Richmond Marriott.  The summit is aimed at wine trade professionals. The event’s keynote speaker, internationally acclaimed British wine authority Steven Spurrier, will address the summit at lunch. Spurrier, a consultant editor to Decanter Magazine and President of the Circle of Wine Writers, also will lead a blind tasting of wines from Virginia and other globally recognized wine producing regions.

The event, which will bring together wine experts and industry leaders from around the world to discuss the dynamic and evolving state of Virginia wines and Virginia’s growing culinary offerings, is part of the McDonnell administration’s ongoing strategic initiatives to promote Virginia wine and wine tourism.

Spurrier will be joined at the summit by some of the nation’s foremost wine professionals including: Anthony Giglio of Food & Wine; noted wine importer and lecturer Bartholomew Broadbent; Master of Wine Jay Youmans; Dave McIntyre, wine writer for the Washington Post; Master Sommelier Kathy Morgan: cheese expert Liz Thorpe; and owner of Grassroots Wine, Harry Root. These experts and others will lead panels, tastings, and general discussions for an audience filled with winemakers, restaurateurs, sommeliers, connoisseurs, media, wine-shop owners, and other industry professionals. The day-long event will culminate with a Virginia wine reception.

The Virginia Wine Summit kicks off the Commonwealth’s annual October Virginia Wine Month activities. 2012 has been an exciting year for Virginia wines, most notably with Wine Enthusiast’s recognition of Virginia as one of the 10 Best Wine Travel Destinations of 2012 and Andrew Harper’s inclusion of Virginia on his list of Top 10 Wine Regions in America. More recently, Fodor’s listed Virginia as a top wine travel destination.

Virginia wine author Richard Leahy will be selling and signing copies of his new book on Virginia wine, Beyond Jefferson’s Vines. More information on the summit can be found at

Early Mountain Vineyards Opens to “Friends and Family,” State Officials

Sep 16

On Saturday September 15th, the renovated former Sweely Estate Winery now called Early Mountain Vineyards and owned by Steve and Jean Case of America Online, held its formal opening for “friends and family”, the media, and state officials including Governor and Mrs. McDonnell and Secretary of Agriculture Todd Haymore.

Re-Discovering, and Committing to Virginia Wine

Guests enjoyed lunch sourced from local farms and the newly released 2011 pinot gris and 2008 merlot under the Early Mountain label, along with the Thibaut-Janisson sparkling Virginia chardonnay. Jean Case, the winery owner, explained that the couple had lived in Virginia for 30 years, AOL having been founded 27 years ago, and were not impressed with Virginia wines in the 1990s. Through the experiences of joining the high-end wine club of Harlan Estate in Napa Valley, and enjoying wines from around the world, they began to wonder about the current state of Virginia wines, and about two years ago, took a tour of wineries in the Charlottesville area. They were amazed with what they tasted, and seeing the potential for world-class wine in Virginia, began to search for a way to join the industry and make their own contribution.

A year ago, they learned about the Sweely Estate Winery being up for sale and bought the vineyard and winery on Wolftown Road near Madison. While their debut wines are impressive (see tasting notes below), their attitude of comraderie and commitment to the industry is even more so. A key distinguishing feature of the business plan and product line is their “Best of Virginia” program which offers customers wines from  top vineyards across the state, selectaed by sommelier Michelle Gueydan, such as Breaux, Linden and Barboursville Vineyards among others. Likewise, they offer items on the menu and for sale in their market sourced from Virginia farms and artisan vendors across the state.

Five Pillars

Steve Case explains that there are five pillars (starting with ‘p’s) to Early Mountain Vineyards: the portfolio of top wines from across the state; the place (newly remodeled with 30 acres of vineyards and state-of-the-art processing equipment); the passion of the Cases and their staff for offering the best local food, wine and winery experience to their visitors; the welcome and care shown by their people, and finally, their purpose; in an inspiring attitude of giving back, all of their realized profits will go towards strengthening the Virginia wine industry “and the community’s continued growth, innovation, adaptation and learning.” The Cases explain that Virginia is such an important part of who they are, “we are honored to have the opportunity to give back to a place that has given us so much.”

Governor McDonnell, who with his wife Maureen have been tireless champions of Virginia wine, praised the Cases for their generosity and vision for the potential of Virginia wine.

Some Things Old, Some Things New

Under Jean Case, the large, dark and frankly intimidating tasting room you may remember from Sweely Estate has been transformed. The large stack stone fireplace is gone and the tasting room is open and lighter with a friendlier, more relaxed and airy feel. Frantz Ventre continues as Head Winemaker under the new ownership at Early Mountain, and the vineyard is being fine-tuned with re-plantings of certain blocks. Lucie Morton, renowned viticulture consultant, was hired to assist with evaluation and overhauling of the vineyards. “I was surprised to hear Lucie say when I asked her for what she thought Virginia’s top grapes were, she said ‘we’re still finding out,’” says Jean. She revels the prospect of helping explore and discover what the “new generation” of top Virginia grapes could be.

Early Mountain Debut Releases

  • Pinot Gris 2011: A perfect balance  between the crisp grigio and fleshier gris styles. Light hints of melon and pineapple on the nose and palate, with a juicy, creamy mid-palate followed by a zesty crisp finish. Elegant and versatile.
  • Chardonnay 2011: Very impressive for the vintage. Fine apple and pear fruit on the nose with a dash of lemon/lime citrus. On the palate, solid apple and pear fruit, round and concentrated but without the popcorn and butter flavors so popular in California chardonnay. The broad mid-palate gives way to a long, clean finish. Stylish example of Virginia chardonnay.
  • Merlot 2008: This wine was in tank for three years awaiting bottling following its oak barrel aging. It’s a treat, since the other 2008 wines are almost all gone or fading. A fine vintage for Virginia merlot, this wine is a bit slow to start and needs decanting or airing to open it up, but is richly supple with lots of black fruits and a fine mocha finish with crisp clean acidity. I’d like to see this in a blind tasting against fine French St. Emilion and Pomerols.

Clearly, the new Early Mountain Vineyards has made an impressive start on the Virginia wine scene, not merely in their fine wines but in their sharing and generous attitude which other newcomers (and some old timers) can learn from.


Middleburg AVA Approved by TTB in Loudoun, Fauquier Counties

Sep 14

Boxwood Winery in Middleburg, which has spearheaded the effort to establish a Middleburg AVA in Virginia’s northern piedmont, announced that TTB has officially approved the new appellation. The Middleburg AVA encompasses approximately 200 square miles in Loudoun and Fauquier Counties, and becomes the seventh TTB-recognized AVA in Virginia.

For some strange reason, U.S. wineries cannot legally label wines as “estate bottled” unless the vineyards are within an existing TTB-approved American Viticultural Area. Now, Boxwood and many other Northern Virginia wineries can so designate their wines if grown and bottled from their estate grapes.

An AVA is a grape-growing region that is defined by its geographic features which affect the type and style of the wine it produces.  Wineries in the area can identify themselves as being in the AVA if their wines are made from a minimum of 85% of grapes grown in the area.

The Middleburg, VA AVA is located 50 miles west of Washington, DC and encompasses the Town of Middleburg. The AVA is bounded by the Potomac River to the north and mountains to the east, south and west. The proposed viticultural area covers 121,600 acres and contains 229 acres of commercial vineyards and 14 wineries.

The Middleburg Virginia AVA currently includes 14 wineries and 10 vineyards:

Wineries                                                Vineyards

Barrel Oak Winery                                    2 Sisters Vineyard

Boxwood Estate Winery                            Calucci Vineyard

Chateau O’Brien at Northpoint                  Delaplane Vineyard

Corcoran Vineyards                                  North Gate Vineyard

Doukenie Winery                                      Seven Oaks Vineyard

Hiddencroft Vineyards                              Short Hill Vineyard

Louduon Valley Vineyards                         Spring Lot Vineyard

Naked Mountain Vineyard                         Sycamore Springs Vineyard

Piedmont Vineyards and Winery                Vinecroft Vineyard

Sunset Hills Vineyard                                Weatherlea Vineyard

Swedenburg Estate Winery

Three Fox Vineyards

Village Winery

Vintage Ridge Vineyard

The effort to establish the Middleburg Virginia AVA was spearheaded by Rachel Martin, Executive Vice President of the Boxwood Estate Winery in Middleburg, Virginia.  The process with the TTB and Treasury Department began shortly after Boxwood Estate Winery was established in 2006.

The other Virginia AVA’s are:  Eastern Shore AVA, Monticello AVA, North Fork of Roanoke AVA, George Washington Birthplace AVA, Rocky Knob AVA, and Shenandoah Valley AVA.

For more details on the AVA Rule visit:


Hudson Valley (NY) Wineries Launch a Cassis Website

Sep 14

The Hudson Valley wine scene is starting to emerge with several passionate and great stories…none of which is more exciting than the making and selling of quality artisanal cassis and black currant wine.
According to wikipedia, “Crème de cassis is a blood-red, sweet, blackcurrant flavored liqueur, and is an ingredient of kir or a kir royale, both of which are considered an apéritif. The modern version of the drink first appeared in the Burgundy region in 1841, displacing “ratafia de cassis” from prior centuries. It is made from black currants crushed into refined alcohol, with sugar subsequently added. While crème de cassis is a specialty of Burgundy, it is made in other cities of France, as well as in Luxembourg and Quebec.” It is also made in the northeast, especially after the folks at the Cornell Extension, and other agricultural extensions in New England, have extolled the berry’s virtues for many years.
Currants, red and black, are winter hardy, and not susceptible to many of the diseases that plague grapes. A great crop for cold weather regions. So the untapped currant crop was good news for winemakers and consumers. As a result, numerous northeast wineries have a quality currant fruit base to draw from, and thus, more and more wineries are making cassis.
Almost 20,000 bottles of artisanal cassis will be sold in the Hudson Valley this year! The Hudson Valley is the number one producer of artisanal cassis in North America and the Western Hemisphere. All of these are handmade wines, crafted by gifted artisans, and experiencing explosive growth. Word is getting out.
Cassis (or black currant wines and cordials) are traditionally used to make Kir and Kir Royale, one of the most classic cocktails in the world. But cassis is also excellent as an ingredient in many other drinks. It’s also a fabulous dessert wine, that pairs incredibly well with chocolate. And of course, cassis is great to sip on all by itself.
Hudson Valley Cassis producers include:
Adair Vineyards
Brookview Station Winery
Clinton Vineyards
Glorie Farm Winery
Hudson-Chatham Winery
Tousey Winery
Tuthilltown Spirits
Warwick Valley Winery & Distillery
This new website includes profiles and links to all the producers, current articles about Hudson Valley cassis from the press, more than 50 cassis cocktails, as well as all the news going on in the Hudson Valley about cassis, including new products and upcoming events.
Enjoy a glass of Hudson Valley cassis!