Richard Leahy to Give Webinar Through UVA on “Wine Across America” Fri. 11/2, Noon

Oct 29

Richard Leahy, author of the recently published Beyond Jefferson’s Vines, a comprehensive guide to today’s Virginia wine industry, will give a one hour webinar on Friday, November 2nd, titled “Wine Across America: Realizing Jefferson’s Dream”, from 12 noon to 1:00 p.m.

Says Mary Ann Stanbaugh of UVA’s alumni services, “Whether you are an oenophile, new to wine, or always dreamed of having your own vineyard, join us for a fun and informative webinar about American wines and the evolution of the Virginia wine industry, from viticulture to wine culture, with wine consultant and author Richard Leahy (GSAS ’91). Just in time for your holiday planning!”

Although Jefferson never harvested grapes from the vineyard of European vines he planted at Monticello, he is considered the father of the American wine industry through his education of American statesmen, promotion of viticulture as a progressive form of farming, and promoting a culture of food and wine through serving fine wines at the White House during his presidency.

Based mostly on Beyond Jefferson’s Vines, Kevin Zraly’s American Wine Guide, Leon Adams’ The Wines of America, the presentation will show the rise, fall and rise again of the American wine industry from the ashes of Prohibition, including the rise of the non-West Coast wine industry.

Advance registration for this webinar is required; for more information, visit

DrinkLocalWine Celebrates Regional Wine Week in November

Oct 24

DrinkLocalWine will hold its fifth annual Regional Wine Week from Nov. 12 to 16 , where wine writers, bloggers and enthusiasts share information about wine from “The Other 47″ states (excluding California, Washington and Oregon) – providing a one-stop shop to see what’s cutting edge in regional wine.

The fourth annual regional wine week, held last year in October, was one of the most successful in the group’s history, linking to dozens of stories and blog posts about wine produced in more than half of the other 47 wine states.

This year, DrinkLocalWine will announce the site and dates for its national DrinkLocalWine Conference during Regional Wine Week for the first time, giving away two pairs of tickets. The annual conference, which spotlights regional wine, was held in Denver in 2012, featuring the Colorado wine industry and its cool-climate varieties like Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Cabernet Franc. Previously, the conference has been held in Missouri, Virginia and Texas.

Writers from across the United States are asked to post stories to their blogs, websites, magazines and newspapers about their favorite regional and local wines, wineries and events. Then, the DrinkLocalWine website aggregates the stories, providing a snapshot of regional wine. Over the past four years, writers from across the country have covered dozens of states’ wine industries.

Regional Wine Week is open to anyone – from professional wine writers to wine enthusiasts with Facebook pages or Tumblr sites – to submit stories about wineries, winemakers and wines from the Other 47 states.

For information about Regional Wine Week or to submit a story link, call (469) 554-9463 or email them to us.

Wine of the Week: Lovingston Cabernet Franc 2010

Oct 24

There has been a lot of discussion in the Virginia wine industry in the last year or so about whether we should continue to hang our hats on cabernet franc as our red grape strong suit, or instead shift to merlot or petit verdot.

Virginia cabernet franc decisively trounced a Loire Valley cabernet franc in the first Virginia Wine Summit on 10/2 when Barboursville cabernet franc 2008 was the clear favorite over a fine Chinon. But more to the point, if you look at the results of the 2012 Virginia Wine Governor’s Cup, it’s compelling that there were no gold medals for petit verdot, while in contrast there were 2 gold medals, a whopping 33 silver medals, and 22 bronze medals, or 57 medal winning wines altogether, by far and away more medals than any other grape or blend category.

Consistency says a lot about the terroir of a grape variety for a particular region, and these 55 award-winning Virginia cabernet francs came from four different vintages; 2007-2010. Combing this with the Barboursville 2008 caberent franc reserve trouncing the Chinon in the Virginia Wine Summit, it’s clear that we should be re-evaluating the track record of cabernet franc in Virginia.

In that vein, the Wine of the Week is the Lovingston Vineyards Monticello cabernet franc 2010. The color was dark garnet, followed by aromatics of dark plum and cherry. On the palate, wow; intensely fruity with mineral and black pepper notes on the nose. On the palate, the wine is bursting with black cherry and plum flavors, blending with fine, long, smooth tannins and electric acidity. Just reaching its prime, this wine will last another 8 years.

Finger Lakes Riesling: the Terroir Project at Fox Run, Part 2

Oct 19

Just about two months ago, I wrote here about the “Lake Dana Vineyard” series of rieslings released in spring by Fox Run Vineyards on west Seneca Lake in the Finger Lakes (NY).

While Fox Run winemaker Peter Bell is a well-known and respected riesling specialist, with both a reserve label and one third of the “Tierce” collaborative effort with fellow Seneca Lake winemakers Johannes Reinhard and Dave Whiting, he doesn’t rest on his laurels. Looking east to the Old World, while standing in the New World, he started digging into the geologic roots of the Fox Run Vineyard and discovered (under his feet) that its western boundary was the prehistoric shoreline of Lake Dana  (no connection with long-time Finger Lakes winemaker Dana Keeler).

As a press release from Fox Run states, Lake Dana was the ur-lake formed by retreating glaciers that superseded the present-day Seneca Lake, with a higher shoreline, and the soil is thick loam over lakeshore shale, “ideal for Riesling.”

There are three wines made in this Lake Dana series, named 10, 11 and 12, all from the excellent 2010 vintage.

The first wine, Riesling 10, was a dry riesling made in a New World technique that was described in a blog post here on August 21st.

The next two wines, Riesling 11 and 12, were both made with over 6% residual sugar (auslese range for Mosel rieslings), with 8% alcohol, but processed in different styles, which made an interesting contrast. Both rieslings were harvested on October 14, 2010 at 21.1 Brix and whole-cluster pressed, but the 11 was fermented with native yeast and “benevolent laissez-faire” with no modern intervention until the wine reached 8.5% alcohol when it was stopped, retaining 6.1% residual sugar (pH 3.0, acidity 8.5 g/L, 22 cases made).

My tasting notes on the Lake Dana Series Riesling 11 (2010):

Delicate and fragrant aromatics, classic Middle Mosel hallmarks of white flowers, slate, red apple and peach. Palate: ripe white/yellow peach flavors, definitely sweet but fruit still fresh,  spring-like and with balanced acidity; a long fresh fruity finish. I was instantly reminded of great Middle Mosel vineyards like Erdener Treppchen, Wehlener Sohnnenuhr or Graacher Himmelreich. Delicate and delicious now, but will benefit from longer aging (best in a decade).

The Riesling 12 was harvested on the same day from the same vineyard and the grapes were also whole cluster pressed, but the main processing difference was that this lot was inoculated with Epernay II commercial yeast, and the fermentation “was carefully managed using current new-world winemaking techniques” then stopped at 8% alcohol (with a slightly higher residual sugar than 11 at 6.4%; 74 cases made).

My tasting notes on the Lake Dana Series Riesling 12 (2010):

Much more closed  than #11 on the nose, but also delicate and fresh. Aromas of complex smoky minerality and green apple, much like a classic Saar riesling, not nearly as fragrant and forward as #11. On the palate, light, lively and fresh, but with finer, more racy acidity than #11 and less lushness in the fruit, although the finish seems sweeter.
This wine is reminiscent of an Ockfener Bockstein or Maximin Gruenhauser (Saar or Ruwer), and needs time to integrate. While those who like a sweet riesling might quaff this in a jiffy, the terroir elements need time to emerge, integrate with the acidity, and let the sweetness fade a bit, for it to reach its potential. It will be very rewarding with more time.


It’s great that Finger Lakes winemakers continue to experiment and push the envelope, whether it’s planting old German clones, making reserve bottlings or high-end dry rieslings like the Tierce collaboration or  sweet, traditional German style late harvest rieslings.

This terroir project of the Lake Dana Series at Fox Run is a new interpretation of riesling through the lens ofterroir,in this case finding the shoreline of an ancient lake with well-drained soils that provide superior sub-strates for the expression of site-specific terroir within the larger terroir of west Seneca Lake.

We are told in the winemaker notes that the source juice for all three rieslings was the same, and so we have the constant of the terroir and the fruit, then we see how winemaking choices of dry vs. sweet and native vs. cultured yeasts affect the final wine.

As I mentioned in the August post, the dry version made a clean and fresh wine, but I think that in dry processing, the whole cluster technique for riesling seems to strip all the fruit from the aroma and palate, unless you return to the wine a decade later, and how many people will do that…with a riesling? The Riesling 10 reminded me of the high-end dry rieslings from Washington State’s Columbia Valley, but a very austere and lean wine it was. I want more fruit in my riesling.

I was far more intrigued by these two low alcohol, auslese-style interpretations in rieslings 11 and 12. Part of this was that, controlling for residual sugar and alcohol, the only main variable being the yeast strain, the wines are surprisingly different, yet having far more recognizable riesling hallmarks than the uber-dry riesling 10.

I liked how both these rieslings took me right to Germany, specifically the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer river system, but how the first one was classically Middle Mosel while the second was more Upper Mosel or Saar-Ruwer like. Ripe juicy fruit versus racy citrus minerality, yet both with the same amount of hefty residual sugar.

I like them both and would like to see them age. These would be great food wines because of their delicacy and fruit/acid balance, but also because with lower alcohol you get more of the naked grape and more versatility; high alcohol rieslings lose a lot of grape aromatics and flavor because the flavor compounds are lost in the process of fermentation. The only trouble is, riesling 11 only produced 22 cases, while riesling 12 only made 74 cases.

If I were Fox Run management, I’d put half of this small production down to age, for trade education purposes and library releases, and plan to sell the rest to the wine club and key restaurants who can appreciate low alcohol, high residual sugar rieslings as fine food wines or connoisseur collectibles, and not dismiss them as only fit for “girly-men.”

VA Wines Beat France in “Judgment of Virginia” Blind Tasting At RR Smith Museum on 10/14

Oct 16

Following close on the heels of the landmark Virginia Wine Summit blind tasting on 10/2 where Virginia wines bested worldwide competition by a score of 5-3, the “Judgement of Virginia” blind tasting of seven pairs of Virginia wines and French wines at the RR Smith Art Museum in downtown Staunton on 10/14 also resulted in an upset victory for Virginia wines, which edged out French wines 4-3.

Two characteristics were noteworthy in the upset; the Virginia red wines beat all the French red wines, and also, the pinot noir and sparkling wine.

The event was coordinated by the Thomas Jefferson wine committee led by Scott D. Ballin, JD of Washington, D.C. who also maintains a residence in Staunton, with the aim of raising money for the RR Smith Center for History and Art in Staunton. Ballin said that he was really please and somewhat surprised at how well the reds did in the competition, especially the pinot noir. It suggests to him that  Jefferson’s cherished Burgundy can be grown and produced in the Old Dominion and he hoped to see more of it. He is already talking about a repeat performance of the event next year.

Judges included Virginia wine industry pioneer Gabrielle Rausse, his son Tim Rausse (also a winemaker), Ben Gilaberti, former wine columnist for the Washington Post and consultant to Calvert Woodley Wine in Northwest Washington; Daniel Mahdavian, Master of Ceremonies, beverage marketing maven, former hotelier and restaurant manager and early advocate of Virginia wines; Kyle Boatwright, formerly of the Staunton Grocery and currently with Country Vintner; Megan Headley, Charlottesville restaurateur and wine writer; and this writer.

Unusual for a wine judging, the event was performed in front of a live and paying audience. After fascinating reminiscences of the early hard days in the industry by Gabrielle Rausse and comments by other judges, Rausse was presented with an 18th century cartographer’s map of Italy by Scott Ballin for his contribution to the Virginia wine industry.

Also unusual for a wine judging, the reds were tasted first and ranked (on the 20-point scale), followed by the whites. The categories were: pinot noir, Right Bank Bordeaux-style red blends, Left Bank Bordeaux-style blends, viognier, chardonnay, pinot gris, and sparkling wine.

The competition results were:

2011 Ankida Ridge pinot noir (VA, Amherst Co.) over 2009 Louis Latour Volnay En Chevret Premier Cru

2008 Barboursville Octagon (60% merlot) VA, over 2009 Ch. Croix Figeac St. Emilion,

2008 Barren Ridge Meritage (VA, Shenandoah Valley) vs. 2006 Ch. Gloria St. Julien

2011 Keswick Signature Series Viognier (VA-Monticello) vs. 2008 E. Guigal Condrieu

2010 Jefferson Chardonnay Reserve vs. Domaine Delarche Pernand-Vergelesses

2011 Pollak Pinot Gris vs. 2009 Domaine Paul Blanck Pinot Gris

2008 Thibault-Jannison Cuvee D’Etat (VA) v. Jacques Lassaigne Les Vignes De Montgueux Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs

Following the tasting, wine country fiction writer Ellen Crosby was on hand to sign copies of her Virginia wine mysteries, and this author signed copies of Beyond Jefferson’s Vines.

This author was impressed by the thoughtfulness of the Wine Committee’s choices, and particularly impressed that not only did Virginia beat all the French reds, but also there was no contest in the pinot noir match nor the sparkling match.

It seems Virginia wines can not only compete on a world stage but beat the French, just like California wines did some 26 years ago. Maybe it’s time Virginia wines got some respect…even from the Californians?