NPR Airs Spot on U.MN “Northern Grapes” on Morning Edition

May 17

On Friday May 16th, David Sommerstein on National Public Radio wrote a segment aired on “Morning Edition” titled “Researchers Don’t ‘Wine’ About The Cold, Their Grapes Thrive.” The story focused on the cold-hardy grapes bred by the University of Minnesota that are now being cultivated in 12 northern states from Minnesota to Vermont. These grapes, starting with the frontenac (red) released in 1996, to the lately-released frontenac blanc (an albino mutation of the former), combine native grape cold hardiness and ability to ripen a crop in a short growing season, with good fungal disease resistance and the finesse one expects from the European (vinifera) species, thanks to the balance of native and vinifera genes.

Aside from the red frontenac and white frontenac blanc, other varieties include la crescent (riesling-like), marquette (the most successful northern red, which resembles a northern Rhone blend), and frontenac gris (a pinot gris-like mutation of frontenac).

These grapes are now being referred to as Northern Grapes, and Tim Martinson of Cornell University in New York heads a multi-state specialty crop grant to research and promote awareness of these grapes in areas where only native varieties or non-sexy but cold-hardy old French hybrid varieties could survive the winter and make wine. Martinson and his colleague Peter Hemstad, head of the U. of MN’s grape breeding program, are both quoted on the segment. To hear the segment, link to

Long Island Sustainable Winegrowing Announces First Vineyards In Eastern U.S. To Achieve Sustainable Certification

May 17

(from a press release from Long Island Sustainable Winegrowing Inc.) North Fork of Long Island and The Hamptons, Long Island, New York (May 9, 2013)Long Island Sustainable Winegrowing, Inc. (LISW), a not-for-profit organization that provides education and certification for Long Island vineyards, announces the first vineyards in the eastern U.S. to earn certified sustainable status. Ten vineyards comprising over 400 acres of grapes on the East End of Long Island have been officially designated as “certified sustainable” vineyards for the 2012 vintage: Bedell Cellars, Channing Daughters Winery, Harbes Family Vineyard, Martha Clara Vineyards, One Woman Wines & Vineyards, Palmer Vineyards, Roanoke Vineyards, Sannino Bella Vita Vineyard, Shinn Estate Vineyards, and Wölffer Estate Vineyard. This announcement is a significant milestone in the 40-year history of Long Island wines, and there will be a commemorative celebration on Thursday, June 6, from 6:00-8:00PM at Bedell Cellars in Cutchogue, for invited members of the press and New York wine industry.

To earn sustainable farming certification, these 10 vineyards successfully implemented a comprehensive checklist of nearly 200 sustainable grape growing practices that include thoughtful vineyard planning, encouraged and prohibited materials and practices, and numerous ecological management options. The primary goal of technical farming standards is to maintain healthy farmland soils, conserve Long Island’s delicate maritime and estuary ecosystems, and protect ground and surface waters from leaching and runoff. In addition to implementing a comprehensive technical checklist, certified sustainable vineyards signed a vow to abide by 15 important sustainability guidelines that were created to foster respectful stewardship of Long Island’s historic farmlands for future generations.

A hallmark of the LISW certification program is the use of a rigorous, independent, third-party inspector: Allan Connell, former District Conservationist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS). Mr. Connell used the New York VineBalance Grower Workbook as a roadmap for evaluating sustainable vineyard practices.  In addition to the certified sustainable members of LISW, seven other Long Island vineyards joined LISW in 2013 and are “in transition” toward certification in the future. These transitional members are Mudd Vineyards, Sparkling Pointe, Kontokosta Winery, Water Mill Vineyard, Surrey Lane Vineyard, Mattebella Vineyards, and Lieb Cellars.

A core working group of leading Long Island wineries participated in the inception of LISW: Bedell Cellars, Channing Daughters Winery, Martha Clara Vineyards, and Shinn Estate Vineyards. These founding partners worked in conjunction with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County to write and codify specific sustainable grape growing guidelines for Long Island’s two AVAs: the North Fork of Long Island and The Hamptons, Long Island.

LISW recognizes that social responsibility complements the high quality winemaking and natural beauty already associated with the Long Island wine region. “The announcement of our first certified sustainable vineyards strengthens the ecological leadership and social responsibility of the Long Island wine region,” said Richard Olsen-Harbich, Winemaker at Bedell Cellars. “The effort of creating meaningful, rigorous sustainable farming standards for grape growers proves that Long Island wineries are serious about making world-class wines that are also ecologically sensitive.”

A list of sustainable farming guidelines is available from LISW upon request, and more information can be found at, sustainablewinegrowing, and LISW has 501(c)(3) not-for-profit status pending approval. For more information about tasting the first certified sustainable Long Island wines and their market availability, please contact the individual wineries.

Tasting Report from the Wine Trail: Keswick, Stinson and Mountfair

May 12

I recently enjoyed tasting wines at Keswick Vineyards east of Charlottesville and two wineries on the new “Appellation Trail”, Stinson and Mountfair.

At Keswick, winemaker Stephen Barnard is proud of his new program with 500 liter puncheons, about twice the size of a normal oak barrel. The larger surface ratio of wine to oak means less oak flavor and more fruit-dominated flavors. He uses the puncheons for his reserve chardonnay and viognier as well as for his reds, and even for a touriga nacional rose.

Especially memorable are the (not yet released) 2012 reserve viognier and chardonnay, with richness from lees contact and gentle oak hints but avoid a sense of vulgar over-indulgence common in oak reserve whites.

The red cask samples from the puncheons likewise had depth of fruit and just enough but not too much oak. My favorite red sample was the 2012 norton, fermented with a high malic acid-consuming yeast (norton has four times the malic to tartaric acid ratio of vinifera red grapes). As a result, the wine had deep plush ripe fruit but lacked the acid edge of most nortons, and it will be a joy for norton fans when finished.

The most original wines at Keswick were the “V squared”, a 50/50 blend of verdejo and early-picked viognier; and a touriga rose. The “V2″  had lots of white grapefruit and pear aromas and flavors with a broad mid-palate and fresh finish. The use of early-picked viognier meant a minimum of the lily-floral quality and tropical fruit frequently found in Virginia viognier, and it blended very well with the verdejo. An elegant fun and original blend, it will be great for matching with seafood or enjoying pre-dinner through the hot summer months.

Just as original was the rose of touriga that was aging a 500 liter puncheon. It’s very unusual to age rose wine in barrel, but this one really worked, partly because of the big fruitiness of the grape and partly because the oak added complexity without too much oak flavor. Stephen explains that touriga is not a reliable grape for red wine production in Virginia because it often rots before it fully ripens. Instead, he plans to harvest the grape early and process as a rose, keeping bright fresh fruit flavors and avoiding the risk of later season rot. I think he’s really on to something; for any growers out there who haven’t (yet) pulled up your touriga, contact Stephen for his growing regimen.

Stinson Vineyards is a fairly new winery, at the start of the Appellation Trail (heh) in White Hall. Opened in 2011, Stinson features an eclectic blend of the “usual suspects” type of wines and some very original wines made by a father/daughter winemaking team, Scott and Rachel Stinson, focusing on “premium wines in the French style.”

The basic white and red “Sugar Hollow” blends are elegantly balanced and surprisingly high quality for basic wines from the difficult 2011 vintage. The white is vidal, with citrus flavors and bright acidity and just a hint of sweetness. The red is a whole berry-fermented red Bordeaux blend with definite oak but drinking well now.

My favorite Stinson wines were both whites, very French in style. The 2012 sauvignon blanc is classic Loire Valley style, with aromas of lemon grass, a hint of dill and flint. On the palate, lemon and green garden herb flavors dominate, with a firm acid grip in the finish and a flinty clean finish. This is as close to Pouilly Fume as I’ve seen outside that AOC in the Loire Valley and is very promising.

The 2012 Rose is 100% mourvedre (grown by Horton Vineyards), and bears a striking resemblance to the mourvedre-based roses of the Bandol AOC in Provence, especially Domaine Tempier. Even though the color is pale, the wine is bursting with fresh strawberries on the nose and palate, with a hint of clean earth in the finish and fine acidity that makes it a classic French-style, food-friendly rose.

The 2009 La Tour d’Afton, vinted by Turk Mountain Vineyards in nearby Afton, is a deep purple, rich wine fermented with native yeast featuring 40% petit verdot, 20% cabernet franc, 20% merlot, and 20% malbec. The wine has intriguing aromas of herb, spice and black fruits, with a plush texture and like flavors. Winemaker Rachel explains that (like many other ’09 reds I’ve observed), this wine has become much more accessible in recent months. The malbec seems to add some exotic black fruit and spice notes not otherwise found in Virginia red Bordeaux blends.

Stinson also makes two sweet wines that, like the “French style”, are not too sweet but balanced. A 2011 late-harvest petit manseng at 6% residual sugar has fresh honey and pineapple notes and is easy to sip but not cloying, while the 100% tannat “Imperialis” port-style wine is bursting with ripe black fruits and smooth tannins and easy to quaff without restraint, a brilliant match for dark chocolate.

Up the road in Mountfair, the red Bordeaux blend specialists of the same name have added four new blends to their existing portfolio, all from the 2011 vintage. Two are cabernet franc-based (“Blended Family” and “Commitment”) and two are merlot-based (“Serendipitous” and “Jilted”).

My favorites were the Serendipitous and the Blended Family.

The Serendipitous 2011 (green label) is 50% merlot, 19% cabernet franc, 15% cabernet sauvignon and 16% petit verdot.  A light, subtle nose with cedar hints is followed on the palate by more dimension; lots of spice and palate weight, and would drink better by early fall, worth waiting for and pretty stylish for 2011.

The Blended Family 2011 (dark blue label) is 44% cabernet franc, 29% merlot, 18% cabernet sauvignon and 9% petit verdot. This wine has  more assertive nose, with classic cabernet franc black pepper. On the palate, the wine is smooth showing the influence of lush petit verdot. While the wine will develop in the next year it is drinking well now and a good choice for summer-style Virginia red while we wait for the 2010s to come around.

Tasting the “Governor’s Case” from the 2013 Virginia Governor’s Cup with Jay Youmans MW

May 06

Last Saturday I had the privilege of collaborating with Jay Youmans, Master of Wine and head of the Capital Wine Academy on Wisconsin Avenue in Washington, D.C. as he presented the wines of the “Governor’s Case”, the top 12 wines of the Virginia 2013 Governor’s Cup, to a class of 16 attendees.

The attendees all received a copy of Beyond Jefferson’s Vines, and Jay presented a powerpoint with technical sheets on all the individual wines. He also spoke in broad terms about the “evolution of quality wine in Virginia” which he said was a very good subtitle for the book, as the 12 wines in front of us illustrated the concept very well.

We all agreed on the metaphor I use to describe Virginia wine style: Virginia is located stylistically as well as geographically between Bordeaux and the U.S. West Coast, but Jay pointed out that the best Virginia red wines are closer to Bordeaux as the model than to West Coast reds.

Tasting the wines was a remarkable experience, and should have convinced anyone that the top rank of Virginia wines today are not just good but also world-class. Interestingly, this was not completely focused on the wonderful 2010 vintage; three of the wines were reds from 2009, and the sole non-red (a rose sparkling wine from Kluge) was from 2008. The resulting diversity showed that top Virginia wines are far from monolithic, and that vintage variation gives us lots of stylistic diversity.

Here are my tasting notes on the “Governor’s Case” or the top 12 Virginia wines of 2013:

Trump Winery sparkling rose 2008:

Originally made by the Kluge Vineyards then bottled and labeled by the new ownership with the Trump label, this 90% chardonnay/10% pinot noir rose sparkler is indeed world-class, not least due to the unintended, coincidental extra aging the wine received on the lees before disgorgement and bottling which gave the texture  a rich, creamy character balancing the delicate freshness of strawberries on the nose and palate. Dry but stylish and elegant with a long rich finish.

Pollak Vineyards cabernet franc reserve 2009: 

Only two barrels of this winery’s cabernet franc were held back to make this impressive reserve. Nose of subtle dried red cherries and clean forest floor, a definite influence of toasted oak. On the palate, the wine is rich and concentrated, with depth of fruit offset with assertive but balanced oak (22 months of French oak).  Drinking well now, will be at its peak this fall/winter for the next year. Sold out.


Lovingston Winery Josie’s Knoll Reserve 2009 (Estate Bottled):

This wine is a surprising stylistic contrast to the Pollak although from the same vintage, and spent a full 3 years in oak. 85% merlot, 10% cabernet franc, 5% petit verdot. Color is vibrant ruby with assertive, forward fruitiness and a hint of volatile acidity, very New World style. On the palate, the wine has forward juicy fruitiness and the oak is surprisingly in the background. It drinks more like a 2010 than a 2009. Mature now, it’s just hitting stride and will last at least until 2019, likely best in the next three years.$24.95

King Family Vineyards Meritage 2010:

A blend of all 5 Bordeaux red varieties. As explained on their website, KFV makes their meritage for aging. Nose: closed and young, with hints of heat, ripe red fruits and spice. On the palate, the wine is rich and full-bodied, well-balanced with intense ripe red fruit flavors with hints of smoky oak and creme brulee on the finish. Needs another two years of cellaring before it opens up, it will last beyond 2020. Currently sold out but a small quantity will be re-released in March 2016 at a price TBD.

RdV Vineyards “Rendezvous” 2010:

This is the more merlot-dominated of the two signature wines from this new, passionately devoted to quality and terroir operation. Blend: 35% merlot, 32% cabernet sauvignon, 21% cabernet franc, 12% petit verdot. The first impressive part was the color: not only opaque purple, but such depth of fruit that it stained the glass. Nose: closed at this point. Palate: silky texture like liquid red velvet, hints of creme brulee nutmeg and creamy texture, incredibly plush but very young; needs 3-4 more years to open and fully integrate. Not yet available; price for 2009 vintage is $75/bottle.

Philip Carter “Cleve” 2010:

An example of cutting-edge experimentation seen by a few Virginia wineries, this wine is a 50/50 blend of petit verdot and tannat, the dominant red grape in Madiran in southwest France (hint: it shares the same root as the word “tannin.”) Color is impressively dark purple with two dark grapes blended in a great ripe vintage. Nose: intriguing clean earthiness from the tannat as with carignane, along with the violets from petit verdot, then some dill notes from American oak. On the palate, concentrated smoky black fruits but smooth and clean in the finish. Tastes like the color purple with an earthy note. Bold and original, will be better in 6 months and last the decade. $35

Rappahannock Cellars Meritage 2010


Nose: closed. Palate: Deep, rich ripe black fruits with punchy tannins  on the finish. Young but worth cellaring; will last the distance once big fruit and oak integrate. More of a West Coast style wine for a Right Bank blend in Virginia (41% merlot,  26% cabernet franc,  23%  cabernet sauvignon, 10%   petit verdot) but balanced. $32.50

Sunset Hills Vineyards “Mosaic” 2010

Another Bordeaux-style blend of 37.5% merlot, 37.5% cabernet sauvignon, 18% cabernet franc, and 7% petit verdot. This was my favorite wine of the tasting. Nose: classic black pepper and black cherry I associate with cabernet franc. On the palate, very dense fruit but great potential for 10-20 years. Young but rich and elegant. Note: available to wine club members only.

Potomac Point “Richland Reserve Heritage” 2010

While dominated by Bordeaux grapes, this blend also has the wild card grape tannat (13.6%). Nose: smoky oak in an Italian style like a Super Tuscan or Dolcetto. Palate: smoky and punchy with firm tannins but clean smooth finish. A food wine; think of truffles! Lots of oak here but with a few years of patient cellaring will rival Super Tuscans or nebbiolos for matching with top Italian cuisine (not currently available).


Cooper Petit Verdot Reserve 2010

A big, rich wine (100% new Virginia oak) but the oak is in the background. Smoky violets and black fruits on the nose. Palate: oak is a bit clumsy and forward with a bitter finish from lots of tannins, and dill/herbal notes from the oak. This is a Virginia version of a big West Coast cabernet sauvignon; it needs a lot of time. Noteworthy is that the blend includes  14 % cabernet sauvignon. Come back in 5-7 years.

RdV Lost Mountain 2010:

This is the more cabernet sauvignon-dominated blend (77% cabernet s., 14% merlot, 9% petit verdot) from this impressive new operation near Delaplane. Like the Rendezvous, the color is opaque and stains the glass. The nose is also closed being so young, but there are hints of cassis. Palate: ripe black fruits and vanillin, the texture is very elegant and richly smooth with nutmeg creme brulee hints in the finish. Best from 2017. $88 when the 2009 vintage sells out.

Barboursville Vineyards Octagon “12th Edition” 2009

This was likely the most elegant and (“Right Bank”) Bordeaux-like red of the Governor’s case; combined with the fact that it is currently the most accessible are reasons why it probably won the Governor’s Cup award for 2013 as the top wine in the competition. The Octagon blend varies, but always revolves around a core of roughly 60% merlot, and other red Bordeaux grapes as suits the quality of the vintage. Nose: sexy and stylish, with spicy hints from petit verdot. Palate: surprisingly light and fresh (following all the rich 2010 wines); drinking well now and has a crisp, clean Bordeaux-like finish. Put this in a flight of top St. Emilion wines, and I’d be skeptical if it didn’t finish near the top, or if anyone would accuse it of being an imposter. $49 when the 2009 vintage sells out and it becomes available.

Take-home Messages from These Results

1) “The Whole is greater than the sum of the parts.” In two good to great vintages (’09-’10), 2 of the wines were varietals while the remaining 9 were blends.

2) Petit Verdot: the New Virginia Strong Suit for Red Wines? Aside from one varietal cabernet franc, all other 11 red wines in the Governor’s Case had petit verdot as a blend component or varietal designation, in two different vintages. This could be a good argument that petit verdot has supplanted merlot and cabernet franc as Virginia’s red “grape of the future.”

3) Dark Horse coming up on the rail: tannat has potential in VA. Inspired by the recent Kentucky Derby, this metaphor works because the juice of this grape (and arguably the flavors) are very dark–and as we see in the Governor’s Case, this relative dark horse of a variety was a component of two of the top 12 wines this year. Jake Busching of the new Grace Estate Winery (formerly Mt. Juliet Vineyards) says that this red variety performed the best of any in the vineyard in the lousy 2011 vintage, and the wine he made from it, while far from the deep rich style of the wines from the better vintage of 2010, is still balanced and far better than most other 2011 Virginia reds. Other Virginia wineries making wines with blends or varietals of tannat include Cardinal Point, Chateau Morrisette, Chateau O’Brien and Delaplane Vineyards.a