Wines of the Week from DuCard and Rockbridge Vineyards

Jun 15

I just spent a dream-like pair of Saturdays in the sunny Virginia countryside visiting wineries and enjoying the Blue Ridge scenery. Today I descended the Blue Ridge Parkway at Montebello to cross I-81 and just a mile beyond was Rockbridge Vineyards in Raphine.  I had the pleasure of meeting Jane and Shep Rouse, proprietors, in a busy tasting room, and going through the ample product line with them and one of their growers, Isabelle.

RockbridgeVineyardsThe first Wine of the Week is the Rockbridge Pinot Blanc de Noir 2012. Some people think “If all wines could be red, they would be.” This wine proves that sometimes, the best red wine is white. We all know by now that pinot noir is famously unsustainable in Virginia (with like two exceptions), and Rouse, who is a long-standing Virginia winegrower, confides that he would not plant the variety if he had to do it again, since it can only get fully ripe without rot problems maybe one year in four. However, being trained in the classics, he decided to make a non-carbonated version of a champagne blanc de noir, and he’s succeed brilliantly. As I’ve written 2 years ago here, Heart & Hand winery on east Cayuga Lake in New York is doing the same thing with equally impressive results. Nose: wow! loads of lively fruit, peach and hints of pineapple, very much like pinot gris (note: these two grapes are actually different clones and are identical in the vineyard). On the palate, bright, lively, juicy apple and peach fruit flavors with firm acid finish. Stylish, versatile and a fine food wine.

There was lots of competition for the second Rockbridge wine of the week but it has to go to the reserve label  DeChiel syrah 2008. Impressively dark ruby in the glass, the nose is classically Rhone, with roasted bacon, white and black pepper, and red cherries. On the palate, loads of ripe briar fruit with vibrantly balanced acidity. Hard to believe a six year old Virginia syrah is still this good.

I was also impressed with the DeChiel merlot 2009 and the DeChiel meritage 2009, and I need to let you know that the quality-for-price ratio at Rockbridge is about as good as I’ve seen in Virginia wineries (no $70 tannat here). However the tasting room is small so be prepared to wait to get in the door on weekends in summer or fall.

ducarDuCard Vineyards is a gem of a small winery off the beaten path offering strictly estate bottled wines with notably fresh, vibrant fruit and acid, in northern Madison County. A benefit of visiting is getting maps and directions to trailheads in the nearby Shenandoah National Forest and finding the Old Blue Ridge Turnpike with wonderful views.

These two wines of the week are being released to the wine club now and will be available to the rest of us in a month or so.

The DuCard Chardonnay 2013 reminded me right away of the 2013 Ankida Ridge chardonnay I reviewed just a week or so ago. Mineral, lime and green apple aromas with surprising round mid-palate with a hint of toastiness and custard, then a lively crisp finish. This had partial malolactic fermentation in mostly neutral oak following tank fermentation. This wine is a bit backward now and will be more open by August; I recommend decanting it and being careful not to chill it too much. I agree with winemaker Julian who compares it to Puligny-Montrachet. Isn’t fun that Virginia is now making this style of chardonnay?

The DuCard Viognier 2013 is original and impressive in a vintage that was difficult for this signature Virginia grape. A vibrantly fruity nose suggests peach and apricot but also red apple. On the palate, it has the full broad fruit profile from the nose, but then instead of falling flat like many viogniers, it ends with a crisp vibrantly fruity finish. If it’s this good now, what will it be like by the end of summer?

Also of interest: ATWATER SYRAH FINGER LAKES 2010
Deep ruby color. Nose: damson plum, briarfruits and white pepper. On the palate, wow! Electric, focused and taut fruit/acid balance, zippy acidity and a long clean finish. Very stylish, showing promise for this classic variety in limited (warm, protected) sites in the Finger Lakes.

Organic Loving Cup Winery Opened by First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe

Jun 11

First, there were the “Lisbon” (white) and “winter” (black) grapes documented as having produced the first Virginia wine by Charles Carter in 1762. The next step in successful Virginia viticulture was the discovery and propagation of the (accidental hybrid) norton grape in the 19th century. Post-prohibition, French hybrids and native grapes like concord and niagara revived the industry in the 1970s, then came European vinifera, the golden standard of world-wide viticulture.

Except where the extremes of the Eastern climate, from deep freeze to frosts to fungal disease, makes vinifera cultivation expensive, difficult, and with some varieties, of questionable long-term sustainability. So, the next step in progress for Virginia in sustainable viticulture is organic grape production…but only with hardy, disease-resistant hybrids.

2014-06-11 14.49.08Today, First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe cut the ribbon to officially open Loving Cup Vineyard & Winery, a Central Virginia winery near North Garden. Loving Cup  – with a certified-organic vineyard growing a range of carefully-chosen hybrids able to ripen a crop without the use of conventional synthetic anti-fungal sprays.

The vineyard was certified organic in 2012 and the winery is expected to be certified organic by the 2014 harvest, according to owner and winemaker Karl Hambsch.  The winery is named after the simple white heart on a blue background which is the Hambsch family symbol from Germany.

In opening remarks, the First Lady noted the Virginia wine industry now contributes three quarters of a billion dollars (!) a year to the state economy.  “I am excited that Loving Cup Vineyard and Winery will now be a part of making Virginia one of the top wine producing regions in the world. I also would like to thank Virginia’s farmers as great stewards of this industry.  Their hard work and dedication contributes not only to our growing agriculture industry, but also towards a growing tourism industry and in turn Virginia’s long term economic sustainability.

Karl Hambsch said, After years of hard work, my family and I are very proud to have our vineyard and farm winery open to the public.  We are honored and thrilled to have the First Lady join us to kick of our Grand Opening Weekend”.

I’m very skeptical when people try organic viticulture in the East. Their intention are good, but that road has led too often to financial and viticultural ruin. However, I was impressed to find healthy vines with no sign of fungal disease, and Loving Cup has opened with a debut line of skillfully made, elegant and balanced wines from an eclectic range of hybrids, most not widely planted in Virginia. These include Geneva (Cornell) hybrids cayuga white, aromella, corot noir, the U. of Minnesota red hybrid marquette, and the more conventional traminette (Cornell) and vidal blanc (French) hybrids.

Vineyard consultant Chris Hill explained that anyone who really wants to grow organic in the East has to start with disease-resistant hybrids which, due to their native genes, are much more sustainable with less need for fungicide than the European vinifera. “I started with the desire to grow organically, and decided on these varieties by working back from there,” explains Karl Hambsch.

Tasting Notes

Loving Cup White 2013

About 2/3 cayuga and 1/3 traminette, this elegant, dry, slightly fruity white has a Loire Valley style, with crisp apple flavors and long clean finish with a hint of fruitiness. Great as an alternative to pinot grigio, chardonnay or fruitier whites for summer sipping and with food.

Dudley Nose Rose 2013

Named for a genetic flaw where a dog’s nose has a pink/red spot, this pale, bone dry but elegant rose is made from the Corot Noir hybrid, which is much like cabernet franc; delicate and with a hint of strawberry, a classic summer rose very versatile for matching with food.

Loving Cup Red 2012

A fun and original red and perfect for summer! It’s dry but not tannic, about a half and half blend of the fruity marquette and the more spicy/peppery corot noir, it’s well-integrated with nice berry fruit notes balaced by a peppery crisp finish. This is not a “soft” (i.e. sweet) red but just a “gentle” dry red. Serve slightly chilled for summertime.

Loving Cup Sweet Reserve 2013

An aromatic, fruity yet elegantly balanced blend of traminette, vidal and aromella (a new muscat-derived hybrid). The wine has some sweetness but the bright acidity makes it seem just off-dry. I could drink this with as much pleasure, but for different reasons, than the regular white. It is a challenge to make a traminette-based wine that isn’t too floral and this is a fine example.

Loving Cup Vineyard & Winery is located just two miles off US 29 at 3340 Sutherland Road in North Garden.  For more information and directions visit

Wines of the Week: Ankida Ridge Pinot Noir 2012, Chardonnay 2013

Jun 05

First, Congratulations to Nathan Vrooman, winemaker at Ankida Ridge Vineyards, and Rachel Stinson, winemaker at Stinson Vineyards! They were wed 5/28 and before leaving for the Caribbean, they blended their respective 2012 meritage wines in a commemorative bottling called “Marriage”. How touching is that?

It was a perfect cool late spring day last Sunday June 1st when Ankida Ridge Vineyard opened their small but airy tasting room and deck with a stunning view of the hills of Amherst County. The winery is so small they are only open a few times a year but I was happy to spend the afternoon there, tasting new releases.

Ankida Ridge VineyardsSome winemakers try to make the same wine in every vintage. I like that Ankida Ridge tries to make their wines reflect each vintage in a complimentary way. Accordingly, the (estate) chardonnays from 2012 vs. 2013 are quite different. The 2012 chardonnay is typical of the vintage with a forward, fruity nose, lively lemon/citrus w.yeasty notes. On the palate, the wine is also lively, with well-integrated fruit and acid, no oak flavors, and a fresh clean lemon finish. The wine is stylish, cool-climate, like a Puligny-Montrachet. About 50% malolactic fermentation. This wine is almost out of stock at the winery but worth picking up at the 22 Brix wine bar in Charlottesville or other retail stores and enjoying this summer or with Thanksgiving.

By contrast, the Ankida Ridge 2013 Chardonnay (just bottled) is more subtle now, the nose is closed, with hints of bright lime and green apple, Macon-like. On the palate, the wine has a round smooth texture, but lively crisp mineral finish. Nathan used some new French oak (15%) since the wine was higher in acid than the 2012 and had less malolactic fermentation. The mid-palate is surprisingly smooth for the racy mineral nose, but balances the wine well. Excellent for hot summer weather and pairing with seafood.

As with the estate chardonnay, the estate pinot noir is different every vintage, and the 2012 is the best yet. The Ankida Ridge Pinot Noir 2012 has an amazingly vibrant nose of red cherries and truffles. Alcohol is a ripe but balanced 12.9% On the palate, the flavors are not just red but maraschino cherry, with huge volume, and white pepper and spice in the long lingering finish. This wine reminded me of Chambolle Musigny or Pernand Vergelleses in Burgundy, and I’d describe the quality as “Grand cru level on young vines.”

Other Wines

The Rockgarden label is non-estate fruit and the red and white are fine complements to the estate wines. “Vert” is a “green” wine made from early harvest vidal blanc, styled after the vinho verde of Portugal with high acid, low alcohol and perfect for summer quaffing, especially as an aperitif.

Rockgarden Vert 2013
Those who basically liked the 2012 Vert but felt it was a bit austere and high in acid will like the 2013. Less acidic than ’12, it has a pleasantly round mid-palette, with lively green apple flavors and almost seems like a dry cider but still has a grape character.

Rockgarden Red 2012
This is actually a meritage-style blend, 40% merlot, 30% cabernet franc, 30% cabernet sauvignon. Dark opaque color is followed by a very vibrant nose of red and black fruits; cassis, cherries, and white pepper. Palate: young, lively, very fruity but dry, a bit rough (tannic cabernet) but normal for young red. Stylish, let it mellow for 5-6 months and drink next winter.