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.

Eastern Winery Expo “Best Ever”; Catching Up on the Wine Trail

Apr 02

Dear Readers,

I’ve been on the road for the last month, doing book signings of Beyond Jefferson’s Vines then driving to Syracuse and managing the conference program of Eastern Winery Exposition, where I tasted great wines in seminars, the welcome reception and other functions, and gratefully taking samples of wines offered to me by vintners from around the East. I then escaped to Adirondack State Park in upstate NY where, without trying, I found myself back in the ’70s (no cell phone reception, familiar era music, and wine bars where a glass of good wine was $5-$7).

I’ll now try to re-cap highlights of my recent odyssey. First, the fourth annual Eastern Winery Exposition  that you’ll find most useful; what’s new and exciting for Eastern wines?

First, a shout-out to my friend Carlo DeVito of Hudson Chatham Winery in the Hudson Valley who writes the East Coast Wineries Blogspot and who has already posted 3 entries on EWE and will continue to do so. The 2015 Eastern Winery Expo was widely described as the “best ever”, with a record 214 trade show exhibitors and total attendance of over 1,400. A check of Twitter revealed that the favorite quote of the week at the show was “Grapes are a gateway drug.”

Second, cheers to Chris Pearmund of his eponymous Cellars and also Vint Hill Craft Winery, who developed the board game predictably named “Virginia Wine-opoly”. You can find it at many Virginia wineries, and the board features a map of the state with participating wineries around it.

Explains Pearmund, “One evening, after a day of harvesting and pressing grapes, the team at Pearmund Cellars brainstormed an idea to promote the Virginia wine industry and have some fun at the same time, the birth of Virginia Wine-Opoly. It flew off the shelves as one of the best Christmas gifts for foodies in 2014, as featured on  Nycci Nellis’ segment on Good Day DC, Fox News, Gifts for Foodies.

“There are 22 participating Virginia wineries on the board, deed cards have information on each winery, the game cards relate to specific viticulture and enology topics, railroads are wine trails, “go to jail” is “go to rehab” and lots of more Virginia wine fun and knowledge to be gained.”

While tasting at the Pearmund tasting room during a book signing on Valentine’s Day, I was most impressed with the chardonnay (note: this Meriweather Vineyard is the oldest [surviving] chardonnay vineyard in Virginia and the fruit has been sold to many Virginia wineries who have made award-winning wine from it).

This winter I judged in two major Virginia wine competitions; the Governor’s Cup and the Monticello Cup competitions.

Due to the fact that the whites from 2013 and 2012 were mostly sold out and the 2014 vintage hadn’t been bottled yet, there weren’t many white wines in the Governor’s Cup competition but there were more in the Monticello Cup. I was pleased to see more viogniers in the latter competition. Generally the best class for red wines in the Monticello Cup was the red meritage (Bordeaux blends), but in the Governor’s Cup I and other judges were most impressed by the petit verdot and tannat varietal classes. In both cases, meritage wines have improved by quantum leaps over what we were judging five years ago or so, and are likely to remain the strong suit for Virginia reds statewide and vintage to vintage.

I should add that for both competitions the major surprise was the consistent, classic quality and style of the chardonnays. A lack of heavy vanillin oak tannins, blocking of malolactic fermentation (at least partial) and the use of mostly neutral oak and cool climate fruit, has made  a sea change of difference. You heard it here first: Virginia can match any New World region for classic cool-climate chardonnay.

More news of individual wines to follow.

2015 Eastern Winery Expo in One Week, Already Set Records

Mar 10

The 2015 Eastern Winery Exposition takes place March 17-19th at the Oncenter in Syracuse, NY. With one week left before it begins, the four-year old trade show for eastern vineyards and wineries has already set new records:

  •  There are over 210 signed exhibitors, a record high, with a total of 296 booths.
  • There are already over 600 registrations by attendees and climbing, with over half registered for some conference option as well as exhibits.
  • As a result, the 2015 Eastern Winery Exposition will be the largest wine industry event ever to be held in New York State!
  • Exhibitors have announced specials available on the show floor at:
  • The Wine Welcome Reception will have dedicated regional and wine trail tables, including four from New York.

The Eastern Winery Exposition is an Eastern-focused wine industry trade show and conference designed to provide the Eastern U.S. and Canadian wineries and vineyards with an easily accessible, low-cost professional meeting with a large number of winery and vineyard suppliers, at the right time of year.  This year varietal themes include cool and cold-climate grapes like pinot noir, riesling, Austrian reds, and aromatic white northern hybrids. The show is sponsored by Wines & Vines and the conference is sponsored by Practical Business Solutions.  Media Supporters include Wine & Craft Beverage News, Wine Business Monthly and Grapevine Magazine.  The ASEV-Eastern section is also a supporter and will hold live and silent auctions to help raise fund for student scholarships at EWE.  Complete event information including a 2015 Exhibitor list is available at