Thursday April 7th, JP King, an auction company based in Alabama, auctioned off over 900 acres of land, which included the largest vineyard in Virginia, a winery, a carriage house, tasting room and farm shop, to attempt to raise money on the defaulted property. Former owners Bill Moses and Patricia Kluge owe some $35 million to Farm Credit on the properties.
After more than three hours (during which bids which had been settled were re-opened and combined with other for re-bidding) and the dust settled, the six lots were sold for the breathtakingly low price of $8.07 million, and were divided between representatives for Donald Trump and Sal Cangione, a real estate developer from Northern Virginia.
Representatives for Trump and Cangiano (who bid in person) were the only serious contenders in a battle that lasted several hours. Former manager of the operation, Bill Moses, was seen periodically slipping in and out of the room, in discreet discussion with representatives from Trump’s team. At 3PM, it seemed as if Sal had won the bidding for some $6 million and change (this reporter left, seeing no end in sight and lacking any “Absolut” to mitigate the tedium).
Trump ended up with the lion’s share of acreage (778) with the combined lots of 3/4 (containing the vineyard & winery and a cottage), and lot # 6 of some 647 acres including vineyards. Bidder 901 (Cangiano) took lots #1, 2 and 5, including the existing farm shop and tasting room and undeveloped land.
Neither Trump nor Cangiano have previous experience with commercial wine production. Mr. Trump’s organization had not responded to inquiries as to his interest in the property by post time, but Dave McIntyre, wine writer for the Washington Post who first broke the story of the winery bankruptcy last November,reported Trump as saying in his column that “I’m really interested in good real estate, not so much in wine. This place had a $28 million mortgage on it, and I bought it for $6.2 million.”
Similarly, Cangiano was reportedly drawn to the auction “because it seemed like fun”, but he doubts he’ll be able to make wine, as he got no vineyards in the deal, as reported in The Hook online by Lisa Provence.
Will we see Chateau Trump replace Kluge Estate? What’s the nature of the relationship between Trump, Kluge and Moses, and how will that affect the future of the estate and its wines?
While Moses has acknowledged to the press that Patricia Kluge has known Trump for over 20 years, he declined to comment on whether Trump’s bargain purchase of the vineyards and winery was related to that relationship (Trump’s representatives have stated that they he wouldn’t be purchasing the property unless it made good business sense). Moses confirmed to this reporter that he and Kluge would be involved in managing the operation under Trump in some way but was vague: “Discussions are on going over the nature and extent of our respective roles.” As for product names, “It is still early in the process but we would imagine that the Trump name will be used as it should be because he is the new owner.”
What do YOU think the best name would be for a Virginia wine owned by Donald Trump? (“Trumpicello” was suggested by Dave McIntyre of the Washington Post). And what would Thomas Jefferson say about all of this happening in Monticello’s back yard, as it were?
For the next week, until midnight Friday April 22nd, this blog will receive and post naming suggestions. For the following week, I will invite readers to read the suggested Trump brands and e-mail in their votes for their favorite. The winner (as determined by readers’ votes) will be identified with their name and photo on this blog! This contest is sponsored by Wine Made Simple, a new specialty wine shop on Ivy Road just west of Charlottesville (see link at top of the page).
On Saturday February 5th, Keswick Vineyards hosted a tasting of Virginia sparkling wines organized by bloggers M.J. and David of “Swirl, Sniff, Snark” and Frank Morgan of “Drink What You Like”. Other Virginia wine bloggers and writers included Warren and Paul of Virginia Wine Time, John Witherspoon of the Wine Cellar Wine Shop, John & Jean Haggarty of “Haggarty On Wine” blog, Stephen Barnard, winemaker at Keswick Vine yards, Joel Timmons, Virginia Wine Snob blog, myself, and Rick Collier, of the “Virginia Wine in Your Pocket” phone app.
We tasted 12 sparkling wines blind, in three flights of four wines each. No pink sparklers were included, and we tasted wines labeled “brut”, for stylistic consistency. Here were the contenders, including two non-Virginia “ringers”:
Contenders, Virginia Sparkling Wine Contest
· Thibaut-Janisson Blanc de Chardonnay
· Kluge SP Blanc de Blanc (sic) 2007
· King Family Brut
· Veritas “Scintilla”
· Afton Tete de Cuvée 2006
· Prince Michel 2005 Brut
· Barboursville Brut
· Ingleside Virginia Brut
· Thibaut “Virginia Fizz”
· Potomac Point 2006 Sparkling
· Barefoot Bubbly (California)
· Charlette Voyant (Tourraine, France; mostly sauvignon blanc)
Before you read on, consider what your likely ranking would be, given the contenders. Would the top wine be a Virginia wine? Would the top three, or top half? Would vintage wines with some age win out over the non-vintage wines, or methode champenoise wines win out over bulk/transfer method?
The ranking was a simple “rack-and-stack” method Frank Morgan used; everyone ranked each wine from 1 to 12 (1 being favorite). Usually we had a favorite in each of the three flights, and went back to re-taste the three favorites against each other.
Champagne native Claude Thibault, who had two of the 12 wines under his own label, was the favorite for top scores. We were not disappointed, but were surprised that his new “Virginia Fizz” label out-performed his “blanc de chardonnay” label of White House dinner fame; the “Fizz” was the group favorite and top ranked wine of the tasting.
The complete group consensus ranking is as follows:
Group Ranking, Virginia Sparkling Wines
1 Thibaut “Virginia Fizz”
2 Prince Michel Sparkling 2005
3 Afton “Tete Cuvée” 2006 (pinot noir/chardonnay)
4 Kluge SP Blanc de Blanc 2007
4 Veritas “Scintilla” (50/50 cabernet franc, chardonnay)
6 Barefoot Bubbly (California)
7 Thibaut-Janisson Blanc de Chardonnay
8 King Family 2008 blanc de blancs
9 Barboursville Brut
10 Potomac Point 2006 Sparkling
11 Ingleside Virginia Brut
12 Chateau Gaillard – Charlette Voyant (Tourraine, France; mostly sauvignon blanc)
(wines are all non-vintage unless a year is specified)
I was impressed with all three of my final favorites, although there were stylistic and quality differences. My three favorites were the Thibault “Virginia Fizz”, the Prince Michel sparkling, and the Kluge SP blanc de blanc (sic) 2007. The first two were both blanc de blancs from chardonnay; the third was a blend of chardonnay and pinot noir, but noticeably less dry than the first two (it was also non-methode champenoise-process). My notes on the “Fizz” were: “fine mousse, nose of green apple and yeast, on the palate, vibrant and rapier-like acidity, a good blanc de blancs style.” For the Prince Michel 2005 Brut, I wrote “fine bead mousse, clean, fresh, some yeast/age, but mostly green apple on the nose. Palate: dry, green apple with a hint of almond in the finish.” For me, this was the vintage sparkler that had aged the best, retaining freshness but gaining some complexity from age.
My third favorite was the Barboursville NV Brut (although less dry than most other wines in the tasting). Though it was non-methode-champenoise, it was well-made, fruity, crisp, and a clear middle-of-the-road medium-dry style most reminding me of Spanish cava.
The clustering of vintage-dated wines in the top four (aside from the NV “Fizz”) can either point to the success of this style in Virginia if aged for a few years, or that like most New World producers, Virginia vintners don’t have the space and resources to add older reserve lots to make a traditional non-vintage blend as is done in Champagne.
In any case, the group were pleased and impressed with the top wines, particularly the Thibault Virginia Fizz, and with the success of early-picked chardonnay in Virginia to make a delicate high acid and creamy blanc de blancs style with green apple and biscuit notes. The group also agreed that the quality of Virginia sparkling wine has come a long way in the past five years, likely owing much to the work of Claude Thibault.
The week before Thanksgiving, Blue Ridge Wine Excursions (URL) hosted a media tour with myself and participating bloggers Dezel Quillan (http://vinespot.blogspot.com/) and Frank Morgan (http://drinkwhatyoulike.wordpress.com), and Mary Ann Dancisin of the Virginia Wine Gazette (http://studioecs.com/vwg/). We visited three Monticello AVA wineries; Blenheim Vineyards, Montdomaine Cellars and Well Hung Vineyards (the last two of which are closed to the public but open to Blue Ridge Wine Excursions’ “Virginia Wine Expert Tour”). We were in search of wines that would pair especially well with turkey and traditional trimmings.
We met to carpool in Charlottesville, and departed in extreme comfort in a Cadillac Escalade SUV. Our first stop was Blenheim Vineyards (close by the now-defunct Kluge Vineyards). Owned by Charlottesville native rock star Dave Matthews, the Blenheim winery is a sustainably-designed winery with gravity-flow processing for energy savings and gentle wine processing, cathedral ceilings, and no obvious trumpeting of its famous owner, a rare example of low-key celebrity in today’s hyper-celebrity culture.
By coincidence, the day we visited there were parking attendants on duty and far more than the usual number of cars even though it was only noon; the Dave Matthews Band was performing at JPJ Arena in nearby Charlottesville that night and the winery was well-prepared for the crowds. (Blenheim usually gets some 300 visitors on the weekend; this time they got some 1500).
Winemaker Kirsty Harmon met us outside to avoid the tasting room crowd, and poured the wines for us while quickly describing them. She describes her house style as “fruit-forward, dry, ready to drink and consumer-friendly”. There is a consistent purity of fruit expression in all the wines. The quality of the 2009 vintage for Virginia white wines was evident; I liked the viognier particularly (rated 87 by the Wine Spectator). My favorite though was the top-of-the-line “Painted White”, which will be a proprietary blend varying each year depending on vintage conditions and available grapes. The 2009 version is completely made of white Rhone Valley grape varieties grown in Virginia; some 62% viognier but also with Roussanne and Marsanne. The wine has a rich texture and a spicy prickly pear quality dominated by these last two grapes, an excellent and exotic food wine.
The 2009 reds are just being released, as the 2008 vintage is starting to sell out. There were two real standouts for me with Blenheim’s reds; the amazingly prototypical syrah ’09 (actually including Grenache and mourvedre), and a juicy, rich, yet elegant Meritage; the Painted Red 2009. Much more approachable and juicier than most of the ’09 Virginia reds now coming out on the market, this drinks well now but will get better over the next 1-3 years. Both wines will be a good match for turkey, chicken or beef. A fun part of the Painted wines is that owner Dave Matthews sketched the old farm boots on the label himself.
We escaped Blenheim before it was overrun by rock/wine fans, and drove south just a few miles to Montdomaine Vineyards (not open to the public). The Montdomaine name may be familiar to those who have been following Virginia wine since the 1980s; it was the most consistently performing label for vinifera wines in the mid to late 1980s, and the 1987 vintage of reserve merlot and cabernet sauvignon were highlights of the early years of Virginia red wines. The chardonnay vines, the first ones planted on the property off Rt. 20, were the first in Albemarle County; the 1985 vintage of same was served at a White House dinner under the first George Bush.
Proprietor Michael Bowles and his gracious wife Lorie met us at their house, with a large picture window view of the chardonnay vines below. Loree served homemade hors d’ouevres brilliantly paired with the wines. He doesn’t make the wines himself; they’re made by Michael Shaps at neighboring Virginia Wine Works. We tasted the ’09 chardonnay (brilliant and resembling petit Chablis, with no obvious oak, lime peel and lots of minerality), then the ’08 viognier (fruit from a vineyard near Bedford) which was as complex and mineral-like as any viognier I’ve tasted outside Condrieu. This is one of the few Virginia viogniers of the ’08 vintage that is not only holding but getting better; a great match for chicken or turkey.
We tasted the current release of ’08 merlot, which was very Right Bank (St. Emilion/Pomerol)-like; subtle, black fruits combined with earth and sage/herb hints, smooth and supple yet dry and crisp. A great match for dark turkey or beef for those who like red wine on an Old World model without gobs of vanilla or oak. We were then treated to a pre-release taste of the brand new label for Montdomaine; the reserve (black label) cabernet sauvignon 2009.
While 2009 was generally a lean vintage in Virginia for reds (especially disappointing for cabernet franc), the late-ripening cabernet sauvignon fared much better. This example was very smooth; not much flavor in its young state, but with firm and smooth tannins, and hints of cassis and spice. Naturally it’s very young now, but surprisingly smooth, supple and accessible, but still firm. It will open nicely over the next year, and provide fine Left Bank (Medoc) drinking pleasure over the next 5-7 years.
We were especially honored and excited to be served a bottle from Michael’s library, a reserve cabernet sauvignon from the legendary 1987 vintage. It was very Bordeaux-like; a bouquet of classic Bordeaux markers like tea leaves, cigar box, cedar and sweet cassis, and smooth tannins with a crisp finish. This isn’t available retail, but shows you what could happen with cabernets from the fine 2007 or 2010 vintage laid down for 20 years or so. It was inspiring to see that this veteran Virginia wine grower is making cabernet sauvignon today as good (probably better) than it was made 33 years ago.
Heading west of Charlottesville, we ended the tour at the Well Hung Vineyards (it was hard to tell; the grapes had already been harvested). Proprietors Bill and Amy Steers met us at their house, located on a ridge running east/west, with the late autumn sun setting over the Blue Ridge Mountains. They are both medical professionals (Amy is a nurse and Bill is also Dr. Steers at the UVA Health Sciences Center; the joke with the name of the vineyard is that he is also head of the Urology Department), and Amy is also the vineyard manager of their five acres of chardonnay and cabernet franc.
They also use Virginia Wine Works’ custom crush services to make their wines. Like Michael Bowles, they are French classicists; the chardonnay (there are two labels) is more Burgundian than West Coast (the regular is like Macon; the “very well hung” is more like Meursault), and the cabernet franc is very Loire Valley-like. The petit verdot/merlot from the ’09 vintage is deep, smooth and rich but still very young. These are very much wines in the European tradition; fresh fruit, bright flavors and crisp acidity to complement food. The petit verdot/merlot wine really seems to epitomize the Virginia wine experience; midway between the West Coast and the Old World, with a blending model you don’t see in that way in either of those places. The ’08 Private Select (only just now released after 2 years in oak) is a ripe, full bodied, rich and ready to drink blend of cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot that is robust yet still elegant; another fine interpretation of Virginia balancing the best of East and West.
I recommend the “Very Well Hung” chardonnay ’09 with turkey or chicken, and the reds with any beef dish or vegetarian with the same kind of sauce/seasoning. The ’09 petit verdot/cabernet franc especially needs to be decanted for half an hour at least to let it evolve and open up but should be more ready by early spring.
We finished tasting the Well Hung wines as the sun set over the Blue Ridge, and took the time to admire the view over a taste of their fine wines as our media tour of wine and food matchings from select Monticello AVA wineries ended.
Here are the tour members thoughts on the best wines for holiday fare:
Mary Ann Dancisin: “My favorite red as a holiday food wine was Blenheim Vineyards Syrah 2009. This crisp, cherry-drenched wine was accented with generous notes of white pepper, making it a great choice for both sweet and savory holiday menus.
For a unique white wine, Montdomaine’s Viognier showed more character and complexity than one usually finds in today’s fashionably easy-to-drink expressions of this grape. Overlapping sensations of apricot, honeysuckle, and melon are balanced by suble almond notes and a minerally tinge that leads into an ultralong, stylish finish. Versatile, and NOT bland!”
Dezel Quillan:”Wines from our trip that I think will work best with holiday fare (ham, poultry, turkey, etc) are as follow:
Blenheim: The Red Table Wine (NV) and Cabernet Franc 2009 are both light and bright with good food friendly acidity and fruit flavors that would compliment holiday dinner fare and not overwhelm. I recommend these wines with anything from poultry, ham, as well as vegetarian dishes.
Montdomaine: The 2008 Merlot has nice up front complex fruit with a silky mid palate and smooth tannins that follow through for a nice clean finish. This wine is well-balanced, very approachable, and its brightness makes it a perfect match for a number of food dishes.
Well Hung: The Cabernet Franc 2009 is a medium bodied wine with moderate acidity that offers dark cherry, spice, and violet notes with raspberry streaks. The palate is round and smooth and would compliment dark meats (turkey) and game dishes.
This is a question that has long been debated by Virginia wine consumers and those in the retail and restaurant trade. First, we heard that Virginia wines were “unassuming little wines, but we might be amused by their pretentions.” Then they said that, allright, SOME Virginia wines were pretty good by golly, but most of them were forgettable. Then we heard that MOST of them were pretty good but were overpriced compared to the competition.
Well, what is the fair competition for super and ultra-premium ($15-$20 and over $20) Virginia wines? Naturally, it would be super and ultra-premium wines on the international market. After all, if Virginia wine producers want to claim they have something worthwhile, they can’t just be judged against each other or even other regional wines, but should have to stand on the world stage, competing blind against wines from other leading regions, in order to have any objective claim to quality. And they should also be judged against wines from these regions priced at the same level. That would settle the argument on whether Virginia wines are overpriced relative to those from other regions.
Andy Reagan, winemaker at Jefferson Vineyards near Monticello, is tired of hearing objections to Virginia wines based on the idea that they are overpriced. Yes, compared to “critter label” wines you’ll find in the grocery store, he’ll say, but that is not the tier that most Virginia wine producers are aiming for. If people are willing to pay $20 and over for wines from France, Napa, Italy and South Africa, why shouldn’t Virginia wines be judged (and valued) on the same plane as these wines?
Accordingly, Reagan organized a blind tasting featuring his and two other Virginia wineries’ wines, paired in varietal flights against wines from places like Italy, France (Haut Medoc), South Africa, Napa, and Argentina. If Virginia wines could compete in a blind tasting with those of more famous regions, in the same ultra-premium (over $20) price range, then the myth about Virginia wines being overpriced could be put to rest. After all, why is it that consumers or critics will accept market prices for $20 and up for wines from Napa and Bordeaux, but not from Virginia? Is it because of intrinsic quality, or perceived value based on marketing? The only way to find out is to remove the variable (and construct) of perceived value through the rigor of bind tasting wines of the same variety or class in the same price range, from Virginia and more famous regions.
On Saturday 11/20, 14 tasters gathered at Jefferson Vineyards, and tasted their way through six mixed flights which included Virginia wines and those of more famous regions. The flights included three white ones (chardonnay, viognier, pinot gris) and three red ones (cabernet franc, red Bordeaux blends and merlot). Prices varied widely (from $14 to $75) but averaged $28 or so per bottle, in the ultra-premium tier.
And now the results…Virginia wines placed first in 4 out of 6 flights (ALL of the white flights and one of the red flights). Top wines by varietal flight were as follows: for pinot gris, Jefferson Vyds. 2009 Monticello ($18.95); for viognier, Jefferson Vyds. 2009 Monticello ($24.00); for chardonnay, Jefferson Vyds. 2009 reserve Monticello ($21.95). In 2 of the 3 white flights, there was one other Virginia wine and total wines in the flight ranged between four and six.
For the red flights, Virginia won the Bordeaux Blend flight with Keswick Vineyards “Heritage” 2007 Monticello ($34.00). For the merlot flight, the winner was a 2006 Lenardo “Just Me” from Italy at $30; for the cabernet franc flight, the winner was a 2008 Raats Stellenbosch from South Africa ($32).
Reagan confided he “was definitely worried about the outcome, but both Stephen [Barnard from Keswick Vyrds] and I stood behind our wines and fortunately they showed very well. I think [the tasting] was a
total success, with the emphasis on proving that Virginia wines, (at least some Virginia wines), are indeed priced appropriately.”
Reagan continued, “everyone seemed impressed and I’d say a few tasters were surprised even by how well the Virginia wines did. I think this is
definitely the way to conduct comparitive tasting in the future. With more time to plan and accumulate data, next years tasting will be even more successful.”
Keswick Vineyards winemaker Stephen Barnard believes the tasting “shows that Virginia is on the right track, we can broaden
the scope and we can find higher quality examples with which to compare
them too, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Virginia wines showed well
again. For me they were a lot more balanced and supple than other wines,
better integration of fruit and tannins and a third of the price.” He concluded by declaring “I’m glad I came here instead of Napa Valley.”
Wine blogger Frank Morgan (drinkwhatyoulike.com) was one of the judges. “My impression is that Virginia wine held it’s own, and even showed better compared to a couple of the higher priced wines. This is a direct testament to the quality of Va wine today and illustrates how many Virginia winemakers ‘understand’ their land and respective microclimates.”
Accordingly, Morgan “wasn’t completely” surprised by the strong showing of Virginia wines, as much as by how well the South African Cab Franc showed “(WOW!)”, and how poorly the French wines showed across the board. “Conversely, I’ve noticed the consistency of Virginia wines trending upwards over the last few years.”
On the topic of Virginia wines being perceived as overpriced, Morgan explained “that refrain is typically something I hear from Yellow Tail cheerleaders (cheap folks), and from those who don’t consider Virginia comparable in quality to France and other more recognized regions. I feel the ‘real potential’ of Virginia wine was most prominently displayed in the Viognier flight. This wasn’t even close on my scoring sheet, and conversations afterwards with others mirrored my conclusion as well.”
While Morgan did believe the tasting was fair, he would have liked to see more vintage consistency – “having wines of the same vintage is important for comparative purposes in my book.” In conclusion, Morgan feels “dollar-for-dollar, Virginia wine can go shoulder-to-shoulder with any other wine region in the world. Sometimes, it just takes a blind comparative tasting to prove it.”
Another impression he had from the tasting was that “price does not correlate to quality… the highest priced wine of the tasting, a $75 Condrieu was the 2nd worst score on my tasting sheet of all the wines tasted that day. And, a region not known for producing ‘wow’ Cab Francs, South Africa, is producing some excellent examples of this grape.” Let’s hope that this tasting prompts more wine trade members and consumers to re-examine their pre-conceptions of Virginia wine quality and value relative to other regions.
Judges included: Katherine Younger (Blogger: Katheats.com); Andy Reagan (Winemaker: Jefferson Vineyards); Sephen Barnard Winemaker: Keswick Vineyards); Matt Monson (Consumer); Richard Hewitt (Sommelier, Keswick Hall); Norm and Matt Jarock (Consumers);
Jim Raper (Wine writer: The Virginian Pilot); Stephanie Williams (Flavor Magazine); Mark Golub (avid wine collector); “Swirl, sip, snark duo” (Bloggers, Swirlsipsnark.com); Marina Kharitanova (consumer); and Frank Morgan (Blogger: drinkwhatYOUlike.com).
A year ago I tasted the 2008 vintage at Blenheim, made by then-new winemaker Kristy Harmon, and was impressed with the quality and elegant style that complements Virginia terroir so well. Today I enjoyed the ’09 viogner, dry rose, and most of all, the 2009 syrah.
This is the most compelling Virginia red wine of the 2009 vintage I’ve tried to date. This is not a “shiraz” style wine; it’s a northern Rhone style, with garrigue, spicy cherry, white pepper and smoky earth on the nose; very different from the standard red Bordeaux aromas. The wine is 86% Syrah, 10% Mourvedre, 4% Grenache, 50% barrel aged in French oak; Kristy confims that the grapes are all Virginia-grown (the Grenache and Mourvedre are from a vineyard in the Shenandoah Valley AVA).
On the palate, the flavors are lively and bright cherry and spice, with a smoky oak complexity that grows with time.
While enjoyable now, this wine will be at its best starting from a year from now for 4-5 more years, and lasting up to a decade due to bright acidity and stelvin closure.
This is definitely a food wine; the aromas and flavors call out for something like cassolet, coq au vin or roasted veggies and roast meats.
Since Tony and Elizabeth Smith bought Afton Mountain Vineyards last year, wine quality is improving with some exciting new wines to show.
2009 was a top vintage for Virginia whites; a cool, long growing season ensuring both ripeness and freshness.
Although there are 33 wineries in Virginia that make riesling, it’s a real challenge because it rots so easily in this climate; some large producers use out-of-state fruit).
This wine showed that a cool but clean vintage like 2009 can produce excellent riesling in Virginia. The nose is subtle, with hints of yellow apple and pear. On the palate, it is fresh and bright, with lime and apple flavors, bright acidity, and a clean long finish.
This is a good candidate for a “locavore” Thanksgiving wine, and a good sign that Afton Mountain is in good hands.