In Memorium: Joachim Hollerith and Nancy Parker Knowles

Jan 22

The wine industry lost two members recently who made contributions to the Virginia (and other) wine industries: Joachim Hollerith, winemaker and former partner of American Nursery in California; and Nancy Parker Knowles, publisher of the Wine Gazette chain of quarterly tabloids in Virginia, the Finger Lakes and New England, where she was owner of Greenvale Winery in Rhode Island. Hollerith died in Germany, where he owned a family winery in the Rheinpfalz region, at the age of 61; Parker was 85 and died in Boston.

Joachim was an important early member of the post-Prohibition Virginia wine industry. He was invited by Dr. Gerhard Guth to plant a vineyard for a small winery south of Culpeper called Rapidan River Vineyards in 1978, and to become its winemaker. He had earned a degree in winemaking from the Geisenheim Institute of Winemaking in Germany. Rapidan River made wines in the German tradition, mainly a dry and semi-dry riesling, and a gewurztraminer, all of which I remember fondly.

In the early days of the Virginia wine revival, Rapidan River was one of the few wineries exclusively focused on vinifera grape varieties. Despite the challenges of farming these delicate grapes in a humid climate, Rapidan River wines were consistently in the best rank of Virginia white wines. In the early 1980s when riesling was still popular with American wine consumers, Rapidan River’s rieslings were classic in style and very popular. In 1983 when the Vista Hotel in Washington, D.C. opened, the Rapidan River riesling was its house white, and was so much in demand it was nicknamed “Rapid Dan” by beverage staff. I was the wine steward at the Vista at the time and witnessed firsthand how popular the wine was.

As detailed in Wines in Eastern North America from Prohibition to the Present by Hudson Cattell, Rapidan River was acquired by Jean LeDucq in 1985 who founded the more well-known Prince Michel Vineyards on Rt. 29 in Leon, Madison County, and had already brought Hollerith with him as winemaker and vineyard manager in 1983.  Hollerith’s winemaking skill helped establish Prince Michel’s reputation for quality during his tenure there for the next decade until his protege Tom Payette became winemaker.

Hollerith left Prince Michel in the early 1990s and was a partner in American Nursery based in Lake County, CA which sold grapevines to commercial vineyards.

Hollerith returned to his hometown in Germany’s Pfalz region where his family has made wine since the 17th century, and specialized in the new German trend of pinot noir production (known there as “spatburgunder”) until his health declined.

For decades, Joachim Hollerith made important contributions to the wine scene, in Virginia and beyond, first with his winemaking, then with his nursery business. He was easily recognizable in trade shows and other industry meetings with his handlebar moustache and friendly but business-like manner. Unprompted, he gave me ten cabernet sauvignon grapevines at the end of one such show.

When I first met him, in the early 1990s, he lived just around the corner from the old lace factory on Rt. 29 just north of the Rapidan River, with his wife Gitte and their children. His now-grown son Jonathan has been working up the road for the last few years at Early Mountain Vineyards as the vineyard manager, in concert with viticulturist and consultant Lucie Morton.

The company ethos at Early Mountain (founded by Steve and Jean Case of AOL) is a collaborative team approach, explains CEO Peter Hoehn. Accordingly, Jonathan, who has been vineyard manager and collaborative winemaker with Steve Munson, will become co-winemaker (officially) with Munson as well as vineyard manager, in the European tradition. Jonathan, who bears a striking resemblance to his father including beard and smile (but minus his father’s famously curly coif) is at the moment moving his family back from Germany to begin his new expanded duties at the end of January.

Lucie Morton was quoted by Washington Post wine columnist Dave McIntyre, saying of Hollerith ““Joachim brought much-needed European savoir-faire to the Virginia wine scene, both in the vineyard and the cellar. It was very challenging in those days.”

Well-known Virginia winemaking consultant Tom Payette (a Rapidan resident) recalls that he  first came to know Joachim around 1984 while working under him in the Vineyards at Prince Michel (he  was still in college at the time).  Joachim placed his trust in Payette to lead Prince Michel and the LeDucq winemaking after he mentored him to be able to handle the responsibility.

“Joachim adapted his ability to grow grapes to many regions and was a leader in close density spacing both on the East Coast and in Napa,” says Payette. “He had the ability to make you want to work harder and to perfect your skills: Never giving up or resting and always looking for solutions that made/make sense.  I still carry that instilled attribute from him today and for that I am very thankful.”

Payette adds that “Joachim was a great, kind and driven person but always reaching out to others and looking for new ways to succeed at whatever he planned to do.  He warmly mentored so many of us “back in the day” with that great mustache and bearded smile.  My thoughts go out to his family.”

Annette Boyd, long-time Executive Director of the Virginia Wine Board Marketing Office, says “I enjoyed working with Joachim. He was a consummate professional, dedicated, smart and talented. He was also had a great sense of humor and loved life. I remember him bringing his family to many events in those early Virginia wine days. His love of his family was always obvious.”

I’ll remember Joachim as a dedicated wine professional and important positive European influence on Virginia wine quality who had an excellent balance in being quality-minded but also being generous to all in the industry, and being a devoted family man.

Nancy Knowles Parker planted a vineyard with her husband Cortland in 1980 on a family farm called Greenvale in  Rhode Island, then opened a winery on the site in 1992, which is now run by her daughter, Nancy Parker Wilson.

The Parkers established a weekly newspaper chain in New Jersey now known as New Jersey Hills Media Group including 17 newspapers and 14 websites in north/central New Jersey. Mrs. Parker was publisher emerita; two of her children, Elizabeth Knowles Parker and Stephen Ward Parker, are co-publishers.

Through their interest in wine, the Parkers established quarterly regional tabloids that included the Long Island, New England, Finger Lakes and Virginia Wine Gazettes.

Former editor of the Virginia Wine Gazette, Laura Rydin, said “I’m so sorry to hear Nancy will not be with us anymore – I have missed her phone calls and visiting her house near Newport, RI, all those summers ago. She was such an advocate for the East Coast wine industry and was always so incredibly supportive of me and everyone at the Gazettes.”

“Je Suis Charlie”

Jan 08

I interrupt this escape from reality by feeling obliged to pay homage to the 12 victims of the Jan. 7th terrorist attack on the Paris offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Habdo. Among the dead were the newspaper’s well-known editor, Stéphane Charbonnier (pictured below), many of the magazine’s cartoonists, brave building maintenance members who attempted to stop the terroirists, and even policemen. All of this was allegedly to avenge the Prophet Mohammed, according to sources, for a cartoon published by the magazine which both depicted and satirized the founder of Islam, a major taboo especially in fanatical circles of that religion. Well, I guess that teaches the infidel a lesson, or something. :(

I spent some time on Twitter (a rare thing) and was moved by the solidarity of people around the world (including many professing Muslims) who deplored the crime and stood with the French people. The most frequent quotations were Voltaire’s “I disagree with what you say but defend to the death your right to say it”, along with “The pen is mightier than the sword.” I added Thomas Jefferson’s timeless quote, “I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility towards every form of tyranny over the mind of Man.”

He wrote this in a letter to Virginia Baptists, who were being persecuted at the time because they dissented from the “established” (i.e. state-supported) Episcopal church in this state. One of only three things Jefferson asked to be remembered for on his tombstone was that he wrote the “statutes for religious freedom for Virginia.” This abolished taxpayer support for the Episcopal church and was a model adopted throughout the  young American republic (except for Mormon Utah until it achieved statehood). The idea was that a person’s faith life was their private business and no business of the government. If you didn’t known it, the church is still established in Germany and Britain, where atheists are compelled to pay taxes to support a religion they do not profess.

The separation of church and state, thought Jefferson and other Enlightenment philosophers, kept both institutions honest, and out of each others’ business. In the United States today, people of any or no faith are legally and equally protected from harassment by religious zealots or the state because there is no state religion (including Christianity, even if Fundamentalists don’t realize it). The sad massacre in Paris shows us that it would be well if this were the case everywhere today.

To paraphrase what they said about being Americans on 9/11/01, “Today we are all French,” especially on this site where we owe so much to their patient cultivation of the vine for over 2,000 years. (Hey, I just realized that’s something else that Muslim fanatics don’t like, but too bad. As they say in Ireland, “If I get drunk/then the money’s me own. And them’s do like me/they can leave me alone.”)

I invite you to visit the Twitter hashtag #JeSuisCharlie for more inspiring thoughts shared in over a million tweets so far.

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Re-Thinking Prosecco: A Fine Sparkling Bargain and Nine Facts

Dec 30

In early December I was pleased to be invited on a fact-finding tour of the Veneto and Venezia wine regions in northeastern Italy. I found some handy, and tasty facts. With New Year’s Eve upon us shortly, let’s examine and re-think Prosecco, the justifiably popular light, dry, crisp sparkling wine that has made such a rapid growth on the American wine market in the last decade.

Fact #1: Prosecco is a real bargain!  True, I didn’t have to fly to Italy to discover that, but given the major categories of sparkling wine on the market today, Prosecco offers delicate freshness, green apple and mineral flavors, and since it’s not made in the traditional champagne method, it’s less expensive to produce. You can get drinkable, serviceable, if forgettable Prosecco from $8 to $10 or so. You can always splurge on Champagne at the right time, but Prosecco is a consistent, reliable style sparkler for any occasion. However you can get Prosecco Superiore DOCG for less than $12 (from the 10% heart of the region) , and all except the “Rive” designations for under $20 on the US market.

Fact #2: Prosecco is the backbone of the largest volume wine production region in Italy. Due to its popularity, the Prosecco zone has been expanded and covers nearly five provinces in northeastern Italy, which has become the largest volume production region in that country.

Fact #3: Prosecco undergoes a second fermention in large pressure tanks or autoclaves, in the “Italian” method. The “bottle” of secondary fermentation where extra sugar and yeast are added to create carbon dioxide, is the tank itself. The wine can remain on the lees in the tank until bottled, and is much easier and cheaper to process this way than individual bottle fermentation.

Fact #4: Prosecco is now the name of the region, not the grape. For legal and trademark protection purposes, the region’s producers have saved the name for the region so it can be protected in the courts from imitators as is done by Champagne producers. The grape that makes Prosecco is now known as glera.

Fact #5: Prosecco is not always dry. In the U.S. if you buy a Prosecco labeled “brut”, it will be almost (but not completely) dry. If labled “Extra brut” (pay attention) it will be bone dry. But, if labeled “Extra Dry” or “Dry”, it will actually be semi-dry to semi-sweet (about 1.5% residual sugar or 15 g/L). This neurotic labeling is because Americans request wines that are “dry” but actually prefer to drink sweeter wines. This same labeling system is used by Champagne producers for the American market.

Fact #6: Not all Prosecco is created equal. As is typically the case with wine, you get what you pay for. There’s plenty of fizzy, unmemorable, dry yet quaffable Prosecco on the market today, but if you want to discover what the top drawer of Prosecco is and tastes like, you can do it with the help of your trusty wine merchant.  Look for the legal quality grade, on the label which should be “DOCG” instead of just “DOC”. This highest tier of Italian wine quality means the grapes are located in the heart of the zone allowed for Prosecco, and this is also labeled “superiore.”  This small zone is only about one tenth the size of the whole region, so the distinction really sets it apart. The legal yield limit is also one third of what is permitted in the broader DOC region and you can taste the difference. Also, there is a legal minimum of 85% glera grapes, although chardonnay and  verdiso, bianchetta, perera, and pinot noir are also allowed for the extra 15%.

Fact #7: The Prosecco Pinnacle. The top quality tier for Prosecco, once you’re inside the Superiore zone labeled DOCG, is first, the sub-appellation of Superiore di Cartizze. This is the DOCG cru: a small area of about 240 acres of vineyards, in the steep hills of S. Pietro di Barbozza, Santo Stefano and Saccol, near the town of Valdobbiadene. Then, the top of the pinnacle is the distinction of “Rive”,  made exclusively from grapes grown in one of these villages, enhancing the individual characteristics that the terroir gives this wine.

Fact #8: Don’t get hung up on vintage vs. non-vintage labeling with Prosecco. Because the finished wine remains in the autoclave tank, it may be bottled and released in a year after the grapes are harvested. It’s actually better to have the freshest release from the tank, than a bottle that has been filled and on the market for months. The only Proseccos allowed to use a vintage date are those with a Rive designation.

Fact #9: Due to its processing, Prosecco is more like vinho verde than methode champenoise-style sparkling wine, and should not be cellared long after you buy it; it’s meant for early drinking.

Now that we have the basic facts, what about flavor and style? Prosecco Superiore DOCG has aromatics of meadow flowers and chamomile, apple and pear and mineral, with a lively texture and smooth creamy finish. Here are tasting notes of my favorites:

Bourgoluce Superiore DOCG Prosecco Brut: Nose: green apple and mineral. Palate: green and yellow apple, pear, good fresh fruit/acid balance. Fine mousse, long clean fresh finish. Especially in its full texture and long finish, a clear cut above basic Prosecco.

Bourgoluce Superiore DOCG Prosecco Rive di Collalto Extra Dry Single vintage 2013: Fine smooth mousse. Nose: creamy pear w. hints of tropical fruit. Palate: wow! Huge elegance and finesse; creamy and melts on the tongue, huge improvement over their basic extra dry. Although it’s semi-dry (1.7% r.s.) it has pure, fresh clean fruit and just melts easily on the tongue.

Ca’ di Rajo Prosecco Extra Dry DOC Treviso. Although this Prosecco is not from the Superiore zone, it was made from 60-year old vines trained on the ancient “Bellussi” trellis system and is worth seeking out. Tiny vigorous mousse. Nose: much like Saar riesling; smoky, flinty green apple and mineral. On the palate, smooth and with good fruit/yeast balance. Tastes more elegant than most extra dry Proseccos.

Montelvini Superiore Rive Asolo DOCG Prosecco Brut: Nose: delicate, subtle floral note of chamomile, yellow apple and mineral. Palate: full, round, dry but big fresh finish, green apple and mineral finish.

Montelvini Superiore Rive Asolo DOCG Prosecco Extra Dry 2014: Nose: faint chamomile hints. Palate: broad, fruity pear, apple and creamy smooth. Elegant, long finish, drinks drier than you’d expect.

Closer to home, here are a few Virginia sparkling wines I tasted and enjoyed this last year to ring in the New Year with, all made in the champagne bottle-fermented style:

King Family Vineyard Brut (NV): blanc de blancs. Very small mousse. Nose: toasty crisp apple and yeast. Palate: dry but bright and creamy, also round and smooth with fresh lemon cream. 18 months on lees. Stylish. For sale at the winery only while available.

Trump Vineyards blanc de blancs 2008: nose: fresh bread/yeast and green apple with mineral notes. Palate: smoke and earth hints, then ripe green apple and mineral notes, dry, high acid but well-balanced and in a classic style. Will support food well. 36 mos. on the lees. $24.

Afton Mountain Vineyards 2010 Brut (2/3 chardonnay, 1/3 pinot noir) Nose: creamy but with smoky complexity from the pinot noir. Palate: lots of bright red cherry with a bit of smoke. Complex and food-friendly. 18 months on the lees. $30


Hudson Valley Wines Score Big In Wine Enthusiast Magazine

Dec 27

(Ghent, NY) December 12, 2014- – In the most recent three issues (November 2014, December 2104, Top 100 Year End Issue), Wine Enthusiast magazine awarded impressive scores on more than 20 Hudson Valley wines. The wines scored high on the magazine’s 100-point scale, and proved that the Hudson Valley is continuing to emerge as a region with wines that can compete on the international wine stage.

The Hudson Valley is one of the oldest producing wine regions in the United States, and New York State is the third overall producer of wine in the U.S. But with the influx of new money, talent, and drive over the last five years, the region is growing at a fast pace, and producing a number of highly rated bright, flavorful whites, and soft, approachable reds.

Wine Enthusiast editors tasted more than 20 Hudson Valley wines that earned scores of 90-85 points consistently across seven producers. This is the first major tasting of the HRV region by any major news outlet, and helps to establish the region as a producer of fine quality wines.

“The results are thrilling,” said Hudson Valley Wine Country president Carlo DeVito. “The Hudson Valley continues to make great strides in producing great wines. We’re seeing investment, we’re seeing new talent come to the region, we’re seeing more owners bringing a much higher level game to the table, and new owners who want to make great quality wines. It’s so exciting to see the passion in the valley being acknowledged for its progress and its quality. We think this highlights what we’ve been doing here – the Hudson Valley is making wines that can compete anywhere.”

The Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs, Cabernet Francs, Rieslings, and Gamay Noir and Baco Noir all scored very well, and highlight a region which produces wines that showcase great food wines that are forward fruit, and feature bright acids, medium-to-low tannins, and long finishes in a more European tradition. Hudson Valley wines can be found all across the state, and are featured in numerous stores and restaurants throughout the city.

To find out more, all the scores are available on the magazine’s website in their ratings area, and on other Hudson Valley websites such as:


The Hudson Valley is America’s oldest wine making and grape-growing region.  Less than an hour and a half from New York City, Hudson Valley wineries and wine trails offer hospitable winery tasting rooms, where consumers can often meet the owners in-person and taste award-winning wines made from classic European varieties, regional hybrids and even delicious fruit wines. The Hudson Valley features more than 40 wineries and three trails: The Dutchess Wine Trail, The Hudson-Berkshire Beverage Trail, and the Shawangunk Trail.

Second Edition of Beyond Jefferson’s Vines Published, Available on

Dec 10

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA [12-10-2014] Richard Leahy, author Beyond Jefferson’s Vines, the definitive book on Virginia wine, is pleased to announce that a second edition has been published and is now available for ordering online (ISBN-13: 978-1503394117).

Beyond Jefferson’s Vines is the complete story of wine in Virginia, from the Jamestown Settlement, to Thomas Jefferson and his vineyard at Monticello, to the thriving world-class wine industry of today. It focuses on the last decade and explains how vintners today have achieved the success Jefferson only dreamed of.

Leahy’s complete, indispensable book is a new, expanded second edition, and blends history with travelogue and basic viticulture, along with personal interviews with key industry members, to help you gain a full understanding of the subject.
The second edition has expanded by more than 60 pages or an extra 25%, explains Leahy. “There are many new wineries included in this edition, especially in Northern Virginia and Central Virginia, as well as current tasting notes including samples of the new 2014 vintage,” says Leahy. Now in paperback format, Beyond Jefferson’s Vines has both expanded in size and dropped in price by $5.00 (full retail $14.99).

“There are now 255 Virginia wineries, with 30 new one having opened just in the three years between the first and second editions of this book,” he says. “I’ve also added a new chapter on the craft beverage industry encompassing local cideries, breweries, distilleries and meaderies, and in “Additional Resources” I’ve added a glossary on leading winegrape varieties in Virginia along with a vintage guide dating back (highlights) to 1993.”

Leahy toured Virginia wineries for a week in November with the prestigious Circle of Wine Writers (he is a member), and favorable comments from other Circle tour members can be viewed here on his blog.

“In the first edition, people were saying Virginia wine was on the tipping point of critical and popular acclaim; now, the second edition makes a good case for why that has already happened,” declares Leahy.

To read reviews of the book, click here. To order online, click here.

London-Based Circle of Wine Writers Visits VA Wine Country for a Week

Nov 26

For a week in early November, the prestigious London-based Circle of Wine Writers (which included this writer) took an intensive trip across Virginia wine regions, and were impressed with what they saw. They tasted wines in Loudoun, Albemarle, Nelson and James City County as well as ciders, craft beer, mead, fruit wine and spirits in Nelson County.

Vivienne Franks MA, a Circle member who organized the 2014 trip, explains that having visited the wine regions of Virginia 15 months ago, she anticipated little change. “I was very impressed to find that even in that short time quality is improving fast. Certain grape varietals perform really well in the humid climate, particularly viognier, petit verdot and cabernet franc. The meritage blends are showing good depth and intensity too.

Toronto-based wine writer Charles Byers said “The fact that so many grape varieties are now being grown and experimented with [in Virginia] shows the commitment that these persons have to their trade,” commenting especially on the norton grape; “I had never heard of norton as a grape variety and was impressed that it was this grape that really spearheaded the  wine revolution, so to speak, in Virginia. It also impressed upon me of what can be done a native grape cultivar if careful selection is used.

Tanya Mann, a native Russian and naturalized Briton, declares “Virginia has created its own way and I would say Virginia could be a prototype for the Integrated Wine World with a huge variety of grapes for different wines. Winemakers from around the world bring a piece of their culture in the development of Virginia’s wine industry…Give Virginia five years and it will take pride of place on the global wine scene and undoubtedly win in international competitions.

The Circle had visited Virginia first in 2010, and Franks had decided to organize the annual “long haul” wine region visit for the Circle to Virginia, after reading in Beyond Jefferson’s Vines (by this author) that fine pinot noir was being grown and made here (at Ankida Ridge). This was affirmed in a visit to that winery, but in addition, we tasted viogniers, meritage blends, sauvignon blanc, vermentino, tannat, both cabernets, merlot, petit verdot, dry roses, port-style wines, a lot of ciders, and even craft beers (and very good ones at that).

Some of the most memorable and varied tasting experiences were in Nelson County, where in addition to fine wine we tasted a hopped chardonnay that drank like a New Zealand sauvignon blanc (Cardinal Point Vineyards), fine cider from Bold Rock Cidery, and expertly matched craft beer and fine food at Wild Wolf and Devil’s Backbone breweries. Some Circle members who never drink beer were converted (for that particular beer) by what they tasted there.

I’m pleased to say that the full details of the visit, complete with tasting notes, will be in the second edition of Beyond Jefferson’s Vines, with 60 more pages and 25% more material than in the first edition, complete through this writing and containing a vintage chart and major grape glossary, which will be available next month (December 2014); more details to follow soon.

Wine of the Week: Gray Ghost Cabernet Sauvignon 2007

Nov 16

Because of acidic clay soils, and this grape’s need for a long growing season, it’s hard to find consistently good cabernet sauvignon in Virginia. However, in hot, dry growing seasons like 2007 and 2010, it’s worth looking around and trying Virginia’s versions of the more famous of the two cabernets.

This week it’s hats off to Al Kellert, co-owner and winemaker at Gray Ghost Vineyards in Amissville, for his fine job with the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon. Most 2007 reds were a little low in the acid and flabby; not this one. The tannins ripened well and are firm; this wine could last easily until ten years of age. However, it is fruit-driven and fresh. If you visit the Gray Ghost tasting room, you may see a pair of wine cellar doors that look a lot like what you’ll see at Silver Oak, the stylistic model for cabernet at Gray Ghost.

The wine is dark, and the nose is wonderfully fresh and fragrant, bursting with black currants (cassis) with leafy herbal elements with a hint of white pepper in the background. On the palate, the wine is smooth, again dominated by pure black currants, but with firm, yet ripe tannins and a smoky finish. The alcohol is 11.9% and the oak isn’t noticeable.

If you like the sound of this wine, inquire with Gray Ghost to see if they have any 2010 or 2012 versions of varietal cabernet sauvignon, and then hold onto it for most of a decade; this one is just opening up.