Luca Paschina Receives High Italian Gov’t. Honor in Washington

Feb 17

Luca Paschina, General Manager of Barboursville Vineyards for the last quarter century, was formally presented with the honor of the Commendatore al Merito della Repubblica Italiana, by His Excellency The Italian Ambassador Claudio Bisogniero, with Virginia Governor Terry McAuliff attending, at 7pm Monday Feb. 16th, at the Hay Adams hotel in Washington, D.C.. Barboursville wines were served.

The formal presentation of this award (Order of Merit of the Italian Republic, with rank of Commander) this February follows the announcement last summer (7/31) that Paschina had been inducted into the Order. Originating in 1951, the Order of Merit is modern Italy’s recognition of the highest distinction in occupations which reflect honor upon the nation and the Italian people, in cultural pursuits, the economy, public service, the military, philanthropy or humanitarian activities.

Paschina’s longstanding work at Barboursville was cited for the impressive consistency of excellence in its wines, especially in the estate’s masterpiece, Octagon (the 2012 vintage was one of the 30 gold medal winners in the 2015 Governor’s Cup Competition); and being cited both by the James Beard Foundation and a leading industry periodical as one of the 25 most significant wine professionals in North America.

Paschina  credits his winemaker father and both sides of his family in his home province of Piemonte, his training at Italy’s leading wine academy, Istituto Umberto I, and the technical resources and passion of Italy’s largest family wine growing enterprise, Casa Vinicola Zonin, for their inspiration and support. “I am fortunate to have been chosen at exactly the right time in my career and in viticultural history, to pursue this endeavor in Virginia. Placed in a growing region with no precedents and no rules for success, beyond the traditions I inherited, my colleagues and I were free to create a new and exemplary image of our heritage.”

Interviewed by members of the Circle of Wine Writers when they visited Barboursville Vineyards in November 2014, Paschina was both forthright and modest about the long and continuing struggle to make quality wine in a new yet unpredictable wine region, and gives credit to estate vineyard manager Fernando Franco since he acknowledges that without quality fruit, quality wine is impossible. He also acknowledges, like Jim Law, another leading Virginia winegrower, that he is always learning and adjusting to what Virginia presents him to work with.

30 Virginia Wines Win Gold in 2014 Governor’s Cup

Feb 11

The Virginia Wineries Association has announced the identity and number of wines that were awarded gold medals at the Governor’s Cup Wine Competition which concluded in Richmond a week ago. Almost 10% of the entrants won gold medals, especially in dry reds with the meritage (red Bordeaux blend) taking 12 alone, by far the most of any one category. Four whites won medals and one white dessert wine.

As predicted in last week’s column here, petit verdot and tannat dominated red varietal gold medals with 8 between them. The 2010 Keswick Vineyards cabernet sauvignon estate reserve, the Cross Keys touriga, and the Sunset Hills 2012 cabernet franc reserve were the only other varietal reds winning gold medals in this year’s competition.

Several wineries had multiple gold medals. For the second time (first was in 2013), Michael Shaps Wines (formerly Virginia Wineworks) took three gold medals (2012 petit manseng/ viognier “Raisin d’Etre” white, 2012 tannat and 2012 petit verdot). Wineries with two gold medals included Jefferson (2010 and 2012 meritage), King Family 2012 meritage and petit verdot, Narmada with two versions of 2010 meritage, and Paradise Springs with 2013 chardonnay and 2012 meritage. Pearmund and Vint Hill gold medals were produced under the winemaking direction of Chris Pearmund who owns both wineries.

There was an impressive range of five vintages from 2009 to 2014 represented in the competition; dry whites placed in 2013 and 2014, but dry reds were in vintages 2009-2013, showing the diversity, aging capacity and versatility of the category across very different vintages. Although few wineries are making wines from albariño in Virginia, its potential was demonstrated by Ingleside Vineyards with the gold from their 2014 vintage.

Congratulations to Governor’s Cup Gold Medal first-time winners; Catoctin Creek in Loudoun County, Cross Keys in Rockingham County, Granite Heights Winery in Fauquier County, Hiddencroft in northern Loudoun County, and Muse Vineyards (Shenandoah County).

The Governor’s Cup and Governor’s Case (top 12 wines) will be announced at a gala event in Richmond at the John Marshall Ballroom in two weeks on Feb. 24th.


2015 Governor’s Cup Gold Medalists

Barboursville Vineyards 2012 Meritage Octagon

Barren Ridge Vineyards 2010 Meritage

Bluestone Vineyard 2010 Meritage

Catoctin Creek Winery 2012 Meritage

Cross Keys Vineyards 2013 Touriga

Delfosse Vineyards & Winery 2013 Petit Verdot

Fabbioli Cellars 2012 Tannat

Granite Heights Winery 2012 Petit Manseng

Hiddencroft Vineyards 2012 Petit Verdot

Ingleside Vineyards 2014 Albariño

Jefferson Vineyards 2012 Meritage

Jefferson Vineyards 2010 Meritage

Keswick Vineyards 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Reserve

King Family Vineyards 2012 Meritage

King Family Vineyards 2012 Petit Verdot

Michael Shaps Wines 2012 Petit Manseng/Viognier “Raisin d’Etre” White

Michael Shaps Wines 2012 Tannat

Michael Shaps Wines 2012 Petit Verdot

Muse Vineyards 2009 Meritage

Naked Mountain Winery 2010 Tannat

Narmada Winery 2010 Meritage Yash-Vir

Narmada Winery 2010 Meritage Melange

North Gate Vineyard 2012 Meritage

Paradise Springs Winery 2013 Chardonnay

Paradise Springs Winery 2012 Meritage

Pearmund Cellars 2013 Petit Manseng

Pollak Vineyards 2012 Meritage

Rockbridge Vineyard 2010  “V d’Or” cryo dessert white (Vidal Blanc,Vignoles, Riesling)

Sunset Hills Vineyard 2012 Cabernet Franc Reserve

Vint Hill Craft Winery 2012 Petit Verdot


Franco Named “Grower of the Year” by VA Vineyards Association

Feb 07

Fernando Franco, vineyard manager at Barboursville Vineyards and a thirty-year veteran of Virginia vineyard management, was honored by the Virginia Vineyards Association as “Grower of the Year” at their annual meeting February 6th at the Charlottesville Omni.

VVA President Tom Kelly noted that wines made from fruit that Franco had managed since joining Barboursville Vineyards in 1998 was in three gold medal wines in the Governor’s Cup competition this year, and had produced two Governor’s Cup winners in the past.

Kelly noted that Franco had been active in the VVA, having been past president and also led a technical meeting at Barboursville Vineyards demonstrating their increased mechanization of vineyard management.

The award was presented to Franco by Secretary of Agriculture Todd Haymore. In accepting the award, Franco gave an emotional tribute to his mentor, the late Joachim Hollerith, who had taken him on as vineyard manager when he became winemaker at Rapidan River Vineyards in 1982, and later brought him with him to be vineyard manager at Prince Michel Vineyards, before Franco went to Barboursville Vineyards.

Also honored at the event was the late Jim McKenzie, in whose name a scholarship fund was established. Five thousand dollars raised for the fun was even split and awarded to two Virginia Tech graduate students of viticulture working for state viticulturist Tony Wolf, James Russell Moss and Kayne Hickey.

The annual VVA meeting had a capacity registration of over 200, and featured a variety of sessions both for new growers and veterans. The varietal focus was viognier, with sessions on vineyard  issues and comparative wine tasting with viogniers from Virginia and other regions. Twenty-five exhibitors offered a range of vineyard equipment and services, and a New Grower social hour on Thursday was added to the usual tasting and hors d’oeuvres of Friday night.

Judging the 2015 Virginia Governor’s Cup Competition

Feb 04

Under the direction of Jay Youmans, MW, the 2015 Governor’s Cup wine competition, final round began Sunday and finished this afternoon. Entries followed last year’s pattern; about 440 wines entered and about 130 making the elimination round to proceed to this final round.

We were only given numbers to identify individual wines; all data entry and wine bottles were kept from the judges so the competition was truly blind, and none except competition organizers and Virginia Wineries Association staff will know the identity and scores of the wines until wineries are notified. The public (including judges) won’t know the results until the gala in Richmond Tues. Feb. 24th.

Sunday started with an assortment of whites including a Prosecco-like chardonnay which was fun and original. A flight of cabernet franc pretty good; a surprise was an older wine with beautiful dried rose petal and cherry nose, pure fruit. The best flight this short day was merlot; some really Bordeaux-like world-class wines driven by fruit and herbal/spice notes, very smooth tannins. A meritage flight was up and down; too much oak for me in some of them.

Monday:  a flight of viognier mixed bag, but all in the 80s (we grade on the 100 point scale) except a delicate fresh one with fun spice notes I judged a 94.  Most balanced, but some were harsh because of high alcohol or clumsy oak treatment.  One was cheesy w. low acid.

The big pleasant surprise of the morning was a flight of BFC (barrel fermented chardonnay). I remember last year I was also pleasantly surprised by the complexity, restraint and balance of wines in this class. My favorites had fresh bright fruit, neutral oak, and not too cheesy, great integration and finesse on the palate. It was hard to find any Virginia wines in this class that I liked in the past, now producers have finally seen the light and figured out what to do and what to avoid doing.

A flight of cabernet franc was even better than yesterdays. Three were tops for me, with scores from 89-95. Some of these were huge, but fruit-driven, and one had enchanting rose petal and red fruits, but 3 others were fruit-driven and lacking clumsy oak. The one low score was dried out like it had been in oak too long and oxidized and lost fruit.

Some of the best and most expensive red blends in Virginia were in flight 12, a much better (I thought) meritage flight than yesterday’s. The flight was characterized by fine, subtle fruit and oak integration, gorgeously plush textures, and a lot of finesse. I only gave 2 scores in the 80s I think, the rest ranging from 90 to 96. Beyond starting with clean well-ripened fruit, texture and integration are the keys to a successful high-end meritage blend and this flight had plenty of that. Of my 3 favorites one was very Old World, one seemed very New World, but they were all brilliant and could go up against meritage blends from anywhere. I suspect that merlot, petit verdot and cabernet franc (in that order) were the dominant grapes in this flight.

Fellow judge and wine writer Barbara Ensrud (NC) and I disagreed on a number of red wine flights but we both agreed on how much we liked the four varietal tannat wines (last flight before lunch). Interestingly, half of them were more fruit-forward and half were big, oak and fruit wines, but they were all clean, showing the potential for this grape at giving loads of ripe black fruits with a panolply of baking spices and white pepper, and an ability to handle a lot of oak. There’s huge potential for wines with tannat in the Mid-Atlantic (if the vines survive the winter; in 2014 there was no commercial tannat crop in Virginia due to primary bud loss due to winter kill a year ago).

The first two flights after lunch were varietal petit verdot; an intense way to start an afternoon of wine judging! Like the flight of tannat, these wines showed the potential of this grape for high quality in Virginia. I’m a big fan of cabernet franc but in this competition have been more impressed as a whole by the quality of petit verdot and tannat; black color, deep black fruits, complex aromatics, and either fruit-forward or oak style can be equally impressive.  My favorites in the first flight of PV had lots of rich black fruits, spice and oak to handle the rich fruit. Who needs West Coast petit sirah when you have really good Virginia petit verdot, or tannat?

A flight of five cabernet sauvignons demonstrated why this variety is unreliable, and unsustainable as an economic crop in Virginia for the long term. Two wines were lovely, well-balanced examples of fruit and oak and tannin integration. The other three were either flawed from bad fruit, unhygienic wine cellars, or poor winemaking.

The next flight of three tannats showed the consistency and high quality this grape achieves in Virginia. Even the rustic styles were inoffensive and would have fans, where the really elegant ones with finesse and balance would satisfy fine wine drinkers like me.

A final flight of meritage was largely rewarding; lots of time in oak but richly balanced fruit, oak and spice elements; smooth silky texture, and a style that reminded me as much of Reserva and Gran Reserva styles from Rioja as anything else. A couple of wines were laughably clumsy, esp. a 15.5% alc. Blend which should have stayed even longer in oak to run up those flavors and raise the alcohol so it could be labeled and marketed as a fortified wine instead of a table wine.

On Tuesday, three fine petit mansengs (2 dry, one semi-dry) showed both ripe pineapple fruit and good fruit/acid balance; this may be the future white grape of Virginia.  A flight of BFC was lighter than yesterday’s, but by and large, very successful with lots of finesse.

A flight of cabernet francs had a couple of stars but was uneven, with the same for a meritage flight; some amazingly complex yet smooth and integrated wines, but some disappointments. Between flights of meritage, three fresh and elegant dry ciders, showing great potential for this beverage in Virginia.

A final flight of four dessert style wines showed richness and skillful fruit/acid balance.

I think there were a few more white wines in the competition this year which was welcome. Chardonnay seems more consistent than viognier, and petit manseng is promising, either dry or semi-dry and in dessert wines too. Unfortunately there were no sparkling wines that made it to the final round. Most sparkling wine production in Virginia is quite small and competition rules state that 50 cases of the wine have to be commercially available at the time of the competition to be eligible. For the same reason white wines are under-represented; most wineries have sold through their 2013 and earlier vintage whites and the 2014 whites haven’t been bottled yet.

Cabernet franc was generally consistent with a few shining stars but too many of them spent too long in the barrel or bottle, or both. For people who like sexy reds full of well-balanced fruit, oak, spice and silky texture, there are lots of Virginia meritage wines to provide these things. For those who like chewy, gutsy reds, petit verdot and tannat in this competition were the most impressive and consistent varietal reds, although a few merlots were also stunning in the Bordeaux style.

There will be lots of stylish, complex reds in the Governor’s Case (top twelve wines), and thanks to the rise of petit verdot and tannat, they won’t all be red Bordeaux-based.


New Book Explores “Getting the Most Out of Wine and Life”

Jan 23

Pat Drinan, a retired professor, fondly recalls his graduate school days at the University of Virginia, and met his future wife Mary Ann at that time. A couple of years ago they were touring the wine country around Charlottesville and I met them while giving them a tour through Blue Ridge Wine Excursions. They were amazed at the number of local wineries and the quality of the wine, as there weren’t any when they were first in the area.

Pat shared with me that he was working on a book called “The Twelve Drop Rule: Getting the Most Out of Wine and Life”, which I’m pleased to say has been published and is now available on

Pat combines his two passionate interests–philosophy and wine–and shares them in a kind of self-help book that shows that even when the bottle is almost empty, there’s always just enough–two drops–to create a space to share “practical wisdoms” with a companion, while the last two drops are poured in the glasses.

Pat explains that the book “is designed to help lovers of fine wines explore their own character and those of their friends. The specific object of this exploration is for the reader to create and clarify a set of individual practical wisdoms that define you and propel you to a better self. It is also about the art of conversation and crafting a new wine ritual–what I call a new cottabus–modeled on the ancient Greek game played at philosophical symposia.”

If you or a friend enjoy both wine and philosophy, or especially both together, I highly recommend this book (disclosure: I wrote the foreword). It can be found on at this specific URL:

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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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