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

Muse Vineyards 2009 “Clio” Red Blend Wins 2015 VA Governor’s Cup

Feb 25

On Tuesday, February 24th, at a gala reception at the John Marshall Ballroom in Richmond, the annual Virginia Governor’s Cup Awards ceremony took place. Governor Terry McAuliffe announced the winner from the gold medal wines that placed in the Governor’s Case, which was the red Bordeaux blend “Clio” vintage 2009, made by a vineyard turned winery, Muse Vineyards, near Woodstock in the Shenandoah Valley. Clio is a roughly equal blend of the four Bordeaux varietals, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. The proportions vary according to the year; the 2009 vintage had an even 25% of each varietal.

The 2009 vintage was not a fruit-forward style, but had firm and even severe acid for the first few years. However, for both reds and white wines, it has proved a classic vintage for Virginia, producing Governor’s Cup winners four of the last five years.

The winery proprietor is Robert Muse whose wife Sally Cowal is co-proprietor and director of sales and marketing. Tim Rausse, son of longtime Virginia winemaker Gabrielle Rausse, is winemaker. “I have had a romantic conception of vineyards at least since I was thirty. As a lawyer, I have had probably too much involvement with Congress and the executive agencies in Washington, D.C. to be the sunniest of optimists,” admits Robert on their very detailed website. “The idea of agriculture, the rural life, frankly seemed a lot cleaner. As with all start-up endeavors, we have been through some frustrating times at Muse Vineyards, but at the same time I cannot imagine many activities as intensely satisfying as winemaking.”

The 2009 Clio has an intriguing aroma of ripe but fresh black fruits with exotic spices like cardamom and coriander. On the palate the wine is smooth but lively with fine fresh acid in the finish. It drinks more like a 2010 or 2012 than a 2009, which speaks well of its aging capacity.

As a judge in the Governor’s Cup Competition, I remember the red Bordeaux blend category as being very competitive with many fines wines of different styles. Some were rich and smooth, some oaky and punchy, some light and fresh, others earthy and dark. This was a wine of finesse that was fruit-driven and surprisingly young and fresh; I was surprised to learn that the alcohol level was 14.5% because the firm fresh acid on the finish made it seem much lighter.

Other Gold Medal Wines in the 2015 Governor’s Cup Competition

Barboursville Vineyards 2012 Octagon
Barren Ridge Vineyards 2010 Meritage
Bluestone Vineyard, Inc 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 Albarino
Jefferson Vineyards 2012 Meritage
Jefferson Vineyards 2010 Meritage
Keswick Vineyards 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Reserve
King Family Vineyards 2012 Meritage
King Family Vineyards 2012 Petit Verdot
Michael Shaps Wineworks 2012 Raisin d’Etre White
Michael Shaps Wineworks 2012 Petit Verdot
Michael Shaps Wineworks 2012 Tannat
Muse Vineyards 2009 Meritage (Cup Winner)
Naked Mountain Winery 2010 Tannat
Narmada Winery 2010 Yash-Vir (meritage blend)
Narmada Winery 2010 Melange (meritage blend)
North Gate Vineyard 2012 Meritage
Paradise Springs Winery 2013 Chardonnay
Paradise Springs Winery 2012 Meritage
Pearmund Cellars, LLC 2013 Petit Manseng
Pollak Vineyards 2012 Meritage
Rockbridge Vineyard 2010 V d’Or
Sunset Hills Vineyard 2012 Reserve Cabernet Franc
Vint Hill Craft Winery 2012 Petit Verdot

Other Awards in the 2015 Governor’s Cup

Aside from wines, awards are given to individuals who make outstanding contributions to the Virginia wine industry at each Governor’s Cup gala.

Gordon Murchie Lifetime Achievement Award was presented by Murchie to Jim Law, winegrower of Linden Vineyards, now celebrating 30 years. In accepting the award, Law said, in his typically understated and modest way, “I consider this award an honor because it comes on the vineyard side. That’s where we need to focus as an industry.”

Virginia Wine Person of the Year Award was presented to Jay Youmans, MW who has coordinated the Virginia Governor’s Cup Wine Competition for the last few years and has raised the level of logistics and judging to make it a pre-eminent state wine competition featuring judges from across the country (including this writer) and Steven Spurrier, Decanter columnist and renowned wine taster. In accepting the award, Youmans thanked the volunteers and judges who had worked on the competition, as well as the VWA and Lindsey Parris, keeper of the database and confidentiality of results.

Legislator of the Year was John Watkins of Chesterfield.

In his brief remarks leading up to the presentation of the Governor’s Cup, Governor Terry McAuliffe pointed out that the U.S. Embassy in Beijing had served Barboursville’s Octagon during his trade visit there. “I need your help,” the Governor told the audience frankly. “We are tied with Texas for fifth place in American wine production.” [Boos from the audience] He proudly pointed out that for the first time, Virginia exports exceeded three billion dollars in 2014 and urged the planting of more vineyards in the Commonwealth.


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.