2015 Maryland Winemaster’s Choice Competition Won by Big Cork Vineyards’ Chardonnay 2014

May 30

[from a press release by purpledotpr] Big Cork Vineyards’ 2014 Chardonnay was awarded the “Best in Show” award at the 2015 Winemasters Choice Competition, held in Timonium on May 19, 2015, Maryland Wineries Association Executive Director Kevin Atticks announced today.  In addition, nine wines from across the state were named “Best in Class” in their respective categories.

Dave Collins, the vitner at Big Cork Vineyards (BCV) said, “Having won best in show and 4 gold medals it is truly a testimony to our hard work we are doing in Washington County.”

BCV, located in Maryland’s Pleasant Valley, is home to 13 different varietals that span over 24 acres of land. The vineyard, owned by Randy Thompson, brought in Collins who had established a winemaking career in Virginia.

“Although I am happy about our whites I am also very excited about our upcoming reds this summer and fall we have been holding of on them until the right time,” says Collins.

The vineyard works hard to keep everything local, including 90% of their menu offerings that are sourced from local produce and are served along side of BCV favorites like the 2014 Governor’s Cup Competition gold medal winning Russian Kiss.

2015 “Best in Class” Winners are:

BEST WHITE: Big Cork Vineyards •Washington County• Chardonnay 2014

BEST WHITE BLEND: Old Westminster Winery •Carroll County• Greenstone 2014

BEST ROSÉ: Boordy Vineyards • Baltimore County• Dry Rosé 2014

BEST OFF-DRY: Turkey Point Vineyard •Cecil County• Vidal Blanc 2014

BEST RED: Catoctin Breeze Vineyard •Frederick County• Adagio 2013

BEST DESSERT: Linganore Winecellars •Frederick County• Indulgence 2012

BEST CIDER: Great Shoals Winery •Montgomery County• Hard Pear Draft 2014

BEST FRUIT: Linganore Winecellars •Frederick County• Blackberry

BEST MEAD: Orchid Cellar Meadery and Winery • Frederick County• Cobbler


Wines of East Cayuga Lake, NY

May 22

2015-05-22 17.26.32In mid-March following the successful conclusion of the fourth annual Eastern Winery Exposition in Syracuse, I began my return to Virginia by driving down the east side of Cayuga Lake on Friday 3/19. Heart and Hands winery was closed, but I enjoyed seeing Kit again who co-owns Bet the Farm Winery and Gourmet Market, conveniently located right on Main Street in Aurora. There are times you don’t want to have to drive around looking for vineyards to find a winery, and the brightly painted cozy market is a small but deliciously stocked adult candy store.

Bet The Farm is a husband-wife team of winemaker Nancy Tish and husband Kit Kalfs. Production is tiny (under 1,000 cases currently) but Nancy makes artful and elegant wines. Interestingly, they buck the trend of riesling and cabernet franc, with the Geneva hybrid traminette as their leading white wine, and gamay as their leading red in three labels; varietal, “twice noir” (blended with pinot noir) and, debuting from the 2014 vintage, a dry sparkling gamay, Méthode Champenoise.

The traminette is ripe and juicy but has better balancing acidity than many I’ve had. The pinot gris has weight but isn’t clumsy and is fruity but dry. I liked the two gamay red wines but as it was a wet day in March with snow on the ground, couldn’t appreciate them as well as I would now as summer closes in. I was also impressed with the late harvest vignoles, which is often a clumsy and coarse wine but not in this case; elegant is the house style.

My favorite, with high marks for quality, style and originality, was the sparkling gamay (which isn’t on the website, since only 50 (!) cases were made). A pale pink color, the Méthode Champenoise processing gives it a wonderful full creamy mousse. The wine is fresh and vibrant but delicate; strawberries with red cherry hints and crisp red fruit acidity. Although fruity, the wine is delightfully dry. A great way to celebrate summer foods and the season.

They released the wine in time for Thanksgiving last year and it retails for $28, being pouring it almost exclusively on Saturday in addition to some other special days/holidays/group requests when requested.

“We have been very pleased with the response!” exclaims Kit. “This is a very personal wine for Nancy and myself. We spent one day together in 2013 selectively picking the grapes for the cuvee. We left them on the skins for about 24 hours and pressed them into a stainless steel tank. The wine spent around 2.5 months on the lees, from mid-October to late January, 2014. It was bottled for the second, in-bottle fermentation on July 3, 2013, producing 50 cases. It was hand-riddled 10 cases at a time, finishing at the end of October, 2014. The wine was dosaged and corked at Glenora Wine Cellars in early November.”

The next stop was Long Point Winery. Although many of the wines are made from West Coast fruit (and so labeled), they are still work seeking out. On the other hand, their estate cabernet franc 2012 was one of my favorites of the vintage; full-bodied with black pepper and cherry, and hefty oak with solid fruit to match; a cab franc to match with steak. The other red I took with me was a zinfandel from California fruit, zesty, spicy and full-bodied and much better than the average California zin.

I arrived at Treleavan/King Ferry Winery the day before their first “Bacon on the Lake-on” festival and the walls were covered with giant juicy photos of bacon slices which made it kind of weird writing wine tasting notes. I was given a very informative, personal tasting, given that I arrived at 4pm and nobody else was there which was nice. Highlights:

– Tacie’s chardonnay 2012: King Ferry has been a leader in Finger Lakes chardonnay for over a decade, and now makes four labels, from the non-oaked Silver Lining to the rich oaked butterscotch “Vintner’s Cuvee”. I liked the Tacie’s (named for owner Peter Staltenstall’s wife) which was lightly oaked; elegant with only partial malolactic fermentation and American, Hungarian and French oak.

– Gewurztraminer 2012: classic lychee spice on the nose. Palate: great spice and rich texture but dry; Alsatian and elegant.

– Reserve Riesling 2012: 0.5% residual sugar, this was made from select fruit from the “golden ridge” section of their own vineyard. On the palate, it was rich in texture with tropical fruit flavors; is balanced and will age well.

– Dry rose 2013: made from cabernet franc, this wine has a pretty red cherry nose with pretty, juicy, full and lovely fruit. Stylish.

– Pinot Noir 2012: The nose has fascinating aromas of strawberry, forest floor and truffles. On the palate, the wine is racy with (typical for the variety) high acid, and moderate oak. A wine for Burgundy fans, it needs a little time but will reward patience.

– Reserve Cabernet Franc 2011 (estate fruit, 18 mo. in oak): The nose is fragrant cherry, sage and smoke. On the palate, black pepper and black cherry flavors dominate with no “veggies” ; trim but elegant.

I’d like to point out that with $1 from each tasting fee charged in 2014 King Ferry raised $4,545 for the King Ferry and Central New York Food Bank. That’s “tasting for a cause.”

Summer Season Author Signings at Wineries

May 20

The summer winery touring season has started, and I will be appearing in various regions at various wineries this summer doing personalized autographing of the new, second edition of Beyond Jefferson’s Vines, which makes a fine Father’s Day gift.

To see the listings of dates and wineries, as well as all Virginia wineries that carry the new second edition, click here and view the tables on the right.

Richard Leahy Presents New Second Edition of Beyond Jefferson’s Vines to VA. Secretary of Agriculture Todd Haymore in Richmond

May 13

Richard Leahy Book SigningRichmond, VA (April 28, 2015) — Wine writer Richard Leahy  presented and autographed copies of his newly released second edition of Beyond Jefferson’s Vines to Secretary of Agriculture Todd Haymore at the Patrick Henry Building today along with copies for Governor and Mrs. McAuliffe.

“Wine industries in many other Eastern states are envious of the strong, enthusiastic support the Virginia wine industry receives from Richmond,” says Leahy, noting that there is a chapter in the book explaining the difference that financial and political support has made to the industry over 30 years, and features a photo of First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe cutting the ribbon to open Loving Cup Vineyards in July 2014. Secretary Todd Haymore is also quoted in this chapter.

Beyond Jefferson’s Vines was published through CreateSpace and is currently available on amazon.com and at designated Virginia wineries The newly released second edition is the complete story of Virginia wine from the Jamestown settlement to the present, focusing on the last decade and explaining how, despite many natural challenges, vintners in Virginia today are making world-class wine that Jefferson had foreseen would come to pass 200 years ago.

Originally published in 2012, Leahy explained, “Forty wineries having opened in the three years since the first edition. The book has been revised and expanded with a new chapter on craft beverages focusing on cideries, and additional resources including a vintage chart and a grape glossary. Now in paperback format, the new edition includes tasting notes through November 2014 and many new winery entries.

“This autographed copy is my thanks to Secretary Haymore for the difference his support and the support of the Governor and First Lady have made for the Virginia wine industry,” says Leahy.

The rapid growth of Virginia’s vibrant wine industry has made it one of the fastest growing agricultural sectors in the state. In 1979, there were only six wineries in Virginia. Today, there are over 385 vineyards that cultivate over 3,500 acres of grapes and over 250 wineries in Virginia. The state’s wine industry’s growth is escalating as fast as the state’s advancements in wine quality and reputation.

For further information or photos from the book signing, or about Virginia wines, wine events, tours and tastings, please call 1‐804‐344‐8200.

Annette Boyd
Virginia Wine Board Marketing Office
1001 E. Broad St., Suite 140
Richmond, VA 23219
P: 804.344.8200
F: 804.344.8332
E: Annette.Boyd@VirginiaWine.org
Virginia Wine

Virginia Named 1 of 8 of “World’s Next Big Wine Regions” by Bloomberg.com

May 05

On May 1st, Elin McCoy, wine writer for Bloomberg.com, wrote a piece called “The World’s Next Big Wine Regions,” including Virginia in the list of eight total. These regions include both Old and New World, Northern and Southern Hemispheres, and only two of the regions were in the U.S. (the other was Lodi). “If you’re still rattling off the names of the old, long-famous regions, you’re way behind the times. In these eight spots, good wine is on its way to becoming great wine, with a few stars leading the way,” wrote McCoy.

As Dave McIntyre, wine blogger and columnist for the Washington Post noted in giving the keynote at the Monticello Cup awards ceremony last month, it’s hardly new, or news today, that Virginia makes fine wine, to those who cover the American wine scene should know. However, McCoy writes eloquently in making the case for Virginia, showing she has indeed been following the evolution of quality wine in Virginia.

She names the Cases of Early Mountain Vineyards and Trump Winery as names that draw recognition, but also mentions viognier as the leading white grape and the red Bordeaux blends as the category with the most promise. She says of RdV’s Lost Mountain 2010, 2010: “This complex, spicy, rich, and velvety cabernet/merlot blend rivals a French cru classe. ”

The other seven “Next Big Wine Regions” of the world are: Tokaj in Hungary, Mt. Etna, Sicily southern England and the Republic of Georgia in the Old World; and Lodi, CA, Maule Valley, Chile, Yarra Valley, Australia in the New World. Virginia was mentioned second on the list.

For those of you, like McCoy, who want to stay current with trends on the world wine scene, you can read her blog at bloomberg.com.

In Memorium: William Steers of Well Hung Vineyard

Apr 16

William Steers M.D., the head of UVA’s Urology Department and husband to Amy Steers, co-owner of the Well Hung Vineyard located west of Ivy on Rt. 250, passed away on April 10th at the age of 60. He is survived by his wife Amy, his sons Colin and Ryan, daughter-in-law, Ali; and grandson, Rex.

The Steers settled in the Charlottesville area in 1988; Bill to pursue a urology practice and Amy as an oncology nurse. Having an “outsize interest in wine since college” and having suitable land, the Steers’ planted a small vineyard in 2000. Finding that wines from the grapes won awards, Amy formed a business with two other partners and the wines were made by Michael Shaps in a “custom crush” arrangement.

An accidental pun about how the grape bunches looked so “well hung” led to lots of laughter…and a name that stuck. “Serious fun” became the motto of the small operation, and besides many awards for wines of Old World finesse, the iconic label (featuring the legs of Bill Steers and his two sons, below the cordon of strategically placed grape clusters) went on to be featured in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art exhibition: “How Wine Became Modern: Design & Wine 1976 to Now”.

This writer was grateful to be invited to the Steers’ annual holiday party featuring home-made chocolate truffles and wines to match from champagne to madeira. Despite being a major university hospital department head, Bill Steers “lived large” in the present, and was always eager for a wine anecdote or to share a wine of his own. His obituary in the Daily Progress notes that he “was as active as his mind and lived more in an hour than most people live in a lifetime. While he was passionate about saving lives at work, he derived equal pleasure from sharing a good bottle of wine with friends and family.”

He will be missed and fondly remembered by all who knew him.


Strange, Unique and Wonderful Dessert Wines from the North

Apr 13

As I explained in my recent blog, I was attending (and running the conference for) the 2015 Eastern Winery Exposition last month and three attendees gave or sent me what turned out to some strange, unique and wonderful non-grape wines.

Fernleigh Cellars in Springfield, VT says it is Vermont’s “First maple winery”. I tasted two wines in half bottles. The first, a pale brown, was a sophisticated blend of manzanila/amontialdo sherry aromas and flavors integrated with flavors of maple on the finish, medium-dry. The second, the “special dark” maple reserve, still had a complex (and pleasing) sherry pungency on the nose with like flavors to start, then a sweet recognizable caramel/maple flavor and finish. Both are better slightly chilled; the pale brown is good as an aperitif, while the special dark is a fine port substitute with ripe cheese or nuts.

Two very good wine friends agreed with me that the next wine, the “passion popper kiwi wine” from Hermit Woods Winery in New Hampshire was unique and amazing.

Winery owners Bob Manley and Ken Hardcastle gave me an experimental bottle of their first attempt at kiwi berry wine, made from local kiwi berries. It is probably the most unique wine I’ve ever had, and it blew my mind (and palate). Deep golden in color (375 ml bottle), the wine has a fascinating bouquet that combines the botrytis-apricot pungency of Tokaij with the juniper/evergreen scent of Marlborough sauvignon blanc, with hints of basil and cilantro along with butterscotch and marmalade. Talk about a (legal) nose party! The wine is a ramped-up and intense yet perfectly balanced combination of ripe fruit and savory herb aromas and flavors. On the palate, the wine is at first rich, supple and round, then the minty kiwi-like aromas flavors and acidity kick in for the finish.  The wine is over 15% alc. But despite some residual sugar, the kiwi berry and acid give it a bright, lively citrus-like clean finish.

The biggest question is, what to do with this wine? Some enterprising bartenders might employ it as a secret ingredient in a cocktail with a spritz of soda, a leaf of basil and a savory herb gin. For food matching, this would be a fun project for sommeliers. I see this being best with a cheese, such as an asiago, aged mancheo (for an aperitif) or with a rich pungent cheese like epoisse, morbier, Galax farmstead or tallegio after dinner, perhaps also with hazelnut or bittersweet chocolate. If I were the proprietors of Hermit Woods, I’d start a twitter campaign contest to get the best food match to go with this wine.

Alas, I hear there are a scant 14 cases (of half bottles) of this wine in the current release, but any “foodies” out there who want an amazing, incomparable and unique palate experience should order some up.

The final wine was a bit more intense for my palate than I could enjoy but it may work for you. Named “fire and ice” and produced by Seven Mountains Winery in Pennsylvania, it is a highly original blend of extremes; the sweetness of a vidal ice wine with the heat of cayenne pepper (one is inserted into the wine like a red-hot worm in a mezcal bottle). It is sweet and hot but mostly very hot, with the subtlety of a sledge hammer on the palate (I have a “sensitive” one). Those who like very tannic wines and loads of hot peppers in their food will find this a welcome jolt of electricity on the palate, but it’s a higher order of capsican than works for me. If you’re a big hot Thai food fan or “3 alarm chili” fan, then bring it on.