Payette Elected to Virginia Wine Council

May 28

Tom Payette, a winemaking consultant and winery industry veteran, was recently elected to a three year term on the Virginia Wine Council. Tom will fill the only Class II position on the council, replacing outgoing member Gordon Murchie.  The Class II member position is the only representative on the council who is not affiliated with a specific winery, but provides support to the Virginia wine industry as a whole.

The Virginia Wine Council was formed in 2008 and is a strong coalition of Virginia’s wineries, vineyards, the Virginia Wineries Association, the Virginia Vineyards Association, wine trails throughout the state, and individual supporters.  The Virginia Wine Council (VWC) serves as the Virginia wine industry’s representative on legislative and regulatory issues pertaining to winery and vineyard activity, providing value to Virginia’s booming wine industry through education and advocacy efforts.

Tom Payette is a winemaking consultant assisting mostly East Coast Wineries including several Virginia wineries.  With decades of winemaking experience he assists clients with winery design and operations set-up, still and sparkling winemaking, and general winery issues.  In addition to serving his clients Tom is a noted author, international speaker and wine judge.  Mr. Payette may be contacted at 540-672-0387.

Wines of the Week from The Appellation Trail

May 18

As the spring moves into summer, we have a nice pairing of white wine releases from the 2013 vintage, and red wine releases from the 2012 vintage. They make a nice pairing, since 2013 was a cool vintage making white wines of vibrant acidity, great for the upcoming warm weather, while the 2012 vintage was hot, making red wines that are ripe, full-bodied and easy to enjoy.

The first Wine of the Week is the Stinson Vineyards 2013 Sauvignon Blanc. Very different from the 2012 version, this is mostly made with the musque clone from their own vineyard. The result is like a Sancerre or Pouilly-Fumé on steroids.

The nose has lemongrass and gooseberry with gravel notes, and is very assertive. On the palate, the wine is not as acidic as you’d expect, but is pleasingly full-bodied and dry. Another Loire Valley style element is the low alcohol at 12%, a refreshing change from the 13.5% found in most Marlborough blancs from New Zealand.

This wine will be great with chevre cheese and dill, any seafood especially shellfish, and herb roasted chicken.

The second Wine of the Week is the “E-ville” Pink dry rose 2013 from Glass House Winery, another Appellation Trail member ( This pale pink wine with a wicked label has a fun story. Nearby Charlottesville is sometimes called “C’ville”, and Glass House Winery is near Earlysville, or “E-ville.” Additionally there is a women’s group in that town that call themselves the “E-ville women.” So the label shows the rear view of a woman in an elegant evening gown, and I can’t tell you more, but how fun is that?

But I digress. The wine is very provençal in style, and is a blend of merlot and cabernet franc, with delicate aromatics of cherry blossom and cream, with ripe red cherries on the palate, and a smooth palate with a fresh finish.

The third Wine of the Week is a full-bodied red from 2012 from another Appellation Trail member, Grace Estate Winery, namely their 2012 Petit Verdot Reserve. Due to the hot vintage, late-ripening grapes like petit verdot were able to ripen fully with typical varietal character.

This wine had complex aromatics of integrated oak and damson plum, and on the palate, was rich, round and smooth, with oak, fruit and spice elements, and a long lingering finish. I was also impressed that despite the hot vintage, this wine did not have the low acid, “flabby” and short finish that petit verdot wines can get in Virginia in these kinds of vintages; this is balanced, full-bodied but elegant, and is drinking surprisingly well now. Those of you who like gutsy but stylish reds can enjoy this with barbecued ribs or steak in the near term but it will be better by winter.


Essays on Riesling by Sharpe Hill Vineyards (CT)

May 09

Now that winter has finally given way to summer (?!) on the East Coast at least, we start to re-acquaint ourselves with white wine classics: sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, sparkling wine and riesling.

Most Americans not well-acquainted with wine still think riesling is always sweet. In Germany, almost all sweet riesling (aside from the rare icewine) is exported to the U.S., while Germans themselves drink only dry riesling.

SharpeHillBut there’s room for all palates in the world of riesling, and I was happy that winemaker Howard Bursen of Sharpe Hill Vineyards in Pomfret, CT sent me three different dry rieslings he makes, all from the same vintage. It was fun and instructive to taste and contrast them, and so I’ll share my impressions for you.

The justified giant of Riesling in Eastern North America is the Finger Lakes of New York. For some 30 years, pioneers in the area have persevered with a cool climate grape variety which was disappearing from the scene in California at the same time. As the Golden State discovered ripe and low acid chardonnay, riesling was poo-pooed as being flowery, containing residual sugar, and associated with the polyester and disco bad taste of the late 1970s.

Despite riesling’s sudden lack of fashion in the 1980s and 1990s, no other grape, in any species or color, was able to maintain a classic style and consistency of quality across a wide variety of vintage character in the Finger Lakes. As time went on, more vintners realized this, and more critics also took notice.

Today there are two giants of riesling in North America by reputation: the Finger Lakes of New York, and the Columbia Valley of Washington State. However, other cool climate regions in North America have also reliably produced consistent quality riesling with consistent terroir quality; the Willamette Valley of Oregon, the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia, the Niagara Peninsula of Ontario, Northwest Michigan, and even Monterey County which makes 70% of California’s riesling.

However, other areas make quality cool-climate riesling across North America which lack the high-profile of these other regions. Some of these include northern Ohio, Colorado, Idaho, but there are regions on the East Coast worth seeking out as well.

These include the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, Long Island, the Warren Hills AVA of New Jersey, and southeastern New England which is in fact a multi-state AVA of the warm coastal regions of Connecticut, Rhode Island and southern Massachusetts.

Here are tasting notes on the three Sharpe Hill dry rieslings from 2012:

Sharpe Hill Dry Riesling 2012 Finger Lakes

More Alsatian than German in style; a subtle, non-fruity nose with lemon/citrus minerality and faint yellow apple fruit. On the palate, the hint of yellow apple is joined with pear, but the dominant theme is high acid and minerality; a typical if less fruity expression of Finger Lakes terroir, with racy fresh acidity in the finish. Refreshing, dry and food-friendly.

Sharpe Hill Dry Riesling 2012 Southeastern New England

Strikingly different from the Finger Lakes version, the New England riesling has a rich viscosity and texture reminiscent of Alsatian pinot gris, but the fruit character is just as dramatically different from the first wine. This is ripe peach and apricot fruit on the nose and the palate. Despite the dense palate, the wine is well-balanced with firm acidity and a long finish. This is a ripe, rich and balanced wine and a welcome expression of terroir which is seldom tasted outside New England and deserves more notice, at least with this grape.

Sharpe Hill Dry Riesling 2012 Estate Vineyard Reserve South Slope, Connecticut

This single vineyard riesling is a bit backward at this point and takes awhile to emerge. It is the most subtle and Alsatian of the three rieslings. The nose is subtle pear with a hint of spice. The palate is surprisingly smooth and a bit low in acid, without much fruit, but takes time to emerge.

Even in a cool climate, three different dry rieslings from the same vintage can show very different characters and flavors. Dry riesling is very food-friendly, with the acidity cleansing the palate, and delicate racy citrus, apple and peach fruit complementing a wide range of cuisine. You can pick a riesling to match your sweetness level, but the high acid is a hallmark of the grape, and balances the sweetness well. Dry riesling is great with Swiss cheese, seafood, and cilantro.  If you think dry riesling is too dry to enjoy sipping alone, try pairing it with chicken, seafood or semi-soft cheeses.

Cellar Gem Feature: Miles Cellars Riesling 1997

Since 2001, when I attended a 25th anniversary tasting at Glenora Wine Cellars on west Seneca Lake, and found that most of my favorite rieslings were 15 years old or older, I have laid down Finger Lakes (and a few other) rieslings every year. I now have a vertical collection of Finger Lakes rieslings going back to 1998, and can finally start drinking the oldest ones.

Last November I shared the oldest, a 1997 semi-dry riesling from Miles Cellars on west Seneca Lake (the largest of the Finger Lakes). The winemaker at the time was Peter Bell of nearby Fox Run Vineyards.

1997 was a “classic” year for Finger Lakes riesling with well-balanced fruit and acidity, but with a 16-year old riesling stored in my basement, what could I expect? I was amazed: the wine was bright and clear with green and yellow apple aromas and lively fresh fruit and acidity on the palate. Hats off to Doug Miles (owner/grower) and Peter Bell! I wish I had more, but am glad I still have a bottle of the same label from 1998, and about 5 more cases of some 15 vintages of Finger Lakes riesling.

Could you do the same? You need to have a “cellar” that is between 50 and 65 degrees F and dark and free from vibration. Then you need to have the patience to sit on your hands and wait 15 years. For complex biochemical reasons I won’t go into, you either need to drink riesling in the first 2 years or wait until it’s 10 years old or older to get the most from it, but you have to use cool-climate, high-quality rieslings; Yellow Tail or other bargain rieslings won’t cut it.

Trump Winery ’09 Sparkling Rosé Wins 2014 Monticello Cup

Apr 11

Virginia Secretary of Agriculture Todd Haymore presented the 2014 Monticello Cup to Trump Winery representatives for their 2009 Sparkling Rosé, at an awards ceremony held at the Jefferson Theater in Charlottesville. Trump Winery’s 2012 Meritage also won a gold medal—winning two of the five gold medals wines awarded at this year’s competition. Both winemakers Jonathan Wheeler and Katell Griaud were honored to be recognized at a wine competition that is a showcase event in the Monticello AVA region.

Wine of the Week: Barboursville Octagon 2001

Apr 02

By now it is not news that Octagon, the flagship wine of Barboursville Vineyards (a meritage-style blend dominated by merlot and cabernet franc) is recognized as one of Virginia’s top wines (so you would hope, by the $50 retail price).

Readers of Beyond Jefferson’s Vines will recall how, when I tasted the 2009 Linden “Hardscrabble”, the estate cabernet sauvignon-dominated blend, I heard J.S. Bach’s “Brandenburg Concerto #5.” Despite this, and the entrance into the market of a number of other producers focused on top-quality red Bordeaux blends in Virginia, Barboursville’s Octagon has continued to maintain a top position; last year it got the coveted Governor’s Cup Award for the 2009 vintage, and the 2010 vintage got a gold medal in this year’s Governor’s Cup competition.

A decade ago I drank a bottle of the 2001 vintage Octagon with a special lady on a special occasion. At that time it was a very different wine, but still elegant, plush and poised. I had two bottles in my cellar so to celebrate the final arrival of spring this year (?!) I decided to open one after roasting a tri-tip cut of beef with trimmings.

Thirteen years is a long time for a merlot/cabernet franc-based blend to hold up, but 2001 was an excellent year, the wine was carefully cellared, and there was no yellowing in the color, which was gratifyingly deep.

I need to tell you that this wine was the most complex and deeply satisfying Virginia wine I have yet had the pleasure of drinking. Partly this is to inspire you to hold onto fine bottles of Virginia red wine for 5 or 10 years, in cool, dark cellar conditions, to see how they evolve and to celebrate the miraculous fact that what you once enjoyed as fresh and vibrant can later be enjoyed as complex, rich and deep (that’s the wine I mean). But partly this is to inspire envy that I still have a bottle. But maybe you have a case, or a magnum, or an even larger bottle. Can it last  until 2021? You’ll have to invite me over to determine the matter. ;) Meanwhile, check out my description of the wine in a regular 750 ml bottle at this point in time:

Nose: amazing depth and complexity. HUGE herbal components of lavender, sage, fennel and spice notes of nutmeg. Palate: smooooth and rich, well-knit round tannins with ripe black fruits and great tertiary flavors: tar, tobacco, garrigue, mocha, licorice, and cola. Rich and complex but wonderfully round and balanced. Acid is a bit low, but why complain after 13 years with everything else going on? An inspiration to others attempting a First Growth blend in Virginia (the petit verdot is the silver bullet). The wine reminds me of Mas de Daumas Gassac and also Licorella from Priorat (alcohol: 13.5%).

2012 Vintage “3” Released by Team 3

Mar 25


(from a press release from the VA Wine Marketing Office) Richmond, Va. - Team 3, a group of three Virginia winemakers, Matthieu Finot, Emily Pelton and Jake Busching, have released a limited edition red blend of 1/3 Merlot, 1/3 Cabernet Franc and 1/3 Petit Verdot. The Merlot is from Finot at King Family Vineyards, the Petit Verdot is from Pelton at Veritas and the Cabernet Franc is from Busching at Grace Estate Winery.

Bottled to show the unity of the Virginia wine industry, the blend was accomplished through three separate tasting trials to find the right blend of oak and fruit that will age well and be representative of the three unique vineyards. The bright red fruit on the nose changes to lush dark cherry and blueberry as it opens up, and the palate weight and balance speaks of long aging potential.

The fourth release of “3” will be held at Grace Estate on Friday, March 21, 3:33 p.m. to 5.30 p.m. Tastings of this limited production will only be available at the release event. The wine will be sold at the three participating wineries – each winery will have 45 cases for sale at $33.33 per bottle.

Over 1,500 Attend 3rd Annual Eastern Winery Exposition

Mar 09

LANCASTSER, PA—The third annual Eastern Winery Exposition (EWE) concluded its three-day conference and wine industry exposition with another successful show at over 1,500 total attendance (over 1,000 attendees and 500 exhibitor staff). EWE featured a sold-out trade show with 249 booth spaces with 179 exhibiting companies. The trade show and conference is sponsored by Wines & Vines and supported by 18 other organizations and associations and took place at the Lancaster Co. Convention Center and Marriott in Lancaster, PA

At the annual Industry Celebration Dinner, the Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars for continued success as New York’s most awarded winery, having celebrated 50 years of operation in 2012 and in passing the torch to a new, fourth generation. Accepting the award on behalf of the winery was current owner and president, Frederick Frank.


In 2015, EWE will move to the Oncenter in Syracuse, NY from March 17-20, then return to the Lancaster County Convention Center and Marriott in 2016. 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.  Information is online at