October is Virginia Wine Month, and I recommend everyone not only visit at least one winery this month but visit one you haven’t been to yet. The foliage is peaking, and October is the most popular month for winery visits in Virginia, but here’s a place you’ve probably not been to yet, which doesn’t require reservations, and offers not only fine wine but a unique winery experience for Virginia.
If you remember driving the Blue Ridge Parkway south towards Rt. 56 where going east takes you past Montebello and then down a twisty road past Crabtree Falls, while going west takes you down an even twistier road through Vesuvius into the Shenandoah Valley, you may remember a clearing on the left side with a view of a Christmas tree farm on a hillside, at milepost 25.
The Christmas trees have since been replaced by European (vinifera) grapevines, featuring the cool climate classics Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, with the highest vineyard in Virginia at 3,300 ft. and perhaps the most breathtaking vineyard views in the state, with a panoramic 360° view of 12 mountain ridges from the site’s summit.
The operation was the vision of founder Craig Colberg and his wife Ann who planted the first vines in 2019 with the goal of crafting world-class sparkling and still wines. Originally focused on traditional method bottle-fermented sparkling wine made from their vineyard’s Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, they became inspired by the fine white wines of Alsace during a visit just before the Covid epidemic struck in 2020 and planted Riesling and Pinot Gris.
Twelve Ridges has been open since the summer of 2021, and for anyone visiting either the southern Shenandoah Valley or Central Virginia, it is a trip worth the visit, especially on a hot, humid day east of the Blue Ridge, but bring a hat and light jacket; even in September, it can be cool and breezy on their spacious tasting deck. Unlike many Virginia wineries, reservations are not required, even on weekends (hours are currently Friday-Sunday 12-5 pm).
The seating is mostly on their spacious (7,500 sq. ft.) deck, with spectacular views to the north, east and west (you can take in views to the south as well at the top of the hill). The space is tasteful and practical, with solid but comfortable tables and chairs with umbrellas inserted through the tables, allowing you to enjoy the views, the small bands or soloists performing, and the sunshine and views, as well as the wine, taking center stage. Food trucks are frequently on hand, with a schedule of musical acts and food vendors on their website, 12ridges.com. The tasting room also sells charcuterie.
[Rich & Marta, cropped]
While the Colbergs wait for the maturation of their sparkling wines and Pinot Noir, their estate Riesling 2021 was released and is an impressive showcase for their high elevation, cool climate site. Tim Jordan is the winegrower, also known from Midland Construction Vineyard in the Valley and a consultant to the Virginia Wine Research Exchange.
[RIESLING LABEL PIC]
This Riesling reminds me of a fine Finger Lakes, NY Riesling, with racy green apple fruit and minerality on the nose, then tantalizing, racy acidity on the palate with a range of apple ranging from Granny Smith green to Cortland red, with a long, fresh finish.
Is this Riesling dry, or sweet? A lot of West Coast Cabernet and Chardonnay fans who like to sneer at Riesling as being “sweet” would be taken by surprise at the high acid of this Riesling, because this is typical of quality, cool-climate Rieslings. To balance this high acid, the wine has some residual sugar, but it doesn’t really “taste” sweet, since it’s all relative to the ratio of acid to residual sugar. I’d say the wine is semi-dry, like a German Mosel Kabinett from a fine VDP estate (whose members don’t add any sugar to their musts to raise the final alcohol level). This wine was made from whole cluster-pressed fruit and went through a long (five month), cool fermentation (55° F) with native yeast. It is bright, racy, food-friendly, site-specific, clean and very varietally correct. I gave the 12 Ridges 2021 Riesling a **→* rating (very good to excellent), as I believe it will be ideal in either another year, or in another decade or more. ($50 while it lasts).
While they wait for the maturation of their wines, 12 Ridges is offering a thoughtful, curated tasting in both red and white of fine wines from around the world from high elevations, featuring regions such as Mendoza, Argentina, Alsace, Mosel, and others. The result is a great consistency in freshness of fruit and vibrant acidity from fine wine regions with some altitude.
Getting there: Due to strict regulation, no commercial signage is permitted on the BR Parkway, so put the winery address into either Google Maps or Waze: 24981 Blue Ridge Parkway
Vesuvius, VA 24483. From Charlottesville or Nelson County, enter the Blue Ridge Parkway either at Rockfish Gap or Reed’s Gap (near Wintergreen) and continue south, to milepost 25.
If coming from Roanoke or if you’re pressed for time coming from the north, take I-81 to the Raphine exit, then follow Rt. 608 to Steele’s Tavern. At Rt. 11, turn left but take an almost immediate right onto the Tye River Turnpike (Rt. 56) and follow (carefully) through Vesuvius and the National Forest. Follow the sign to enter the Blue Ridge Parkway on the left, then continue for a mile or so until you come to the Google Maps or Waze prompt to exit the parkway onto the access road.
Wine Review: Ox Eye Vineyards “Valleytage” 2021
John Kiers, proprietor and winemaker of Ox Eye Vineyards in Swoope southwest of Staunton, has introduced a new red wine, and a new concept, with this release. Since Merlot is too cold-tender for his site, he decided to make his own version of a red blend, only instead of being “Meritage”, he calls it “Valleytage.”
To represent the terroir of the cool Shenandoah Valley, he decided to build a blend based on the cool-climate classics he grows there, Blaufränkisch (a k a Lemberger), a fresh, fruit-forward Austrian red, and Cabernet Franc; the blend is 60/30 of these two grapes.
The final 10% is the Ukrainian grape Saperavi. The combination is very successful and stylish. First, on the nose, clean, fresh red and black briar fruits, with an exotic spice element that follows through on the palate which is the Saperavi. The whole thing reminds me of a cool-climate interpretation of Sangiovese, with bright, fresh cherry fruit, moderate to low tannin, and a fun twist of spice. The alcohol of Valleytage is also reminiscent of Tuscany, at 12.2%.