During May, I had the opportunity to visit a few wineries around the Monticello Wine Trail and catch up with their current offerings (nice work if you can get it!) Here are highlights:

Virginia Wine Love Weekend: I was an event “host” at Chisholm Vineyards (a k a Adventure Farm) in Earlysville (adjacent to CHO airport). I hadn’t visited since before the pandemic, so it was very nice to see Andrea Mattheson the general manager and her husband Charley. Formerly, their wines were made by Michael Shaps Wineworks, but current releases were made by Maia Hood White, the winemaker at Early Mountain Vineyards. They’ve also expanded their product line a bit so there was lots to try (and like). Currently, I feel that the red wines are stronger than the whites. Tasting notes:

**+Chisholm Rosé 2021: All Chambourcin. Very full, fun pink color, with a nose of cotton candy and juicy red cherry! Palate: bright, fresh and juicy cherry but dry, wonderful varietal style!

*→*Chisholm Vidal 2022: Nose of fresh apple and pear. Palate: off-dry, nice balance of fruit and acidity, with ripe apple/pear flavors, fresh and easy to enjoy with light fare food.

**→* Chisholm Gigi’s Blend 2021: (50/50 blend of Chambourcin and Cabernet Sauvignon). Color: dark ruby. Nose: very fruity, black cherry and cassis. Palate: punchy with big ripe fruit and tannins, full-bodied but the fruit holds throughout. Young, will develop but can be enjoyed soon, best from September.

*** Chisholm Cabernet Franc 2019: Nose: Wow! Juicy and ripe, typical for the vintage, ripe black cherry. Palate: very distinctive due to native yeast fermentation which subdues the varietal fruit, but brings a rich and multi-dimensional texture that is rich, supple and sexy, with subtle ripe cherry flavors, drinking well now. Fermented 2 weeks on the skins in large format oak.

**+Chisholm Cabernet Sauvignon 2019: Nose: great varietal character; cigar box, ripe black cassis and spice. Palate: large volume but smooth and clean, fresh, fruit-driven. Ambient yeast may help smooth the mid-palate texture which is plush, not as angular as most Eastern Cabernets.

***Chisholm Farmer’s Reserve 2017: 35%  Petit Verdot, 33% Tannat, 32% Cabernet Sauvignon. Nose: intriguing briar fruits, vanilla/oak spice, but well integrated. Palate: fine ripe tannins and black fruits, large volume, juicy, dry, distinctive and an original blend ratio.

12 Ridges Vineyard Releases Three 2021 Vintage Wines

Twelve Ridges Vineyard is located adjacent to the Blue Ridge Parkway at milepost 25 north of Rt. 53 where it crosses the Parkway…at 3300 ft. elevation, it is Virginia’s highest commercial vineyard, and grows classic cool climate vinifera varieties like Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and…Pinot Noir (address: 24981 Blue Ridge Parkway, Vesuvius, VA 24483).

This vineyard is not in the Monticello AVA but in Nelson County and very worth visiting. I was privileged to attend a tasting of their 2021 current releases at Ankida Ridge Vineyards in adjacent Amherst County where co-owner Christine Vrooman poured her 2021 Pinot Noir (estate grown at 1,800 ft.) while owner Craig Colberg of 12 Ridges poured his Pinot Noir of the same vintage.

It was an impressive contrast; 2021 was a very good vintage for Virginia red wines, and the ***→*Ankida Ridge 2021 Pinot Noir drank like a Cote de Nuits Burgundy, rich, dark and full-bodied with hints of truffle and clean earth. The **→*12 Ridges Pinot Noir, also very good, with firm acidity and hints of red cherry and white pepper, was far more tight and lean, but was also grown at an elevation nearly twice as high as that of Ankida Ridge, so it’s not surprising. It drank like a Cru Cote de Beaune but needs at least another year to become approachable.

At least as impressive as the 12 Ridges Pinot Noir was their ***→*2021 Chardonnay, which drank like genuine Chablis, with flinty citrus rind and bracingly high acidity, but still with ripe, Granny Smith apple fruit. With oysters or other shellfish, this is the real “Burgundian” deal for Virginia Chardonnay in the Chablis style, but it will also benefit from time in the bottle.

The third wine in their inaugural release is a **Pinot Gris fermented as if it were Pinot Noir, to create a kind of “orange” style wine. Due to the high acid inherent in this site, this Pinot Gris handled the treatment well, and drinks like a kind of later harvest Alsatian Pinot Gris but with much better acidity and delicate, fresh varietal flavors.

Note: these wines are all estate-grown (at 3,300 ft.) and all three of these new releases were made available Memorial Day weekend, but due to limited production, are currently only available at the tasting room. To give diversity to their portfolio, 12 Ridges also sells and offers for tasting a range of wines from high altitude vineyard sites around the world, from Mendoza in Argentina, Alto Adige in Italy, and Alsace in France, all of which share the freshness of fruit and lively acidity of the 12 Ridges wines.

Of course, you can’t write about 12 Ridges without mentioning the fact that their name comes from your ability to see 12 actual ridges of mountains from the top of their breathtaking vineyard! This alone makes it worth a visit (plus it tends to be 10 degrees cooler than the Charlottesville area).

Interestingly, Christine and Craig are in discussions about the possibility of filing for a non-contiguous AVA that would join both of their sites, based on the criteria of high elevation (Christine is using the Medocino County Ridge AVA as a model). The two Blue Ridge vineyards are not far as the crow flies but are an hour away by road. Based on the tasting, and wine quality, it seems to make a lot of sense.

Loving Cup Diversifies its All-Organic, Locally-Grown Product Line

I recently met Proprietor Karl Hampsch of Loving Cup Vineyards in his tasting room in North Garden a couple of miles off Rt. 29. He explained that since he can only grown varieties that can survive our warm, humid climate, the hybrids Cayuga White and Marquette make up the vast majority of his current vineyard. To help diversify the product line, he offers pet nat white and rosé, regular dry Cayuga (Loving Cup White), semi-dry/sweet Cayuga White, Ginny’s Block, a Cayuga made as an “orange” wine fermented on the skins, labeled “Tannic White” with “NSA” for no sulfites added, a “straw wine” also from  Cayuga (grapes dried on straw mats before pressing), and two oaked Cayuga wines, each offering a different taste and texture experience. The “Rye Reserve” is off-dry, fruity, and gently aged in old rye whiskey barrels, while the “Tellurian White” is fermented and aged in new French oak barrels for twelve months. That’s seven different white wines, all mostly made with Cayuga White (FYI: there’s no other kind of Cayuga).

Loving Cup also makes a Dudley Nose Rosé (named after a recessive gene that allows a dog’s nose to be pink instead of black), about a 50/50  blend of two red hybrids, Marquette and Corot Noir. These two grapes also make up the Loving Cup Red (now in two fine vintages, 2019 and 2021).

Marquette is a high sugar grape, so Karl decided to diversify once again by letting the must ferment to 15% natural alcohol, then he put it in rye whiskey barrels (which added another 2% alcohol), with a port-style red as the result.

Finally, he features an organic apple wine, only mildly sweet and tasting rather like a still cider. He sources the apples from a certified organic orchard in northern Virginia.

The result is eleven distinct organic wines (sometimes more when a label is featured in multiple vintages). The variations in carbonation, residual sugar and oak types really make a complex and well-diversified product line, and all the wines taste vibrant and fresh. Anyone who complains of “allergies” to wine should visit Loving Cup, as well as anyone who wants to taste how high quality organic wines can be made in Virginia.

My personal favorites were both of the pet nats (Cayuga and a blend of mostly Corot Noir and Marquette). Karl uses a bright tank to collect and rack off all the solids, so you have the best of both worlds; bright, lively and fresh sparkling wines with no solids. The Loving Cup White is fresh and lively with bright citrus notes, but I personally preferred the Cayuga White, Ginny’s Block, because with a little more ripeness the fruit came out but with firm acidity like a Riesling, with ripe apple flavor and rich mid-palate and zesty finish. The Loving Cup Red 2019 is an amazing hybrid red, on top of its being organically grown and made. Gutsy, full-bodied and with ripe fruit and tannins, perfect for a summer barbecue.

Septenary: Perfect for a Summer Afternoon

While trucking west of Crozet on Rt. 250 towards the Rt. 151 Beverage Trail in Nelson County, you might fly by the gently marked turnoff on Greenwood Farm Road for Septenary Winery (at 200 Seven Oaks Farm) in Greenwood. The estate is owned by Todd and Sarah Zimmerman, who attended UVA in the 1980s, fell in love with the area, and purchased the property to pursue their dream of operating a farm winery in Albemarle County.

The winery derives its name from the seven old oaks after which the farm was named, but a hurricane in 1954 laid all of them but one low; the remaining oak is named after Thomas Jefferson and still stands today. Another winery had trademarked the name Seven Oaks, so they decided to name it “Septenary” instead, meaning “to do with the number seven.”

The talented Corry Craighill is the winemaker, and all the wines show elegance and finesse, without being wimpy. The grounds and tasting room elegant and intimate, with an outdoor tasting area arranged spaciously around a rim-reaching swimming pool. The tasting room building has a central chimney with mirrored windows and space on either side.

I like how the elegance and finesse of the wines match the understated elegance of the tasting area, but I also like how Septenary fits well into the group of wineries I call “hidden gems” that is also convenient to Charlottesville.

I drove there the Friday before Memorial Day weekend, a perfect and sunny time to visit. There is a Zen-like view to the west, of their vineyard stretching from south to north, while the ridge of Afton Mountain rises beyond in the distance. You can sit viewing it for awhile as you sip a glass or a flight of their wine.

I was impressed at the consistency of quality in the wines, across categories and vintages. The whites featured Chardonnay (not tasted), Viognier, and a “Sun Porch Rosé.” The reds were remarkable for featuring three library vintage wines, two from 2017 and one from 2016.

Septenary Tasting Note Highlights:

**+Viognier 2021: A fine, elegant, balanced Virginia Viognier. Fragrant honeysuckle, peach and apricot notes on the nose. Palate: ripe but refreshing and poised, with mango, peach and fresh apricot fruit. One of the freshest varietal Virginia Viogniers I’ve had lately. $34

**Summer Kitchen Rosé 2021: Made from Merlot, dry. Color is dark pink/cranberry. Nose: delicate, fresh strawberry. Palate: round, smooth texture and fresh strawberry flavor, but dry. Quite fresh but subtle, better for solo sipping than pairing with most foods. Much more finesse and flavor than the average dry rosé. $30

***Carriage House 2017: 79% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Franc, 7% Petit Verdot. Nose: rich, ripe black fruits, with a characteristic “roasted” vintage style, hints of oak and smoke. Palate: spicy oak and black fruits. Still maturing but with firm acidity and ripe tannins, stylish example of this vintage. $45

**→*Merlot 2017 (w. 19% Petit Verdot): Nose: very subtle, but contrasts with the palate, with solid ripe black fruits and firm tannins, BIG volume finishing with a fun chocolate/mocha note on the finish. $45

**→*Manor House 2016: (58% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 16% each Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot)

Nose: fresh, vibrant red and black fruits, with cassis from the Cabernet Sauvignon. Palate: fresh, vibrant fruit, then smoky oak, firm acidity; still maturing? Worth waiting for another few years.

Ratings key: * = good, ** = very good, *** = excellent, **** = exceptional, + = given rating plus, → = will increase in quality with time.