Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Pearmund Cellars

I stayed in DC for the Thanksgiving holiday so the Friday after I decided to go for a run on the Mall since I had not participated in a “Turkey Trot.” It was unseasonably warm and there were even a few cherry trees blooming! I came home to a message calling in a rain check on what were my afternoon plans, what was I to do on a warm November afternoon? It was so gorgeous that I just wanted to be outside all day, but I also wanted to catch up on this blog and what better place to do that than at a vineyard?

I decided on Pearmund Cellars in Broad Run since it wasn’t too far from DC and near others if I decided to try more than one. This was my first solo tasting, but found it a pleasant experience. Upon arriving on the Pearmund property you drive through the vineyards to get to their tasting room, it’s very beautiful and makes you feel farther away from civilization than you are.  I tasted with a couple who happen to own a barrel at Pearmund and another at their sister winery the Winery at La Grange. Their words of wisdom were that if you like Pearmund, you’ll love La Grange, but I’ve since heard conflicting reports on which of the two is better. I guess it just means I need to get out to La Grange sooner rather than later!

The tasting at Pearmund was $10 for 14 wines! There were 5 whites, 6 reds and 3 sweet wines.  Their 2009 Old Vine Chardonnay and 2010 Viognier were my favorites of their whites.  They did also have an interesting 2010 Riesling that was good, but tasted nothing like a Riesling and instead like a green apple cider. On the red side the 2007 Ameritage, 2009 Ameritage Reserve and the 2009 Petit Verdot were my top picks.  The 2010 Sweet Petit was the sweet I’d prefer to sip, but our friendly server suggested soaking fruit for a fruit pie in their 2009 Late Harvest Petit Manseng as it caramelizes when cooking; an interesting tip that I just might have to try next holiday season.

Before settling down on the front porch out front I scoped out their barrel room complete with a bust of a jackalope and other wildlife. The side porch was more the social side with gardens and several tables, out front it was quiet except for the soft tunes coming from the surrounding speakers with a view of the vines.  I really enjoyed this stop, it was pleasant, there were several quality wines, a nice view, the staff was very friendly, knowledgeable and I really liked the detailed tasting sheet that included the percentages for the blends, vineyards where the grapes were grown, percentage of sugar and alcohol for each wine. When it comes to Pearmund you should do what their slogan says and “think globally, drink locally.” 
Porch Views
Fall Festivities
Jackalopes in Virginia? 

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Down from the Mountain: Devils Backbone Brewing Company

Our last stop at sunset was Devils Backbone Brewing Company.  We tried the samplers they offered, one with 4 beers and one with 6. Dan was daring and tried all 10! I'm big on the porters, stouts and brown ales so the fact that most of what they had available that day were lagers and other German style beers didn't excite me too much.  The food however, was awesome! Great chili, apple salads, wings and more. It also reminded me of being back in Idaho, as the decor focused on hunting trophies and stone fireplaces. I'd say this place is worth the stop for the food, but if you want good beer in the area Blue Mountain Brewery has a tastier selection.

So in two days we were able to cover 5 wineries, 1 cider house and 1 brewery which was tied together with a stay at a cabin complete with a fire we (finally) managed to start in the fireplace. Overall a successful, relaxing trip to Charlottesville that left me wanting to visit again sooner rather than later.

We assumed this ridge must be the "Devil's Backbone"

Blue Mountain Views: Veritas Winery & Vineyard

We were much more impressed with our next stop, Veritas Winery & Vineyard. We arrived to a full parking lot and tents being set up for a wedding & thought we were in for disappointment.  We were instead pleasantly surprised with amazing service & great wines. It must be true that they do trust in the wine like their slogan says "in vino veritas." A hostess promptly greeted us and set us up a at large table in the bustling tasting room.  While full of visitors it wasn't chaotic or obnoxiously loud, Veritas was well prepared for a full house. The tasting room which was warm with its large, dark wooden tables, but still managed to give off an airy vibe with its many french doors.

We were then greeted by a friendly server who managed to serve us and another table or two with prompt, but not rushed service. For $5 we tasted their 9 wines, 2 were from their sparkling list.  I'm not sure there was a bad one in the bunch, but my favorites white was the 2010 Saddleback Chardonnay which was crisp & fruity, similar to a Riesling; of the reds I'd go with the Red Star which was a Cab Franc, Merlot, Chambourcin blend and the Chambourcin stood out the most; on the sparkling side the Scintilla a dry Brut made from Chardonnay. We all walked out with full glasses & bottles where we sipped and enjoyed the views on yet another perfect November day from one of the many sets of Adirondack chairs splayed across the property.

From the impeccable service-ordering from your server w/a pocket register to have some one in the back bring out your bottle(s) in minutes to the comfortable tasting room, spacious grounds and quality wines, it is safe to say that Veritas has snatched up a top spot as one of my favorite wineries in Virginia!
Finding our way to the tasting room
The bustling bar 
The glass is included with the tasting
Enjoying the day

Blue Mountain Views: Afton Mountain Vineyard

Day 2 of our Charlottesville adventure started with a stop at Afton Mountain Vineyards where we wound through the mountains to the tasting room. Our choices were a standard tasting for $5 or the reserve tasting for $8. We were split on who tastings and nobody was thrilled enough to buy a bottle. (We did not get to keep our tasting list so I can't even tell you what was decent.)  Debbie was the only one who bought a glass of one of the reds, while the rest of us quickly exited the cramped tasting room for the fresh mountain air. The wine at Afton Mountain definitely leaves something to be desired; they do however have a great outdoor space with several picnic tables and beanbag toss games set up for visitors with sweeping mountain views.
View from the tasting room deck
Enjoying the perfect fall day

Backed right up to the mountains

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Neighboring Tastings: Keswick Vineyard & Castle Hill Cider

Following our Sweely stop we headed over the rolling hills to Keswick Vineyards. For some reason I envisioned Keswick to have a very large tasting room, when in reality it's a very cozy bar and a great porch complete with rocking chairs and blankets.  Our host was Dennis and he did a wonderful job explaining the wines and exhibiting great patience with us! A member of our group who shall remain unnamed found the mirror to be the most fascinating part of the tasting. It is a great mirror with the vineyard etched into it, but the earlier tastings may have influenced this photographer to get the perfect reflection picture.

The tasting consisted of 5 wines, 1 white and 4 reds for $5. The heavy favorite was the 2010 Chambourcin with the 2010 Touriga not far behind. I love the juiciness of the Chambourcin, the Touriga was little too dry for my taste, but those who like the Malbec will probably find it enjoyable. Their 2009 Merlot grown onsite follows with a kick as one can taste the alcohol more than in the other wines. We enjoyed a glass out on the porch with the rocking chairs and setting sun which would have been a great finish to the day had we not learned about a new cider house just down the road. 

We were cutting it close to closing time, but we wanted to try the cider so we hustled over to Castle Hill Cider. Walking away from Castle Hill with the better part of a case, we were glad we made it over there. They have 4 ciders for $5 (glass included), three sparkling and one still. The tasting room is in a section of the big barn, very warm with wood paneled walls and deep red leather couches, there may have even been a fire in the fireplace downstairs when we arrived. 

Terrestrial, Levity, Celestial and Gravity are the earthy (or atmospheric?) names of their ciders. The Terrestrial and Celestial were our favorites with the latter tasting more similarly to a champagne. The Levity was a bit drier and the Gravity was the still cider. The tasting didn't take long and is well worth the visit to try something a little different in Charlottesville's wine country! 
The Mirror, my unperfected shot
The Castle Hill Cider barn
The upstairs sitting room, very similar to the main floor by the bar

Friday, November 25, 2011

Old Meets New at Sweely Estate Winery

After our visit to Prince Michel we continued on our journey south to Sweely Estate Winery, where I must thank Erich for taking care of a fellow Coug (a Washington State University Coug that is). I had heard some mixed reviews on Sweely, which may soon have a new name, but we were very glad we made it a point to visit. It just goes to show that the differences in palate and opinion is what makes life interesting.

Even though the tasting room is large and airy we almost had a sense that we were walking into a private residence since the bar is behind a large fireplace in the back third of the cavernous space. Our server was friendly and knowledgeable as we tried their 7 wines. Of the four whites and 3 reds the 2007 Sweely Estate Cabernet Franc came out a strong favorite among the group. I also enjoyed their 2007 Wolftown Chardonnay which was their steel aged blend with 25% vidal.

As we wrapped up our tasting we had the pleasure to meet Peter, their relatively new CEO, and Franz, the winemaker. Peter gave us a great tour of the property, where we got to see some vines getting pulled out so they can rearrange where they plant the different grapes. Franz walked us through their wine making process in their very large, clean tank room. I find it so interesting to see how slightly different each winemaker chooses to make their wines or with varying degrees of technology.  We lucked out and Franz gave us a sneak peak at their 2011 Pinot Gris which was a big hit, they'll be bottling it come spring and it's worth the trek! It had hints of pear and banana, but not too sweet.

This November has been incredible and the day we were out at Sweely was no exception. It was a little windy, but they sky was a clear blue and the sun was shining bright. It made for the perfect backdrop when Peter took us to the old barn on the property, historians have dated it between the late 1700s and 1800s and its a really great old structure especially next to their modern, yet rustic tasting room. The winery is well equipped for large events as well and as it is just off the main highways, tucked back against the mountains for great views. Our visit was peaceful, informative and leisurely, just the way I like my winery visits to be!
Sweeping views
The "Weekenders" with the historic barn
Lori blending in with the foliage on the back patio
Uprooting vines, credit Scott Spencer
The Tank Room, credit Scott Spencer
The soon to be renovated tasting room, credit Scott Spencer

Pit Stop or Wine Stop: Prince Michel Winery

Today I'm trying something new. I'm not writing in my living room or a coffee shop as it usually happens; today I'm writing from a vineyard, Pearmund Cellars actually. It's a spectacular day in November and my plans changed after I finished my late morning run so left the city behind for my favorite place when I need some fresh air. They have a great porch with a view of the vines, more about that later, its time for me to catch up on some past adventures!

Entering the month of November with not one, but two four day weekends it was prime time plan a wine weekend. There are so many down in Charlottesville that I wanted to visit that the votes were unanimous to spend the night down there. I found a decent cabin down at Shenandoah Crossing, booked it and off we went on Veteran's Day weekend. My goal was 4-5 vineyards, a cider house and a brewery in two days. Ambitious? Perhaps.

Our first stop was Prince Michel Vineyard right off 29 south. I included this in the itinerary since we always pass it when heading south and by the time it creeps up on you and you consider stopping you are already 10 miles down the road. This tasting room reminded us a lot of Horton's. They had A LOT of wine accessories and a lot of non-wine accessories. It was very glittery. We walked away with a "redneck" wine glass (a mason jar with a stem) and a donkey dressed as a sheriff on his back that serves as a wine holder (a gift for a friend).  For $5 we were able to sample 15 of their 25 wines. With that many you'd be hard pressed not to find a couple that went down easy. I walked away with a bottle of their Dry Riesling which wasn't as sweet as a typical riesling. We also liked their 2008 Barrel Select Chardonnay, 2005 Mountain View Cab Franc which was much more of a Cab Franc than what we had at Capital Vineyards. They had several sweet wines and liked the Sweet White Reserve and Sweet Red Reserve the best of the bunch agreeing that they'd both be great over fruit. The group consensus was that this vineyard is a great detour as opposed to your final destination.  The staff was relaxed and friendly, the wines were alright, but the environment encourages a stop in and go as opposed to a long leisurely visit.  If you're curious, definitely stop in, its $5 and you won't lose anything but a few miles en route to your final destination.
Warming up our palates, photo credit Debbie Nip

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Orchards & Vineyards, Oh My!

While my apple spice cake bakes I think its the perfect time to summarize last weekends trip to Stribling Orchard in Markham. Thank you Lori for getting me out the door to do the apple picking I had intended a few weeks before. Getting out to Markham was a chore, there was construction in DC, then Rock Creek Parkway was closed, then 495 was closed off of 66 causing major delays. Yuck! Once we got out of that bottleneck it was smooth sailing and the changing foliage was gorgeous. I just love getting outside the beltway to the fresh air. I suppose I could move out that way, but I'm not ready to endure that painful commute daily.

We both had a good time picking apples, however Lori insisted on gather as many different types that she could find which meant wandering around the very picked over trees with apples souring on the ground around them. Ok, fine. We did that for a bit, then it was off to this side of the orchard, then the other! She ended up with 20 lbs and I finished with 12 lbs. Not bad for a leisurely hour and a half. I was a little bummed that they were cleaned out of pumpkins.  After finishing and picking up some apple treats we were ready for lunch and wine. Lunch seemed harder to come by than wine so we were off for the latter. We were very close to Barrel Oak and I had some free tasting coupons, but Lori suggested checking out Philip Carter Winery.

The winery was just a few miles down the road, set back against the hills. It was beautiful to approach. It was also just as busy as the orchard. There were families picnicking outside on the lovely patio. It was a perfect day. There was quite a wait to get to one of the two tasting bars. After waiting for about 10 minutes one group was escorted to a one bar, while we continued to wait. I was bit disappointed since the hostess didn't acknowledge us or the other folks waiting, not even to tell us it was busy, she'd be right with us or there'd be a bit of wait. Eventually they set up an additional table for a tasting where we were set up with some other tasters. I must say our server saved the day. He was knowledgeable, engaging and entertaining. He chatted about the history of Virginia wine, told us how they had lost one of their grapes completely with all the recent rain we had gotten.

For such a large vineyard I expected them to have more than four wines (for $4), but with only 10 of their 27 acres in production that's what is yielded. We had the '10 Vidal Blanc a sweet, easy to drink white; '10 Chardonnay which tasted a lot like buttered popcorn. The reds were the '10 Cabernet Franc which wasn't too dry and lightly peppery, then the '09 Cleve a blend of cab franc, cab sav and petite verdot and that was a bit tart. They were all average wines, I think I liked the Cab Franc best and Lori favored the Vidal Blanc. Instead of enjoying the view we were still famished and headed to Flint Hall for lunch, which as the closest place was about 20 miles down the road. En route we passed the infamous Oasis Winery, Desert Rose and Berry Hill. We didn't end up stopping at any of those as we needed to get back to the city in time for dinner. It was a lovely day once the sun finally came out and as Philip Carter is very dog and kid friendly, I'd recommend it to families who want to let the kids roam outside while relaxing, but don't forget to bring snacks!
Stribling Orchard
Reaching! Gorgeous Foliage! 
Presses like this are still used in Eastern Europe for house wine
Breathtaking views

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Capitol Vineyards: October 9, 2011

We decided to see if we could fit one more vineyard in after Apsen Dale. Capitol Vineyards was close and relatively new so we made it our target. Side note: the former English teacher in me just noticed this is "capitol" with an "o" rather an "a" and that seems off since it is near the "capital" city, but I guess they want to refer to the actual "capitol" building.

Anyways, moving along. This place would be very easy to miss, they usually keep an "open" flag on a near by tree as the small, white tasting room is just around the bend. Its a very modest structure and they had been hit by the crazy stinkbugs too, but at least the ones at Capitol were more sedated and not flying in your face. We met the proprietress who seem very tired, it was about 5 and closing time is 6, but they had a Living Social deal that expired that day so she had been slammed. It wasn't until we were getting ready to taste here, that I realized how much more my friends had drank than me-I had 2 glasses, lots of bread and cheese, while they polished off at least 3 bottles in the course of 4 hours. Maybe 2 stops would have been enough that day. Alas we were already there so we tasted their 5 wines, 1 white and 4 reds: Traminette, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot & Meritage. Our favorites were the Cab Sav and Cab Franc. I think we may have each taken a bottle of the former home. When looking at the wines, you will notice their labels, drawn by the owner's former roommate they each feature the capitol building and a character indicative of DC, the Traminette looks like an intern, there is a military officer, professional (fed?) woman, professional (lobbiest?) man, and a student.  Most of the grapes for their wines have been grown in Charlottesville, but they are starting to grow some on the property surrounding the tasting room.

If planning a trip here, there isn't a lot of space to sit and enjoy a glass. There are some couches and chairs on the narrow porch and that is about it and the only restroom is a port-o-potty out back. I wanted to stay away from the bugs so we wandered across the property to a grassy spot where we settled down for a bit. It was cool and the air smelled so sweet. Its obvious that this is a young vineyard, still trying to get a firm hold on the business demands, but their wines were plesant so if you are in the Markham/Delaplane area I'd recommend stopping in for a quick visit.  Now, today, I'm off to head back in the Markham direction to hopefully get into those orchards I missed on the 9th!
The decorative lables
Views of the vines & tasting room from our grassy spot

Taking in a Shenandoah sunset

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Aspen Dale Winery: October 9, 2011

After Naked Mountain I was ready for anything and the next stop "Aspen Dale Winery at the Barn" looked like it would be an adventure. Considering its name, its website featuring lots of horses and graphics that are a bit of an eyesore I was assuming this would be a very rustic experience much like our trip to Autumn Hill. It was anything but! When you pull up it looks like an unassuming barn and the entryway is a little crowded with a wrought iron staircase directly in front of you, instead of passing it was walked to the left and found the kitchen-oops! A quick corrective turn and we were promptly greeted by a host who ushered us to a server with a smile. How refreshing, and even more so because there were no stink bugs to be found!

I didn't catch our server's name, but she was very friendly and while she explained to us that at Aspen Dale they include pairings I was enthralled with the bar. It was made of weathered wood and stones, but so nicely laid, it was modern, yet rugged. Loved it! The four of us stepped up to the bar and each had a perfect pairing tray complete with 3 pieces of pheasant sausage (1 plain, 1 jalapeno, 1 cheddar), chevre, derby sage, brie, dark chocolate and white chocolate. Just as our tasting began a local musician started to play & sing his acoustic tunes for some great ambiance. We sampled six wines for $7 and the hands down favorite was the 2007 Rockawalkin Cab Sav, maybe it was the name, maybe it was the fact that there were limited bottles left or maybe it was just good wine! The next favorite was the 2010 Hildersham Sauvignon Blanc and another white so new its not on their website and sadly I cannot track down my tasting sheet with notes. They also served a merlot called the Parris County Blend which was decent, just not as good as the Rockawalkin along with 2 semisweet wines. While tasting we all fell in love with the derby sage cheese from England, our server told us since they started serving it there have been so many requests for Harris Teeter in Northern Virginia now carries it. I can personally verify that the HT in Pentagon City does have it with some other varieties because I bought some last week. Yum!

Our tasting here was great, such an improvement to be at a spacious, lovely bar with an engaging hostess. She told us all about their "Stable Club Membership" that includes access to box seats to the polo matches they host along with all the wine discounts. A polo club at a winery?! I guess that's why its at the barn. After we decided on a bottle we headed outside to the gorgeous day and found a perfect veranda seat. We had a great view of the property including a fountain and barns with a horse and pony wandering around. Dan and I could not resist petting the miniature pony, he was just so cute and tiny! We relaxed on the veranda for several hours and (3-4 bottles) as Jill & Brad joined our party. The wines were good and the ambiance was great, Aspen Dale has definitely snatched a top spot on my list of favorite and must see vineyards!
Scott getting settled & unwrapping the prepped pairings
Up close & personal with the stylish bar

The adorable pony tried to eat my scarf! 
Barnyard views
Our perfect veranda

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

47 Words for Regional Wine Week: Virginia's Viognier

Me and white, we were never tight. Too light, too sweet, too sour. Then I found Virginia and Viognier.  Never thought there would be a day when I found a white with such bite.  Solid, strong and spicy at its best, come south and try it out!

For additional information on the 47 Words competition for Regional Wine Week check out Drink Local Wine.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Naked Mountain Winery: October 9, 2011

The plan for the day began with 2 wineries and an orchard so how, during the course of the day that changed to 3 vineyards and no orchards, even though we drove past both Stribling and Hartland Orchards. I’m not exactly sure. I really want to go back down to Charlottesville, but with all the travel I've been doing lately we decided to just head west down 66 to the Fauquier County vineyards. 

Our first stop was Naked Mountain Winery, I had heard from a few friends that they had good wine and a good time there, with a fun name it sounded like a good first stop. We arrived around noon to find a bustling, crowded bar where friendly neighbors scooted down to make room for our party of 4. Our server didn’t offer an introduction or welcome to the vineyard besides clarifying that the standard tasting was $5 for 5 wines or $10 to add in the 3 reserve wines, after that she didn't really speak to us again. We chose the reserve tasting and to be fair to the server let the record show that after a Saturday night Spanish wine party followed by a brutal football game that didn’t end until after 1:00am I was still trying to turn on my social, engaging side when we started this tasting so I really didn’t ask any questions of our server to draw her out. She was also serving the group next to us which is totally normal, but we were waiting quite awhile between pours until they left, then it seemed she couldn’t get us out of their soon enough and poured way to fast I had to gulp my wine down to keep up. Not fun. 

The group consensus was positive on the 2007 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay so we took a bottle out to the deck that did have some great views. Upon exiting we noticed several (40-50) dead stink bugs on the deck. While the pouring was slow we had noticed them on the inside of the windows as well as several gnats, but didn't pay them much attention. I’m an out-doorsy person and didn’t think much of the bugs-at first.  After sitting for a few sips they started swarming us, landing in our hair, on our shirts, on wine glasses, hitting us in the face! We were constantly swatting them away so I scoped the other side of their deck and was about to tell the group to move over there until I noticed them under the shade umbrellas and one ran right into my neck, startling me so bad I jumped and spilled my wine. I’d had enough and we moved inside to finish our bottle & cheese platter. We sipped and skipped buying additional bottles.  The 2007 Barrel Fermented chardonnay was the group favorite, although I found it a bit sweet, I did enjoy the 2007 Raptor Red from the reserve list and the 2006 Scarlet Oak Red though not enough to take a bottle home. I know the stink bugs are seasonal, but they really did make for an awful experience; combine them with the mediocre wine & service I was left with little to no desire to return in the future. It was the first stop and the next stop couldn't be any worse right?
The group with bottle #1 post indoor migration

Porch views, fall colors slipping in

Thursday, October 6, 2011

New Belgium Brewery: September 30 2011

Tell me this doesn't take your breath away
Colorado is gorgeous! Breathtaking, stunning, marvelous. Full of jutting peaks & glimmering aspens below the most beautiful rich blue sky. For five glorious days I was able to relax with great friends, hike north of Nederland & in Morrissette (Red Rocks), see some elk about 10 feet from us, catch the WSU win over CU in Boulder-welcome to the Pac-12 kids!-soak my tired limbs in hot tubs with mountain views and enjoy some quality, local beer.

Did you know that September is actually the month that Oktoberfest celebrations begin in Germany?  In honor of that celebration and my affection for a quality brew I toured the very eco-friendly New Belgium Brewing in Fort Collins, Colorado. Yes, the Great American Beer Festival was going on simultaneously in Denver, but that sold out over the summer long before my plans for Colorado were finalized. Denver is full of breweries, but I picked the one about an hour north. I really didn't know how far north it was until we were finalizing the logistics, oops!

3-D logo display
A bustling bar room & patio with bikes lining the entrance lead to our free 90 minute tour that was loaded with some great samples. Our tour guide was great, he just spoke a little fast and at +5000 feet the beer may have gone a bit to my head so I may not remember everything we sipped. Our tour started behind the bar where we received the history of New Belgium (beer #1). We then went upstairs where we learned about their brewing techniques that conserve 30% more water than similar breweries (beer #2 pour your own, I picked 1554 black ale 5.6% abv which was my favorite). Next stop was downstairs to learn about ingredients and their energy conservation, they capture and burn their methane onsite for a percentage of their energy.

We wandered outside to see their property and watched out for bikers & subarus till we got to the bottling plant (beer #3, that was bottled about 30 minutes before we drank it). Next stop the giant barrels next to the climbing wall (Mike was distracted by the wall!) & a history lesson on taking old wine barrels for beer storage, but the wood allows air in which changes the taste of the beer (beer #4, Clutch, a sour ale 9% abv & my second fav).  Wrapping up the tour we took a slide down to the tasting room and enjoyed a couple more complimentary 4-6oz samples like the Mothership Wit & Hoptober.  We had a great time and most of the staff was friendly; my only recommendation if going is plan plenty of time to get to the brewery, pad your trip with many photo-op stops! If you are late the snappy girl on the phone says they won't wait for you, luckily we got them to bend a little for us given we told them how long the trek out there was for me.
Mosaics beautifying the brewing

Matt getting his pour on

Saturday, September 10, 2011

First Colony Winery: August 20, 2011 (part 3 of 3)

After our quick trip to Jefferson we intended to head north to Keswick, unfortunately their tasting room closes at 5 and it was already after 4, realizing it was several winding roads to get there we quickly checked our maps for close vineyards and found First Colony Winery. I'd never heard of First Colony before but we made our way down the winding dirt road to find it backed right into the woods. It was very quiet there, only one other group was tasting when we got there. For $5 we sampled 8 wines, my favorites being the 2008 Merlot and the 2009 Chardonnay Reserve. Not sure what it is, but Charlottesville soil must do great things to those grapes as they were consistently my favorite wines and they are most typically my least favorites elsewhere.  They also carried some sweet wines: Sweet Shanando 3% rs that wasn't too sweet for me, Claret 3% rs that had a nose like a port but wasn't as smooth sipping and a 2007 "1607" Red Dessert Wine 3% rs fortified with brandy that made it very sweet and strong.

The small staff of 2 at First Colony, were quiet and seemed shy at first but became more engaging as our visit lengthened. They gave us some maps of downtown Charlottesville and suggested some dinner spots before closing up for the night, leaving us on the back deck to enjoy the evening with our wine.  The back deck was very surrounded by woods, more dense than the usual Virginia kind that reminded me of being in the mountains of Idaho or Northern California. It was a nice peaceful evening and after we finished enjoying the quiet we took the recommendation to try Shebeen, a South African restaurant. It was amazing! We loved it! It was just across the street from the Omni and the downtown mall. After dinner we meandered the mall, saw some interesting art display with live moths and caught a few songs by Dave Matthews carried out from the amphitheater.  It was a perfect way to close our long day.
2008 Merlot, juicy with a raspberry nose
Back porch views

Harvest prep

Monday, September 5, 2011

Jefferson Vineyards: August 20, 2011 (part 2 of 3)

After enjoying our lunch at Blenheim our plan was to head to Jefferson then Keswick, well we made it to Jefferson Vineyards as it was just around the bend. Since it was just after 3:00pm and we were on a mission to hit 3 vineyards we sipped more quickly than I like to while at Jefferson. The tasting room is just off the highway and has a large deck out front, but it had more of an urban feel than most porches I've visited.  It was quite busy when we did arrive at Jefferson and we had to squeeze up to the bar. Our server was much livelier than our server at Blenheim which was a relief, but I got the impression he was new to the wine industry-maybe weekend help. We enjoyed almost all the wines we had, my favorites were the lighter tasting Vin Rouge, the juicy 2008 Merlot and the 2009 Johannisberg Riesling with 1.5% rs. Jefferson also upped the ante on Blenheim with the elegant glasses they included with their tastings. In our short visit we were pleased with the wine and service, (Debbie picked up some bottles for the road), but I can't say that anything about Jefferson stood out to me as particularly notable nor was there anything negative to stay about the establishment. I blame this on my own rushed agenda thanks to the morning traffic. If you are looking for good wine at a convenient location, this place is for you.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Blenheim Vineyards: August 20, 2011 (part 1 of 3)

I had planned to add this summary last week, but alas we had an earthquake followed by a hurricane/tropical storm. All is settled and as back to normal, for now.

Last Saturday Debbie and I had high hopes for a full day in Charlottesville; we had a full day alright, just not as full of relaxing vineyards as we had hoped. I was partially the idiot who thought 66 would be worse than 95 on a summer Saturday, big mistake. We spent over 2 hours going 8 miles and finally got off on to Route 1 at Stafford, from 1 we hit 3 and then it was smooth sailing, but it still took us 4 hours to get from DC to our first stop, Blenheim Vineyards, also known as Dave Matthews' vineyard, of yes, the Dave Matthews Band. I read Wine About Virginia's reviews that said to avoid concert weekends, but I might be a little bit of a fan. As in Under the Table and Dreaming was my first CD and I may have seen him live at no less than 4 venues.

As a concert weekend the vineyard was bustling, but they were prepared for it with extra tents and tables set up. We walked up to a table where the server had just finished serving a group and with just two of us conversation looked promising. I didn't want to drop all kinds of "Dave" questions since I figured they heard enough of that so naturally I asked about the wine. I asked our server how long she'd been there. I asked about the age of the vineyard. Their most popular wine. The wine club. Nothing. I repeat nothing could draw this woman out to tell us anything besides one word answers and she'd been there for over 3 years! I get that it was probably a busy day and we got there around 1pm, but she didn't even try to sell me on the wine club. Over the course of my interrogation we sipped on 6 wines for $5 and got to keep a nice glass, love the logo on the base. I was disappointed with the conversation, but not with my glasses. Dave must be doing something right, because the girl who doesn't like Chardonnay bought a bottle of his 2010 oak aged and sipped a cool glass on his porch with a stunning view. My second favorite was the 2010 Syrah, another wine I don't usually like. I found the 2001 Merlot too dry, the 2009 Chardonnay oakier and spicier while the 2010 Viognier was mild and average perhaps the white equivalent of their Red Table Wine blend.

We took our glasses to the porch off the back side of the tasting room to relax with some great sandwiches they were selling (turkey, brie & cranberry yum!).  Disappointed with our server (other staff members seemed  friendlier), but impressed with what we tasted, I would like to go back on a concert free weekend. After all there were no Dave sightings and we didn't win the ticket give away...although we did get to catch some songs on the Charlottesville Mall later that evening.

Vast vines and red, red dirt
Porch views
The tasting room: crisp & clean, light & airy
Wholesome Goodness!