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