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