Sunday, September 30, 2012

A Breezy Summer Day: Brightwood Vineyard & Farm

In August Megan was in town and it had been too long since I had last visited the Charlottesville vineyards, so we made that our destination. We decided to start the day at Brightwood Vineyard & Farm, a micro winery that  is only open a couple of weekends a year which also promised sightings of baby animals. We were excited for wine, but a bit more so for the baby animals! Upon our arrival we were greeted by one of the 3 farm dogs and a couple of seasonal interns. The interns showed us around the farm where we did get to mingle with donkeys, see some lambs from afar and see lots of chicks and ducks around.

Enjoying the day
After checking out the animals we met Dean, the owner and winemaker at Brightwood. Dean and his wife are very focused on the farming aspect of their business selling in the Charlottesville and Madison farmers markets weekly, while the wine making is Dean's passion on the side. The tasting area, a barrel for the wines and a table for us to sit at was set up in the shade of the trees with a great view of the countryside. Dean produces all of his wines from fruit, none being grapes! He is very passionate about his Elderberry plants and makes both Elderberry and Elderflower wines. We tried his dry and sweet versions of the Elderberry and 3 versions of the Elderflower. The Elderflower has been done in a sweet, dry and reserve. Its is also quite a contrast to the berry version. My favorite was actually the Elderberry sweet wine. It was so interesting the difference in flavor the berry and flower had.  In addition to the wines, Dean makes a British inspired non-alcoholic Elderflower Cordial. The cordial is a concentrate that you mix with a little bit of soda water and it is so refreshing. Megan walked away with a few bottles of that.

Making farm friends
We weren't done with the Elderberry wines, we then moved to a couple other fruits. There was a nice light pear wine and a more distinctive peach wine, which we were informed engaged in a "violent fermentation," which helped it pack its punch. As we sipped and chatted with Dean we also tried his wife's Elderberry pie, as well as their Elderberry and Elderflower jams. We had a great time learning about the farm and enjoying the ambiance of the farm. If you can't make it to one of Brightwood's open weekends I'd definitely recommend finding them at the Charlottesville farmers market and picking up some of their delicious creations! 

Friday, September 7, 2012

Casanel Vineyards

Back porch views
After The Barns we made our way over to Casanel Vineyards on Fred of This is Wine's recommendation and barely missed a summer down pour. Casanel was a cozier stop, partially because it was raining, partially because it was a smaller space with its pre-1820 walls and partially because we were in the company of the proprietors, the DeSouza family. We chatted with the family a bit about the changes they are making and how more vineyards in the area may seem like more competition, but in reality it brings out more guests seeking a wine stop.

We tried 7 wines: 2009 Viognier "Mas Que Nada," 2009 Chardonnay "Mas Que Nada," and the 2010 Don Lorenzo's White a Pinot Gris and Chardonnay blend with 1% rs and 14% alcohol as well as the 2009 Late Harvest Viognier. Surprisingly I enjoyed the Chardonnay over the Viognier here, but on the sweet side I'd pick the Late Harvest over the Don. The 2011 Norton Rose was very good and I'm not really a fan of the Norton. On the reds there was a 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon and a 2008 Merlot. Also a surprise, I enjoyed the Merlot more than the Cab Sav. The Merlot did have 8% Petit Verdot, perhaps that made the difference.

After tasting we all picked up bottles and glasses and went down stairs to enjoy snacks and pizza. Casanel has an out door pizza oven and its too bad it rained because they have a new patio and often times live music outside too. This was obviously a family team operations with both of the DeSouza daughters behind the bar working hard in this Civil War era property. If looking for a quiet and quaint spot off the highway, this could be it.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Virginia Wine Crew Hits Hamilton Station

It seems as though at least 10 new wineries have opened up in Northern Virginia this year. Kurt & Carol of Wine About Virginia (or maybe it was mostly Kurt) coordinated a visit to The Barns at Hamilton Station Vineyards on their opening weekend for a sizable group.  There was a solid showing of Virginia Wine bloggers & enthusiasts including Anthony of Virginia Pour House, Dr. Schiller of Schiller Wine, Paul & Warren of Virginia Wine Time, Kristi of Cellar Blog, Fred of This is Wine, "Loco Wino" of Wines in a Can, Stacy of Virginia Wine Know and a few friends some have been calling the "Virginia Wine Mafia." We had a great time mingling, tasting and touring the 102 year old barn and property.

Formerly a dairy farm, the milking barn is now home to the tasting room in which you can see the original stone foundation while tasting in the basement. Most of the materials used, like the license plates covering floor board holes and medicine bottle vases, were repurposed materials found in the barns. From an environmental standpoint they did a great job maintaining the original property and making use of as much of the materials found on site that they could. (Including the tables from salvaged wood.)

We tried 7 wines for $5 and all were 2011 vintages. While we were there they were pouring a Chardonnay, Viognier, Rose, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and a Meritage. With such a large group there was something for everyone. My favorites were the Viognier which is currently sourced from Charlottesville as they are still developing some of the land; the Rose from Cab Franc which was 8 months young had a strawberry nose but a peppery bite; and the Cabernet France which has 10% Chambourcin blended in to soften it a bit. 

We wandered around the entire property and enjoyed the wines as well as the views. The guys were also happy to hear that a cigar room was being installed in the former milk storage shed, it will double as the grooms quarters for onsite weddings. I think we all had a very good visit and near Leesburg it's not far from several other wineries which led of few of us to continue our journey over at Casanel Vineyards

Monday, September 3, 2012

Crossing County Lines

I cannot believe it's September! Way back in July, Kurt & Carol of Wine About Virginia, Anthony of Virginia Pour House, and I headed out for a day of tastings in Rapppanhannock County but found ourselves wandering to Fauquier and even up into Loudoun County. For the most part the day was a great success.

Chester Gap in the Blue Ridge Mts
We started with the most western stop of the day, Chester Gap Cellars in Front Royal. Its a drive out there, but it was so worth it. The tasting room is modest, decorated with local wild flowers and protected by a large black dog, Demon, but let that deter you, he's fenced in. We tasted 2 Viogniers, both from 2010 one steel aged and the other French oak aged. Viognier is my favorite white and one that convinced me to give other whites a second chance. These two Viogniers are a great example of how the barrels affect the outcome of the wine. The first, aged in steel, was crisp and light while the second, aged in oak, was creamier more full bodied with a hint of oak and peach. They were both great and that was just the beginning of our tasting. We also sampled a 2009 Merlot, 2009 Vintner's Red (53% Cab Franc, 27% Merlot & 20% Petit Verdot), 2010 Petit Manseng (5.5% rs), 2009 Petit Verdot, and a 2010 Roussane. While I enjoyed all of the wines my other favorite here was the 2010 Petit Mansang and while I'm not much of a sweet wine connoisseur, this was soft and not syrupy with a nice pineapple aroma. 

Sitting & Sipping
Next up was Rappahannock Cellars, this was one of my first visits back in 2007, five years later I can say the wine has definitely matured. We were seated for our tasting that began with the 2011 Rose, a blend of Cab Franc, Merlot & Cab Sav, it was light and a bit fruity, a summer wine for sure. We moved to the 2011 Noblesse Blanc a white blend that with only 1% was still a bit sweet for me. After there was no denying that the 2010 Chardonnay was aged in oak barrels, it was rich and buttery almost like buttered popcorn. Moving to the reds we tried the 2011 Noblese Rouge, a dry but smooth red blend, and the dry 2010 Merlot. Finally we finished with the 2008 Vidal Blanc, a sweet wine that I enjoyed more than the Noblesse Blanc. My overall favorites were the two reds and the four of us opted for a bottle of the Rose to enjoy over lunch. 

To Hume Tastings
Kurt & Carol wanted to make it to one more before they had to leave Anthony and me for a prior engagement so we headed to Hume Vineyards.  Younger than than Chester Gap and Rappannock its only two years old in a cute old barn, however I think the wines will improve with age as they were mostly 2011 vintages that we tried. We tried the 2011 Seyval Blanc, 2011 Viognier, 2011 Rose, 2011 Chamborcin, 2009 Detour (Bordeaux-style blend) and the 2011 Vendage Tardive. I think the overall favorite of the group was the 2011 Vendage Tardive, a late harvest Vidal Blanc with 5% rs. This was a quick stop and after Kurt & Carol left, Anthony and I were stumped on where to go next. After check the map and not wanting to double back to any recent vineyard visits we decided on heading north to Chrysalis Vineyards

Glen working hard! 
I have to say Chrysalis was one of the most entertaining vineyards visits! Our server Glen was a riot! It seemed to be a busy day out there and he was pouring 12 wines (for $10) outside for about 15 people in the July heat and he'd only just arrived to Virginia from France about 3 weeks before.  He kept his cool and had the group laughing the entire time, with phrases like "no strawberries were sacrificed for the production of this wine," in reference to the 2011 Mariposa that really tastes like strawberry wine! While still managing to make it around the bar to serve everyone in a timely manner. Since we tried 12 wines there was everything on the list from Albarino to Norton, with a few blends in between. The whites were a bit younger than than the reds ranging from 2011-2007.  My favorite wines at this stop were the 2010 Sarah's Patio White, a Vidal Blanc & Traminette blend, the 2009 Rubiana which had black pepper notes in this drier red and the 2009 Norton Locksley Reserve, a bold red with a great velvety nose of oak. 

Boxwood tasting room
The last stop of the day was at Boxwood Estate Winery in Middleburg at the vineyards and home of the glass enclosed "wine cave." We sat outside at a shaded picnic table, but it was still a pretty hot day. Here we sampled 5 wines, all blends: 2011 Rose (46% Merlot, 35% Cab Franc & 19% Malbec), 2010 Boxwood Estate Trellis (68% Merlot, 18% Malbec & 14% Petit Verdot) the Merlot really shines through on this one, 2010 Topiary (61% Cab Franc & 39% Merlot), 2010 Boxwood (50% Cab Sav, 43% Merlot, 7% Peitit Verdot) and the 2009 Topiary (64% Cab Franc, 35% Merlot, 1% Malbec). They were all decent, but my favorite was the 2009 Topiary, the 2010 was slightly more fruit forward than the 2009. Overall we had a long, but adventurous day winding through wine country. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday at all!