Sensationalist headline, for sure – and not all of the wines I’m going to talk about today were boozy. And they didn’t really best the biggest boys, if by big boy we (and by “we” I really mean “me”) are talking about the best wines of the Lake County Wine Awards (more on those next week) . But certainly consonance counts (see what I did there?) for something, right?
For those of you who, like me, basically had zero clue as to how a professional wine competition operates, I offer the following “insider” thoughts on what I found to be a peculiar aspect during my judging of the 2011 Lake County Wine Awards in July – namely, the Sweepstakes Round that pitted the Best Of Class winners against each other in a battle for LC bragging rights. Sounds like something Bob Barker would introduce, doesn’t it… Hey Lake County BOCs… Come ON DOWN!!
Let’s talk about how these wine judging competitions work, what the Sweepstakes stuff actually means, and the (very!) surprising results of the clash between the Best Of Class LCWA competitors…
Which is why meeting winemakers like Kirsty Harmon is more refreshing than a chilled Monticello Viognier on a steamy Virginia Summer Sunday. She’s the kind of person who, through their laser-like determination, make me eat my own virtual words!
Harmon is the driving force behind the wines of Virginia producer Blenheim Vineyards – a short, wavy-haired whirling dervish of a woman whose freckles belie a winemaking stance that is supremely mature in its simplicity: make wines for now, that are true to place, and make them as delicious as possible.
“I’m not a very patient person,” she told me when I (and several other wine bloggers) visited Blenheim as during the producer visits that were part of the recent 2011 Wine Bloggers Conference in Charlottesville. “I try to make wines that are balanced and ready to go right out of the bottle.”
Focus is the friend of the emerging-region winemaker, as is talent. Harmon has both, and Right Coast wine producers would do well to focus on her… well, her focus.“Yummy” is usually a terrible descriptor to bandy about when you’re trying to relay the essence of a wine to someone else, but in the case of Blenheim’s bottlings the word just fits. Harmon makes yummy wines, and she makes them from several varieties – Syrah (peppery and bright), Chardonnay (peachy and solid), Viognier (floral and elegant), Merlot (herbal and hefty) and Cabernet Sauvignon (tangy and minty), to name a few – without any of them sucking…
Thomas Jefferson had a strong love of wine (and beer), an historical tidbit that seems to have glued itself with more stickiness than an Rutherglen Muscat to our collective national legacy of our third President, right up their with tales of his intelligence, his elegant correspondences, and the fact that he finally checked-out on July 4th – U.S. Independence Day – in his eighties (and up to his eyeballs in debt).
Less well-known is that Jefferson touted Scuppernong as the next big thing in American winemaking, telling Washington Judge William Johnson in 1817 that it “would be distinguished on the best tables of Europe for its fine aroma, and chrystalline [sic] transparence.”
It seems ol’ T.J., in focusing on potential, lacked first president George Washington’s uncanny ability to see things for how they really were (at least when it comes to vino). Because Scuppernong wine is like… well, let’s just say we can poke fun at most Scuppernong because it’s Scuppernong.
Given the beauty of Jefferson’s Monticello estate, which was on full display (along with, less romantically, the oppressive Northern VA heat & humidity combo) at a mass-tasting of Virginian wines held there during the recent 2011 Wine Bloggers Conference, one might forgive T.J. for erring on the side of vinous over-optimism.
Given what I tasted that evening (even despite the mile-wide-inch-deep approach that is the bane of any grand tasting), the Virginia wine industry might be forgiven the odd bout of over-optimism as well, because the winemaking situation there is clearly on the right track, if not quite yet delivering fully on its promise as the next big thing in American wine.
Ahh, T.J…. you were only off by about 194 years! But you were a total Mac Daddy with the WBC11 ladies (see inset pic for photographic proof), so maybe we shouldn’t hold it against you.
Anyway… let’s talk about what went well in Virginia, vinously-speaking, of course!…
During my March jaunt to South America, I spent my birthday at the Santiago home of Derek Mossman, the man behind Chile’s Garage Wine Co. and iconoclastic director of MOVI (Movimiento de Viñateros Independientes, or “Movement of Independent Vintners”).
Think of them as the collective vinous mice, who are making tiny amounts of hand-crafted wines and are roaring at the Chile’s modern winemaking industrial lions in an area dominated by a (very) small amount of (very) big players who make (very) massive quantities of wine. They count among their ranks a Swiss lawyer, a French photographer, a former submarine maker and a Scottish miner – not exactly your typical band of Chilean winemaking bothers (or sisters).
MOVI have been making a splash lately, releasing wines that are garnering increasing amounts of critical acclaim (guilty! – see my faves below after the jump) and news coverage. In the long-overdue return of 1WineDude Radio podcasts, I talk to Derek about where MOVI sits in the grand scheme of the Chilean wine industry, the over-oaking to hell of wines generally, what makes truly authentic wine, and whether or not MOVI is achieving its vision of “effort and dreams put into the bottle.” Trust me, this guys is good for a controversial quote… or two (or ten). Enjoy!
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