Articles Tagged Virginia wine
I am not a fan of small producers in emerging wine regions bottling and selling a large array of varietal wines; almost everyone loves having choices, but too often the cumulative result in this case ends up feeling like a Zinfandel that’s been watered-down in a feeble attempt to get it under 16% abv – a diluted mess with a lack of focus (with even the worst results being pawned off at inflated prices to unsuspecting tasting room visitors).
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…
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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!…
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This week marks the kick-off of the 4th annual North American Wine Bloggers Conference, held (for the first time in its history) on the Right Coast (Charlottesville, VA, to be exact). And I’m excited to be attending for the fourth time.
I’m excited to see old friends. I’m excited by the fact that this year’s conference is on the East Coast. I’m excited to be moderating one of the breakout session panels. I’m excited to see who takes away the 2011 Wine Blog Awards (even though I’m a finalist for Best Overall Wine Blog, my money in that category is on Tom Wark – like Japan in the recent Women’s World Cup, he’s the sentimental fave, after all). I’m excited to see the keynote speakers and get a chance to talk to them again in person, because I can tell you from personal experience that they’re as gracious, talented and delightful a duo of wine communicators as ever walked the planet. I’m excited that every year I personally know a smaller and smaller percentage of the conference attendees. I’m excited about the whole f*cking thing.
Ok, I’m not that excited about the drive down I-95, actually. But other than that, I’m looking forward to all of it. Even the wine speed-dating stuff, if just to see which producers pull it off successfully, and which ones stumble and do the on-line equivalent of a vinous face-plant (dear wine producer participants: sorry in advance for the schadenfreude). If you’re attending, then I’m excited to meet you – even if you’re that PR guy who keeps emailing me about when I’ll try your clients’ wines (your answer, by the way: I don’t know). I’m excited to see people walking around in colonial reenactment garb… and teasing them with offers to sip whatever wine I have in my glass at the time (okay, I wouldn’t stoop that low… I think…).
I’m excited because I’m a geek, I’m in love with wine the way that I’m in love with music and almost as much as I love my daughter – and I’m about to go hang out with a supportive community of like-minded geeks for the better part of three days, in a beautiful part of the country, in an area where an historic-and-now-budding wine industry is trying to secure its footing in the national wine market.
I’m not sure it gets much better than that. Actually, I’m quite sure it doesn’t get better than that. Unless vintage port will also be poured… by lingerie models in swimwear…
But what I’m most excited about?
My past forays with VA wine have had mixed results, and there have been no shortage of people offering me but-onlys and what-ifs about those experiences. So, I’m most excited to see if those people are right – I’m most excited to see if the VA wine industry brings its A-game to this conference.
More to come from Virginia, where the proof will be in the anti-Federalist pudding…
Virginia, as the marketing slogan goes, is for Lovers.
VA may soon be for wine lovers, especially if you’re fond of Old World style Cabernet Franc.
VA is not necessarily for wine writers, however.
Those are the tidbits of knowledge that I came away with anyway, after touring a handful of Loudoun County wineries with a group of other bloggers, sponsored by Reston Limousine.
To be fair, before I start making pronouncements on the state of wine in D.C.’s wine country – and I will make pronouncements about D.C.’s wine country, of course – my tour visited only a handful of wineries in the Harmony Cluster. While it’s situated in close proximity to D.C. and Reston, Loudoun County gets particularly rural particularly quickly, and if you’re planning on a tour of the area’s wineries you could hardly do better than to hire someone else to navigate the narrow, twisting, unpaved roads between wineries, which I imagine would be harrowing to navigate in poor weather, darkness, or when you’re hammered. Not that you’d do that, right? Right?!??
I did come away quite impressed with Reston Limo, who sponsored our trip and offer public tours of the area’s wine trail. Our driver was big enough to have been on NFL offensive lineman, and thankfully was quite funny, approachable, and talented (he possesses a very good singing voice, and is able to create – I am not making this up – cursive renditions of your name created from a piece of twisted wire). So I came away from the tour fairly impressed by Reston Limousine.
The Loudoun country wineries, on the other hand, did not all impress me…
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