This is part 2 of our review of Virginia Wines we tasted at Siduri on June 23. In part 1 we looked at white wines, especially the surprising viogniers. Today we’ll look at red wines of Virginia at Siduri.
In part 1 we were a bit negligent about Virginia Viticultural Areas. The most complete list is on the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau website. Virginia boasts seven AVA’s. Five of the ten wineries are in the Monticello AVA near Charlottesville. The Central Virginia region has two, while the Northern Virginia region and Middleberg AVA boast one each. The tenth, Chatham Vineyards at Church Creek, is in Virginia’s Eastern Shore. Here’s the list:
In California we’re familiar with the dispute over who owns the rights to the Shenandoah Valley viticultural area name. Most people are familiar with Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, west of Blue Ridge Mountains. That valley actually extends into West Virginia. There is also a Shenandoah Valley in the Sierra foothills winegrowing region in California. Virginia (and West Virginia) won this argument, with California settling for the Sierra Foothills ava. Emily Pelton of Veritas Vineyards pointed out that growing grapes in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley is risky because they get a lot of freezes there.
Here’s the complete list of Virginia AVA’s.
A Lone Pinot Noir
Sadly, the only winery pouring a pinot noir was Ankida Ridge. They have 1.5 acres of pinot vines and are planning to add 4 more acres. The winery tries to be as organic as possible. Their website is refreshingly honest about this:
In our vineyard, we try to remain as organic as possible and add Biodynamic practices to our viticulture program. So far, if it were not for the one fungal disease, Black Rot, for which there is no organic treatment, we would have been able to maintain an organic vineyard. Even though we cannot apply for organic or Biodynamic certification, we still believe in the benefit of such programs so we apply their farming practices to our vineyard. We try to hold on to our eco-friendly ideal while balancing the reality of the situation and the desire to end up with a crop! The French have a term for this “reasoned struggle,” La Lutte Raisonée. This seems a perfect description for us. The philosophy feels authentic and realistic.
As noted in our previous review, Ankida Ridge livestock includes chickens, guinea hens, sheep, cats, and dogs. The chickens and guinea hens eat the bugs and weed seeds, the cats chase the birds and rodents away with the sheep taking care of the weeds. The dogs handle larger varmints. And they all contribute 100 percent organic fertilizer. Vineyard manager and co-owner Christine Vrooman calls this her “peaceable kingdom.”
Their 2012 pinot noir ($42) is big and muscular. Aromas of cherries and earth are followed by a terrific mouth feel with flavors of cassis and wet slate. A long pepper and spice finish holds the promise of improvement with age. There are enough tannins and oak to support at least a couple of additional years in the bottle.
We spent a few extra minutes talking with Mike Canney, co-owner of Sunset Hills Vineyard. They offered their Mosaic 2010 ($50). This Bordeaux-style blend uses decidedly non-Bordeaux proportions with 37.5% merlot, 37.5% cabernet sauvignon, 18% cabernet franc, 7% petit verdot. Described in the tasting notes as, “Big, brooding, dark aromatics – dried plum, tar, tobacco, currant brambles, blackberry – lead into a lush wine with a broad, open mouth feel. Sweet, toasty, powerfully fruity, and lightly grippy on the finish. A powerful wine. Lingering. Age through 2018 in the cellar.” We’ll just add that this one really does need cellaring. Mike’s guess of 2018 sounds pretty close to us.
Mike noted that 2010 was a great growing year for them, with not too much rain. Unlike California, good drainage is an important factor in Virginia vineyards. As Mike put it, they’re “always trying to get rid of water most summers.”
Mike’s blending philosophy is straightforward. Cabernet franc hits the front of your palate. He adds 5-7% cabernet sauvignon for the mid-palate and to lengthen the finish. Cabernet franc is popular in Virginia because it grows well in the area. Like a few areas in California (and more in Oregon and Washington), they harvest the cabernet sauvignon mid-late October or at the first snow. They usually get frost mid to late October, with the first snow around Halloween. We asked about low temperatures. Mike noted that the vines usually don’t freeze. But last winter the temperature was -2 degrees Fahrenheit last winter, and they lost some merlot and tannat vines. The vines can stand the usual low temperature of +5 degrees.
In part 1 we raved about the 2013 viognier from Veritas. Winemaker Emily Pelton also offered her 2010 Vintner’s Reserve ($35, a real bargain). This is another Bordeaux-style blend with unusual proportions of grapes: 42% merlot, 17% cabernet franc, 25% petit verdot, and 16% cabernet sauvignon. Emily blends the Vintner’s Reserve by intensive sampling of all the barrels to create the perfect master blend. Opening with aromas of strawberries and chocolate, the palate shows cherry and fairly intense tannins. The finish is long and complex with elements of butterscotch and mocha. Give this one a few years before you pull the cork and you’ll be rewarded. Here’s an interview with Emily in which she discusses her winemaking. (This video uses Adobe Flash and will not play on Apple mobile devices. Click here to visit the Veritas page that includes this video as well as many others.)
Veritas produces between 15,000 and 20,000 cases per year. Emily has an assistant and a cellarmaster. When her parents decided to start growing grapes, she made fun of them for a while then realized they were serious. She took a year off to help her folks, planted the vines, did an internship at another winery, then took course at Virginia Tech. Her sister is the event manager and her brother is general manager. They’ve managed to overcome the initial sibling rivalry. Veritas is currently growing 150 tons per year (about 9,000 cases), buying the rest. They are “planting frantically.” The winery is located at a low point in the ridge giving them a steady breeze, leaving the storms atop the mountains.
In part 1 we awarded Breaux Vineyards general manager Chris Blosser first prize for best beard in show (including Tony’s). Breaux offered something unusual. Their cabernet franc reserve 2007 ($48) is 100 percent cabernet franc. The 2007 vintage featured drought conditions — whatever that means in Virginia! The grapes had extremely concentrated flavors with very high brix. This single vineyard (Block T) estate-sourced fruit was aged in a blend of new French and American barrels added to the fullness and complexity of flavors. This wine will knock your tastebuds off with its intense flavors. Aromas and flavors include licorice, black cherries, and mocha. This one will be better in a few more years.
Chris didn’t tell us that Breaux has a new winemaker. Heather Munden has over two decades of experience, most recently at St. Francis Winery in Sonoma. She first got excited about wine after meeting Robert Mondavi. Virginia has stolen some real talent from California!
Stinson Vineyards introduced us to a new grape, the tannat. Featuring thick skins, the fruit is hardy enough to withstand the occasional heavy rainfall. It is also more disease-resistant than many other vinifera.. The Stinson tannat 2011 ($32) reveals an appropriately named grape. The wine is loaded with tannins. We hesitate to make any recommendations because we are not familiar with wines like this. It may develop in 5 to 10 years, but we really have no confidence in that prediction.
Stinson’s blog included photos of their first bottling. About 20 years ago we first saw a mobile bottling truck in California. Good to see that practice used in Virginia, too. (This truck is owned and operated by Landwirt Mobile Wine Bottling, Harrisonburg, VA.)