“Love is Organic” at Loving Cup Vineyard
Loving Cup Vineyard and winery, which just opened to the public in April, is different by design. As the first certified organic vineyard in the state, one would anticipate their viticultural practices are different than other vineyards but it goes much further.
Founded by Karl Hambsch, along with his wife Deena, and his parents, Werner and Barbara, Loving Cup Vineyard is all about the passion for wine and working with nature. Working under the idea that “Love is organic”, an environmental sensibility philosophy is evident literally from the ground up.
Even as patrons approach Loving Cup Vineyard and Winery in Southern Albemarle County it is clear the winery is a little different. Not taking itself too seriously, in almost “South of the Border” style the directional signs announce “Almost There” as visitors meander back the two miles of gravel road off US29. The gently twisting road follows the contours of the land and provides a welcome respite from the speed and activity on the highway.
After pulling off into the parking lot, a small lush valley is in the near vista. Following the path from the parking area, visitors are drawn to the end of the wraparound porch that provides a commanding view of the vineyard in the distance. As if remembering the visit’s purpose, visitors then turn and open the door to the welcoming tasting room.
The modest sized poplar tasting bar takes up the far corner of the room while a leather couch beckons for company along the near wall. Most patrons however choose to utilize the wrought iron highboy tables that surround the deck to enjoy a glass of wine while gazing out into the vineyard.
Loving Cup’s very existence can be tied back to a potentially underutilized crabapple crop. For several years, the crabapples were harvested and given to a family friend for jelly. When that friend wasn’t able to collect the apples one year, rather than have the fruit go to waste, Hambsch followed a recipe found online to make their first batch of crabapple wine.
This fruit wine led to other fruit wines and eventually to a test vineyard on the family farm. Wanting to grow the grapes organically, Hambsch selected grapes that were fairly resistant to diseases such as mildew and rots. While the majority of the world’s wines are made from Vitis Vinifera grapes, these grapes are intrinsically susceptible to such diseases and generally require regular chemical spraying to keep them healthy.
Loving Cup Vineyard grows hybrid grapes. A hybrid is the combination of the pollen of one varietal is crossed with a second to produce a third entirely different variety. Specifically the vineyard grows Corot Noir, Cayuga, Marquette, Traminette and Vidal Blanc. In addition to being disease resistant these hybrid grapes also tend to be more cold weather hearty.
It took three years of strict adherence to the federal guidelines governing organic farming before Loving Cup’s vineyard was certified organic by Quality Certification Services (QCS). The vineyard certification requires continued monitoring and annual renewal.
As the winery is not yet certified organic (these things take time) and despite the fact that the same processes were used in the 2012 and 2013 vintages as will be used in 2014, Loving Cup is unable to label current vintages as “organic”. With the new production facility complete and facility organic certification process started, Loving Cup plans to label with “Made with Organic Grapes” very soon.
Loving Cup’s two inaugural wines are without peers to compare them; they are by definition, unique. The white is a blend of 75% Cayuga and 25% Traminette. This refreshing wine is dry, bright, and crisp with a backbone of minerality that belies its sweet aromas of citrus blossom and starfruit. Flavors of white peach and lemon zest yield to a long, clean finish of tropical fruits.
I first tasted the Loving Cup Red six months ago prior to release; the wine was filled with promise but was tight and a little shocky. Those six months really mattered. In the latest tasting the nose on this medium bodied red was much less reluctant offering highlights of fruit and spice. The attack was well defined with an undercurrent of Bing cherry. The midpalate expanded nicely with cascading flavors of plum and anise. The finish while brief was memorable with silky, well-balanced tannins.
Another striking difference is Loving Cup Vineyards’ packaging. Rather than utilize the traditional plastic capsule at the top of each bottle, they have placed an attractive biodegradable paper ribbon with a recycling recommendation. In addition, each bottle has a small blue heart sticker hand applied to the very top of the bottle. The white heart on the blue shield is part of the crest from Werner’s hometown in Germany, Wiesental. The heart represents Loving Cup’s guiding principles of social and environmental responsibility.
With two new wines already in bottle and awaiting an early summer release, I am very much looking forward to returning to this Southern Albemarle winery and watching Loving Cup Vineyard as they literally go where no Virginia Winery has gone before – making great wines organically. Their slogan captures the very essence of the effort – “Love is Organic”.
Loving Cup Vineyard is located just south of Charlottesville on US29 and is open Friday through Sunday from 11-5.
Written by: Neil Williamson
Neil Williamson is the Chairman of the Virginia Wine Club Tasting Panel and Editor of The Virginia Wine Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Karl Hambsch, Loving Cup Vineyard Winemaker & General Manager
Hometown: Born in Ft. Lauderdale, but North Garden has been home since I was 7.
Item that is always in your fridge: Orange Juice (my daughter drinks it like people breathe air)
Most challenging wine pairing: Perhaps counter intuitively, I find milk chocolate to be a difficult pairing with red wine.
Best thing about the Virginia Wine Industry: Everyone’s willingness to share. Knowledge, equipment, you name it everyone is working together.
Worst thing about the Virginia Wine Industry: That we continue to compare ourselves to other wine regions. Virginia Wine should be proud of the wines that taste like they were grown here.
Favorite Bumper Sticker or saying: “The Best You Can Do Is The Best You Can Do”
Comfort Food: Swiss Cake Rolls
Favorite Wine (yours or anyone else’s): Any Turley Zinfandel
Grapevine Columnist to Host ‘Top Five’ Tasting Tent
Now in its fourth year, Vintage Virginia’s “Top 5” tasting tent continues to turn the festival experience on its head; rather than guests walking up to the winery tents, they stay in the shade and have the tastings delivered to them.
In addition to great wines, Vintage Virginia, held at Bull Run Regional Park Special Events Center May 31st and June 1st, features live music and a unique array of both free and ticketed tasting and learning opportunities.
In the past the Top Five tent has highlighted wines from: Barboursville Vineyards, Democracy Vineyards, Horton Cellars, Potomac Point Winery, Prince Michel Vineyards, Rockbridge Vineyards, Rosemont Vineyards, Stone Mountain Vineyards, and many more.
The Old Town Crier’s own Neil Williamson will serve as host introducing each varietal and explaining the grape and winemaking styles used to craft the wine. Williamson tastes all the wines in advance of the event and shares both his tasting notes and stories about the people who make Virginia wine. Along the way Williamson along with anecdotes from his decade plus of service to Virginia wine.
Advance sales of the Top Five Tasting Tent have been brisk. As last year’s tent sold out, festival organizers encourage ordering tickets early at www.vintagevirginia.com