White Hall Vineyards Celebrates 20 Years of Excellence
Established in 1994, White Hall Vineyards is the fruition of a dream of Tony and Edith Champ. This Albemarle County based (13 miles from Charlottesville) winery is well known for its signature fruit forward taste. While the Champs were influenced by exploring the California wine industry in the 1960s, they developed their palates on the wines of the world during their time in Manhattan.
With all of this as a backdrop, the Champs set out to find the best place to establish their vineyard dream. The site of the estate vineyards in White Hall proved to have the best combination of open land, glorious scenery and a strong community that was, and is, supportive of the Virginia Wine Industry. At an elevation of 800 feet the vines benefit from a near constant mountain breeze.
Starting with just 6 acres, the vineyard now boasts closer to fifty acres under vine. Plantings include Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Gewürztraminer, Merlot, Muscat, Petit Manseng, Petit Verdot and Viognier.
The estate vineyards today provide about 85% of the winery’s total production, with the balance coming from top quality growers under long term lease arrangements.
Winemaker Mike Pancsak has been with White Hall for well over a decade. He comes to Virginia by way of California with experience in the Santa Maria winegrowing region. His resume includes significant assignments at Qupe, Foxen Vineyards, and Bridlewood. Pancsak has an enology degree from Hancock College in Santa Maria as well as post graduate work at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. With a gentle winemaker’s touch he allows the fruit to express its true character. He is passionate about quality fruit and believes “great wines are made from the careful handling of great fruit”.
The White Hall “house winemaking style” is accomplished by targeting higher than average fruit maturity and aging the majority of lots sur lie. Combining Panczak’s attentive vineyard practices with modern winemaking techniques has resulted in the consistent production of wines of excellence.
Pancsak’s blending ability really shines through the entire White Hall portfolio. Even though the exact blend will change dependent on what Mother Nature gives him in each vintage, the quality is consistent. After a challenging year last vintage due to losses to frost, Pancsak is rather upbeat about the vineyards progression thus far. “We are at fruit set and if we get a nice hot July it should be a good year, certainly better than last,” He said.
Over the years, White Hall has collected several medals in wine competitions. Most recently in the Long Beach Grand Cru International Wine Competition the 2010 Petit Verdot and 2011 Soliterre both garnered Silver medals.
The 2010 Petit Verdot won a Gold medal in the Atlantic Seaboard Wine Association Competition. The 2010 Gewürztraminer was one of only 20 wines winning a Gold Medal in the prestigious Governor’s Cup Competition. The 2012 Viognier has received a score of 88 from Wine Enthusiast and is featured in their 2013 Best of Year Buying Guide.
White Hall’s 2012 Chardonnay is a bit of a hybrid, while 1/3 was fermented and aged in French and American oak barrels Pancsak often switched the wine between stainless steel and barrel.
The barrel fermentation provides the wine a great structural base but by moving it into the stainless steel, Pancsak preserved a great deal of the fruit forward style the winery is known for. “If the wine seems like it needs more oxygen I’ll put it into barrel”, Pancsak said. All of the wine had some oak aging.
Pancsak also mentioned that he utilized yeast fining to increase the richness of the mid palate. Yeast fining involves the addition of freeze dried yeast to the fermented wine as it ages in barrel. As the yeast dissolves, Pancsak stirs the barrels to better balance the integration of wine and yeast. Utilizing French yeast strains, this is not an inexpensive procedure. Pancsak credits former Virginia Tech enologist Dr. Bruce Zoecklein for advocating the concept several years ago.
Over the years, White Hall’s Chardonnay has become known as “Charlottesville’s Chardonnay,” served across the town in several popular establishments. This vintage of White Hall’s largest production wine was bottled a rotating closure (AKA screw cap).
In the glass the wine presents as a delightfully light straw color. The nice well rounded nose with vanilla tones and lemon grass attack is balanced with nice acid and green apple. As the wine moves through the midpalate expands to include banana pulp and melon. The finish has bakery notes and a hint of vanilla.
While I would tend to pair with a grilled chicken with rice pilaf, I also think it would stand up equally well to a North Carolina Pulled Pork sandwich or a spicy vegetarian chili.
The Champs’ original winery plan called for an ultimate annual production of 10,000 cases and the winery facility was designed to handle that capacity as well as host small private events. White Hall Vineyards built an expansive banquet room above the tasting room to host weddings and corporate events. Located just 13 miles from Charlottesville, White Hall Vineyards is about 2.5 hours from Old Town.
Written by: Neil Williamson
Neil Williamson is the President of The Trellis Group, a marketing consultancy focused on Virginia wineries. He can be reached at Trellisgroup@earthlink.net.
White Hall Vineyards
Hometown: Norristown, PA
Item that is always in your fridge: Beer, Fresh Salsa
Most challenging wine pairing: Salad with Balsamic Vinegar
Best thing about the Virginia Wine Industry: The opportunity to grow. It reminds me of Santa Barbara when I was there 25 years ago. We are not set in our ways regarding varietals. We are only limited by our imagination (and Mother Nature).
Worst thing about the Virginia Wine Industry: Lack of cohesiveness all wineries are not on the same page. Some wineries have become more interested in events rather than wine.
Favorite Bumper Sticker or saying: World Domination through Vintification
Comfort Food: Cheese and Bread
Most embarrassing moment: In college, I once “borrowed” a large expensive painting from the Student Union and took it back to hang in the fraternity house. I then left for a day at the lake. I returned that evening to find several humorless members of the State Police at the house.
Most over rated virtue: Being Quiet
Favorite Wines: Right now I am enjoying Erbaluce a white Italian wine grape, Rosé, and the 2010 vintage from Chianti.