Grapevine & Vintner Profile

Grapevine & Vintner Profile, Wining & Dining

Women Take Top Honors in Maryland and Virginia

By Matthew Fitzsimmons For the first time ever, both Maryland and Virginia recognize women as the top winemakers in their most recent wine awards. In October 2021, Lauren Zimmerman of Port of Leonardtown Winery won her second Maryland Governor’s Cup for her 2019 Chambourcin Reserve. This March, Melanie Natoli of Cana Vineyard & Winery won the Virginia Governor’s Cup for her 2019 Unité Reserve red blend, the first time Virginia awarded this prize to a female. These honors highlight not just their own accomplishments, but those of women across the entire wine industry. When Melanie received the Cup from Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin, she spoke to how last year’s award stage was entirely occupied by men. She then said of her fellow women winemakers, “We are fewer in number but we are mighty in passion and skill.” Both of Melanie’s statements are accurate. Today only roughly 12% of Virginia wineries and 20% of Maryland wineries have a female head winemaker. Even those numbers are an improvement from a decade ago. Yet these numbers are hardly surprising. Nationwide, women in the wine industry face additional barriers to advancement, often due to the lack of apprenticeships or funding for education. As wineries are often family-owned, opportunities for promotion to senior positions are slim. Both Lauren and Melanie observed that women need to work extra hard to prove themselves. That said, both Maryland and Virginia are still emerging wine regions, with room for growth and the flexibility to experiment with new styles of winemaking. This helps level the playing field as the local winemaking culture hasn’t yet had time to develop an entrenched ‘old boy’s network’, set in its ways. Melanie Natoli – Cana Vineyards & Winery of Middleburg When Melanie started, the number of women in the Virginia wine industry was even…

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Grapevine & Vintner Profile, Wining & Dining

Virginia’s 2022 Governor’s Cup Winner – Cana Vineyards 2019 Unité Reserve

By Matthew Fitzsimmons On March 24th, Governor Glenn Youngkin announced Cana Vineyards & Winery as the winner of the 2022 Virginia Governor’s Cup for its 2019 Unité Reserve, a Petit Verdot-heavy red blend. Winemaker Melanie Natoli accepted the Cup at a packed gala, held at Richmond’s Main Street Station. This year’s Governor’s Cup was the first time the Gala was open to the public. Melanie made history as the first time a woman has ever received the Governor’s Cup. The competition also set a record with three women winemakers – Melanie, Maggie Malick of Maggie Malick Wine Caves, and Rachel Stinson Vrooman of Stinson Vineyards – behind four of the competition’s 12 top-scoring wines, which will form the Governor’s Case. The remaining Case wines, representing Charlottesville, Northern Virginia, and the Shenandoah Valley, were also revealed. Albemarle Ciderworks won Best in Show for its 2019 Virginia Hewes Crab cider. 127 gold medal winners were announced earlier in the month. The Governor’s Cup is Virginia’s premiere wine competition, featuring wines that are entirely grown and made in the state. Competition Director and Master of Wine Jay Youmans changed the format and strengthened judging standards in 2012, turning the Cup into a world-class competition. Cases of these top-scoring wines are sent to wine critics around the world, promoting the Virginia wine industry to a national and international audience. The 2022 Virginia’s Governor’s Case 1.     Cana Vineyards & Winery 2019 Unité Reserve 2.     50 West Vineyards 2019 Ashby Gap 3.     Barboursville Vineyards 2020 Vermentino Reserve 4.     Cana Vineyards & Winery 2019 LeMariage 5.     Maggie Malick Wine Caves 2020 Albariño 6.     Michael Shaps Wineworks 2019 Chardonnay 7.     Pollak Vineyards 2017 Meritage 8.     Rockbridge Vineyard 2018 V d’Or 9.     Shenandoah Vineyards 2019 Reserve 10.  Stinson Vineyards 2017 Meritage 11.  Trump Winery 2015 Brut Reserve 12.  Wisdom…

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Grapevine & Vintner Profile, Wining & Dining

Mixing It Up With Locally Crafted Vermouth

By Matthew Fitzsimmons Saying Virginia is known for its craft beverages is an understatement. The state hosts almost 300 wineries, over 200 breweries, roughly 40 distilleries, at least 30 cideries, and nearly a dozen meaderies. But did you know we make our own vermouth as well? If there was ever a beverage that’s misunderstood, it’s vermouth. It’s not quite a wine, but not quite a spirit either. Most people think of it as a cocktail mixer (think Negronis and Martinis) or aperitif, but vermouth can be enjoyed on its own. Even defining vermouth is becoming difficult as American producers become more creative in their choice of botanicals. Virginia vermouths are equally diverse. So What’s A Vermouth? Put simply, vermouth is an aromatized (flavored with spices, herbs, or other florals) fortified wine. It likely started as a medicinal tonic, as the beverage’s botanical qualities made the medicine go down more easily. The alchemists who made the first vermouths must have realized they were on to something, so a trend began. Modern vermouth includes a wine base, bittering agent, spirit for fortification, and a sweetener. While traditionally made with wormwood (vermouth is actually the French pronunciation of the word wermut, the German name for this herb), the term vermouth is increasingly applied to any aromatized wine. However, purists would argue that without wormwood, it may be an aromatized wine but it’s not a vermouth. Vermouth’s popularity is in large part due to its versatility. It provides cocktails an array of flavor profiles without requiring the bartender to add more ingredients. When you narrow it down, there are three major types of vermouth; sweet (red), dry (white), and blanc. Sweet vermouths are usually paired with richer drinks like bourbon or rum and are a component of Manhattans and Negronis. Dry vermouth goes with…

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Grapevine & Vintner Profile, Wining & Dining

Sweet Vines Make Fine Wines

By Matthew Fitzsimmons This December, the Virginia wine industry welcomed Sweet Vines Farm as its newest member. But for owner/winemaker Seidah Armstrong – Sadie to her friends – it’s all about going back to her roots. After all, she’s one of a handful of local winemakers who can trace their winemaking lineage back multiple generations. Sadie loves to tell the story of her maternal great-grandmother and great-great grandmother, both of whom made wine using muscadine grapes. While not as popular as its European Vitis Vinifera cousins, this indigenous American variety was widely grown until the early 20th century and still popular among home winemakers due to its natural aromatics, high yield, and resistance to disease. Although her background is in the field of education, Sadie caught the wine-bug in 2009 and started to make wine on her own. But a few years ago this hobby turned into a calling, so she and her husband started searching for property to pursue winemaking full-time. “I didn’t find this place – it found me,” Sadie explained while we toured the farm, located in rural Unionville. The main building is a former residence she and her family turned into a tasting room. Fortunately, Chateau MerrillAnne is only 10 minutes away and Lake Anna is just south of here, so they have the makings of a mini wine trail. As for the farm, the winery has lots to offer despite being open for a short time. Outside you’ll find a gigantic chess board and fire pit ready for visitors. Sadie and I spent a lot of time chatting at her Ancestors Garden. Saying the farm is warm and adorable is an understatement. Sweet Vines sources grapes from the former Oak Crest winery, but they have 1 acre planted here with 3 more on the way….

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Grapevine & Vintner Profile, Wining & Dining

Small Batch Wines Pushing Virginia’s Creativity Boundaries

By Matthew Fitzsimmons Small Batch Wines Pushing Virginia’s Creativity Boundaries Virginia is ranked #7 in the nation in terms of number of wineries, with over 300 in the state. While this is an impressive figure, it actually undercounts the number of brands available to wine lovers. For those willing to try something more experimental, try one of the state’s small batch wines. Defining a ‘small batch’ wine can be difficult, especially in a state where few wineries make more than 3,000 cases a year. Many of these operations are colloquially referred to as ‘side hustles’, although that encompasses only part of this trend. However, as a ballpark definition, I’d broadly define ‘small batch’ as smaller brands whose wines are designed to be stylistically ‘different’ in some way. Being different is something of a hallmark in the Virginia wine scene. As a young wine region, many vintners are still experimenting to find the styles and grapes that work best. While they usually draw more inspiration from the Old World than California, the reality is that only by experimenting will they move the industry forward. These small batch wines are the wine industry’s proverbial front line. It’s a broad category for sure. Some are made in tiny lots by owners who lack a production facility or tasting room so they make & market their wines wherever they can. Others are crafted by winemakers at established locations who use a private label to play with different techniques or use fruit from a different terroir. Established wineries are tapping into this trend as well, including Horton Vineyards’ “Gears and Lace” series and Gabriele Rausse Winery’s “Vino dal Bosco” lineup. Both feature wines that are labeled & marketed separately, usually featuring different blends or production methods. In discussing her Pinotage rosé and Tannat sparkling, Caitlin…

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Grapevine & Vintner Profile, Wining & Dining

Shenandoah Valley Wine Trail Celebrates Its 3rd Shenandoah Cup

By Matt Fitzsimmons Shenandoah Valley Wine Trail Celebrates Its 3rd Shenandoah Cup On November 12th Bluestone Vineyard hosted the Shenandoah Valley Wine Trail’s 3rd Shenandoah Cup Gala, celebrating wine made in Shenandoah Valley American Viticultural Area (AVA). Wines from this year’s competition earned a total of eleven gold, 37 silver, and 14 bronze medals. The location was fortuitous, since Bluestone earned the Cup with their 2017 Houndstooth Bordeaux-style blend. Not only is the Shenandoah Valley Virginia’s oldest AVA, it’s also a place of untapped potential. In discussing Virginia’s best vineyard sites, Virginia wine expert Jay Youmans of the Capital Wine School recently stated, “Honestly, where I think a lot of fantastic vineyards are is out in the Shenandoah Valley.” This potential is based on the Shenandoah Valley’s unique terroir. High ridgelines protect the valley from heavy rainfall, making it one of the driest areas in the state. Limestone soils give wines grown here a rich minerality. Cooler temperatures allow grapes to retain their acidity. It’s a trifecta practically designed for making award-winning wine. The list of awards earned by wines in the wine trail backs this up. While the trail’s 21 wineries comprise less than 10% of the wineries in the state, they are well represented in the state’s major wine competitions. In the past decade, 11 wines from the trail were selected for the annual Virginia Governor’s Case, with the 2009 Clio from Muse winning the Virginia Governor’s Cup in 2015. Wine writer Frank Morgan assembled a panel of experts to judge this year’s competition, including wine consultant and author Richard Leahy. In discussing the wines he sampled, Richard enthused, “I was really enjoying the very lively acidity and fresh vibrant fruit that appeared the flights today in the Shenandoah Cup and I think it’s a really good indication…

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Grapevine & Vintner Profile, Wining & Dining

When It Comes To Cider, What’s Old Is New Again!

By Matt Fitzsimmons When It Comes To Cider, What’s Old Is New Again! Virginia will soon celebrate Cider Week, which runs from November 12-21. This event is an opportunity to heed Benjamin Franklin’s advice that, “It is indeed bad to eat apples. It is better to make them all into cider.” Cider makers must have listened because sales of Virginia hard cider have skyrocketed in the last decade. Virginia now has over 30 cideries, most of which opened in the past 4 years alone. According to the Virginia Wine Board Marketing Office, in fiscal year 2020, approximately 55% of all hard cider sold in Virginia was Virginia-made. Critics have taken notice. The Virginia Governor’s Cup wine competition now uses dedicated cider judges for its cider entries, with Lost Boy Cidery’s “Comeback Kid” taking the win in 2021. Fellow cider professionals have also heard the buzz because CiderCon®, the world’s largest professional cider conference, is coming to Richmond in February 2022. More Complex Than Most People Realize For both business and stylistic reasons, some cideries model themselves after wineries with a focus on beverages that reflect conditions in the orchard, while others draw more inspiration from breweries by experimenting with new flavors. It gets even more complicated if you add in perrys (cider made from pears) and specialty ciders, including those made with hops, spices, or other fruit. This split parallels cider’s two main categories; Heritage and Modern ciders. Heritage ciders are usually made from apples traditionally associated with cider making, including Kingston Black (bittersharp), Roxbury Russet (American heirloom), and Wickson (crab). These beverages are usually drier, emphasize the flavor profile of the varietal it’s made from, and served in wine bottles. Modern ciders are primarily made from apples you find in the grocery store including McIntosh, Golden Delicious, or Gala. They also…

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Grapevine & Vintner Profile, Wining & Dining

Understanding Virginia’s Diversity in Wine

By Matthew Fitzsimmons Understanding Virginia’s Diversity in Wine Most American wine regions have a signature grape. For Napa, it’s Cabernet Sauvignon. In Oregon’s Willamette Valley, Pinot Noir dominates. New York’s Finger Lakes are famous for Riesling. Yet Virginia doesn’t have its own defining grape or style – and this is a good thing. VA is a relatively young wine region so growers are still learning what performs best. Viognier was temporarily the ‘official’ state grape but was quietly dropped when wine growers pushed back. Cabernet Franc is sometimes considered as a replacement, but so far hasn’t received any special endorsement. Some argue the lack of a signature Virginia ‘brand’ that consumers can easily identify hurts the state’s visibility in the larger wine market. But Virginia’s landscape is too varied to be defined by a single terroir, and too young to have a signature style of winemaking. This means branding Virginia with any overarching label likely does the industry a disservice. So if Virginia lacks a defining grape, then what is it known for? The short answer is this – Virginia is known for its diversity. When planted in the right location, we can grow nearly everything. There are over 100 grape varieties planted in the state, ranging from internationally famous varieties to obscure vines the world has nearly forgotten. No matter where the grape is from, there’s probably a Virginia vineyard growing it. As a newer, less defined wine region, Virginia also has the luxury to experiment with varieties that wouldn’t get a second look elsewhere in the United States, and may be forbidden under Europe’s much tighter winemaking rules. This allows VA to pioneer lesser-known wines such as Petit Manseng and Petit Verdot, high-acid grapes that do well in Virginia’s terroir. So for Virginia Wine Month, let’s celebrate the…

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Grapevine & Vintner Profile, Wining & Dining

Virginia Wineries Raising the Bar With Premium Experiences

By Matthew Fitzsimmons Virginia Wineries Raising the Bar With Premium Experiences Virginia offers wine lovers casual, come-as-you-are wine experiences which are rarely found in other wine regions. Patrons are usually walk-ins who partake in a self-guided wine flight or (more rarely during COVID) enjoy a tasting at the serving bar. Unless you’re planning to stay for a picnic or open a bottle, visits usually take no more than an hour and costs $10-$20. But local wineries are increasingly embracing Napa-like luxury experiences, which usually include samples from older vintages, vineyard tours, and educational events. Many include comparison tastings of estate wine against high quality bottles from California or France. Others offer heavy bites made by farm-to-table chefs which compliment or contrasts the wine they are paired with. Until recently these premium experiences were rare, usually only found at older wineries that could showcase their extensive wine library. But as the Virginia wine industry matures these experiences are increasingly available. Wineries founded a decade ago have come into their own, boasting not only top notch talent but picturesque venues that compare well to famous estate wineries elsewhere in the world. These experiences come at a price, often ranging from $50-$125. But for those who want to spoil themselves with the best Virginia wineries have to offer, here are a few recommendations. RdV – The RdV Experience ($120) Owner and namesake Rutger de Vink practically wrote the book on how to operate a premium Virginia winery. Many would argue it’s the most famous Virginia winery in the United States; it’s certainly among the most expensive in Virginia. But put this into context; RdV provides a curated experience with wines that easily match expensive bottles from Bordeaux or California, so you’re getting what you paid for. Visitors start with a personal tour of…

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Grapevine & Vintner Profile, Wining & Dining

The Doggie Dozen: Pet Friendly Wineries in Virginia

By Matthew Fitzsimmons The Doggie Dozen: Pet Friendly Wineries in Virginia There are roughly 90 million dogs in the United States. By comparison, there are around 75 million children. So saying that dog friendly wineries are important to a lot of people is a huge understatement. The popularity of pet-friendly destinations was demonstrated in 2017, when the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services tried to ban pets at licensed wineries, breweries, and distilleries. Pet owners were so incensed that a year later the Virginia House of Delegates and Senate passed a near unanimous vote to re-allow four-legged friends at these locations. Out of Virginia’s over 300 wineries, cideries, and meaderies, almost half allow dogs on the premises. That said, some wineries go the extra mile to give dogs special treatment, oftentimes by hosting special dog-themed events, supporting dog shelters, or having special amenities inside the tasting room. Northern Virginia Barrel Oak Winery: Barrel Oak Winery isn’t abbreviated “BOW” for nothing. Year after year, it’s been rated one of the most dog-friendly wineries in the state (many would argue it’s the dog-friendliest one of all). BOW earns this distinction by having a tasting room that’s pet-friendly to the point there are almost as many 4-legged friends as there are wine drinkers. BOW also provides cups of water for your pets and have several bottles with dog-themed names, including its Bowhause Red blend and a traminette/petit manseng blend named Goldie. Bonus points for supporting local dog shelters, having its own brewery, and being open seven days a week. Breaux Vineyards: Breaux would almost certainly respectfully disagree that BOW is Virginia’s most dog-friendly winery. Not content with a huge outdoor space, several years ago Breaux converted its original tasting room into a dog-friendly location named Vin 97. They also hold an annual…

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