Grapevine & Vintner Profile

Grapevine & Vintner Profile, Wining & Dining

Encore Pour Program Highlights Holiday Wines of Virginia

By Nancy Bauer When autumn leaves begin falling and temperatures start to drop, Virginia’s wineries heat up with hot spiced mulled wine and more. I love this time of year at Virginia’s wineries and am also the event organizer and founder of the Virginia Wine Love website and Facebook group, where the promotion was launched. With all the success Virginia’s had in recent years with red blends and up-and-coming whites like petit manseng and albariño, it’s easy to forget we also make some really lovely port-style and dessert wines. Virginia’s winemaking spirit of adventure may even be most evident in our holiday wines. They can be a chance for winemakers and the tasting room teams to be a little less serious and try some things just for fun. Chilly weather opens the doors to Virginia’s winter wines. Mulled, port-style, even chocolate—the abundance of choices make selecting a few to bring home for holiday gatherings a challenge. Now a new wine country promotion, Virginia Wine Love Encore Pour, gives wine lovers a chance to taste before they buy. Thirty-seven Virginia wineries are offering an extra pour of special holiday wines, slushies, sangrias, and wine cocktails through New Year’s. Just mention Virginia Wine Love or Encore Pour when purchasing a wine tasting or flight to receive the treats. Participating wineries span the state: Mountain Rose Vineyards in Wise, in the far southwest, is offering an extra pour of their locally-famous OkieDokie; Hickory Hill Vineyards at Smith Mountain Lake is pouring hot mulled wine; Zoll Vineyards on Virginia’s Middle Neck peninsula is giving a choice of wine cocktails; and Briede Vineyards in Winchester has uncorked their Arandell, a red similar to Cabernet Franc and the only single varietal Arandell in Virginia. “We’re excited about this promotion,” says Loretta Briede of Briede Vineyards. “When it gets…

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Grapevine & Vintner Profile, Wining & Dining

Loudoun Wine Awards Showcase Wine and Teamwork

By Matthew Fitzsimmons The Loudoun Wine Awards hosted its 2022 event at the Lansdowne Resort and Spa on Friday, October 14th.  Melanie Natoli of Cana Vineyards took home the Winemaker of the Year award, while the 2021 Albariño from Bluemont Vineyards won the Chairman’s Grand Award. While the awards were well deserved, the evening’s real winner was the Virginia wine industry as a whole. In a business that can be tough and competitive, Virginia wine stands out for its teamwork. This sense of community was evident throughout the event. While guests enjoyed a 3-course dinner and extensive tasting of Loudoun County wines, they seemed just as eager to rub-shoulders and take selfies with owners, winemakers, and fellow Virginia wine lovers. Multiple winners including Melanie and 2022 Winegrower of the Year Michael Newland made a point to recognize their coworkers and mentors, with both thanking Doug Fabbioli of Fabbioli Cellars for giving them their start in the industry. “I am a Loudoun made winemaker and I’m proud of that,” said Melanie during her acceptance speech. “I spoke from the heart to my tribe. I put on a dress because it was a special night, but I wore slippers on my tired harvest feet because I’m home with my people.” Earlier this year Melanie also won Virginia’s 2022 Governor’s Cup, becoming the 1st female winemaker to win the award in the past 20 years. “This event really showed how communal and convivial Virginia wine is,” said Neal Wavra, owner of Field & Main Restaurant and the event’s Competition Director. “Not only did the awardees thank their teams, but the people who were thanked were in the room.” Virginia Wine Increasingly Thinking Outside The Box Bill Hatch, President of the Loudoun Wineries Association and owner/winemaker of Zephaniah Farm Vineyard, called Loudoun County “D.C.’s…

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Grapevine & Vintner Profile, Wining & Dining

Haunted Wineries and Ghost Tours

By Matthew Fitzsimmons Those visiting Old Town Alexandria in the evening will occasionally come across a lantern-wielding guide decked-out in late 18th-century clothing, weaving a tale of spooky stories and little-known local facts. These Ghost Tours have long been a staple for tourists looking to combine history and entertainment. A number of Virginia wineries have similar events. Several are positioned near old battlefields, or use old manor homes as their tasting rooms. Even wineries that lack paranormal activity (that they know of) get into the act. So if you’re a wine lover and want to try something both fun and a little spooky, here are a few places to visit this October. The Winery at Bull Run (Centerville) The Winery at Bull Run is close to the Manassas Battlefield, the first major engagement of the Civil War. Union troops used this property (then called Hillwood Estate) as a staging area, and later as a field hospital. The tasting room displays relics from this era. Bull Run has been investigated by paranormal investigators who have stated the property is indeed haunted. The staff can attest to this, with stories ranging from hearing their names whispered in empty rooms, sightings of floating light, to items being pushed off of tables. Tour director Colleen Corrado explained, “There is an energy here that you can’t explain, that defies a rational explanation. That’s what hauntings are – energy that remains. There is a common occurrence of the unexplainable.” Bull Run has a ghost tour, but the emphasis isn’t on cheap scares. Instead, this is an intellectual ghost tour, as “the spirits of the battlefield come to life and tell you their stories.” Tours Oct 3rd through Nov 6th – Tickets include a Winery at Bull Run logo glass, a wine tasting, exclusive access to the…

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Grapevine & Vintner Profile, Wining & Dining

Greenhill Vineyards & Winery – Raising The Bar for Virginia Wine

By Matthew Fitzsimmons Middleburg’s Greenhill Vineyards holds a unique place in Virginia wine lore. Not only is Greenhill breaking new ground in showcasing Virginia wine to a national audience, it continues a legacy which forever changed the wine business in the United States. Prior to David Greenhill purchasing the property in 2013, this historic farm was known as Swedenburg Estate Vineyard. Founded in 1988, Swedenburg was one of Virginia’s first wineries. Not only did these Virginia wine pioneers demonstrate vinifera could find a home in the state, they created the blueprint for today’s ‘agro-tourism’ model whereby wineries focused on selling directly to visiting customers. But these customers discovered a problem. While they could stock up in person, those who wanted to order from out of state were out of luck. That’s because the 21st Amendment allows states to regulate alcohol, leading many to ban shipments from out of state wineries. Owner Juanita Swedenburg argued this amounted to a violation of the Constitution’s Commerce Clause and took her case all the way to the Supreme Court. In 2005 it issued a 5-4 decision that such laws amounted to protectionism, leading to the direct-shipping model the beverage industry use today. After his purchase David rebranded the property as Greenhill Vineyards; no doubt his surname foreshadowed his future role as a farmer. Yet his attraction to the estate is easy to understand. The farm includes 128-acres of landscaped property, a natural pond, and an 18th century manor house that for a time was Greenhill’s member club house. Many Virginia wineries like to brag about their fancy tasting building. Step aside; Greenhill has bragging rights of likely being the country’s only winery with a tasting room that literally pre-dates the country’s founding. With this background it’s not surprising Greenhill aims at providing a more…

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Grapevine & Vintner Profile, Wining & Dining

Getting to Know Virginia’s Assistant Winemakers

By Matthew Fitzsimmons When Melanie Natoli of Cana Vineyards was handed the 2022 Virginia Governor’s Cup wine competition’s highest award, Doug Fabboli of Fabbioli Cellars was there to witness the event. Doug had a personal interest in watching Melanie ascend the stage; she was his Assistant Winemaker a decade earlier, one of a long roster of people he’s mentored in the Virginia wine industry. Melanie’s journey demonstrates how today’s assistants are tomorrow’s leaders. Many also have their own projects which deserve attention. Not only are these young winemakers introducing new ideas, their progression is changing the industry’s demographics. A number of today’s Head Winemakers such as Chelsey Blevins, Christopher Harris, and Corry Craighill got their start elsewhere in Virginia before moving to their present gigs. Kent Arendt, Assistant Winemaker for Walsh Family Wine & maker of his private label Boden Young What drew you to winemaking? “My last job was in data analysis. I was always interested in wine, but I didn’t think much about it until 10 years ago. But the more I enjoyed wine the more interested I became in the details; like how different wine is regionally, why it tastes so different, why different winemakers use different styles. So in 2016 I decided to give it a try. I’m the kind of person who needs tangible results in his work. I interned in Washington State and worked a harvest at a big facility. When I came back, I realized that’s not the kind of place I want to work at. So I applied to an ad from Nate Walsh and was his first hire.” Describe your role of an Assistant Winemaker: “Winemaking is 90% organization and cleaning and 10% winemaking. But being an assistant varies depending on the winery. For us, the Head Winemaker becomes more and…

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Grapevine & Vintner Profile, Wining & Dining

Albariño Taking Off In Virginia

By Matt Fitzsimmons Albariño is arguably Spain’s signature white grape. Found mainly in the Spanish wine growing region of Rías Baixas and nearby Portuguese region of Vinho Verde (where it’s known as Alvarinho), Albariño produces a light, crisp wine, famous for its salinity and zestiness. Albariño isn’t well known in Virginia, but be prepared to hear a lot more about it. While Virginia currently only has 34 bearing acres of Albariño, its proven so popular that in the last several years an additional 27 acres have been planted. This makes it the fastest growing grape variety in the state. It isn’t just a handful of local wineries that are dominating these new planting either. According to Skip Causey, co-owner of Potomac Point Vineyard and President of the Virginia Vineyards Association, “When we were writing the latest Virginia Commercial Grape Report we found 27 new acres of Albariño spread across 12 vineyards. And it isn’t just a handful of big sites that are dominating these plantings. Albariño is going in everywhere.” “The Mighty Mouse of Grapes” Chrysalis Vineyards helped bring Albariño into Virginia in 1996. Owner Jenny McCloud explained the idea for planting a Spanish variety was inspired by an American Society of Enology and Viticulture panel on ‘alternative grapes’ led by Dennis Horton and Alan Kinne of Horton Vineyards. But it wasn’t until Jenny visited Rías Baixas that she discovered Albariño, which impressed her with its minerality and acidity. She may not have realized it at the time, but the weather in Rías Baixas is similar to that of Virginia. Not only do both regions endure high levels of humidity, frequent Atlantic squalls make Rías Baixas one of Spain’s wettest regions. These conditions mean grapes that grow there would likely perform well back home. Jenny later learned Dr. Tony Wolf…

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Grapevine & Vintner Profile, Wining & Dining

Virginia’s Forgotten Winery: Belmont Vineyards

By Matthew Fitzsimmons Virginia prides itself as the birthplace of American wine. The first chapter of Virginia’s viticultural history started in 1619 when settlers at Jamestown were instructed to plant grape vines. This story is usually followed by how Thomas Jefferson repeatedly tried but failed to make wine using vinifera (grapes from the Mediterranean region) at his estate in Monticello. But the narrative usually jumps from Jefferson to the 1970s when Barboursville Vineyards and others started making local wine for the first time since prohibition. Not nearly as well known is the century between these benchmarks, including how in 1880 Virginia was the 5th largest wine producer in the United States. Norton, an American variety discovered in the early-1800s, was the state’s main grape. It was so popular a Norton from the Monticello Wine Company won gold at the Vienna World’s Fair in 1873 and silver in Paris in 1878. At the start of the 20th century Charlottesville was calling itself the “Capital of the Wine Belt in Virginia,” although vineyards dotted the entire state. One of these vineyards was Belmont, located not far from the northern entrance to what is now Shenandoah National Park. Once reaching over 100 acres of vines, at its peak Belmont may have been the largest vineyard in the state. Belmont was founded by Marcus Blakemore Buck (1816-1881), a member of a prominent Front Royal family. In 1847, Marcus purchased nearly 2,000 acres in the mountains just outside the city. Half he subsequently sold, but the remaining land he turned into his farm. According to research by archeologist Dr. Carole Nash of James Madison University, by 1863 the business included 80 acres of vines and 10 acres of sugar cane, farmed by slaves. The end of slavery and destruction of the local rail network led…

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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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