Grapevine & Vintner Profile

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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Grapevine & Vintner Profile, Wining & Dining

Meet Northern Virginia’s Newest Wineries

By Matthew Fitzsimmons Meet Northern Virginia’s Newest Wineries While Charlottesville is usually considered the heart of Virginia wine country, Northern Virginia is rapidly catching up. Over a third of the 250 or so wineries in the state are located within an hour of the beltway, the highest number of any Virginia wine region. NOVA also recently overtook Central Virginia as the largest grape producing region in the state. With statistics like this, you’d think the market for locally-made wine would be saturated. But year after year, the Virginia wine scene has defined expectations and grown at a brisk pace. Since 2018, over 40 Virginia wineries have opened their doors, many of them in Loudoun or Fauquier counties. Several more are expected to open in late 2021. It’s not just the number of wineries that’s growing; the size of their tasting rooms and features they provide have grown as well. Many of these new locations are designed to accommodate large crowds or provide amenities such as breweries or Airbnbs that are rarely found in other wineries. Several also boast mature vineyards, or have strong partnerships with existing businesses to source their wine. Firefly Cellars Firefly Cellars opened at the end of May, making it (at least temporarily) Loudoun’s newest winery. Its owners are the Pierleonardi family, who already own a pest management company but were looking for a way to channel their passion for interacting with customers. So, when Hunters Run Winery along Charles Town Pike became available, they couldn’t resist the opportunity and a new business was born. Fans of Hunters Run would be shocked at the upgrades to the property. Among them were a complete refurbishment of the tasting room, landscaping to build an outdoor space, expansion of the parking lot, and the creation of a European-style cellar for…

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Grapevine & Vintner Profile, Wining & Dining

Offbeat Adventures in Virginia Wine Country

By Matthew Fitzsimmons Offbeat Adventures in Virginia Wine Country 2020 was filled with cancelled day trips in the name of social distancing, but now the world is transitioning to a healthier place. It’s time for wine lovers to dust off those plans and get back to traveling. Virginia wine country is the perfect place to escape – and not just for wine. Many wineries host recreational activities which range from truly adventurous to laid-back and relaxing. Other are located in scenic or historical areas, making it easy to spice your trip with something extra. Pairing wine with hiking & kayaking – DuCard and Chatham If you want to burn some calories before sipping wine, DuCard Vineyards near Shenandoah Park and Chatham Vineyards and Winery along the Chesapeake Bay have you covered. DuCard is only 15 minutes away from the trailheads of both Old Rag Mountain and White Oak Canyon. Old Rag is likely the most popular hike in Virginia – and one of the toughest. The 9 mile loop starts off easy, but soon takes you through a series of steep switchbacks through the forest. But the real challenge starts near the 3 mile mark where you start a series of rock scrambles right before the summit. If waterfalls are more your thing, then visit White Oak Canyon. This 8.2 mile hike doesn’t have the 360° summit view Old Rag offers, but rewards you with a series of waterfalls and a watering hole with a natural slide. After you’re done, DuCard awaits. This place takes the word ‘authenticity’ seriously. It’s not just the estate-grown wine; the staff is very friendly, and often owner Scott Elliff will greet you himself. Finding a favorite wine will be tough. Make sure to try out their Petit Verdot, but their bottle of “Decade One…

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Grapevine & Vintner Profile, Wining & Dining

The Chefs Behind Three of Virginia’s Popular Winery Restaurants

By Matthew Fitzsimmons The Chefs Behind Three of Virginia’s Popular Winery Restaurants Julia Child once said, “Wine is meant to be with food – that’s the point of it!” Nobody will argue that wine isn’t wonderful on its own. But if you really want to elevate your experience, it is crucial that you pair your wine with the right dish. A well designed pairing will either amplify shared flavor compounds to heighten their sensation, or create a contrast of different tastes. There’s a science behind this process. But it’s more than science; pairing wine and food is an art. Carlisle Bannister of Upper Shirley Vineyards, Daniel Zbiegien of The Farmhouse at Veritas, and Michael Clough of the Palladio Restaurant at Barboursville are among the masters of this art. While Virginia is famous for having around 300 wineries, only a handful provide a full dining experience. For those who wish to experiment with pairing Virginia wine and local dishes, these are the three wineries you should visit. Upper Shirley Vineyards Upper Shirley is located along the banks of the James River in a rural area around 30 minutes south-east of Richmond. While most wineries tend to be part of a wine trail, Upper Shirley breaks the model by providing an all-inclusive experience that keeps patrons from needing to go anywhere else. Executive Chef (and partner) Carlisle Bannister explained, “In order to really capture our market, we thought that having a restaurant would really showcase what we can do culinary. We have beautiful views, award winning wine, all in one place to capture the full experience.” As for his favorite pairings, “My palate has become seasonal. In the wintertime, I love using our rich and tannic tannat and Zachariah red-blend. Pairing those with anything hardy in the winter is super fun and is…

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Grapevine & Vintner Profile, Wining & Dining

Virginia’s Exploding Micro Meadery Scene

By Matt Fitzsimmons Virginia’s Exploding Micro Meadery Scene This past February, Silver Hand Meadery was awarded 6 gold medals during the 2021 Virginia Governor’s Cup wine competition, tying for the 2nd highest gold medal tally of any winery, cidery, or meadery in the state. While this haul surprised many in the wine industry, in retrospect it shouldn’t have. Silver Hand and other Virginia meaderies have been making great beverages for years; the public is just catching up to this fact. Part of mead’s popularity can be attributed to the rise of historic fiction or fantasy TV shows. Even now, many meaderies capitalize on this theme with Viking-style names and an emphasis on mead’s backstory as the world’s oldest alcoholic beverage. But mead has a following that goes beyond Renaissance fairs. For the past few years, mead has been one of the fastest growing niches in the beverage market, and Virginia is no different. While Hilltop Berry Farm in Nellysford has served mead since 1998, in the past three years alone the number of Virginia meaderies has tripled to around a dozen businesses. In 2020, two new meaderies – Honey & Hops Brew Works and Saga Meadery & Winery – opened in Front Royal alone. Part of mead’s popularity is the desire to ‘drink local’, which allowed the state’s craft beverage industry to grow by leaps and bounds for the past decade. Most meaderies source from local farms whenever possible. Some, like Valley View Farm in Delaplane have created their own aperies. Another factor is meads have become more creative. The most recent Mazer Cup international mead competition had over 20 categories for different mead styles and levels of sweetness. Virginia meads likewise have a range of options, with everything from beverages made in the traditional method to crazy combinations of…

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