Sunday, January 6, 2008

Burnley Vineyards

For the first time we finally took the time to visit one of the oldest vineyards and wineries in the Charlottesville area: Burnley Vineyards. The Reeder family harvested their first grapes in 1980 and sold them to other Virginia wineries until 1984. At that time they started their own farm winery. They have gradually expanded operations where they currently have 31 acres planted which produce close to 5,000 cases annually. Only 5% of their grapes come from elsewhere.

We had never previously tasted Burnley’s wines at the various state festivals, so this was a great opportunity to familiarize ourselves with their products. They started with the Barrel Fermented Chardonnay which was fermented in oak, then aged in oak for only 4 additional months – the result is a wine with subtle hints of oak – a very refreshing wine. Burnley also offers a stainless steel fermented Chardonnay that is dry – but fruitier. Of the two – I leaned towards the Barrel Fermented Chardonnay. The Rivanna White was next – a semi-dry Vidal Blanc – made in the Germanic style where unfermented grape juice is added to the wine to “enhance the fruit flavors and add natural sweetness to the wine”. I really liked this wine and at 1% r.s. – it’s a medium dry wine – your summer afternoon wine. Their Riesling was made in the similar method where the unfermented Riesling juices increases the residual sugar to 2%. The strong Riesling flavor is evident in this wine.

The first red wine served was the Rivanna Red a blend of 2003 Chambourcin, Norton and Cabernet Sauvignon. This is an excellent everyday table wine – made in the Beaujolais style – dry and fruity. Each grape variety contributes – Norton to the fruity flavor, the Chambourcin to the nose and texture, and the Cabernet to the slightly spicy finish. This is also a bargain at $11 a bottle. I next tried the only wine not made from Burnley Vineyard grapes, the 2006 Zinfandel – made from grapes grown in Amador County that were immediately processed on delivery. This is a very good Zinfandel – loads of plum flavors and the expected spicy finish. It is also a young wine that will improve with age. Their 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon is similarly dry – but heartier – a strong wine. It is also unfiltered and after having aged 5 years in the bottle – the finish is very smooth. This is another good red wine. The final dry, full-bodied red is their 2006 Norton. This wine is young and acidic – but contains the fruity Norton flavors. I would recommend letting this one sit a couple of years to mellow – a process the Reeder’s wish to do, except the wine sells too quickly as is. I’ll let you know in a few years how my bottles aged.

Burnley’s best selling wine is their Somerset, a sweet wine made with Chardonnay, Vidal Blanc, Riesling, Norton, Chambourcin and Cabernet Sauvignon. Quite the combination. Unfermented Vidal Blanc juice is added back to the wine after fermentation for sweetness and the Norton, Chambourcin and Cabernet Sauvignon provide plenty of color. The wine is a little too sweet for my tastes as an every day wine but I strongly recommend their Moon Mist a dessert wine made from Muscat Blanc and Orange Muscat. The wine has the floral aromas and flavors of the Muscat grape and at $12 is another bargain.

Burnley also produces a blush style wine, their Rivanna Sunset. This wine shows the versatility of the Chambourcin grape, which is normally made into a dry red wine, but here, the grapes are processed with no skin contact. This is a sweet blush – with more flavors than a standard White Zin, but just as sweet at 4% r.s.

The final two wines were their Peach Fuzz and Spicy Rivanna. The former is a blend of grape juice and peach juice that is cold fermented, cold filtered, and cold bottled. Serve chilled or as Lou Reeder suggested, mixed with Champagne. Our bottle lasted one night using that approach. The Spicy Rivanna is your Christmas wine, where the winery adds cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, allspice, anise, orange peel, lemon peel and residual sugar to the Rivanna Red. This wine can be served chilled, but is better served warm. This wine is also a string seller after the season as a visitor purchased a case during my visit.

In the future, we will make more of an effort to visit Burnley’s tasting tent at this year’s festival or visit the winery again during trips along route 29. The winery is only 6 miles of the highway – although be prepared for 6 miles of twisting road over several one lane bridges. The ride itself is almost worth the trip.
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