Our second stop on the Monticello Wine Trail was King Family Vineyards, the apparent winery of choice for University of Virginia students. For when we arrived, there were approximately 200 filling the tasting room and the patio. Who needs a keg party when a winery is close by - particularly on the first warm day of the year. Location, Location, Location. And David and Ellen King specifically chose this location when relocating to Charlottesville from Texas. The desired a large flat area for their thoroughbreds and found the flattest land in Albermarle County. Perfect for polo matches. They soon realized, however, that they need to find an economic value for the property - and chose to plant a vineyard. The first vines were planted in 1998, that produced only 500 cases a few years later. Today the winery is still a "boutique" operation, producing about 5,000 cases annually from virtually 100% estate grown fruit.
On our arrival, David King lead us into the barrel room away from the keg party where his wine portfolio was waiting. While sipping a glass of their methode champenoise style Brut, Mr. King informed us of his background, the winery's history and where he'd like to see the industry move. In fact he'd like Virginia to move away from "It's stupid for Virginia wineries to make California styled wines - we should grow grapes suitable for our region". This doesn't mean excluding vinifera wine from their portfolio - it means finding the correct grapes for their micro-climate and vinifying them in a unique style - not in the big, high alcohol, styles made out west. And later, winemaker Matthieu Finot reiterated this point by commented that "I don't believe in Cabernet Sauvignon or Sauvignon Blanc will help Virginia wines to make a name. We should pick the varieties more suitable such as Petit Verdot, Viognier, Petit Manseng and possibly Albarino."
The 2007 Chardonnay was a great example of a Virginia made vinifera. It was fermented and aged in 70% neutral/30% new oak barrels for nine months which provided a slight smoky flavor with some vanilla - but allowed the fruit flavor to stand out. The same is true for their Viognier, which was fermented and aged 80% stainless steel tanks and 20% oak barrels. Once again this method provided some vanilla tones, but allowed the apricot fruit flavors to dominate. The only disappointment with the whites was the Roseland, a blend of 55% Viognier and 45% Chardonnay. Each variety was excellent as a single varietal, but the blend sort of washed out the distinctive qualities of the other grape. From a business decision it makes perfect sense to blend your lessor quality grapes - and we're sure the wine was selling quickly outside that day - but we definitely preferred the single varietals.
Moving to reds, we started with the Cabernet Franc - a mouthful of strawberry flavor. There's a hint of spice at the tail - but in general a smooth finish. The Merlot was even better - as Mr. King explained that this grape grows very consistently year to year. This is a good wine - full bodied with cherry flavors - which lead to their best red - the Meritage. A blend of 60% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc and 20% Petit Verdot; the wine was aged for 18 months in French. "The Merlot provides the core fruit with black cherry dominating. The Cabernet Franc rounds out the palate with fresh raspberry notes. The Petit Verdot adds depth, structure, color, and a slight floral character." This wine was awarded a Gold Medal at the 2008 Monticello Cup - a group favorite.
The final wine was the Loreley 'Late Harvest Viognier' made in an "ice wine" style. The grapes were frozen immediately after harvest which provided the concentration in sugar. This wine is pure apricot and similar to a Tokai Furmint. It was obviously sweet but without any gritty sugar sensations. A nice dessert wine. Since we couldn't budge close to the tasting bar, we'll be back on a quieter weekend - or perhaps to watch a polo match. The countryside and wines are worth a repeat visit.