In the upcoming weeks look for separate articles on each winery, but we have several general conclusions we'd like to share. Overall, our initial hypotheses was not validated. Whereas we did sample some tremendous wines, there was enough doubt among us to conclude that many wineries in northern Virginia make comparable wines. Instead, the trip exposed the potential in Virginia wines and introduced us to a new generation of young winemakers who are striving to produce world class wines. In most cases, the wine making was conducted by a young, educated winemaker - we are talking about winemakers in their 20s and 30s - who have both the experience and geographic background to add value to their products. At Veritas Vineyards, Emily Pelton has taken over the daily wine making chores from her father Andrew Hodson and is producing over a dozen still and sparkling wines that were first class. Kirsty Harmon (Blenheim Vineyards) is beginning to inject her experience working with Gabriele Rausse and in France and New Zealand to enhance the winery's portfolio. The same holds true for Stephen Barnard (Keswick Vineyards) who uses many techniques that he learned in his native South Africa to produce excellent wines. And Andy Reagan (Jefferson Vineyards) uses his background at several mid-Atlantic wineries to produce a portfolio of great Bordeaux-styled wines. Matthieu Finot, from King Family Vineyards, was not able to meet with us, but his credentials include working in his native France, as well as in Italy and South Africa. The future is definitely bright at these wineries. In addition, the quality in the wines made by the female winemakers lead many in our party to suggest that, in general, females are better winemakers than men. That's another interesting hypothesis we can discuss at a later date.
Finally, we listened to fabulous discussions on wine making. Stephen Barnard stressed how managing the vineyard was the single most important factor in making good wines. And in a later email exchange, Matthieu Finot reiterated that point. At Veritas Vineyards we tasted how the juice from the same grapes picked from the same lot produce different wine depending on when they were picked. At Blenheim Vineyards and Veritas Vineyards we compared the fruitiness of free run juice against more tannic juice from grapes pressed once or twice. We discussed blending, yeast, malolatic fermentation, racking, and several other principles involved in making wine. And we talked screw caps. Some wine makers wanted to convert their entire portfolio to this closure device in order to eliminate the cork taint caused by TCA, others only the whites. Nevertheless, all hesitate since the general public still associates screw caps with cheap wines. But they expect to release more wines closed with screw caps - at least white wines; but until the public's perception changes - keep the corkscrew handy.
This was the type of trip that every wine consumer should experience. Although we did get special access due to the Corcoran's association with the wineries, the average taster can plan a similar venture. Many wineries hold wine classes that explain their wines and are usually taught by the winery's winemaker. In other instances the winemaker assists in the tasting room, providing an excellent opportunity for interaction. Research before you travel - start at wine-compass.com, find wineries and events in your destination and drill into the winery's website. Contact the winery directly, the information is available; it just takes planning. Next up, Veritas Vineyards.