Monday, October 5, 2009

Wine at the Eastern Shore: Nassau Valley Vineyards

While attending the Dewey Beach Music Conference we visited one of the local tourist attractions, Nassau Valley Vineyards. Peg Raley and her father, Bob Raley planted vines near the seashore over two decades ago and since Delaware prohibited farm wineries, Ms. Raley had to actually draft the legislation in order to permit wineries to legally operate in the state. Her draft legislation became law in 1991, and the winery opened two years later.

Nassau Valley Vineyards grow strictly viniferia grapes on their estate: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. Initially, we had expected that the vineyard grew hybrids, thinking the climate was too hot for old world grapes. However, Ms. Raley informed us that the sandy soil provides excellent drainage and is very similar to the soil situated near the river banks in Bordeaux. As for the climate, Delaware's coastal region resembles that of New Jersey and Long Island as opposed to the hot, humid conditions further south. And even during the hot summer months, the grapes cool adequately in the evening.

The winery produces vintage wines and proprietary blends with these estate grown fruit. These wines are made dry and are their flagship products. These are the wines we tasted this day. Their 207 Chardonnay is fermented in steel, and then aged in French Oak for 9 months. It has the nice chardonnay flavor accompanied by appropriate texture at the finish - not too oaky and buttery - just enough to sense the oak. And priced at $16, is very reasonable. We tried two difference Cabernet Sauvignon wines, the 2005 and 2006 Vineyard Select. Not surprisingly the latter was far superior - more full bodied, stronger nose - a nice wine. The 2005, was too weak for our tastes. The 2006 Merlot "Adrift" is decent, dry with full cherry flavor - but we sort of lost interest after trying their Indian River Red "Vintner's Blend" - a proprietary blend of their Cabernet and Merlot grapes. This is the wine we took home with us - it is a classic Bordeaux wine - dry, full bodied - but extremely smooth - even with existing tannins. We plan to age this wine a little and compare with similar California versions.

In addition to the above wines, Nassau Valley Vineyards produces a range of semi-dry to sweet red and white wines from grapes sourced from the Finger Lakes region in New York. These are the hybrid grapes, Chambourcin, Delaware, Vidal Blanc, and Seyval Blanc. These wines are made in order to satisfy the demands of most of the visitors that were in the tasting room during our visit: tourists, vacationing at the beach - who prefer sweeter wines. Laurel's Red, a semi dry Chambourcin wine was a big seller as was the House White - a blend of Vidal Blanc and Seyval Blanc. Another example of why wineries produce sweeter wines; they sell.

On a final note, we encourage people to visit the winery in order to tour their wine museum. This facility describes the history of wine making and includes several artifacts of wines vessels, cork screws, and such. It is a nice addition to our visit.
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