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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Guest Article: Developing a taste for Norton Wines

Think back on items that you had to develop a taste for in the past. Coffee, hopefully unsuccessfully tobacco products, or maybe single malt Scotch? Fortunately, acquiring a taste for Norton wines is a bit simpler, if you give yourself the luxury of visiting different vineyards, tasting various examples and discovering which wineries you prefer. I have collected so far a database of 150 vineyards producing Norton wines in twenty states! Somewhere out there in the Midwest or Southeast is that perfect Norton wine to match your preferences. If you are unable to visit these vineyards, possibly you will be enticed into ordering directly some noted references found in this article.

The costs, quality, and types of wines have been interesting to observe over the past 35 years. The places of selection also play into this, be it a liquor store, grocery store, big box discount stores or now, ~ a local vineyard. With today’s explosion of vineyards in all 50 states, the choices become mind boggling. With this explosion comes gifts from friends, to include wines that you have never heard of before. All this rambling brings us back to the subject of the Norton wine.

Our first gift of Norton wine, also known semi-incorrectly as Cynthiana, came with ‘family connections’ from a New Haven, Missouri vineyard, Robller Winery. We were so lucky that this first bottle inked our curiosity into the subject of Norton. It was years later, learning that the Norton grape was also present in Virginia, we decided to investigate Norton wine possibilities. Passing through Virginia on a trip north; we took the time to explore nine vineyards offering Norton wines. A few years back there were only a handful of vineyards growing Norton grapes in Virginia, but today there are 23 wineries sporting this wine (*vineyards visited):

Abingdon Vineyard & Winery *(http://www.abingdonwinery.com Abingdon, VA
Belle Mount Vineyards ((http://www.bellemount.com) Warsaw, VA
Bluemont Vineyard *(http://www.bluemontvineyard.com) Bluemont, VA
Burnley Vineyards *(http://www.burnleywines.com) Barboursville, VA
Casanel Vineyards (http://www.casanelvineyards.com) Leesburg, VA
Castle Gruen Winery (http://www.castlegruenwinery.com) Locust Dale, VA
Chrysalis Vineyards *(http://www.chrysaliswine.com) Middleburg, VA
Cooper Vineyards *(http://www.coopervineyards.com) Louisa, VA
Dry Mill Winery (http://www.drymillwine.com) Leesburg, VA
DuCard Vineyards (http://www.ducardvineyards.com) Madison County, VA
Horton Vineyards *(http://www.hvwine.com) Gordonsville, VA
Keswick Vineyards *(http://www.keswickvineyards.com) Keswick, VA
Misty Ray Winery (http://www.mistyraywinery.com) Harrisonburg, VA
Mountain Cove Vineyards (http://www.mountaincovevineyards.com) Lovington, VA
Paradise Springs Winery (http://www.paradisespringswinery.com) Clifton, VA
Peaks of Otter Winery (http://www.peaksofotterwinery.com) Bedford, VA
Potomac Point Winery (http://www.potomacpointwinery.com) Stafford, VA
Rappahannock Cellars (http://www.rappahannockcellars.com) Huntly, VA
Rockbridge Vineyards *(http://www.rockbridgevineyard.com) Raphine, VA
Valhalla Vineyards (http://www.valhallawines.com) Roanoke, VA
Veramar Vineyard (http://www.veramar.com) Berryville, VA
Virginia Wineworks (http://www.michaelshapswines.com) Charlottesville, VA
Winery at La Grange *(http://www.wineryatlagrange.com) Haymarket, VA

However, the taste of these Virginia Norton wines from the east coast did not resemble what we remembered from the Missouri gift of years past. All interesting, but oh so different. Maybe this was the best state to start our Norton tastings as the examples varied wildly, and it was easy to tell which selections we preferred. On a scale of ‘5’ being the best, we found mostly 2s and 3s, but more importantly a Norton that gingerly bumped the “4” marker.

Before going any further, it is important to state with all Norton wines, do not base your tasting on a freshly opened bottle of Norton wine. All Norton wines need to breathe for an extensive amount of time. Here again, as with most wines, do not base your tasting on your first sip since the second paused sip will settle your senses, and by your fifth-ninth-twelfth-etc. sips, you will be exuding an unquestionable Norton grin. Likewise, take advantage of Norton blends which combine the characteristics of this varietal grape, yet create a balance of complex flavors. To name a few sites which we enjoyed:

The two Virginia heavies in Norton wine production would be Horton and Chrysalis vineyards. I would say that Horton's mission is to introduce to the general public a good Norton wine at a fair price and to this they unquestionably succeed. Chrysalis, on the other hand, wants to produce Norton examples with a full range of tastes and cost. Both of these vineyards are fine examples of the east coast Norton varietal. Our favorite east coast Norton wines on this exploration turned out to be from two small farm-like venues: Cooper Winery, a fine dry red Norton, and from Pennsylvania's Stone Mountain Wine Cellars, a delightful “fruity” Norton. Both were wonderful variations on a theme of Norton grapes. As for a soft and easy tasting table-wine Norton, don't pass up Abingdon Vineyard's Norton.

Obviously, it is time for my wife and me to return to Virginia and try the offerings of other Norton wineries from this state. You will quickly develop your own Norton palate preferences while visiting the many geographical vineyard settings from the coastal rivers to the Shenandoah mountains. Wander the beautiful Virginia countryside for yourself and I promise that you will find several Norton surprises.

On to Missouri where the choices become harder. Virginia has now 23 out of 133 wineries producing Norton wines. I found Missouri has 49 (another report has 53) wineries producing Norton wines! One statement made from a Norton wine web page was not to compare a Norton wine to any similar wine from Europe or from California. Likewise, I would say not to compare Virginia Norton wines to Missouri Norton wines as they are produced under different climatic and soil situations. The same grape, but grown in two different agricultural scenarios.

We found several large producers of Norton wines in Missouri; as, Crown Valley, St. James, and Stone Hill. Crown Valley has an enormous wine production program making various Nortons in tremendous volume. St. James Winery has a similar mission as Virginia’s Horton Winery in that they want to educate and introduce to its public good, affordable wines. Don't let these affordable $6 prices dissuade you into thinking that these are only "cheaper" wines. On the contrary, their $10 middle priced Norton and sometimes available $15ish “Reserve” Norton wine are bargain wines and stand up well to the best-that-Missouri has to offer. To tell you our favorite Missouri Norton wine becomes a hard chore. Let me list a few with comments:

Chandler Hill Vineyards may be the new kid on the block, but what a taste explosion they laid introducing their Norton "Savage" wine. After participating in a dinner tasting of six notable Missouri Nortons at St. Louis' 2008 Norton Wine Festival, this came out an overall first at our table from publicly available selections. This is an interesting winery that is proud of its historic surroundings and goes to great lengths to preserve their history.

Blumenhof Winery produces an award winning Norton wine they have cleverly named "Original CYN". Unfortunately they ship directly only to MO & CA, but I have found that the Missouri Mercantile wine distributor will secure this wine for shipment. Order quickly because they always sell out by early fall. This is a vineyard working hand-in-hand with nature, providing a vineyard tree edge which accepts a 10% loss of grapes to its finely fed feathered friends.

Montelle Winery is now a sister winery to Augusta Winery. Simply stated, this is a fine Norton wine which they call ‘Cynthiana’ at great case prices. I’ll slip in a little note here that has nothing to do with Norton wines, ~ have you ever tried a Chardonel wine? Though I don’t normally pick up whites and even more remotely, don’t consider semi-sweet wines, Montelle’s Chardonel is a good starting point of learning about this Cornell University introduction. (“As a cross of the famed Chardonnay grape with the popular Seyval, Chardonel is usually barrel fermented, very dry and full bodied. This is great with heavier seafood dishes as well as chicken with cream sauces.” http://www.missouriwinecountry.com)

I throw in another Norton wine producer for different reasons. River Ridge Winery is a friendly out-from-the-beaten path winery with a Norton offering that is unique in that you get to contrast two barreled Norton wines. The same grapes from the same location, but one called Norton (aged in American Oak) and the other named Cynthiana (aged in French Oak).

Röbller Vineyard & Winery makes a Norton that sits right in the middle offering a great value wine that successfully caters to tastes that go the gamete north-to-south / east-to-west. Need a picnic or dinner wine? This one can go either place. We started our Norton experience here and will return to this site for many years to come. A robust Norton wine and as importantly, nice people.

A winery we found on this year’s trip west was Oak Glenn Winery & Vineyard. Though we haven’t settled on a family ranking of this wine, it is strange that we keep going back to this case, and before long it will be all gone.

To conclude my Missouri tasting treats, let me add Heinrichshaus Winery. I include this small winery because its proprietor insists that Cynthiana grapes were a sport of Norton grapes and his wines are "true" Cynthiana. He'll even show you the pictured differences between the growing habits of the grape clusters. Supposedly there is not any controversy about the Cynthiana/Norton grape any more, . . . . . . . . . . or is it?

Planning a Missouri wine tasting road tour? This is a selected list of vineyards we would consider returning to or visiting for the first time (*vineyards visited and enjoyed):

Adam Puchta Winery *(http://www.adampuchtawine.com) Hermann, MO
Augusta Winery *(http://www.augustawinery.com) Augusta, MO
Baltimore Bend Vineyard (http://www.baltimorebend.com) Waverly, MO
Bethlehem Valley Vineyards (http://www.bethlehemvalley.com) Marthasville, MO
Blumenhof Winery *(http://www.blumenhof.com/) Marthasville, MO
Bommarito Estate Winery *(http://www.bommaritoestatewinery.com) New Haven, MO
Cave Vineyard *(http://www.cavevineyard.com) Ste. Genevieve, MO
Chandler Hill *(http://chandlerhillvineyards.com) Defiance, MO
Charleville Vineyards (http://www.charlevillevineyard.com/) Ste. Genevieve, MO
Chaumette Vineyards & Winery (http://www.chaumette.com) Ste. Genevieve, MO
Claverach Farm & Vineyards (http://www.claverach.com/) Eureka, MO
Crown Valley Winery *(http://www.crownvalleywinery.com/) Ste. Genevieve, MO
Durso Hills Vineyard & Winery (http://www.dursohills.com) Marquand, MO
Eagle’s Nest Winery (http://www.theeaglesnest-louisiana.com) Louisiana, MO
Eichenberg Winery (http://www.eichenbergwinery.com) Cole Camp, MO
Grey Bear Vineyards (http://www.greybearvineyards.com) Stover, MO
Heinrichshaus Vineyard & Winery *(http://www.heinrichshaus.com) St. James, MO
Indian Creek Winery (http://www.indiancreekwine.com) Monroe City, MO
Jowler Creek Vineyard & Winery (http://www.jowlercreek.com) Platte City, MO
Keltoie Vineyard (http://www.keltoivineyard.com) Oronoga, MO
La Dolce Vita Vineyard & Winery (http://www.ladolcevitawinery.com) Washington, MO
Little Hills Winery (http://www.littlehillswinery.com) St. Charles, MO
Montelle Winey *(http://www.montelle.com) Augusta, MO
Montserrat Vineyards (http://www.montserratvineyards.com) Knob Noster, MO
Mount Pleasant Winery *(http://www.mountpleasant.com) Augusta, MO
Native Stone Vineyard (http://www.nativestonewinery.com) Jefferson City, MO
New Oak Vineyards (http://www.newoakvineyards.com) Wellington, MO
Oak Glenn Vineyards & Winery *(http://www.oakglenn.com) Hermann, MO
Oovvda Winery (http://www.oovvda.com) Springfield, MO
River Ridge Winery *(http://www.riverridgewinery.com) Commerce, MO
Robller Vineyard Winery *(http://www.robllerwines.com/) New Haven, MO
St. James Winery *(http://www.stjameswinery.com) St. James, MO
Stone Hill Winery *(http://www.stonehillwinery.com) Hermann, MO
Stonehaus Farms Winery (http://www.stonehausfarms.com) Lee’s Summit, MO
Summit Lake Winery (http://www.summitlakewinery.com) Holts Summit, MO
Terre Beau Vineyards (http://www.terrebeauvineyards.com) Dover, MO
Twin Oaks Vineyards (http://www.twinoaksvineyard.com) Farmington, MO
Vance Vineyards (http://www.vancevineyards.com) Fredericktown, MO
Westphalia Vineyards (http://www.westphaliavineyards.com) Westphalia, MO
Whispering Oaks Winery (http://www.whisperingoakswinery.com) Seymour, MO


Now the problem of selecting a Norton wine becomes more complicated after concluding a recent search of Illinois Norton vineyards. Oh, shucks, Illinois has 22 vineyards producing Norton wines. It looks like another trip is brewing.

As stated before, your Norton wines will benefit by decanting, which in turn mellows the strong Norton tannins and balances the flavors when served. Consider putting away your findings for a few years. We have found a little patience goes a long way with Norton wines.

I have to stop typing now as my doctor-minister-wine aficionado-brother-in-law has just walked in the door with a Three Sisters Vineyard Norton exclaiming “you have to taste this outstanding Georgia Cynthiana”. Did I mention that Georgia now has four Norton vineyards? Oh, well – we can talk about this later.

Boris Bauer
Easley, SC

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Micro-Brews in Canaan Valley, West Virginia

While traveling to Thomas, West Virginia to listen to music at the Purple Fiddle, we discovered that the area was populated by two micro breweries: Mountain State Brewing Company and Blackwater Brewing Company. We spent more time at Mountain State Brewing Company since they also provide live music and when we arrived Larry Keel & Natural Bridge were warming up for that evenings concert. Over several beers we discussed the local music scene with several people who travel to Thomas often - just to hear music. The brewery offers four full time brews: the Almost Heaven Amber Ale, Cold Trail Ale, Seneca Indian Pale Ale, and the Miner's Daughter Oatmeal Stout, We didn't try the later but enjoyed the first three, particularly the Cold Trail Ale, a blonde ale made from wheat and oats. Just how we like it. The pale ale was also refreshing even with the higher hop content. Not bad for a brew master who basically starting with on the job training. Mountain State Brewing Company also has a Deep Creek Lake location in Maryland that serves beer brewed in Thomas. Although both location host live music, Thomas is where you want to be for the big name acts. For instance in the coming weeks they are hosting New Riders Of The Purple Sage on July 31st and Cracker August 8th. We may make that show.

In neighboring Davis (only two miles away) the Blackwater Brewing Company brews half a dozen beers and at a large number of vehicles in the parking lot every time we drive by. The brew pub opened over ten years ago and serves American, German, and Italian flavored food. It must have been a bad night, because our German food was terrible; but the beer and bread kept us there. Our favorite beer was the Blackwater Marzen, named after the falls situated only a mile or so away. The Seneca Golden Wheat was a lighter wheat and the Blackwater India Pale Ale as refreshing ale. We did not sample the Blackwater Gold Ale, Parsons Porter, or Black Diamond Stout. Maybe during ski season.

Monday, July 20, 2009

West-Whitehill Winery

It is becoming common knowledge that some form of wine is produced in every state and within scenic West Virginia about 15 wineries call home. The eastern section of the state, the Potomac Highlands, contains the South Branch Valley which is a small micro climate. Called a Rain Shadow, the area receives little precipitation and low humidity because they are located on the leeward side of the Allegheny Front. (See picture below for more information.) For almost thirty years, West-Whitehill Winery has been cultivating French Hybrid grapes in the valley and selling the wines to a steadily growing domestic market.

Because of this domestic market, the wines are made on the sweeter side. The only completely dry offerings are a nice medium bodied Chambourcin aged in French oak and a Seyval Blanc. They also produce the West Virginia red which is basically the Chambourcin made off-dry. Our favorites were the two semi-dry wines, the Vidal Blanc and a second Seyval Blanc - both made with about 1.5% r.s. Both portray nice fruit characteristics, but we were won over by the acidic content. Both are refreshing wines.

The most interesting wine is their Aurora Blush. I wonder how many readers have even heard of this grape, or of the Chancellor that is added to enhance the color. Its actually a decent wine, not necessarily fitting into our tastes, but during a visit a couple entered the tasting room and purchased a case. That's how the winery stays in business. With assistance from the sweet wines. There's the Highland Mist, a blend of hybrid grapes and orange and lemon spices; the Mountain Spice, this time with cloves and cinnamon added to the juice; the Classic Currant and the Raspberry Royale. These last two are definitely worth tasting; for us - substitutes for dessert wines - for others - table wines. The Currant wine is made from California juice and white grapes. The flavor basically explodes off the tongue - how many currants are picked to make a bottle? The Raspberry Royale is a blend of the Aurore and red raspberries and the flavor also stays in the mouth from the initial taste to the tail.

West-Whitehill Winery is a small winery, making only about 2,000 cases a year. Their tasting room is only open during the weekend, so most of their wines are sold in retail outlets - particularly tourist shops. In Thomas, we noticed several customers carrying 3 bottle boxes purchased from the Riverfront Antiques & Thrift. Why not a bottle of wine as a souvenir or a gift.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Shenandoah Vineyards

Nestled among farms and cattle ranches are the dozen or so wineries comprising the Shenandoah Valley Wine Growers Association.The oldest of these, which makes it the third oldest in the state, is Shenandoah Vineyards, located just off Interstate 81 in Edinburg Virginia. Known as the "breadbasket of the confederacy", the valley's fertile soil is home to thousands of small farms. One of these started in 1976, when Jim and Emma Randel planted 5000 vines of several French Hybrid varieties that they believed were well suited for the valley. In particular they were the first to champion Chambourcin as a suitable alternative to vinifera reds, at a time when the technological knowledge on how to successful grow vinifera grapes was lacking. These original vines are still producing fruit right behind the winery. In total, Shenandoah Vineyards now has 26 acres of vines planted of eleven varieties of grapes.

The first surprise we noticed when viewing the tasting sheet was the number of dry wines in the portfolio. Many wineries in similar locations must produce primarily sweet wines in order to fill the needs of the local market, but Shenandoah Vineyards had a nice 50/50 split. For instance they produce two versions of dry Chardonnay; the Founder's Reserve, a dry and buttery wine a result of aging two years in French Oak and a stainless steel fermented vintage Chardonnay. Of the two, we preferred the later, mostly because that's the style we like - let the flavor of the grape speak for itself. The also produce a dry Sauvignon Blanc that is fermented and aged in American oak - it was nice - but we still preferred the vintage Chardonnay. Getting sweeter they offer a semi-dry Johannisberg Riesling and their proprietary Shenandoah Blanc - the winery's best seller. In fact, we added to this trend, thinking this wine would be adopted by the National Guard members we were visiting that night. Its a nice everyday wine - fruity but not overly sweet. Plus, priced under $11 - why not.

Turning to reds, we started with the Founder's Reserve Pinot Noir, which is a light dry wine - but with a nice flavor. We decided that we would be different in chill this wine and serve as an alternative to a dry rose. Up next was the Founder's Reserve Chambourcin, the grape the couple first championed, and they have produced an impressive red wine. It is full bodied - but smooth; a very nice wine. We liked this more than their vintage Cabernet Sauvignon which just didn't have the same full bodied fruit flavor as the Chambourcin. The winery also produces a couple off dry to semi dry red wines, the Shenandoah Ruby and Rebel Red. The later is actually served chilled - although don't confuse this with a rose style wine. Both of these wines are designed for people who are a little skittish about drinking red wine. Shenandoah Vineyards does offer a few sweet wines such as the Sweet Serenade, Fiesta, and Raspberry Serenade. Because of time limitations we didn't sample these wines, but were told they were quite popular.

Now in her 80's, Emma Randel still operates the winery. She is a valuable source of knowledge for the Virginia wine industry since most wineries lack historical knowledge of how grapes react over time. She has witnessed cyclical variations in weather; pests; disease; and many other issues that most infant wineries in the state have not experienced. She is a valuable source that the industry needs. To see for yourself - take a break from driving and pull off Interstate 81 - and enjoy nice wines with clear views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

DC's Wine Country - Food and Wine Festival

On Saturday July 11th, we attended the first annual DC's Wine Country - Food and Wine Festival, not as an attendee, but as a volunteer. Good thing, because that evening was completely sold out - 1,500 people had purchased tickets. They had prepared to travel to beautiful Bluemont Virginia and enjoy about a hundred different wines from Loudoun County wineries. Along with fellow blogger Dezel from My Vine Spot and fellow wine drinker Brian, we poured wines for our friends at Corcoran Vineyards, perhaps the most popular winery at the event. Maybe it was a result of sponsoring the pre-festival dinner or merely of crafting excellent wines; but we were besieged the entire night. OK, a slight exaggeration; but we were busy.

Almost all the Loudoun County wineries participated in the event from the oldest, Willowcroft Farm Vineyards, the biggest, Breaux Vineyards, Chrysalis Vineyards, Tarara Winery, the smallest, Zephaniah Farm Vineyard, to some of the newest, Dry Mill Vineyards & Winery and Quattro Goomba's Winery. One noticeable exception was Notaviva Vineyards, who welcomed a new addition to the family earlier in the week. Congratulations.

Before our pouring responsibilities contained us, I was able to visit a few booths - couldn't taste - but I could see what was in store for the attendees. The Village Winery & Vineyards had their Apple, Elderberry, and a Petit Verdot, which I was very interested in trying - it seems most of these wineries had warmed to this grape. The aforementioned Zephaniah Farm Vineyard had bottled a Cabernet Sauvignon as a companion to their Cabernet Franc. Breaux Vineyards had produced a Nebbiolo Ice Wine, but since their booth was unoccupied at the moment - I couldn't confirm whether it was a true ice wine. And finally I learned that Hiddencroft Vineyards has some nice wines aging in their cellar - they should be expecting a visit later this summer.

Besides wine, author Ellen Crosby was available to autograph books. I was briefly able to discuss how Mrs. Swedenburg, the former patriarch of Swedenburg Estate Vineyard assisted her on her research. And in fact the winery was the inspiration for The Merlot Murders. Her latest in the series is The Riesling Retribution: A Wine Country Mystery; perfect summer reading.

Before exploring more, duty called and it was time to start pouring some Corcoran wines. Lori Corcoran had brought her stellar Viognier, the easy drinking Cabernet Franc, spicy Malbec, and full bodied Meritage - a blend of the first two reds plus a shot of Merlot. It was a real pleasure serving these wines, because we knew they were going to be popular - not a bad wine in the bunch. This statement was verified several times by other attendees who were quick to state that this was the only winery were they liked the entire selection.

And this was a wine educated crowd. A clear majority not only were familiar with grapes, but knew which were best suited for the Virginia climate. The most common misconception was that a few attendees were not aware that Malbec was a Bourdeaux grape and thought it was indigenous to South America. Many were even aware of Tannat, which Lori adds to the Malbec - maybe for some earthiness? Either way, Tannat and Malbec should be considered along with Petit Verdot as old world grapes suitable to Virginia. And in fact, all of Corcoran's grapes are grown in Northern Virginia, either at their estate or in vineyards surrounding Purcellville & Winchester. A little micro-climate.

Before long, the three hours were finished. We were thirsty - no drinking in the booth. And there was no time to sample from the other wineries. Oh well; the only other disappointment was not being close to the music stage. Throughout the night I heard a few notes from Moon Music and Hard Swimmin' Fish (pictured on the left) - enough to peak my interest - but not able to hear the entire set. Fortunately they play regularly at local venues - perhaps On the Border on Thursday night.

From what we witnessed Saturday, this was a successful festival - well run and popularly attended. We look forward to pouring at next year's festival and actually plan to attend one of the other nights to taste what Loudoun County wineries have to offer.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Birth of a Maker's Mark Barrel

We recently received a letter notifying us that our our newborn Marker's Mark barrel has finally arrived. That is, the distillery has filled a charred American white oak barrel with their signature whiskey plated with the WineCompass name and is gently resting in a warehouse. This is a benefit for joining the Marker's Mark Ambassador program. By joining this program participants receive their name on a Maker’s Mark barrel; an opportunity to purchase a bottle of Maker’s Mark from your batch; updates on the aging of your bourbon; advanced notice of rare, special-release bottles; and invitations to special Ambassadors-only Maker’s Mark tasting events. Sadly, we couldn't attend the last one scheduled in Washington D.C. In return, participants do all they can to promote the Maker's Mark brand. Hence, this post.

So what makes Maker's Mark any different then the dozens of premium bourbons on the market. It starts with the ingredients. In order to be labeled bourbon, the whiskey must derive from at least 51% corn; the rest is usually barley and rye. Maker's Mark uses yellow corn from specially selected small farm cooperatives to ensure only the highest quality corn. Instead of rye, the distillery uses red winter wheat which produces a gentler taste. This mash is then fermented by a special yeast strain that has been in the Samuels family for six generations.

After fermentation, the whiskey is placed in a new charred American white oak barrel and sent to a warehouse where it sits still for a number of years. At bottling a distillery then collects samples from various portions of the warehouse to add to each bottle. This is because the bourbon ages differently depending on its location. Instead of following this process, Maker's Mark rotates the barrels. Possibly the only distillery to do so. According to the distillery, "all our barrels start at the top of the warehouse where they are exposed to the greatest temperature extremes. Hot Kentucky summers cause the whisky to expand into the wood. Cold winters cause the whisky to contract back out of the wood. This is what allows the whisky to absorb the wonderful flavors from the wood. When ready, (around three years) each barrel is moved to a lower part of the warehouse to continue its maturation process in a less extreme fashion." That's why we like this bourbon. Add in the trademark red wax and you have your bottle of Maker's Mark bourbon.

When will be able to see our "baby" barrel? Well, online or a taking a trip to their Loretto, Kentucky facility. When will we be able to taste the aging bourbon? In 6 or 7 years. I hope we don't forget about the barrel during this process.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Reminder: DC's Wine Country - Food & Wine Festival 2009

We wanted to remind our readers that the first annual DC's Wine Country - Food and Wine Festival starts in less than a week. This festival is held during the evenings of July 10-12, 2009 at the historic Whitehall Manor in Bluemont, Virginia and will highlight the fabulous wines being produced by twenty wineries in Loudoun County. Besides the $30 general admission, there are a few dining packages available. All proceeds will benefit the Virginia Food & Wine Foundation general scholarship fund which supports culinary arts and wine studies.

Participating wineries:

Bluemont VineyardLost Creek Winery
Boxwood WineryLoudoun Valley Vineyards
Breaux VineyardsNorth Gate Vineyard
Casanel VineyardsQuattro Goomba's Winery
Chrysalis VineyardsSunset Hills Vineyard
Corcoran VineyardsSwedenburg Estate Vineyard
Dry Mill Vineyards & WineryTarara Winery
Fabbioli CellarsVillage Winery & Vineyards
Hidden Brook WineryWillowcroft Farm Vineyards
Hiddencroft VineyardsZephaniah Farm Vineyard

Friday, July 3, 2009

Arizona Vineyards Winery Destroyed By Arson

We just wanted to let our readers know that one of Arizona's oldest wineries,
Arizona Vineyards, was destroyed by arson on June 5th. Here is the complete story from Wines & Vines. The winery had been owned and operated since 1984 by Tino Ocheltree. Apparently a nomadic neighbor entered the property while Ocheltree was setting up for a party and poured gasoline on the structure and set it ablaze. Ocheltree and his companions were able to capture the criminal. He had just finished bottling his 2008 vintage, 3,000 cases, which were lost in the blaze as well as all his winery equipment and wine making memorabilia.

Ironically Arizona Vineyards does not grow grapes, so Ocheltree can not fall back on sourcing grapes while he rebuilds the winery. He has created a tax-free foundation to accept donations. To learn more, call him at (520) 313-0226 or e-mail delfinjuly@yahoo.com.