Saturday, March 16, 2019

Budweiser Budvar Brewery vs Anheiser-Busch

Who's familiar with the famous Budweiser trademark dispute between Czech brewery Budweiser Budvar and Anheiser-Busch InBev? In 1907 Budvar and Anheiser-Busch agreed that Budvar could use the name Budweiser in Europe (the can) but that A-B could use the name in North America. Since then there have been over 100 trademark disputes or procedural issues. In countries where A-B InBev has Budweiser rights, Budvar uses the Czechvar brand name. I usually prefer German style pilsners, but this Bohemian style works nicely. And you can read more about the trademark dispute at Budvar and Time. Cheers.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Explore #WeAreMarylandWine During Maryland Wine Month

The Maryland Wineries Association has designated March as Maryland Wine Month and to follow the action they are promoting the #WeAreMarylandWine (in addition to #MDWine #MDWineTrails & #MDWineMonth) tag on all social media platforms. There are also numerous events and activities scheduled at various wineries and retailers across the state -- all listed on the MD Wine website. So we decided to dedicate more time this month to visit the Free State and visited two that are open seven days a week - navigating with theCompass Craft Beverage Finder.

We started at Catoctin Breeze Vineyard, located north of Frederick on the Route 15 Wine Road. Being a club member, our tastings were complimentary so we went through both their Signature ($10) and Sweet ($8) tastings. After previous visits, I have discussed their wonderful dry Estate Syrah, Estate Cabernet Franc, and Chardonnay among others. So let me venture into the Sweet Wine tasting and the first impression is that out of the five, only the two meads comes across as sweet. For instance, the 2016 Rhapsody ($24) contains only .5% RS which is easily balanced by the Chardonnay's acidity. The sugar just rounds out the wine. The same is also true with the 2016 Bolero Blend ($22), a 50-50 blend of Syrah and Merlot. And finally, the 2017 Prelude Vidal Blanc ($20) has a Riesling character in that once again is balanced by the grape's acids. The two meads are definitely sweeter but the 2010 Honeymoon Mead ($25) is cut with orange juice providing more relief and the spices in the 2010 Amber Mead ($23) blend nicely into the honey flavor.

From Catoctin Breeze, we navigated the back roads, through a couple covered bridges to Linganore Winecellars. Interestingly, this winery is traditionally known for its sweeter festival friendly wines but has mad a concerted effort to enhance its dry wine portfolio. These wines were our focus through the Reserve Tasting ($10), which consisted of nine wines. These ranged from the dessert 2015 Midnight Bramble ($46) through a couple off-dry to several dry.  The 2017 White Raven ($14; Cayuga & Chardonnay) and 2018 Terrapin ($14; Melody & Vidal) were both light and refreshing with the later providing a distinct apple profile. The crux of the whites was the 2017 Reserve Chardonnay ($27) fermented in oak then aged an additional six months in barrel. This is a full bodied wine, depth and creamy with lifting acids. Nicely done. The reds were Chambourcin centric with three wines showing the flexibility of that prolific grape. The 2016 Exposure ($46) is a classic Bordeaux blend but I preferred the 2017 Cabernet Franc ($35) that we received a sneak peek and has more creamy texture than green character.  The fact that Linganore produces 50,000 cases of wine using practically all estate grapes is worth a visit and tour - whether festival season, Maryland Wine Month, or year round. Cheers.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Revisiting the 2011 Ventosa Vineyards Estate Lemberger

In August 2015 the annual Wine Bloggers Conference was held in New York's Finger Lakes and consisted of a pre-conference excursion to the Seneca Lake AVA. I participated in this trip which included a visit to Ventosa Vineyards - located on the Northeast shore of the lake. At this winery, we tasted their 2011 Estate Lemberger. Now as readers know, we are immediately drawn to this grape varietal whether named Lemberger, Blaufränkisch, or Kekfrankos. And we particularly gravitated to this wine when we learned that it had just been awarded the 2015 New York Governors Cup. That day winemaker Jenna Lavita (co-owner of Lake Drum Brewing) mentioned that the "blue" grape is planted on warmer sites because of its early budding nature, although it ripens later - translating to longer maturity time. My tasting notes refer to a dark black cherry wine, with subtle spice and tobacco, decent tannins, and generous acids. Naturally, I purchased a bottle to bring home and four and a half years later I pulled the cork. The acids have kept the wine fresh, with similar dark cherry fruit, textured, with more leather and spice instead of tobacco. The wine finishes with chewy tannins and still decent acidity. Nicely done Jenna.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Caboose Commons: Cashless, Coffee, and Craftbeer

This week I finally allocated time to visit Caboose Commons, a new craft brewery located in the Fairfax Mosiac District. This stand-alone facility with adequate parking maintains several other characteristics that differ from its older sibling, Vienna's Caboose Brewing.  First, it is cashless. Not a problem until you ask to open a tab. The brewery is strictly pay as you go - one beer at a time.  Also, flights are not an option; tasters yes, a flight no. Second, the brewery acts as a typical coffee house. On this visit, most of the visitors were occupied staring into laptops or devices, coffee cups adjacent to the screens. The wifi must be powerful for the amount of devices. Next, the facility is more spacious than the Vienna brewery - or at least it appears as such with a larger outdoor space and two levels of loft seating. And finally, the menu is larger - regarding both food and craft beverages. While still sourcing from local artisans, the restaurant provides breakfast at 7AM as well as an all-day menu and then a combined lunch and dinner selection. As for craft beverages, there's an expanded wine list and during our visit 14 craft beers available. Caboose's strength is their German and Czech styled ales and lagers -- particularly their Schwarzbier.  I tasted their relatively new Slam Dunkel and Stop Drop & Doppelbock (both stylistically accurate) before settling on the session-able Earl of Hops. This IPA is clean with loads of fresh citrus. Nicely done. And as always, theCompass Craft Beverage Finder contains information for both Caboose locations. Cheers.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Chateau Chantal 2016 30-year-vineyard Anniversary Reserve Chardonnay

The final segment of the #WineStudio - Michigan Wine Collaborative presentation featured a pioneer in that state's wine industry: Chateau Chantal Winery. In 1983 Robert and Nadine Begin purchased 60 acres of cherry orchards in the Old Mission Peninsula to form the foundation for Begin Orchards. They quickly diversified into winegrapes and planted various grapes varieties including Chardonnay -- planted in 1986. Fast forward to today and Chateau Chantal is not only a respected winery but also a hospitality center with a B&B and rooms for executive retreats. In addition, those 30+ year old Chardonnay vines are maturing nicely and were recently the sole vintage in the Chateau Chantal 2016 30-year-vineyard Anniversary Reserve Chardonnay ($30). This barrel-fermented wine is very representative of Michigan Chardonnay with layers of lemon, peaches, green apples, creamy texture, slight vanilla, and finishing with lifting acids. A delicious wine. Cheers.

Monday, February 25, 2019

W&OD Bike Trail: Reston's Bike Lane Brewing & Cafe

Writing this during another cold and soggy morning I can't wait any longer for Spring - at least it may be a warm soggy morning. But Spring also brings bicycle season particularly trips along the W&OD Trail visiting Virginia breweries using theCompass. These trips include a new stop as The Bike Lane bike shop has expanded into Bike Lane Brewing & Cafe. This facility is located at mile marker 16.5 on the WO&D Trail and by vehicles on Sunset Hills between Whiele and Hunter Mill Road. Co-owner Todd Mader is the head brewer and brews small badges beyond a row of new bicycles. I'm looking forward to the Chamois Cream Ale during rides but on this cold visit I stuck to the roasty The Love Oatmeal Stout and the clean grapefruit of the WOD A Ride IPA. Because of the its nano status expect weekly changes to the lineup. Cheers and safe travels.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Lodi Wine and Chocolate with Macchia Zinfandel & BRIX

Earlier this month the Lodi Winegrape Commission hosted their annual Wine & Chocolate Weekend where attendees received one ounce of 60% cocoa Medium Dark chocolate bar from BRIX Chocolate to pair with various wine.  This chocolate was intentionally created to be paired with red wine and is "composed of a base of single origin Ghanaian chocolate which is known for its unique red fruit tones.  Thus BRIX works to evoke subtle flavors and nuances in the wines it is paired with, thus complementing them rather than competing against them." Belatedly we received a sample of the chocolate as well as a bottle of Macchia Wines Mischievous 2017 Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel ($22) to evaluate this pairing.

The Mischievous is a typical fruit-forward Lodi Zinfandel produced from grapes harvested from 50 to 100-year-old vines. It was blended with some Petite Sirah to add structure and complexity. On its own, it is quite delicious. Then add the BRIX. Interestingly the chocolate is not only named for the wine term that indicates the amount of sugar in wine grapes but also comes as a solid brick. In the end, we decided to shave a little sliver into the glass - and the chocolate character blended seamlessly with the wine's fruit structure. A complete match. Fantastic. We then experimented with pairing the Zinfandel with a Hershey's Kiss and 85% German chocolate. Not even close. The darker chocolate was too bitter and clashed with the wine's fruit character and the Hersheys overwhelmed it. Instead of competing with the wine, BRIX is a solid complement to the Mischievous. Cheers.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Michigan Wine from Old to New, St. Julian to Amoritas

February's weekly #WineStudio twitter chat is focusing on Michigan Wine and the non-profit collaborative Michigan Wine Collaborative (see intro post here).  The second week focused on two wineries St. Julian Winery from the ‏Lake Michigan Shore AVA and Amoritas Vineyards from the Leelanau Peninsula AVA -- most notable in that St. Julian is Michigan's oldest and largest winery and Amoritas is a relative newcomer.

Family-owned St. Julian Winery has been operating since 1921 when Italian emigrant Mariano Meconi founded Border City Wine Cellars in Ontario at 26 years of age. Following the repeal of Prohibition, he moved across the border into Detroit and then eventually to the winery's current location in Paw Paw while changing the name to The Italian Wine Company. In 1941 the operation was christened St. Julian Winery to avoid any antifascist sentiment and to honor the the patron saint of his native village, Faleria, Italy. For the next eight decades St. Julian has facilitated the growth in the Michigan wine industry through the emphasis on hybrid and fruit wines to the more recent single varietal viniferia wines. Last week, winemaker Nancie Oxley presented two of these single varietal viniferia wines, a Riesling and a Grüner Veltliner.

2017 Mountain Road Riesling Lake Michigan Shore AVA ($19.99)
The 20 acre Mountain Road Estate was planted in the late 2000s  by David Braganini, third generation owner of St. Julian Wine Company and his brother John Braganini. This estate lies upon porous sandy soils and experience warm sunny days transitioning to cool evenings - very suitable for retaining acidity in wine grapes. Starting in 2015 the Riesling harvest was whole clustered pressed resulting in less juice but higher quality which was then inoculated with a yeast strain used mostly for Sauvignon Blanc. Fermentation is stopped at 1.1% residual sugar to balance with the enhanced acidity. The result is a weighty wine, full of citrus flavors, slight petrol and loads of refreshing acidity.

2017 Braganini Reserve Grüner Veltliner Lake Michigan Shore AVA ($19.99)
In 1967 Ed & Phyllis Oxley purchased a farm located on the highest point in the county and planted with grapes and tart cherries.  This elevation provides abundant drainage and diurnal temperatures for the 100 acres of wine grapes which include Grüner Veltliner. These grapes are cold fermented - lengthening the process to enhance aromatics and acidity. And separate picking provides both tropical and grassy elements. The result is a delicious wine, with citrus aromas, tropical fruit, and racy acids. Showing its pedigree, the previous vintage was awarded the 2017 Jefferson Cup for White Vinifera Wine.

Amoritas Vineyards is a 150 acre estate located in the Leelanau Peninsula AVA - home to Michigan’s first wine trail. The estate consists of rolling hills and sandy loam soils providing a very suitable climate for wine grapes. Initially the Goodell family sold fruit to other vineyards but more recently they have begun releasing small production single varietal wines. During our #Winestudio session Viticulturalist Emily Goodell presented their 2016 Rose Crest Vineyard Chardonnay - the first harvest from vines planted three years previously in 2013.

2016 Rose Crest Vineyard Chardonnay, Leelanau Peninsula ($21.00)
This unoaked wine provides typical Chardonnay descriptors of soft apple and citrus with subtle minerals and refreshing acidity.  Nicely done particularly from such young vines.

For more on Michigan wines participate in the final #Winestudio session on February 19th 2019 at 9PM E.T. Cheers.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

The 2016 Lucas & Lewellen Vineyards Valley View Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon

The Valley View Vineyard is a 35-acre hilltop vineyard in Santa Barbara County's Santa Ynez Valley.  Lucas & Lewellen Vineyards grows several Bordeaux grape varieties on this south facing vineyard which overlooks the Santa Ynez River primarily because it is slightly warmer than in neighboring eastern and northern appellations. On the lower plots, Cabernet Sauvignon calls home whereas Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Merlot, and Malbec are planted. These grapes provide the juice for their excellent 2016 Valley View Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($25) - a 75% Cabernet Sauvignon wine filled in by these other grape varieties. Why just 75%? According to wine-maker Megan McGrath-Gates, each varietal input adds their distinctive "personalities" to the finished wine.  And after aging  21 months in 100% French oak barrels, the resulting wine provides fresh dark fruit, earthy tobacco, and a long juicy, tannic tail. A true bargain at this price point. Cheers.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Visit the Las Vegas Arts District & Hop Nuts Brewing

When visiting Las Vegas, it's usually a wise idea to leave the casinos and partake in the surrounding environment. After touring the Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam, and Red Rocks turn to the local craft beer scene. One suggestion is Hop Nuts Brewing - located in the Downtown Las Vegas Arts District. The tasting room is long and dark - providing a dive bar feel - with plenty of craft beer on tap. These included several styles of IPAs, Lagers, and Saisons. I started with small pours of the robust Bourbon Barrel Aged Omniscient Imperial Stout (10% ABV 69 IBU’s) and the smooth Harry Porter (6.8% ABV 46 IBU’s). The former was aged one year in Woodford Reserve Bourbon barrels and the whiskey profile dominates the chocolate coffee. On the other hand, the chocolate dominated the porter. However, my serial beverage was the Hell of a Helles (4.9% ABV 16 IBU's) a collaboration with Albertshöfer Sternbräu. This is a clean and fresh beer - spot on inviting easy and probably exceeding consumption. And as always, theCompass Craft Beverage Finder will guide you to any craft beverage destination.  Cheers.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

#WineStudio Hosts the Michigan Wine Collaborative during February

Those who have been following the Drink Local Wine scene know that Michigan has a thriving wine industry. To others, this may come as a complete surprise. According to Michigan Wine and theCompass Craft Beverage Finder, there are 180 winery tasting rooms operating in the Great Lakes state. These wineries produce 2.75 million gallons of wine per year from 3,050 vineyard acres which represent $5.4 billion in total economic impact. And according to the TTB, Michigan ranks 14th by state in bottled wine production.

But a relatively new organization, the Michigan Wine Collaborative, is trying to improve that number. This non-profit collaborative has a goal to "enhance the sustainability and profitability of the Michigan wine industry by supporting wineries, growers and other businesses and individuals connected to the industry...".

And one avenue for promoting the Michigan wine industry is through the weekly twitter forum #WineStudio. On February 12th and 19th (9PM E.T.) participants will be learning and discussing wine from St. Julian Winery ‏Lake Michigan Shore AVA, Amoritas Vineyards Leelanau Peninsula AVA, L. Mawby Winery Leelanau Peninsula AVA, and Big Little Wines Leelanau Peninsula AVA.

So why should you participate?   First, the state is dissected by the 45th Parallel -- the famed imaginary line that runs through Italy's Piedmont region; the Rhone Valley and Bordeaux in France; the Willamette Valley in Oregon, and the Leelanau Peninsula in Michigan. The latter is home to the Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail - perhaps the most prolific region in the state. Each wine region is unique but along the 45th Parallel vineyards receive the same angle of the sun and length of day. Second, Michigan also produces a wide range of wine styles from dry to ice wine, from viniferia, labrusca, and hybrid grapes to cherry and apple wines and cider. Like Rhone, Pinot grapes are prevalent as in Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, and even Pinot Meunier. Other cold climate grapes are Riesling and Gewurztraminer plus Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot (see Bordeaux reference above). Finally, you can learn how the cold climate nature of Michigan increases threats from spring freezes, winter burn, and mildew pressures from Michigan's high level of precipitation. This is amplified in tight cluster varieties such as Chardonnay and Pinots as wind flows are less likely to help dry the grapes.  See you online. Cheers.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Silver Spring Maryland is a Craft Beverage Destination

Probably because it is not incorporated, Silver Spring encompasses a large area bordered by the DC and PG County lines and extended to Burtonsville, Colesville, and Wheaton.  However the business district's heart is the intersection of Georgia Avenue and Colesville Road and slowly a plethora of craft beverage establishments have opened in that vicinity.

I recently visited a few of these including the neighboring Great Shoals Winery in Takoma Park. This establishment recently moved from their Heyser Farms Colesville location where the delicious Spencerville Red apples mysteriously self- propagated. The winery first made a name for itself producing the Spencerville Red Hard Apple cider which is still a personnel favorite. The Black Twig is another single apple varietal cider but expect more traditional apple and pear cider blends. They also offer a range of wines from dry to sweet as well as local craft beer.

Denizens Brewing Co. enjoys the honor as the first local craft beer producer in Silver Spring and since 2014 has provided a solid selection of core and seasonal beers. Their Born Bohemian Czech-style Pilsner, Southside Rye IPA, Third Party Belgian-style Tripel, and Ponch’s Porter have been staples during previous visits so this time I focused on their seasonals. This included the delicious Cool Breeze Oatmeal Stout, Animal IPA, Ill Cru Mixed Culture Strong Sour Ale, and the Lowest Lord Extra Strong Bitter. This last was an unexpected surprise - smooth but richer than those enjoyed in English pubs. Expect a larger portfolio and increased distribution as Denizens opens a new production\tasting facility in Riverdale very soon.

Just down Georgia Avenue, Astro Lab Brewing opened just a couple months ago and the current lineup is IPA centric with a lonely Moo Milk Stout as the only alternative. This is a delicious beer, soft but packing loads of chocolate flavors. I included the S.P.F. 100 XPA Pale Ale into the IPA category and several years ago that would have been your strongest IPA. This is another well made beer joining the IPAs as approachable offerings. The Nebula Imperial Double IPA is so so smooth and the No Mates - Mosaic American IPA and No Mates - Columbus American IPA are great representation of a single hop varietal beers.

For those seeking wine, The Urban Winery is located very close to Astro Lab and expect a new brewery, Silver Branch Brewing Company to open in the coming months. And as always, theCompass Craft Beverage Finder will show you these destinations. Cheers.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

The Chardonnay that Leverages the Chalk Hill AVA and Estate

The Chalk Hill Estate Winery benefits from tremendous name recognition based on the winery's outstanding reputation but also from the surrounding Chalk Hill AVA. This appellation, one of thirteen in Sonoma County, is located between the cooler Russian River appellation to the west and the warmer Alexander Valley to the northeast. The Chalk Hill AVA is slightly higher with lower soil fertility with the top soil a "distinctive layer of chalk-colored volcanic ash which inspired the name of Chalk Hill, the appellation, and the estate". Within both the AVA and Estate reside several microclimates with the lower cooler sites more suited for Chardonnay used in the Chalk Hill Estate 2016 Chardonnay ($42). The vines were planted using Vertical Viticulture techniques where the rows were planted to follow the rise of the terrain. Cover crops prevent erosion and the layout allows breezes and sun exposure which translates to acidity and ripeness. The grapes were fermented using native yeasts with frequent lees stirring and aged eleven months in 100% French oak. The result is a very balanced wine with depth and texture from stirring and noticeable butter and spices from the oak treatment. Yet, neither overwhelms the fresh fruit flavor of the Chardonnay and refreshing acidity that boosts the finish. A classic Chardonnay.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Toasted Goat Winery and the History of Frostburg Maryland

In 1806, President Thomas Jefferson authorized the construction of the National Road - the first major highway in the United States built by the federal government and linking the western territories to east coast cities. Specifically, the 620-mile pike was built between 1811 and 1837 and allowed goods and settlers to move considerable easier between the Potomac and Ohio Rivers. Early in the surveying period, "Meshach Frost built the first house in present-day Frostburg in 1812 (on the present-day the site of St. Michael's Church and Rectory)" In 1820 the growing town was named Frostburg and the community continued to grow even as the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B&O) and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal reached the Cumberland area in the mid 1800s. In fact, the railroads accelerated the local economy by providing transportation for the coal industry in which Meshach Frost also helped develop through the Frostburg Coal Company. And during the Civil War the manufacture of fire brick became a leading industry.

These economic trends continued to the turn of the century when the Hotel Gladstone opened in downtown Frostburg in 1897. Eventually, William Gunter purchased the building, renamed it Hotel Gunter, and installed a jail for prisoners being transferred and a cock-fighting ring in the basement. Other vices continued through prohibition as the basement also operated as a speakeasy.

In much more recent times the hotel was purchased by local Frostburg residents Donny and Kristan Carter and is now the home of Toasted Goat Winery. The couple opened the winery a couple years back in the Arts and Entertainment District and will remain in the district as they move operations to the hotel. The arts are a major influence in the winery's theme as evident by the label paintings displayed behind the tasting bar. These labels celebrate various aspects of Frostburg such as featuring church steeples, bridges, and rail trains. Donny Carter is the winemaker and produces a range of styles using local and American sourced fruit. On the other hand, Kristan Carter is a home brewer and ensures that the tasting room includes Maryland craft beers via pints and flights. In the future, the couple plans to open a full-service restaurant to cater to both hotel guests and visitors.

During a visit to Frostburg State University (the other FSU), we stopped in for a flight of mostly white wines. The Steeple White ($14.99) was the clear favorite as the Pinot Grigio is fermented to 1% r.s. providing a fruity counter-balance to the excellent acidity. This wine was book-ended by the sweeter Moscato ($18.99) and drier Chardonnay ($18.99). For the reds, our party also enjoyed the Cabernet Sauvignon laced Steeple Red ($16.99) and the dessert Chocolate Covered Raspberries wine. We also explored the hotel's basement containing the old jail and relics from the coal mining era.  We look forward to visiting again soon using theCompass Craft Beverage Finder. Cheers.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Founding Spirits Distillery: Farm to Table "Never Bitter" Amaro

When is an Amaro not bitter? That was the question that Jon Arroyo and Bob VanLancker wanted to answer as part of the Washington D.C. farm to table kitchen and distillery: Founding Spirits Distillery. This Italian liqueur literally translates to "bitter" and is usually consumed as a cocktail ingredient or an after-dinner digestif. Instead the Founding Spirits Arroyo’s "Never Bitter" Amaro is intended to be more approachable and consumed both as an aperitif and digestif as well as in cocktails. It is distilled onsite using their Founding Spirits Vodka as a base and then infused with multiple herbs, roots, spices, and botanicals. The vodka is in itself very clean and distilled from North Dakota Hard Red Spring Wheat and Virginia rye and barley.

On a recent visit, I was able to sample the Amaro neat and in two interesting cocktails - all during a delicious family meal. Sipping neat, the liqueur is slightly sweet and savory towards the front, with the finish introducing a somewhat bitter experience. But much more approachable than most bitters. For cocktails, the Amaro was an interesting ingredient in a Piña Colada -- providing a balance with the sweet pineapple and coconut milk. Even better was the How Jefferson Woulda Liked It -- a concoction of Founding Farmers Rye Whisky, Founding Spirits Amaro, lemon, brandied cherry, and an orange slice. This was brilliant, with the Amaro contrasting with the sweet and spicy rye whiskey.  In fact, the whiskey was has been produced for the past decade as a partnership between Arroyo and Rick Wasmund of Copper Fox Distillery. In traditional Copper Fox style, the barley and rye were malted using apple and cherrywood. Excellent.

In addition to the three spirits mentioned above, Founding Spirits produces an American Whiskey that is distilled at Copper Fox but aged in D.C. and the Founding Spirits Gin, distilled onsite. On our next visit we will target these spirits and as always, you can locate Founding Spirits using theCompass Craft Beverage Finder. Cheers.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Springfield Manor Winery Distillery Brewery - A Free State First

On our many trips home from Catoctin Breeze Vineyards, we've always noticed Springfield Manor Winery Distillery Brewery as we traveled south on Route 15 passed Thurmont and Cunningham Falls State Park. Perched on a small hill overlooking the highway and farmland, this multi-purpose 1775 era farmhouse has a few firsts in the Free State. It was the first post-prohibition legal distillery in Maryland holding license #001. There were a couple spirits that were bottled previously, but Springfield Manor was the first to distill in Maryland. Their corn and grain spirits (Bourbon, Rye Whiskey, Corn Whiskey, & Caramel Corn Whiskey) consist all or partly from corn grown on their 130 acre farm. The fruit brandies are produced from locally sourced fruit and the Grappa from Merlot and Cabernet Franc pomace (the skins, pulp, seeds, and stems left over from winemaking after pressing the grapes).

Springfield Manor initially started operating as a winery to augment their event venue with the Ironmaster as a signature blend of the Merlot and Cabernet Franc. The later is also bottled as a single varietal which join the Ironmaster, Ironmaster Reserve, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Blanc De Rosa (rose) as dry offerings. They also utilize the hybrids Chambourcin and Traminette as well as offer two Farmhouse house wines and a Frizante sparkling wine.

Finally, Springfield Manor became the first establishment in the state to not only produce their own spirits and wine, but also beer as they incorporated a 7bbl brewhaus. With this small brewing system, expect a range of rotating drafts using the Manor's signature spring water.

On our visit, we skipped the wines in order to enjoy a beer flight while listening to the live music of Nick Andrew Staver. This flight consisted of the Citrus IPA, Toasted Nut Job Stout, Summer-Set Blonde and Sunshine Station Pale Ale. A solid lineup. We then moved downstairs for a spirits tasting and Springfield Manor accentuates the fact that their Lavender Gin was awarded a Double Gold & Best Of Class from the San Francisco World Spirits Competition.  And it is a complex gin. We also enjoyed their Patriot Rum distilled from pure molasses and the Grappa. We will have to return in mid-January 2019 when they re-open for the season in order to sample their remaining spirits.

As always local wineries, breweries, and distilleries  can be visited while using theCompass Craft Beverage Finder. Sorry iPhone 11 iOS and iPhones 5S and greater users. Cheers.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Q&A with Brut Force Author Peter Stafford-Bow

Peter Stafford-Bow knows satire. And he knows the machinations of most facets in the wine trade. These truths are self evident in the author's initial release Corkscrew: The highly improbable, but occasionally true, tale of a professional wine buyer and its sequel Brut Force. This release once again follows wine buyer Felix Hart as blackmailers put him in precarious situations involving a corrupt wine tasting between old and new world Pinot Noir. Like its predecessor, Brut Force is a compelling read; I found myself leaping into the next chapter -- even as late night drowsiness set in. It is also entertaining, at times silly (don't be surprised if you laugh out loud), but Stafford-Bow keeps the focus on the wine industry throughout the various plot twists. This focus and the author's inherent knowledge of the wine trade led me to submit several questions regarding his background and his highly recommended current release.

1) When did you develop an interest with wine?
I started working in a liquor store while studying at university. At the time, my experience of wine was limited to hosting house parties where we’d buy bag-in-box Don Darius (a cheap, La Mancha red), blend it with brandy and orange juice in a trash can, and tie a ladle to the side of the bin. Not exactly the fine wine end of the spectrum. But the liquor store management were big on training, even for part-time staff, and they persuaded me to study for a basic wine exam. After that, I was bitten. I gave up my ‘proper’ university studies (and the trash cans full of gut-rot) and dedicated myself to wine full time.

2) In Corkscrew, the main character, Felix Hart, becomes a supermarket buyer and retains that occupation in Brut Force. Are his experiences anecdotal to any events you experienced as a supermarket buyer?
Yes, I’ve based both books on my experience of buying wine for supermarkets in the 1990s and 2000s. The main plotline in Corkscrew is based on real experience. We used to find stowaways in containers of Italian wine quite frequently – you’d receive a call from the depot saying a bunch of Afghans wearing bobble hats had just leapt out of a shipping container full of Pinot Grigio and legged it out of the warehouse. I lived in Cape Town for a while and the South African adventures in Corkscrew are based on my time there.

3) The plot lines in both books are very complex with multiple twists that require extensive resourcefulness and imagination. Do these attributes come naturally to you?
That’s very complimentary of you, thank you. I hope the plots aren’t TOO complex! I love spy thrillers, especially John le Carré, so maybe I’ve brought a little of that to my novels.

4) In Brut Force! the plot begins with Hart's Pinot Noir vine that he planted in his backyard. How prevalent is Pinot Noir in actual English vineyards?
Pinot Noir is quite widely planted now, thanks to the focus on sparkling wine made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. South-East England is less than 200 miles from the Champagne region and the soil is the same geological formation as that in Champagne – i.e. chalk – so that’s what English vignerons are concentrating on. The total area under vine in England is only 5,000 acres, so still tiny compared to the US or European countries, of course. Around one quarter of that is Pinot Noir.

5) People may be surprised that there is a vibrant English sparkling wine industry. Are there any estates you recommend?
Yes, most English sparkling wine is excellent quality – it’s all Traditional Method (i.e. Méthode Champenoise). Good estates include Hambledon (their rosé is superb), Camel Valley, Hush Heath (who make the Balfour brand) and Hoffman & Rathbone – though that last one is very boutique.

6) Moving along with the plot in Brut Force!, there's a blind tasting between new and old world Pinot Noirs. Did you conduct a similar tasting to get a sense in your mind what Hart would experience?
I didn’t set up my own tasting, but there are lots of people doing similar ‘face-offs’ these days. Just last month, at a posh London hotel, there was a Champagne versus English Sparkling blind tasting, with several eminent Masters of Wine in attendance. The French won, I believe, but it was pretty close. Perhaps the English will triumph next year…

7) In both books, you discuss wine regions such as South Africa or in Brut Force!, Pinots across the globe. Did you travel to these locations in order to research - obviously Burgundy but also New Zealand, Germany, California, or Oregon?
I’ve been lucky enough to travel very widely during my career. I’ve been to every major wine producing region, and plenty of minor ones too! So yes, with hindsight I consider my whole drinking career to have been literary research…

8) Staying with wine regions, do you have a personal favorite(s)?
That’s a tricky one. I love the rolling hills of Beaujolais, while the picturesque villages and vineyards of Tuscany are wonderful too. Central Otago in New Zealand is gorgeous, but the breath-taking scenery of South Africa’s Cape probably takes the top slot for sheer beauty.

9) Brut Force introduces organic wine fanatics. Do you have an opinion on organic, biodynamic, or natural wines?
Yes – Organic is good, Biodynamic is better, and non-intervention, Natural wines are best! Of course, you have to know what you’re doing in the vineyard and winery. But any movement that respects the environment, minimizes additives, and allows the true nature of the wine to shine is on the side of the angels in my opinion.

10) The characters in both books are quite distinctive, from Hart to his companions to his adversaries. Do you follow a process when creating each character or are they based on actual acquaintances?
I wouldn’t say there’s a process, as such. All the main characters are based on a real person or, more commonly, a combination of people – usually work colleagues or wine trade folk. Many of the characters in the novels are thoroughly despicable, of course, whereas in real life most people are reasonably pleasant, so that’s where I have to make a few dark tweaks – for legal as well as artistic reasons!

Friday, December 14, 2018

Lucas & Lewellen Brut Sparkling Wine 2016 Santa Barbara County

Lucas & Lewellen is one of the more prolific wineries in Santa Barbara County as evident by their large wine portfolio and popular Solvang tasting room. Most of the winery's 40+ wines wear the Lucas & Lewellen label signifying that they are produced from estate grapes from either Goodchild Vineyard, Los Alamos Vineyard, or Valley View Vineyard. I recently received a sample from their Los Alamos Vineyard -- the Lucas & Lewellen Brut Sparkling Wine 2016 Santa Barbara County ($36).

This sparkling wine is composed of 55% Pinot Noir and 45% Chardonnay that according to the winery, "is a clear expression of the estate Los Alamos Vineyard terroir". These 278 acres stretching for over a mile of Highway 101 just south of Los Alamos in the Santa Ynez AVA. Over 20 varieties of grapes are planted - with the Rhône, Burgundy and Bordeaux regions well represented - and with some of the vines planted from cuttings brought over from Europe over 25 years ago. This Burgundian styled sparkler is delicious as creamy apples vibrate against a slightly bready interior and then lifted by the refreshing effervescence. Very nicely done.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Down on the Redskins? Then Detour to TCOB & Dynasty Brewing

As the Redskins implode this football season, any residual pain is overcome by two relatively new craft breweries that reside just around the corner from the 'skins' Ashburn facility. First, we recommend Drinking, Playing, and Brewing at The Craft of Brewing (TCOB Brewery ™) and #VABreweryChallenge #66. TCOB provides a craft brewing experience where visitors can drink from one of twenty self-service taps, play pool or shuffleboard, or brew beer themselves using  TCOB's 20L or 50L kettle systems. During our visit we sampled several very interesting and unique beers -- being able to pour anywhere from two to sixteen ounces each. A few standouts were the Dead Center (Nitro) Schwarzbier, Imperial Pumpkin Stout, Hopitis IPA, Chowderhead NE IPA, and the Respect My AuthoriThai Gose. The last was brewed with lime peel and Thai basil providing Pad Thai in the glass. I hope to visit again very soon with a lager recipe in hand.

A few doors down sits Dynasty Brewing (#VABreweryChallenge #67), named after the Virginia dynasty regarding four of the first five American presidents. This establishment is a partnership with one partner longtime Loudoun brewer Favio Garcia (Director of Brewery Operations).  Garcia is well known in the area from his experience with Old Dominion, Lost Rhino, and Beltway Brewery. And as expected their portfolio is rock solid starting with the DynastyFest Helles Lager. There's nothing to hide with this satisfying quaffer. The Data Center Pale Ale was well balanced as was the Random Allusions IPA. Getting into the more intriguing, they offered My Brother's Neighbor Kettle Sour Pale Ale, The True Story Milk Stout, the Holliday Farm Caramel Corn Peanut Stout, and the Maintenance Mike Milkshake IPA. Lactose does wonders in IPAs and the Holliday Farm is a delicious treat.

As always these breweries can be visited easily using theCompass Craft Beverage Finder. Sorry iPhone 11 iOS and iPhones 5S and greater users. Cheers.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

A Trio From Spain's Gonzalez Byass

In 1835 at only 23 years old Manuel María González Ángel founded the precursor to Gonzalez Byass creating the Tío Pepe (Uncle Joe) sherry brand inspired by his uncle uncle, José Ángel. In fact the winery’s foundational solera is still inscribed with “Solera del Tío Pepe”. Nearly ten years into his operation Manuel united with his English Agent Robert Blake Byass to form González Byass as they shipped "exceptionally pale..." Tío Pepe wine to the United Kingdom. Together they built the company to be the leading exporter of sherry wines in Jerez.  González Byass focused exclusively on sherry until the 1980's when they started incorporating wineries from other notable Spanish wine regions into the corporate umbrella. These included Bodegas Beronia - D.O.Ca. Rioja and Viñas del Vero - Somontano. And during the same period "the Byass family withdrew from the business and the winery passed into the hands of the direct descendants of Manuel María González". For this winter season we received three samples that will warm your palate.

Beronia Crianza 2015 ($14.99) & Beronia Reserva 2013 ($19.99)
Rioja is situated in the Ebro Valley hemmed to the north by the Cantabria mountain range and to the south by the Demanda range and creating an enclave for the eventual production of quality wines. Yet in ancient times it was inhabited by a Celtic tribe called Berones who called the area Beronia. In modern times (1973) as the region now know as Rioja became the preeminent Spanish wine producing region, members of a gastronomic society founded Bodegas Beronia -- which was eventually incorporated into the González Byass portfolio. The winery is specifically located in Rioja Alta -- the western most of the three major Rioja sub-regions -- and it's high elevation and Atlantic climate assists in the development of acidity, color and moderate alcohol levels. Like most of Rioja, the Tempranillo grape reigns supreme and is the majority grape in both these wines.  As expected, the Beronia Crianza was aged one year in oak and is excellent (what a value). Expect bright cherry fruit with slight black pepper and very comfortable tannins.  Reserva wines must spend three years aging with one of those in oak and the Beronia Reserva spent 20 months in various oak treatments and then aged an additional 18 months in bottle.The wine is darker where the fruit and dirt mingle with black pepper and expect more depth and noticeable tannins. Nicely done.

Viñas del Vero Secastilla 2010 ($39.99)
"Viñas del Vero owes its name to a river in the Somontano district of Spain. The source of the Vero river lies in the foothills of the Pyrenees, and it is famous for its ravines, canyons and gorges. The Secastilla valley lies at the far north-eastern limits of Somontano, nestling half way between the two main roads that link Somontano to the Pyrenees. It enjoys a special Mediterranean microclimate that is quite distinct from that of the rest of the region and is ideal from growing vines and olive and almond trees". Garnacha is just one of several Spanish and International grape varieties planted at Viñas del Vero and is the sole grape in the Secastilla. Even though the wine was only aged eight months in oak, it is very complex with dense cherries, spices and chocolate floating through various depths and lingering tannins.  This is a delicious wine - if your ready to splurge - it comes highly recommended.