Monday, February 16, 2009

White Hall Vineyards

Our final stop on the first day on the Monticello Wine Trail was White Hall Vineyards, home to one of our favorite Virginia wines, their Petit Manseng. This wine has been a staple in our wine cellar after finding it in the discounted wine box at Norm's Beer & Wine. Evidently someone had ordered a case and failed to pick it up. And we capitalized on that mistake. In the following year, the wine was awarded the Governor's Cup for the most outstanding wine in the state.

White Hall is located at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains, about 13 miles east of Charlottesville. Tony and Edie Champ opened the winery after years of venturing out to California's wine country and wanting to do the same on the east coast. They settled on Albermnarle County and planted the estate vineyards in 1992 starting with with 6 acres of Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. More varieties were added later including Viognier, Petit Verdot and Petit Manseng. By the way, the Champs were incredibly gracious hosts, having to endure a tour of slightly inebriated guests. Walking into the tasting room felt like walking into the a trophy shop. Their were medals from Virginia, California; pictures with Governors; trophy cups - a complete hall of fame. The Champs have done well over the years. The have also chosen a completely different business strategy than the previous wineries we visited that day. Instead of selling wine strictly through the tasting room and utilizing weddings and events - White Hall sells about 85% of their inventory at retail outlets. As a result- the tasting bar is small - and there was a steady flow of only a handful of visitors during our stay.

White hall produces a large portfolio of wines - in different styles so that any visitor should find something to their liking. For whites we started with Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, two vintages of Gewurztraminer, the fore mentioned Petit Manseng, and Viognier. The first vintage of Gewurztraminer was drier than the second - and a nice alternative to the usual semi-dry style. The Petit Manseng was acidic and refreshing - not as fruity as the previous year - but nevertheless a good wine. We also learned that Viognier should be warmed at room temperature - since this wine if served too cold - loses its aroma. After cupping the glass in our hands - the aroma and apricot flavors appeared. Another good Virginia Viognier.

At this point our hosts guided on a tour of their production facilities, starting at the crush pad, through the fermenting and aging tanks, and the barrel room. We tasted muscat aging stainless steel and learned that this wine is added to the Pinot Gris, Petit Manseng, and Viognier to enhance the aroma. In the barrel room we sampled aging Merlot and Petit Verdot - showing their will be a good 2008 vintage. Back at the tasting bar we finished with their reds - starting with a lighter bodied Cabernet Franc event though it was aged in oak for 10 months. There followed a Syrah and our two favorite wines of the visit, the Touriga and Cuvee des Champs. The first is 100% Touriga Nacional which was fermented in small bins and then aerated using the Delestage method. The juice is then aged for ten months in French and American oak - producing a very good wine. The Cuvee des Champs is a Bordeaux styled blend using the 5 classic varieties and then aged 18 months in oak. This is a big wine - full of flavor - and a smooth tail.

We finished the day with Edichi, their port styled wine made from Touriga, Petit Verdot, and Tannat and named after our host - Mrs. Edith Champ. This is a much lighter dessert wine than the standard port - lower in alcohol and sugar. I can envision some patrons purchasing this wine for regular consumption - not just for dessert. By this time - we were done - tired - physically and of wine. Where's a beer. Fortunately we had chartered a bus - there's really no other alternative after such a day. We want to thank the Champs, the Kings, and Ms. Pelton for an awesome day.

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