Thursday, May 31, 2012

The History of Virginia and Maryland Wines - from Jefferson and Adlum

I've always been fascinated by history, and the textbook-like A History of Wine in America, Volume 1: From the Beginnings to Prohibition was one of the first books I read when researching early wine making.  This volume allocates several chapters to discussing the role of vineyards and wine making in colonial America and gives the reader a basic introduction to early Mid-Atlantic wine making. My summer reading list has now been augmented by two books that expands this introduction for both Virginia and Maryland respectively:  Beyond Jefferson's Vines: The Evolution of Quality Wine in Virginia and Maryland Wine: A Full-Bodied History

Richard Leahy, a former East Coast Editor for Vineyard & Winery Management magazine, has been covering the Virginia wine industry for the past 25 years so is well suited to describe the transition of the Commonwealth's wine industry from a few pioneers to today's vinifera revolution. Best of all, Leahy covers all geographic regions in Virginia, so don't expect just a Monticello-centric dissertation. This summer the author will be conducting book signings at various wineries and festivals starting this weekend at the Vintage Virginia festival. You can also find him at DuCard Vineyards - Father’s Day Celebration June 16, 2012, 12pm to 5pm;  Paradise Springs Winery  - June 22, 2012, 3pm to 5pm; Potomac Point Winery -  July 19, 2012, 6pm to 9pm for Wine Club Members only; Williamsburg Winery  -July 22nd, 2012, 12pm to 4pm; The Winery at Bull Run - August 25th, 2012, 12pm to 4:30 pm; and the Reston Grape Grape Festival - September 8th & 9th 2012 (all day).

Regina McCarthy is currently the marketing coordinator for the Maryland Wineries Association and researched the evolution of the Maryland wine industry from the first plantings in 1648 to the 50 or so wineries today. Everyone should be particularly interested in the role of Philip Wagner, founder of Boordy Vineyards, in igniting the post-Prohibition wine industry in the Mid-Atlantic through the adoption of hybrid grapes. Regina might have a few book signings planned during Maryland Wine Week but you can catch her this weekend at the Hunt Valley Great Grapes. On June 9th 2012 she will also be signing books at Nicks of Calvert from 1–4 p.m.; then June 23: Barnes & Noble, Bel Air from 2–4 p.m.; and finally, June 23: Barnes & Noble, Power Plant, Baltimore from 5–7 p.m.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Wine Blogging Wednesday #77: “A Glass (of cider) After A Bad Day At Work”

Our friend, Alleigh at A Glass After Work hosts Wine Blogging Wednesday #wbw77 this month and the topic, “A Glass After A Bad Day At Work”. Normally, after a particularly bad day at work I hit the whiskey or rum when I return home. But since the weather has warmed and I've been commuting by bicycle, the hard stuff isn't as satisfying. I tried beer and yes that can be a thirst quencher - but it doesn't alleviate the tensions from a tough day.  Then, one day I reached for a Foggy Ridge Cider First Fruit cider. Immediately the apple flavors calmed my nerves, while the acidity was as refreshing as a malt beverage. I instantly relaxed - who cares about work? The next week I tried the Foggy Ridge Cider Serious Cider. This cider is lighter than the First Fruit but produced similar results.  I'm now stocking up on ciders: Albemarle CiderWorks and Applewood Winery now in the fridge; and will be adding cider from Castle Hill Cider, Distillery Lane Ciderworks, Great Shoals Winery, and planning trips into New York and Pennsylvania. Any suggestions?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Virginia Wine at The Tribute to the Wounded Warrior

If you have to pick one fundraiser to attend this year, then choose the Beethovenfound Memorial Day Tribute to Wounded Warriors held this May 27th 2012 at the Great Meadow Event Center (5089 Old Tavern Rd, The Plains VA). This event will be the largest event ever staged in this country for Wounded Warriors. Members of the New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, Baltimore Symphony, and National Symphony and other professional symphony musicians will come together to create a 200 member orchestra with a 500 strong chorus conducted by Maestro Ulysses James. More than 6 Major bands will perform on a specially constructed stage surrounded by risers for the chorus and 2 Jumbotrons will show the action and carry messages from our sponsors, patrons, and performers. There will also be an air show, polo show, classic car show and a Childrens area with moonbounces, rock climbing, pony rides and more!  Plus there will be cigars (CigarVolante), beer and Virginia wine courtesy of Mattaponi Winery, Horton Vineyards, Unicorn Winery, Miracle Valley Vineyard and Winery, Lost Creek Winery, Goose Creek Farms and Winery, & Potomac Point Winery. The cost is $45 per person (children Under 12 are admitted free!). 

Here is an interview with H. David Meyers and General Bugsy Forsythe for Memorial Day Tribute to Wounded Warriors


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

More Opportunities to Drink Local Wine: Maryland Wine Week

Opportunities to Drink Local Wine continue next month as the Maryland Wineries Association announces Maryland Wine Week, running June 8-17. During this week several Maryland restaurants and wine shops will "celebrate local wine and produce by hosting a range of events themed around Maryland wine, including wine maker dinners, tastings, wine flights, and more!"

Never tried a Maryland wine? Don't know much about the industry? Then check out a few videos featuring Maryland wineries (Black Ankle Vineyards, Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard, and Old Westminster Winery. Or better yet, check out the 20th Wine in the Woods festival this weekend (5/19-20) in Columbia and sample wines from over thirty Maryland wineries. That will prepare you for the Annapolis Arts & Crafts Festival held June 9th and 10th. Here are the restaurants and wine shops participating in Maryland Wine Week. Hope to see you at one of their events or follow along on Twitter and Facebook.

Wine Shops
Annebeth’s Specialty Shop • Annapolis
College Square Liquors Carroll County
Frederick Basket Company Frederick
Friendship Wine & Liquor • Abingdon
Mill’s Fine Wine & Spirits • Annapolis
Nick’s of Calvert Calvert County
Wine LoftBaltimore County

Alexandra’s Restaurant • Ellicott City
Beans in the Belfry • Brunswick
Clementine Baltimore
Drovers Grill & Wine Co. • Mount Airy
Patrick’s Retaurant & Pub • Cockeysville
The County Cork Wine Pub Eldersburg
The Gourmet Goat & GG’s Restaurant & Martini Bar Hagerstown
RANAZUL Tapas Wine Bistro Howard County

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The #DLW12 Nomacorc Twitter Taste-Off: "Where's the Gewürztraminer?"

One of the highlights of all conferences is the Twitter taste-off, where participates sample wines from the host state and immediately share their impressions online. This year was no exception with the Nomacorc-Colorado Twitter Taste-off where we tasted and tweeted using the #colwines and #drinklocal hash tags. And at the end of the tasting the media and general public voted on their favorites.

This is actually a grueling affair, speeding drinking (spitting) 42 wines from 21 Colorado wineries. Initially I tried to stick with just whites, then roses, then reds; but eventually I felt like a novice festival attendee and just stuck out my glass and asked "what do you got?"  My first impressions were that there were several very good wines, and conversely, several not so good wines exuding volatile acidity or shrouded in oak. My second impression, "Where's the Gewürztraminer?". For all the talk we heard previously that this may be Colorado's - or at least the Western Slope's - signature grape variety - not a single winery chose to pour a Gewürz.

Oh well, here are my favorites of the day. Not surprisingly, I enjoyed both offerings from Canyon Wind Cellars, the Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, perhaps influenced from our pre-tour visit. Boulder based Settembre Cellars was pouring the identical varietal wines and continued to impress. Another winery that I really enjoyed both offerings was Snowy Peaks Winery, who were pouring a Petite Sirah and the Elevee Blanc (60% Viognier & 40% Roussanne). Once again, kudos for evening producing this Rhone blend. Finally, another favorite were the wines from Denver based The Infinite Monkey Theorem. Their white was a local alcohol refreshing IMT Riesling whereas their red, the IMT 100th Monkey is a unique blend of 40% Petit Verdot, 20% Cabernet Franc, 20% Syrah and 20% Petit Sirah. The catch, $42 - now I know why some locals complain about price points.

Now for the winners. For whites, not only was the Four Corners based Guy Drew Vineyards Pinot Gris voted best White Wine, but also the Media's favorite wine. Wrong. How could my colleagues completely mess this up. In fact, the best White Wine, was the Guy Drew Vineyards No Oak Chardonnay. Seriously, Guy can make some quality wine. And with both of these wines priced at $16, this shows why I think Colorado has several excellent value wines. For reds, the Ruby Trust Cellars Smuggler, a Cabernet Franc blend, was voted Best Red; but I preferred the 100% varietal Cabernet Franc from Creekside Cellars. I mean, this was Cabernet Franc - it smelled like CF, it tasted like CF, and the peppery finish lingered like CF.  And it was better than most Virginia Cabernet Francs I've tasted. The downside, need to get over the $35 retail price. Finally, I agreed whole-heartedly with the People's Choice Award - the best wine - wasn't even a wine; but a dry-hopped mead from Redstone Meadery: "Nectar of the Hops". No longer called a Braggot since there's no malt, this style makes a a fun, refreshing beer-ish beverage that contains the clean finish of many dry-hopped IPAs with the sweetness of honey instead of malt. Nicely done. And it may be available in the DC area.

There you have it. Looking forward to next year's DLW Twitter taste-off; wonder where it will be???

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Colorade Wine - Made from grapes with altitude and attitude

That's the slogan for the Canyon Wind Cellars 47-TEN series which, after spending four days in the Centennial state for the 2012 Conference, we learned is applicable to the entire Colorado industry. Not only was I fortunate to attend the conference, but the folks at the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board included me on a pre-tour of the state's two American Viticultural Areas (AVA): the West Elks and Grand Valley. These AVAs are located on the Western Slope of Colorado with the former lying south of the Grand Mesa and the latter to the west.

We started our tour in the West Elks AVA and quickly learned about altitude - this AVA hosts the highest vineyard in the Northern Hemisphere, Terror Creek Winery, which sits at 6,417 feet above sea level. You would think this is the land of cold climate hybrids, but no, vinifera is the norm - specifically Alsatian grapes such as Gewürztraminer and Riesling as well as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The high altitude induces higher acidity in the grapes and less sugar - resulting in lower alcohol wines. And most interesting, phylloxera is basically non-existent so that vines are not grafted to rootstock.

Located just below Terror Creek is Stone Cottage Cellars, the 2nd highest vineyard and our first stop of the tour. Proprietors Karen and Brent Helleckson explained to us the hazards and difficulties in cultivating grapes at this altitude. The growing season is extremely short, 150 days, which can be shortened - as frost sometimes occurs as late as June. Since bud break normally occurs in early May (late April this year), a late season frost can decimate a vineyard. Another hazard is pests, all American vineyards battle birds and deer, but for Colorado, include Elk, Raccoons, and wild Turkeys.  Because of these weather and animal hazards, Helleckson prunes to 6 buds, because any less could result in zero fruit.

During our visit, Stone Cottage Cellars was pouring a dry Gewürztraminer, a Chardonnay, a Grand Valley Syrah, and a dessert wine - the Alpine - a  Gewürztraminer based wine fortified with grape spirit. We were also able to sample two wines in the tank, the soon to be released 2011Gewürztraminer and the 2009 Pinot Noir. Ironically, my favorites were these last two. Their dry Gewürz was good, but the extra residual sugar (.6%) in the 2011 vintage lifted the aromatics and exuded stronger flavors - all balanced by the grape's natural acidity. This 2011 Gewürztraminer will be a very good wine. As for the Pinot, it is a very fruit forward red with somewhat of a silky mid-palette leading to the smooth finish. That evening we revisited their Chardonnay during a dinner hosted by the Smith Fort Ranch. The Burgundy styled wine - really held its own during the initial course (of course I can't recall the actual pairing).  I also enjoyed the Alfred Eames Cellars Collage (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot blend) at the ranch. Eames was one of Colorado's earliest winemakers - and seems to specialize in red wines. One day I want to sample his local favorite - Carmena (a blend based on the Carmine grape with some Merlot and Cabernet Franc.

Although lower in elevation and more temperate, wineries in the Grand Valley AVA - and in our case the wineries within Palisades - face constant weather challenges. For over 30 years, Carlson Vineyards has been producing wine from Colorado grown fruit, but with cold-weather induced low yields the past two years, the winery had to source fruit from Washington State this year. And these were my favorite wines, wines that I've ordered online in the past: Riesling, Gewürztraminer, and Lemberger. Since Carlson possesses a large portfolio, there were about a dozen of Colorado wines that we were able to sample, including a few rather nice fruit wines. But the biggest surprise was their version of a White Zinfandel or Blush wine, the Prairie Dog Blush - a kitchen sink blend of Lemberger, Gewürztraminer,  Seyval, Muscat Canelli, and Orange Muscat. This is a fun wine, particular when hanging out - listening to Parker Carlson describe his operation. Another bonus, all Carlson wines are priced under $13.

Located near Carlson is High Country Orchards and Vineyards, a new winery which augmented their famous peach orchard into producing wine from Bordeaux grapes: the Colterris (from the Colorado land) series. After a short orchard and vineyard tour we sampled their two wines - the varietal Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. These were both decent wines, particularly from such a young winery and I would love to revisit to see how the wines mature over time. 

Canyon Wind Cellars and Garfield Estates Vineyard & Winery are situated not far from Carlson and High Country, but because of the multiple mesoclimates within Palisades, they might as well be in different AVAs. The vineyards at Canyon Wind Cellars receive frequent and larger bursts of wind (hence the name) and even at similar altitudes, bud break normally occurs first at Canyon Wind than at Garfield Estates. Regardless both of these wineries produce very solid wines. Canyon Wind offers three brands, the lower end - but nicely done 47-TEN series, a varietal series, and a newly launched high end label Anemoi. The Anemoi wines are blends named after the mythological Greek Gods of wind, and my favorite was the Boreas - 100% estate grown comprised of 43% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Merlot, 21% Cabernet Franc, and 15% Petit Verdot. The 47-TEN wines are excellent values at the common $13 price point as are the varietal wines, priced from $15 (whites) up to $25.

As much as I liked the wines from Canyon Wind Cellars, the wines from Garfield Estates Vineyard & Winery proved that wineries in the Grand Valley can produce elegant wines. This outlook started with their S² (S-squared) a white Bordeaux blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon. I mean, major kudos for just creating this blend. Even better, its all fruit - no oak as in the companion Fumé Blanc - with the grapefruit flavors evolving into a refreshingly acidic mouth bath. We then tasted a barrel sample of their soon to be released Vin Rose - made from Cabernet Franc. This wine had more texture than most roses perhaps resulting from 5-6 months aging in neutral oak. I will be buying this wine online when released. Then there's the 2009 Estate Syrah, a creamy and silky wine with a slight white pepper finish. This may be my favorite wine of the entire trip - and priced at $18 - a super bargain. It was also a hit a couple nights later at Row 14’
during a dinner hosted by our friends at Nomacorc.

I think what makes Garfield so special, is that proprietor Jeff Carr understands that Colorado has an infant wine industry. He acknowledges he doesn't yet know what grapes grow best. But he doesn't plan on forcing grape varieties that may be recognizable, but not acclimated to the soil or climate. And even with the better known grapes, such as Cabernet Franc, he doesn't want to manipulate it into a big Bordeaux styled red - but rather allow the grapes to produce a softer Chinon style.

Despite the excellent wines that we tasted, we noticed a few deficiencies within theses two AVAs. First, there appears to be an absence of cooperation and critiquing among the wineries. Yes the wineries encourage visitors to seek out neighboring wineries and there are shared events - there doesn't seem to be regular meetings to discuss common issues and to sample and critique each others wines. In Northern Virginia, winemakers meet monthly to share wines and all must be prepared for Jim Law's analysis. This elevates each winemaker's game which in turn improves the wines made in the entire region.

Second, there appears to be a trend to plant grapes that are popular and not what may grow as best in the environment. Yes, they plant grapes associated to that elevation, but not once did we hear, "Before establishing the vineyard, I consulted a viticulturist to determine which grapes to plant in the vineyard and in which specific plot". Where are the Lucie Morton's of Colorado. Just take a look at Maryland's two best wineries, Black Ankle Vineyards and Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard, both who consulted with Morton before planting their respective vineyards. Give Horst Caspari a call.

Despite these trends and the altitude, wineries in the Grand Valley and West Elks are producing wines with attitude. The many excellent wines elevate Colorado into a respectable position in the drink local movement. Thanks again to the great hospitality provided by Colorado Wine Industry Development Board, the Smith Fort Ranch, Delta County, Grand Junction VCB, and the host wineries. Now on to the Front Range and Four Corners.....

I should have noted that Colorado winemakers in the Front Range Winemakers Association do meet to discuss issues and critique wines. As far as I know, winemakers in the Grand Valley and West Elks AVAs so not.