Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Another Corn Vodka, Virginia's Belmont Farm Kopper Kettle Vodka

Virginia's Belmont Farm Distillery is the country's oldest craft whiskey distillery, founded by Chuck and Jeanette Miller in the late 1980’s. Their Virginia Lightening was the first craft spirit I ever tasted and lately the distillery and Miller have become more famous as the distiller of Tim Smith's Climax Moonshine. Not mentioned in the Discovery Channel Moonshiners series is that Belmont Farm is also producing a corn vodka, the Kopper Kettle Vodka ($20) - Single Estate Grain to Glass. Like their other spirits, the corn is grown directly on the estate and then fermented and distilled on site using a copper pot manufactured in 1933. Like the Prairie Organic Vodka, this vodka is distilled to taste but then filtered through a secret filtration system. Sipping neat, the vodka has a slight, but noticeable burn and the sweet corn flavors are muted. However, by simply adding a few drops of water, the alcohol is pushed down and the vodka displays a new vibrancy with the corn flavors exerting control. For a cocktail, the distillery recommends Sex on the Farm, a recipe containing 1.5 oz Vodka, 1/2 oz Peach Schnapps (or Catoctin Creek Peach Brandy), 2 oz Cranberry Juice, and 2 oz Orange Juice. Combine, add ice, shake, and garnish with an Orange wedge and cherry. Cheers.

Monday, December 28, 2015

The Versatility of Corn: Prairie Organic Vodka

Quite naturally corn is generally associated with moonshine (corn whiskey) and Bourbon since the mash bill is either 100% corn for moonshine or a minimum of 51% for Bourbon. But last week I sampled my first corn vodka, the Prairie Organic Vodka ($22)  - produced using certified organic #2 yellow corn and distilled to taste by Phillips Distilling Company.  This Minnesota distillery sources the corn from three local family farms: Sather Organic Farms, Olson Organics, and Little Big Man Organic Farms. The website details how these operations practice organic farming by creating a 25 foot buffer crop and then using birds and bats to combat insects.  The corn is then distilled to taste in Benson, Minnesota. Distilling to taste is similar to barrel blending in the sense that the goal is to create a consistent flavor profile and each corn batch differs based on climate, soil, etc. Interestingly, the spent corncobs are converted into bio-gas to power the stills. After distillation the vodka is transferred to Princeton, Minnesota and bottled by Ed Phillips and Sons - a fifth generation and family-operated distilled spirits company.

The final spirit has a familiar flavor profile as corn whiskey with that sweet corn flavor but the Prairie Organic Vodka plows deeper with a creamy texture and zero burn. The vodka is mighty fine neat, but will most likely be used in a cocktail. The distillery recommends the Prairie Organic Bootlegger using 1 ½ oz Prairie Organic Vodka, ½ oz lime cordial, and 3 fresh mint leaves. Shake and strain into a glass with ice. Top with soda water. Cheers.

What is Vodka? The U.S. Government definition of vodka reads as follows:
Sec. 5.22 The standards of identity.
Standards of identity for the several classes and types of distilled spirits set forth in this section shall be as follows (see also Sec. 5.35, class and type):
(a) Class 1: neutral spirits or alcohol. “Neutral spirits” or “alcohol” are distilled spirits produced from any material at or above 190[deg] proof, and, if bottled, bottled at not less than 80[deg] proof.
(1) “Vodka” is neutral spirits so distilled, or so treated after distillation with charcoal or other materials, as to be without distinctive character, aroma, taste, or color.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Is Really Ten Years Old?

2005 Veramar Vineyard, VA
Facebook reminded me today that I had a seven year anniversary with my wine buddy Dezel from My Vine Spot. That got me thinking, if I've known Dezel for that long, how long has been around? And the answer is 10 years. I created the website in order to learn Microsoft's .Net 1.0 technology and the site is still running on that 10 year old platform. Sadly, it requires a major upgrade that was delayed in order to launch theCompass mobile app.

2015 Trois Clochers, QC
At the time of the website's launch it only covered wineries as the craft brewery craze hadn't exploded yet.( I believe I started adding breweries in 2010, with distilleries and cideries as separated categories a little later.) In the initial launch, the site contained a Gallery section which described my visits to wineries and festivals - usually with my infant son in tow. (I learned to spit right away.)  Ironically the first post was on a Memorial Day 2005 trip to Tarara Winery which I just happened to visit yesterday. I'd say their wines have improved since that visit. And it was a lot easier taking Matthew to wineries back then being belted to a carrier. Now a days it requires a side trip to an aquarium or zoo in order for him to come along peacefully.  Here's a ten year look at Matthew enjoying trips to wineries.

Rappahannock Cellars, VA
Silver Decoy Winery, NJ
Carlson Vineyards, CO
First Colony Winery, VA
Hartwood Winery, VA
Bluemont Vineyard, VA
Lytton Springs, CA
Barrel Oak Winery, VA
Stone Villa Wine Cellars, PA
Birthday at Corcoran Vineyards, VA
2010 Schnebly's, FL
September Oaks, SC
Applewood Winery, NY
Vynecrest Winery, PA
CrossKeys Vineyards, VA
Palaia Vineyards, NY
Pippin Hill Farm & Vineyards, VA
Briar Valley Vineyards, PA
Willowcroft Farm Vineyards, VA
2015 Duplin Winery, NC
Vignoble de L'Orpailleur, QC

I wonder how he's going to look back on these trips? And there were a lot. I've guestimated that during the past ten years I've visited 270 wineries, 160 breweries and a dozen distilleries in 29 states and provinces. Matthew's probably been to a third. Sadly some of these are long gone such as Farfelu, Piedmont Vineyards, Oasis, and Frederick Cellars\Catoctin Vineyards. Many others have changed owners and names.

DLW at Carlson Vineyards, CO
I've also had memorable excursion to lesser known wine regions such as the Hudson Valley & Adirondack Coast in New York, the Grand Valley in Colorado, and more recently the Brome-Missisquoi Wine Route in Quebec. Along the way I've sampled countless Midwest Norton, Muscadine, labrusca, hybrids, even avocado wine from the Continental U.S.'s southernmost winery Schnebly Redland's Winery.  And lately our annual Washington Nationals road trip provides opportunities to taste excellent craft beer and spirits.

RPBDB at Foggy Ridge Cider, VA opened doors to segue into other media, partnering with my talented cousin David, with MyJoogTV and VirginiaWineTV.  Yea, many of those early videos were way too long, but what fun hanging out with Holy Ghost Tent Revival at Flying Dog Brewery or Dangermuffin at Sugarloaf Vineyard. And who can forget the classic Episode #9 with Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band at Foggy Ridge Cider with proprietor Diane Flynt. One day these two media outlets may resurface from hibernation.

All that being said, the best part of the past 10 years is the relationships that I've made with other bloggers, owners, winemakers, brewers, industry reps, etc. Dezel was the first blogger I met way back in 2006 but through the Wine Bloggers Conference and other events I can communicate with friends from across the U.S. from Vermont to Washington State, down to San Diego across to Florida via Texas and of course, DC. As for owners and winemakers I can't thank Jim and Lori Corcoran (Corcoran Vineyards & Cider) enough on the many times they have assisted me along the way.  And Jordan Harris (Tarara Winery) is always helpful. Thank you all for helping me over the years, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and cheers to the next 10 years.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Cold Climate Wines from Quebec's Brome-Missisquoi Wine Route

Immediately north of Vermont lies a wine region that is relatively unknown to most American wine consumers. It is the Brome-Missisquoi Wine Route located in the Eastern Townships, Quebec Province. This 85 mile route  contains 21 wineries, some of the oldest in Quebec, and produces 60% of Quebec’s wine production. These wines are made from cold climate grapes, Frontenac and Marquette for reds; Seyval Blanc and Vidal Blanc for whites. Ice wine is prevalent as is hard cider, even iced apple cider. Wine lovers who reside in Vermont and northern New York have easy access to the region, but I'd recommend the area for a long weekend for those who require more travel. I visited the region during a day trip from Montreal, basically an hour drive, and visited three wineries. And of course, theCompass Winery, Brewery, Distillery Locator Mobile App, guided us to these wineries.

Vignoble de L'Orpailleur
One of Quebec's oldest wineries, L'Orpailleur (The Goldseeker) was founded in 1981 with the first wines available for sale in 1985. This visit was my first chance viewing actual cold climate vineyard operations in practice, such as hilling where the graft between rootstock and vine is covered with soil. This practice was introduced to the Finger Lakes by Dr. Frank and which most Finger Lakes wineries still implement.   The winery's portfolio ranges from sparkling wine to ice wine with white, orange, rosé, and red wines in between. One of their original wines was the L’Orpailleur Blanc ($15) a 50-50 blend of Seyval Blanc and Vidal Blanc. This was one of my favorites during our visit, it is simple, yet complex with a big aroma and citrus flavors. The two sister wines, L’Orpailleur Rosé ($15) and L’Orpailleur Rouge ($15) where both nice values with the Seyval Noir rosé exposing bright berry flavors and the Frontenac red wine boasting mellow dark fruit with plenty of fresh acids on the tail.

Aging La Part Des Anges de L’Orpailleur
The most interesting wine was their La Part Des Anges de L’Orpailleur ($18), 100% Seyval Blanc where the wine is matured in demi-john containers "subjected to the rigors of our Québec’s climate".  This is a succulent wine which obtains an oak character of honey and caramel mixed with the citrus flavor of the grape.

The L’Orpailleur Réserve ($17) and L’Orpailleur Ice Wine ($29) were other favorites within our party with the first an 80-20 blend of Seyval and Vidal and the later 100% Vidal Blanc. The Reserve featured a maple character whereas the Ice Wine was somewhat tropical.

Grapes protected from birds,
ready for the freeze
Hilling up the graft
During our next visit I want to allocate more time in order to take one of their guided tours - particularly the Effervescence tour where one participant gets to sabre a L’Orpailleur Brut bottle.

UNION LIBRE cidre & vin

Located virtually across the road from L'Orpailleur on Godbout Rue, this operation specializes in unique hard ciders:  Fire Cider, Fortified Fire Cider, and Ice Cider. The process for the Fire Cider involves slowly heating Spartan and Empire apple must and collecting the concentrate after water evaporation. The resulting must is usually one quarter of the original quantity. This "fired" must is then fermented in stainless steel with a portion fortified with apple brandy and aged in oak for the Fortified Fire Cider. While both are delicious, the later is outstanding - part juicy apple flavors, part creamy, and finishing with roundness and smooth.

On the other side of the process, the Ice Cider is made using 90% natural Cryoconcentration and 10% Cryoextraction. The later process involves harvesting the Cortland, Empire, Spartan, McIntosh apples in December and January and pressing the frozen apples to obtain the concentrated juice. On the other hand, natural Cryoconcentration involves harvesting and pressing the same apple varieties when the apples are ripe and then leaving the must outside to freeze. Only 30% of the initial must will have the expected concentration and will be used during fermentation.  Honey envelops the apple and pear flavors, balanced by strong acids in this excellent ice wine.

Vignoble les Trois Clochers

One of the more cozier stops on the wine trail, this winery provided our first glimpse of Dunham Village and the village's three steeples. The estate vineyard is rather small at 4 hectare, but features a plethora of grape varieties: Seyval Blanc, Vidal, Geisenheim 318 and 322, Frontenac gris, Maréchal-Foch, Chancelor, Lucie-Kulhman, Léon-Milot, Sabrevois, and Frontenac. The winery produces three dry wines, one Port-styled wine, and one Ice Wine - the Cuvée Nadège, named after co-owner Nadège Marion. The Ice Wine is made from frozen Vidal grapes whereas the Port-styled Les copains d’abord wine is made from 100% Seyval Blanc in order to obtain a Vermouth like aperitif. The dry rosé Le Métis is a blend of Seyval Noir, Sabrevois and Chambourcin and the red Boisé wine is a medium bodied blend of five varieties (Maréchal-Foch, Chancelor, Frontenac, Léon-Millot, Lucie Khulmann). But once again I preferred the simpler Seyval Blanc White Wine ($13). The winery also produce an oaked version of this wine, but for me, the refreshing apple flavors excelled unoaked. 

Je adore le vin du Québec.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Loudoun's Creek's Edge Winery - A Relaxing Destination

Question? Which community holds the two oldest standing houses in Loudoun County, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and is home to a new farm winery? The answer is Taylorstown, a small village two miles south of the Potomac River that was first settled in 1734 by Richard Brown who build a mill over the Catoctin Creek. The two oldest standing houses are "Hunting Hill" and "Foxton Cottage" - both located directly across the Catoctin Creek from each other.

The new farm winery is Creek's Edge Winery, which was established by Tedd Durden in 2010. The estate vineyard consists of 4.5 acres of vines such as Chambourcin, Chardonnay, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon. The Amish structure housing the winery and tasting room is magnificent, even at night when we ventured over.  Although we missed the views of the estate, nighttime has another advantage, particularly Sunday night when the remain open until 7PM and occasionally live music. The winery charges $8 for a standard tasting and $15 for an expanded menu. I chose the standard and learned that most of the wine is Virginia grown except for the Riesling and Sangiovese which are sourced from Washington state.  The Virginia fruit is sourced from a neighboring Lovettsville vineyard as well as southern Virginia. The wines for the standard tasting are listed below (with my immediate thoughts) and the prices were pretty consistent within the Loudoun community.  Overall the wines were solid; I enjoyed the Pinot Gris the most . Add in the ambiance and Creek's Edge Winery is a relaxing destination in the Loudoun County Wine Trail. And theCompass Winery, Brewery, Distillery Locator Mobile App will guide you to historic Taylorstown.
  • 2014 Pinot Gris ($26) - peaches
  • 2014 Stainless Chardonnay ($26) - green apple
  • 2012 Chardonnay ($28) - lots of butter
  • 2014 Riesling ($25) - 2.5RS a solid wine
  • 2014 Rosé of Sangiovese ($25) - strawberry acids
  • NV Chambourcin ($24) nice fruit, slight pepper
  • 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon ($30) - very smooth, light green pepper
  • 2012 Merlot ($30) - slight earthiness, low fruit, black pepper

Thursday, December 17, 2015

#UncorkColorado 2015 Governor’s Cup Case Rhone Styled Wines

The Colorado Wine Board wants you, the wine consumer, to know that the Centennial State produces quality wine. One marketing platform they are utilizing is an #UncorkColorado Wine Virtual Tasting Series which featured the twelve wines in the 2015 Governor’s Cup Case.  Seems that Colorado is a good fit for Rhone styled wines as five of these wines were included in the case with two Syrah wines tying for Best in Show.

For those unfamiliar with Colorado wine, almost all are gown in the western part of the state with the Grand Valley AVA accounting for 80% of the grapes are grown. The next largest region is neighboring Delta & Montrose Counties which include Colorado's other American Viticultural Area, the West Elks AVA. That being said, over half of the wineries are located in Colorado's Front Range, the longitudinal area where the plains meets the Rocky's in the eastern part of the state. These eastern wineries source most of their fruit from the western region and have the grapes picked in the morning and then transferred overnight in a refrigerator truck. Also known as the Mile High State, Colorado is home to the highest vineyard elevations in America. On the positive side this altitude enhances a grape's acidity; one the negative side crop loss from frost and freezes are common.

According to the Colorado Wine Board, planting records indicate that Bordeaux varieties are the most common grapes planted in Colorado, but Rhone varieties certainly stands out. And we are referring to Northern Rhone with Syrah and Viognier. Of the two, Syrah  dominates with 1,000 acres planted compared to just 30 acres for Viognier. During out tasting we sampled one Viognier, three single varietal Syrah wines and one Rhone blend. These wines were more than solid, very tasting and structurally sound - proving that Colorado is wine country.

BookCliff Vineyards 2014 Viognier ($16, 14.8%) - BookCliff  accounts for two of the 30 acres of Viognier that were originally planted in 1997. Yields in the 2014 harvest were low, still being affected by an early freeze in 2013 that damaged most vines.  This had the beneficial result of concentrating the flavors and with the vineyard's high elevation of  4,600 feet, enhanced acidity.  The wine starts with a unique lemongrass aroma followed by apricot flavors, with some levels of cream, and refreshing acids. 

Turquoise Mesa Winery 2013 Colorado Crimson ($28, 13.5%) - blend of Syrah, Mourvedre, and Viognier sourced from the Grand Valley. After fermentation the wine was aged in three American (Minnesota) oak barrels, one new, and two multi-year barrels. There is notable spice on the wine a mix of pepper and baking spices - most likely a result of the oak. Once the spices blow off, the dark fruit flavors appear and with the soft tannins a very approachable wine.

Boulder Creek Winery 2012 Syrah (14.4%) - sourced form Talbott Farms/Diers Vineyard, Grand Valley AVA and aged 14 months in 2-year old Hungarian oak barrels. Sadly this winery closed down this month after 13 years in the industry after losing their lease. It appears the a side affect of the marijuana industry is escalating rents and the cost-benefit analysis for continuing just didn't add up. That's doubly sad because this is an excellent wine, a healthy wine was my initial exclamation, with big flavors and tannic structure yet finishing softly.

These last two Syrahs were tied as co-Best of Show in the 2015 Governor’s Cup

Turquoise Mesa Winery 2013 Syrah ($35, 13.5%) - sourced from Talbot’s Mountain Gold Block 19 Vineyard, Grand Valley AVA and aged in three American (Minnesota) oak barrels, one new, and two multi-year barrels. Like the Colorado Crimson this wine starts with plenty of pepper and spice which eventually subsides to reveal very dark fruit, some chocolate, earthy tannins, and decent texture.

Canyon Wind Cellars Anemoi 2013 Lips ($35, 14.4%) - Syrah; 100% Cliffside Vineyard, Grand Valley AVA; aged in all new American oak for ten months. The name refers to the Anemoi who were the four wind gods in Greek mythology and acknowledges the winds that regularly flow through Canyon Wind's vineyards. This was my favorite wine of the evening, simply delicious dark plummy fruit, a slight cola flavor mixing with tea and wood, then some velvety cream, finishing with acids and backbone. One complex and tasty wine.