Saturday, February 6, 2021

A Visit and Conversation with Dry Mill Vineyards' Winemaker Karen Reed

Even though Dry Mill Vineyards & Winery is one of the closest Loudoun County wineries to the Washington Beltway, in the past few years I seemed to have traveled past it while visiting that county's wine and beer trail.  But not last weekend when we targeted Dry Mill specifically because of its proximity to DC. My remembrance was solid wines particularly their Viognier and Chardonnay and on our arrival, we started with the 2017 Virginia Viognier ($29) - as well as cups of wine augmented mulled cider. 

We finished the Viognier in their courtyard patio, braced from the winery winds by side coverings and heat lamps. The wine was as pleasant as the environment, stone fruit dominated the citrus starting with peaches then ending with lifting lemony citrus.  

Next, we turned to their off-dry Mead ($25) - quite flavorful at 1.7% RS. What was lacking was a little lift in the tail, so I blended a bottle at home with the Supreme Core Pounda Gold to see if this livens the finish. This concept is a switch-hitter in the sense that either the hard cider or mead could be the dominant partner, and in fact, each side of the plate worked well. Augmenting the cider with a little mead added body and depth whereas adding cider to the mead did add more effervescence. But my tastes indicated a 50-50 blend - where both profiles contributed equally. 

It was at that point that I learned that winemaker Karen Reed was working in the tasting room, and to my ignorance, was hired a decade ago by Dry Mill after previous engagements at White Hall Vineyards, Clos Pegase Winery in Napa, Hillsborough Vineyards - and with a Masters Degree in Viticulture from the University of Adelaide, Australia.  I duly noted to follow up with Reed concerning her background which led to an email exchange this week learning more about the winery and herself. 

In particular, she is passionate about her Merlot and the fruit sourced from Russ Mountain Vineyard in Bluemont. Reed related how that vineyard specializes in Merlot and it is some of the best in the state, "if you blind taste my Merlots with anything from the right bank of Bordeaux, you'd be hard-pressed to tell the difference".  Thus Merlot is the star of their cellar with the 2017 Merlot the current - and last release - as they lost the contract that year. 

Ms. Reed is also excited about her 2017 Chambourcin. She relates, "it's not a grape that I was familiar with until moving to Virginia and it's always been a bit of a conundrum to me.  Most wineries try to get a lot of tannin extraction from it, and then put a lot of new oak on the wine.  However, when I tried this technique in previous years, I always felt like I was fighting with the wine -- trying too hard.  And it always ended up having that traditional "Virginia red flavor" which you used to find in a lot of wines from the 1990s.  In 2016, I made the decision to let the wine be what it wanted to be, a food-friendly, fruit-forward, easy-drinking wine.  The result was a wine reminiscent of a Barbara d'Alba... slightly higher acid, easy to drink, goes with every meal, but still sporting some rich fruit characteristics.  I love it.

And a lesson I learned is to reach out with these conversations before the visit so that I could taste these recommended wines on that visit and not have to plan a second outing.  We did return home with the 2017 Barrel Chardonnay ($27) which owner Dean Vanhuss had recommended when he stopped by our table to thank us for visiting.  Spicy butter and vanilla are the dominant notes for this wine with layers of green apples slowly evolving as the wine warms.  And the finish engages quite a while; a nice recommendation. 

Cheers to Karen Reed and Dry Mill -- until our next visit.

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