Monday, May 29, 2023

Second Battle of Bull Run, St. Mary of Sorrows, Clara Barton, & Bunnyman Brewing

This weekend, Pentecost and Memorial Day landed on the same weekend and that served as an impetus to tour the historic St. Mary of Sorrows church and then, after mass at the new church, visit Bunnyman Brewing -- #thecompasscbf 2023 stop number 73.

St. Mary of Sorrows was the second Catholic church built in Fairfax County (behind St. Mary’s in Alexandria) after Irish immigrants moved to the area while building the Orange and Alexandria Railroad to what is now Fairfax Station. The names of these families can still be read on the tombstones standing in St. Mary's cemetery. The church was finished in 1860 just when the Civil War started brewing. "Given the church’s important location on the main road from Fairfax Courthouse to the depot of the Orange and Alexandria Railroad (now Fairfax Station), the area, with St. Mary’s as an identifying point, quickly became an important objective for both Northern and Southern armies vying to dominate the railroads in the area".

When Pope's Union army was flanked and routed by Longstreet and Jackson at the Second Battle of Bull Run or Battle of Second Manassas, a field hospital was moved to St. Mary’s. "The wounded were laid out on the Church’s hill, many on pews taken from the church. They awaited the unloading of food and ammunition from the trains in the railroad yard nearby, so they could be placed on trains going east to Alexandria.

Clara Barton had arrived from Alexandria on one of these trains. She was a clerk at the Government Patent Office who had gathered a group of volunteers to tend to the wounded and dying. She nursed the wounded for three days and nights as heavy rains fell and doctors operated in the only dry place available, the church. Many soldiers died and were buried in the churchyard. Although 20,000 Confederate soldiers began the push toward Fairfax Station, Miss Barton, her volunteers, and the doctors remained until the last of the wounded were evacuated. She watched from the windows of the last train as the Confederate Soldiers captured Fairfax Station and set fire to the depot. As a result of her experiences at Fairfax Station, she devised a plan to establish a civilian society, which became the American Red Cross. A plaque honoring her heroism sits on the Route 123 side of the church grounds".
Since the "original wood pews were destroyed during the Civil War, as mentioned above. Tradition holds that the present seats were installed at the order of President U.S. Grant. He often traveled by train to a resort in nearby Clifton, and ordered restitution when he learned of the damage inflicted on the church by Union troops...The soldiers buried in the churchyard during the Civil War were later moved to Arlington National Cemetery, with the exception of one Confederate named Kidwell. Only those bodies that could be positively identified were moved. Kidwell’s relatives wanted him to remain on Catholic ground, so they contrived a ruse with the pastor to not mark Kidwell’s grave so that his body would not be moved". (1)  

A beautiful new church for the expanding parish was constructed during 2019-2020 and is a stop on the A Jubilee Journey with Mary tour of Marian-Named Parishes in the Arlington Diocese

After attending mass or just visiting the new or old churches, Bunnyman Brewing is only minutes away.  The brewery is named after a local Fairfax urban legend and provides abundant beer for those willing to risk encountering the hacket-throwing insane man dressed in a white bunny suit. These beers are dispensed using a self-serve system where visitors can pour the volume of their choice and are charged for that amount. I poured two flights of various levels in order to taste a broad representation of their portfolio. A full taster pour of Kölsch revealed a refreshing bready beer and I'm becoming a fan of the steady and easy-drinking English Mild Brown Ale. The biggest surprise was the Juicy Viking IPA brewed with Norwegian Kveik yeast and Ekuanot & Galena hops.  A pint pour next time. And my favorite with a mini-taster at 12.5% was the Blinders Barrel-Aged S'mores Milk Stout. Delicious. 

 (1) St. Mary of Sorrows

Friday, May 19, 2023

Mother's Day at Maryland's Rocklands Farm Winery

It definitely was not an original idea to visit Rocklands Farm Winery on Mother's Day, but this Maryland farm winery had plenty of staff and tasting areas to accommodate the large volume of visitors. The winery farms 16 acres of estate grapes and works with multiple regional partners to produce an interesting portfolio of "low-intervention" wines. And in the estate vineyard, they prohibit the use of herbicides - unheard of in the hot and humid mid-Atlantic summers.  According to the winery, "Overall, our goal is for our vines and soils to be healthy with a strong immune system necessary to thrive with minimal spray intervention..."

We started our visit with two wine flights providing a representation of their white, rosé, and orange wine portfolio. The 2020 Sungold ($34) is one such orange wine, made from 100% skin-macerated Petit Manseng sourced from neighboring Virginia vineyards. It was fermented and aged for 15 days on the skins and 8 months in neutral French oak. Lots of tropical fruit with tart honey. The dry 2021 Anna's Rosé ($29) was very appreciated -- a refreshing blend of 49% Merlot, 27% Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot -- sourced from Maryland vineyards. I was a fan of the 2021 Ancestry Pet-Nat ($38) which is 100% Chardonnay with a bready green apple profile. However, the favorite of our group was the 2021 Fieldwork ($29) a blend of 71% Sauvignon Blanc and 29% Chardonnay with a strong floral aroma and a refreshing grapefruit core. 

We only tried two red wines, starting with the 2021 Hillside ($34) from our Spring Flight. This is a blend of 86% Petit Verdot, 7% Malbec, and 7% Cabernet Franc (sourced from Virginia) and aged nine months neutral French oak. Very approachable with silky dark fruit flavors. Very suitable for Spring.  I also purchased a bottle of their almost depleted 2021 Rockridge ($38), a barrel-aged and Maryland-grown Blaufränkisch that was (like the Hillside) aged nine months in neutral French oak. This wine is an appropriate example of their low-intervention approach as it was fermented using natural yeast and bottled unrefined and unfiltered. The 2021 Rockridge is one of the best Mid-Atlantic representations of Blaufränkisch that I have tasted -- red fruit, a little earthy, and lasting spice.

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

New York's Passive House Certified and Organic Seminary Hill Orchard & Cidery

This month I received two ciders from New York's Seminary Hill Orchard & Cidery as part of the BevFluence New Perspectives on Cider campaign.  Seminary Hill is located in the western Catskills, specifically in Callicoon, a small town on the Delaware River that separates New York and Pennsylvania. It is owned by Chicagoans Doug Doetsch and Susan Manning although Doetsch's pedigree in the region extends back multiple generations.  The property is named after a Romanesque-style seminary that Franciscan priests built in 1901. Besides the cider house, which utilizes wood reclaimed from the now-demolished Tappan Zee Bridge, the property includes a Boarding House that occupies a former hospital and doctor's office. 

Through the assistance of architect James Hartford and River Architects, Seminary Hill is the world's first Passive House certified alcoholic beverage facility.  Many people are more familiar with the LEED sustainable building certification, but the Passive House certification identifies "a handful of practices that have the biggest effect. This makes it simpler for more people to get involved in making sustainable buildings and thus increases the cumulative effect. Through computer modeling, it was determined that the key elements were a super-tight envelope, with all air exchange going through an energy recovery ventilator; high levels of insulation; and solar orientation and shading to gain solar heat in the winter and reject it in the summer." 

Although Seminary Hill is a relatively new operation, they utilize the services of long-time cider-maker Stuart Madany. I first encountered Stuart 11 years ago when he was the cidermaker at Castle Hill Cider in central Virginia and introduced us to cider aged in Georgian Kevri. See Winemaker Series: Castle Hill Cider & Kvevri.  Through email, he was able to explain some of the differences and similarities between cider-making in New York State and Central Virginia:

Both New York State and Central Virginia have pretty well-developed tasting room cultures - so to speak. People like to go and spend time tasting various craft beverages and visiting the places they're made. I think Harvest-Driven cider is probably a little more prevalent and a little more broadly appreciated in New York.

Certainly, the soil is different with the tremendous amount of rock and ledge here. My first week here someone told me that the gardeners here have a saying, that there are two rocks here for every dirt. There's a good bit of clay here too, but not as red as the heavy clay of Central Virginia.

And of course, the growing season is shorter, with colder, and snowier winters.

For me, the big difference this translates into is which varieties really shine in the cider. We're not growing Black Twig here, and the GoldRush I've found to be underwhelming. But, there are extremely exciting bittersweets and aromatic apples up here. While Harry Master's Jersey, or Tremlett's Bitter might give you a bit of aroma along with their high tannin in Virginia, they can be bursting with aroma and flavor up here. The French Amere de Bethencourt has some fantastic exotic spiciness. Aromatic apples like Ribston Pippin and Egremont Russet are also just packed with aroma and wonderful to work with. I'm hoping to have more apples of these varieties to work with this fall.

For the BevFluence tasting, we received two ciders representing the breadth of the Seminary Hill Orchard. The Delaware Dry 2020 is a bone-dry blend of Chisel Jersey (bittersharp) 42%, Baldwin (sharp-sweet) 26%, Golden Russet (sharp) 20%, and Northern Spy (sharp-sweet) 12%. Slightly sweeter, the Cackling Hen 2021 is a semi-sweet blend of Dabinett (bittersweet) 35%, Wickson (sweet) 19%, Newtown Pippin (sharp) 15%, Chisel Jersey (bittersharp) 8%, Golden Russet (sharp) 7%, GoldRush (sharp) 4%, Harry Master's Jersey (bittersweet ) 4%, Puget Spice (bittersharp) 2%, and others 6%. See the LARS classification below for what each apple variety contributes to the blend.

Because the orchard is so young and there are very few cider apple growers in the area, Seminary Hill decided to plant as many varieties as possible in order to determine which are most suitable for Sullivan County in terms of both harvest size and flavor. In total, Seminary Hill's orchard contains 54 apple varieties and 7 perry pear varieties. This explains the large number of apple varieties in each of these ciders but obscures the number of blending and small-batch trials used to create each composition. According to Madany, "Eventually, it will mean that our blends reflect the best of the potential of our spot on earth".

Being a new orchard, Seminary Hill is working through its pest management regime, particularly being an organic cidery.  Fire blight is a contagious bacterial disease that can only be prevented and is becoming more of a problem in New York over the last couple of yours. Infected trees must have the fire blight 'strikes' cut out after infection.  Cooler weather, particularly through the bloom season, helps contain this bacteria. 

The labels of the two ciders also reflect the history and geography of the region -- obviously Delaware Dry for the river. Dutch hunters tracked beaver along the Delaware River during the 1600s and the town of Callicoon is based on the Dutch "Kollikoon" which means: wild turkeys. Thus Cackling Hen references both the town and wild turkeys -- which are still abundant today. 

On the palate, the Delaware Dry contains a tasteful, fleshy, and chewy distribution of tannins and acidity  There are also noticeable malic qualities providing a long and clean finish.  The Cackling Hen has a stronger nose and is more tart and tannic which I think the sugar and fleshy apple flavors help control. I added a little Sagebird Cider Pommeau which accentuates the acidity while tamping down the tannins, and without adding much additional sweetness. 

LARS Classification:
Sweet (low acid, low tannin)
Sharp (high acid, low tannin)
Bittersweet (low acid, high tannin)
Bittersharp (high acid, high tannin)

Friday, May 5, 2023

Grape Spotlight: Pannonian Area Blaufränkisch & Kékfrankos

Like the Wine Tour Across Borders between Baranja (Croatia) and Villány (Hungary), there is a similar scene between Neusiedlersee (Austria) and Sopron (Hungary) that I will refer to as the Pannonian Area Wine Region. This region encompasses remnants of the Austria-Hungarian Empire and also includes parts of Slovakia, Slovenia, and Croatia. The Austrian Neusiedlersee represents the western border with the lake providing a tempering effect on the climate—ensuring that winters are relatively mild, summer is moderately hot, and fall is generally long and hot.  Immediately to the east, lies the Sopron wine region and Hungarian wine literature is basically equivalent to its Austrian counterpart: 

"Sopron lies in the northwest of Hungary, directly on the border with Austria...where it shares its viticultural traditions with Burgenland. Its 1,579 hectares of vines are planted on the slopes of the Sopron and Kőszeg Hills and around Lake Fertő, as Neusiedlsee is known in Hungary, at altitudes of 150 to 400 meters above sea level. It is basically a direct continuation of the vineyards around Rust and the Leitha Hills in Austria. The best area for viticulture is in the north between Lake Fertő, Balf and Fertőrákos. However, there are also vines to the east of Sopron. Vines are generally planted on the northwestern and southwestern slopes where there is less risk of frost." --

Kékfrankos (Hungarian for Blaufränkisch) is the major grape variety in Sopron which thrives around the lake, where "there is less loess and brown forest soil and more mica schist and gneiss, which gives the wines great minerality". This mico schist is found nowhere else in Hungary. Steigler Winery utilizes organic grapes grown in this mico schist, particularly from the "best slopes of Sopron: Steiger, Frettner, and Spern Steiner. The winery was founded in  2015 by Bálint Lőrinczy -- and winemaker Tamás Varga crafts wines from grape varieties sharing a common heritage with neighboring Burgenland. The Steigler, Kékfrankos, 2020 ($23.90) is one example. This wine is available in the U.S. through Taste Hungary, but I had a few glasses at a recent Hungarian festival sponsored by the Kossuth Foundation. This is an organic wine, from vines that are eight to 20 years old, fermented in open vats for 12 to 15 days, and aged in 50 percent steel tanks and 50 percent oak barrels for 12 months. Think fresh plums and sour cherries with racy minerality and acidity, the latte not normally associated with red wine. 

Closer to the Alps and across the border is Neusiedlersee and without the lake's climate stabilizing influence, winter would arrive earlier, shortening the growing season. This would make it much more difficult to grow later ripening grapes such as Blaufränkisch and Austria's signature grape, Grüner Veltliner.  Even though Blaufränkisch doesn't have a similar DAC designation as Zweigelt, it is a major player in Burgenland and the Neusiedlersee.

That is where the Domaine Andau cooperative farms 660 ha of vineyards with a certain percentage of Blaufränkisch. See Grape Spotlight: Neusiedlersee Zweigelt for a more detailed overview of the winery (as well as Zantho).  Their 2019 Blaufränkisch (€9.50) was included in our Hopwine allocation and is simply delicious.  Imagine dark red cherries, a chewy interior, soft tannins, and a touch of spice and tobacco. The Zantho 2021 Blaufränkisch (€8.90) is quite different, with a more intense profile starting with the aroma, then darker fruit; more minerality and tannins; and a longer, lasting finish. I definitely need to procure full bottles of each in the future. 

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Loudoun County Spring 2023 Barrel Tasting

In late-April, we purchased tickets to the Loudoun Wineries Association's Spring 2023 Barrel Tasting visiting five out of a possible 14 wineries in that county that participated. Our group started at Willowcroft Vineyards, the oldest winery in the county and the 8th oldest in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Owner and winemaker Lew Parker purchased the property in 1979, planted grapes the following year, constructed the winery in 1983, and opened it to the public in '84. Today they grow 12 grape varieties with Albarino and Riesling being long-time favorites of ours. 

However, today's focus was on a trio of reds aging in the cellar -- all 2022 vintage and aging in different types of oak casks. We started by tasting from an American oak barrel holding the 2022 Cabernet Sauvignon where the barrel is adding tannins as well as vanilla and tobacco to this light-bodied wine. A 2-year-old French oak barrel is housing the 2022 Merlot allowing the fruit to shine forth while augmenting with additional tannins. Finally, a new French oak barrel is being used to age the 2022 Petit Verdot where the full-bodied and structured wine will receive even more tannins to make this an age-worthy wine. 

We then traveled the backroads of Loudoun County to Endhardt Vineyards, a relatively new winery operating on a beautiful estate south of Purcellville. And for a new winery, owners Hannes and Sarah Endhardt have invested heavily, both in the 46-acre estate and the extensive barrel program.  They have planted five grape varieties on their 11 acres under vine: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Petit Verdot, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. During the barrel tasting, we received a mini-vertical of two years of the Petit Verdot and Merlot. This allowed us to witness the transformation of each wine as it matured with the younger wines being more one-dimensional fruity and the older ones more structured. Looking forward to visiting on a day without rain and to enjoy their upcoming white Cabernet Franc. 

After lunch at Monk's BBQ in Purcellville, we headed a few miles north to one of our go-to wineries: Walsh Family Wine.  We've spent time with Nate over the years, at the old Whole Foods tastings, through his seminars at Sunset Hills, and now operating Walsh Family Wine with his wife Sarah.  The barrel tasting started on a high note with the first white wine of the day, a delicious Chenin Blanc. Just a touch of oak and substantial fruit.  We also tasted, I believe, a Merlot and a Tannat, in between conversations on racking,  blending, and viticulture in general. We finished with the very drinkable and ready Paeonian red blend - named after the town of Paeonian Springs where the grapes for this wine were sourced. This will be a highly prized release. 

We then traveled north into Hillsboro and to one of the oldest wineries in Loudoun County, Doukenie Winery. Greek for Duchess, Doukenie has a beautiful estate at the base of a short mountain range; interestingly, with Breaux Vineyards on the other side of that range.  It has been a while since I last visited; I particularly remember their A Taste of Science seminars. On this day, we tasted several wines while having a very informative discussion on brix and pH and how winemakers measure each. We also discussed different grape varieties and the benefits and difficulties of growing each. We learned how Cabernet Sauvignon is difficult to ripen in Virginia because of a lack of consistent sunshine. Cabernet Franc, on the other hand, is well suited for Virginia, but growers and winemakers have to time harvest exactly to balance the pyrazines and sugar and acidity. Honestly, I didn't document the other wines we tasted because I was so enamored with this technical conversation. It brought back the A Taste of Science seminars. Looking forward to returning to learn more about winemaking and viticulture as well as to taste these wines once bottled.

Our last stop of the tour was very close to where we started, Zephaniah Farm Vineyard -- located just south of Leesburg. The property has been a family farm since 1950, first as a  dairy farm and then as a vineyard since the early 2000s when the first grapes were planted. Winemaker Bill Hatch has been known for his Cabernet Franc and that was the focus of this day's barrel tasting. Specifically, they poured a 2021 Cabernet Franc that was resting in a 500-liter neutral Hungarian oak puncheon and the same vintage aging in a 228-liter French oak barrel.  Obviously, the version aging in the puncheon showed more fruit whereas the smaller French oak was providing more spices and tannic character.  The winery plans to combine the wine from both barrels into a third barrel, but I wish they would bottle some from just the puncheon - slightly chilled it would be a delicious summer sipper. 

Zephaniah made the barrel tasting even more interesting by giving visitors a sip of their 2022 Chelois, a French hybrid grape (Bienvenu and Roi de Noirs are its parents) created by French grape-breeder Albert Seibel in the wake of the phylloxera crisis of the late 19th century.  This is the only Chelois planted in Virginia and it shows dark fruit with limited tannins but decent acidity. It will be interesting if they decide to release it as a single varietal or as a blend.