Wine Blogging at Monticello!

After spending a day at the Omni Hotel on the Charlottesville downtown pedestrian mall ( I write this description for non-locals) we climbed on busses heading up curvy route 53 to Monticello for a dinner reception featuring Virginia wines. Extremely muggy hot weather was not the best conditions to show off our fair city and Blue Ridge Mountains. I still think despite the New Orleans Bayou-thick air, out of state visitors were impressed with the history and beauty of Monticello.  Efforts were made to keep the guests comfortable, hand-held fans printed with “Virginia Is For Lovers” were distributed and outdoor air conditioning was provided at strategic locations, fans with water reservoirs diffusing cool mist on the more aggressive heat relief seekers (Me!).  TJ look-alike mingled with the guests  along with celebrities like the Zonins, owners of Barboursville, just in from Italia! 

The wine makers were sheltered under a vast tent, keeping their bottles in coolers before opening them  for the bloggers. I couldn’t be more proud of our winery owners, wine makers and hosts-cheerfully pouring (more requested) whites  and reds and extolling the quality of their wines. Meanwhile, I shed my heels at Ankida Ridge’s table and walked barefoot in the grass,  meeting other wine bloggers and tasting wine.  As I wandered around, I couldn’t help but wonder what Thomas Jefferson would think about these techy wine lovers traipsing around his home and sharing thoughts regarding an industry that he started centuries ago  in Virginia!  

I was a little despondent about the demise of the 200+ years old White Oak and Poplar trees flanking the west side of Monticello. Noticeably missing, the large tree stumps look void and sad, so I toasted Thomas Jefferson quietly to myself.  The value of some of the wines attributed to his collection have reached record prices at auction!

Ankida Ridge, Glass House, Stinson, Gabrielle RausseFlying Fox and Pippin Hill Farm Vineyard were stops for me, unfortunately I missed several others due to waning energy. The food was excellent!  Shrimp and cheese grits, mini crab cakes, tiny stuffed red potatoes were all tasty pairings for the wines offered. Water bottles were the most coveted item on the menu, Keswick Hall did a fabulous job!

All in all, a lovely event and I overheard many guests discussing return travel plans to Virginia!

Great job, Charlottesville and Virginia Tourism!

Promises and Celebrations at Pippin Hill Farm & Vineyards

Promises and Contrasts.  Pippin Hill Farm and Vineyards  is the newest addition to the Monticello Trail AVA  but has the aura of  generations of history. Set in a valley in the southern end of Albemarle County, this boutique winery promises to be one of the most coveted locations for wedding celebrations  in Virginia.  I was struck by the contrasts of old and new, soft and coarse, refined and rustic; the promise of a new venture developing like a fine Bordeaux into an exquisite wedding destination. 

 Upon first approach from the road, the hillside divide into two vineyards, both are in first year growth. Very new!  On the crest of the hill,  the Granary and Tasting Room are visible,  designed in the style of a classic farmstead house with the barn blending into the rolling countryside.  The structure appears old but the newly sown grass and plantings give it away.  The panoramic views are Old World and I can’t help but anticipate the views after the vines mature, anchoring the vista of  the  Blue Ridge Mountains and surrounding hills !  Definitely add this to your Autumn leaf peeping, wine tasting outings!

                                                                                  

Owners, Dean Andrews and Lynn Easton Andrews, have assembled the best team, from the architects and landscape designer to the interior design team of  JohnSarahJohn!  Dean has an extensive 30 year background in the hospitality industry  specificically,   international hotel operations and development including properties in the US, Caribbean, French Polynesia and Mexico.  Lynn’s professional career includes producing  large events for Fortune 500 corporations, non-profit organizations, and top-level social clients. Lynn’s expertise is described as orchestrating “high-touch” events that require maximum attention to detail.  It appears that between them, they have the recipe for success!

Chris Hill is the vineyard consultant with decades of experience in vineyard establishment and  management. Michael Shaps of Virginia Wineworks is partnering with Pippin Hill to produce wines and supplement with his label to get things rolling.

 The Structure 

The Pippin Hill facility offers five different arenas for entertaining: the main event building, The Granary; the Winery Tasting Room; the Veranda & Courtyard; the Wine Cellar and Alfresco Dining in the Vineyard.

The elements of design were artistically placed with photo opportunities in mind ( at least that was my impression) and permit countless  locations for keepsake snapshots!  Little niches placed here and there are priceless for stolen kisses and intimate moments!  Perfect for exchanging wedding promises!  Already, the wedding photographers and planners are blogging about this hot location! While I was visiting, three different groups were contemplating scheduling their big event here and judging by the smiles and number of camera clicks, I’d have to believe some deposits were placed!

The Granary is a barn inspired structure and the main event hall for wedding receptions,  accommodating up to 200 people with over 3,600 square feet of open floor space beneath a dramatic two- story wood beamed ceiling.  Old wood and rustic, distressed  furniture coupled with lavish fabrics create a sense of established elegance, feminine yet substantial. Several pieces were selected and imported from San Miguel, Mexico adding to the international feel.  Upstairs,  Brides can dress and primp with their bridesmaids  in the Bridal Loft  delicately decorated with  wispy sheer draperies and soft linen tweed upholstery.  

         

Below, wine tasting and a “vineyard to table” menu are offered on the Veranda and in the Tasting Room, which coincidentally has a loft for the groom  to prepare for the occasion!   The rustic decorating style continues throughout interior and exterior, with little touches of country elegance achieving an effect of a French or Tuscan farmhouse. 

In the Tasting Room, the bar top is constructed  out of  harvested wood from a Montezuma Cypress tree.  These trees are extremely hardy with a  long lifespan, some  can be up to 2,000 years old!  The  Montezuma Cypress  is Mexico’s national tree and cannot be cut down while still alive.  This tree was estimated to have died 10 years ago.  The tree’s circumference is 10′ and stood approximately 70-80′ tall!  

Stay tuned for my next post which will be Part II of Pippin Hill,  the wine  and ambience!

Seeking Mountfair Vineyard on the Appellation Trail

           On one of my recent outings with a good friend, open to spur of the moment adventures and travelling down bumpy back roads, we headed out to Mountfair  via “the shortcut”! 
We had just stopped in to revisit Glass House Vineyards, another excellent boutique winery on The Appellation Trail,  and decided to take the  shortcut over to Fox Mountain Road.  Delightful and scenic, with the surprise of a covered bridge (didn’t get a picture, Drat!) and mountain views I had never seen!  From Free Union Road and Glass House, turn right on 668 Chapel Spring Road which becomes Fox Mountain Road. This is approximately 7 miles, but an enjoyable detour.
I had been to Mountfair in the Fall,  the tasting room had recently been completed and I was curious to see the progress made by this sweet little winery on the eastern side of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  It is a little further out than some of the other wineries, but I recommend putting it on your list!  Look for events by following them on Facebook!  I was at City Market (the farmers market in Charlottesville ) and heard a rumour of a wine pairing event with L’Etoile!  Doesn’t that sound fabulous! L’Etoile is a mainstay in C-ville. Located near the bridge across from the Amtrak station, it has charm and character with delicious dishes and have a commitment to buying “fresh and local”! Check them out for lunch, dinner or samples (yum) at the market!  If that’s a perk of the wine club, it may be time to join!  We’ll keep you posted!
Kelly Meyers Rogan is the tasting room manager at Mountfair and  is as sweet as any Riesling.  Not only was she informative and gracious (stayed beyond closing time for us) but she is working on becoming a wine maker herself! She is presently apprenticed as a wine maker and taking the University of California at Davis wine making program!
 
 
 
 Kelly has a degree from The University of Virginia and is excited about her future in the Virginia wine industry!  When you stop in at Mountfair, be sure to say hello for me!  She is working on getting a refrigerator for snack items for visitors tempted towards a picnic on the terrace! Great idea!
 
 
 
 
 
 
 We tasted a couple of the wines and enjoyed them all, but liked the Indigenous, a blend of 50% Cabernet Franc and  50% Petit Verdot,  the best.  Don’t worry, there are more wines to come!  Being a small boutique winery and having sold out of several of their wines, more are being bottled!
  There is a very sentimental story behind the Wooloomoolooo wine, but for privacy reasons, let’s just say that it’s rather spiritual. When offered in the future, take advantage of savouring this wine!  Western Albemarle and Mountfair are rustic and  appealing, a great place for a weekend afternoon any season of the year!

Today At DuCard!! Artists, Music and Wine!

Get an “Official” Taste of Spring on The Appellation Trail

 Albemarle County is catching on fast! I try to arrange self-guided wine tours for friends and clients with location and proximity in mind.  Now, the newly formed  Appellation Trail has done just that!   By organizing a mapped tour of four ( soon to be five wineries ) a logical sequence of wine tastings is simplified for tourists and locals.  Loudoun County has a similar set up for 27 wineries broken down into “clusters” for easy touring.  Wikipedia describes an appellation as a legally defined and protected geographic indication used to identify where grapes are grown.  It is also defined as a geographical name (as of a region, village, or vineyard) under which a winegrower is authorized to identify and market wine according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

Playing off of the name of the nearby Appalachian Trail,  the  “AT”  is a unique wine route that connects five artisanal wineries in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains:  White Hall Vineyards,  Mountfair Vineyards,  Glass House Winery,  Stinson Vineyards & Moss Vineyards (opening 2012).

  This Saturday April 16th  is the celebration of the” official opening” of  The Appellation Trail!

Spring is the Time for Wine!

                                           Appellation Trail Grand Opening Winery Events on April 16th:

 White Hall Vineyards:

Vertical tasting of  2006, 2007, 2008 & 2009 Petit Verdot,  paired with cheese (12:00 to 3:00pm)

 Mountfair Vineyards:

Pre-Release Tasting of the 2009 Engagement Blend with live music!

 Be sure to stop by  &  join them on the patio for a delicious glass of wine while taking in the beautiful views & the sweet tunes of  THE LOST SOULS!

 

 

 Glass House Winery:

Tank tasting of 2010 Viognier with Live music — The Stoned Masons (3:15 to 5:45pm)

 Stinson Vineyards

 Winery Preview Opening featuring Gryffon’s Aerie meats & mini-burgers.  Preview four of their seven wines!  The 2010 Sugar Hollow White, Sauvignon Blanc, Rosé, and Sugar Hollow Red will all be available to taste and purchase.  Additionally, they will be featuring Gryffon’s Aerie meat and miniburgers – stock up on pasture-raised, heritage beef, pork, and sausage!

 

Honey, I want a Vineyard…

Yesterday, while compiling listing data for a real estate client I quite  unexpectedly  found myself on the flip side of the realtor/client relationship.  I stumbled upon a unique  listing in our Charlottesville Area Association of Realtors multiple listing service.  It suddenly became a high priority to see it and Bob  (my indulgent husband) reluctantly got the car keys.  Seriously, he was emptying out the dishwasher rather than  have to visit a random house that tempted my curiosity.  The more often I spend time at wineries and vineyards, the more captivated I become about possibly tending vines myself.  Obviously, the easy route would be to volunteer at a local vineyard. But no, that would be way too simple! 

The House-Wakefield circa 1760

Kitchen of the Past

The original log cabin was built around 1760 on a hill overlooking a spring fed pond with the Blue Ridge Mountains as a backdrop.  The house lies in the southwestern part of Greene County just north of the Albemarle County line, and  not too far from Stone Mountain Vineyards.  Charming, rustic features include four fireplaces, brick floors in the kitchen, an interior stone wall and an outdoor kitchen with fireplace and huge hearth.  It was later, in the early 1800’s, that an addition extended the square footage to its present day size of 1900 plus square feet.  Now you understand why Bob was dragging his feet, it wasn’t the size of the house, it was the age!  For me, the piece de resistance was a quaint fenced garden with grapevines, yes, Grapevines! growing over an arched gate to the side of the house!  Inside the garden was a large asparagus patch . That may not mean much to others, but my great-grandfather was an asparagus farmer. Does this property have my name written all over it or what?

Grapes!

 

10.69 Acres

The second story has a large deck with serene vistas that take you back to a quieter period of  time. The outdoor kitchen is flanked by an enormous blue spruce and a Savannah Holly just begging to be restored.  Below the house, a hay-field slopes towards the mountains and drops down to a pond. It was a sunny warm day with clouds rolling across the horizon and I giddily walked the property like a child in my flip-flops.  At this point I had already visualized my boutique vineyard and was mentally naming it! Unfortunately, I was prompted out of my dream state by my practical husband (darn it) who wasn’t  quite as captivated by the tiny narrow staircase in the house and the lack of central air conditioning.  Where did my pioneer man go?  Back to the conveniences of 2011, I imagine!

The Upper Deck

The Virginia Cooperative Extension has a very useful website for selecting property  suitable for cultivating grapes in Virginia.  It is a wonderful in-depth source of data but I highly recommend having an expert assess the site.  Dr. Tony K. Wolf, Viticulture Extension Specialist  and Dr. John Boyer, Professor of Viticulture at Virginia Tech are experts in this subject.  In the publication Vineyard Site Selection, they explain that topography, including the absolute and relative elevations of a particular site, will greatly affect the suitability of a proposed site, particularly in the western Piedmont and mountain regions of the state.  Further, a slight to moderate slope is desirable because it accelerates the drainage of cold air from the vineyard. After reading this, I felt the hay-field could prove a possible site for growing grapes. Clearly an expert needs to be involved if this were a land use someone would be contemplating. I look forward to taking classes on site selection later this year to understand all the factors involved in  qualifying a property for use as a vineyard.

Can you picture rows of grapevines here?

Oh, well…sigh…if anyone is intrigued by this post enough to want to see this property, please contact me for a showing.  I’d love to take a stroll back in time with you and consider the potential of this delightful listing in Greene County, Virginia.

 

 

 

 

The House That Came With A Vineyard…

Accidentally but  purposefully,  I stumbled upon Stinson Vineyards!  Scheduled for a wine blending class taught by Matthieu Finot (love how the French spell Matthew!) and hosted by Stinson Vineyards, I drove towards White Hall in western Albemarle County.  I am a local realtor and know my way around the area quite well and had never even  heard of this vineyard!  We literally drove past it 3 times, before noticing the parking area between the Piedmont House and the newly transformed garage addition tasting room.  I actually asked for directions at the Piedmont Store at the corner of  810 & Sugar Hollow Road and was sent off in the opposite direction.  Surprisingly, it is located just past the store on the right, practically a stones throw away!  Recently,  Cathy Harding  had  written an in-depth article about it in Cville magazine.  She is (and should have been sooner)  now on my list of  absolute ” must reads”.    At this point I decided we need to get the word out about this up and coming winery.

Finally inside the tasting room,  I explained my difficulty in locating the winery.  I was smilingly informed by  Scott Stinson, owner/renovator/architect,  that if I had  just asked for him they would have directed me there. Well! If that’s not country living with lifelong locals! Ask them for directions and the ironic typical  response is, “You remember where the old Gentry place used to be…”!  If you knew all that you wouldn’t be asking for directions!  Sorry,  I digress…

The Vineyard

Stinson Vineyards, as described on their website,  is now on its way to becoming an environmentally sustainable, family run micro-vineyard. Piedmont House, the main house is  in White Hall, Virginia, a tiny country town with panoramic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Built in 1796, it was expanded to the current square footage in the 1840s.  Apparently,  rumor circulated  that General “Stonewall” Jackson occupied the home  during his Valley Campaign of 1862.  The Stinsons purchased  adjoining acreage to start their new five acre vineyard for a grand total of twelve acres. The original,  mostly Cabernet Sauvignon vines from the 1970’s on the property were sadly neglected  and have been  undergoing restoration, hence the need for newer healthier vines.  The Stinson’s plan to open the winery to the public June 16th and celebrate their grand opening on the 4th of July of this year.  Stinson,  Mountfair, White Hall, Glass House and soon to be winery, Moss  will combine to create The Appellation Trail, the newest  wine trail in the northwestern sector of Albemarle County.

The Class

This was my first class through PVCC towards a certificate in oenolgy and viticulture and was it ever fun! Several  class members hailed from Northern Virginia and a few are in the process of opening their own wineries with vineyards already in production. Dennis Vrooman, a veterinarian in Virginia Beach,  Christine Wells Vrooman and their son have a vineyard in Amherst, named Ankida Ridge Vineyard,  with their own winery soon to open!

M. Finot discussing our amateur wine blending efforts

Matthieu Finot, winemaker for King Family, led our class. He is serious about his vocation but had a good sense of humor in dealing with some of us not  as experienced oenophiles!  Many of the students were  already acquainted from previous classes and quite knowledgeable about wines which  created a pleasant, relaxed atmosphere.

 

Rachel Stinson, Director of Operations, helped facilitate our class. She also happens to be Scott Stinson’s  daughter. He defers to her readily and has the utmost confidence in her abilities.

Rachel Stinson tasting Chardonnay prior to blending

She is an asset to the operation and an excellent ambassador for the family venture. Rachel is working alongside Matthieu learning about the entire wine making process.  She is also tech savvy and I believe is responsible for their blog and social media.  We enjoyed having her and Nathan Vrooman on our wine blending team! Look for good things to come from one of the newest wineries in our state of Virginia! I look forward to watching their progress and tasting their future harvest!

New Winery in Madison! Visit DuCard!

DuCard Patio and Tasting Room

Intrigued by numerous mentions on Twitter about the recently opened winery in the shadow of Old Rag Mountain, we set out on a leisurely Saturday afternoon drive to investigate DuCard Vineyards.  Heading north from Charlottesville we turned left from 29 North in Madison onto Rt.231 towards the Town of Etlan. For some strange reason, I thought it was closer to Greene County and thought we had missed the turn to Rt.643.  Actually, we really didn’t care!  We were enjoying the snow dusted Blue Ridge Mountains and crossing rivers resembling  film locations from  A River Runs Through It. Inspiration for the DuCard Wine Label

The approach to the winery is down Gibson Hollow Lane past impressively large rock outcroppings and on the left a noticeably different vineyard trellis system.  Light snow flurries and flirtatious peeks of sunshine created a soft pleasant backdrop to the winery.  We were welcomed into the tasting room by a crackling fire in the fireplace surrounded by  leather upholstered furniture  and a warm smile from Marty Mitchell, the tasting room manager. Marty is very knowledgeable about wines,  having completed the certification courses in Oenology and Viticulture offered at Piedmont Virginia Community College in Charlottesville. Fortunately for us it was a slow January afternoon at DuCard, providing us the undivided attention of Marty and the tasting hostess, Heather Gerry.

My first question regarded the trellis system employed at DuCard. Marty informed us the system is known as a modified Lyre System and it appears very much like rows of football goal posts!

 This allows for more sunlight on the grapes and better air flow to discourage diseases. It’s even more than that but I don’t have a degree in viticulture and won’t  pretend that I do. Suffice it to say, it is working and the grapes have been used to create award winning wines for other wineries in the past.

Lyre-or-U-Shaped-System
Modified Lyre Trellis System
Entering DuCard on Gibson Hollow Lane

The next question  was about  the history behind DuCard. Having formerly owned the property as a weekend getaway the owners purchased the adjoining old apple orchard to start growing grapes. Several years later, owner Scott Eliff is now involved in the process of winemaking, using the facilities at Rappahannock Cellars. The new label is attractive and minimalistic much like the winery itself. A commitment to sustainability is exhibited in the reclaimed barn wood used in the flooring and wine tasting bar, solar panels for electricity and using wine bottles that are about 20% lighter than average, requiring less fuel for shipping.

An excellent blog post was done this summer by Frank Morgan,  Drink What You Like. His interview with Scott was so well done that I would like to include it and won’t attempt to duplicate it.

We tasted the Signature Viognier 2009, the Gibson Hollow Viognier 2009, Popham Run Bordeaux Blend 2008 and the Virginia Native Norton 2008. All were good but the Gibson Hollow Viognier was my favorite of the whites with peach and honeysuckle on the nose. The Bordeaux would be excellent with grilled meats and my husband really liked the Norton which we tasted with local chocolates.

Future events are planned including a Spring festival and cooking classes with Cindy Shepard!

Definitely place this winery/vineyard on your list as a place to visit and one to watch for expansion in the future! We will definitely return and recommend it especially when you’re in the area of Graves Mountain Lodge or Rappahannock Cellars!

A “Belated” Trip to Mountfair

Can it possibly be any prettier than it was this weekend in Charlottesville

Everyone has been commenting on the recent surge of red, orange and gold leaves so late in the season.  Usually by this time in November the majority of leaves have fallen, backpack blowers are roaring and the wind is blowing.  Not this year!  Only a hint of a breeze and blue sky made ideal conditions for a perfect hot air balloon flight over the Rivanna Reservoir and rolling acres of spent vineyards.

End of the Season at White Hall

 Chores finished, Saturday afternoon we set off for a country drive to two more wineries (and a promise of homemade chili and live music). Mountfair Winery hosted a special event to announce the release of their 2008 Belated – a velvety smooth blend of 60% Merlot, 30% Cab Franc,and 10% Petit Verdot. They also just completed the tasting room after a few years under construction.  The Barrel Room is a rustic 1400 square foot multi purpose event space with a raised stage for live music  supported by  soaring pine timbers and accented by 100 stacked wine barrels. 

The Mountfair Barrel Room

 The view from the patio overlooks a gravel road, but just beyond it,  rows of grapevines underscore a beautiful view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I was sadly disappointed to find out that my quest for the 2008 Wooloomooloo made with 60% Petit Verdot was for naught! Only 150 cases were produced and between wine club members and a live wine tasting via Twitter it was gone!  I’ll know next time.  The 2008 Belated was very good with a true jammy taste and only I wish we could have stayed until the chili was ready and the music began.  For those who have never ventured further north on Browns Gap Turnpike (810) , it is a scenic drive but turning right on  Fox Mountain Road lacks curb appeal and one wonders if they might have made a wrong turn. You haven’t, just keep driving up the road and you’ll find the new tasting room on your right.  This is definitely a winery and vintner to keep in mind for the future!

Returning toward Free Union, we took a hard right onto Breakheart Road and encountered a picturesque landscape of vineyards and horse farms.  When we first moved to Virginia, White Hall had a fantastic Chardonnay and was soon our favorite winery.  One of my fondest memories was a picnic that we shared with my Mom and Dad, my Dad loved Soliterre! Charlottesville.

White Hall

Spectacular November at White Hall

  The White Hall Winery  tasting bar was completely surrounded with visitors, and considering how gorgeous the day was, we decided to head home to our firepit in the backyard and have a private wine tasting!  White Hall will be there for us to return to another weekend, that’s one of the great advantages to living here in Charlottesville!