Thibaut-Janisson The Spirit of Virginia

Thibaut_Janisson_Sparkling_WineTo most Virginia wine lovers, French ex-patriot, Claude Thibaut is well-known for his strides in placing Charlottesville on the map for sparkling wine.  After earning his winemaking degree from the University of Reims and following a 25 year career crossing the continents from Europe to Australia to California, he’s come almost full circle around the globe. Claude was recruited by the Kluge Estate Winery in 2003 as a consultant specifically for their sparkling wine endeavours.  Later,  in 2007, Claude entered into a business partnership with his friend, Manuel Janisson of  Janisson et Fils Champagne (from his early days in the Champagne region of France).

Janisson_et_FilsEmploying the “methode champenoise”- a double fermentation process that creates the bubbles found in Champagne and sparkling wines, Thibaut-Janisson is now producing sparkling wine served at White House State dinners. Claude has way surpassed his days at Kluge and is garnering rave views from Food and Wine Magazine, the Washington Post and quoting Dave McIntyre: “The T-J (a nice abbreviation given the implied reference to Thomas Jefferson and his love of wines) has become a darling of the Washington restaurant scene, because it is both local and top quality. ”

Bill Sykes, who has worked for the importer, Margaux and Company, joins Claude periodically to help during the bottling processes. Side note- Pamela Margaux, importer, also happens to  be Claude Thibaut’s wife! Bill invited me last week  to peek in on the disgorgement process at Veritas Winery where Claude leases space for his rapidly expanding  venture. Locally, Claude also teaches classes about making of sparkling wines at Piedmont Virginia Community College.  In order to really appreciate a bottle of champagne style wine in might be fun to take these classes and learn more about what and how long it takes to turn out a really good  “bubbly”. I wish I had taken the class prior to observing the assembly line of transferring the bottles after “riddling” and then “disgorging” but I received a very nice introduction to the process beginning with a glass of sparkling wine. The first step after rotating the bottles is removing the caps that are used in the first stages of fermentation. These caps look like generic beer bottle caps and not very romantic looking compared to the final wire twisted champagne cork one usually associates with sparkling wines.

Bill and Claude explained further the process of freezing the lees and then popping out the frozen yeasty mass in the neck of the bottle.                                                                                                                The bottle than moves on to dosage where a small amount of wine or liquor is added to offset the inherent dryness of the wine. At this point, the  dryness or sweetness is determined by the winemaker. The following table explains the adjectives you see on the label.

Level of Dryness
Amount of residual sugar per litre
Extra Brut
Extra Dry
1.2 –                       2.0%
1.7 –                       3.5%
3.3 5.0%
5% +


After the dosage step, the bottle is handed off to be corked and wired. Bill is working at the helm of the corking machine above. Finally, the bottle is washed and shaken about 5 times and then is allowed to rest for about 2 months or so…and then we have, voila, sparkling wine!

Last weekend we were spoiled rotten at Bill and Joyce Sykes lovely home with a divine dinner and paired with Thibaut Janisson sparkling wine. What a treat!Cuvee_D'Etat_Dogwoods

At the top of T-J line is the Cuvée D’état Blanc De Blancs 2008, my personal favorite, extra brut and recently featured  at the Persian New Year Celebration at The Beard House in New York City!

Fizz is a smooth, low-acid pour that works well with food and is easy to sip. Unlike -ultra-carbonated Champagne, Fizz is an effervescent, Crémant-style wine with a slightly sweeter taste than a brut. With its contemporary label and at approximately $25 a bottle is a nice addition for Easter Brunch. I saw a recipe for an asparagus, fontina fritatta that would pair nicely. It also mixes well for Mimosas!

The bottle you’ll find most often served is the Blanc de Chardonnay,  made of 100% Chardonnay from the Monticello Appellation, has vibrant aromas of ripe apples and pear; the taste is balanced, crisp and refreshing.

Final tasting note: You can’t go wrong by complementing your dining experience with a TJ sparkling wine, don’t save it for special celebrations, enjoy the fruits of the Virginia terroir and share it with friends often. Clink!

Special thanks to Bill and Joce Sykes, Paulette Musselman and Claude Thibaut for a special evening.

Chris Breiner PVCC Viticulture and Enology Scholarship

Last night family and friends gathered at Horton Vineyards to honor and celebrate the memory of Stone Mountain Vineyards’ winemaker, Chris Breiner. Guests were asked to share a favorite story about Chris and raise a glass to his life. I had met Chris a few times and on my last visit to Stone Mountain Vineyards, chatted with him at length about the direction they were going with on-tap wines. He seemed very proud of this venture and am sorry that his life and enthusiasm were cut so short. The idea of a scholarship to help students of the wine industry is an ideal way to remember him and his contributions to the Virgina wine community.

In memory of Chris, the Virginia wine industry has created a need-based scholarship for students in the Piedmont Virginia Community College Viticulture & Enology Certificate Program.

Chris supported this useful program every year since its launch in 2005, teaching the bottling class at Stone Mountain and helping with the wine marketing class. Make a donation in any amount to the scholarship in his name at this event or online at the PVCC web site at
A friend, Mark Simpson attended and had commented below:
The Hortons certainly paid a fine tribute to Chris. Chris’ family was there as well as many tearful friends. His distributor is donating $20 to the Chris Breiner scholarship @ PVCC for each case some SMV wines sold in March 2012. Other wines will garner $10/case. The scholarship is intended for students seeking a viticulture career and not for those who only want to take one class. If you donate, be sure to indicate on your check or online donation that it is for the “Chris Breiner Scholarship.”

PVCC Viticulture/Enology Snapshots

A Class That Is Not Over the Hill!
Rausse and Class
Church at Kluge Estate

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.

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!