Experiencing French Wineries vs Virginia Wineries

Clos du TriasVisions of warm sunny days, leisurely two hour lunches drawn out with conversation, an aproned waiter pouring bubbles into your champagne glass  and soft music beckon us back to the Old Country. If you’re like most wine lovers from the United States, it is a dream to visit the birthplace of  wine making, Europe. France, Italy and Spain are the most sought after destinations, followed by Germany, Portugal and Greece. 

Thomas Jefferson was just so inspired during his travels to France, thus beginning the New World efforts of cultivating grapes to make wine. He started his vines on the slopes of Monticello, his mountain top home, overlooking Charlottesville, Virginia. Richard Leahy has written a wonderful book, Beyond Jefferson’s Vines, about the history of this endeavor and the more recent explosion of vineyards in Virginia. I especially like the praise offered by  John Hagarty, www.Hagarty-on-Wine.com “Richard Leahy has woven a rich tapestry of Virginia’s wineries and winemakers. If Jefferson could peruse this book a satisfied smile would surely grace his countenance because his dream of quality Virginia wine has been fulfilled. This volume will be referenced often for those seeking to better understand the Old Dominion’s wine ascendency. A riveting and rewarding read.”

Recently, I travelled “across the pond”  in the company of my mother, to visit my sister currently living in Provence.  The movie, A Good Year, with Russell Crowe and Marion Cotillard, , is one of my favorite movies and the film location of Bonnieux, Vaucluse, France was just a little southeast of Carpentras, where we made our home base. Maison Trevier,  the delightful maison we  stayed in, is within the walled village of Carpentras, around the corner from a wonderful fromagerie, La Fromagerie du Comtat. Grab a baguette, some home made fig preserves, olives and truffles from the market and you are in heaven.  As I walked into the jardin of Gina Trevier, owner of Maison Trevier,  I could almost hear the music from the soundtrack from  A Good Year 🙂

Maison Trevier & Bebe Chat
Maison Trevier & Bebe Chat
Fromagerie Vigier
Fromage

Ah, I drift….so this was the beginning of our visit to the romantic south of France, Chateauneuf du Pape, Avignon, Isle sur la Sorgue, Pernes les Fontaines, Gigondas and Le Barroux. The influence of Rome and Catholicism permeated the terroir, walled villages, monasteries and small churches and olive trees used for olive wood carvings.

11th Century St. Catherine's in Gigondas
11th Century St. Catherine’s in Gigondas

I was accustomed to our lovely tasting rooms at the wineries in Virginia. Many of which supplement the costly production of wine on the east coast by building fabulous event sites for weddings and celebrations.  Not all are like Pippin Hill Farm, Veritas, King Family Vineyards  or Early Mountain Vineyards with their beautifully appointed celebration halls (which are quite gorgeous!)  many are smaller, more intimate and not quite as opulent. Afton Mountain Vineyards has a wonderful outdoor covered space, complete with blankets and space heaters to enjoy the view even when it’s cold. They have a perfect spot with a contemporary arbor for weddings plus one of the coziest tasting rooms. See my post http://cvilleuncorked.com/2011/10/15/afton-mountain-vineyards-revisited/ for more about Afton Mountain.afton-mountain-008

Horton Vineyards
Horton Vineyards

Each winery around the Charlottesville area has it’s own personality. Some are dog friendly like Keswick with it’s Yappy Hours on Sundays but also known for fabulous weddings with a plantation feel that Scarlett O’Hara would have loved.  Some are tropical and create gourmet chocolates like Glass House Winery and seating under the glass conservatory jungle of banana trees. Pollak Vineyards sits below the mountain overlooking a pond and has offered fly fishing lessons in the past. Mountfair  does weddings on a smaller scale and many of the wineries offer live music on weekends. Veritas has their Starry Nights, outdoor fire pits and a bandstand. King Family Vineyards hosts Polo matches and  an annual benefit for breast cancer, the Pink Ribbon Polo Classic coming up on June 20th, 2014. None of this takes away from the fact that Virginia is producing award winning wines that rival the wines of the Old Country. Southern hospitality abounds and you won’t be disappointed in visiting a tasting room in Virginia.

Glass House Winery
Glass House Winery

By contrast, the wineries and tasting rooms we visited in France were small, most do not charge a tasting fee and can limit you to three tastings, unlike Barboursville Winery (with it’s 5 Star Dining at Palladio)  or Horton Vineyards where you taste quite a large selection. Not to be outdone by the ruins at Chateauneuf du Pape, Barboursville has their own ruins of Governor Barbours home, designed by Thomas Jefferson himself. In Chateauneuf,  you can taste in a Cave, a small room under ground where you may taste from several different wineries or in the main tasting room for Chateauneuf du Pape that even sells souvenirs.  The French term for tasting is  “degustation” so look for a sign that includes the term. ‘En vente directe‘ indicates that they have direct sales and “vin a’ emporter” means they sell wine that you can take with you.

Ruins of Chateauneuf du Pape
Ruins of Chateauneuf du Pape
Barboursville_vineyards_ruins_snow
Ruins at Barboursville Vineyards

In Gigondas, my favorite village of the trip, we visited a more contemporary tasting room with very small bottles in a test tube style presentation, where you may taste many vintages and some world class wines. It was a bit  like stepping up to the counter in a store than tasting at a bar, but they had an amazing selection of wines.

Gigondas Tasting Room
Gigondas Tasting Room

The smallest winery we visited was Clos de Trias in Le Barroux and the winemaker’s home really did remind you of A Good Year, family owned and operated, this winery is one of the few 100% organic, biodynamic wineries in the world. With the family Great Dane, Tauro, sneaking in to watch us barrel taste, it was the best wine tasting on our trip. The wines were excellent and we had a wonderful  tour by Paige Carnwath and my sister, both who’ve bottled, pumped, picked and tasted for the wine maker,  Evan Bakke.

Steel Tanks at Clos de Trias
Steel Tanks at Clos de Trias
clos_de_trias_winery
Tasting at Clos de Trias

 

Clos de Trias "Tauro"
Clos de Trias “Tauro”

If you want to taste wine and make an effort to converse about your tasting in France, explore this link  for French wine tasting terms. It’s like the old adage, when in Rome…

Whether you venture out to wineries in France or Virginia, the wine community is a big family, facing the same obstacles of weather, and uniting to support each other. Both countries appreciate wine from bud break or bud burst to the final product, so go, enjoy and savor the experience wherever grapes are grown.

 

Dreaming Tree Wines and Dave Matthews

In case you’ve missed it, the latest “buzz” in wine is crossing the continent as we speak!

 11 years ago, our family had decided to move to a beautiful, relatively small town in Virginia with world-wide recognition!  Historians will insist that  Charlottesville is most notable because of the influence of one man, Thomas Jefferson.  However, talk to anyone under a certain age (ahem!) and they’ll have you know it is more well-known as the residence (albeit, part-time) of Dave Matthews and the DMB!  Two decades ago at the Earth Day Festival in the City of Charlottesville, the Dave Matthews Band was publicly launched. in 2001 I had no idea who the heck DMB was, but friends of ours in Dallas were envious that we could move to the “birthplace of  The Dave Matthews Band“!  How exciting!  A couple of years after we moved, a family member (name to be withheld) was eating a slice of pizza with us at Christian’s Pizza on the Downtown Mall and literally bit through her plastic fork when she realized Dave Matthews was sitting behind us. We kept the fork for quite some time as a memento and at that point I realized how exciting (wink) it was to live in Charlottesville!  Unbeknownst to us, in 2000, Dave Matthews had established Blenheim Vineyards, a family operated winery a scenic 20 minute drive southeast of Charlottesville.   Now in 2011, Dave is launching another collaboration in wine making with Steve Reeder of California called  The Dreaming Tree Wines, named after the song. 

Creative Factor– Dave: “A mutual respect that doesn’t rely on his (Steve’s) knowledge of music or my knowledge of wine”  and Steve: “I make wines for people to drink, I don’t make wines for people to put in their cellar”.

    Steve Reeder graduated from University of California, Davis and according to Steve,  was inspired to make wine at the 1st Middleburg Virginia Festival in the 1970’s!  As a youngster, he worked for a while  on his uncle’s farm in Indiana pitching in with beer making in the barn. Later he lived in Germany and was introduced to exceptional lager beers and his parents wine cellar 🙂  His resume includes Kendall-Jackson, Fosters Wine Estates and most recently, Simi Winery.

Check out their website, super cool and follow the path on the map! Does this mean the path ends in Virginia with Blenheim Winery making wine for The Dreaming Tree label as well? Could we cross the Great Divide between California wines and Virginia wines? And by the way,  I love the Cork!  We’ll soon know, perhaps someone can shed more light on this? All I know is that it sounds great, looks like fun and takes the pretentiousness out of wine drinking!

Lessons Learned at a Wine Bloggers Conference

Sip often!

Spit just as often!

Listen, listen, listen!

Sit next to knowledgeable people and listen more!

Remember where you leave your shoes! Yes, I lost a pair of my favorite heels when I switched to my black Reefs!

Wear comfortable shoes, no one can see your shoes below the tablecloth!  Works for a formal dinner where everyone has been drinking all day!

Walking barefoot on the West Lawn at Monticello made me wonder if  Thomas Jefferson had done the same on a hot summer evening!  Definitely cooler barefoot in the grass!

When it’s super hot, a glass of  icy cold water is preferable to any Gold medal winning wine!  MAYBE a very nicely chilled Virginia Viognier…

Don’t stand behind someone at the tasting bar when sampling a Cab Franc or Petit Verdot!

Wine Away works well except when used with a cute colorful napkin from Greenwood Grocery!  My camisole went from a deep burgundy stain to an olive green smudge (was white!).

I’m very proud of Charlottesville, our local wineries, the downtown mall, and Virginia Wine!  Job well done!

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!

A Double Gold Afternoon at Jefferson Vineyards

 

Sunday Drive

Family outings with our son Brian and his  bride to be,  Carolina, are the best!  Always game for scoping out a new winery, we headed in the direction of Kluge Winery to pick up more of the 2007  Albemarle Simply Red.  The sun had  just peeked out after a rather gloomy Sunday morning and we were ripe to enjoy a little fresh April breeze and warm sunshine.  In a recent church sermon, ( it was Sunday after all!) we learned that direction not intention determines our destination!  Cruising down 53 past historic Monticello,  Jefferson Vineyards appeared ahead on our right and with that,  our destination  veered to the Jefferson Tasting Room!  Side note, we did make it to Kluge eventually and a quick stop at Blenheim as well.

We were quite familiar with  Jefferson wines but always held the notion that this particular winery was a bit  more of a tourist trap then a local attraction.  Nice to be  proven wrong,  it turned out to be a very pleasant experience and in retrospect are glad we hijacked ourselves off  our original route. If you’ve read any other posts you’ll notice I’m a bit spontaneous when it comes to winery visits.

To the right side of the parking area are old wine barrels  for sale to recycle rainwater, cool idea!  Add that want to Honey! I want a Vineyard!  Next to the rain barrels were even larger wine barrels.  Brian, anticipating his upcoming wedding festivities was attracted to the super sized wine barrels and attempted a pre-tasting!  Not really!  He hammed it up for the camera!

Jefferson Vineyards

A shaded deck is positioned just in front of the door to the tasting room. Lacks a little in curb appeal but  a  nice area to sit outside;  I think the best views are from the meadow facing the mountains and  that site could  be capitalized on  more.  They have placed a few Adirondack chairs with small tables to rest your wine bottle and glasses.  Nice touch!  I would recommend tightening the bolts a little or sturdier furniture, they’re  a bit light weight compared to other chairs of similar style.  All it takes is a bigger budget! or maybe a smaller…!  A lovely flagstone patio would be nice and visible from the scenic highway, beckoning to the multitude of tourists who visit Monticello and Ashlawn daily.

Invited inside by a couple of engaging  tasting hosts, forgive me I can’t recall the gentemen’s names, we embarked on tasting award-winning wines envisioned long ago by Thomas Jefferson.  Several visitors passed through during our tasting.  They were given directions, information and local trivia by the hosts.  We enjoyed their personal stories about  the wines and their favorite food  pairings. Such hospitality,  Another nice touch!

The Tasting

Tastings are $10,  slightly higher than most of the local wineries but includes a Riedel wine glass. Nicest touch of all!!  I’ve been in wineries in the Willamette Valley that offer the same style of Riedel glassware, each engraved with their logo.  A classic idea which enhances  the overall experience of the quality, color and especially the bouquet of the vintage.   Coincidentally, we were consulted about offering engraved glasses at Jefferson.  Of course, we thought it an excellent idea as a keepsake.  I use my souvenir glasses for sipping by the firepit, no tears if the glass doesn’t return to the cabinet!  In this case, the glass stays indoors.   We first tasted the whites, then reds and finished with the semi dry whites,  the Vin Blanc was Carolina’s favorite ( as marked on the tasting notes)!  Carolina draws hearts and stars (which fit her personality) on her tasting notes and Brian draws emotional  faces and caricatures on his (fitting his personality!) .

     Carolina Loved This-See the Heart!

Top of our list was the 2010 Pinot Gris crisp, bright and floral like the afternoon weather.  Our favorite reds were the Petit Verdot 2009 tasting of spice and tobacco and definitely, the Meritage 2008  Gold Medal Winner of the 2010 San Diego International Wine Competition.  The memorable and unique Malvaxian wine wasn’t available for tasting  (I love that bottle design) which is an excellent addition to any wine collection!   We selected the Pinot Gris, a Double Gold Medal winner,  to toast our side trip.  Taking our bottle to the meadow, we relaxed in the Adirondack chairs  savouring  excellent wine,  picture postcard views and sharing it with a lovely young couple very much in love.

 A Double Gold Day in The Monticello Trail Wine Country!                       

Cheers and a Clink to Carolina and Brian in 2011 and another Clink to Thomas Jefferson-Happy Belated Birthday!

Trump Buys Kluge Estate and Winery

Cville gets “Trumped”

For over 200 years,  Charlottesville, Virginia’s claim to fame has been the home of Thomas Jefferson,  3rd President of the United States and co-author of the Declaration of Independence. Henceforth, another high-profile name will be associated with Charlottesville. Today, Donald  “The Donald”  Trump  achieved quite a coup in purchasing over 647 acres in the piedmont wine country of Virginia for a mere 6.2 million dollars.

Valued at over 28 million dollars, the largest tract included 647+/- acre tract of  planted vines, event pavilion, large office barn, a carriage museum, and three cottages ideal for staff or guest accommodations. 60+/- acres of clear land that has ideal slope and elevation for future planting.  Tract 3,  a 131.7+/- acres tract contains the original vineyard as well as the winery production building, 2 2BD/1BA cottages, a barrel cave that can hold approximately 500 barrels, and a modular office. 

J.P. King Auction Company, Inc., the oldest real estate auction company in the United States conducted the auction. A video of the Kluge Estate and Winery offers the public a glimpse of the exquisite property that fell under the same circumstances encountered by many during these tough economic times.  Donald Trump was poised and ready to capitalize on an incredible investment opportunity… and he succeeded.
During  a recent PVCC viticulture class, I had the chance to prune some vines under the tutelage of Chris Hill and Gabrielle Rausse. I wonder if Mr. Trump will ever invite me over?  That might have been my first and last tour of the Kluge vineyard.
Locals can only speculate what plans Trump has for Kluge. Will his name be the new label? Will it be Gold??   Highly likely considering past history.  One thing is certain, Virginia’s wine country and Charlottesville will gain more international attention with the Trump branding.

Church on Kluge Estate

 We are an understated area, elegant and quiet, will Charlottesville ever be the same?

A “Vine” Afternoon at Barboursville Vineyards

      

 Did you ever think you could live in a place too long?  Too long from the perspective of taking for granted a beautiful purple  Phlox covered countryside with vineyards, mountains and history just a short drive down the road from… Super Walmart?  Thanks to my friend and social networking mentor, Lewis Nelson, blog writer of Family of Five,  he arranged an afternoon outing with Fernando Franco, viticulturist at  Barboursville Vineyards.  It was a reminder and welcome opportunity to stop and appreciate the beginnings of Spring in Central Virginia.  

Holly and Fernando Franco

 Fernando

Lewis, his lovely wife Holly and precious daughter Gwen introduced me to their friend , Fernando who is not only a highly esteemed viticulturist but a salsa dancer and V.P. of the Charlottesville Salsa Club.  With a resume of 30  years of growing grapes and a disarming knowledge of Agronomy, we had a real expert to explain the intricacies of wine making.  Originally from El Salvador, Fernando spent over a decade at Prince Michel and  in Napa as a vintner and viticulturist  before taking over the vineyards at Barboursville thirteen years ago.    Fernando opened up the conversation by hospitably pouring us  a glass of  Sauvignon Blanc followed by a delicious Viognier. Most of my experience has been with Barboursville red wines and their dessert wines, Phileo and Malvaxia, but I would have purchased either one of the whites we tasted.

The Tour

 Our tour started in the large tasting room,  a double-sided fireplace separating it from the gift shop.  Souvenir  shopping is fun here with lots of wine related novelty items that are easy to pack in a small carry-on suitcase.  The Octagon room has  Octagon wine barrels  on the floor and  a  photo history and memorabilia on the surrounding walls.  At the center of the room is a table set with a floral display flanked by bottles of their signature award-winning Octagon wine, a meritage of  the winery’s  finest Bordeaux varietals.

Octagon

  Octagon represents the eight sided architectural style used in the central hall designed by Thomas Jefferson for James Barbour’s plantation house. Unfortunately the home burned in Christmas 1884 and we are left with the ruins to contemplate a bygone era in Virginia history.  

We then  passed into a long hall of stainless steel vats. Immense vats, especially in comparison to our smaller boutique wineries in the Charlottesville area. This is definitely the granddaddy of vat rooms in our area!  We tasted some red blends straight from the vat  including a Cabernet Franc that was excellent! 

 Afterwards, Fernando offered us a ride to the newest area being cultivated at Barboursville, the Goodlow Mountain vineyard.  Hopping into his vehicle, we drove off the property and back on to the south end, passing by some of their oldest vines.

36,000 New Vines

The 2011 plans for the vineyards call for 24 acres with 36,000 new vines to be planted which will increase the total planted acreage by 20 percent!  3 acres  will be devoted to their newest varietal, planting 4,600 vines of Petite Syrah.  The conditions of Goodlow Mountain vineyard are similar to those found in the northern Rhone Valley of France where the Petite Syrah thrives. Fernando knows his vines and feels “this site maybe the most perfect site developed so far.”

 Completing our tour and my friends off in their own directions, I was left to wander the grounds on my own, exploring rooms and ruins on a sunny afternoon. The following are some of my favorite photographs. If you are in need of a classic backdrop for a photo shoot, this is definitely the location!  Brides, pay attention!

Clouds Billowing from a Fireplace in Ruins

 

Look for a future post about Palladio, the Five Star Restaurant at Barboursville!

New with the Old

Good Bye Barboursville, We’ll be Back! Hopefully, you will be too!

Leaving Barboursville

Where Should I Take My Guests over Thanksgiving Weekend?

Grape Friday instead of Black Friday!

Well, now that you asked, may I make some recommendations?   North, South, East or West , Central Virginia is the best…for vineyard views and wine tasting with friends and family, that is!   Plus, you can get some early Christmas shopping done.  Send me a description of the personality of your guests and how much time you have to devote to sight-seeing and I can customize an itinerary for you this holiday season!

Visiting three wineries around Charlottesville is a reasonable number to visit in one day.  More can be seen but you really lose in quality time and experiencing the charm of each winery. The vineyards are spread just a little too far apart  and you need to make allowances  for driving time. 

If you have time for only one winery I would suggest Barboursville Winery. Located  on the north side of Charlottesville,  Barboursville Vineyards  is a must do  for several reasons.  Notable for their award-winning Octagon wine and Palladio, their 5 Star restaurant;  Barboursville rates very high on my list as a first class wine tasting and dining  experience. They are wonderful at handling a large number of visitors and have an expansive tasting room for groups to spread out.  

The price of wine tasting can’t be beat!  For 5 dollars you can taste 15 -20 wines and keep the inscribed glass as a souvenir. If you return, bring your glass and the fee is only 3 dollars!  Step inside and go to the register on your right to get started.  The fireplace separates the tasting area from the gift shop so you can browse while waiting for a spot to slip into at the bar . Take a walk down to the ruins of the estate house, one of only three homes designed for his friends by Thomas Jefferson. It burned Christmas of 1884 and until recently was used as a backdrop for Shakespearian plays! 

Barboursville is closed for Thanksgiving Day.   From Charlottesville and South: Go East from Charlottesville on Route 250 (bypass), to Route 20 North, “The Constitution Highway,” proceeding 16 miles northeast. Barboursville Vineyards will be visible on your right, turn as directed by the signs into Route 678 to the estate.