Aug 30, 2014

Road trip 2014 - Day 3

Heading toward Smith Mountain Lake from Roanoke, our first stop for Sunday was Brooks Mill Winery, a small fruit farm winery that has been in operation over 10 years. No grapes are used for any of their wines. 
We started with a dry white wine, made from pears - it was clean and crisp. There are 3 different Blackberry wines, done dry, semi-sweet and sweet.  All were very good, but the sweet was the standout to me. Next we had Blueberry, done semi dry.  My favorite of the day was the Plum wine, also done semi dry. this is not the plum wine you get at a Japanese restaurant! Next up was Peach, leaning to the sweet side, and we finished with Pear again, this time done dessert (too) sweet. None of these would ever be considered “fine wines”, but they were well made, and we were glad we stopped.  
Bonus- all wines are $ 11, except the blueberry, which was $13.  Do visit if you are in the area.

Two more reasons to visit the Smith Mountain Lake area: Ramulose Ridge Vineyards and Hickory Hill Vineyards.  The 2 are within a mile or so from each other.
Ramulose Ridge is a new winery, they just opened a year ago, but not a new vineyard - they started planting 10 years ago. 

All the vintages we tried today were 2012, thier first production. There were 5 whites: Chardonel ($14), Traminette ($14), Vidal Blanc ($14), Muscat ($14) and Viognier ($18).  All were quite nice - the Chardonel was our choice here, as it is just not a common wine for VA.
There were 3 dry reds: Syrah ($16), unoaked, Chambourcin ($16) and Cabernet Franc ($18). We found all these to be made, but the styles were a bit un-typical.
Then there were 5 sweet wines: Blackwater ($14), a Chambourcin /Cab Franc blend, Blush ($14) a Vidal with a “splash” of Chambourcin, Sweetwater ($14),a sweet version Traminette, Entangled ($14) Vidal enhanced with peach, and finally, sweet Muscat ($14).  Of the sweets, we preferred the Blush, but none of them really did much for us.
Ramulose Ridge is a beautiful facility.  They do a wine and cigar event every Friday night - even sell cigars, this could be an attraction or fair warning, depending on your point of view.

On to Hickory Hill Vineyards.  They have had grapes on site for 30 years, and operating as a winery since 2001.  It is a family operation, and almost all the wines are estate grown.
We started with 3 whites: 2013 Chardonnay ($12) unoaked, 2010 Chardonnay ($15) oaked, and the Smith Mountain Lake Mist ($12), a Vidal/Chardonnay blend.  We found all 3 to our liking (and exceptional values, compared to what we are used to closer to home.
On the red side: 2008 Cabernet Franc ($16), 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon ($20), Smith Mountain Lake Country Red ($13) a Cab Sauvignon/Merlot/Cab Franc unoaked blend.  Kurt thought this last was a steal for that price. And the inevitable sweets: Redbud ($10) a Chardonnay/Merlot blend, Sunset ($11) a Chardonnay/Vidal blend, Smith Mountain Lake Sweet Red Sail ($12) made from Cab Franc/Cab Sauvignon. No favorites here, I’m afraid.
Next stop: White Rock Vineyards and Winery.  This is another small family operation. Grapes were first planted here in 2000, and now they have 6.5 acres under vine.  
Our tasting started with the 2011 Chardonnay - 25 % Chardonel blended in. Then the 2011 “Mojo”, Pinot Gris. The 2012 Pinot Gris was a complete different wine.  It was left on the skins and presents an orange hue. Not quite a rose, the 2012 White Merlot, with 1.5% residual sugar (RS) was interesting. Reds included 2012 Merlot, 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, 2012 Cabernet Franc, ending with Velvet Sky, a semi sweet (2 percent RS) red blend served chilled.  They also sell wine freezer bags, just add wine and freeze to make your own flavored slushies - a new one for us.  
They have a cozy sitting area for cool weather and a great screened porch area overlooking the vineyards, so White Rock would be a nice place to hang out with a group of friends.

Our final stop for the weekend was the LeoGrande Vineyard and Winery.  
We were told harvest has already started here. LeoGrande is a working farm as well as a vineyard.
We began with the 2012 Sauvignon Blanc ($12), 2008 unoaked Chardonnay ($16), 2008 Chardonnay ($20) done in French oak. None begged to come home with us. 
On the red side we had 2010 Syrah ($18), 2010 Barbera ($20), 2010 Sangiovese ($16), 2010 Sangiovese Reserve ($22), and finally 2010 Nebbiolo ($25).  Of these, I was impressed with the Barbera and the Sangiovese.  Kurt also enjoyed the Nebiolo.

I just can’t go into the sweets again - just know they had several.  One twist is that they do do an ice wine made from the Sangiovese and Barbera grapes called Autumn Kiss ($18).  Didn’t work for me, but I am sure it sells.
So the overall count for the 3 days - 12 new (to us) Virginia wineries, 1 meadery, 1 cidery, and 2 visits to previously visited wineries; 706 miles driven and 22 new bottles of wine to find space for somewhere. Maybe it is time for another “too much VA wine party?”

Aug 28, 2014

Road Trip 2014 - Day 2

We headed south from Roanoke to Attimo Winery on Saturday morning.
We arrived at the 11 AM opening time, and the winery was bustling with activity, setting up for a festival scheduled for the afternoon. But we were warmly greeted and took a seat at one of the tables to be served our choices.  
The standard tasting is $5, for your choice 8 wines (out of 12 listed). There were also 5 reserve wines that could be tasted for $1 each.   The Italian "Attimo" translates to "Moment" in English, and all the wines here are named for a moment in time. We were told the wines at Attimo are all done in oak, no steel tanks, with the exception of a Chambourcin named AD 325, which is done in clay and concrete.  
Whites choices: We enjoyed the Yesterday’s Song, a Chardonnay ($18), Sonnet 98, a crisp, dry Pinot Gris ($17), and our favorite white Wonder, a Viognier/Vidal/Traminette blend ($21).  I tried a couple more whites that were just too sweet, but it seems to be the wine culture in the area to go for sweet wines.

Red Choices: The AD 325 ($17) was a dry Chambourcin cherry bomb. Kurt tried 2 different Cab Francs and a Cab Franc, Cab Sauv and Zinfandel blend, that were all lighter bodied than expected.
The high point was the last - Chrisma, a port style wine ($26, 500ml) a blend of Tinta madera/ Touriga nacional/ Souza.  While it was a bit on the sweet side, it was also smooth and warm (18% alcohol). Attimo normally has food and I could see it being a great hang-out if we lived in the area.

A lonnnnggg and windinnngggg road led us to Blacksnake Meadery.  This is only the second time we have been to a meadery.  I don’t think mead will ever be on my “must have” list, but it is interesting to taste all the variety out there.  We had 8 meads to try, ranging from pure local honey, to honey from Florida, and honey with additives, and dry to sweet. One stand out for us was named Squashed, made with wild flower honey, butternut squash and pumpkin pie spice. Our favorite was a dessert wine style mead - this one came home with us.
Just up the road from Blacksnake we found Foggy Ridge Cider.  Again we are novices here. We were told that Foggy Ridge was the first Cidery in VA.  
We were led through 5 ciders, ranging from dry to sweet. The first 4 were bubbly, and we enjoyed them all, but chose Foggy Ridge Handmade as our favorite. The 5th was the equivalent of an apple port, fortified with brandy.  We both agreed this was just too sweet.  I think Ciders are something we will continue to explore.
We planned our lunch stop for the restaurant at the Chateau Morrisette winery.  We have had wine there before, but the last time we were in the area the restaurant was closed.  It is a beautiful place and the food was very good.  In the interest of time, we by-passed wine tasting at Chateau Morrisette and headed the short distance to our next planned stop, Villa Appalaccia.
Villa Appalaccia is just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, but be prepared before you go or you will not find it, as they are not allowed to post signs on the Parkway.  We had our directions, and found our way down a gravel road to a very pretty setting. The wines here are Italian style, and mainly Italian grapes. We were told that this is the 25th anniversary year for the vineyards, which are located at another site, at a lower elevation from the tasting room.

We started with a flavorful Pinot Grigio ($17), and moved on to the Vermintino ($18).  This was one of our favorites. The other was “Alegra” ($17), a Proseco style wine, made with Vidal Blanc.
The whites concluded with Rosa, a white wine made with Primitivo grapes, and a Moscato/Pinot Grigio blend, done with 1.5 percent RS.
The reds started with Toscanello, 2008 ($18) a Cabernet Franc/ Primivito blend. Cabernet Franc, 2006 ($21) followed.  The Italian Aglianico, 2011 ($21) and then the Corvina, 2009 ($22) was next. Our host told us that Villa Appalaccia is the only vineyard growing the Corvina grape in the US, and it was truly a special wine.  We ended the tasting with a sparkling red made from Corvina and Cabernet Franc. ($17)
We didn’t find a bad wine in the bunch here, all were well made, but were totally astounded by how swiftly we were led through the tasting.  We literally were almost chugging the wine, as the host was urgently waiting to pour the next wine on the heels of what was in the glass. Just not sure what that was all about, but we didn’t protest as we were still hoping to fit in one more stop.
Valhalla Vineyards, we had heard, has one of the best views in VA. Indeed, we have to agree. 
Here, you have 2 choices for tasting - the Reserve wines and the standard wines.  We both chose the standard list, and were told to pick 5 from the ten on the list.  We started with 2011 “Row Ten” ($17) a Chardonnay/ Viognier blend. Very nice. We both had wanted the sold out 2012 Viognier, but were offered the Chardonnay off the reserve list instead - not a bad substitute! I went for the 2008 Merlot ($20) while Kurt had the same.  My next choice was the 2007 Syrah ($20), which I enjoyed so much I was offered the 2004 off the reserve list ($27) - truly special.  Kurt went on to  2006 Cabernet /Shiraz blend and finished with “Valkyrie” a 5 grape Bordeaux blend.  I finished up with Sangria, made with 2001 Syrah.  We both avoided the sweet red, and the Norton, but there is that option if you like them.
I know I haven’t gone into great detail here, but overall, this was also a place I could recommend to most anyone. It is quite impressive that the standard reds are all well aged and the reserve list shows their depth. We had a little time before closing, so we sat out on the patio and enjoyed the view, Kurt with the 2004 Syrah, me with the Sangria.
We found out when we arrived back home that Valhalla was put up for sale for $3.5 million.

Aug 27, 2014

Road Trip 2014 continues - Botetourt Wine Trail and Beliveau Estate Winery

After our visit at Barren Ridge, we headed south on I-81 to pick up the Botetourt County wine trail. First stop was Blue Ridge Vineyard, which was started in 1986.  
They were setting up for a wedding in the main tasting area, so we were directed up the hill to “the old hog barn”.  That kind of set the tone for the tasting……

Next stop, Virginia Mountain Vineyards.  

Here we were greeted by  a large red dancing “man”, their latest effort at bird control. Not sure if it will work for them, but it was fun to see.  
Virginia Mountain was established in 1998. They have 14 wines on the tasting sheet, and owner Marie said they were all estate grown. They do get out to the festivals, so you may have had their wine, even if you haven’t visited the winery.

My favorite was Acaia Gold ($14) made up of 2 white grapes and one red grape - Marie would not divulge which grapes are used.  But it was light and only slightly sweet, a good summer porch wine. Kurt’s favorite was the Petit Verdot ($17).

The last winery on the Botetourt Trail is Fincastle Vineyard and Winery
Here we were served by owner/winemaker Richard Classey. Today there were 7 wines to taste. First up, Viognier - mostly done in stainless, with just a short visit to the oak barrels. Very nice. The 2012 Chardonnay was also good. The Rose was from Chambourcin, and done more as a white zin style (3% RS). Another sweet white, the Hybrid Vigor, a blend of Chardonel, Vidal, and Traminette.  Richard told us that Chardonel was a great grower, but not a reliable grape producer (likes to take a year off every 3rd year or so), something I had not heard before.
On the red side, we had Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. Kurt thought the Cabernet Franc was the better wine. And we finished with a sangria made from the Rose. Notes are getting sketchy by this time of day, so I don’t have vintages or prices here.
To end the day, we made a dash for Beliveau Estate Winery.  
The tasting list was quite impressive for a 2 year old winery, 10 whites, and 6 reds. Tasting fee is $5 for 7 wines.  We were told that most of the whites were estate grown, reds are still being purchased, all from VA, except the Zinfandel.  

The first wine we tasted was one of our favorites, Kaleidoscope ($18) a dry Pinot Gris (we also tasted a semi-sweet Pinot later on named Fleur D’Ete). We also had a dry Vidal Blanc ($18), which was nice. There was a Chardonnay on the list, but we didn’t try it. They do have a couple blends with Niagra or Concord grapes - not to our liking, but to each his own. On the red side they offer a Cabernet Sauvignon ($20), a Merlot ($20), a Zinfandel ($24) -why?, and dry and sweet Chambourcins.  There is also a large Bed and Breakfast on property, and a variety of food are offered in the tasting room.
The vineyards appear healthy and more grapes are being planted.  Keep an eye on Beliveau as they mature, but even now it is worth a stop if you are in the Blacksburg area.  

Time to find our hotel and get some dinner.

Aug 25, 2014

Road trip 2014 - CrossKeys and Barren Ridge

We hit the road to head to the Roanoke area, to explore wineries that were new to us.  But on the trip south on I-81 we first decided to stop for a couple repeats. These entries are going to be brief, as we have a very full agenda for the weekend, and want to get posts up before October!
Our first stop of the day was CrossKeys Vineyards.  We had visited here once before, Dec. 2011.  At that point, things looked quite stark.  What a difference today - the vines were lush and healthy looking, the landscaping was beautiful.  
We got to the tasting room at opening (11 a.m.)  Ryan greeted us from behind the bar.  Tastings range from $4-$8. We opted for the full tasting at $8.

On our last visit, CrossKeys was completely out of white wines.Today we got to start with a very nice 2013 Chardonnay ($20.5) We both liked this one a lot. Next was 2013 Joy White ($17.5), 100% Vidal Blanc.  Just a hint of sweet in this one. Then we had the Rose, which turned out to be our overall favorite ($17.5). This is one of the best Rose’s we had this summer, a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Pinot Noir.
Moving onto the reds.  We tried the 2012 Pinot Noir ($21).  A good effort for VA, but not quite the same as a western Pinot. 2013 Joy Red ($17.5) is a slightly sweet Chambourcin that called out for chocolate. Then came a 2011 Merlot ($22) - a typical 2011 red - need I say more? The Cabernet Franc ($23) was also a 2011, but worked a little better than the Merlot.  The final red wine was a 2012 Meritage ($28) made from Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. This one could use a little more bottle time. The last time we visited we purchased the 2010 Tavern ($38/500 ml) a port-style wine, made from Touriga Nacional.  Still a nice wine, not just not in a port frame of mind this time of year.

Ryan told us that CrossKeys Vineyards had lost at least an acre of vines due to the harsh winter, but that they had planted 3.5 acres this spring. Look for them to be adding Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, and Cabernet Sauvignon to their line up in a few years.

We enjoyed our time at CrossKeys Vineyards, and were glad we stopped in. We also found out that they now have a full restaurant, open the same hours as the winery - maybe another visit.
Next stop, another old favorite - Barren Ridge Vineyards.  We have loved this place since our first visit, and always recommend it to friends we know are heading down I-81 in search of wine.  Today did not disappoint.
The tasting sheet offers 4 white and 4 reds.  I opted just to do whites this stop, Kurt went for both. They also have several others that are available for sale, by the bottle or glass that are not part of the normal offerings.

We started with the 2012 Viognier($22). This slightly oaked Viognier was very complex.  The 2012 Traminette ($16) showed all the good qualities of this grape, and avoided the floral bomb that can show up if the winemaker is not careful.  The 2013 Chardonnay ($19) also went down easy.
The final white was 2013 Harmony ($17) a Vidal Blanc, Riesling, and Petit Manseng blend - a delight for the summer.

The Barren Ridge reds - a 2012 Touriga ($20), a 2012 Petit Verdot ($20), and a 2012 Red Baron ($17), a blend of Chambourcin, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot did not disappoint. They were also pouring the 2007 Albermarle Simply Red ($12) from the old Kluge Estate.  Kurt liked all the red wines and commented on the quality of the old Kluge Simply Red.  The Touriga was fruity and easy to drink.

We chatted with several customers while we were there, all from NoVA. We even found a friend of a friend - small world!  We shared a little 2012 Rose ($15) over sandwiches and again wished Barren Ridge was closer to home for us.
When you visit CrossKeys Vineyards or Barren Ridge Vineyards, tell them you read about them at Wine About Virginia.

CrossKeys Vineyards
6011 East Timber Ridge Road
Mt. Crawford, VA 22841
Phone: 540-234-0505

Barren Ridge Vineyards 
984 Barren Ridge Road
Fishersville, VA 22939
Phone: 540-248-3300