Blenheim Vineyards in Virginia Wine Country

Blenheim Vineyards Patio space

The day started as overcast.  We began with the amazing views from Monticello, without the sun, but without actual rain also.  The world was covered in the gorgeous bright green of spring.  It’s that shade that pops against the gray, turning even a completely overcast day into something bright!  It was spring in Virginia, with the ground covered in pink petals washed from the trees.  It’s especially magical for those of us who have been so long away from the green.

That changed as we drove our way to Blenheim Vineyards.  The sky started to leak.  Not a full on rain storm, just steady inconvenient rain.  But that was okay. We didn’t get to sit outside at the outdoor tasting bar at Blenheim, but wandered down into the main tasting room.  It is an A-frame building with the front full of windows as well as windows along the peak of the room. When you walk in you can also look down through the glass floor at the center to see the winery, it’s tanks and barrels.  The windows here allow for natural light even on this rainy day.

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The end of the tasting room holds the bar so you can enjoy your tasting looking out through the huge windows overlooking the vineyard.  The bar was full, so we were guided to a table.  I asked if we needed to go to the bar for our tastings and was assured that we did not.  They have pourers assigned to the tables who come around.  The staff, which seemed to be all female were helpful, friendly and knowledgeable about the wines and the vineyard.  Out came the glasses and the tasting menu.

The pours here were generous and the atmosphere was relaxed.  It was a place you could come and enjoy a tasting with friends, which was what we were doing.  Those types of tastings lean more toward conversation with your friends, and less about in-depth tasting and contemplation.  This of course is rather new to Michael and I, wine geeks who typically taste with just the two of us and take copious notes.  I did manage to scribble a few down and when I did ask about the blends, the staff were quick to pull out the vineyard map and show us where each block was located.

– A map of the vineyard blocks with all the varieties at Blenheim Vineyards

The grapes of Blenheim Vineyards

They are growing 13 varieties of grapes here.  You have the standard Cabernet Franc and Viognier which are the varieties that seem to grow best here in Virginia.  In addition they grow, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Roussanne and then surprisingly (at least for me) Pinot Noir.  Yes, I’m still two short.  They also have a block of Teroldego and a block of Garganega which are new and have only been in the ground for 3 years.  Teroldego is a deeply colored red grape from northern Italy in the Province of Trentino.  Garganega is a white grape also from Northern Italy from the Provinces of Verona and Vicenza.  It will be interesting to see how these grapes do.

The tasting at Blenheim Vineyards

I fell in love with the Rosé ’16.  It does 48 hours on the skins.  This is a blend of 46% Merlot, 31% Cab Franc, 12% Pinot Noir and 11% Syrah.  It was complex on the nose and tart on the palate. ($17)

The Chardonnay ’15 was partially (30%) aged in Hungarian and American Oak for 5 months.  While you got a little oak on the nose, the palate was clean and bright. ($17)

The 2015 Painted white has a totem on the label.  It is 58% Chardonnay, 21% Viognier, 12% Albarino, 9% Sauvignon Blanc aged for 9 months in French and Hungarian oak with 35% tank aged. ($25)

Petit Verdot ’14 was 10 months on mixed oak; 75% American Oak and 25% French Oak.  It had a yummy nose, was milder on the palate with a quick finish but was very nice. (My dear friend Mess, has discovered that she likes Petit Verdot and after searching for a term, decided that they were chewy!)($24)

The Painted Red ’15 also features a totem.  The Painted Red 2015 was 44% Cab Franc, 31% Petit Verdot, 13% Merlot, 12% Cab Sav, 76% aged for 10 months in French, American and Hungarian Oak. This was very nice but our favorite of the reds remained the Petit Verdot. ($30)

They also sell “growlers” here.  Yep, they have 2 wines, the Claim House White (83% Chardonay, 10% Pinot Noir and 7% Viognier (un-oaked) and the Claim House Red 84% Cabernet Franc, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Merlot and 3% Petit Verdot (un-oaked) that are available at $6 per glass or you can buy a growler for $7 and fill it for $19. The growlers are becoming popular in this area.  You buy the growler itself once and then can return to have it refilled!  These wines are not all estate, but include fruit from some other vineyards.  Both are NV (non vintage).

Doesn’t Somebody Famous own this winery?

So here I am two thirds of the way through this post and I have just gotten around to telling you that Dave Matthews owns this vineyard.  I am a Dave Matthews fan from way back and was lucky enough to see them play on Brown’s Island in Richmond with Widespread Panic back in the ’90’s.  Dave draws the totems on the labels for the blends.

Blenheim Vineyard

The posters of the labels for the Blenheim Vineyard blends, drawn by Dave Matthews

Dave designed the winery with William Johnson and finished it in 2000.  The winery, that you see though the glass floor in the center of the tasting room is nestled into the hillside to help with climate control.  The place is made from reclaimed wood and those south facing windows mean that they don’t need to use lighting in tasting room at all in the summer.

Dave Matthews moved to Charlottesville when he was 19.  He formed the Dave Matthews band here.  Did you know their first concert was on Earth Day in 1991?  Without knowing the connection we had dinner (and great burgers and beer) at Miller’s in Charlottesville where he bartended before he started the band.

The Vineyard and Winery were meant to make good wine, not necessary to make money.  Success had hit and they had the luxury of not needing the money.  So they focused on the wine, and in my opinion succeeded.  Inspired by Farm Aid, he started out with the BOWA (Best of What’s Around) farm outside of Charlottesville that they rehabilitated and had certified organic. He planted Blenheim Vineyards on the remnants of an old vineyard that was on the property.

But why is it named Blenheim Vineyards?

Ok, while it seems like this should be an easy question, I found the answer to be a bit ’round about.

So…John Carter was the Secretary of the Colony of Virginia.  In 1730 he obtained a large parcel of land in what is now Albemarle County Virginia.  His son Edward, of Blenheim built the first Blenheim house, which was named for the Duke of Marlborough who won the War of the Spanish Succession for Britain.  The Duke’s family seat was Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, Oxfordshire.  Blenheim Farm & Blenheim Vineyards are located on this property.

It is said that Thomas & Martha Jefferson stayed here when their coach had to stop nearby in a snowstorm.  The house burned down in the mid 1840’s.

The Women of Blenheim Vineyards

I mentioned that the tasting room staff was primarily women.  Well the winery staff is also female dominated, which is a rarity these days.  Their Winemaker and General Manager Kirsty Harmon, graduated from UVA with a degree in Biology in 1998.  She apprenticed with Gabriele Rausse (who has his own winery in Virginia and was the director of gardens and grounds at Monticello and is often referred to as “The Father of the Modern Virginia Wine Industry”).  She then studied at UC Davis in California getting a degree in Viticulture and Enology in 2007.  She spent a bit of time in France and New Zealand working in the industry and then became the Winemaker at Blenheim Vineyards in 2008.

The remainder of the major members of the staff are also female (I’m lovin’ the girl power!).  Tracy Love runs the Sales department, Ellen Houle is the tasting room manager, Amanda Gray is the Event Manager & Mimi Adams is the Vineyard Manager.

So if you are an environmentalist, a feminist and like good music, good people and good wine (like me) than you should definitely stop by Blenheim.  If it is a pretty day you can see the grounds, but even if it’s raining, it’s well worth the trip.

Blenheim Vineyards is located at 31 Blenheim Farm, Charlottesville, Virginia 22902

They are open daily from 11 am to 5:30 pm, tastings are $7 per person and you can bring your dog, as long as they are on a leash and friendly.  They are on the Monticello Wine Trail

It is well worth it to make it a day!  Visit Monticello in the morning, stop at Blenheim Vineyards and have lunch at the Historic Michie Tavern.  Find another winery (there are plenty in the area) and then go for dinner downtown in Charlottesville.  We had amazing burgers the first night at Miller’s (you remember I mentioned the Dave Matthews connection there earlier) and the 2nd night we had an amazing meal at the Downtown Grill  (and a great bottle of Frank Family Pinot Noir from Carneros) followed by drinks upstairs at the Sky Bar.  This is a college town so it is eclectic and busy.  If the weather is nice I highly recommend enjoying a table out on the Downtown Mall which is one of the longest pedestrian malls in the country.  It is located on Main Street and the center is set with tables for outdoor dining for all of the restaurants.

We will be posting more on our trip and of course on lots of other wine related things so stop back here at Crushed Grape Chronicles.  You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

 

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Virginia Wine Country – A young wine region with a long history

So we are planning a trip to the East Coast. A little time to catch up with some friends and visit some Virginia Wineries to enjoy some Virginia Wine.

A few years ago, I made a trip to visit my best friend from college and we met another college friend for a girl’s weekend in Virginia Wine Country. We had been in each other’s weddings back in the day and this was our first time since then being all together. One spouse, (knowing how we were back in the day), took care of us by surprising us with a Limo tour to 3 wineries. We lounged in the limo, talking non-stop while the driver took us down the winding roads of the Monticello AVA near Charlottesville Virginia. You can check out the original blog posts here:

Pippin Hill Farms – Tasting in Virginia

The beautiful Pippin Hill Farm in North Garden Virginia

King Family Vineyards, Crozet Virginia

The porch in front of the King Family Vineyard Tasting room in Crozet Virginia

In Vino Veritas, A Long and Winding Adventure

Veritas Vineyard & Winery in Afton Virginia

Well for this trip, we will have spouses along for the ride, and as we are planning just one winery a day, we will probably drive ourselves.

We are still planning, but I am hoping to check out a winery in the Loudoun County area near DC, at least one in the Monticello AVA and possibly one in the Blue Ridge region.

Maps and online information on Virginia Wine Country from virginiawine.org

But first….I need to delve into a little background on Virginia Wines. As I plan I am immersing myself in some research on the region with the help of VirginiaWines.org , some major web surfing and a couple of books!

 

The founding of the new world was about making wine (or at least partially)

Beyond Jefferson’s Vines – The evolution of quality wine in Virginia by Richard G. Leahy

In reading Richard Leahy’s book “Beyond Jefferson’s Vines: The Evolution of Quality Wine in Virginia” he notes that the original colonists with the Virginia Company at the Jamestown Settlement had come here in 1607 to make money for their shareholders. They were to create a supply of silk, olive oil and wine for English merchants as those things were currently in short supply due to wars

Well, grapes didn’t grow well and being under constant attack didn’t help. So no wine then.

They did however discover tobacco, which is a native Virginia plant, grew well and birds and deer didn’t try to eat it! So screw wine they said, lets grow tobacco. It turned out to be addictive, so…better for sales! Virginia continues to be a big tobacco state. (When I lived in Richmond, Dogwood Dell did a summer outdoor arts season. Which included an annual event with Larry Bland and the Volunteer Choir. This was a huge event with an amazing gospel choir and was sponsored each year by Philip Morris.)

“The Crown” was not pleased with this and in “Acte 12” of the Jamestown Assembly in 1619, they required each male colonist to plant and tend at least 10 (or was it 20? sources vary) European grapevines, with a punishment for failure to comply, determined by the governor. Still…pests and the climate made it difficult and most chose to bag grapes for the quick money of tobacco.

Leahy goes so far as to say that this disregard for the orders of the Crown was the genesis of the bad relations with the motherland that led eventually to war.  (First we refuse to make wine for them, then we dump tea in the harbor…we did start off as quite the rebellious bunch!)

Thomas Jefferson got into wine in college (don’t we all), but really became passionate about it while in France (this does really seem like a timeless story doesn’t it?).  The trouble was, that once he returned home he had to import good wine and at that time, that was a bit of an ordeal.  So…he worked to cultivate a native wine grape and worked to plant vineyards with Philip Mazzei, a Florentine Noble who had come to Virginia to make wine.

Ah Virginia.   With it’s rolling hills, it’s easy to see why Jefferson loved it so (so much that his bargaining chip for endorsing Hamilton’s “Assumption” issue with the Federal Government taking over the State’s debts).  So Mazzei brought in vines cuttings from Portugal, Italy, Spain & France and some Tuscan Vignerons to plant a vineyard near Monticello and  Jefferson hired them too. Sadly frost took out the young vines and managed to squeeze out just a couple of barrels a few years later.  Then the war started and Mazzei’s land ended up trampled by horses.

Jefferson continued, and at the end of his 2nd term as President, re-dedicated himself to the vineyards.  Unfortunately, he had little success.

There were others though that were having success, not with European Grapes but with native varieties.  And here also you find the story  of Norton a native Virginia grape named for Dr. Daniel Norton.  You can find the full story of this grape in “The Wild Vine – A forgotten grape and the untold story of American Wine”

Wild Vine – A forgotten grape and the untold story of American Wine by Todd Kliman

Time goes on and of course Prohibition happens…

Then in the late 1960’s, post Prohibition wineries popped up and planted French hybrids like Chambourcin, and Seyval Blanc.  Then in the 80’s things really got going with the Virginia Winegrowers Advisory Board and the Virginia Winegrowers Productivity Fund.  Then came the shift to European varieties which settled into Cabernet Franc being one of the varieties for the region.

Now in 2017 there are 260 Wineries in 10 Winemaking Regions in the state with 7 different AVAs.

I’m just getting started with this research folks.  Standby, while I get all geeky.  My next venture, to investigate the Virginia AVA’s, their soils and climates.

Check back here at Crushed Grape Chronicles for more on Virginia Wine Country as I continue my research.  You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

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Wines you can’t forget, part three

Vineyard view Lange Estate 2011

On to Part three of the wines I can’t forget.  We will venture into Paso Robles, Virginia and Oregon!

Lone Madrone The Will.

The enchanting grounds at Lone Madrone Paso Robles

Okay it’s no secret that I have a wine crush on Neil Collins and I had done research on their winery before going there so I was extra excited when his sister was pouring for us.  The grounds transport you before you ever enter the tasting room.  The story behind The Will probably got to me also.  The Will is a blend of Petite Sirah, Grenache Noir and Zinfandel source fromt he organic dry farmed Heaton Vineyards.  It is known to stain teeth!  The grapes are grown on Will’s Hill named after the Heaton’s son Will.  The wine is named in memory of Will.

The Porch at Veritas in Virginia

Veritas Cabernet Franc.

Here’s my Shout out to Virginia wineries!  I did a wine tasting day with my two best friends from College in Virginia this year and fell in love with Virginia Cabernet Franc.  My best friend found a new favorite wine in Cab Franc.  It is rich without being big and fruity, and it is easier drinking than Cabernet Sauvignon. This was the last stop of our day at Veritas and after our tasting we enjoyed a bottle out on the patio.  Of course the setting and the company made the wine taste better and makes me want to drink it to revisit that day, but also, Cabernet Franc is one of my favorite reds!

Wildhorse Unbridled Bien Nacido Pinot Noir.

The view from Wild Horse Winery

I happen to be a big fan of Kenneth Volk.  I love the way he pushes boundaries.  So going to Wildhorse was a little like a pilgrimage.  It was late in the day in the middle of the week and we were the only ones in the tasting room.  We had a fantastic tasting with a fabulously well informed (if not enthusiastic) pourer. I enjoyed everything, but when he poured the Unbridled Bien Nacido Pinot Noir I was enthralled.  This is barnyard in the best sense.  All hail to Bien Nacido for providing such incredible fruit!  We left with a bottle and I will track this wine down!  This is a wine that I will drink with my eyes closed.

 

Trisaetum Reisling.

Trisaetum Riesling with Tapas

Trisaetum was one of the last vineyards we visited in the Dundee Hills and it is WAY out on a backroad. We were there early and were the first tasters of the day.  This was a departure from our Oregon tastings because they specialize in Reisling.  The variety of Reisling that they create from several different vineyards is amazing.  Their Coast Range Reisling stands in my memory as my favorite.

When we visited the winery we did get great service from an eager and knowledgeable pourer and once others wandered in for tastings we were able to stroll the beautiful art gallery in the tasting room.  So ambience and people played a part in our initial love of the wine.

It’s fall and time for me to order some of this!  We were lucky this summer to find that Khoury’s had a few bottles of their Estate Reserve Reisling so we snatched those up.  And yes, compared to other Reislings that we had been drinking this was still far superior.

So…that’s the tip of my iceberg for wines that I can’t forget.  Of course as I have been writing more and more wines have come to mind and I know that there are many more out there that I have yet to taste.  And…did I answer the question as to why?  Probably not.  As usual wine is hard to pin down, the experience  and the taste are connected in ways that we cannot fully understand or describe but that we can most certainly enjoy.

In Vino Veritas, A Long and Winding Adventure

Veritas was another winery that Kathy recommended.  Located in Afton not far from 64 this winery is a stunning location for an event.  The winding roads going in made us grateful for the driver.  The tasting room is big and boldly designed in contrast to the white washed farmhouse looking exterior.  The flower baskets in bloom hanging on the porch speak of a simplicity that disappears when you enter the tasting room.    We peeked into the back event room which is tented in silky white fabric for weddings.

Verias Wedding Room

The tasting room opens up 2 stories with a large hanging cork sculpture that reads “LOVE” above the tasting bar.  There is also an elegant (while large) glass sculpture that graces the center of the tasting bar.  There are large leather couches to sit in and enjoy a glass if you like.

Here we tasted 8 wines beginning with the 2011 Sauvignon Blanc.  This Sav Blanc was clean and not too tart and I enjoyed it.   It boasts a little minerality alongside the grapefruit and lemongrass.

Next we tasted the 2011 Saddleback Chardonnay.  Modeled after the french Chablis they ferment this in stainless steel and then put it into neutral French oak for 4 months.

Their Viognier was lovely as I have found most Virginia Viogniers to be.

The White Star is a fascinating blend of Viognier, Traminette (which was a new varietal to me), Chardonnay and Vidal Blanc (again new to me).  This is a simple fun white blend.

The 2011 Rose was very nice.  This almost salmon colored Rose is Cab Franc & Merlot.  Again a fun rose.  Fun enough that they are shipping me a bottle.

The 2011 Cab Franc was my favorite.  It has a smokiness that I am a complete sucker for.  It is tart with low tannins with a lighter than usual mouth feel for a  Cab Franc due to the late rains of the 2011 season.  Still this easy drinking Cab Franc was on my list to take home.

Love Bar, Veritas Winery in Virginia

The 2010 Vintner’s Reserve is a blend of 42% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Franc, 25% Petit Verdot and 16% Cabernet Sauvignon.  It is barrel aged so you get vanilla, caramel and mocha as well as black fruits and a little hit of tobacco.  Kathy & Lisa picked up a few of these.  As much as I enjoyed this wine, I was still more enamored by the Cab Franc. Perhaps because of the difference in price ($18 to $35).

The final wine that we tasted is their most popular red blend called the Red Star.  It is a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Chambourcin (again a new varietal for me).  This is an easy drinking lighter bodied red.  Very easy drinking.

After our tasting we had a little time before the car service was due to return us to our hotel, so we grabbed a bottle of the Vintner’s Reserve and headed out to the patio to enjoy the company the wine and the view.

Over the course of the day we had asked about other local vineyards and one name popped up consistently Pollak.  This is a newer winery but everyone mentioned it.  So they either have great wine or a great marketing team or perhaps both.  It will be on my list for my next trip.

It was a wonderful trip, but I feel like I have just scratched the surface of wines in Virginia.  This state has sooo.. many varietals that I have not explored and I am deeply regretting not having an opportunity to taste some Norton.

 

King Family Vineyards, Crozet Virginia

From Pippin Hill Farm we headed to King Family Vineyards in Crozet.  As we headed out our driver pointed out that our last vineyard was actually closer, but…we had checked the times and the last vineyard was open the latest, so off to King Family Vineyards we went.

This vineyard is family owned and a smaller and more intimate winery.  After the fact I saw that they have a gallery with art showings!  We were so busy with the wine that I missed that while we were there.  The are also known for their Polo matches

Kings-Family-Polo

which begin each year on Memorial Day weekend.The tasting room has a 3 sided bar. The girl who was pouring for us was very knowledgable and was getting ready to graduate with a nursing degree.  When we asked how she came to work here, she said she loved their Chardonnay and would come here, get a glass and study on the porch.  They saw her so often they finally offered her a job.  She really loves the wine and the winery and was passionate about sharing information on the grapes, the vineyards and the vintages.  She began with trying to speak to all of us around the bar who began the tasting together, so as to not leave anyone waiting and give us all great information.  Of course as we began tasting we were all at a different pace, so she broke off to give attention to the individual groups.  She was indeed working the entire bar by herself, but never left us waiting too long and was always happy to provide information.

 

My friend Kathy had recommended this vineyard from a previous trip and she loves their Chardonnay.  Evidently lots of people do because they were sold out and the next vintage doesn’t come out until July!  They did however have a lovely white blend that we tried called Roseland.  Roseland is 60% Chardonnay and 40% Viognier.  40% of the volume is aged in oak so you get a butteriness that is not overpowering mixed with the peach and honeysuckle from the Viognier and a little lemongrass.  Even with the oak it has a clean finish.

Next we tasted the Crose.  This is a 100% Merlot Dry rose and a play on the name of their city.  Lots of tart grapefruit on this one with red fruits coming through.  It is bright crisp and fun.

Their 2010 Merlot was lovely with mocha, deep cherry and wet stone.  Very enjoyable and this one will just get better.

The 2010 Meritage is 43% Merlot, 27% Petit Verdot, 22% Cab Franc and 8% Malbec.  This wine is bright and young.  It had just recently been bottled.  You could see it’s potential, but I think it needs a little more time before drinking.

The 2009 Seven is a fortified wine in the port style.  It is 100% Merlot.  While it sits at 18% alcohol it does not feel hot on the palate.  It does however evaporate faster than almost anything I have ever put in my mouth.  With a bit of dark chocolate this could be lovely for after dinner.

 

King-Family-patio

The final wine we tasted was the 2010 Loreley which is 50% each Viognier and Petit Manseng.  This late harvest wine is fermented and aged in the barrel.  Sweet without being cloying it would again be nice after dinner.   We looked at our watches and knew we had to head out to our final stop of the day at Veritas.

 

PippinHill Farms, Tasting in Virginia

The countryside in the Charlottesville area is stunning with rolling hills, lots of trees and charming homes. From the Boar’s Head our driver headed south on 29 to Plank Road.

I had read about Pippin Hill Farm online while doing research on the area and discovered that they serve a small plate menu. This seemed to be a good start to the day as it was lunch time and we were all hungry.

The view as you arrive at the vineyard is stunning. This is Charlottesville’s newest vineyard and is part of the Monticello AVA. They have created a stunning atmosphere that reflects the history and culture of the area. You approach the large barn like building which is their events center. There is a wrap around porch with outside seating for tastings and lunch. We went in to the tasting bar and persuaded them to let us order from the small plates menu and sit outside and then come back in for each of our tastings.

Pippin Hills Field

I chose the Reserve tasting at $8. Which included a sparkling wine, a reserve chardonnay, a reserve Merlot and a reserve Meritage. They have also have a White wine tasting or a Red wine tasting each with 4 selections available at $5 each.

My tasting began at the beautiful hand-carved bar inside.

The windows behind the bar allow for stunning views of the vineyard and hillsides. I started with the 2010 Summer Hill Sparkler. This sparkling wine is 100% Cabernet Franc. It has a very yeasty nose but is light bright and immediately put me in a good mood. It spends 8 months in stainless steel sur lees to build the depth of flavor.

After pouring me the 2010 Chardonnay Reserve and taking our order for small plates, we headed outside to enjoy the air and the view from the covered stoned terrace, which quite honestly as a great open veradana. We found a corner close by with couches on 3 sides and a low table. There was an old water pump fountain trickling peacefully nearby and the view…did I mention the view? The 2010 Chardonnay Reserve was fruit forward with light to medium oak and was very pleasant.

On to the food. The Daily Cheese Board had 3 artisan cheeses, I remember a gouda, which was very good a goat cheese and forgive me I don’t remember the last (I was drinking and chatting) but it was good. It came with home made bread that they do in their wood burning oven as well as apricot marmalade, fig mostarda and spiced nuts. Really delicious. We also split a croque monsieur and the local beef sliders with house made parmesan fries. The fries were addictive.

By now we were onto the 2010 Merlot Reserve. This was my favorite here. Aged in new French oak for 13 months this is big and bold with lots of depth. While I enjoyed it now I can only see this wine growing better with age.

Pippin Hills Side Yard View

Our last wine was the Meritage Reserve. I enjoyed this but my friend Kathy really loved it. She loves the Meritage Blends, enjoying the lighter varietals more than the deep smoky ones. It was fascinating to see the difference in our tastes and palates. We could all appreciate all the wines, but our preferences run in different directions. We enjoyed the view and didn’t want to leave, but other wineries beckoned. So we headed onward, our plates not even empty with the generous portions.

Wine in the Commonwealth

Virginia is Wine Country! This historic part of our country was challenged for centuries to make good wine is indeed at last producing some VERY good wines!  When the Pilgrims landed they found a countryside with wild grapes growing abundantly and the crown was pleased!  This would be their opportunity to have British wine and not have to import and pay the taxes for wine from France!  Unfortunately, the grapes did not make good wine.  Often noted as “foxy” with a funky musky aroma the grapes here were not the European V. vinifera.  These were rather V. Labrusca, the fox grape. In an effort to try to cultivate the grapes landholders were required to plant a small vineyard.  After a while with no success they all just gave up. Even Thomas Jefferson.

We did our tastings in and around Charlottesville and passed by Monticello where Jefferson’s one failure haunted him.  He was never able to produce a wine of quality.  The land in Virginia so different from Europe and France where he had grown to truly appreciate wine.  He spent 30 years trying to cultivate European vines to no success.

At long last wines in Virginia are coming into their own.  The Viogniers and Cabernet Francs here are becoming first class, as I can attest to after tasting them.  Still with almost 200 wineries in the state, it is a stuggle to find them on a wine list.  We had a lovely dinner in Charlottesville at the Downtown Grille and I made sure to let the waitress know that the reason I was getting the Viognier was because it was the ONLY Virginia wine on their wine list that I could purchase by the glass!  When you dine support local wine!

Norton is the official native Virginia Grape while Missouri also grows quite a bit.  I was reading “The Wild Vine” while traveling, but unfortunately the vineyards that grow Norton were further North than we were going.  It gives me an excuse for more tastings on my next trip that way.

Norton we believe is a hybrid of the grape Bland and Petite Meunier.  This grape abounded in the state and in the late 1800’s garnered high awards in Vienna and Paris at the World’s Fairs.  Unfortunately Prohibition hit and the wine industry in Virginia was a long time coming back. In the mid 70’s 6 vineyards popped up and now with almost 200 only California, Washington, Oregon and New York have more vineyards.

Boars Head, Walk Side View

We drove in to Charlottesville in the morning and headed to the Boar’s Head Inn where we were staying.  As we were 3 friends from College meeting for a reunion to wine taste, we had booked a suite which was more affordable than 3 individual rooms.  The suite was across from the main hotel and encompassed the entire upstairs above the Inn Gift shop.  It had recently been renovated and unfortunately the heating and cooling was not working, but the night was pleasant and we ended up opening windows for a cross breeze.  There was a sitting room with a pull out sofa bed and a fireplace as well as a small area with a sink and beverage service a bedroom with 2 queen beds and a lovely bathroom.  I wish we had been able to spend more time exploring the property.  As it was  we managed a stroll down to the lake between the beautiful period buildings after a wonderful and elegant breakfast at the Old Mill Restaurant in the main building.

One of my friends has a wonderful husband who insisted on hiring a car service to take us to the vineyards.  He is my hero.  This allowed us plenty of time to chat and catch up as we drove from vineyard to vineyard.  More on that in the next post!

For great in depth information on Virginia Wineries go to Virginia Wine!  The site is overflowing with information on the history of Virginia Wines as well as directions for the different wine trails and all the vineyards and wineries!