2017 The year in retrospect

Wet West Virginia moss

I’ve started this post at least 3 times.  How to sum up a year?  My tendency is to go analytical and spin out the year chronologically.  But remembering a year doesn’t really work that way.  Even scanning through my Instagram feed, I found my mind drifting, one memory taking me to another, rarely chronologically and I would swipe from one end of my feed to the other as the thoughts took me.  The visuals, the photos, were the things that drew me in, so that is what I want to share with you.

A Year of #_______Strong and of people coming together

2017…It’s been a year. It was the year of #(currentdisasterousevent)strong. There were so many, it was overwhelming at times. These events, that used to happen in some far away place, to people we didn’t know, suddenly, as we become a global community, have become things happening to people we know in places we have often seen. I had friends in Florida, Houston, in Sonoma, in New York City, in the Dominican Republic. And then of course there was Vegas. That’s home, and while I was not on the strip that night, many people that I work with daily and care for deeply, were. It was a year of stress and struggles, but also a year of people coming together. These events reminded us what is important, they caused us to be in touch with people who are dear to us and let them know they are dear to us.

Nature and home

As I sifted through the photos from this year, the ones I found the most moving, were those I took on our family farm early this spring.  No, they have nothing to do with wine, but returning to this place during some torrential spring rains, brought some perspective to the year.  The day was wet and rainy, but it only drizzled a bit while we were there.  We watched the creek rush overflowing it’s banks, and trudged from the ridge to the meadow and were soaked to the bone by the the dripping trees and wet underbrush by the time we left, but bits of astounding beauty were everywhere.

Fungus on the Farm

Fungus on the Farm

My Waterfall.

My Waterfall

Friends and Wine in Virginia

While we were on the East Coast we were able to catch up with friends and spent a weekend with my best friend and another friend from college as well as their husbands and did a bit of exploring of Virginia Wine Country.  A few years ago, we did a girls weekend in Virginia wine country and this was a great opportunity to do  Wine Country II,  Electric Boogaloo tour with the boys.

I did a bit of research on the history of Virginia Wine Country before we traveled, and we tried to take in a few different areas starting at Chrysalis and Stone Tower in Northern Virginia.  Chrysalis Vineyards is the Champion of the Norton Grape, a grape native to North America and have their tasting room at the Ag District Center.  The Winery is the vision of Jennifer McCloud who started Chrysalis in the late 1990’s.  This is a from scratch business. In Todd Kliman’s book “The Wild Vine – A forgotten grape and the untold story of American Wine” he talks about meeting Jennifer at the Vineyards and riding out with her in her pickup to see the vines.  She is the heart and soul of this winery.

Norton Grape Vine at Chrysalis Tasting Room

Norton Grape Vine at Chrysalis Tasting Room

Stone Tower Vineyards, is something completely different.  You drive up Hogsback Mountain to find an impressive Estate with a “stone tower” hence the name.  Part of the property had been in the family for 40 years and in 2005 they added to the property when a neighboring farm was available.  Many of their vines are still too young to yield fruit, so their winemaker brings in juice from California for some of their wines, which are labeled under “Wild Boar Cellars”.  Regardless, the wines were all beautifully made and the Estate wines made from grapes grown on site are really exquisite.  The tasting room at the vineyard in Loudoun County is expansive and beautiful and as such is overflowing with wine tasters from the DC area on the weekends, so go early!

Stone Tower Winery in Virginia

Stone Tower Winery in Virginia

We ventured south from here to meet my dearest friend at Barboursville Vineyards in Central Virginia.  This Vineyard is on a historic estate between Monticello and Montpelier. On the property lies the remnants of the home designed for James Barbour by Thomas Jefferson.  In 1976 the Zonin Family, who command a portfolio of 9 wineries in 7 regions of Italy, acquired the property.

Barboursville Vineyards

Barboursville Vineyards

We then headed to Charlottesville (this was early in the year, before they needed a #CharlottesvilleStong).  We had a great dinner on the Historic Downtown Mall and then planned our morning trip to Monticello.

Jefferson wanted so desperately to grow grapes and make his own wine.  He was a renaissance man and as such tended to get wrapped up in some things to the detriment of others.  The property is beautiful, the house unique and quirky, with it’s wine elevator among other things and the gardens are lovely, if filled with non native species.  The vineyards speak to the longing to make his own wine and on this spring day, in the mist, they seemed to echo this.

 

Monticello

Monticello

Vineyards at Monticello

Vineyards at Monticello

We had lunch at the historic Michie Tavern and visited a few other wineries, a standout being Blenheim Vineyards, owned by Dave Matthews.

How much California Wine Country can you see in 6 days?

August took us on a Flash Tour of the California Coast and it’s wine regions.  We spent 6 Days traveling the coast hitting Santa Barbara, Paso Robles, Monterey, Napa, Sonoma, the Livermore Valley, and Santa Cruz. You can check out our travels here. The trip was amazing, here are some visual highlights.

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Other highlights

Those are the big highlights, but we were busy all year.

At the beginning of the year I did a tasting of Natural Wines with Matthieu at the farmers market.

We did a Superbowl Wine Party How to pair with Everything!  And we did pair with everything!

In April we did a Virtual trip to the McLaren Vale in Australia with our friend Dean being our Wine Reporter at Large

In May and June we dove into Rosé with some basics and tastings.  July saw us drinking lots of bright whites, as you would expect in the summer in Vegas, and then

We found ourselves back in Santa Barbara again in October and spent time in Lompoc in the Wine Ghetto, Solvang and downtown Santa Barbara.

Beyond that we traveled closer to home and did some amazing at home pairings.  Including a wonderful Grenache Vertical and some Wine and Chocolate bark pairings.

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Onward to 2018

And what about 2018? I love the New Year. It always feels like a clean slate. Will there be good wine and some wine travel? Yes! Adventures and meeting new people and sharing their stories is what we are all about, and we get better at this all the time. Plans are in the works for this year, but who knows where the wind may blow us. I look forward to more spontaneous trips this year.

And I have been inspired seeing people post their “power words” for the new year.  Mine…”Exploration”.  I love research and if I want to be more spontaneous this year, it actually probably means chasing tangents down the research rabbit hole, and I’m okay with that!  I do have a few things on my list.  Expect to see more on French wines and wine regions this year.  Between trips to wine regions, we will be taking some virtual trips to France and digging in deeper to it’s wine regions. There is a reason that when people think of wine, they first think of French wine.  I am also anxious to search out more “natural wines”.  I know, I know, it’s a really open term, but I love pét-nat and I want to explore deeper into this movement and I’m anxious to see how this category of wines develops and evolves.  And then of course there will be the tangents.  I always start the year with plans, and I will be sitting down soon to create my list for 2018.  By the end of 2018 I am sure that I will have happily strayed from it.

Happy New Year!  I’m off to make my exploration planning list.  I should probably pour a glass of wine as I head down the rabbit hole.

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Odd Fellows in Liberty, MO Some interesting new grape varieties

So we headed to the midwest to visit family and on the way made a stop in Liberty Missouri to first and foremost taste some Norton!  The winery we headed to was Belvoir Winery which is located in the Odd Fellows Home District in Liberty.  For those of you who like me are unfamiliar with the Internation Order of the Odd Fellows, they are a fraternal organization.  The Odd Fellows home was created as a new type of almshouse.  This was a place for their members widows and orphans.  It was looked on as a type of insurance.  Members knew that their families would be taken care of here if they passed.  It is significant in that they included children.  Most other almshouses did not include children, who instead were sent to orphanages.  The Almshouses required any able-bodied resident was expected to work on the property.  As such this was not looked at as charity.  This historic location is being turned into an event facility by Dr. John Bean and his wife Marsha.  In addition to the beautiful tasting room and tastings, they also host weddings and have Public Paranormal Investigations as the building is known to be haunted!

In addition to the International Order of the Odd Fellows history at this location, we also found some grape varieties here that we found to be “odd fellows”.  This was a great part of the appeal of tasting here.  We tasted 6 wines here, 3 whites and 3 reds.

Wines at the Belvoir Winery tasting bar in Liberty, MO

We began with the 2010 Chardonel. Chardonel is a cross between Chardonnay and Seyval.  I smelled pears and peaches and a little oak on the nose and got warm fruit in the mouth.  It was very pleasant.

We then tasted the Plumeria which is a blend of Traminette, Vignoles and Seyval.  This wine smells like fruit cocktail w/coconut.  A little like ambrosia.  It has a medium body has good acid and is very fruit driven.

Now to expound upon the grapes!  Traminette is a cross of Joannes Seyve 23.416 and Gewürztraminer. It produces wines with similar characteristics to Gewürztraminer.  Vignoles is another hybrid made from Seibel 8665 and Pinot de corton  This grapes characteristic flavors of apricot, pineapple and citrus made it similar to a German Riesling and it is often made into sweet dessert wines, while it also can be made in a dryer style.  Finally the Seyval known also as Seyval Blanc it is a cross of Seibel 5656 and Royon d’Or.  It has a citrus element and a minerality that is often compared to white burgundy.

On a side note, all of these grapes contain non-vinifera genes and are outlawed by the EU authorities for quality wine production.

On to the Sorelle Dolci which is a sweet dessert wine made from Symphony and Cayuga grapes.  We fund this to be less syrupy than many dessert wines and lighter than most late harvest.  We were imagining soaking fruit in it!

The Symphony Grape was created by Dr. Harold Olmos at UC Davis in 1948.  It is a cross of Grenache Gris and Muscat of Alexandria and was originally created for the hot growing conditions of the Central Valley in California.

Cayuga is a white grape created from the hybrids Schuyler and Seyval Blanc.  It can be used to make sparkling white and has fruity aromas similar to Riesling.  This grape was created at Cornell University and was designed for the cold-climate regions of New York’s finger lakes.  It was released in 1972.

Okay….so…I’m not sure on this one.  The logic doesn’t line up, but hey, that’s wine.  So we have one grape designed for California heat and another for New York cold, both grown in Missouri.

Now onto the reds and the 2008 Norton.  I have been reading “The Wild Vine” and was fascinated with this grape. When I was in Virginia we were not in the right region for Norton, so I didn’t have an opportunity to taste there.  Norton is the state grape of Missouri. This wine has a deep rich color and I found it to be lighter than expected in my mouth.  The aroma was rich with warm spice and cedar and a little hint of violet.  The tannins were smooth and warm and due to the weight of this wine it seemed like it might be great for pairings.  It reminded me most closely of a mix of Merlot and Cab Franc, but with its own personality.

Next we tasted the Casanova.  This must be a cuvee because it had no year listed.  It is a blend of Chambourcin, St. Vincent and Syrah.  This was our favorite wine and we took a bottle home.  This wine was fruit forward with nice red fruit.  It’s medium weight makes it a great table wine or sipping wine.  For a lighter bodied red it is Very fulfilling with lots of zing!

So the grape varieties here: Chambourcin is a french American hybrid whose parentage probably comes from Siebel and was developed by Joannes Seibel in the Loire Valley.  It often has expressive herbaceous aromas.  The grapes have thick skins so you get great tannins and lots of structure. St. Vincent has a burgundian character and again comes from uncertain parentage.  It is a late ripening grape.  Lastly Syrah…well I do love my syrah.

The final wine we tasted was the Lucky Pierre.  This dessert blend is mostly Concord with ChambourcinMi and Missouri St. Vincent.  The wine itself looks like a rose.  It is sweet and fruity but had a slightly off-putting nose.  Perhaps we just had a bad bottle that was corked or something.

All in all I found most of the wines to be juicy and approachable which I would imagine is very important in this area to appeal to local clientel.  It was fascinating to taste these varieties that I was unfamiliar with.  I look forward to tasting again at different vineyards to find was differences there might be in winemaking styles and vintages with these wines. And who knows maybe we could do a Paranormal investigation there!  I will admit that Ghost Hunters is a guilty pleasure.

I continue to be fascinated by wine and grapes and our country is filled with varieties that I have never tasted.  Michael recently was in Michigan and tasted a wonderful Riesling from there.  Maybe it’s time to plan a wine tasting trip there, or New York, or back to Virginia?  So many options, and those are just the tip of the iceberg.

Show Me the Wine!

Missouri, the Show Me State, not the first place that comes to mind when you think wine country right?  Surprisingly, Missouri has a rather long history of wine making and currently supports over 100 vineyards and wineries.

My recent journey to Virginia for some wine tasting and having picked up the book “The Wild Vine” has given me a little insight into the history of Missouri wines.  Here they grow Norton, but they often call it but the name “Cynthiana”, giving a little distance to the grape that has been belittled.

In the early 1800’s German settlers came to Missouri and settled in Hermann to create a German speaking community.  The land was rugged and covered in tangles of grapevines so they began planting grapes and making wine.  In the 1870’s phylloxera hit France.  George Husmann had begun his studies in crossing wild and cultivated grapes to create hybrids and sent 17 carloads of phylloxera resistant root stock to France.  A statue depicting a young woman cradling an old woman in her arms still stands in commemoration in Montpellier France.  A symbol of the New World saving the Old World.

In 1873 Stone Hill Winery won a gold medal in Vienna at the World’s Fair.  All was going well and Stone Hill was the 2nd largest winery in the country at the turn of the century.  Then came prohibition. Vineyards were uprooted  and barrels emptied.  In addition anti-German sentiment from World War 1 put Hermann into the Great Depression years before the rest of the country.

In 1965 Jim & Betty Held began making wine again at Stone Hill and the renaissance of Missouri wine began anew.  That state now supports native grapes such as Norton (Cynthiana), Catawba, Niagara and Concord as well as the French American hybrids Chardonel, Seyval, Vidal and Vignoles.

Having missed tasting Norton while in Virginia, I am looking forward to tasting it in Missouri.  Family takes us to this area and we will fit in a couple of tastings also!  If all goes well we hope to visit Pirtle Winery north of Kansas city in Weston MO as well as Belvoir Winery in Liberty MO.  Wines here seem to be affordable with most wines I saw under $20 per bottle and these vineyards often do other fruit wines also.  It is a whole new world for wine exploration in our country.  Visit Missouri Wines for more information and watch for future posts and pictures!

 

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!