Is 25% Too Much?

A wine can still be labelled a Virginia wine with up to 25% of out of state grapes blended into it. Normally, wineries don't use out of state grapes, but with rapid growth of the Virginia wine industry there is a shortage of Virginia gapes. New wineries are going to have trouble getting Virginia grapes at a price that allows them to make a profit.

Even more critical, with the late start to the growing season and relatively mild summer so far, there could be serious shortage of Cabernet Sauvignon come harvest.

The lure of cheap out of state grapes may be too much for new wineries to resist.

25% of non-Virginia grapes is a lot. It is enough to alter the character of the wine to the point that it will no longer reflect the 2013 vintage in Virginia, whatever that ends up being.

So, my question is: is 25% too much? As a young industry should Virginia winemakers worry preserving the character of the vintage, or should the primary concern be surviving and growing the industry?

The Best Virginia Wine to Mull?

December in Virginia Wine Country means it is time for mulled wine. Pretty soon you will not be able to walk into a tasting room without enjoying the aromas of cinnamon, cloves and orange peels.

It seems that every winery has a favorite wine for mulling. Some, like Swedenburg, even sell bottles of pre-mulled wine. Just heat and serve.

A good mulling wine is one with lots of fruit and soft tannins. You don't want the mulling spices to overwhelm the wine. Similarly, you don't want a mulled wine so astringent that you cannot enjoy the spices.

We are hosting a holiday open house this weekend during which we'll be serving mulled wine as the drink of choice. So, I posed the question to Facebook: Which Virginia Wine is the bet for mulling.

There were two recommendations: Loudoun Valley Vineyards 2008 Dynasty and the Casanel Vineyards 2008 Merlot.

Given that these are both great wines, we had to have a taste off.

The Dynasty is a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Touriga Nacional. It has great vanilla aromas, lots of red fruit and smooth tannins.

The Casanel 2008 Merlot has black cherry and currant flavors with tannins that have softened nicely with age.

Both wines are great options for mulled wine.

While you can create your own spice pack, I prefer to use pre-made spices, in this case from Williams Somoma. They recommend 2 tablespoons of spices per bottle, plus 1/3 cup of sugar. I simmered the two wines for 20 minutes in a saucepan and they were ready to go.

Both wines came out really well, it was a close call. But, to find out the winner you have to come to the open house.

Do you have a favorite Virginia Wine for mulling?

Bring Notaviva Wines to Your House

When Notaviva Vineyards announced their Host a Wine Show last year I was intrigued. I have never been a big fan of "wine shows" like the Traveling Vineyard, but this is completely different.

I finally got to host one of their shows in July and it was an incredible event. The Notaviva "Host a Wine Show" brings Notaviva wines to your home or business along with Stephen or Shannon to tell you about the wines.

The cost is only $15 per person and not only do attendees get to taste the wonderful wines that Notaviva produces, but they get to hear about the wines and the winery from one of the owners. For those interested, they can even by wines (which a lot of people did).

Notaviva is a beautiful winery and worth the trip, but it is hard to beat the intimacy of an in-home wine tasting with a winery owner, it makes for a great event.

Virginia Harvest Report

"Gun Shy" is the word that appears to be defining the 2012 harvest in Virginia. I have heard that phrase from more than a dozen winemakers and vineyard managers around the state. After the difficult 2011 vintage many wineries are concerned about the September rains and their potential impact on the harvest. In fact, many wineries started their harvest a few weeks early in order to avoid a repeat.

The 2012 growing season started in 2011 with what turned out to be the mildest winter in recent memory. The mild winter lead to longer than usual growing season, and unfortunately, also lead to several frost scares. While there was some minor frost damage across the state, it was not nearly as bad as the damage from frost in 2010.

2012 was a dry year with only 14.43 inches of rain between April 1st and August 31st in Loudoun County and 17.82 inches during the same period in Charlottesville. Compare that to an average rainfall of 18.73 inches during the same time period over the previous 5 years in Loudoun and 16.94 over the same period in Charlottesville.

Loudoun County experienced 36 90+ degree days between April 1st and August 31st. Down from 42 and 46 in 2011 and 2010, respectively. This meant that in Loudoun there was a longer growing season that was dry an warm, but not too hot.

Charlottesville had 46 90+ degree days between April 1st and August 31st, including a stretch of 5 strait 100+ degree days between July 4th and 8th. This is also down from 47 in 2011 and 59 in 2010.

While it is never a good idea to make predictions about the wines from a harvest, this is definitely shaping up to be a good year for Virginia wines; provided we avoid the deluge of rain we experienced in 2011 and wineries don't jump the gun and harvest too soon.

Good luck to all Virginia wineries!

Jennifer Breaux Talks 2012 Harvest



After a difficult 2011 and a scary start, 2012 is turning out to have great potential for Virginia Wine. The summer was hot and dry (more on that later) and while there has been some rain late in season it has not been enough to damage the grape crop.

Jennifer Breaux, from Breaux Vineyards, gives us a preview of this year's harvest.

While a few wineries started earlier harvest kicked in full swing around Virginia last Monday. Expect more harvest reports soon.

Fauquier County Wineries Fight Back Against Board of Supervisors! Release Petition.

As readers of this blog know the Fauquier County Board of Supervisors is considering legislation that would seriously restrict activities in which Farm Wineries are able to engage.

The Fauquier County Board of Supervisors is planning to vote on the legislation this Thursday, July 12, 2012, at 6:30 PM. The BoS holds its meetings at:

Warren Green Building
10 Hotel Street, Suite 208
Warrenton, VA 20186

Ahead of the vote, Fauquier County wineries, and their supporters in other parts of the state, are trying to spread the word about the legislation and get people to write to the BoS in protest of the bill.

Jim and Betsy Dolphin, owners of Delaplane Cellars sent an email to their fans stating, in part:
While we believe that much of the proposed ordinance is illegal under State law, it is clear that the intent of the Board is to harm or possibly even eliminate the wine industry in Fauquier County.

Please show your support for the wineries of Fauquier County by writing to the Board of Supervisors and the Zoning Administrator listed to the left. We have provided suggested content for your message that you may copy directly into your email if you so choose.


Philip Carter Winery did not mince words when contacting their supporters, stating simply:
Fauquier County is trying to put Fauquier wineries out of business!!


Stephen Mackey, at Notaviva Vineyards has put up a petition to try to get 1000 signatures before the meeting on Thursday (as of this writing they are at 400 signatures).

Most of the time in politics it is difficult to get your voice heard, unless you have a lot of money. But this is a chance to affect a real change. Write to the members of the Fauquier County Board of Supervisors and let them know (politely) that you think the legislation is wrong-headed and could force a growing part of the economy in Fauquier County to slow down, or even shut down altogether.

In addition, sign the petition, let the BoS know that Fauquier County wineries don't just serve local residents but bring in people and money from all over the state, and around the country.

You letter, and signature will make a difference and can help Fauquier County wineries win this battle on Thursday.

Fabbioli, Virginia Wines, Clean Up at LA Wine Competition!

The results of the Los Angeles International Wine & Spirits Competition were announced earlier this week and Virginia Wines scored 19 medals, 3 of which went to Doug and his team at Fabbioli Cellars.

The Los Angeles International Wine & Spirits Competition is one of the oldest and most respected in the country. Started as a regional competition just after prohibition was repealed, the wine competition has garnered international attention over its 73 year lifespan.

Fabbioli earned three medals in the competition: The 2009 Reserve Cabernet Franc was awarded a silver medal. The Pear wine was awarded a gold medal. The 2009 Tannat was awarded a Gold medal and voted Best of Class.

In addition to Fabbioli, the following Virginia Wineries were awarded medals:

Barrel Oak:
Silver for their 2009 Cabernet Franc Reserve
Silver for their 2010 Viognier, Reserve

Breaux Vineyards:
Silver for their 2010 Chere Marie
Silver for their 2007 Meritage
Silver for their 2007 Cabernet Franc, Reserve
Bronze for their 2009 Cabernet Franc (Marquis de Lafayette)
Bronze for their 2010 Viognier

Ingleside Vineyard:
Silver for their Blanc de Blanc
Bronze for their 2007 Petit Verdot
Bronze for their 2007 Petit Verdot

Gray Ghost Vineyards:
Silver for their 2011 Gewurztraminer
Silver for their 2011 Riesling
Silver for their 2011 Late Harvest Vidal (Adieu)
Bronze for their 2011 Late Harvest Vidal (Adieu)
Bronze for their 2011 Vidal
Bronze for their 2010 Bordeaux Blend (Ranger Reserve)


What the Hell Is Fauquier County Thinking?

Most likely you haven't heard that the Fauquier County Council has released a proposed a new Farm Winery Ordinance. They had a public hearing on this legislation June 7th, but have not voted to take action yet.

Which means there is still time to dissuade the council from making a huge mistake.

The State of Virginia has regulations that define what constitutes a farm winery and the type of activities that these wineries can engage in. The Fauquier County Council has decided these regulations are not restrictive enough and seeks to impose additional regulations, which may not be legal, on the 26 Farm Wineries in Fauquier County.

Take a moment to look over the proposed bill. If this bill were copied by other counties it would make the Palladio restaurant at Barboursville Winery illegal, it would also make the new 868 Winery illegal. It will most definitely make the new John Marshall Tasting Experience at Barrel Oak illegal.

The bill takes an unnecessarily restrictive view of what a farm winery is and what type of activities in which they can engage.

The good news is, the bill has not been voted on yet. If you are one of the hundreds of thousands of people who have visited the farm wineries in Fauquier County I encourage you to (respectfully) write the Board of Supervisors and tell them they are wrong on this, the farm wineries in Faquier County don't need any additional restrictions placed on them.

Virginia Wines Continue to Impress with 11 Decanter Awards

Coinciding with the opening of the London International Wine Fair Decanter has announced the winners of the Decanter World Wine Awards 2012 and Virginia claimed 11 medals!

Surprisingly, this number is down from previous years, but there were also fewer submissions. As you can see from the chart below in 2011 Virginia Wines won 14 awards and in 2010 they won 20. However, that coincides with a big push by the State of Virginia to get the wines recognized on the world stage, so there was a bigger push to submit wines.

The truth is many Virginia Wineries are not interested in selling outside of the sate, so there is little incentive to submit to award competitions like Decanter, especially with the much-improved Virginia Governor's Cup carrying so much more weight locally.

That being said, it is certainly a great honor to win the award and it is a sign that Virginia Wines continue to impress.

Justin Bogarty, owner of Veramar Vineyards, posted the following to Facebook:

This marks the fourth year in a row that Veramar Vineyard has received medals from Decanter magazine. “For us this is like the main attraction at a title boxing event! We may be consider the underdog wine region taking on the Champs – France, Italy and California. Not that we can deliver a knock-out blow, to someone that is 100 times, 200 times, or even 1000 times our size…but it is like getting a split decision from the judges .” said Justin Bogaty Winemaker Veramar Vineyard.

Equally we are also extremely pleased that other Virginia wineries like Breaux, Barboursville, Boxwood, and Williamsburg Winery were able to deliver glancing blows as well.


The Virginia Wines that won metals are:
  • Barboursville Vineyards Octagon 2007

  • Barboursville Vineyards Viognier Reserve 2010

  • The Boxwood Winery Topiary 2007

  • Breaux Vineyards Meritage 2007

  • Breaux Vineyards Viognier 2010

  • Veramar Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2010

  • Veramar Vineyard Rooster Red NV

  • Williamsburg Winery Adagio 2009

  • Williamsburg Winery Gabriel Archer Reserve 2007

  • Williamsburg Winery Vintage Reserve Chardonnay 2010

  • Williamsburg Winery Virginia Trianon, Cabernet Franc 2007

5th Straight Year Virginia Wine Represents at London Wine Fair

Once again, Virginia Wines are taking their place on the world stage at the London International Wine Fair and this year they have a bigger presence than ever before.

Virginia Wines are located at Booth Q20 and this year they are featuring representatives from 9 wineries pouring 31 wines.

The wineries represented this year are:
Barboursville Vineyards
Boxwood Winery
Breaux Vineyards
Keswick Vineyards
King Family Vineyards
Michael Shaps Wines
Veritas Vineyard & Winery
White Hall Vineyards
Williamsburg Winery

This is the 5th year that Virginia Wine has been represented at the London International Wine Fair. Breaux Vineyards is one of the wineries that has been there all five years, I asked Jennifer Breaux her thoughts on the event:

We're proud to be on the worlds stage at the London International Wine Fair and grateful that we have the following in the UK that demands our presence there. With gratitude to our distributor to the UK, Chris Parker of New Horizons Wines, we're proud to say we are not only selling our wines successfully but also getting recognized by world-renowned writers and critics. This is the 5th year we've attended the fair and the 4th year we've entered the Decanter World Wine Awards, also held in the UK with results being given at LIWF. We've medaled each year and hold those decorations in the most high regard. It's a different market; it's the worlds most competitive wine market. If we succeed there, we consider ourselves successful overall


Congratulations to all of the wineries represented and if you are at the LIWF, stop by booth Q20 and say hi!

Update:
Lawrence Camp, who is representing Breaux Vineyards, added this quote:
This fair is unlike any other opportunity for Virginia wines... We are able to put our wines up against the best in the entire world and hear specific feedback and reactions to the products from some of the best palates in the business. We are hearing over and over again that our booth is all the "buzz" around the fair. The word is getting around the globe on Virginia wines - they are world-class, they are surprising expert drinkers regularly, and they are only getting better with each passing vintage. I'm incredibly honored and proud to have the chance to represent our state and it's wines in this amazing and exciting time for our industry.


(photos courtesy Lawrence Camp, Breaux Vineyards)

Cabernet Franc Bracketology at Fabbioli

In April I was fortunate enough to have been invited to a unique wine judging event held at Fabbioli Cellars. This was a judging of 2010 Cabernet Francs from across Virginia.

2010 was one of the best Virginia vintages in recent memory, even surpassing 2007. Given the prominence that Cabernet Franc plays within Virginia Wine, and that we were tasting 2010 vintage I was sure it was going to be a great event.

And it was, it was also a very interesting way to do a wine judging.

The judging was done bracket-style and was a mix of bloggers, professionals and lay people.

Our host, Jimmy, has a detailed write up here, here, here, and here.

The way it worked was that they broke us down into four groups, each group blind tasted a different set of wines, the winner from each of the groups advanced to the next round.

This means that not everyone tastes all of the wines, until it gets down to the final groups. I think this method helps remove some of the bias that can be inherent in a judging. For example, every one knows I am big an of Doug's Cabernet Franc, and it is one of the wines I can recognize blind - even amongst other Virginia Cabernet Francs. Since I wasn't in the group that initially tasted the 2010 Fabbioli Cabernet Franc my bias couldn't (subconsciously) inflate the score.

Each wine was judged on several different characteristics and the wines with the highest scores advanced to the next round.

In the end, the winner was the 2010 Jefferson Vineyards. You can see the progression in the chart above, provided by Chris at Beltway Bacchus.

Congratulations to Andy, at Jefferson Vineyards, and to the staff at Fabbioli Cellars for putting together a great judging and I look forward to future judgings like this.

Virginia Attorney General Sues Scumbag Salahi Over Wine Tourism Scam

According to Bloomberg Businessweek, the Virginia Attorney General has filed suit against serial scumbag Tareq Salahi over his wine tourism scam:

Cuccinelli accuses Salahi and his companies of violating the Virginia Consumer Protection Act, which prohibits the deception of consumers. He said in a statement that the lawsuit was filed based on complaints filed with the Virginia Office of Consumer Affairs and the Better Business Bureau and an investigation by his office.

Some customers reported their tours were cancelled the morning they were scheduled to begin due to a "vehicle malfunction," and that some never heard from the company again. Some complained they were not taken to the wineries they were promised or that the mode of transportation wasn't what was advertised. Others complained that refunds, even those promised in writing, were never delivered.

Cuccinelli said VirginiaWineTour.com's web site also displayed logos of several businesses as "official partners," including United Airlines, the Bed and Breakfast Association of Virginia and Facebook, but that he had reason to believe that many, if not all, were not partners.

In the lawsuit, Cuccinelli asks for civil penalties of up to $2,500 for each violation and requests that VirginiaWineTour.com be required to return money to those are deemed to have been defrauded.


Unfortunately, as of this writing, the Virginia Wine Tour website is still live, which means they can still rip people off. Please know, if you book a tour with "Virginia Wine Country Tours" you will be ripped off, they will steal your money, and it is not just me saying that, it is the Attorney General of Virginia.

If that is not good enough read what reviewers on Yelp have to say about Virginia Wine Country Tours and here is what reviewers on Trip Advisor had to say about Virginia Wine Country Tours.

Please stay away.

Tarara Releases Boneyard Series

A few weeks back Jordan Harris, winemaker at Tarara, invited the members of the wine club to a private tasting in Tarara's Great Room.

As always, Jodan did a great job of leading the tasting and did a nice job of showcasing current and older vintages of Tarara's wine.

He also introduced us to the new Boneyard series from Tarara. Boneyard is the name of the area within the vineyard where out of service, but cherished, vineyard equipment is put out to pasture (and not an attempt to cash in on the pirate craze).

The first releases are the 2011 Boneyard White and 2010 Boneyard Red, both priced at $15.

We got a chance to sample the Boneyard White before it was bottled at the Chili Cook-Off and I was impressed. The 2010 vintage is a blend of 42% Chardonnay, 28% Viognier, 19% Petit Manseng and 11% Pinot Gris. As you would expect the wine has a lot of citrus notes and great acidity creating a refreshing, but not effervescent wine. This wine easily serves double duty as a deck wine, to enjoy by itself, or as a companion to a wide array of foods from spicy Thai to oysters and even BBQ chicken.

The 2010 Boneyard Red was almost an afterthought. As they were preparing the Boneyard White, Jordan insisted they have a Boneyard Red to pair with it. The 2010 Boneyard Red is a blend of 31% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Petit Verdot, 21% Merlot, 11% Tannat, 11% Cabernet Franc and 5% Pinotage and is unquestionably the best value in Virginia Wine. 2010 was a powerful year for reds, in fact I would argue it is the best in modern Virginia viticulture. The 2010 Boneyard Red is a complex wine, with great black fruit notes followed by powerful tannins and a long, lingering finish.

The 2012 Rosé-Off

The unseasonably warm winter has given way to an early summer and that means wineries are releasing their rosés. We hosted a rosè-off with wines from several Loudoun County wineries: Breaux Vineyards, Boxwood Winery, Fabbioli Cellars, and Hiddencroft Vineyards.

The contenders:
Breaux Vineyards: a perennial favorite, this is the first wine made by the new winemaker at Breaux and it really reflects his style. Where previous Breaux rosés had a sweetness to them, this is a dry rosé. This dryness is a reflection of the vintage as well as David's style. The blend is also new, previous vintages were 100% Cabernet Sauvignon based, but the 2011 vintage is a blend of 53% Nebbiolo, 34% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 13% Chambourcin. The wine had aromas of strawberry and cranberry with some spiciness. In the mouth the wine was bright with nice acidity and good red fruits that lead to a medium finish.

Fabbioli Cellars: We got this wine a week before its official release. This is the third year that Fabbioli has produced a 100% Sangiovese Rosé and the production of this wine is meticulously monitored by assistant winemaker (and CellarBlog favorite) Melanie. The wine is 100% steel-aged, which is reflected in the crispness of the wine. The wine is refreshing without being sweet. I got aromas of of strawberry and peaches, which carried over to the mouth. The wine had flavors of cherry with a surprising hint of cinnamon and soft tannins which lead to a smooth finish.

Boxwood Winery: The most complex of the wines, 2011 Boxwood is a blend of Malbec, Merlot and Cabernet Franc and it is done in a Provencial style. The nose is particularly interesting on this wine with apricot, stawberry, and herbal aromas. The fruit in the mouth gives way to elegant tannins that provide structure without taking away from the fruit and acidity and lead to a nice long finish.

Hiddencroft Vineyards: Slated to be released in the next few weeks, this is the first rosé from Hiddencroft and it is 100% Chambourcin. Of the four wines, this wine had the sweetest feel, though it was by no means a sweet wine. There was red fruit on the nose and strawberry and cherry flavors in the mouth with a soft finish, a very good deck wine.

So, which one was the favorite? If you were part of the tasting panel, leave a comment with your favorites. Based on the comments and votes at the tasting, while all the wines were excellent (not surprising since they were selected based on their track record), the Breaux Rosé was the winner that night!

Fighting Frost at Fabbioli Cellars

There was another frost warning for wineries in Northern and Central Virginia last night. Doug Fabbioli, of Fabbioli Cellars, posted that he was going to start anti-frost measures around 3:00AM. Foolishly, I asked if I could join him and he agreed.

When I got into the car at 2:45AM it was 36 degrees Fahrenheit, at the upper end of frost worries, but by the time I got out to the vineyard it was 32 degrees.

The first thing I noticed was the tarps covering the deer fence, protecting the vineyard from the wind. I stepped out of the car and immediately felt the crunch of frozen grass under my foot and heard the whirring of the anti-frost machine echoing throughout the vineyard.

The machine itself is an inverted funnel lifted about feet off the ground and situated in the middle of an open part of the vineyard. The machine is basically a large fan that sucks the cold air from the ground and allows it to circulate preventing it from settling on the vines.

Many thanks to Doug for giving me the opportunity to watch this process in action.

International Eastern Wine Competition – Virginia Cabernet Francs sweep golds.

Photo: Chris Parker, New Horizon Wines, Steve DiFrancesco, Glenora Wine Cellars, Jim Tresize, New York Wine and Grape Foundation. One of seven judging panels at IEWC

Earlier this month I had the pleasure of participating on the judging panel for the 36th Annual International Eastern Wine Competition and Riesling Championship (IEWC).

More than 800 wines from Eastern and Midwestern States and Eastern Canada were entered in the competition. Linda Murphy, the IEWC chief judge presided over two days of blind tasting by 21 judges. The results were announced last week and are available here.

Wines produced in the Eastern and Midwestern States are often overlooked, and with competitions such as IEWC, it heralds an opportunity for wine lovers to discover exciting wines from States lesser known than California, Oregon, and Washington.

Photo: Steve DiFranceso hard at work


The judging panel awarded 15 double-gold, 73 gold, 216 silver and 235 bronze medals. Congratulations to all wineries receiving awards. A shout out for Virginia winemakers, sweeping gold for Cabernet Francs, a varietal that is becoming one of the signature grapes of the region.


What Does a Mild Winter Mean for Virginia Wine in 2012?

The 2011 - 2012 winter has been exceptionally mild in Virginia, and this has some winemakers worried. With vines already starting to leak sap and budbreak around the corner, 2012 could be a nice long growing season. The challenge is that most areas in Virginia are in danger of frost through the end of April. Frost is something that Doug Fabbioli, of Fabbioli Cellars, knows something about. I asked him about the mild winter:

My biggest fears would be early bud break and then a cold snap that freezes the green shoots. You know about my frost issues 2 years ago. The machine I purchased will work when there is air stratification or layers of cold and warm air. When a front comes in like last October and drops a couple inches of snow, there is no protection against that. We want that when it does warm up that it stays warm or at least above freezing.

Jordan Harris at Tarara is also concerned about the potential for frost:
Next is the fact that once we have sap flow and water movement like this we can expect to start seeing bud-break within two weeks. A March bud-break around here is very scary because then you can't get frost of the shoots will be killed and you lose the years crop. If we do get bud break in the next few weeks you can bet I will have some sleepless nights and Helicopters on speed dial. Sounds pricey, but so is losing 42 acres of grapes. They draw the warm air down to help raise the temperature a few degrees if you are on the border. If we get 25 degrees after bud break, then I will think about making beer this year

Unfortunately, there is not much that can be done about the weather, so while they are concerned they remain cautiously optimistic. Jennifer Breaux, from Breaux Vineyards, strikes a measured tone:
With the mild weather we're experiencing the vines can experience accelerated development which leads to early bud break. The young buds and shoots are left vulnerable to spring frost. Frost and dramatic temperature can lead to damage or death of the vines or at best, delay harvest. It's really a "Hurry up and wait" game at this point. We're getting a heck of a lot of work done in the vineyard in this beautiful weather so for now, we're cautiously optimistic.

Even Jordan is going to hope for he best:
That all said, this is all pessimistic thinking. We could also get an early bud break which gives potential for a longer growing season. The long term from the La Nina shows that we could have a relatively cool summer. If that is the case the extra couple weeks of growing season might be great. We could have a long cool growing season that would give great fruit and moderate alcohols and bright acid.

So in the end, am I scared, absolutely. But, I like to be optimistic and especially when there is nothing that can really be done. I don't even have to play the realist card because it won't help the end resultanyway. So bring it on!

The other cool thing about looking at long term weather is I get to act like a weather man which is the ultimate job of no accountability.