Saturday, October 15, 2016

The road to Winchester: Part 2

Continuing in our series of the wineries on the road to Winchester....we look at U.S. route 50, which runs 3,000 miles from Ocean City, Maryland, to Sacramento, California (and if you want to experience a honeymoon like no other, take a two week road trip from Ocean City to Sacramento, and stay on route 50 the entire way).

There are a few wineries that dot route 50 on the way to Winchester, mainly near the tourist trap town (and AVA) of Middleburg, and the less touristy, quaint town of Upperville, to the west of Middleburg. Between Upperville and Winchester, there are currently no wineries, although at the rate the wineries are opening in the Commonwealth, especially northern Virginia, that could easily change in a matter of months.

There are 5 wineries in the Middleburg/Upperville "micro"plex......we recently visited three of them.

1. 50West Vineyards
What better way to start the tour of route 50 wineries than a stop at a winery named for the direction of route 50 it lies on (you make a right turn into the property while traveling westbound on route 50)? 50West is the sister property to Sunset Hills Vineyard near Purcellville, and we enjoy the lower key scene here compared to the busier atmosphere of Sunset Hills. As this property is newer (recently taken over from the previous owner - Leaves of Grass Winery - which was the subject of an older post), most of their wines are from Sunset Hills. However our recent visit included tastings of wines on the new 50West label. Of those offerings, which included Chambourcin and Chardonnay, we went for the Cuvee, with its delicate black currant and mild spice notes.

The tasting building at 50West is deceptive. It may look small on the outside, but there are two levels (the second level available for large events, or guests, if there are no events occurring).

Second level of the 50West tasting building:

Their location is up a hill, which means nice views of the Blue Ridge foothills. You will occasionally see a vehicle driving down route 50, but they are not distracting. Realizing the quality control the Sunset Hills crew employ for their wines, we expect some great things from 50West. If their recent 50West label releases are any indication, they are well on their way.

2. Cana Vineyards
A few miles westbound on route 50 takes us to Cana Vineyards, on the same side of the road as 50West, and also situated on a bluff. This spot is larger, and typically more lively, than the other wineries in the Middleburg area. This winery offers several varietals, using their own grapes grown on the property, as well as grapes from other Virginia locations. The tasting process is assembly-line like, not as personable as other nearby locations, but given how popular the winery is, this process is best for efficiency. Cana offers abundant deck and patio tables, as well as picnic tables scattered throughout the property. Our favorites of their vast list of offerings were the crisp Riesling, with citrus notes, and the smooth, light peppery Cab Franc.

View from the deck at Cana:

Cana is a favorite for weddings and other big events, so get there early!

3. Boxwood Winery
Boxwood is a well-known presence in the Virginia wine scene; they've been making wine here for nearly 10 years, and until recently, the tasting room was open by appointment only. Boxwood also operates tasting rooms in Reston Town Center and National Harbor, and we've tried their wines at these other locations in the past. A recent visit to Boxwood was lower-key than both 50West and Cana, and more "California" in vibe - an impressive tasting building, a patio that brushes up to the vineyards, and extremely sophisticated reds (no whites, although they do offer a rosé). Considering how thoughtful these reds are, we were pleasantly surprised to find the wine prices to be lower than many of this winery's neighbors. Red blends vs. straight varietals are the order of business at Boxwood. Of these blends, Trellis (Merlot, Cab Sauv, Cab Franc, Petit Verdot; a classic Meritage-type blend) was our favorite, bold yet easy to drink, with a blast of black cherry notes.

The patio and entrance to Boxwood Winery:

These wineries will give your guests who want to sample VAVINO three unique Virginia winery experiences, and you won't have to drive very far for them.

Additional wineries we did not hit on our recent trip, but are highly recommended: Greenhill Winery and Chrysalis Vineyards, which has a new tasting room.


Saturday, September 24, 2016

The road to Winchester

Winchester is a Shenandoah Valley town situated on the north end of the valley, known for its apples and as being the home town of Patsy Cline. Winchester is also the home to hundreds of commuters who leave their town as early as 3 AM in order to get to their jobs in DC, Tysons Corner, or Reston. These commuters most likely take route 7, route 50, or I-66 from their home town to the DC area - all routes have their share of wineries. For this series, we will examine some of our favorites on these three routes, starting with the northern-most route, state highway 7.

Getting through the Leesburg and Purcellville area of route 7 can be a challenge depending on when you travel (particularly in the afternoon Monday through Friday - especially Friday if a nice fall weather weekend lies ahead). Several well-known Loudoun wineries are a few miles from the route 7 bypass (for those who choose not to take the more scenic route 7 business route, through the small towns of Hamilton and Round Hill, in addition to their larger sisters, Leesburg and Purcellville): Sunset Hills, The Barns at Hamilton Station, Casanel, and Otium Cellars, to name just four.
Once travelers clear Round Hill, the highway narrows a bit, as it prepares to cross the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The best way to experience the Bluemont/Berryville wine trail leading towards Winchester is to start with the wineries on the right side of the road, and loop back eastbound either in Winchester, or Berryville (if you don't feel like going all the way to Winchester).

The first stop is Twin Oaks Tavern, up the hill on route 7, about a mile from the Bluemont left turn-off. This is a beautiful location along a cliff overlooking the northern Blue Ridge, into West Virginia. The tavern itself was a stop-over for Washington residents of the early 1900s, who yearned to escape the muggy, hot summers of DC in the years before air conditioning. The Blue Ridge Mountains were the solution, and Twin Oaks Tavern was a favorite destination.

Twin Oaks Tavern Winery: view from their deck.

Chardonnay, Norton, and Cab Sauv are stars here, but our consistent favorite is their Raven Rocks Red, a Bordeaux-style blend with plum notes. Twin Oaks also offers fruit wines, typically peach and raspberry. Prices here are also considerably lower than their more-famous neighbors.

Twin Oaks Tavern Winery: The vineyards on the slope.

Spend an hour or more enjoying the altitude and the views, not to mention their wine, here. Then continue on route 7 westbound, towards Berryville/Winchester, to stop #2: 612 Vineyard (make the right turn at the Citgo station, and load up on bottled water!) A drive down a few country roads take you deep into the Blue Ridge foothills - you will find it hard to believe you're only an hour from DC once you make that turn-off.

Enjoy the slow paced tasting in the 612 Winery tasting room. They offer several unusual (for Virginia) styles here, including Riesling and Traminette. We particularly enjoyed the "Always and Forever" red blend (Cab Franc, Petit Verdot, and Chambourcin), and the "Blushing Rosé," 100% Syrah and bone dry. They have a lot of room to stretch out here, and if the mood strikes you, play some horseshoes (a nice change from "Bags," or "Cornhole," depending on where you're from....)

612 Vineyards:


After a breathtaking view of the mountains from Twin Oaks Tavern, and then a rolling view from 612 Vineyard, you may be too relaxed to move on, but there are two more wineries to conquer! Make the right turn back onto route 7 westbound, and get some food in your stomach at one of the many fast food joints in Winchester (including local favorite Bojangles'). After lunch (or early dinner), return to route 7 eastbound for the final two stops.

Nearly across route 7 from the 612 Vineyards turnoff, on the eastbound side of route 7, is the road which will take you to one of Virginia's original wineries: Veramar Vineyard. Veramar opened to the public in 2000, and now boasts their flagship tasting room, as well as two other locations (Bogati Winery, directly off route 7 near Purcellville, which is a tasting room offering their wines; and James Charles Winery, between Winchester and Stephens City). They also currently make the wine for Valerie Hill a few minutes from the town of Stephens City.

Inside Veramar's tasting room:

They have several award winning whites and reds, including a slightly oakey chardonnay, and a not-as-sweet-as-you'd think Seyval Blanc. Their Riesling/Seyval blend was also a surprise, not nearly as sweet as we thought it would be. The Rooster Red blend is a consistent winner.

There are many acres of rolling property to enjoy here, including a cigar smoker's pavilion where cigar smokers get priority seating (no worries - there are plenty of other outdoor spots to "unwined" in if cigar smoke is not your thing). Fire pits and Adirondack chairs are also scattered throughout the property.

Veramar's front patio and fire pit:

The final stop on this quick jaunt to Winchester is one of the northern Virginia favorites: Bluemont Vineyard. Bluemont is a very happening spot, and boasts one of the best views in the state (you can make out the tips of the Dulles Airport control towers and even the Washington Monument from this winery on clear days). Live bands, cornhill (or "bags," for the midwest readers out there), farm animals, even a fruit orchard and brewery near the property - Bluemont aims to please. We affectionately call it the "Disney World of Virginia wineries," as there is plenty to do to keep all ages happy. Keeping with their farm background, many wines here are named after barnyard animals - The Pig (Norton), The Goat (Viognier). Other animals are represented as well (The Ram - Merlot). Our favorite is their "Farm Table Red," a Bordeaux blend with touches of Chambourcin and Norton, for a truly unique (and Virginia) red wine experience.

Bluemont Vineyard view:

How about a bottle of The Goat?

After four wineries on this Winchester wine trail, Bluemont is the final stop. Grab something to soak the wine in (Bluemont offers the usual assortments of cheeses and meats, as well as occasional food trucks). Find your indoor or outdoor spot in one of Bluemont's many seating areas. Toast the view and toast Virginia wine.


Monday, August 22, 2016

A New AVA for Virginia?

A recent trip to Fox Meadow Vineyards led to a discussion with owner Dan Mortland about American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) in Virginia. Three years ago, the most recent AVA in the state hit the map: The Middleburg AVA.

As explained on the wine site "Wines and Vines," grape growers and wineries around the country continue to pursue the creation of additional AVAs, because they believe AVAs pay off in terms of consumer awareness, higher wine prices and eventually higher grape prices (vineyards in the business to just grow grapes, and not operating a tasting room, can get more for their crop if the vineyards reside in an AVA). Those familiar with California AVAs understand the "caché" of a California bottle which lists "North Coast" or "Central Valley" on the bottle; the same holds true for New York (Finger Lakes; North Fork of Long Island; etc.) The AVAs of Virginia are not as widely known, except for perhaps the Monticello AVA, the birthplace of Virginia wine. Virginia currently boasts seven AVAs, and there is a chance the state could get congested with AVAs, reducing the advantages of residing in an AVA.

This doesn't mean Virginia wineries/vineyards not situated in an AVA produce lesser wines. Some of the most Award-winning and best loved wines/wineries in the state do not reside in an AVA, including Breaux, Pearmund, Prince Michel, Gray Ghost, and Potomac Point. Wineries in this area may not want to spend the resources (money and time) to set up a new AVA, or have the current AVA map revised so their winery can be included in a nearby AVA. For instance, Breaux and other wineries along Harper's Ferry Road in northwest Loudoun county are a scant few miles from the border of the Middleburg AVA; Hiddencroft Vineyards is the northernmost winery in the Middleburg AVA, however Doukenie Winery, about 2 miles from Hiddencroft, is not within the Middleburg AVA borders.

This leads us back to Fox Meadow Vineyards. The winery is sandwiched between two AVAs: Middleburg to the east and Shenandoah Valley to the west. In fact, as Dan explained, one could throw a stone from the bottom of the hill where his last rows of vineyards are grown on, and the stone would land in the Shenandoah Valley AVA. The only issue is Fox Meadow, geographically speaking, is not in the Shenandoah Valley. This factoid may not be an issue with the average Virginia wine fan (many wineries in the Middleburg AVA are nowhere near the town the AVA is named for). But for sticklers to detail (as the Mortlands, and the blog masters, are), not residing in an AVA makes more sense, at the moment, than being included in an AVA where the terrain, soil, and micro climate is different from that of other wineries in that AVA.

One idea for Fox Meadow, and other wineries along the western I-66 corridor, is the formation of a new AVA named "Blue Ridge Crest" (name selected by the good people of Fox Meadow). The soil along the Blue Ridge Mountains lends itself to excellent drainage and the granite deposits in some locations along the crest lead to unique, and fantastic, wines. This new AVA would be liver-shaped (rather appropriate in a morbid kind of way), and the Shenandoah Valley AVA would be to the immediate west. The Middleburg AVA would be along the northern AVA border, and a few vineyards may even straddle two AVAs (which is very common in other states): Aspen Dale Winery, Barrel Oak and Blue Valley in particular.

Map of a possible Blue Ridge Crest AVA:

Many of the Notebook's long-time favorites would benefit from their location in this new AVA:

Sharp Rock:


Rappahannock Cellars:

Chester Gap Cellars:

Aspen Dale Winery at the Barn

Fox Meadow Vineyards (winter wonderland):

Whether or not a new AVA is in the future for this region, the topic makes a great tasting room conversation with enthusiastic winery owners and fellow tasters.

Monday, July 4, 2016


As the blogmasters were DJs in a previous life, we met many winery owners in Virginia over the last ten years as we marketed our side business. So we thought now would be an appropriate time to mix tunes with grapes. We haven't visited this topic since January 2 of this year, and since then, we've sadly lost several legends in the rock, R&B, and pop world. July 4th seems like a wholly appropriate time to finish our 100 list.

Only the top 25 remain…not only are these our favorite albums, they are paired with our 25 most favorite wineries in Virginia. Whether you download these albums on iTunes, Spotify or Pandora when you visit the wineries, tell them The Notebook sent you! (And links to our lists of #26 through #100 appear under this entry).

25. Blood on the Tracks/Bob Dylan (1975)
Highway 61 Revisited usually gets ranked as Dylan’s finest achievement, but for our money, his greatest work is one of his several “come back” albums, recorded in 1973-74 but not released until early 1975. The album came out after a series of commercially unsuccessful (and in the case of Planet Waves, highly acclaimed, but in the case of Self Portrait, critically-blasted) albums, and Dylan used the time to reflect on his career and his relationships, and penned some of the most personal songs of his legendary career: “Tangled Up in Blue,” “Simple Twist of Fate,” “Shelter from the Storm.” Listen to the stunning 2012 MoFi remaster of this album and you’ll swear Dylan is strumming his guitar in your living room.
Suggested wine pairing: Keswick Vineyards Les Vents d'Anges Viognier.

24. Tusk/Fleetwood Mac (1979)
Rumours gets more attention, but their double album follow-up, a commercial flop in the face of Rumours’ record-breaking sales, is a better album. Ahead of its time in many ways, and the product of Lindsey Buckingham’s (and possibly drug addled) twisted mind, the album sums up the late ‘70s Topanga Canyon lifestyle, complete with appearances from several of the Beach Boys (Christine McVie was involved with Dennis Wilson at the time, and is the subject of one of her loveliest ballads, ”Never Make Me Cry”). Most of Buckingham’s offerings (which take up most of the album) are bizarre but great ear candy (the title track, the first single from the album, is an example of this wackiness). As for Stevie Nicks, her tunes are more of a warm-up to her hugely successful solo career which would come two years after the release of Tusk, although her “Sara” is probably the most famous track on this album. The sequencing of the tracks is a bit odd, but otherwise Mac’s best album.
Suggested wine pairing: Pollak Vineyards Rosé.

23. Achtung Baby/U2 (1991)
U2 debuted in the U.S. in 1980 and over time developed a fervent following, particularly among high school and college students. The pinnacle of their ‘80s success was 1987’s The Joshua Tree, an album that most music fans and critics would place in their top 100 list. But we aren’t most music fans and critics; for us, Achtung Baby is their peak, an album that totally reinvented them, and incorporated EuroTech sounds into the grooves. “One” has been covered by countless artists since becoming the second Top Ten single from this record, and every track remains timeless and intoxicating. The 1993 sequel, Zooropa, is wildly underrated.
Suggested wine pairing: Veramar Vineyard Rooster Red.

22. Untitled (Led Zeppelin IV)/Led Zeppelin (1971)
The album that has no title is not Zepp’s best album, but certainly their best known and arguably most beloved, in part due to “Stairway to Heaven,” a legendary track that was never released as a single. Like Dark Side of the Moon, Saturday Night Fever, Rumours and other classics of the ‘70s, overexposure has diminished this album’s power a bit, yet its songs continue to show up in TV shows and movies today, proving the timelessness of the album. A rock outfit at the commercial peak of its first career phase.
Suggested wine pairing: Green Hill Vineyards Eternity.

21. Revolver/The Beatles (1966)
Revolver was the transition album for the Fabs. They were done with live concerts after their world tour to support Rubber Soul, and focused completely on crafting magnificent songs and albums that will continue to appear on our (and any serious music lover’s) list. While the reputation of this album has surpassed the others in stature in recent years, we still believe that five other albums remain superior. Nevertheless, the staying power of tracks like “Tomorrow Never Knows,” “Taxman,” “She Said She Said,” “Here, There and Everywhere,” ”Good Day Sunshine,” and that damn sing-along child’s song about the submarine, cannot be overstated.
Suggested wine pairing: Moss Vineyards Vino Rosso.

20. Born to Run/Bruce Springsteen (1975)
The Boss had a lot riding with Born to Run; his first two 1973 albums were solid bar band rock albums and his tours to support the albums were well publicized. But the albums didn’t sell particularly well and produced no hit singles, and there were rumors of him being dropped by Columbia records. All of that changed when Bruce put everything he had into this album (slick production and the full band sound of his previous album), and got the cover of Time magazine, massive sales, and a hit single in the title track as a result. The album is a working class New Jersey native’s attempt at a rock opera from the very first harmonica blow in “Thunder Road” to the closing chords in “Jungleland.”
Suggested wine pairing: North Gate Vineyards Meritage.

19. Breakfast in America/Supertramp (1979)
Many critics dub Crime of the Century as this art rock band’s best album, but Breakfast in America was a commercial watershed, taking Supertramp down the conceptual-meets-commercial path they started with their previous album, 1977’s Even in the Quietest Moments… Three singles from this album reached the American Top 10, as the album dominated the charts for well over a year. The British band (with one Yankee) takes on late ‘70s American (particular southern California) culture magnificently. And that album cover is a classic.
Suggested wine pairing: Cooper Vineyards Traminette.

18. Pretzel Logic/Steely Dan (1974)
The Dan’s 1972 debut album, Can’t Buy a Thrill, was followed by the fascinating (and commercially unsuccessful) Countdown to Ecstasy in 1973 (in fact, in ’73, Can’t Buy a Thrill outsold …Ecstasy mainly due to the late decision to release “Reeling in the Years” as a single in the summer of ’73). Pretzel Logic took the best elements from both albums, and then upped the cynicism (listen closely to the lyrics of “Barrytown” and the title track). The result: Their greatest record, with radio friendly tracks (“Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” was their biggest chart success) and songs that paved the way for the RAZZ (rock + jazz) era of the mid to late ‘70s.
Suggested wine pairing: 50West Vineyards Aldie Heights Cuvee.

17. Bridge Over Troubled Water/Simon & Garfunkel (1970)
S & G’s swan song album is also their greatest work, incorporating the polished production of their previous album Bookends with the folk hooks of their earlier records. This is also the album where Paul Simon began to embark on his journey to find new sounds for his songs. “Cecilia,” with its southern hemisphere percussion, paved the way for “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard,” from his solo debut album released a mere year later. And few can argue about the power of the title track and the New York City tribute track “The Boxer.”
Suggested wine pairing: White Hall Vineyards Gewürztraminer.

16. Let it Bleed/Rolling Stones (1969)
The Stones’ first album without co-founder Brian Jones, who drowned while this album was being blueprinted, this is also arguably their darkest record. Kicking off with the immortal “Gimme Shelter” (also the name of their documentary about the disastrous Altamont concert, which put the final nail in the decade that was the 1960s), the album finishes with soothing (despite cynical lyrics) “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” with its classic gospel choir. In between are meaty (and Martin Scorsese favorites) tracks like “Monkey Man” and “Midnight Rambler,” the latter a concert favorite to this day.
Suggested wine pairing: Stone Tower Winery Estate Hogback Mountain.

15. Animals/Pink Floyd (1977)
The Floyd gets political. “Pigs, “Dogs,” and “Sheep:” Fascism, irresponsible media, and those who listen and follow, to the detriment of democracy. The lyrics are timelier now than they were in 1977. Not an easy first listen to be sure, but a record that lends itself to repeat listens, and you will hear something new in it every time. And the cover has seeped its way into contemporary pop culture.
Suggested wine pairing: Wisteria Vineyard Carmine red.

14. What’s Going On/Marvin Gaye (1971)
The album Berry Gordy initially refused to make, fearing political backlash against his label. But he was up against the anger of Marvin Gaye, a major hitmaker for Motown. Gordy created a subsidiary label, Tamla, as a compromise, and he was rewarded with the most popular album in Motown history (the label was more commercially successful with its 45s before What’s Going On). Vietnam, racial injustice, urban decay, crime, the environment: The groundbreaking record had it all, backed by a fusion of jazz and funk that influences scores of R&B and hip hop artists to this day. The album’s success also led to Stevie Wonder (another Motown artist moved to the Tamla label) and his string of historical albums (1972’s Talking Book to 1976’s Songs in the Key of Life).
Suggested wine pairing: Afton Mountain Vineyards Merlot.

13. Tumbleweed Connection/Elton John (1970)
Elton John’s third album expanded on the mellow, contemplative atmosphere of his first albums, but also laid the foundation for EJ’s concept albums that would follow (mainly 1973’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and 1975’s Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy). Alternately a homage to the American west, and a love letter to lyricist Bernie Taupin’s father, the album contains early classics such as “Come Down in Time” and “Burn Down the Mission,” as well as a faithful cover of late British songstress Lesley Duncan’s “Love Song.” Its follow up, Madman Across the Water, isn’t too shabby either –the two albums together encapsulate Elton and Bernie’s “Nick Drake tribute” years.
Suggested wine pairing: Reynard Florence Vineyard Petit Manseng Monticello.

12. Prince/Sign “O” the Times (1987)
1999 and Purple Rain were warm-ups, really, to Sign “O” the Times, like 1999, a double album, but instead of the nonstop dance funk of 1999, The Artist we sadly lost earlier this year tackles the ‘80s drug epidemic (with the title track), religion (“The Cross”) and sexual ambiguity that would feel right at home with the artist who has the #11 album on our list (keep reading). But like 1999, Prince never forgets his house funk origins, and brings down the house literally with “Housequake.” Like the White Album, the songs are all over the map but equally infectious. The Artist’s best album by far.
Suggested wine pairing: The Winery at Bull Run Fort.

11. David Bowie/The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972)
2016 has been an awful one so far for music fans. Actually the depressing year started on New Year’s Eve 2015, when we lost Natalie Cole. The passings of David Bowie and Prince actually made us revamp the final (25 through 1) section of our Top 100 list. Knowing there will never be an album of new material from these artists is tragic. Although David Jones did bring us Blackstar two days before his death, an album he made while dying that speaks to the soul. Maybe in 10 years, when we revisit this list, Blackstar will find a place in our new Top 100 (we need to spend another decade listening to it and analyzing it). The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars is far and away Bowie’s best album. Taking bits from the heavier, borderline Black Sabbath sound of 1970’s The Man Who Sold the World, and merging them with the whimsical, sexually ambiguous style of 1971’s Hunky Dory, the album is a masterwork of the glam rock era. The lyrics can be down and dirty at times, but “Starman” is such an innocent sounding pop piece it’s easy to understand why so many listeners initially thought of it as a children’s song in 1972.
Suggested wine pairing: Byrd Cellars Dalhgren's Raid Red.

10. Magical Mystery Tour/Beatles (1967)
Released in December 1967, when Sgt. Pepper was a mere six months old and still the rage of the world, Magical Mystery Tour is the soundtrack to the Beatle’s much-maligned made-for-British-TV movie. The movie was a complete vanity project and critics (and audiences at the time) despised it. The soundtrack usually gets overlooked when talking about the great Beatles albums that came before, and after, it. And since side 2 is really a collection of singles that were never released on an album, it’s understandable that some critics called it a “quasi Greatest Hits album,” and not an official Beatles album. But side 2 alone is simply one of the greatest album sides in rock history: “Hello Goodbye,” “Strawberry Fields Forever,” “Penny Lane,” “Baby You’re a Rich Man” and “All You Need is Love.” How could you lose?
Suggested wine pairing: Philip Carter Winery Rosewell.

9. Exile on Main Street/Rolling Stones (1972)
All of the albums recorded by the Glimmer Twins and company prior to 1972 led to Exile on Main Street, recorded in the basement of Keith Richards’ French estate, which he relocated to in order to avoid paying British taxes. The sessions were raw and “anything goes,” and that comes out in the grooves of this double album. The album starts out rowdy, slowly gets mellow, and then kicks it up again for side 4. And “Sweet Virginia” could be the name of a wonderful Virginia table wine – it must exist somewhere in the Commonwealth!
Suggested wine pairing: 612 Vineyard Chambourcin.

8. Wish You Were Here/Pink Floyd (1975)
Former Floyd leader Syd Barrett was far gone by the time the band he founded went in to the studio to record this album. Legend has it Barrett actually showed up, barely recognizable by the band, while they were cutting the title track, which the band wrote as a tribute to Barrett, who was suffering from a decade-long mental breakdown. Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall usually get the most attention from casual listeners, but this is the Floyd’s best album, concise and experimental without getting too pretentious and heavy-going. The epic 20 minute plus “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” is another tribute to Barrett, beautiful and complex and almost like classical music. It was initially was slated to take up the entire first side, before Waters & company decided to break it up into two sections.
Suggested wine pairing: General’s Ridge Vineyard General's Last Call.

7. Led Zeppelin III/Led Zeppelin (1970)
After their groundbreaking first two albums, Zepp took their style on a slightly different route, incorporating traditional folk music and deeper blues into their third album. That resulted in less sales compared to the first two albums, but there is a reason Jimmy Page names it as his favorite Zepp album. The first two tracks are so jangly and kicking they were recorded with intentional hiss at the beginning of each song. Tracks that were more or less ignored at the time like “Tangerine," “That’s the Way” and “Gallows Pole,” are now considered to be Zepp staples; listening to them, you can hear the origins of the songs from their most famous untitled fourth record that was to follow.
Suggested wine pairing: Cedar Creek Winery Cabernet Franc.

6. Abbey Road/Beatles (1969)
After the troubled “White Album” and Let it Be sessions, producer George Martin never thought the Fabs would work together again. Until Paul McCartney simply asked Martin, “would you produce a new record for us?” JPG and R put aside their personal differences and concentrated on the music; but not without a caveat: John would control one side, and Paul the other. Side 1 (John’s side) contains stripped down rock and pop songs, marred only by Ringo’s silly Sesame Street-bound “Octopuses Garden.” Side 2 (Paul’s side) is arguably the better side, highlighted by a suite that takes up ¾ of the side. Any way you slice it, this is one of their best albums.
Suggested wine pairing: Rogers Ford Winery Jacob Christopher Chardonnay.

5. Rubber Soul/Beatles (1966)
Of course The Beatles would dominate our Top Ten...what would you expect, Green Day? Rubber Soul is their best pre-Sgt. Pepper album (although a case could be made for Please Please Me). The Fabs were more somber on this album, although they still took the album on the road. The tour that backed Rubber Soul proved to be their last time on the road. Dylan obsessions in full bloom, the album had a tremendous effect on the leader of the band at #4 (read on).
Suggested wine pairing: Delaplane Cellars Left Bank.

4. Pet Sounds/Beach Boys (1966)
Later in the same year that saw the release of Rubber Soul, the leader of an American group, which had scores of hits nearly equal in influence as the Beatles’ hits, was so mesmerized by what he heard, he went into the studio to craft the American response. A flop on initial release, this album has inspired countless artists and bands, authors, and even a movie (2015’s Love and Mercy). Wouldn’t it be Nice if society could actually live the lyrics of the album’s kick off track in the turbulent year of 2016? As Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore once said about Brian Wilson, “how can someone who creates something so beautiful be considered ‘not right’ in the head? I’m learning something about living from this person, who is supposed to be ‘not right.’” McCartney and the other Beatles certainly agreed, and plowed on to make their response to Pet Sounds...
Suggested wine pairing: Barrel Oak Winery BOWhaus Red.

3. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band/Beatles (1967)
The Beatles took up the challenge of topping Pet Sounds, which McCartney had dubbed “the greatest album [he] ever heard.” Brian Wilson and company, and most of the western world, was stunned with the result. This is the album that kicked off the “summer of love,” and within months, the Beatles’ contemporaries, Harry Nilsson and Joe Cocker to Jeff Beck and Jimi Hendrix, were covering songs from the album. The songs themselves have weaved into our everyday vernacular…..”With a Little Help from My Friends,” “When I’m 64,” “A Day in the Life.” No singles were released from the album, which is rather miraculous seeing how nearly every song on the album is familiar to anyone over a certain age.
Suggested wine pairing: Veritas Vineyard Claret.

2. Led Zeppelin/Led Zeppelin (1969)
The Doors and Led Zeppelin dropped the bomb on the psychedelic love-in sounds of the late ‘60s. Led Zepp’s debut album is a masterpiece of sonic sound and composition, a profoundly mature work created by English lads barely out of their teens. From the opening note of “Good Times Bad Times” to the epic finale “How Many More Times,” this album laid the cornerstone for hard rock (just don’t call it “heavy metal!”)
Suggested wine pairing: Willowcroft Winery Assemblage red blend.

1. The Beatles (White Album)/Beatles (1968)
The album many critics called “unfocused” and “a jumbled mess,” ironically titled The Beatles, despite the fact that it was mainly a collection of tracks the various members recorded in the studio alone, or with only one other member….simply put, the album is “music.” Pop, hard rock, folk rock, reggae, early “heavy metal,” lullaby, country, avant garde, ragtime, blues; you hear it all. Even the much-maligned little ditties like “Wild Honey Pie” and “Why Don’t We Do it In the Road” serve a purpose in the context of this “mess.” Rock and roll was never meant to be slick and follow a pattern, and The White Album is a testament to that to this very day.
Suggested wine pairing: Fox Meadow Vineyards Pinot Grigio.

Apologies to those fine albums we may have missed...and the Virginia wineries we may have overlooked. Post your favorite album and Virginia wine pairing on the Notebook!

We hope you uncork a great Virginia wine and dust off one of these classic albums today.

Previous lists:

50 to 26
75 to 51
100 to 76

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Clips from the Memorial Day 2016 Monticello AVA visit

No time for words this month...........sometimes videos speak louder than words anyway!


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Clip 2:


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Clip 2:

Barren Ridge:

Afton Mountain:

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Misty Mountain Hop: Nelson County and Northwest Quadrant Monticello AVA jaunt

On the last weekend in April 2016, The Notebook embarked on a long weekend winery jaunt in Nelson County and the Northwest Quadrant of the Monticello AVA. We visited a few old friends, and a new spot (for us), which is likely to earn a place in our Top Ten in the State list.

The weather was misty all weekend, and rather cool. With all of the green, we got the feeling we were driving through the Scottish highlands, and not the Blue Ridge Mountains. The heavy rain came down on Sunday, but we did our winery hopping on Friday and Saturday. On Friday, we had all three locations pretty much to ourselves - taking a day away from work is truly the best way to do Virginia wineries.


Barboursville Vineyards. We decided to hit BBV first around 11:20 on Friday; as any Virginia wine fan knows, this place gets busy. We call it the "Dr. Frank of Virginia" for a reason (and those familiar with wine history on the U.S. east coast will know all about Dr. Frank and his Finger Lakes vineyards). They have been growing grapes here since 1976, and bottling since 1979. We haven't visited BBV since 2007, and were happy to see that tastings are still $7, and efficiently handled (whites on one end of the tasting counter, reds in the middle, and desserts at the end; for an additional fee, you can visit the library and sample reserve wines, including the famous Octagon label). With one other small group ahead of us, the tasting process was slow paced (compared to a sunny Saturday in the spring, when the tasting room is three rows deep with visitors). As expected, every wine was fabulous. Our favorites were the Viognier Reserve, with light citrus and pear notes, and the Cab Sauv, bold and delicious, with a blackberry finish.

Next stop, about a 45 minute drive to Nelson County (south of Waynesboro): Flying Fox Vineyard.
This small winery has been one of our favorites since they opened a little under 10 years ago. The mist was getting heavier, blocking the view of the mountains beyond the meadow in the back a bit. But we had an extremely entertaining tasting experience with Kim at Flying Fox (although no cartoon fox in a mode of flight on any bottles this year....) We were blown away by their Viognier (by this time, we had a feeling that Viognier was going to be the star of this trip), a nice combination of smooth and crisp, with notes of apricot. The Trio blend was one of the reasons we had to visit Flying Fox, and it didn't disappoint.....Merlot/Cab Franc/Petit Verdot, beautifully balanced.

The final stop on Friday was Cardinal Point Winery, a few minutes away from Flying Fox. We were sad to hear Aubie, one of the favorite Virginia winery cats, had passed away several months ago - a picture of him hangs in the tasting room as a tribute. On a more uplifting note, Cardinal Point's red 2014 Clay Hill Cabernet Franc, was selected for the 2016 Virginia Governor's Cup Case. An elegant and not too peppery Cab Franc; a sure fire crowd-pleaser. We were surprised to enjoy the reds more at Cardinal Point during this trip (we've been more of a fan of their whites in previous years; maybe the misty, overcast and cool weather contributed to this). But that's not to say the whites were shabby. Their "Green" (made from Chardonnay and Petit Manseng) was just as unique and tasty as we remembered it to be.

After three wineries, Arby's in Waynesboro hit the spot (sometimes fast food is all you need, and the roast beef sandwiches were a perfect finish to a day of tasting wine....). The party continued at the motel with craft brews from nearby Champion and Blue Mountain breweries. On to day 2....


Saturday was even mistier than the day before, and the clouds shrouding the mountains made for plenty of photo ops. Especially at our first stop, in the Northwest Quadrant of the Monticello AVA: Moss Vineyards. We had been meaning to visit this winery since they opened in 2012. As we drove up the steep (but not as long as nearby Stone Mountain Vineyards...) driveway, the tasting building was an impressive sight, situated right beneath the tree line on a mountainside. We were not surprised to learn that Barry Moss, the owner and winemaker, is an architect based in Virginia Beach. Barry led us through the tastings, explaining the wines while injecting comments about our other passion - music - into the conversation. He has some ambitious ideas for music performers for the covered picnic area down the slope from the tasting building.

Moss Vineyards:

The wines Barry is focusing on are complex and fantastic. Every one of them - a real testament, given the young age of the winery. Viognier, again, was a star here. We did a vertical tasting of the 2011 and 2014 Viogniers. Although they were similar, both aged in stainless steel and with a touch of effervescence, we preferred the 2014 varietal; a bit less watery. As for the reds, the Vino Rosso is the stand out, although all of the reds are wonderful. We picked up a few bottles of Vino Rosso, 75% Cab Sauv and 25% Cab Franc. Several years ago, it was difficult to find a good Cab Sauv in the Commonwealth. Now the Cab Sauvs are worthy of comparison to the California versions, albeit less alcohol than the west coast wines.

The view from Moss Vineyards:

The only negative about Moss Vineyards is there is now another excellent winery in the Charlottesville area to visit on these much-too-short weekends (even long weekends!) Too many Virginia wineries, not enough time.

The final two stops were two long time favorites: White Hall Vineyards and King Family Vineyards. More music talk (toasting Prince) at White Hall Vineyards, and two more bottles of Viognier, please (one for enjoying at the winery, and another for the road). We also learned about White Hall's "rotating cap" (please don't call it a "screw top.") All of their wines, including their reds, utilize the arguably more eco-friendly (and less costly) rotating cap. A few minuscule holes are punctured into the metal cap, to allow a tiny amount of oxygen in (approximately the same amount that would enter the bottle if sealed with a traditional cork). We were assured by the pourers at White Hall that the reds will age just as long sealed with their rotating caps as they would be if sealed with cork.

King Family Vineyards, the place with the majestic view and polo field, was as lively as we remember (this was our first visit in about 7 years). An expanded tasting room, additional patios, and lowered prices - there is plenty of competition in the Crozet area of Virginia now (White Hall, Grace Estate, Stinson, and Pollak a few minutes away). Competition has its rewards to the customer. As the last winery of the weekend, we took our time during the tasting, and made off with a few glasses of Crosé (their cleverly named dry, Merlot-based rosé) and bottles of their port-style "7" (aged for two years in Kentucky Bourbon barrels).

After this weekend, we once again told ourselves, "who needs a flight to San Francisco or Portland? Virginia has the best wine in the country!"

Saturday, April 9, 2016

A Day in the Potomac Cluster

As much as we enjoy exploring all of the wineries in the Commonwealth, we seem to land in Loudoun County most often. With over 40 wineries (more wineries than most states), in such close proximity to Washington DC and Northern Virginia (and the western Maryland DC suburbs), these wineries are a natural fit. Not that we would love to check out the wineries in the far-off regions of Virginia the Notebook has not explored yet (for those familiar with the Virginia winery map, the "yellow region," in particular–the wineries in south central Virginia on the North Carolina border). Our day jobs don't allow for such long weekend journeys, and our vacations are usually occupied with family members not especially interested in the winery scene.

We have been to over 155 wineries in the state, with more to come (hopefully). Loudoun County draws us back for the aforementioned reasons, plus the wines are uniformly fantastic, and with such heavy competition from other wineries, the prices are not as high as you'd expect.

The county is divided into six clusters, making a day (or weekend) jaunt to wineries relatively close to each other more enjoyable (i.e., less time in the car driving). Choose a cluster and then select your wineries.

On a whim last weekend, the Notebook descended on the Potomac Cluster, appropriately named as most of these wineries are only a few miles from the river and the Maryland border. A right turn off northbound route 15, onto Limestone School Road, about 7 miles north of Leesburg, leads you to Fabbioli Cellars....a place the Notebook has been visiting since their opening. Anyone with even a passing interest in Virginia wine knows who Doug Fabbioli is, and he was taking care of his guests via tractor, offering to ignite fire pits on a sunny, almost-too-cold-to-be-outside, Sunday afternoon. We skipped the food and wine pairing here, as we know that every wine is a winner. The new round house-style tasting room was open (it had been open for 6 weeks), and bustling with people. Although the previous tasting room was memorable, the place could get packed on the weekends. The new tasting building is two stories, the second story over 21 only....and a ground-level deck is in the works.

Fabbioli Cellars' new tasting building:

The aforementioned food and wine pairings are set up in individual stations on the ground floor of the tasting building. Upstairs, the space is airy, with tables tastefully arranged, and has the potential of being a great wedding reception and parties room:

The Notebook wrote about new tasting rooms in "Washington DC's Wine Country" a few months ago, and Fabbioli's is a worthy addition to the article.

Down Fabbioli's driveway, making a left turn, we pass by Winery 32, about 2 miles up the road (which seems like 10 miles because of the quality of the gravel road). We spotlighted Winery 32 a few years ago, and with other destinations in mind, we decided to drive past their entrance (the 32 peach trees planted along their driveway seem to be doing well). The next stop was The Winery at Lost Creek (formerly known as simply Lost Creek Winery). We haven't visited this winery in over ten years, when it was owned by the Hauck family, one of the first wineries in the county. Back then, their wines tended to be on the sweeter side, although we always enjoyed their location and hospitality. New owners Todd and Aimee Henkle, and consulting winemaker Sebastien Marquet (from Doukenie Winery), have shifted gears and now concentrate on drier Burgundy and Bordeaux styles. Three Chardonnays (two oak barrel aged, and one steel barrel aged), Vidal Blanc, an off-dry (not too sweet) rosé, and three red gems: A 100% Cabernet Sauvignon and two Bordeaux blends. We got the feeling during our visit that Lost Creek, with Marquet's assistance, is striving for the notch above the typical winery offerings in the county.

The tasting room, with its gas fireplace, is just as we remembered. Outside, the location on the bluff invites you to stay a few hours, especially if you're a fire pit fan:

Enjoying a glass of the Lost Creek Provenance, 48% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot, 16% Cabernet Franc and 4% Petit Verdot:

After visiting The Winery at Lost Creek, the next winery is literally a stone's throw away. Pushed back from the main road and surrounded by pine trees, the log cabin-set Hidden Brook Winery was the sister winery of Lost Creek Winery, run by the son of the previous Lost Creek owners and his wife. Eric and Deborah Hauck continue to run the winery, and the relationship with Lost Creek next door is no longer "in the family," although it is a friendly competition (there are signs on the driveway leaving Lost Creek leading visitors to Hidden Brook).

As is the case with Lost Creek, Hidden Brook matured from the previous line up of sweeter offerings. Most wine fanatics start with the sweet stuff, and then evolve into dry wine fans. That is certainly the case with Hidden Brook. The current (April 2016) line up of wines contains only one off-dry style, Vidal Blanc. Chambourcin and Merlot are the stand-outs here, both perfect for the unseasonably cold April day we visited. To the best of our knowledge, this is the only true log cabin tasting room in the state, although we have yet to discover the "yellow area" of the Virginia wine map. The surrounding pine trees make you feel as if you're in rural Maine, not suburban Virginia.

Inside the Hidden Brook tasting room:

Kicking back with Chambourcin, which despite its "American" label, is grown and made in Virginia:

The front porch at Hidden Brook:

No trip to the Potomac Cluster would be complete without a visit to Tarara, one of the original Virginia wineries. Stop in and try their latest Tranquility Red.