Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Wine and Song, Episode 2

Enjoy a glass of Cave Ridge Riesling to this underrated gem.

Friday, April 28, 2017

The Great Virginia Winery NOT on the VA Wine Map

The Notebook visited Linden Vineyards for the first time in nearly 10 years last weekend. Admittedly, we were a bit "put out" by our visit there last time. This was one of the first Virginia wineries we visited in 2002 or so, back when places like Oasis, Smokehouse, Farfelu, Piedmont, and Deer Meadow Wineries were still on the Virginia winery map (actually a leaflet back then...), and Philip Carter Winery was called Stillhouse Winery. We were unable to enjoy the deck during our visit in 2007, unless we joined their Case Club. Apparently we were not the only winery hoppers who were disappointed (based on reviews on Yelp and other social media sites). With so many other options near Linden (Fox Meadow, Philip Carter, Naked Mountain), we boycotted Linden, until recently. After all those years, we felt it was immature to have sour grapes (pun intended).

A word about Linden's owner and winemaker. Jim Law is one of the founding fathers of Virginia wine. Bio from their website: Jim’s first vineyard job was in Indiana where he traded work for a place to live. He then got a real job in Ohio at Chalet Debonne where he learned the nuts and bolts of grape growing and cellar work. In 1981 Jim was hired to start a winery in the Shenandoah Valley where he fell in love with the area and viticultural possibilities. In the mid 1980’s, while establishing Linden Vineyards, he consulted for other wineries and taught winegrowing at local community colleges.

Linden is now a well-known establishment, and has opted not to appear on the Virginia Wine Map. And there are no longer signs off I-66 directing visitors to the winery. You have to know it's there. Not knowing what to expect, and wondering if we should even write about the winery on the Notebook (so they could maintain their "best kept secret" status), we entered the tasting room last Saturday, and were surprised at the number of visitors. And only a few case club members; many were there for the special library tasting. Since we knew Jim's wines were outstanding, we went for the regular ($8) tasting.

View from Linden tasting room:

On the tasting sheet that day were Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, both fine warm weather offerings, the Chardonnay especially wonderful with its soft pineapple notes, as well as rosé, Petit Verdot, and Claret, a Bordeaux-style blend similar to Meritage, and a perfect barbecue wine. No live bands, no bachelorette parties, no infants, no dogs - it was a nice change of pace. The weather was dreary but it made for some nice photo ops.

View from the deck at Linden:

Although we knew about the case club rule, we and other non club members were able to sit upstairs in a nicely appointed parlor room, with great views from both picture windows (vineyards on one side, mountains on the other).

All in all, the case club rule is a unique twist for Virginia wineries; if you're a member of another wine club, you may end up spending more over the course of a year than the one annual same-day purchase of a case at Linden. Doing so will give you access to the "club members only" deck. It was tempting to bring out the credit card and sign up. Maybe next time.

Because of the unusual (compared to most other Virginia wineries) nature of Linden, we'll paste the FAQ page from their website below. Cheers!

Why all the restrictions?

About ten years ago increased visitation to Linden pushed us beyond our ability to maintain the intimacy, atmosphere and genius loci that we strive to protect. I was put in a situation to either significantly expand Linden’s facilities and scope of business or to put restrictions on what we do. I chose the latter. We love to educate and tell our story. Linden does not aspire to be a wine bar or café.
Can we taste if we are not Case Club members?

Our regular tasting and cellar tastings are open to everyone. There are no restrictions on who can taste (except that you have to be at least 21 years old!).
Should we make reservations?

Reservations are not needed for the tour or tasting. Once you arrive you can make a reservation for the weekend Cellar Tasting.
Why not groups larger than four, can we split up our group when we arrive?

No. Linden is small and intimate. Groups overwhelm our space. We kindly ask that this limit be respected.
Can we bring a picnic?

Linden does not allow any food brought in from home including picnics on our grounds.
Are children allowed?

Children are allowed at Linden if accompanied by well-behaved adults. By law you have to be 21 years of age to taste wine. This is a pretty boring place for kids.
Do you have Wi-fi?

Linden is in a dead zone. There is no Internet access and very spotty cell phone coverage. This can be incredibly therapeutic, however certain individuals may experience mild to severe anxiety attacks so precautions may need to be taken. (Note from bloggers: This is absolutely true.)
Is Linden Dog friendly?

Dogs are not allowed in the winery or on the decks. Outside on a leash is fine.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Wine and Song, Episode 1

Running out of topics to write about, so we are launching a series of ~12 minute videos, "Wine and Song," where we will pair a fine Virginia wine with a criminally underrated album.


Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Virginia Green Wineries

St. Patrick's Day may be over, but we're still thinking green this month at the Notebook.

Kermit once sang that it's not easy being green, but in the case of these wineries in the Commonwealth, being green is not only easy...it's a business decision. And we're not talking about green wine here (and this type of wine does exist...visit Morais Vineyards near Warrenton for proof of this!) We're referring to green, or clean, energy programs employed by the wineries for their tasting rooms and winemaking.

You may have seen the Virginia Green logo at several of these wineries. Virginia Green is the Commonwealth's campaign to promote environmentally-friendly practices in all aspects of Virginia’s tourism industry. Virginia Green Attractions have been thoughtfully planned and designed to minimize their impacts on the environment. This attraction has met the established “core activities” for Green Attractions and has committed to communicate its activities to its guests.

A simple criteria for being considered a green winery: The owners voluntarily minimize the environmental impacts of their operation, including:

A. Provide recycling and implement waste reduction practices.
B. Minimize the use of fertilizers and chemicals.
C. Reduce water and energy consumption over time.
D. Solar power and geothermal heating and air systems.
E. Composting all food waste and disposables from tasting rooms.
F. Stormwater collection systems that reuse water for flushing toilets and irrigation.
G. Winemaking that minimizes waste, water use, and energy needs for stabilization.
H. Recycling corks, and using bottles, corks, and packaging that minimize material uses and waste.

Our list contains 10 green wineries in Virginia.

1. Cooper Vineyards
This impressive, futuristic-looking tasting room in Virginia's Piedmont is quite an experience (and their award-winning wine is superb). Click here for Cooper's "green report card."

2. North Gate Vineyard
This favorite in Loudoun County, near Purcellville, is a great daycation spot for stressed out Northern Virginians. Click here for their green report card.

3. DuCard Vineyards
DuCard is located in a mountain "cove" near Madison. Uncork some Popham Run Red and tell them The Notebook sent you! DuCard's green report card: Click here.

4. Delaplane Cellars
Majestically located on the side of a Blue Ridge foothill, Delaplane offers beautiful views, great wine, and an impressive green report card (click here).

5. Sunset Hills Vineyard and 50 West Vineyards
These sister wineries, located near Purcellville and Middleburg in Loudoun County, respectively, offer examples of how large, events-driven wineries can go green. Click here for report card.

6. Philip Carter Winery
One of the most ambitious wineries in the state, "PC" Winery strives for excellence in everything it does. Click here for report card.

7. Barrel Oak Winery
Popular BOW proves that a winery can go to the dogs (in a good way), and retain sustainable practices. Report card: Click here.

8. Gadino Cellars
Home of the Gold Medal 2016 Governor's Cup for their 2010 Nebbiolo, Gadino Cellars, near Sperryville, treats everyone who visits as famiglia. Report card: Click here.

9. White Rock Vineyards
A beautiful location near Smith Mountain Lake, featuring a white Merlot that is a must-try. Click here for their report card.

10. Wisteria Farm and Vineyard
This location between the Shenandoah Valley towns of Luray and Stanley is big on character. Report card: Click here.

As we approach Earth Day, we hope you and yours celebrate by going winery green!


Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Virginia's Most Romantic Wineries: Another Pass

We're taking the easy way out this month - a simple "list" posting. Two years ago, we spotlighted the Top Ten Romantic Virginia wineries (read that post here).

Time to list a few others...and also ask for feedback from readers.

Where do you go for your Valentine's Day (or anti Valentine's Day) celebrations?

The choices on our list from 2015 remain firmly in place in our top ten. Here are some other worthy choices:

Creek's Edge Winery (Taylorstown; Loudoun County)
A barn silo seating area. A real wood fireplace. Acoustic bands. Ample outdoor seating if the weather is freakishly warm. Beautiful wines (particularly their merlot). What's not to ♥?

Veritas Vineyards (Nelson County)
Pretty much the same as above, minus the barn silo seating area. (We'll trade that in for gorgeous mountain views). A consistent winner in Virginia, year after year.

Afton Mountain Vineyards (Nelson County)
A few miles up the road from Veritas. More incredible views, a Tuscany-themed tasting room and patio, and a picturesque lake near the vineyards.
Go for the Petit Verdot - bold and complex.

Cave Ridge Vineyard (Shenandoah Valley; near Woodstock)
Perched up on a steep bluff; intimate tasting room and tasting experience. Don't miss the Riesling; one of the few Virginia wineries with a Finger Lakes-style Riesling. It's all about elevation.

Ox Eye Winery (downtown Staunton)
Located in the heart of the historic wharf district in downtown Staunton, this tasting room has an eclectic, European vibe. Grab a bottle of peppery Lemberger (another rare varietal for the Commonwealth) and unwined.

The Winery at La Grange (near Haymarket)
For a romantic Virginia winery experience, without the long drive (for northern Virginia or DC residents), you can't go wrong here. A historic (and supposedly haunted) old house. Several floors of the house to visit, to get away from crowds (including a funky cellar seating area). And superb offerings. The classic Cab Franc will hit Cupid's spot.

Zephaniah Farm Vineyard (south of Leesburg)
Another nearby location that feels a hundred miles away. A personal, one-of-a-kind seating tasting. And then remain in the mysterious old home, or move over to the new chalet-style tasting room, with its wood decor and rocking chairs. That chambourcin is one of the best in the state.

And your choices for romantic getaways in the state for VAWINOS?

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Road to Winchester: Part 3

Continuing with our examination of the three main highways leading to Patsy Cline's hometown, and apple capital of The Commonwealth, we land on Route 66. And not "that" route 66. Although after partaking at several of these wineries, you will get a kick of another kind.

Interstate 66, for those unlucky (or lucky) enough not to be familiar with this interstate, rolls about 80 miles from the Shenandoah Valley to Washington DC, via the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge, after which the interstate abruptly ends around Virginia Avenue (where else?) in the District. The highway is mostly traffic clogged in Virginia from Arlington to Manassas (sometimes Haymarket), but once it opens up past Haymarket, it's a relaxing and scenic ride all the way to its western terminus, at I-81. The town of Winchester is some 10 miles north of the 66 and 81 interchange, however some folks use 66 as a faster way to the town. And of course that means a highway winery sign at nearly every exit, from the Haymarket area to Front Royal.

With so many wineries along this highway, there are many favorites. We will focus on three locations that are each about 10 minutes away from the interstate, so visitors will get a real feel of getting away from it all. While wineries right along the interstate may benefit from more foot traffic (Barrel Oak Winery, Three Fox Vineyards, Chateau O'Brien), getting away from the highway noise is sometimes essential (but for the record, the blogmasters adore the three aforementioned locations).

The first stop is at Exit 23 on I-66, which we dub the "winery exit." This is where you can peel off I-66 and drive along state highway 55, the former highway that connected the DC area with Front Royal and points west of that town. Route 55, the northern Virginia "wine highway," runs parallel with I-66, through the villages of Markham and Linden, and eventually puts you in downtown Front Royal. The winery we will focus on with this blog entry is Delaplane Cellars, named after the village of Delaplane you will pass by the railroad tracks on the way to this beautiful location.

Delaplane Cellars boasts a very large, airy, and bright (thanks to large picture windows) tasting room, with a second floor reserved for club members. There is ample outdoor seating for warmer weather (including freakishly warm January days): A wrap around deck with some tables, another patio near the entrance, and a few picnic tables up on a hill overlooking the tasting building. The views are incredible. The Blue Ridge Mountains can be seen immediately to the west. The winery is particularly picturesque under snow:

The wine offerings are different every time we visit, but there a few mainstays. Their Petit Verdot is a fine example of a grape that is becoming increasingly popular as a stand alone varietal in Virginia. We also enjoy their Mélange Rouge red blend.

Another winter view at Delaplane Cellars:

The parking here is rather cramped, being up against a mountain and all that. So get here early for the best spot (for you and your car).

The second and third stops are locations about half a mile apart from each other, each winery offering a different type of experience. Exit 18, the Markham exit, will drop you into another cluster of wineries, including the aforementioned Chateau O'Brien. Follow the signs (or "Siri") to Winding Road Cellars, a relatively new location compared to other wineries in this area. Winding Road Cellars is not far from the old Hume Vineyards, a defunct location which was the scene of a crazy summer mini-tornado several years ago (captured on film by the blogmasters). Winding Road is making some unusual wines ("because my husband is crazy" was the deadpan response we received from one of the owners when we inquired about this). Chardonnay, Viognier, Chambourcin, and Cab Franc are of course familiar names to anyone who knows anything about Virginia wine. But the wines here have a unique twist - we can't quite put our fingers on it. This is not a scientific analysis of the wines by any stretch; you will just have to visit and decide for yourself. Apparently Pinot Noir and Riesling are also on the owners' agenda in the future.

View of Winding Road Cellars tasting cabin, from the back:

There is a lot of room to move around outside at this winery. The pond behind the tasting cabin is a nice 5 minute walk from the tasting room, and the old boat house offers many photo opportunities:

Crowds apparently have not discovered this winery yet, at least the two times we have visited. One can spend an entire afternoon here and just drink in the atmosphere.

The vineyards at Winding Road:

The final stop on this Road to Winchester examination is right down the winding road from Winding Road Cellars. A Commonwealth favorite celebrating its 9th Anniversary this month, Philip Carter Winery. This beautiful location is almost always hopping, whether it's an acoustic performer, a family picnic, or a company outing. The tasting building is roomy and expansive, and the staff always sets up additional tasting counters whenever necessary. No one will be waiting here for a tasting.

Philip Carter Winery is also one of the few wineries in the area that has a real wood fireplace, and allows (and encourages) guests to tend to the fireplace themselves. Firepits are great for warmer weather, but winter (usually) does not allow for outdoor wine imbibing. The outdoor area has nicely arranged picnic tables and boards for a game that is becoming quite popular at Virginia wineries:

You can enjoy your bottles of wine close to the vineyards and even enjoy a cigar if the mood hits you.

The wines here are uniformly great and represent Virginia so well that the owners and winemaker have brought them to far away locations like China. The Sabine Hall Viognier is our favorite white here, a nice example of
"Virginia's white," with notes of honeysuckle, and all of the reds are good to great. Nomini Hall Cabernet Franc is a regal example of "Virginia's red," and is blended with Petit Verdot and Merlot for a smooth finish.

The number of wineries along I-66 can make it tough to decide where to go. Here's an extensive list of the wineries, from east to west, and their links, for easy access to other spots:

Winery at La Grange
Cobbler Mountain Cellars
Barrel Oak Winery
Blue Valley Winery
Miracle Valley Winery
Three Fox Vineyards
Delaplane Cellars
Arterra Wines
Naked Mountain Winery
Aspen Dale Winery at the Barn
Chateau O'Brien Winery
Philip Carter Winery
Winding Road Cellars
Linden Vineyards
Fox Meadow Winery
Chester Gap Cellars

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.