Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Winery Spotlight: Loudoun Valley Vineyards

The Route 9 Wine Trail in Loudoun County makes for a perfect Saturday getaway—-several wineries, small to large, intimate to commercialized, dot the highway that leads from Route 7 (west of Leesburg) to Charles Town, WV. One of the oldest spots in the county is the aptly named Loudoun Valley Vineyards, which is a stone’s throw away from Route 9, but seems like a world away as soon as you drive down the road leading to their tasting room.

The Loudoun Valley surrounds the vineyards and tasting room. Yes, McMansions do appear in your field of vision (it is Loudoun County after all), but there is physical, aural and visual “space” here. The vineyards slope on foothills surrounding the tasting room. The tasting room itself is a modest affair: A one-story building with a wrap-around porch with views of trees and hills in all directions.

The tasting bar is no-nonsense and most likely, the owners will handle the tastings for you—-Bree Ann and Cameron Moore are probably the youngest winery owners in the state, but Bree Ann cut her cloth making wine in Sonoma County, CA, and that experience has paid off. Their wines are served in several Northern Virginia restaurants, particularly Vinifera in the Westin Hotel in Reston (I mean, a-hem, Reston Heights). Vinifera even has half bottles (quite rare in the Commonwealth, especially in restaurants) of Loudoun Valley wine.

Of the wines, most of the Virginia usual suspects are here, and then some....Cab Franc, Merlot, Pinot Grigio, Viognier, and Pinot Noir (the "and then some" of the bunch). Plenty of other wineries in the county offer these varietals, but Loudoun County's are unique - there is no other word for them. Familiar, yet different. In a good way.

As the owners are young, expect a younger crowd as patrons. And expect live music nearly every weekend (a Nirvana cover band played one weekend last summer). But as long as tables are available outside, you can escape the Seattle vibe. As for the winter, Loudoun Valley has “soup weekends,” and the small tasting building retains heat nicely. The wines are stellar, the location is cozy—Loudoun Valley Vineyards should not be overlooked on your next Route 9 winery jaunt.


Monday, January 17, 2011

Great Winter Wineries in Virginia

If you’re a Virginia Vino diehard (and major league boozer) like the blogmasters, you will want to seek out a few wineries to keep the winter blues at bay (Snow? Ice? Who cares!) Some wineries in the state work better than others; tasting rooms housed in barns or more rustic cottages, with little to no heat (and no fireplaces) are probably not good options (and many are not open during the winter months anyway).

Some of the big year-round spots, like Barboursville Vineyards and Tarara, do have fireplaces, but have only a few tables inside to enjoy a glass (Barboursville also has a restaurant on the premises, and probably wants their guests to imbibe there after visiting the tasting room). So we’ve compiled a list of five excellent winter choices – these spots are open year-round and have ample indoor seating, with fireplaces. And all but one are in the northern Virginia region, so if snow does fall, hopefully you won’t have far to drive.

(5) Naked Mountain Winery (Markham, VA)

One of the many spots off “Virginia Wine Highway” (state highway 55, running parallel with I-66 on the way to Front Royal), Naked Mountain has a fun slogan (“drink Naked”), and terrific views perched up on the side of a mountain foothill. The tasting room resembles a sky chalet, and the fire is usually roaring. Naked Mountain offers both fine white (Chardonnay is probably the best), and reds (our favorite is their Merlot) offerings, along with the usual suspects in the way of crackers and cheeses. As one of the older, and more popular locations, along the Wine Highway, Naked Mountain can get busy, so arrive early and park yourself in front of that fireplace. And if you’re lucky, one of their cats will trot into the tasting room to keep you company.


(4) Philip Carter Vineyards (Hume, VA)

Also located off the Virginia Wine Highway, Philip Carter Vineyards took over this location from Stillhouse Vineyards, which was one of the older wineries in the Commonwealth, several years ago. Follow a meandering dirt road to the Philip Carter tasting room, inside an eye-pleasing building that resembles a schoolhouse from yester-year. The gentleman who usually handles the tastings (the owner’s father-in-law) will guide you through an education of not only Philip Carter Winery, but Virginia (and U.S. wine) as a whole. The reds here are the winners (although the whites are not too shabby). Snap up a bottle of Cab Franc or their award-winning Bordeaux blend “Cleve,” and walk down to their sitting room, which offers several tables, another tasting bar (if they’re very busy), and a fireplace with chairs in front of it. One table even offered a chess set, if you feel the need to exercise the brain while imbibing…


(3) Pollak Vineyards (Waynesboro, VA)

Pollak is one of the blogmasters favorite spots in the entire state, and their tasting room, although it is slick in look and feel, is cozy and boasts a fireplace. The tasting room is nestled in a valley not too far from I-81, between Waynesboro and Charlottesville. Every wine on their list is a winner – these folks are serious about their vintages. Our favorites are their Viognier and Petit Verdot (two varietals poised to be Virginia’s newest signature white and red). Pollak works for all seasons – enjoy the fireplace and the warm vibes of the owners and staff in the winter. In the spring, sit by the pond if the weather is warm enough and listen to the spring peepers. In the summer and fall, Pollak offers a large deck and picnic tables for enjoying the endless mountain and forest views.


(2) The Winery at La Grange (Haymarket, VA)

A candidate for the most romantic winery in Virginia (although #1 on this list would be my vote), The Winery at La Grange, the only winery (thus far) located in Prince William County, is one of three spots owned by Chris Pearmund, one of the “Godfathers” of the Virginia wine scene (the other spots are Pearmund Cellars and Vint Hill Winery, both off of route 29 on the way to Warrenton). La Grange is a historical house in the woods near I-66, Haymarket and Gainesville. It’s hard to believe a place like this exists, given the booming development of Haymarket and especially Gainesville over the last few years. But driving down the wooded road on the way to La Grange, you do feel your blood pressure drop. The house was built in the late 1700s, and was painstakingly restored before opening as a winery about six years ago. The tasting room appears on the right after you enter the home, and the wines are high class and high quality. “Snort” is one of the few port wines offered in the state. After tasting, go downstairs (and be sure to watch your head—people were much shorter in the 18th Century!) Enjoy a bottle in the cellar, which doesn’t have a fireplace but is warm and cozy. Or, for fireplace action, visit the lounge area on the second floor and sit in one of their sofas. The La Grange house evidently is haunted, and if you ask one of the staff about a paranormal experience, she or he will probably have something to share.


(1) Old House Vineyards (Culpeper, VA)

Another charming old house provides the home to, in our assertion, one of the finest wineries in the entire state. Like Pollak, this location is perfect for cold or warm months (many outdoor seating opportunities, plus an appealing, but slightly funky-designed, pond), and their indoor area is positively enticing. Their winemaker Damien is from the south of France, and makes some extremely drinkable vintages. Their Chambourcin (called “Wicked Bottom;” the origins of the name will be explained during the entertaining tasting) and “Clover Hill” (a table white similar to Pinot Grigio) are the favorites. Unwind in one of several sitting rooms (one, like Philip Carter Winery, has a chessboard). The room with the fireplace has several tables and another tasting bar, for overflow. Honestly, you could spend hours in the Old House. This is what winter winery hopping in Virginia is all about.


Friday, January 7, 2011

Winery Spotlight: Lost Creek Winery

Lost Creek Winery and Vineyards is one of the oldest wineries in “Washington D.C.’s Wine Country” (that would be Loudoun County). And it has the distinction of being one of the Commonwealth’s wineries that opened the blogmaster’s eyes (and taste buds) to the truly unique world of Virginia wine. This is a good winery to get acquainted with the state’s wine scene, and wine as a whole, for the wine beginner. Most wines, even the ones billed as “drier,” are on the sweet side. Most folks start their love affair with wine by favoring the sweeter ones, and develop tastes for drier selections after a few months or years of experience. But there is also a sub-set of winery fans who love sweeter options over the dry ones, particularly in the warmer months, when the wines can be served ice cold.

The winery is perched on a bluff near the Potomac River, a stone’s throw away from Tarara, an extremely popular (and more commercial) Virginia winery. You drive by the vineyards on the way up the hill, and arrive in a quiet spot overlooking the vineyards. Several outdoor seating options exist under an overhang and in the gardens. The tasting room itself is nothing spectacular but functional, with a gas fireplace to help in heating the room. Lost Creek offers numerous cheese and cracker options, along with warm baguettes, to go along with their vintages.

The emphasis on sweet wines is a bit jarring to the blogmasters, as we’ve spent the past year delving into the world of bone-dry, steel-tank aged whites and hearty reds. But for the casual wine fan, the Lost Creek varietals (and prices) should work just fine. On the white end of the spectrum, their blend called Spring Time (Vidal, Viognier, Chardonnay and Muscat) and their rosé (interestingly enough, their driest wine, with .5% residual sugar) were our favorites, and for the reds, their blend (50% Merlot and 50% Cabernet Sauvignon) was smooth and definitely fruit-forward. They also offer a “Christmas Blend” (limited supplies and apparently only part of the year), which has a hint of clove and can be served chilled or mulled. It’s an intriguing blend of white and red varietals (Vidal Blanc, Chambourcin, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay).

We enjoy the down-to-earth friendliness of the family that owns Lost Creek and the spot next door, Hidden Brook Winery, is owned by the son and daughter-in-law of the owners of Lost Creek (keeping it all in the family). Housed in an appealing log cabin, Hidden Brook also favors the sweeter options—these wineries know what their target market is. If we could suggest one thing to the winemakers--Try crafting a bone dry red, similar to Doug Fabiolli’s options (his winery is right down the road from Lost Creek and Hidden Brook).

Lost Creek is highly recommended as a safe start to exploring the diverse and wonderful world of Virginia wine.