Tuesday, May 24, 2011

To Wine Festival, or Not To Wine Festival.....

The growth (and popularity) of vineyards and wineries in the Commonwealth has spurred a growth in festivals all over the state, in the big cities and small towns. The biggest ones, like Vintage Virginia (held in the Bull Run area off I-66 each spring and fall) have been around for decades, when Virginia only boasted about 15 wineries. Now the festival has grown into an amusement park for big kids, although that doesn't stop the grown ups from a) bringing their toddlers and b) acting like little kids.

Should you decide to visit a festival in the state this year, there are some pros and cons. In a nutshell, true wine buffs would be better off visiting the wineries themselves. The festivals, especially the large ones, seem to bring out the worst (in rudeness and narcissism) in people. The smaller ones, like the one at Mt. Vernon, are superior but have their own drawbacks (smaller festivals usually mean longer waits at the winery tents).

We've listed both the Pros and Cons, to allow you to make an educated decision.

Wine Festival Pros:

1. Winery Variety
Many Virginia wineries, even some smaller ones (like Democracy Vineyards, which doesn't have a public tasting room yet, and Gabriele Rausse Winery, which has some of the best wine in the state but is not open to the general public), show up at the festivals that dot the state throughout the year. You'll get to try wines that even the diehard VAVINO heads like the blogmasters haven't tried. If you do your research on the wineries attending a particular festival ahead of time, you can avoid the bigger, more commercial wineries (which usually have the big tents near the entrance and attract the "we're just here to get blitzed" crowd), and head straight for the smaller spots.

2. Great for Groups
Planning a big outing with a group of friends or family members? Festivals are a great idea. But we suggest having a designated driver, or hiring a limo.

Wine Festival Cons:

1. The Amateurs
You know these types. The people (males tend to be more obnoxious and "Alpha-like" than females) who are at a festival to get as drunk as they can, who don't care about a winery or their product, who will cut in line, and in general would be better off at a sports bar. And then there are the folks who are too impatient to wait in line for a tasting and shove you, while holding their glass over your head. And then you have the types who talk about nothing with the pourers, holding up the line, and try to get extra tastings....The wine festivals bring these folks out in droves.

2. The Weather
Rain or shine, wind or sticky humidity---wine festivals are planned years in advance, and unless the festival is very small, the show goes on, in any weather. The blogmasters have been to festivals in soaking rain, and contrary to the rumors, the rain does not keep others away. The lines may be shorter, but the grounds will still be crowded. Indoor, climate-controlled festivals are the way to go.

Keeping the books balanced, we offer two pros and two cons. If you must do a festival, we suggest finding a climate-controlled one (there is a good one in the Richmond Convention Center each winter that is our favorite in the state), and don't even think about attempting to buy quantity at these festivals. The wineries are set up to move wine at the festivals, but buying multiple bottles (one or two is okay) at a festival is a hassle.

In short, we suggest visiting a winery on a festival day.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Meet the Winery Cats

That's not a typo...winery CATS. Much has been said about winery dogs. Books have been published. Awards given out. Dog treats sold in tasting rooms. Leaving the cats in the dust. What's a cat lover to do? The blogmasters do enjoy dogs - as long as they keep their slobber and muddy paws away from us while we visit a winery. But to us, there's nothing finer than a visit from a winery cat. And they do exist. It's just that the wineries don't feel the need to trumpet their feline friends in their tasting rooms. Cats and cat lovers don't need the constant gratification that dogs and dog lovers crave (sorry, but we had to get a few "cat jabs" in).

As Robert DeNiro said in Meet the Parents, why do wineries spend so much time promoting their "emotionally shallow animals?" That may be a bit harsh. Humans do have both canine and feline aspects of their personalities: Sometimes we want to be in the middle of a crowded party room, and other times we want to be alone with our thoughts. But ask any dog lover with no interest in (or even an inexplicable hatred and/or fear of) cats and they would rather belt you in the face than admit that they have any cat facets to their psychological make up.

It makes sense for wineries to have dogs: They keep the deer away, and keep the more extroverted visitors happy. Yet us introverts like companions too, and we don't need a dog to validate our respective self-worths!

Cats serve a purpose in wineries too....something about rodents and other vermin. Cats did put an end to the black plague, after all, by killing off the disease-carrying vermin. Cats probably wouldn't control deer the way a dog would - but don't tell a cat that.

This may be an odd topic for this blog, but reading a Virginia wine magazine last night gave us the idea for a spotlight on winery cats. Yet another "Virginia's Best Winery DOG" competition has started. Enough is enough - let's hear it for the cats (cue music...)

Our favorite winery cats (in no particular order as any winery with a cat gets the top prize):

FLINT (Willowcroft Farm Vineyards, south of Leesburg).
Flint is a pure tabby who is often found sitting in the middle of their gravel parking lot, refusing to move out of the way of incoming cars. Flint's story is he came to visit the winery as a kitten about seven years ago, from a nearby house, and apparently spends more time at the winery and in the tasting room now than his own home. Willowcroft had another feline once upon a time - Bailey - and the winery had a wine named after him.

FRITZ (First Colony Winery, south of Charlottesville).
Naming a cat "Fritz" is amusing enough (for those familiar with Bob Crumb's work). This orange tabby is vocal and probably the most dog-like feline we've encountered. He came to the winery as a kitten, sadly abandoned with two broken legs, and has adjusted as the tasting room mascot with "aspirations to own the winery one day" according to Martha, the tasting room manager.

CARDINAL POINT WINERY kitty (name of cat: unknown).
Another orange tabby, this guy should be named Basketball, as that's exactly what he resembles. But he has no problem jumping onto the barrel where his food dish is. There are a lot of dogs at Cardinal Point too, but the cat makes it clear who's boss. The blogmasters overheard a grumpy older man at this winery once, who immediately left the tasting room when he entered with his wife, and was heard uttering "I didn't like the cat" when he left. One less cat hater in a winery is fine with us!

GINGER (North Mountain Winery, south of Winchester).
Yes, this is also a dog winery, as the pictures on their website indicate. But Ginger, a beautiful calico, hangs out with guests as well, especially those who love cats. Cats have a way of recognizing cat people even if they're too busy to dote on them - Ginger finds her way to the picnic tables and announces her arrival every time.

WHITE ROCK VINEYARDS kitty (name of cat: Unknown).
White Rock Vineyards, near Smith Mountain Lake, is a charming family-owned rural winery with an incredibly appealing enclosed Florida-room like tasting room, and their resident cat, a friendly Siamese and a perfect lap cat, welcomes us every time.

WARREN (Fabbioli Cellars, north of Leesburg).
Doug Fabbioli and his family and staff are proud cat owners - several cats have been spotted at his winery. But Warren is the star, and he knows it. Another big orange tabby, Warren drinks water from (what else) a wine glass and sometimes has to be asked (nicely, of course) to get off the tasting counter.

RUDY (Hiddencroft Vineyards, near Lovettsville).
Another "Croft" winery in Loudoun County, Hiddencroft makes some delicious, award-winning wines. Rudy is a tan tabby who usually accompanies Clyde, the owner/winemaker, on his tractor. Rudy shares the greeting role with another cat, whose name we don't know and who is a bit more skittish than Rudy.

Hopefully other wineries will fall into this blog post and realize that cat people are the silent minority (or even majority)....we don't mind dogs, but much prefer cats. There are probably many other cats to be found at various Virginia wineries, especially the farm wineries. We hope to add Part II to this entry in the coming months.....

In the meantime, visit our photo album of Virginia cats:


Sunday, May 8, 2011

Winery Spotlight: Lovingston Winery

Oh, how the blogmasters fretted with publishing this blog. Those "in the know" regarding Virginia wine have already discovered Lovingston's wines, either through a visit to a wine store fortunate enough to carry their wares, or a trek down to their small operation between Charlottesville and Lynchburg, right off U.S. route 29. We fell onto this winery two years ago and believed then (and still believe) that their wines are among the finest in the state. And the prices...WOW. Most wines are under $15, even at the stores!

We had a long talk with the winemaker. He views the winery as a hobby to supplement his "day job" (we were a bit sauced by the time he got to his story, but recall something about telecommuting back and forth to Texas....), and his daughter has assumed the role of marketing director, making sure the wines are available even in northern Virginia, at competitive prices. The drawback: Word has gotten out and the stores don't keep his wines on the shelves for long. Because word has gotten out, we thought this was a good time to draft our essay on the pleasures of Lovingston wine.

Gravity flow. It's all about gravity flow. He's planted the vines on a hillside for maximum soil irrigation, and this technique allows for the reduction of machines and pumps. All grapes are hand picked as well--this winery is about 100% quality control. And because the owner views this as a hobby, vs. something he's put his life savings into, he can keep the prices in California range.

His whites are adequate, but the stars are the reds; mainly his Cab Franc, Merlot, and a blend called Rotunda Red. Absolutely delicious and at these prices, you can stock up (order on-line if you can't get to a store that carries his wines, or visit the winery).

Lovingston Winery is the model that newer Virginia wineries should follow--excellent product at competitive prices. This location proves that you don't need to spend nearly $30 for a high class Virginia wine.