Tuesday, October 25, 2011

WINERY SPOTLIGHT: Featuring the Lesser-known and Newest Wineries in the Commonwealth

Zephaniah Farm Vineyard

Sometimes, small is better. Or in the case of Zephaniah Farm Vineyard, “smallest” is best. This is the smallest winery in Loudoun County, which is a microcosm for wineries in the entire state. Loudoun County boasts thirty wineries and/or tasting rooms as of October 2011, more than any other county in the Commonwealth. On the large, busy, and ultra-modern end of the scale, there’s Tarara, Breaux, Bluemont, and Sunset Hills. On the quaint, quiet and peaceful end of the scale, you’ll find Zephaniah Farm Vineyard. Sometimes we want party. Sometimes we want to be alone with our thoughts. The wineries in Virginia allow for both traits of our personalities to thrive.

Owned and overseen by head winemaker Bill Hatch, an extremely pleasant, laid back fellow with a California vibe (and whose “real job” as a video engineer takes him to ABC studios nearly every day of the week), his son Tremain assists him with the creation of their liquid gold. Tremain is a new faculty member at the Virginia Tech’s Winchester campus (which has a special program on viticulture, which makes sense as vineyards have taken off in the state over the last fifteen years), and both father and son spoke with pride about their wines. And they have plenty to be proud of. They may have small batches of wine, but it is quality over quantity here.

Chambourcin is the star. Both the regular and reserve are smooth, non-acidic, and worthy of comparisons to better-known wines like pinot noir. Many wineries in Virginia offer a chambourcin now, and the blogmasters had their favorite (from another Loudoun County winery). Zephaniah has claimed the title of our favorite. This wine holds up with the best France, California and Oregon have to offer. It’s that good. The other reds are Cab Franc and Merlot, both absolutely drinkable, with the Merlot having a bit more “bite” to it. For the whites, Zephaniah offers an oaked chardonnay (which is very good, and fairly typical of other chardonnays in the state) and a Sauvignon Blanc from Glen Manor Vineyards near Front Royal.

There are a few tasting rooms in the state located inside historic homes (LaGrange and Old House come to mind). Zephaniah Farm’s tasting room resides in a manor built in the 1830s (and apparently occupied by a friendly ghost as well as the winery staff), with an addition built in the 1950s. On the outside, it resembles John Lennon’s estate from the cover of the “Hey Jude” album. In the back of the estate, an array of picnic chairs is set up to enjoy the trees, pastures, and breezes of southern Loudoun County. No live bands, no tour buses, no weddings, no corporate parties. Intimacy is the key word here.

Have your Virginia map handy as no state highway signs exist (although when they’re not busy with harvest, the Hatches put temporary “flag signs” directing you to the winery each weekend). They’re open only on Saturday and Sunday – winemaking is a side note, as all family members have regular day jobs. But what a side note it is. Keep up with these wines, and Zephaniah Farm could easily become their sole income provider.

Directions: Travel south of Leesburg on U.S. 15. About two miles after the highway narrows, turn right at the gas station onto Harmony Church Road. Follow Harmony Church for about two miles, and turn left onto Dunlop Mill Road. Zephaniah Farm Vineyard will be about a half mile on the right side (Dunlop Mill Road is a dirt road so it’s prone to potholes).

Bill Hatch and Son

Monday, October 10, 2011

Virginia Varietal Spotlight: Take I


If you’ve been to a few Virginia wineries, then you’re probably familiar with Norton. This intriguing red varietal, named after Dr. Daniel Norton of Richmond, VA, is the official grape….of Missouri. Prohibition stopped the wine industry in the entire country in the 1920s, however Catholic churches got a pass, and Norton was the grape used to make the wine for mass. It was discovered that the climate in Missouri (similar to Virginia’s) works well for Norton, and the soil is in some ways superior (drainage from lakes and the age of the Ozarks and its foothills create soil different than the Commonwealth’s). Plus, Missouri had history on its side. At the 1873 Vienna World Exposition a Norton wine from Hermann, Missouri won a gold medal. Henry Vizetelly, a noted critic of the time, said that Norton from Missouri would one day rival the great wines of Europe in quality and quantity. With friendlier post-Prohibition alcohol laws in Missouri compared to Virginia, the Show Me state had a head start in perfecting Norton wine. But Virginia is certainly no slouch….

Norton is not for everyone. In fact, the blogmasters have a love/not love relationship with the varietal. It has caused some wicked headaches (and hangovers…..) But when a winery gets it right, Norton can be just as complex as a Cab Sauvignon or Merlot. The adjectives used to describe Norton have run the gamut from “smoky,” “leather,” “tar,” “licorice,” and “plum.” It’s a deep red wine and will leave you with a red wine mustache. But some Virginia wineries are doing incredible things with Norton, and finding one that agrees with your palate is like engaging on a vino treasure hunt.

Some Virginia wineries featuring Norton that are worth visiting, for exploring this unique grape:

Barrel Oak Winery
Casanel Winery
Chrysalis Vineyards
Cooper Vineyards
Horton Vineyards
Lexington Valley Vineyard
New Kent Winery

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Great VA Wineries: From A to Z

26 wineries, 26 favorites.

Virginia has enough wineries to tout a winery under nearly every letter (apologies in advance, Sesame Street style, to the letters E, Q, X and Y). If you’re a new Virginia winery in search of a name, some letters to consider….

These 26 wineries consistently rank among our, and other blogger and wine fans, favorites. (We will double up on certain letters that surround those missing ones to make sure we hit 26).

This is a short and sweet blog entry for those new to the Virginia wine scene. Click on the winery name and a hyperlink will take you to the winery’s home page.

Afton Mountain (Waynesboro)
Barren Ridge (Waynesboro)
Casanel (Northern VA)
DuCard (Sperryville)
First Colony (Charlottesville)
Flying Fox (Blue Ridge Parkway)
Gadino Cellars (Sperryville)
Hiddencroft (Northern VA)
Ingleside (Northern Neck)
James River Cellars (Richmond area)
King Family (Charlottesville)
LeoGrande (Lynchburg)
Mountain Cove (Blue Ridge Parkway)
North Mountain (Shenandoah Valley)
Old House (Culpeper)
Pollak (Waynesboro)
Rappahannock Cellars (Front Royal)
Rogers Ford (Culpeper)
Sharp Rock (Sperryville)
Twin Oaks Tavern (Northern VA)
Unicorn (Warrenton)
Veritas (Waynesboro)
Village (Northern VA)
Willowcroft (Northern VA)
Wintergreen (Blue Ridge Parkway)
Zephaniah Farm (Northern VA)