Saturday, April 13, 2013

Loudoun County Videoclip 1: Notaviva Vineyards

Notaviva Vineyards is "wine paired with music." Located off route 9, about 2 miles from the West Virginia border on the way to Harper's Ferry, Notaviva is the labor of love for Shannon and Stephen Mackey, two musicians who decided several years ago to link two of their passions - wine and music - together. A musical note adorns their chosen logo on their labels, and their wines are musically named: "VincerĂ²" and "Ottantotto" (two Viogniers), "Cantabile" (Cab Franc).

Their winery was featured on the HGTV reality television series "Dream House" several years ago. Notaviva celebrated their fourth anniversary in 2012, and they are the perfect starting point for your Loudoun County vino tour: Washington DC's Wine Country.

Enjoy our short video shot in 2010 during a tasting on a quiet Thursday afternoon:

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Remembering original Virginia wineries

As we launch into winery season, a pause to remember Virginia wineries that have shut their doors (by choice or otherwise) is in order. When the blogmasters started their winery travels in the early '00s, these spots were among the few to choose from. It really is hard to believe that in the past eight years alone, nearly 120 new wineries have opened in the state.

Here is a map of the state's wineries taken from a 1987 article from the New York Times. Of the wineries on this map, only Piedmont, Naked Mountain, Prince Michel, Burnley and Barboursville remain open. Montdomaine continues to make wine but does not have a winery open to the public:

Most of these wineries closed simply because the owners/winemakers yearned to retire; they had been making wine since the 1970s in some cases and certainly paved the way for the current crop of wine growers and vineyard owners in the Commonwealth. Others were not so fortunate and closed due to bad business decisions or, in one case, a media fueled scandal.

One of the original Virginia wineries was located near the center of wine action (the Monticello AVA): Oakencroft Vineyard. Owner Felicia Rogan is famous throughout the state as being one of Virginia's original movers and shakers. The vineyard and winery was located slightly northwest of Charlottesville and was the typical picture-perfect rural setting, complete with a pond in front that housed resident swans as well as the usual pond suspects (ducks, geese, herons).

Further north, off route 29 in Madison County, Christiansen Ridge winery made two admirable efforts in the winemaking business - the first in the early '00s and then later in the mid '00s. Unfortunately both attempts failed (the bloggers never got the full story, but based on discussions with other nearby wineries, the mistakes were financial). This was a winery complete with two guest homes - one was a large house perfect for weekend reunions or wedding parties, and the other was a small log cabin, absolutely inviting. This is a photograph of the grounds at Christiansen Ridge:

Close to Winchester, Deer Meadow Vineyard specialized in chardonnay and had a tasting room located past a potpourri of old home furnishings (we didn't want to label them "junk...") and was about as remote and over the hills and far away you could get in northern Virginia. Apparently the owners simply lost interest and zeal in winemaking and found the venture to be too costly.

Near Old Rag Mountain, Smokehouse Winery wasn't really a winery but a meadery, and based on comments by other winery fans as well as nearby wineries, Smokehouse was a one of a kind place with a one of a kind owner. Why he decided to get out of the business depends on who you talk to, but he was the first location dedicated to mead (an elixir made with honey), so for this reason alone we must raise a glass.

Oasis Winery, near Front Royal, was the location owned by the nutso Salahi family. These are the infamous "White House crashers." Even in 2004, when we visited Oasis, we were turned off the place. Their emphasis wasn't wine, but entertaining celebrities (pictures of celebs in their winery adorned their tasting room walls), and their limo business. As of 2011, the vineyards near the former Oasis tasting room were overgrown and sad-looking. Luckily, a few new wineries in the area opened since they shut their doors to make up for the loss, and perhaps Tareq Salahi will think about selling his vineyard to nearby Rappahannock Cellars or Desert Rose Winery.

Finally we must mention Farfelu Vineyards. Located near the aforementioned Oasis, Rappahannock Cellars and Desert Rose Vineyard, Farfelu, unlike Oasis, was a winery we sorely miss. The wine was excellent, well priced, and the grounds (complete with a nature trail and a pond, and bordering a lush evergreen forest) were perfect for daycations. From what we heard, Farfelu closed because the owners retired and apparently no one in their family wanted to pick up the reigns and continue with the wine business. They are missed. These pictures sum up the Farfelu experience:

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Announcing the Middleburg AVA

Virginia’s presence in the wine world just got another notch: A new AVA (American Viticultural Area, generically known as an “appellation”).

Approved in September 2012, the Middleburg AVA (named after the famous, historic horse raising and fox hunting village in southern Loudoun County) is a ribbon that stretches from the Potomac River (near Hiddencroft Vineyards) southward to the Delaplane area of Fauquier County. Many Northern Virginia favorites dot the AVA and a sign unveiling took place in late March 2013 at Boxwood Winery. This brings the number of AVA’s in Virginia to seven. The others are the Shenandoah Valley AVA, the Monticello AVA, the Northern Neck/George Washington’s Birthplace AVA, the Eastern Shore AVA, the North Fork of Roanoke AVA and the Rocky Knob AVA.

What, exactly, is an Appellation? An appellation is a legally defined and protected geographical indication used to identify where the grapes for a wine were grown. In order to be designated an AVA, 85% of the wine must have come from grapes grown within the geographical AVA boundaries. For counties like Loudoun and Fauquier, the number of wineries and vineyards (including vineyards that do not have public tasting rooms) has quadrupled over the past ten years alone. An AVA designation similar to Napa, Sonoma, Long Island and Finger Lakes will only enhance Virginia’s (and Northern Virginia’s in particular) status in the wild world of wine. One of many benefits of an AVA designation is the ability of a winery in that appellation to put the AVA on the label, so expect to see “Middleburg AVA” on labels from many Loudoun and Fauquier County wine bottles beginning next year.

The wineries in the Middleburg AVA ribbon can be found here. Not all Loudoun County spots made the cut; only the wineries lucky enough to be located in the appellation ribbon. But that does not mean the wine from these non AVA wineries will be shabby. Just a few wineries located a few miles outside the AVA border: Fox Meadow Vineyards, Fabbioli Cellars, and Marterella Winery.

The designation of the Middleburg AVA is a major event for Northern Virginia vineyards, and the bloggers expect announcements of future appellations in the Commonwealth over the next several years.