Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Monticello AVA Quadrant Series: Southeast

The Monticello AVA is officially "Virginia's Napa." With over 30 wineries (and more to come) surrounding the Charlottesville area, the Monticello AVA contains more vineyards and wineries than most other states.

Those who plan to "hit C'Ville for some wine tasting" should plan their trip accordingly. It's very easy to get lost in the world of Jefferson country wineries. For that reason, we've split the AVA into four quadrants: Northwest, Southwest, Southeast and Northeast.

Each quadrant offers the full spectrum of winery experiences: From industrial, working vineyard vibe, to romantic and intimate, to big event focused spots. With so many wineries in the area, even breaking the AVA down into four sections isn't enough spotlight every location. We'll zoom in on our favorites and also suggest the best route.

We left off in the Southwest quadrant, at Wintergreen Winery, to be precise. A 45 minute drive will take you over to the Southeast Quadrant (don't worry - the drive will go by quickly because of the scenery in these parts). Follow state highway 6 eastbound (which shares the highway with route 29 for about 2 miles), directly through Walton's Country. You may even decide to take a brief detour and check out the Walton Family museum. Those familiar with the classic show from the '70s will recognize the name Rockfish - which is the name of a river that meanders in this part of Virginia (one fork goes through Wintergreen Winery) and a small village that was occasionally described on the show as if it was some major metropolis.

Route 6 will take you away from the mountains a bit, closer to the foothills of the Blue Ridge and the bluffs alongside the James River. The town of Scottsville may be worth a stop for breakfast or lunch (depending on if you overnight near Wintergreen). In Scottsville, take route 20 northbound back towards Charlottesville. The wineries in this region are clustered close together - right next door, in the case of four wineries. Your first stop will be a winery whose namesake needs no introduction: Trump Winery. Being the left-leaning bloggers that we are, we were a bit hesitant to stop by one of The Donald's newest investments. But fair is fair - we are not biased when it comes to wine. And we were absolutely surprised by our experience here (we just ignored the Hummer with the "Don't Tread on Me" license plate in the parking lot).

Trump Winery is the new name for what was formerly called Kluge Estate. If you visited Kluge Estate before they closed in 2009, expect the same type of experience. The tasting room building is identical, although the interior has been upgraded. The winemaker is the same. The inviting tall grove of trees in the picnic area near the parking lot is the same. The views of course are the same. However the wine is better; Kluge specialized in sparkling wines and bold reds. That made for a challenging experience when we visited Kluge on one of the hottest days in 2004--we're not big fans of sparkling wine and bold red in 98 degree heat is not exactly a mouth-watering thought. Kluge was acquired by fellow GOPer Donald Trump in 2009 and Trump worked his magic to acquire highway signs for route 64 immediately. Before the winery was open, his signs were up. (The normal waiting period for these signs is one to two years - and can only be acquired after the winery is open). So obviously The Donald pulled some puppet strings there. Okay, we're off on a tangent - more wine talk, less politics......fine.

Managed by The Donald's son Eric, the folks working at Trump are incredibly hospitable and entertaining. Being an "all purpose" winery, you can spend all day here, as Trump also has a kitchen that serves light fare like flatbread and cheese and sausage plates. Tastings are $8 a pop (that's cheaper than many wineries in Northern Virginia), and the tasting process is slow and leisurely. Several sparkling wines are offered, all of them on the dry side. Of the several sparklings, our favorite was the Chardonnay/Pinot Noir blend (only 5% pinot but that 5% really makes a difference). Chardonnay was our favorite varietal here: Crisp, dry, with notes of pear and apple. In a close second was the Viognier, with its distinct notes of honeydew melon. As for the reds, those familiar with Kluge may remember their well-priced Bordeaux blend called Albemarle Simply Red. When Kluge closed its doors, they had several hundred cases of this stuff to unload, and did so at rock bottom prices. We found Albemarle Red at Safeways, other Virginia wineries (which offered the wine as a surrogate if they were low on a particular red varietal), and the occasional Sunoco station. And at $14 a bottle - to this day we groan about not grabbing more bottles for our collections. Trump replicated this wine, and it's as fantastic as ever, but at $28 a bottle, double the price. This wine is appropriately oaky with notes of black currant and smoke.

All in all we were happy we stopped by and can easily find ourselves back here.

Entrance to Trump Winery:



Located a stone's throw away from Trump Winery is Blenheim Vineyards, which is owned by Dave Matthews. Two celebrity wineries as neighbors, although the crowd you will see enjoying the sustainable tasting room at Blenheim is rather different from the crowd enjoying the elegant, decidedly not sustainable tasting room at Trump. Blenheim employs sustainable practices right down to the screwtops on several of their bottles. This winery packs them in particularly from nearby UVA so arrive early during the weekend for a more intimate experience.

The tasting building is an A-frame like structure that you walk down a hill (or concrete steps near the crush pad) to enter. Inside the building, sound-absorbing wood surrounds you and you're treated to an eastern view of the grounds from the bright tasting counter. The winemaker here is well known in the Commonwealth, Netherlands born and Charlottesville raised Kirsty Harmon, and her vintages are unique and delicious. The wines rotate here from year to year based on the growing season but during our last visit, we enjoyed a Viognier aged in oak that offered a hint of honeysuckle and banana, and on the red side of the scale, their affordable ($15 a bottle) red table wine, blended with Cab Franc, Cab Sauv and Merlot, was our favorite. Past vintages have included chardonnay and a pure cab franc; the winemakers here are perfectionists and prefer to use grapes grown on the property, which also explains the rotating styles.

Entrance to Blenheim Vineyards' tasting room:


Inside Blenheim:



A few miles up route 20 from Trump and Blenheim are two more side-by-side locations: First Colony Winery and Virginia Wineworks. Wineries like the Trump/Blenheim duo and First Colony/Virginia Wineworks are friendly competitors and surely most folks who visit one will most likely visit the other, so all locations win. Plus, the experiences at these side-by-side spots are usually different from one another. First Colony Winery is more of a traditional Virginia spot, with a bright tasting room and several spots inside and out to chill with a bottle of rosé, Meritage or Merlot (our favorite wines during a recent visit). Virginia Wineworks, where Virginia wine legend Michael Shaps perfects his wines, is the definitive industrial winery. The tasting room is in the same building where the wine is barreled and boxed. Shaps also makes wine for other relatively new state wineries like Attimo Winery, near Christiansburg, and Pippin Hill, also in the southeast Monticello AVA quadrant.

We've spotlighted both First Colony and Virginia Wineworks numerous times in past posts. The two wineries share signage off route 20 and gladly refer customers to each other. Virginia Wineworks, about a quarter mile through the trees down the gravel road from First Colony, offers their budget label ("Wineworks") and the slightly higher priced Michael Shaps label. Wineworks is home to the "wine in a box," a great economical concept for parties; just don't expect to age boxed wine for very long. Wineworks has a few picnic tables scattered around the property; not exactly a great cold weather location, but the tasting process is long and highly entertaining; you simply cannot NOT buy a bottle (or four) at Shaps' location. His wines border perfection - both the whites and reds.

First Colony's current mascot (and future winery owner, according to the staff), is Fritz, a friendly and vocal orange tabby who wandered onto the property about 8 years ago as a kitten with two broken legs. Having a resident cat automatically increases the favorable rating of a Virginia winery to the blogmasters, but First Colony is a terrific year around spot.

Fritz, the greeter of First Colony Winery:


If you still have the energy and time after partaking at these four spots, several other Southeast Quadrant locations await you:

Pippin Hill Winery

Wisdom Oak Winery (formerly Sugarleaf)

Jefferson Vineyards

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  2. As a wine enthusiast, my travels have taken me to a wide variety of vineyards and wine areas of France and Italy, and of course to the wonderful gardens of the wineries and surrounding places. Such spectacular fountains, planters and statuary! Citrus and olive trees in beautiful planters, stone statuary in the midst of bubbling fountains, elaborate terra cotta creations…. Imagine my pleasure, then, when I walked into Authentic Provence in West Palm Beach, Florida. In a beautiful environment of running water and good smells, the owners have sourced one of the finest collections of European garden antiques that I have seen in the USA: statues, fountains, planters (note especially the classic Caisse de Versailles, and Anduze pottery), terra cotta shields, stone animals, copper pots, garden spouts, etc. They also have beautiful stone fireplaces, re-purposed tiles, and many other specialty items. They are available online at http://authenticprovence.com, and can arrange shipping anywhere in the US. Well worth a visit!

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