Thursday, April 17, 2014


If you've picked up a 2014 Virginia Winery map yet, you will probably be blown away (as we were) at the number of new wineries in northern Virginia alone - particularly the winery and farm friendly Loudoun County (not to be confused with the "old money" grumpy county to the south - Fauquier to you and me). There are so many wineries in Loudoun County (now officially known as "DC's Wine Country") that the county is divided into six winery-heavy clusters: Harmony, Loudoun Heights, Potomac, Mosby, Waterford and Snickers Gap (the latter being the newest cluster in the county). It's easy to understand why so many wineries exist here: Close proximity to the Nation's Capital, tourism, and money. Big money. Many of the wineries in Loudoun county are pet projects of millionaires in the law, real estate, nuclear science, and media fields, to name just a few.

Stone Tower Winery, in the Harmony cluster (that heavily forested area south of Leesburg, straddling route 15, with several criss-crossing dirt roads winding up and down the hills), is the wine project of the Belfort Furniture family. Any resident of northern Virginia will be familiar with this furniture giant. We expected an impressive space when we visited Stone Tower, and we were not disappointed.

The tasting room is currently housed in a very large barn, not unlike others in the county, but with a more industrial, curious garage feel. This barn serves as the temporary tasting room as a new structure is built in the fields:

The current tasting room/barn will be used for events. This will be a major player in the wedding and events scene in the state. And with more quaint and intimate Willowcroft Farm and Zephaniah Farm Vineyards also located in the Harmony cluster (just down the dirt roads as a matter of fact), wine fans can experience rustic and slick in one afternoon.

But slickness does not mean inferior. There are ample places to stretch out at Stone Tower, all the more impressive since they're still in the infancy stage (they were installing indoor plumbing on the day we visited). There is a winery pond, of course, situated below the sloping hills. There are also curious entrances to what appears to be a wine cellar near the pond. With the bulldozers and backhoes making their presence known during the construction phase, we didn't venture too close to the pond to investigate. There is also an odd looking dome-tent like structure near the entrance to the property. Our pourer told us the owners are fans of Tolkien, so who knows what surprises they have in store for visitors in the future.

The wine is very good, taking into consideration the newness of the establishment. The tasting begins with a sparkling wine they dub "Wild Boar," off-dry and palate energizing, we suspect this wine will be popular with both Easter ham and/or Easter omelets. Next up are two chardonnays, one crisp and less oaky, the other with a touch of oak and butterscotch (but luckily not too oaky).
Viognier rounded out the whites, aged in both French oak and a concrete egg (popularized by another Virginia winery, Stinson Vineyards.) This viognier is wonderful, crisp and slightly zesty, with notes of honeydew melon and a nose of tulips (continuing on the spring/Easter theme...)

Having nearly perfected two popular Virginia white varietals, Stone Tower also offers a fine red blend called Wild Boar Sanglier Noble, 51% Cabernet Sauvignon, 47% Merlot, and 2% Petit Verdot. Black cherries, fig and cinnamon notes abound this deep red, which will age beautifully.

The variety of what can be found in a microcosm of VAVINO as a whole is ready to be discovered in Loudoun County, and the Harmony Cluster. We are encouraged by the wines and location at Stone Tower and will be ready to visit again soon, and get the skinny on those mysterious structures and doorways.....

Stone Tower website URL:

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Virginia Varietal Spotlight: Lemberger

Not to be confused with Limberger (a cheese...), Lemberger is not a varietal that most wine fans associate with Virginia. But a few wineries in the Commonwealth are working with this German and Austrian wine, which up until recently was only attempted in mass production in the Yakima Valley of Washington state and upstate New York.

Lemberger is better known amongst wine lovers throughout the world as Blaufränkisch, and several wineries in the U.S. use that original name, versus the easier to pronounce (and spell) Lemberger. A dry, bold red varietal is unusual for Germany and Austria, countries better known for sweeter whites and pinot noirs.

Lemberger is a bold meat wine, quite high in alcohol, yet its tanin content is not as heavy compared to west coast Cab Sauvs and Petit Verdot. It's extremely easy to drink, most offering notes of black currant, plum, black pepper and licorice.

In Virginia, Lemberger is beginning to rear its head as a worthy competitor of not only Norton, our other unique red, but the state's red standard, Cabernet Franc.

Where to try Lemberger:

Ox Eye Winery, one of the blogmasters favorite locations in the entire state, is doing incredible things with Lemberger. "Go for it" their tasting sheets proclaim. Admittedly, this is not a varietal that Virginia wine fans are accustomed to (yet). Ox Eye's beautiful Lemberger is well-priced and in addition to the currant/plum/pepper notes previously mentioned, notes of bacon fat are there (the late Dennis Farina, from the film Bottle Shock, would approve).

Otium Cellars, in Loudoun County, is owned by a German, so the varietal is called by its native name there. Medium tannins and black cherry notes combine with a leathery finish for this Lemberger....excuse us, Blaufränkisch.

Also in Loudoun County, Notaviva Vineyards has accepted the challenge to produce the varietal, and also prefer to use the original namesake. Their Blaufränkisch is combined with Cab Franc to produce a blend that more Virginia wine fans will be comfortable with, as opposed to diving head first into a 100%. The Cab Franc gives their Lemberger a more earthy nose, and the wine becomes complex yet delicious and easy to quickly consume. This blending approach is similar to what many wineries are doing with Petit Verdot, another increasingly popular red varietal in the Commonwealth.

The Notebook invites you to impress your winery hopping friends and ask about this varietel on your next visit to any winery in the state!