Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Cheers to the Virginia Winery Cats

Winery dogs have long been a spotlight of wineries in Virginia, and elsewhere (just about every wine producing state has a "winery dog" coffee table book). The Notebook toasted our top five winery dogs several months ago: Virginia Wineries Going to the Dogs.

Feline fans have been emailing us (and asking us in person) when will the cats be spotlighted. Well, it has taken us several months to pare down the list of favorite Virginia winery felines to five. The blogmasters enjoy dogs but we are definitely more cat people. So when we find a winery that has a friendly cat in the vicinity, it is a big deal. Many (if not every) winery in the state seems to have a dog on the premises. Finding a cat winery is more of a challenge. But several do exist.

Cats are just as important for a winery and the vineyards as dogs are. Cats keep the vermin away. And some winery cat owners have confessed that their farm cats chase deer away too. And while a cat entering a tasting room won't usually be the entertainment provider to most visitors as a dog can be, those who appreciate the felines will stop their tasting process to say hi.

Admittedly, cats are not the center of attention at wineries compared to dogs, and as much as we'd love to write about the wild and crazy antics performed by these cats at the wineries, there is not much action to be seen with a cat around. It is an honor to be in their presence, however; there is a mystical quality to cats that dogs simply do not possess.

So with this lead up, we confess that the wines, as well as the wineries, in our list are perfect Virginia spots in nearly every way. The cat is an added bonus.

The Top Five Virginia Cat Wineries:

5. Cardinal Point Winery (south of Charlottesville)
Aubie is one of a few resident farm cats at Cardinal Point, one of the original Monticello AVA locations. We didn't know his name until recently, and dubbed him "Basketball" several years ago after meeting him the first time. Aubie is usually a presence in and around the tasting room, and hangs out with guests on the patio. Dogs don't deter him. He has made it abundantly clear on several occasions that he is in charge of that patio (and tasting room.....and the entire winery).

Aubie eating - what else?

Aubie marching down the steps in front of the tasting room to greet visitors:

4. North Mountain Vineyard and Winery (south of Winchester)
Ginger is a beautiful tortoise shell cat at North Mountain, a calming presence, particularly in the winter when she's napping by the tasting room's fireplace. She loves going outside as well, and has a knack for sniffing out the cat people visitors, and making herself at home on their picnic bench. North Mountain also was home to "OJ," (named after the beverage, not the infamous ex football star). OJ was an orange tabby who always greeted customers (Ginger is a bit more shy), and who sadly passed away a few years ago.

Ginger visits the picnic table:

3. First Colony Winery (south of Charlottesville)
Fritz the Cat is the feline attraction here (the owners must be Bob Crumb fans). Fritz is an orange tabby who landed at First Colony as a kitten, with two broken legs, about eight years ago. Fritz is a feisty one, rather typical of orange tabbies, and was recently featured in a Cat Fancy magazine article on winery cats.

Fritz says hi to visitors on the First Colony patio:

Fritz, indoors:

2. Willowcroft Winery (south of Leesburg)
Willowcroft is home to a bonafide Hemingway cat, a polydactyl (six toed) tabby who arrived at Willowcroft from a nearby home as a kitten, and splits his time between the winery and his home up the road. At the time of Flint's arrival, another feline named Bailey ruled the roost here. Bailey left several years ago (he belonged to the previous tasting room manager), but his name lives on empty wine bottles that featured his namesake: Bailey's Bluff (an off-dry rosé offered at the winery about ten years ago). Flint is a lively cat and always seems to be in "stalking" mode when we visit. That stands to reason given Willowcroft's rustic setting on a Blue Ridge foothill; lots of insects and small rodents to find! We keep waiting for a wine featuring Flint's name or image on a bottle here.

Flint, inside the Willowcroft barn:

Flint, chillin' in front of the tasting room:

1. Fabbioli Cellars (north of Leesburg)
All you need to know about the cat loving owners of Loudoun County's Fabbioli Cellars is summed up by this sign posted on the door leading to their tasting room:

Several cats have made Doug and Colleen's place their home through the years. So many, in fact, that the cats' names were printed on their bottles of rosé. But Warren is the indisputable king of this cat winery. Warren is another orange tabby (what is it about wineries and orange tabbies?), and presides over all matters of winery operation.

Warren at the tasting counter:

Warren shares the lair with Goldie, a white and orange tabby. Other felines have been spotted coming and going, but Warren and Goldie are the most social of the cats here.

Blogmaster David's cat and her favorite bottle of Fabbioli wine:

And no cat blog would be complete without cat videos! Here are some of the aforementioned kitties, along with a few honorable mentions.

Ginger (North Mountain Vineyard):

Fritz (First Colony):

Warren (Fabbioli Cellars):
Clip 1 (drinking from a wine glass)

Clip 2 (managing the tasting counter):

Rex (Capitol Vineyards, near Front Royal):

Charlie (James River Cellars, north of Richmond):

And finally, introducing Daug....Barrel Oak Winery's (BOW's) first winery feline. A wonderful Russian Blue taken in by BOW staff about four months ago:

Sunday, August 3, 2014

A Few More Newbies in NOVA

Keeping up with the winery openings in Virginia, especially Loudoun and Fauquier Counties, is like keeping up with Beatles singles in 1964. Just when you think you've seen the last one for awhile, six more pop up.

In Loudoun County alone, there are eight wineries appearing on the Virginia wine map this year which did not appear last year. One particular stretch of road in Loudoun now has such a concentration of wineries, a new county wine cluster could be created.

On route 9 (the second exit outside downtown Leesburg traveling west on the route 7 bypass), heading towards Charles Town and Harper's Ferry, WV, so many wineries dot the highway (taking advantage of the easy access and visitors from the entire DC area) that gridlock during the weekends at some of the intersections is becoming commonplace.

Get an early start, head out to route 9, and follow the signs for Harper's Ferry. Along county highway 671 (Harpers Ferry Road), near the popular winery Breaux, a string of wineries have emerged, all creating unique senses of place and some very good wines. One location was not even slated to open its tasting room this year, however their 2012 Chardonnay was a Gold Cup medal recipient, and one requirement of receiving the medal is to have a tasting room open to the public. Two Twisted Posts Winery was up to the challenge, and set up an outdoor wine tasting tent, and is open every other week to the Virginia wine loving public.

"The winery that accountants built" was the impromptu slogan we heard during our visit to Two Twisted Posts. Accounting is the profession of choice for several family members, and their stories are similar to others we've heard from Loudoun County winemakers, who are growing (or grew) tired of the white collar desk jockey existence, and wanted to bond with the outdoors and become a part of a booming agricultural industry. We were served by the owner and winemaker, who originally hails from England with accent fully intact. Their debut wines are two Chardonnays (including that award winner), a Vidal Blanc, an off dry blend of Chardonnay and Seyval Blanc, a Cab Franc, and a Cab Sauv they call "Don't Call Me a Cab," due to its lighter, somewhat sweeter style (the rainy Virginia weather during the last several harvests had much to do with this). All offerings were good to outstanding, and we left with a few bottles of the 2012 Chardonnay. We now prefer a touch of oak versus 100% stainless steel aging for our Chards (a change from several years ago, when we praised stainless steel relentlessly; palates do change and mature over time). The oak in this 2012 Chardonnay was pitch perfect, and the glass had notes of pineapple and mango, with a soft finish (not overpowering like some California Chardonnays).

The wine tent at Two Twisted Posts:

As for the reds, both the Cab Franc and the Pinot Noir-esque Cab Sauv were winners. The Cab Franc is fairly typical of other Virginia Cab Francs, with notes of black pepper and that mineraly finish. The Cab Sauv may come as a bit of a surprise to those accustomed to California or Washington state varietals, but there is a reason Virginia is still viewed as "finding its way" with the reds. The climate in Virginia is just too unpredictable for reds; to quote the PBS documentary Vintage: The Winemaker's Year, anyone with even an minor background in viticulture can grow grapes in the west coast states.

The next newbie along route 671 is a stone's throw away from Two Twisted Posts: Cardamon Family Vineyards. This is another incredible little spot that is still building its tasting room. Tastings are currently offered in a tent up a small incline from Harper's Ferry Road:

The twist at Cardamon (named after the family who runs the location) is "wine and salsa pairings." Chuck Cardamon, owner and winemaker, was stationed in Napa during his career in the Navy. So of course, he had to delve into the winemaking industry, and now crafts some wines that are reminiscent of California New World, but with enough Virginia character to make them appealing to our Old World style tastes.

The wine tent at Cardamon Family Vineyards:

Cardamon's current offerings include Rkatsiteli, a crisp white varietal hailing from eastern Europe that several Virginia locations are now working with (this was our favorite wine here; a nice alternative to the better known Viognier), a new rosé (blended with Seyval Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot), and Batoria (a blend of Cab Franc, Syrah and Petit Verdot - all grapes grown right on their property). He also makes an apple wine that's the driest style apple wine we've had; great for hot summer afternoons.

There are picnic tables scattered throughout the property, including between the vineyard rows, to make you forget you're only a few feet away from a busy road.

Now about those salsas.....several Virginia wineries offer food pairings with their tastings (most notable are Fox Meadow Winery near Front Royal and Fabbioli Cellars off route 15 in northern Loudoun County). Chuck makes several different styles of salsas that blend perfectly with his wines. These salasas (some sweet, some sour, some spicy, some with a touch of salt) change the character of the wine, so if you've wondered how food can alter a tasting experience, this is a place to visit. He sells his salsas, and if you care to check out his recipes, pick up a copy of his book.

The third newbie on this stretch of Harper's Ferry Road is Maggie Malick Wine Caves, by far one of the most unusual spots we've visited in the state. A man made cave built into the hillside of a Blue Ridge foothill is visible as you park your car. The owners excavated the hillside and built the cave made up of concrete, rebar and I-beams. After waterproofing, they covered the cave with four feet of earth. The cave maintains a more consistent atmosphere in all seasons, and this allows the owners to reduce energy costs. And the owners are delighted to be the only winery in Virginia with grass growing on their tasting room's roof.

Because of the elements-proof set up of the tasting room, it doubles as the barrel room. The cave opens up on the other side to a patio with tables, where the entertainment usually resides during the weekend.

Maggie Malick Wine Caves (entrance and inside):

As for the wines, quite a few offerings, which is particularly impressive given this winery's young age. On the white end of the scale, Melange Blanc (a crisp, slightly sweet white blend), Viognier, Chardonnay, Albariño, and Petit Manseng; on the red side, Melange Rouge (a light red blend, for chilling), Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, and Tannat. A few selections, like the Petit Verdot and Tannat, could benefit from some aging, but not one bum note in the selections. We were impressed that Maggie Malick's offered both a Viognier and an Albariño, as that allowed us to taste these similar varietals side by side. We look forward to visiting again in the winter to see how the climate control aspect is working out.

The Notebook couldn't resist stopping by Breaux, to find out the latest on their new tasting building (a long time coming, seeing how Breaux has one of the tightest - considering their popularity - tasting rooms in the Commonwealth). Almost there!

Visit the Route 671 newbies on your next winery jaunt, and tell them The Notebook sent ya.

Winery URL links (click on winery name):
Two Twisted Posts
Cardamon Family Vineyards
Maggie Malick Wine Caves