Saturday, December 20, 2014

Vino Movies: Take V

Putting our Roger Ebert hats on for one last time, we're up to the final movie in our over year-long discussion of the Top Five Wine films. To bring you up to date, you can read about the previous four flicks we picked here:

5. The Godfather Part II
4. Notorious
3. Sideways
2. A Good Year

Before we unveil our top pick, here are three vineyard/winery-themed movies that would have made the list if we had analyzed a Top Eight:

6. A Walk in the Clouds
7. French Kiss
8. Under the Tuscan Sun

Which brings up to the Number One pick:

Bottle Shock

The Notebook adores this movie. It's charming, funny, nostalgic, wonderfully acted, beautifully photographed, and probably most important, based on a true story. The movie is set in the then still young (in the New World of wine) Napa Valley in 1975, the year before California wine defeated French wine in a blind taste test known as the "Judgment of Paris."

Chris Pine, on his way to becoming a major star courtesy of the Star Trek film reboot and other Hollywood blockbusters, stars as Bo, the slacker son of a very serious man (played by Bill Pullman, who's come a long way from playing the "dumbest person on the planet" in Ruthless People), who would rather smoke pot, crank the Doobie Brothers, and drink his father's creations right from the bottle in his Napa vineyards than learn about the craft of growing grapes, creating wine, and then marketing the creations. Pullman plays Jim Barrett, the proprietor Chateau Montelena vineyards, who threw away a very lucrative job in Los Angeles as a lawyer to follow his dream in Napa. Without giving too much of the film's surprises away, the film becomes Rocky-like in its inspirational story, as Bo shapes up and ends up representing his father's wines, as well as other blossoming Napa wines, in Paris in 1976.

There are some great characters and performances in the film, especially delightful if you're familiar with these actors' previous roles: Alan "Hans Gruber" Rickman as Steven Spurrier, the British wine fanatic who decides to open a wine shop in Paris, of all places, and embarks on journey to find the new winemaking centers of the world (and ends up in Napa); the late, great Dennis Farina (he of countless FBI agent and hilarious mobster roles) as Maurice, the owner of an American tourist shop next door to Spurrier's in Paris (we love Maurice's descriptions of the wines he constantly tastes - for free - in Spurrier's shop); Freddy Rodriguez (who also appeared in A Walk in the Clouds) as Barrett's most talented winemaker, who harbors a secret; and Eliza Dushku, who as an ex vampire slayer on TV would seem a little out of place in this film, but shines in several of the film's best moments as the owner of a local Napa bar. However, Pine and Pullman really take charge of the film as the estranged Bo and Jim. When Jim Barrett reaches rock bottom, it is amazing acting from Pullman, who in addition his break in Ruthless People, has played the President of the United States several times, battled voodoo in Haiti, and worked with acclaimed director Lawrence Kasdan in several films.

The characters in the film are real. The events are authentic (albeit slightly modified to appeal to movie audiences). The film is a perfect choice for wine lovers and holiday viewing, and tasting rooms throughout the state (and country) show the film in evening screenings. Although it contains some salty language, sexual situations, and (OMG) pot smoking, compared to movies like The Hangover and your pick of Seth Rogan comedy, Bottle Shock plays like a Disney movie.

Virginia wineries have been using the events depicted in the film as a template. "California, once seen as the joke of the winemaking world, can do can we!" The small town of Paris, Virginia (up the road from Delaplane where routes 50 and 17 intersect) hosted its own "Judgment of Paris" a few years ago as a tribute. If you're a wine lover (Virginia wine lover, or just a wine lover in general), buy, rent or stream this film pronto!


Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Politics of Vineyards

There is no question the country is divided. Whether you blame the current administration, or you blame the media, the country has now officially been divided up into sections of blue and red. But the truth is most Americans have moderate or middle of the road ("purple") beliefs. The Notebook blogmasters tend to lean left on many issues, but we have conservative views on a few hot topics. We thought it was time to reveal what we perceive are the leanings of some of our favorite locations, with tongue planted firmly in cheek.

When it comes to vineyard and winery ownership, the myth states that entrepreneurs tend to be more Conservative, and farmers tend to be more Progressive. But as we've gathered from some winery owners, that's not always the case. There are plenty of winery and vineyard owners "in the money" who support Earth Day and there are many grape growers and wine makers who fly Gadsden Flags on their property. Wine enjoyment is apolitical - if the wine is good, the location works, and the staff and owners are hospitable, we're there.

This entry will be a bit more provocative than most, as one can't mention politics without setting oneself up for debate. But in the spirit of the other entries, we will try to remain lighthearted as we review our picks of the Top 3 Red (right-leaning) and Blue (left-leaning) wineries in Virginia. Keep in mind we never get into political discussions with other patrons or staff at wineries. We never ask the owners what side of the political fence they reside on. We abide by the golden rule of "never talk about religion and politics in mixed company." These six choices are based on pure observation, as well as the random comments made by the owners or the pourers over the years.

Top 3 Red Wineries:

3. Trump Winery (south of Charlottesville)
With a name like Trump Winery, what would you expect? We were greeted with Hummers and other SUVs in the parking lot sporting Virginia Tea Party
license plates. Rumor has it, The Donald used his monetary (and famous name) muscle to get his winery highway signs much quicker than other new wineries when he took over the location from Kluge Estate's (also right-leaning) owners several years ago. The obligatory political observations aside, we were wholly impressed with the wine, the tasting room, and the generous level of service of the staff. Actually The Donald delegated the oversight of the winery to his son Eric, and photos of the Trump brood (including, of course, framed magazine covers) adorn the walls. We preferred the wine here over the previous Kluge Estate; more lighter varietals and whites, versus the Kluge offerings, which tilted towards heavy reds and sparkling wines. Prices were modest and there wasn't an elitist mood here (visitors requiring reservations, $40 tastings, etc. - contrasted to a few locations, which shall be nameless, in Virginia which do this). Of the wines, we loved the unoaked Chardonnay, Bordeaux-style new world reserve red, and the rosé. Maintaining the niche carved by Kluge, Trump also offers several nice sparkling wines.

2. King Family Vineyards (Crozet)
Also located in the Charlottesville area, King Family Vineyards was one of the first wineries in Virginia we visited and remains a favorite. The first time we visited, driving down the gravel road and observing the large polo field, "Dallas" instantly came to mind--the TV show, and the city. Turns out the winery has Texas roots (David and Ellen King hailing from the Lone Star state), and they planted their first vines here in the mid '90s. Horses, polo and lacrosse are the passions of the owners (David is also a licensed pilot), and they happen to make excellent wine. If you've seen the PBS documentary "Vintage: The Winemaker's Year," you probably recall the sequence where the family ignites campfires, and David King pilots a helicopter, to keep the warm smoke locked in over the vineyards during an unexpected spring frost. With the Texas and military background of the family, as well as the upper crust sports and visitors wearing Kentucky Derby-like apparel to watch the polo matches here, there is a decidedly "red" mood, but as the case with Trump Winery, there is no exclusive atmosphere here. Of the wines, all are very good to excellent, but we usually end up with several bottles of Croze and Petit Verdot.

1. Philip Carter Winery (east of Front Royal)
Christmas decorations galore, Christmas music played until New Year's Day, and a staff member who proudly boasts that Philip Carter is the favorite Virginia winery of a famous (or infamous) member of the George W. Bush administration (we'll keep that to ourselves for now....) Yup, this is about as "red" a winery can get, however the hosts are gracious, the tasting building has a real wood fireplace (a big plus), the view in the mountain "cove" is beautiful, and the tours are educational and amusing. You will certainly learn a lot of about Philip Carter and the Carter family, the owner and a direct descendant of one of the pioneering families in the history of Virginia wine. Prices are a bit steeper here (this is "recession proof" Northern Virginia, after all), but we typically end up leaving with a few bottles of their dry rosé, Rosewell.

Additional "Red" locations to try:
Fox Meadow Winery (east of Front Royal)
Wolf Gap Vineyard (south of Woodstock)
Valerie Hill Winery (south of Winchester)

Top 3 Blue Wineries:

3. Blenheim Vineyards (south of Charlottesville)
Only in Virginia....two celebrity wineries right next to each other. Blenheim Vineyards, designed and owned by musician Dave Matthews, sits a few yards away from the entrance to Trump Winery. It's a friendly rivalry - signs near the exits of these two wineries direct visitors to the other winery. Matthews is a well known progressive musician with professional roots in Charlottesville (although Matthews originally hails from South Africa). The eye-pleasing A-frame styled tasting building here is constructed from reclaimed wood fitted together with mortise and tenon joints, and the timber frame tasting room is lined with south-facing windows and skylights, which facilitate full daylighting of the space. No electricity is required to light the space in the summer. The deck behind the tasting room looks over a southeast setting, where you can make out the bluffs surrounding the James River in the distance. Of the wines, the pineapple-kissed Viognier and Merlot, with notes of plum, are our favorites.

2. North Gate Vineyard (Purcellville)
We get a progressive vibe at North Gate the minute we pull into the parking lot; spots are reserved for car poolers and fuel-efficient vehicles. Sustainability is the mantra here - and great wine. Nestled off Hillsboro Road, between the towns of Purcellville and Hillsboro in Loudoun County, North Gate is a favorite of the blogmasters. The large, airy tasting room offers a gas fireplace with a chimney that doubles for the real wood fire place on the other side (the outdoor fireplace). A patch of thick pine trees line the path leading to a foothill of the Blue Ridge. North Gate's solar PV system provides 100% of the power the owners need to operate the winery and tasting room for one calendar year. They utilize net-metering and send excess electricity that they generate back onto the grid for others to use. But it's not all about green energy and sustainability here. Try their Chambourcin (either room temperature or slightly chilled), Viognier, or their statewide-famous apple wine.

1. Cooper Vineyards (Mineral)
Cooper Vineyards takes the "green" approach of North Gate and turns it up to "11." In 2011, their new tasting building opened, which earned a coveted LEED Platinum certification, awarded only to construction projects that meet the highest-rated standards in green building technology. The tasting building resembles a merging of Frank Lloyd Wright and Woody Allen's "Sleeper." Nestled in the rolling Piedmont hills of central Virginia (between Richmond and Charlottesville), it's a hard place to leave. You really feel away from it all here. They offer several off-dry and off-sweet wines here, including arguably their most famous wine, Noche, a chocolate-infused wine. Their winery is not far from the epicenter of the 2011 Virginia earthquake (the then-new tasting room sustained a little damage but was quickly repaired). Cooper "celebrated" the earthquake with a wine called "Epicenter," a red blend that was extremely tasty but sadly no longer available. Our current favorites here are the Coopertage blend (Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Merlot and Cabernet Franc), and Coopertage Blanc, a Chardonnay and Viognier blend.

3 more "Blue" locations:
Barrel Oak Winery (Delaplane)
Fabbioli Cellars (north of Leesburg)
White Hall Vineyards (Crozet)

No matter what your "color" leaning is, we hope you check out these twelve Commonwealth locations soon!