Saturday, May 14, 2016

Misty Mountain Hop: Nelson County and Northwest Quadrant Monticello AVA jaunt

On the last weekend in April 2016, The Notebook embarked on a long weekend winery jaunt in Nelson County and the Northwest Quadrant of the Monticello AVA. We visited a few old friends, and a new spot (for us), which is likely to earn a place in our Top Ten in the State list.

The weather was misty all weekend, and rather cool. With all of the green, we got the feeling we were driving through the Scottish highlands, and not the Blue Ridge Mountains. The heavy rain came down on Sunday, but we did our winery hopping on Friday and Saturday. On Friday, we had all three locations pretty much to ourselves - taking a day away from work is truly the best way to do Virginia wineries.


Barboursville Vineyards. We decided to hit BBV first around 11:20 on Friday; as any Virginia wine fan knows, this place gets busy. We call it the "Dr. Frank of Virginia" for a reason (and those familiar with wine history on the U.S. east coast will know all about Dr. Frank and his Finger Lakes vineyards). They have been growing grapes here since 1976, and bottling since 1979. We haven't visited BBV since 2007, and were happy to see that tastings are still $7, and efficiently handled (whites on one end of the tasting counter, reds in the middle, and desserts at the end; for an additional fee, you can visit the library and sample reserve wines, including the famous Octagon label). With one other small group ahead of us, the tasting process was slow paced (compared to a sunny Saturday in the spring, when the tasting room is three rows deep with visitors). As expected, every wine was fabulous. Our favorites were the Viognier Reserve, with light citrus and pear notes, and the Cab Sauv, bold and delicious, with a blackberry finish.

Next stop, about a 45 minute drive to Nelson County (south of Waynesboro): Flying Fox Vineyard.
This small winery has been one of our favorites since they opened a little under 10 years ago. The mist was getting heavier, blocking the view of the mountains beyond the meadow in the back a bit. But we had an extremely entertaining tasting experience with Kim at Flying Fox (although no cartoon fox in a mode of flight on any bottles this year....) We were blown away by their Viognier (by this time, we had a feeling that Viognier was going to be the star of this trip), a nice combination of smooth and crisp, with notes of apricot. The Trio blend was one of the reasons we had to visit Flying Fox, and it didn't disappoint.....Merlot/Cab Franc/Petit Verdot, beautifully balanced.

The final stop on Friday was Cardinal Point Winery, a few minutes away from Flying Fox. We were sad to hear Aubie, one of the favorite Virginia winery cats, had passed away several months ago - a picture of him hangs in the tasting room as a tribute. On a more uplifting note, Cardinal Point's red 2014 Clay Hill Cabernet Franc, was selected for the 2016 Virginia Governor's Cup Case. An elegant and not too peppery Cab Franc; a sure fire crowd-pleaser. We were surprised to enjoy the reds more at Cardinal Point during this trip (we've been more of a fan of their whites in previous years; maybe the misty, overcast and cool weather contributed to this). But that's not to say the whites were shabby. Their "Green" (made from Chardonnay and Petit Manseng) was just as unique and tasty as we remembered it to be.

After three wineries, Arby's in Waynesboro hit the spot (sometimes fast food is all you need, and the roast beef sandwiches were a perfect finish to a day of tasting wine....). The party continued at the motel with craft brews from nearby Champion and Blue Mountain breweries. On to day 2....


Saturday was even mistier than the day before, and the clouds shrouding the mountains made for plenty of photo ops. Especially at our first stop, in the Northwest Quadrant of the Monticello AVA: Moss Vineyards. We had been meaning to visit this winery since they opened in 2012. As we drove up the steep (but not as long as nearby Stone Mountain Vineyards...) driveway, the tasting building was an impressive sight, situated right beneath the tree line on a mountainside. We were not surprised to learn that Barry Moss, the owner and winemaker, is an architect based in Virginia Beach. Barry led us through the tastings, explaining the wines while injecting comments about our other passion - music - into the conversation. He has some ambitious ideas for music performers for the covered picnic area down the slope from the tasting building.

Moss Vineyards:

The wines Barry is focusing on are complex and fantastic. Every one of them - a real testament, given the young age of the winery. Viognier, again, was a star here. We did a vertical tasting of the 2011 and 2014 Viogniers. Although they were similar, both aged in stainless steel and with a touch of effervescence, we preferred the 2014 varietal; a bit less watery. As for the reds, the Vino Rosso is the stand out, although all of the reds are wonderful. We picked up a few bottles of Vino Rosso, 75% Cab Sauv and 25% Cab Franc. Several years ago, it was difficult to find a good Cab Sauv in the Commonwealth. Now the Cab Sauvs are worthy of comparison to the California versions, albeit less alcohol than the west coast wines.

The view from Moss Vineyards:

The only negative about Moss Vineyards is there is now another excellent winery in the Charlottesville area to visit on these much-too-short weekends (even long weekends!) Too many Virginia wineries, not enough time.

The final two stops were two long time favorites: White Hall Vineyards and King Family Vineyards. More music talk (toasting Prince) at White Hall Vineyards, and two more bottles of Viognier, please (one for enjoying at the winery, and another for the road). We also learned about White Hall's "rotating cap" (please don't call it a "screw top.") All of their wines, including their reds, utilize the arguably more eco-friendly (and less costly) rotating cap. A few minuscule holes are punctured into the metal cap, to allow a tiny amount of oxygen in (approximately the same amount that would enter the bottle if sealed with a traditional cork). We were assured by the pourers at White Hall that the reds will age just as long sealed with their rotating caps as they would be if sealed with cork.

King Family Vineyards, the place with the majestic view and polo field, was as lively as we remember (this was our first visit in about 7 years). An expanded tasting room, additional patios, and lowered prices - there is plenty of competition in the Crozet area of Virginia now (White Hall, Grace Estate, Stinson, and Pollak a few minutes away). Competition has its rewards to the customer. As the last winery of the weekend, we took our time during the tasting, and made off with a few glasses of Crosé (their cleverly named dry, Merlot-based rosé) and bottles of their port-style "7" (aged for two years in Kentucky Bourbon barrels).

After this weekend, we once again told ourselves, "who needs a flight to San Francisco or Portland? Virginia has the best wine in the country!"