Friday, June 21, 2013

Loudoun County Videoclip 2: Willowcroft Winery

The oldest winery in Loudoun County (and also one of the oldest in the state) has been growing grapes since 1984. The winery opened in 1987, and as owner/winemaker, Lew Parker has mentored many of today's Loudoun winemakers.

Willowcroft Winery sits high atop a ridge overlooking the Loudoun Valley. It's hard to believe this place is only 10 minutes south of bustling Leesburg. The main barn, which houses the owner's office, two tasting rooms, and a second floor sit down area and small events center, is the center of activity. The main tasting room was moved to a large room about two years ago, leaving the original tasting room to serve as a back up space. This winery is true Virginia; don't expect long lines for tasting ticket sales (a'la Tarara), or the dogs, kids, and family focus of Barrel Oak Winery. If not terribly busy, Lew will invite visitors on an impromptu tour of the property and the vineyards.

For years, Willowcroft was best known for its whites - offering dry, semi-dry, semi-sweet, and sweet. Recently Willowcroft has dabbled in, and nearly perfected, bold reds: Petit Verdot, Cab Sauv, Merlot, and another Loudoun County Chambourcin. Back on the white side of the scale, Chardonnay has long been a Willowcroft staple. Both a bone dry, steel aged, very crisp chard, and a slightly oaked version, are offered. Both are equally good, although we do not recommend eating tuna sandwiches with the steel aged variety.

This short video, taken in 2010, takes you to Willowcroft and discusses Albariño, a Spanish white varietal that is starting to make waves in Virginia. Some wineries are offering Albariño instead of Viognier, which has a similar refreshing, citrus overtone. Make sure you visit the county's oldest winery this summer.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Down in the Valley: Part II

The Shenandoah Valley of Virginia is one of the Commonwealth’s AVAs (American Viticultural Areas), and it’s easy to taste why. The soil drainage from the creeks and rivers leading through the Blue Ridge Mountains (to the east) and the Alleghenies (to the west), suits wineries deep in the valley well, while others in the foothills leading up to the mountain chains benefit from higher elevations that allow for varietals not typically found in Virginia, like Pinot Noir and Riesling. Winchester-area wineries were featured in a previous blog. On the southern end of the valley lies Lexington.

Lexington (and its nearby sister town, Buena Vista), is home to several colleges and universities (including Washington & Lee and Virginia Military Institute), as well as one of the best wine stores in the state (Uncorked, in downtown Buena Vista). As the case with many small Virginia towns, Lexington is rich in history. Tour the Stonewall Jackson House in Lexington for a fascinating glimpse into the life of the Civil War figure.

Lexington is smaller than Staunton or Winchester, so you can walk from one end of the town to the other in an hour (maybe longer if you visit one of the many unique shops). The proximity of the Natural Bridge, as well as the junction of two major Interstates (81 and 64), make Lexington a very vibrant town, despite its small size.

And of course there are wineries – to the southwest, northwest, and right off the Interstate. Rockbridge Vineyard, named after the aforementioned Natural Bridge (which recently was posted “For Sale”), is located about 2 minutes from the I-81 off ramp north of Lexington, but seems like a million miles away. The tasting room is housed inside a large barn, which doubles as the winery’s events center. One of the oldest wineries in the state, Rockbridge has something for everyone – from bone dry (they are one of the few Virginia locations offering a Pinot Noir; the elevation here is suitable for Miles’ favorite wine); to semi-dry (the relatively unknown, at least for the Commonwealth, Vignoles, with its notes of kiwi and macadamia nuts); to sweet (and delicious when chilled)—Jeremiah’s Blush, perhaps their most popular wine (a blend of Concord—another grape not very common in Virginia, and Vidal Blanc).

Not far from Rockbridge (and reachable via local country roads, to minimize your time on the Interstate), Lexington Valley Vineyard specializes in Norton, one of the signature Virginia reds. It’s no surprise that the owners hail from Missouri, which surpasses Virginia in Norton winemaking. Even those who are lukewarm towards the eccentric Norton grape will find something to enjoy here. The varietals are more on the sweet side, which would be perfect for hot summer months: Traminette (semi-dry), Vidal Blanc, and a rare (for the state) Catawba, a musky version of Concord. Their rosé made from their Norton is incredible, slightly spicy to offset the semi-sweetness. This is a very intimate winery, and in fact is only open by appointment. But they are definitely worth a visit and the prices are incredibly good.

Southwest of Lexington, high in the Alleghenies, lies Blue Ridge Vineyard, another location with rustic appeal, rolling hills on all sides, and wines that are unique compared to the rest of the state. As the case with the other wineries featured, options are more on the sweet side of the scale. In fact we found the wines at these three locations had more in common with the Finger Lakes offerings than the Commonwealth. Blue Ridge offers Riesling, Traminette, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Noir and several sweet table wines. Despite our preference to dry wines, there’s something about the mountains and the valleys that cry out for off-dry and sweeter options. Blue Ridge, like Rockbridge, conducts its (very) informal tasting in an old barn, and there are acres upon acres of land to spread out. You are well rewarded with room to move about when you visit these harder-to-find VAVINO spots.

After your winery visits, Lexington offers a number of fine restaurants. And you can always catch a movie at the drive in theater on the highway leading to Natural Bridge.

Rockbridge Vineyard
Lexington Valley Vineyard
Blue Ridge Vineyard

Other wineries relatively close to Lexington:

Virginia Mountain Vineyards (near Fincastle, about 15 minutes from Blue Ridge Vineyard)
Barren Ridge Vineyards (between Staunton and Waynesboro)
Ox-Eye Vineyards (downtown Staunton)

Visit Rockbridge Vineyard now, via a videoclip:

Part III will take us to the middle of the valley: Harrisonburg/New Market

Sunday, June 2, 2013


After Arlington County, the smallest county (in geographical area) in the Commonwealth is Greene County, wedged between Orange County, Madison County, and Albemarle County, north of Charlottesville. For those familiar with the Virginia winery scene, Stone Mountain Vineyards, the highest vineyards and tasting room (1700 feet above sea level) in the state, is located in Greene County, offering a spectacular view of the east from the Blue Ridge mountains. Not far from Stone Mountain is a vineyard that's been growing grapes for Stone Mountain (and other nearby wineries) since 1994: Kilaurwen Winery.

The name sounds Celtic, but the winery is actually named after the three daughters of the owners (Kimberlee, Laura and Wendy). Open as a tasting room since 2012, the wines here are complex (the reds), fruit forward (the whites), and tasty; the winemaker has learned from the masters of the area, including Dennis Horton, Luca Paschina, and the late Chris Breiner of Stone Mountain. The tasting room, albeit rather sparse (the owners have been spending most of their free time tending to the grapes and maintaining their eye and soul-pleasing property that surrounds the tasting room), lends itself to intimate tastings with the husband and wife owners.

Cab Franc rules supreme here for the reds; currently Kilaurwen offers three: 2009 vintage and two 2010 (regular and reserve). Each are unique due to the growing years and the aging process. We preferred the regular 2010, bold but smooth and delicious, with notes of vanilla and cinammon. Whites were also well balanced; currently they offer an off-dry (nearly totally dry) Riesling and an award winning table white. Prices are perfect; not one bottle over $20, which unfortunately is becoming less common, even in the winery packed Monticello AVA.

There are no highway signs (yet), however with the help of a good map and/or GPS, the winery is an easy trek to or from Stone Mountain or Early Mountain Vineyards, the winery AOL mogul Steve Case took over from the Sweely family last year. Kilaurwen's property is vast; a path cuts through a dense patch of forest that leads up a hill to the vineyards, which are sloping, ensuring proper drainage. Currently no plans are in the works for live bands or weddings and events; that is music to the ears of anyone wanting a true Virginia wine getaway from noise and the stress that goes with noise.

Check out our short video and be sure to visit Kilaurwen Winery this summer, which will make for a rather surreal visit with the 17 year cicadas buzzing like an orchestra: