October is Virginia Wine Month, and the time is ripe for visiting Virginia wineries, learning about grape growing and winemaking in the state, and most importantly, tasting Virginia wines. In celebration of this special time of year — and in spite of persistent rain that dampened spirits (among other things) across Virginia this past week — on October 13, we ventured down Route 29 to experience the “Taste of Culpeper” in historic Culpeper, Virginia. Billed as a wine, food, and arts festival, it was a small but well appointed event featuring local artisans of food and crafts along with 14 wineries represented from across the state. The event took place only for that one day, but it is well worth keeping an eye out for it next year, rain or shine.
We sampled a number of good wines at the event, but there were several we thought to be particularly noteworthy and worth sharing with you. The following are some brief notes on the wineries and the wines we most enjoyed.
Annefield Vineyards (www.annefieldvineyards.com) is located in southern Charlotte County in Saxe, Virginia, equidistant from Richmond, Charlottesville, and Lynchburg to the north; and Raleigh, Durham, and Greensboro to the south. Highlights from this winery included:
2012 Viognier | Viognier is consistently a well-performing variety in Virginia, and there are many interpretations across the state. This version is crisp and dry, with flavors of stone fruits and honeysuckle. It should pair well with mild cheeses, pasta, fish and chicken.
2011 Rosé | Some may think it is a little late in the season for a “pinkie,” but this blend of Cabernet Franc and Vidal Blanc will serve as a refreshing sipper on a mild autumn day. This one is bursting with red fruits — raspberries, strawberries — and is dry and crisp. Serve it slightly chilled, and pair it with lighter fare, cold finger foods, and mild cheeses.
Desert Rose Ranch and Winery (www.desertrosewinery.com), located in Hume, Virginia, started as a horse farm, with the folks making their own wine simply for home consumption. It has evolved into a boutique winery. A highlight from this winery was:
2011 Cabernet Franc | Produced from 100% Cabernet Franc, this is a smooth and approachable rendition of the variety. We often find green pepper and spice characteristics dominant in Virginia Cab Francs, but this one is nicely nuanced and well balanced. It should very nicely accompany grilled steak, winter stew, or duck and sausage cassoulet.
Early Mountain Vineyards (www.earlymountain.com) is located in Madison, Virginia, on the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains just two hours southwest from the Washington, D.C.-area. A highlight from this winery was:
2011 Handshake Red | A Bordeaux-inspired blend reminiscent of the Right Bank, consisting of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot. With dark fruit on the nose and palate, it is easy going and smooth on the finish. Serve it with grilled steaks — either tuna, beef, or bison — or roasted pork or chicken.
Fincastle Vineyard and Winery (www.fincastlewine.com) is located in Fincastle, Virginia, in Botetourt County, near Roanoke. Fincastle opened in 2003, and was the county’s first farm winery. A highlight from this winery was:
2012 Knight’s Tour | A blend of Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon, this is a dark, full-bodied wine with a lush mouth feel. It is firm but not overly tannic, with notes of dark fruit and chocolate throughout. It’s a fine dinner red, but we also suggest serving it after dinner with blue cheese or a dark chocolate torte.
Grey Ghost Vineyard and Winery (www.grayghostvineyards.com) is located in Amissville, Virginia, just west of Warrenton and due north of Culpepper. It is family-owned, with 8,000 vines planted on 13 acres. A highlight from this winery was:
2011 Cabernet Sauvignon | Blended with small amounts of Merlot and Cabernet Franc, this Cab was aged in oak for 20 months. It offers notes of red cherries and mineral on the palate and a dry, tannic finish. Its character is suggestive of Barolo, and as such it should pair well with tomato-based pasta dishes, osso bucco, or roasted pork.
The Homeplace Vineyard (www.thehomeplacevineyard.com) is located in Chatham, Virginia, in Pittsylvania County, just north of Danville. Located on the southern Virginia wine trail, it fashions itself as a winery that is “off the beaten path where you can step back in time.” They planted in 2004, and now tend 5,600 vines on just over nine acres. A highlight from this winery was:
2011 Chambourcin | This is a French-American hybrid grape of “unknown parentage” that is growing well in Virginia. This rendition is herbaceous and floral on the nose and palate, with a little spiciness. Think of an intersection between Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. This version is a dry, mellow red that should pair well fall meals without overpowering them: lentil soup with ham, beef stew, and roasted pheasant.
Old House Vineyard (www.oldhousevineyards.com) is located in Culpeper, Virginia, just east of the town and south of Brandy Station. The owners began their winemaking venture in 1998, by turning 75 acres of abandoned land into a vineyard and winery. A highlight from this winery was:
2011 Wicked Bottom Chambourcin Reserve | This slightly fuller version of Chambourcin offers notes of red cherries and a touch of smoke on the nose, with additional notes of black pepper and a velvety mouth feel. It’s dry and oaky on the finish but not too tannic, as is typical of the varietal. Another food friendly wine that should go well with a variety of table fare.
The Taste of Culpeper has ended, but during the month of October there are additional opportunities to experience first hand just how far Virginia has come in viticulture and winemaking. These include wine and harvest festivals, winery tours, and special Virginia wine tastings. For a full listing of Virginia Wine Month events, visit www.virginia.org/winemonth/.
If you’re interested in reading more about the genesis of winemaking in Virginia — including Thomas Jefferson’s passion for wine — we recommend the book Thomas Jefferson on Wine, by John Hailman. And while you’re relaxing with a glass of Virginia wine, we invite you to listen to a podcast WOTBH’s Scott Hendley co-hosted with Ted Burns for Grape Radio on Virginia wines and winemaking, including interviews with several notable Virginia winemakers. Please listen to the show at: www.graperadio.com/archives/2009/06/08/the-wines-of-virginia/.
WOTBH’s Ty “Big Red” Schaedel attended the Taste of Culpeper and Contributed this Feature.