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Wine Tourism

Who's Afraid of Virginia Wine?

By day, and often by night, I am a California wine guy. My personal tastes in wine are more catholic than that though. And I’m not referring to sacramental wine. I have studied the wines of the world, in books and classes and glasses and vineyards. I have tasted many thousands. If you don’t believe me, talk to my liver. It complains in French, German, Italian, Spanish and English (with an Aussie accent).

Despite (or perhaps because of) my foreign dalliances, I haven’t tasted much North American wine from states beyond the West Coast. Take Virginia. Here are things about which I know more than I do Virginia wine: Virginia country ham, Virginia Woolf, Virginia Mayo, extra virgin olive oil, Olive Oyl, Virginia Madsen, the Virgin Islands, Geena Davis, Queen Elizabeth I, Virginia Patterson Hensley, Virginia Dare, virgin cocktails, The Virginian and Ginny Weasley.

Screen capture from the trailer for "The Best Years of Our Lives"

I am not a Virginia wine virgin though. No. I have tasted Virginia’s wine. Some of it anyway. About 30 bottles if I’m honest. They didn’t leave me with a deep, longing thirst for more, but certainly lingering curiosity. A desire to know Virginia in the oenological sense.

Of those wines from Virginia I have tried, I found Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot varietals to be the most convincing. Is that universally true of Virginia, I wonder? I have heard that Viognier is special there, but have not experienced that myself. I love the delicate honeysuckle and tender peach of great Viognier. Can Virginia do that?

Cabernet Franc, grown and vinified in Virginia. Photo: Southern Foodways Alliance

I will soon find out. Mrs. NorCalWine and I fly to Virginia soon for the 2011 North American Wine Bloggers Conference. There, I expect to see, swirl, sniff, sip, swish and spit hundreds of Virginian wines. The state government there encourages that type of behavior. They would love for you to love their wine. Wine tourism is a big part of their plans for economic development in the Commonwealth of Virginia. I'm looking forward to getting a better understand of what Virginia has to offer in that regard.

The Virginia State Flag. The motto translates to "Thus Always to Tyrants." The
in blue looks like he could stomp some grapes.

The conference begins on Friday. I’ll be posting quick articles (Friday and over the weekend) about my experiences in Virginia and my honest thoughts on the wines. If you’re a Twitterer, keep an eye out there too. My Twitter handle is @NorCalWine. You will also be able to see the mostly coherent thoughts of all those in attendance by searching for the hashtag #WBC11. I'll have some conference related updates on my personal Facebook and Google + pages too.

Here are some of the things I’ll be experiencing and, as possible, relaying to you:

  • A keynote address by Jancis Robinson (that alone might be worth the flight to Virginia)
  • A wine reception and dinner at Monticello, home of Virginia’s most famous frustrated wine grower, Thomas Jefferson. Dinners at Monticello are rare (as in “it never happens”), so feel free to be jealous. I wonder if they have WiFi there...
  • An overview of the Virginia wine industry and its growing areas
  • A keynote address by Eric Asimov (always thought-provoking)
  • Live blogging/tweeting as we taste a gazillion Virginian red wines
  • A trip to wineries and vineyards near Charlottesville, VA


Thomas Jefferson's estate, Monticello.
Photo: YF12s 

For now, I’ll leave you with a little trivia quiz about Virginia. Post your guesses in the comments section of this article if you like. The answers are in this post.

1. What is Virginia's biggest export?
a) ham b) computer chips c) wine d) tomatoes e) CIA operatives

2. One of Virginia's nicknames is "Mother to Presidents." How many U.S. presidents were born in Virginia?
a) ten b) nine c) seven d) eight e) too many

3. What is the Virginia state song?
a) they don't have one b) Carry Me Back to Old Virginny c) Oh, Shenandoah d) Old Dominion e) Who Let The Dogs Out

And, in case you were wondering who she is I'll close this article with one of my favorites from Virginia Patterson Hensley:


Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to Copyright 2011 NorCal Wine. Banner photo from a photo by Tony. All rights reserved.

Take A Harvest Tour At Niner Estates

Many wineries offer tours these days, but few offer comprehensive tours during harvest. This is a very busy time for wineries. They are under the gun to get the fruit in and processed quickly. It’s also crowded within the wineries because of extra workers brought in to help with picking, sorting and moving bins around. And look out for speeding forklifts! On the other hand, there’s no better way to really understand the this important phase of the winemaking process than to see it first hand.

4 (More) Thoughts on a Day of Wine Tasting in Napa Valley

So, picking up where we left off yesterday...

#1: I had just enough time before our next appointment to stop in at August Briggs for a quick run through their tasting lineup for the day. I’d not been there before and was both surprised and pleased to see that they had a library wine on the tasting sheet. I was told that they frequently do. I think that’s an excellent idea. So many wineries tell you that their wines will age well, but it’s up to you to buy the wine and hold it to see if they were right. And a lot of casual wine enthusiasts hear about the benefits of aging some wines, but have never had the opportunity to taste such a wine.

All the wines at August Briggs were good but, as it happens, my favorite was actually that library wine. It was a 2002 August Briggs Syrah Page-Nord Vineyard Napa Valley. It was opaque ruby in color with pigmented legs and a big nose of black berries, dark plum, smoke and leather. The flavors were similar but added black pepper and a bit of wild game. The wine was still pretty fresh and was well balanced. It should do well for at least another three or four years. Highly recommended.

#2: Our last appointment of the day was at Chateau Montelena. I’ve been there on several occasions, but my friends had not. As members of the trade, they’d called ahead for an appointment. As a result, we had not just the standard array of wines for walk-in tasters but a couple of older wines as well.
Chateau Montelena was put on the map by the Paris Tasting of 1976 in which their 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay Napa Valley took first place. (I’m told there are 10 bottles of that wine left down in their cellar. Naturally, they are not for sale.) You can buy the 2007 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay Napa Valley though. It’s a very good wine with prominent acidity and flavors of white peach, tart apple, vanilla and spice. The wine does not undergo malolactic fermentation, hence the acidity. Highly recommended, $50.

We tasted a number other wines there but the highlight for me was the 1984 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay Napa Valley. It was without a doubt the best aged California Chardonnay I’ve ever had. The color is now amber, but the wine remains clear, bright and very aromatic. The nose included almond, hazelnut, yellow raisins, dried apricot, red delicious apple and a touch of stewed rhubarb. The nose kind of messed with me actually, because I’ve been tasting a lot of sweet wines. With those aromas, my Pavlovian palate was expecting sweetness in the wine even though I knew it would be bone dry. The flavors did mirrored nose and, as with many wines that age well, there was plenty of acidity. I’ve seen one other online review of this wine (from six years ago) and it was not positive. They must have tried a poorly stored bottle. The wine I tasted was tremendous.

#3: There aren’t too many wineries in Napa Valley that stay open until 6PM. Alpha Omega does and it’s a good place to end a day of tasting. Their Rutherford tasting room is large and sunny with big picture windows looking out over their pond, with its three big water jets, and then on to the Mayacamas mountains. There are a couple of patio areas with big chairs you can relax in. And the wines are good.

Alpha Omega has the look and feel of a modern, designer resort. To an extent, their wines are designer as well. The head winemaker is Jean Hoefliger and they engage the famous “flying-winemaker” Michel Rolland as a consultant too. The winery has estate vines but also sources fruit from many of Napa Valley’s most prominent vineyards including Beckstoffer To Kalon, Stagecoach and Hudson.

The wines of Alpha Omega are modern in style with bold flavors and rich, even plush, texture. That said, they are well-balanced and don’t take ripeness, extraction or palate-weight to excess. Alpha Omega considers itself a boutique winery and the wines are priced accordingly. Their flagship wine, Era, is a Bordeaux-varietal blend that sells for $185 with a three-bottle minimum. Visitors to the winery have the opportunity to taste upcoming vintages of Era from the barrel. It’s easy to understand from that taste why the wine always sells out quickly. It’s outstanding. 
Fortunately, Alpha Omega makes several other wines and in enough volume that you can still get them. I highly recommend the 2006 Alpha Omega Proprietary Red Napa Valley. It runs $82 and is a nearly opaque ruby color with deeply pigmented legs, complex aromas and flavors of red and black fruit, floral and herbal notes, chocolate and vanilla.

If you’d like to try some non-Cabernet red, I very highly recommend the 2008 Alpha Omega Petite Sirah Stagecoach Vineyard. It’s a totally opaque purple-red color with dark legs and a medium plus nose of dark berries, vanilla, smoke, mineral, black pepper and licorice. It’s a full-bodied wine with a lot of tannins but, unlike some other boutique Petite Sirah I’ve tasted recently, it is not a tannic monster. You could drink the wine now. The flavors echo the nose but also include milk chocolate. It's the best Petite Sirah I've had in a while.

#4: After a long day of tasting, we headed back up through St. Helena to the Silverado Brewing Company for dinner. They share a parking lot with Freemark Abbey Winery and, in addition to the indoor bar and restaurant seating, have big wood picnic tables out front where we could enjoy the very pleasant evening. And, in my case, a pile of tender Niman Ranch pork ribs with zesty sauce and refreshing cole slaw. I had to drive home, so I didn’t order a beer, but I did sneak a quick taste of one of their specials and it was good. Silverado Brewing Company has a varied menu that is well-priced and the place is conveniently located relative to Calistoga and St. Helena wineries. I’ll go back.

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Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check outour comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to Copyright 2010 NorCal Wine. Spottswoode photo provided by the winery. All rights reserved.