8/30/2009

Loudoun’s Harmony Cluster Tour Part II


Hello Friends,

Continuing from the blog entry below, we hopped back on the bus to enjoy complimentary lunches provided by Reston Limousine and the Harmony Cluster wineries (Thank You!) Lunch was great, and, as we ate, we had time to talk about the two wineries we had just visited, Casanel and Dry Mill, as well as take in views of the relaxing countryside. Our new buddy, the bus driver, had also made everyone a “cursive” name tag from twisted wire – is that cool or what? Our bus driver was great, and I have found this to be the case on all Reston Limousine trips I have been on. Now it was time for our next stop, Zephaniah Farm Vineyard.

Zephaniah Farm Vineyard


Zephaniah Farm Vineyard is a small family-owned-and-operated farm winery nestled on 376 peaceful acres. Now, don’t let the 376 acres fool you - Zephaniah holds the honor of being Loudoun’s smallest producer and is likely the smallest producer in the state, producing approximately 175 cases of wine per year. Outside of growing grapes, Zephaniah is a working farm, specializing in grass-fed Angus. For some reason I am thinking about steak and a tasty Virginia Petit Verdot; not bad, huh? This leads us to Bill Hatch, both farmer and winemaker, who has lived on this property since he was two years old, and is now turning a dream of owning and operating a Virginia winery into reality with the support of his family.

Zephaniah 1830 Manor House

We were warmly greeted at the door by Bill Hatch and wife Bonnie. The tasting room is housed in a charming 19th-century manor house surrounded by monumental shade trees and a beautiful butterfly garden – I believe every butterfly in Loudoun County was hanging out at the “nectar bar” on the day that we visited. The home is filled with antique furnishings, black-and-white photographs, family heirlooms, and period elegance. As a matter of fact, one of the family photos Bill pointed out to us was of his great-grandfather, Zephaniah Jefferson Hatch, for whom the winery is named. The house also serves as the wine producing facility and barrel room. Bill’s ultimate goal is to only produce estate wines from quality fruit grown on the Zephaniah farm property.

Group viewing an early b&w photo of the Hatch family

We were led into the tasting room to sample Zephaniah’s wines from their first vintage (2007). Bill’s son, Tremain, who is working on his Masters degree in viticulture, joined us, and also told us about the family operation and the wines we would taste. Two wines were poured, a Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 and a Cabernet Franc 2007. The Cabernet Sauvignon was soft and lean in texture with modest fruit. The Cabernet Franc, on the other hand, is a smooth, easy-drinking wine offering red fruit aromas and flavors - overall, this is a pretty darn good first vintage Cabernet Franc wine. It can be sipped on its own or paired with white meats, red sauce dishes, and think outside the box – try this selection with fish like salmon and tuna.

Bill (r) and Tremain (l) talks the group about their wines

We were then led downstairs by Bill and Tremain to pull barrel samples. We tasted Zephaniah’s Cabernet Franc 2008 and Merlot 2008. We tasted two Cabernet Franc wines from different barrels. Barrels differ in wood types, grain tightness, size, forest, toast level, etc – all of these decisions about the barrel impart different things into the wine. Therefore, it was interesting to taste the same base wine, aged in two different styles of oak barrels. One wine showed more fruit, while the other displayed a more rustic nature with underlying fruit. The Merlot, which is made from fruit sourced from a nearby vineyard, is drinking well now, offering good fruit quality with a sprinkling of spice. I look forward to tasting the finished wine. Bill also advised us that he had put in two rows of Petit Manseng and Petit Verdot, so look for these increasingly popular varieties in the future. At this point, it was time to get on the road again to make it to our next winery. It was great visiting with Bill, Bonnie, and Tremain, and seeing the behind-the-scenes work that goes into a small family farm operation. Zephaniah is open by appointment only and Virginia wine lovers are encouraged to call. Therefore, don't hesitate, pay Zephaniah a visit and sample the fruits of their labor.

The Cabernet Franc 2007 is pretty tasty!

Our next stop was Willowcroft Farm Vineyards, Loudoun’s oldest operational winery, founded in 1983. Willowcroft is located in Leesburg , VA, and sits atop Mount Gilead , offering spectacular views of the Loudoun Valley and surrounding countryside. Recollecting from my last visit, the peak time to visit for view-seekers is autumn, when vivid and picturesque colors of red, orange, gold, and brown surround the tasting room. Willowcroft’s tasting room is housed in a rustic, yet charming red horse barn. As we entered the dimly lit tasting room we were greeted by tasting associate Amanda, who guided us through a select line-up of Willowcroft red and white wines. Willowcroft wines are made predominantly from estate grown fruit and the ‘red barn’ is a popular destination for Virginia wine lovers to enjoy these wines.

Willowcroft Farm Vineyards

Of interest, Willowcroft bottles a Riesling wine, which is a wine you do not find in many Virginia tasting rooms. Willowcroft also bottles popular hybrid varietal wines such as Seyval Blanc, Vidal Blanc, and Traminette. Of their red wines, one that really stands out is their Petit Verdot (non-vintage) – this wine offers violet and dark fruit aromas in a medium bodied wine. As with the last two times I visited, it was raining, so we opted out of a self-guided tour of the barn and headed back to the bus.

Visit Willowcroft, Loudoun's oldest producer!

In closing, Reston Limousine and freelance writer Therese Howe did a good job setting up this wine tour, and our driver, James, kept us entertained and on schedule. If you are looking to jump on the Harmony Cluster and see what this unique wine trail has to offer, give Reston Limousine a call and let them do the driving while you “safely” do the swirling, sniffing, and sipping! As always, Happy Sipping! Hopefully you'll have an opportunity to visit these places, and when you do, tell them you read about them on Dezel’s Vine Spot wine blog.

Happy Sipping from the Reston Limousine 1st Blogger's Wine Tour!


Happy Sipping!

Dezel


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8/26/2009

Loudoun’s Harmony Cluster Tour Part I

Hello Friends,

This past weekend Dezel saddled up with a few food and wine bloggers for the Reston Limousine’s first blogger’s wine tour. Reston Limousine sponsored this trip, and as always, was professional, accommodating, and right on schedule. I highly recommend their service for Virginia winery tours. The plan of the day was to visit the four producers who make up the Loudoun Wine Trail’s Harmony Cluster. These producers are Casanel Vineyards, Dry Mill Vineyards & Winery, Zephaniah Farm Vineyard, and lastly, Willowcroft Farm Vineyard. The food and wine bloggers who were present on this trip were Tammi Marcoullier of the Washington Post and Insideout blog, Joe Roberts of 1 wine dude blog, Kathy and Terry Sullivan of Wine Trail Traveler, freelance web designer Audrey McGill, Therese Howe of Reston Limousine blog, and of course, me, Dezel. Sounds like fun, right? Read on, and let’s get this party started.

Casanel Vineyards


The Harmony Cluster is a unique tour that features Loudoun’s oldest operational winery, Willowcroft Farm Vineyards, as well as Loudoun’s newest member, Dry Mill Vineyards & Winery. With the rapid growth of wine producers in Loudoun County , this is subject to change, but as it exists today, you can sample both the old and the new side of Loudoun wine on the Harmony Cluster Trail. Traipsing along the Harmony Cluster Wine Trail takes you through picturesque surroundings and gravel roads dotted with century old trees. You may even spot Bambi, or better yet, Yogi – it is a beautiful trail to explore. So, if you have not been, follow our lead. You are sure to have a good time.

Tasting Bar @ Casanel Vineyards


Our first stop of the day took us to Casanel Vineyards, a fairly new winery that opened in October of 2008. Casanel Vineyards is situated on a beautiful and tranquil forty-acre property at the foot of the Catoctin Mountains with ten acres under vine. Casanel Vineyards is owned by Casey and Nelson DeSouza, who purchased the Leesburg property in 2006. We were joined by Nelson in the tasting room, who is one of the most personable winery owners I have ever met. If Nelson were to put his inspirational story of dream-turned-reality on audio book, I would be the very first to buy a copy.

The Gazebo is a great spot to enjoy a glass of wine

Nelson came to the States from humble beginnings in Brazil some forty-eight years ago, and was previously in the construction business. He has used his years of carpentry experience to restore a circa 1800s old cattle barn into a charming and spacious tasting room, which retains the historic structure’s heritage and character. The multi-level, stone-fronted, timber-framed tasting room features a long, elegant tasting bar to accommodate large crowds and several tables, some of which are topped with attractive hand-made black walnut, to enjoy a glass of wine and light fare. The tasting room also includes a spiral staircase that leads to a second tasting bar with attractive tables and chairs and a flat screen television.

The DeSouza Family

We were warmly greeted at the tasting bar with wine glasses, crackers, sausage, and cheese. Current wines offered in the tasting room are the Chardonnay 2008, Viognier 2007, Norton 2007, Merlot 2007, and Cabernet Sauvignon 2007. The Norton wine, which I am familiar with from visiting Virginia tasting rooms, is the most unique of the pours, because it is very atypical of a Norton wine. Most Norton wines are rich, inky, and medium to full-bodied with mixed berry fruit, sometimes bordering on grapey, often with an alarmingly natural high content of malic acid. For everything a typical Norton is, this Norton is not. This Norton is done in a lighter style, with little color for a Norton wine, soft cherry and berry fruit flavors, and moderate acidity – it could well be served chilled and enjoyed as you would a Rosé. It is a crowd pleaser at the winery, so be sure to get out while summer is still upon us and check out Casanel's unique twist on a popular Virginia classic. I would also recommend tasting the Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, which I found to be pretty darn good – especially the latter. Casanel’s introductory wine brand is aptly titled ‘Chegada’, which in Portuguese means ‘arrival.’ Since Casanel has ‘arrived’ on the scene, it’s your turn to ‘arrive’ at Casanel and try their wines out for yourself, friends.

Dry Mill Vineyards & Winery

Our next stop was to Loudoun’s newest winery, Dry Mill Vineyards & Winery. Dry Mill is situated on six acres and located near Historic Downtown Leesburg. Dry Mill is owned by Dean and Nancy Vanhuss and daughter Michelle Pizzarello. Dry Mill Vineyards & Winery is Dean’s retirement venture, which he will assume full-time in the near future, following a long and successful career in the Information Technology field. Congratulations Dean!

Tasting Bar @ Dry Mill - Pours of Joy!

The tasting room at Dry Mill is housed in a rustic, yet charming restored stable and barn which once played host to the horses and hound dogs of the Loudoun Hunt Club. It is warm and cozy on the inside and provides a nice leisurely setting for wine tasting. The wines at Dry Mill, as well as the aforementioned Casanel Vineyards, are made by consulting winemaker Kerem Baki, who is the primary winemaker for his family operation, Hillsborough Vineyards. That said, both wineries do showcase unique personalities and differing styles of wine. At the tasting bar, Dean and Nancy guided us through a full lineup of Dry Mill’s red and white wines, including a floral Traminette 2008, an aromatic Viognier 2008, a Steel and gently oaked Barrel Chardonnay 2008, a Syrah 2007, a Cabernet Franc 2007, a Norton 2007, and an off-dry Rosé 2007. The easy-drinking Cabernet Franc really shined here, offering cherry and spice aromas, moderate acidity, and a medium-length finish.

On the deck chatting with owner Dean Vanhuss

Both Casanel Vineyards and Dry Mill Vineyards & Winery offers a tranquil respite from the hustle and bustle of the daily grind and provides a relaxing setting to enjoy a bottle of wine paired with light luncheon fare. Stay tuned to the blog for Loudoun’s Harmony Cluster Tour Part II. When you visit these wineries be sure to tell the kind folks you read about them here on Dezel’s http://www.myvinespot/ wine blog.

Happy Sipping!

Dezel


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8/14/2009

Boxwood Winery: Spreading the Fruit of their Labor

Hello Friends,

Part of Mother’s visit here was to attend a wedding in Virginia’s Horse & Hunt County, better known as Middleburg. After dropping her off at the wedding, I had just over four hours to entertain myself in Historic Downtown Middleburg. Too much time and too little to do - NOT! After a delicious lunch at the Red Fox Inn, which is nestled in the heart of downtown, I made my way to ‘The Tasting Room Wine Bar’.


Next Stop - The Tasting Room Wine Bar in Middleburg, VA !


The Tasting Room Wine Bar in Middleburg, VA is one of two satellite tasting rooms for Boxwood Winery. The other tasting room, which is the latest addition, is located at Reston Town Center. A third tasting room will be opened in Chevy Chase, MD, in the near future.

Boxwood Rosé 2008 - Perfect Summer Sipper!

The actual winery and sixteen-acre vineyard where Boxwood’s wines are handcrafted is situated on historic Boxwood Farm, not too far from The Tasting Room Wine Bar. From what I was told while visiting the Tasting Room Wine Bar, the winery is totally state-of –the-art, utilizing advanced technology and techniques. Additionally, Boxwood wines are exclusively made and bottled at the winery from only estate-grown fruit – this is atypical among a number of local producers and lends itself to more terrior-driven wines. I say that, because, in my humble opinion, wines produced from a single vineyard source has an individuality about it that can be better expressed and tasted vintage to vintage

The Tasting Room

Boxwood Winery is owned by Rita and John Kent Cooke, son of the late onetime Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke. Their daughter, Rachel Martin, who is oft-times seen at Virginia wine festivals pouring and talking about their wines, manages and oversees all facets of the operation. Based on my visit to ‘The Tasting Room Wine Bar’, it appears that Boxwood Winery is out to make interesting and complex-blended wines much in the same fashion of the famed wines of Bordeaux. Their consulting winemaker is Bordeaux superstar Stéphane Derenoncourt – get the picture. The winery offers tastings and tours by appointment only. While I have not been to the winery, the pictures on the wall of the Middleburg tasting room reflect a beautifully designed modern structure that is worth a visit. The Tasting Room itself is open to the public Thursday thru Sunday from 1pm to 7pm.

Serve Yourself - The Enomatic Wine Dispensing System

The Tasting Room Wine Bar in Middleburg is welcoming, offering a modern-themed and minimalist décor – simple, yet stylish. The tasting room features a nitrogen-driven sixteen bottle circular Enomatic wine dispensing system that assures temperature control, freshness, and accurate pours. Boxwood and classic French Bordeaux wines are offered in the tasting room, as well as several other French wines. The Boxwood wines offered are Rosé, 2006-20008 vintage - I highly recommend the 2008 vintage, which is 100% Cabernet Franc. This wine is dry, lively, full of fresh fruit, and, for $13, has a great quality to price ratio. Other Boxwood wines offered are the Boxwood red wine blend, 2006 and 2007 vintage - this is a wine of substance, structure and complexity, and the Topiary red wine blend, 2005-2007 vintage. The Topiary is more of a silky-smooth, easy drinking wine with soft tannins. Try one, try them all, or better yet, put Boxwood wines up against some of the classic Bordeaux wines during your tasting. Wines are offered by bottle, glass, or via the Enomatic dispensing system The Tasting Room also offers artisan cheese and bread platters. I would recommend catching a bite at one of the nearby restaurants in downtown Middleburg before ‘getting your sip on’, especially if you want something substantive.

Enjoying the Boxwood Rosé 2008; Get a Whiff, its Delicious!

In closing, I have tasted the most recent vintages of Boxwood wines and found all to be pretty darn good. Based on what I have read about them and the staff I spoke with at the tasting room, as well as a brief chat with Rachel at the D.C. Wine Country Food & Wine Festival last month, Boxwood is focused on quality first and is out to put Virginia wine on the world wine map. With two tasting rooms in Virginia and one soon to be opened in Maryland, Boxwood Winery is definitely spreading the fruit of their labor - this approach is unique, but convenient and accessible, and with three tasting rooms, I would say popular too. Get out and visit one of the tasting rooms or make an appointment to tour and taste at the winery. When you visit be sure to tell the kind folks you read about them here on Dezel’s http://www.myvinespot/ blog.

Happy Sipping!

Dezel


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8/07/2009

Linden Vineyards: We Went, We Sipped, We Enjoyed!

Hello Friends,

This past weekend Mother was in town and one of the things that topped her “to do list" was to visit a Virginia winery and waste (actually taste) the day away. That’s easy enough to do, right? Of course it is - especially when you have the right atmosphere coupled with tasty wines and good company.

Linden Vineyards Seyval Blanc 2008 - Yummy!


With that in mind, we hit the Fauquier County Wine Trail and paid a visit to one of the most respected and popular producers in the state of Virginia, Linden Vineyards. Linden is owned and operated by Jim Law, and if you ask around to those in and out of the local wine business, Linden wines are highly regarded and reflective of the potential and quality of wine Virginia can produce in good vintage years.

Linden Vineyards Tasting Room

Linden Vineyards is a limited production producer (about 5000 cases) situated on the Blue Ridge Mountains in Linden, Virginia. Their hand-crafted wines are produced from fruit supplied by three vineyards - the 21 acre Hardscrabble estate vineyard and two other sites that are less than seven miles away. The scenery is picturesque and the atmosphere relaxing. Linden’s deck, which overlooks the vineyard and valley, is the perfect place to enjoy a glass of wine paired with local artisan cheeses and sausage offered in the tasting room. Be sure not to miss out on the warm French baguettes too. Yummy!

Enjoy Local Wines & Fine Nibbles at Linden

The one note to readers, since I do get a fair amount of comments on my blog regarding this topic, is the “Linden deck rule.” In keeping with Linden’s “quiet and calm” philosophy, on weekends the outdoor deck is only available to case club members. To become a case club member you have to buy a case of wine during a single visit. I believe each case you buy gives you a year of membership. Dezel is not a case club member (I know, shame on me), so I decided to visit on a Thursday, which thwarts the in-depth cellar tasting that is offered on weekends (BTW, I highly recommend this optional $12 reserve cellar tasting). But that is okay, Linden’s regular tasting is pretty darn good and “complimentary” too.

Linden Vineyards Enclosed Deck

The complimentary tasting offered the following samples: Seyval Blanc 2008, Chardonnay 2007, Claret 2005, Petit Verdot 2006, and last but not least, the Vidal Riesling blend 2008. We opted to enjoy a bottle of the Seyval Blanc 2008, which was dry and refreshing and a perfect summertime pick. It is by far one of the best local Seyval Blanc wines I have tasted. Complimenting this tasty wine was a local Old Green Mountain Chèvre, as well as local beef summer sausage. These local food items are offered in the tasting room so be sure to grab a menu and don’t be shy to ask for pairing recommendations. While Dezel loves wines and fine nibbles from around the globe, sometimes it is awesome to “GO LOCAL.” You know what I mean, Virginia Wine Lovers?

Linden Vineyards: A Rose of a Winery!

In closing, Mother really enjoyed the visit to Linden Vineyards and has already penciled it in again for the next time she visits. I personally always enjoy having a bottle of Linden wine and taking in the spectacular views while seated on the attractive enclosed deck. If you have never been to Linden, friends, this is a “must visit.” When you pay Linden a visit be sure to let the kind folks know you read about them on Dezel’s Virginia Vine Spot.

Happy Sipping!

Dezel


Stay tuned friends ...more to come!


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