Monday, March 26, 2012

Oh, What a Paradise Springs It Seems...In Clifton, Virginia

One of my favorite books is John Cheever's Oh, What a Paradise it Seems. I always marveled over the opening of the book, where the narrator tells you that this is a book you should be reading while your sitting in bed, after you have closed the doors to your country barn, and describes a lifestyle we always wished we were living...

The last time I was down in Virginia, I had visited Chris Pearmund winery and the Winery ay La Grange. But Paradise Springs was closed that day. I was disappointed, for I had heard great things about it. Unfortunately, I drove all the way there only to find out that they weren't open. My bad. I sat cursing the fates, sitting in my car, fighting with a folding map of Virginia wine country, and figuring out hwere I would go to sauve my grumpy condition. But just yesterday I had the opprtunity to sample their wines. Hoorah!!!

The site of Paradise Springs Winery lies on 36 acres nestled in the quiet corner of Clifton, VA on the edge of Fairfax County. The property borders Hemlock Regional Park with the Bull Run River flowing only steps through the woods. Originally, the property was part of a one-thousand acre land grant from Lord Fairfax in 1716 to the family’s direct ancestors and has been passed down through the generations since. Several hundred acres still remain in the family today.

The road the wienry is situated on a long, winding road, with my hills and dips, and twists and turns, filled with large homes, many mansions, with rolling hills, and horse pastures, and lots of big, gorgeous trees. A perfect country drive. Perfect!Beautiful!

The original log cabin (which is the only part of the winery you can see from the road) is estimated to have been built between 1800 and 1825 as there is no record of the exact date. In 1955 the property undertook a major renovation led by Howard Richter, a protégé of the great Frank Lloyd Wright. Another wing was added to the original cabin that includes a kitchen, bathroom, plumbing, and electricity. The original foundation was reinforced and transformed into a cellar complete with a built-in wine rack.

(Jane and her son Kirk)

More than 20 years ago, Jane and her Aunt, the late Esther Kincheloe Podolnick, had a conversation about how the property would make the perfect backdrop for a winery. That conversation resonated throughout the years and with the recent assent of the Virginia wine industry, the idea once again took off. Jane’s eldest son, Kirk Wiles, recognized the opportunity and offered to take the reins on the project. As a graduate of the University of Miami, Kirk moved back to Virginia in 2004 and started connecting the dots in putting together what would be Fairfax County’s first and only winery. In 2006 they met Chris Pearmund, an acclaimed winegrower and vintner in Virginia, who offered to serve as Consultant and Executive Winemaker to help guide them towards opening the winery. The first vintage was actually produced at the Winery at LaGrange.

(Kirk handling the harvest!)

They also brought on board experienced wine maker Rob Cox. Paradise Springs Winery was founded in 2007 as a family business and their first vintage was crafted that fall, a Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. In April 2008, the first vineyard, comprised of Cabernet Franc, was planted on the west end of the property and has since seen exceptional growth due to the rich fertile soils within the Occoquan Watershed.

However, the local planning board tried to effectivley kill the project, deeming winemaking an industrial capacity not an agricltural endeavor, thus halting the burgeoning winery from opening. Jane and Kirk turned to Philip Carter Strother of Strother Law Offices in Richmond, VA to help right the ship. Philip, also a fellow winery owner of Philip Carter Winery, lead the charge in and out of courts for the next year and a half. On September 3rd, 2009, a decision came down from the Virginia ABC Board proclaiming Paradise Springs Winery’s right to operate and effectively issued their license. The determination was appealed by a few disgruntled neighbors but ultimately was upheld and the winery opened its doors for business on January 16th, 2010.

(Mr. Cox explaining his thoughts on wine to a group of wine bloggers)

The head winemaker is Rob Cox, who is also aided by asistant winemaker Michael Ching. Both are friendly, affable, and down to earth. Cox has made a rapid ascent in the wine world, and the results show why! He started out at Narmada Winery, and then went to Philip Carter. During that entire time he was also consulting winemaker to Paradise Springs. He is chatty and pleasant, never talking down to the many visitors who come through their doors. On the day I visited, Cox and Ching it seemed were as much a part of the sales effort as the tastingroom team, working the room, chatting with customers, and doing endless barrel tastings, and rounds of group tastings. Cox is happy to tell you about how they made each wine. Why they used this or that oak, and what kind of toasting, and why. Ching is also chatty, and ably fills in with elan when Cox is called away. A great team!

Michael Ching

Rob Cox

We tasted three wines form the 2010 vintage.

2010 Petit Manseng - This is one mf my new favorites. This is not your typical varietal white. It's a medium bodied wine with a whopping 13.9% alcohol. It's very much like Viognier, in that it has a huge nose - with a big floral bouquet. The mandarin orange, tangerine, and the hint of peach all came through as promised. It smelled like it would be a sweet wines, but the final product was a delicious dry wine with great flavor on the palate, with lots of fruit, but ended dry. This is among my new favorite whites!

2010 Chardonnay - This is a wonderful barrel fermented and aged in light French oak for 9 months sur lie. Cox discussed he didn't want to over oak the wine, and so that was why they used the lightly toasted oak. It worked perfectly. Normally I prefer a stainless steel, but here the oak was used with a light touch, and the resulting wine shows a delicate flavor with lovely bright fruit, and a nice soft finish. Big hints of Granny apples, and a light touch of oak bring a soft whisp of vanilla. Fantastic! The 2009 Vintage was winner of the VA Governor's Cup for the "Best White Wine in VA".

2010 Cabernet Franc - Estate grown at Paradise Springs. This is a medium-bodied Cab Franc, slightly more Burgundian in style than something from like the North Fork of Long Isalnd or most other Virginia wineries (such as Winery at la Grange or say Boxwood). But the resulting wine is impressive. A transulcent dark garnet, the wine has wonderful plum and raspberry flavors up front with a nice but not overpowering touch of vanilla from French Oak. It had a wonderful mature flavor, with big fuit and wonderful acidity and low tannins. An excellent food wine.

We also tasted some barrel samples....from 2011...
2011 Petite Manseng - Light, crisp, fowery, delicious!
2011 Chardonnay - Incredibly delicate. Light, stylish, but just an great expression of fruit with a lovely, light Burgundian touch....impressive!
2011 Cabernet Franc - Lighter than the 2010 but what an amazing nose. It was jam packed with red raspberry jam and plum, with hints of vanilla. It smelled like fresh baked raspberry cobbler. Soft and delicious! Incredible!

The other fantastic thing about Paradise Springs is that the tasting room is big and gorgeous, and the outside deck is easilly only one or two of the most tremendous outside tasting rooms I've ever seen (the other is Bedell's outdoor tasting room in Long Island). Complete with fireplace, ceiling fans, and heat lamps, one could sit outside in summer or fall. Filled with big couches and ottomans, it looks like a Frontgate catalog with extra appointments from William-Sonoma. It was fantastic...and it was jammed with folks enjoying the crackling fire and the smell of buring wood.

You simple have just got to go and expereince it for yourself.