Sunday, March 10, 2013

Linden Claret 2003 (VA)

So, I was with Richard Leahy, author of Beyond Jefferson’s Vines, the quintessential book on Virginia wine, at the Eastern Wineries Exposition.  He invited me and Howard Bursen the winemaker of Sharpe Hill to join him at his table. Doug Moorehead owner of Presque Isle was also there. Richard had brought several treats for the evening’s dinner, chief among them was Jim Law’s Linden Vineyards Claret 2003. This promised to be a real treat….to try a premier Virginia red that was ten  years old!

Linden Vineyards is a 4,000 case winery and vineyard situated on the Virginia Blue Ridge, 65 miles west of Washington, D.C. Jim Law, with family help, purchased what was then an abandoned hardscrabble farm in 1983. The first 6 acres were cleared and prepared for planting. The 1985 planting was from vines mostly from cuttings and grafts propagated by the vineyard’s own nursery the previous year. They included Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Vidal and Seyval. Their first vintage was 1987 and the first release and opening of the winery was 1988.

Linden Vineyards Ltd. is the winery operation. In 2002 they built their “dream” crush/press facility that they (and many others) believe have put them in the position to make great wines. New sorting tables and the gentler handling of grapes have already yielded great wines. They quickly grew a great reputation with Virginia wine bloggers and the attention of Dave McIntyre of the Washington Post.

Three vineyards supply all the grapes used to make Linden wines: Hardscrabble, the estate vineyard, 18 acres surrounding the winery; Boisseau, 4 acres, 7 miles west of Linden, and Avenius, 5 acres, less than one mile north of Linden Vineyards.
Jim Law

Jim is the owner/winemaker of Linden Vineyards and winegrower of Hardscrabble. An Ohio native, he was raised in the 1960’s and 1970’s by parents who loved to share their passion for food and wine. Study in Europe and two years’ teaching of agriculture as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Zaire (Congo) led to the desire to grow grapes. Jim’s first vineyard job was in Indiana where he traded work for a place to live. He then got a real job in Ohio at Chalet Debonne where he learned the nuts and bolts of grape growing and cellar work. In 1981 Jim was hired to start a winery in the Shenandoah Valley where he fell in love with the area and viticultural possibilities. In the mid 1980’s, while establishing Linden Vineyards, he consulted for other wineries and taught winegrowing at local community colleges.

Howard Bursen, whom I found part of the original, old school Finger Lakes crowd, was cheerful uncorking bottle after bottle while Richard played MC at the EWE dinner. Richard poured.

Richard Leahy

Though I could not find any specific notes about this particular vintage, I can tell you Linden Claret is a very special wine. It is a Bordeaux-styled blend of grapes from different vineyards. The wine come from all three properties managed by Linden - Hardscrabble Vineyard (approx. 65%), Glen Manor Vineyard ( approx. 25%), Avenius Vineyard (approx. 10%). It usually majority parts Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon (high 30% each) with Cabernet Franc playing a hearty role (approx. 17-20%), and a nice healthy dose of Petite Verdot (usually somewhere above 10%). The wine is made, and aged in older French, American and Hungarian oak for 9 months. This is the winery’s premiere wine, and they produce up to 500-525 cases per year. This is wine making as art. Jim Law knows it. And he wants you to taste it. And it definitely comes across.

The wine was exquisite. The color was a dark reddish-purple….shimmering glimpses of bright red. Black currant, blueberries, dark raspberries, and dried cherries come across on the nose, with hints of herbs, spices, vanilla, and mocha. Hints of graphite and eucalyptus. The fruit was all dark, but the acidity was still bright and the tannins a bit muted, which provided for a smooth drinking experience. The fruit stayed on the palate a long, luxurious time. This was a wine that had aged beautifully!!! Jim Law is making things that last at Linden Vineyards…things that last a good long time!

A special experience. Thanks to Richard, Howard and to Jim Law!!