Vineyard and Winery Management named their 20 Most Admired Winemakers in North America in their November/December 2014 issue. There are several things I like about this article.
The first and most important thing is that 10 years ago, not one winemaker would have been included in the Top 20. It goes to show how far East Coast winemaking has come. And what the quality levels are on the east coast. It's not only a compliment to the four who made it to the list, but it is a badge of honor and recognition of the east coast to have contributed 20% of the list! It is a compliment to the entire east coast winemaking establishment. It's the kind of recognition that the east coast deserves.
Secondly, I love article like this because, as a publisher, I love what I and others call "Argument Starters." Because of course, there are a number of names, very good quality names, that deserve to be on the list as well. And of course, that is always the most fun part of these pieces. These are great bar stool conversation piece. It's almost as good as naming your wine Mount Rushmore. You could conjecture his out for days. And I just may yet below.
The alst thing I was say, which is true of all the winemakers on the list, is that these were all people who have contributed to the world of wine. They have helped others. They see the bigger picture. They are the people others take their cue from. What is he or she planting? When are they harvesting? How are they making their wine? When people are watching you and emulating you, then you've done something beyond just make wine. And that's super important.
And you have to have been doing it for a number of years. Six good vintages are not enough. We're talking, like a sports radio station, about Hall of Fame numbers here. We're looking for 10 or more vintages. I'm not looking for a pro bowl season, I'm looking for a hall-of-fame career.
Regardless, well done to the following gentlemen from the East Coast.
Fox Run Vineyards
I know Peter Bell, that is to say he has corresponded with me. I have drank his wines since I was a young pup. He has made some of the best wines in the region for years. Solid, consistent, and well made. His Reserve Cabernet Francs are among the best on the east coast, bar none. But more importantly, what makes Peter Bell among the best is that, like a great football coach, he has a large number of young winemakers who have learned under his wing. He has been involved in helping numerous wineries get off their feet by supplying expertise or help of some kind. He is as strict and humorless as a schoolmarm when it comes to making good wine. He has no sense of humor about mistakes. He will taste your wine and name the faults first. But he can also be charming, entertaining, and incredibly helpful. And there are a legion of winemakers around the state who look to him for his advice and his approval. If Peter likes it, it's good. That says it all.
The first time I tried a Linden Vineyards wine, I tried his merlot which was in a by the glass program at a small wine tasting bar/restaurant in Charlottesville, VA. I was by myself, and I wanted to try some wines. I had the Linden Merlot. It was my third taste of the night (not glass, taste) and that was it. I immediately thought that Linden was one of the most amazing east coast reds I had ever tasted. I was amazed. I was so proud of myself to find out later just how well thought of Jim Law is. His wines are not just delicious, but consistent as well. Carefully crafted and beautifully maintained in the cellar, he is a consummate artist/farmer. Farmer is an important word. He's someone who people look to when it comes to growing grapes in Virginia. If Jim Law says it's so...it is so. That's the scuttlebutt in Virginia's winemaking community. It was his Merlot that started to turn my head around about Virginia winemaking. And he is an author, and his book on winemaking is thorough and well written. Jim Law is one of the people who absolutely deserves to be there.
Luca Paschina has taken Barboursville to a whole new level. Paschina inherited from Gabriele Rousse an accomplished wine program. Paschina turned it into a dynamic work of art. Paschina's wines explode with fruit, but always maintain the elegant, clean, and classic lines of wines made in in the European style. They are lean and clean, and seem as if they had been made in another world. Like Michelangelo, who claimed he did not sculpt the Pieta, it was in the block of marble and he freed it, Paschina does not make a glass of wine, he finds the wine within the grape and frees it. Under Paschina's shrew and deft hands, Barboursville has excelled, and ascended from being among the best wineries on the east coast, to being in the region's Pantheon. If you haven't had some of his wines, you cannot claim to know anything about wine.
Kemmeter Vineyards, Anthony Road
Johannes Reinhardt has made exquisite wines for many years. His Rieslings have landed somewhere between the extraordinary and the sublime. His wines, let's be honest, helped raise the reputation of the entire region. His fame was only enhanced by his personal story so beautifully told by Evan Dawson in his award winning book, Summer In A Glass. Tall, handsome, always easy to spot in a crowd, Johannes moves through a room like a movie star or a rock god - he walks with his held high, a smooth, easy gate, and every one else just watches. Sophisticated, driven, and accomplished, Johannes' wines are the stuff that dreams are made of. They are handsome, impressive, pronounced. And deserve a place at any table, no matter what continent you are on.
OK, now to the bitchy part....who was left off? That's a tough one. Because you can't just make good wine, you have to have done it for years and contributed something along with it. And of course, this is only my east coast rant. The fact that Randall Graham isn't on there is a dagger in my heart. My list might have easily included Cameron Stark of Unionville; Richard Olsen-Harbich of Bedell Cellars; and John Graziano of Millbrook Vineyards. Hands down. No conversation necessary. If John Graziano is the Stan Musial of wine, Cameron Stark is the east coast winemaking equivalent of Cal Ripken. And Rich is something else...he's too cool to have been compared to a baseball player. Neil Young, maybe? Eric Fry of Lenz, Roman Roth of Wolffer Estates; and Gilles Martin of Sherwood House and Sparkling Pointe have been doing it consistently and for a long time. Others might be Anthony Vietri of Va La Vineyards (needs a few more vintages, but certainly seems like that won't be a problem); Nancy Irelan of Red Tail Ridge; Tom Higgins at Heart-in-Hands; and Howard Bursen from Sharpe Hill are all very good winemakers, and well thought of by others.
Have I left any off? I imagine I have. Happy to add.
Anyway, invite me out to a bar, and buy me a glass of wine, or just come up to the house, and we'll go into the cellar, pull out a few bottles, and argue it out.
As I said, I love this kind of stuff.
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