Monday, January 27, 2014

Sharpe Hill Vineyards - Classics From Connecticut (CT)

You've heard me go on about Sharpe Hill Vineyard before. Sharpe Hill, the award winning winery of Connecticut's Quiet Corner has received over 250 medals in International tastings and is located in the town of Pomfret - just minutes from scenic Route 169 and from the Putnam Antiques District.

Howard Bursen, a formerly of the Finger Lakes wine region, has worked for more than 20 years  with Sharpe Hill to produce great wines. Sharpe Hill has collected more than 350 awards from national and international competitions.

So, when I was going through Connecticut, much to my wife's chagrin, I was stopping in all manner of wine shops, ferreting out local wines. I wasn't always able to get to the vineyards, which I would most prefer to do. But tasting is believing. From two different stores, I bought two classic varietal wines - Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc. However, I must tell you, they have a fabulous restaurant.
Connecticut Magazine’s May cover featured “Fifty Dishes to Try Before you Die” and included the Creole Shrimp entrée served in our Fireside Tavern restaurant. Dining is available on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Dining is available by reservation only, and typically fills weeks in advance.And if you can get their in late spring to early fall, there is nothing nicer, than eating there outside if possible!!! I'd always rather go to the winery itself when possible!
The Chardonnay we had on a cold and blustery day, sitting in our farmhouse kitchen. We paired it with a roasted chickens (done with lemon, butter, salt, pepper, and rosemary), with roasted potatoes and squash, and some steamed green beans.

The Burgundy region of France first produced the most famous chardonnays of note, and it is now grown all over the world. America is a formidable grower and maker of Chardonnay. Sharpe Hill's Vineyard Reserve is something very special indeed, and stands out as one of the best in class across the east coast. It is distinctive for it's black label. With dinner we tried the Chardonnay Southeastern New England 2009 in the white label. It was lovely. Big apple and ripe pear are fronted by lovely tropical nose, with mango and apricot, and the wine has a lovely lemony finish. There's a touch of oak there, but it is lovely and complimentary. It doesn't hide this wine. A beautiful finish for a wine that was gorgeous to drink, and went remarkably well with our dinner. Fabulous!

Cabernet Franc is an important red variety in the Bordeaux and Loire regions of France. It has since become a staple of the east coast in general. And Connecticut has grown some very lovely Cabernet Francs, especially recently. This Cabernet Franc Vineyard Reserve 2010 was something we tried several nights or a week later. I had made a big, piping hot pot of pasta, and thought the Cabernet Franc would stand up to the giant mound of black pepper I had dropped in the red sauce - kind of an Arabiata if you will. The Cabernet Franc was lovely. Garnet in color, it was beautiful in the glass. bright cherry on the front. The wine very much had a Loire-ish character. It was light-to-medium bodied red, with wonderful fruit and good acidity - so the fruit lasted a good long time. Nice tannins balanced out the wine. It stood up to the food perfectly - which was a tall order. It was perfect. A very, very nice wine!

Congrats to Howard and the folks at Sharpe Hill!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Westport Rivers Brut Cuvee RJR 2006 (MA)

So, when we had a number of folks over the house a few week ago, we set out a number of sparkling wines. Many were popular But the first we served was Westport Rivers Brut Cuvee' RJR 2006. Never heard of Westport Rivers? Impossible!

In 1982 Bob and Carol Russell sought to re-enter the wine-growing business that Carol’s father, Herbert Grifenhagen, and grandfather, Max Grifenhagen, loved so dearly.  Herb and his father had grown their upstate New York Germania Wine Cellars brand into a nationally celebrated sparkling wine.  The Russell couple dreamed of returning to the family’s tradition of raising grapes and making champagne.  In 1982, after searching for the perfect place to farm flavorful sparkling wine, they chose Westport, MA.

Several years later, the vines arrived and oldest son Rob came aboard to plant and manage the vineyard. Rob and his crew planted the first vines in 1986. Since then, our vineyard has grown to 80 acres, the largest vineyard in New England.  Bill Russell, Bob & Carol’s second son, joined the team
in 1989 to begin making wine.

Hugo and Luis Quezada joined Rob in the vineyard during the 90′s.  And Paul Goodchild arrived in the cellar as team Westport’s defensive coordinator. The winery opened to the public during the summer of 1991 and has earned over 20 gold medals and endless praise. Boston magazine, Time magazine, the Boston Globe, and many others.

2006 Westport Brut “RJR” is their premiere sparkler which has been served in the White Houses of three different administrations. The wine  is golden yellow in appearance and has many, many bubbles in fine, small pearl-like strands. The first thing that comes across is a big, bready nose, filled with toast and fresh French baguette. The wine is a big mouthful of green apple and ripe pear, with a big whopping pop of lemon burst at the end. A nice mineral leanness makes it very well balanced.

The wine was a huge success, and if you haven't tried it, you are missing something. Fantastic sparkling wine!!!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

New York Cork Report & Wine Spectator: Paul Hobbs and Selbach-Oster Create Finger Lakes Project

It is official, California winemaker Paul Hobbs and German wine producer Selbach-Oster are planning to open up a winery in the Finger Lakes.

Award winning journalist Evan Dawson first broke the news on the New York Cork Report. James Molesworth also published a piece in Wine Spectator. It's two great wine writers reporting the news. Fun. And either way you slice it, it's good for the Finger Lakes and it's good for New York state.
- C. DeVito, Editor

"The Finger Lakes wine region of New York, which has steadily improved in recent years with Riesling as its lead variety, is drawing increasing attention from outside vintners. Paul Hobbs, whose eponymous California winery produces outstanding Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and Germany's Johannes Selbach of the Mosel Valley's Selbach-Oster have announced a new joint venture in the area," reported James Molesworth in the Wine Spectator.
Molesworth also wrote, "Hobbs and Selbach are not the first outsiders to stake a claim in the Finger Lakes, but this combination of California and German vintners is the most high-profile to date. Louis Barruol of the Rhône Valley's Chateau de St.-Cosme has started his Forge Cellars label with local Finger Lakes investors, while winemakers Morten Hallgren of Ravines and Johannes Reinhardt of Anthony Road moved to the Finger Lakes after previous winemaking stints in Europe."
Read the whole thing at:
"Hobbs is a high-wattage industry professional known for his work around the world, and particularly in California. He makes wine in a winery under his own name in Napa, and also makes California wine under his Crossbarn Winery label. His Vina Cobos produces malbec and other varieties in Argentina, and Hobbs also runs an importing outfit," wrote Dawson in the New York Cork Report.

"So why the Finger Lakes? Hobbs is from the Niagara region, and told The Drinks Business:
“We are starting from scratch, and we are preparing the land now,” he recorded, adding that he spent three years surveying the area before finding this site.
Speaking of the style of wine he plans to make with the help of his German partner, Hobbs said he would make an off-dry riesling. 
“We will definitely make some wine in the Mosel style,” he admitted, adding, “but we will be trying dry Riesling too.”

"It won’t happen right away. Various reports have the Hobbs property – just north of Watkins Glen – as being more than 60 acres, and the first step was clearing the land. It will take several years before the vines can bear wine-worthy fruit," continued Dawson.

You can read both stories. They are both good.

Read Dawson's whole article at:

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

J. Maki Blanc De Blancs Reserve 2004 - One of the Best Sparkling Wines on the East Coast (PA)

I've been buying J. Maki wines since they were first known as French Creek back in the first year or two of their being opened in the early 2000s. The wines have always been consistent, and they have always been among the better sparkling wine producers in the north east. Always impressive. Recently, I served the wine to a bunch of foodies, who were most impressed.

The winemaking career of Janet Maki began in 1973 with a gift; a wine press from an elderly neighbor when her family members showed no interest. Add a small shipment of Zinfandel grapes from California to her basement in Philadelphia, and the experiment began.

She continued making wine through the late 1970s and 1980s. A desire for a vineyard beckoned. Chester County, with well-drained shist soil and a low clay component, provided the proper bed structure, and a thirteen acre parcel was available with a lofty, south-facing slope on which wine grapes thrive. In 1991, with one row of chardonnay, one acre of pinot noir, and one half acre of vidal blanc planted, the J. Maki Winery at French Creek Ridge Vineyard was born. Twenty seven months later their first sparkling wine was offered for sale, and in 2001, Janet Maki became the first, and only, American winemaker ever to be honored with the gold medal for sparkling wine the Vinales Internationales in Paris, France.
2004 Blanc De Blancs has a big beautiful nose of ripe Bosc pears, ripe red apples, and hints of bread and a nice acidic brightness, and a soft, creamy finish. A beautiful, elegant sparkling wine.

Still one of the best on the entire East Coast. You could serve this to anyone and impress them!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Cooper's Hawk Vineyards (CA)

So, when I was at Taste Camp 2013 in Quebec, there was the BYOB dinner, and someone brought a bottle of Cooper's Hawk from the Canadian Niagara side of Lake Erie official known as Lake Erie North Shore VQA. I think it was Gary Killops of the Essex Wine Review. ( I was happily surprised!
“Beyond the vineyards, a new county winery looks all the more intriguing with its solar panels, ponds and small playground area. They reflect the approach of the O'Brien family and Cooper's Hawk Vineyards™, 1425 Iler Rd., just north of the John R. Park Homestead and Conservation between Kingsville and Harrow. .. The entire property is licensed so visitors can stay awhile, stepping out to wander and enjoy a glass of wine… Dirt from construction, has been set aside for a small amphitheatre area in future. Solar panels will supply more than enough electricity and feed into the grid. The farmer who sold the property will grow some garlic and potatoes the winery can sell,” wrote Ted Whipp in The Winsdor Star on July 13, 2011.
"We want to have a parkland here where people can buy a glass of wine, buy some food, go and sit there," O'Brien said. "If you want to have functions here, you can use the grounds to wander." O'Brien originally bought the property as a place to enjoy in retirement with his family, and the winery will essentially help serve the same purpose.
According to Whipp, “Family members including his wife Katy, and grown son Mike and daughters Erin Masse and Meagan O'Brien are directly involved in the winery since planting began….”

Grapes Coopers Hawk VineYards
“Beyond the vineyards, a new county winery looks all the more intriguing with its solar panels, ponds and small playground area. They reflect the approach of the O'Brien family and Cooper's Hawk Vineyards™, 1425 Iler Rd., just north of the John R. Park Homestead and Conservation between Kingsville and Harrow. .. The entire property is licensed so visitors can stay awhile, stepping out to wander and enjoy a glass of wine… Dirt from construction, has been set aside for a small amphitheatre area in future. Solar panels will supply more than enough electricity and feed into the grid. The farmer who sold the property will grow some garlic and potatoes the winery can sell,” wrote Ted Whipp in The Winsdor Star on July 13, 2011.
"We want to have a parkland here where people can buy a glass of wine, buy some food, go and sit there," O'Brien said. "If you want to have functions here, you can use the grounds to wander." O'Brien originally bought the property as a place to enjoy in retirement with his family, and the winery will essentially help serve the same purpose.
According to Whipp, “Family members including his wife Katy, and grown son Mike and daughters Erin Masse and Meagan O'Brien are directly involved in the winery since planting began….”
Cooper's Hawk Vineyards Winemaker
Rori McCaw is Cooper's Hawk Vineyards winemaker Her Cooper's Hawk Cabernet Merlo Reserve 2008 is exploding with bright, sweet cherry, raspberry, and a hints of black currant. Whiffs of vanilla, caramel, and cedar and spice. Despite the 14.2% alcohol, this is a beautifully balanced wine with bright and ripe fruit up front, nice tannins, and solid acidity that helps the flavor last a nice long time. A nice food wine. Very impressive.

Finger Lakes Distilling Offers The Whiskey Seminars Feb 13 thru April 10, 2014

Finger Lakes Distilling banner logo

Whiskey 101: The Whiskey Seminars 

Finger Lakes Distilling is excited to announce our Winter Seminar Series, Whiskey 101. These 3 sessions will give an in-depth look at whiskey making from its earliest stages to the award winning products being produced at Finger Lakes Distilling today.
Each session includes soup or chili created with McKenzie whiskey & sandwiches inspired by our long list of spirits.
*A Whiskey 101 diploma will be awarded to participants that attend all three sessions.
Session 1: The History of Whiskey  - Thursday, February 13

From the primitive stills of the 13th century, this session will trace the history of whiskey to Bourbon County, Kentucky. Learn about the first "moon shiners" in Scotland and the development of whiskey in America. Understand the terms: grain and single malt whiskeys, blended and cask strength whiskeys and more. Learn how the major distilleries of Kentucky and Tennessee differ from the many growing craft distilleries of today.

Session 2: The Making of Whiskey  - Thursday, March 20

Spend time in the still room and learn how whiskey is actually made: from whole grain, to flour, to mashing, to fermenting, to distilling. Learn about yeast making, the sour mash process, fermenting, setting the proof, and all aspects of whiskey making before the white dog hits the barrel. Learn the differences between the world's whiskey's: Irish, Scottish, Canadian, and American whiskeys.

Session 3: Cask Aging and More  - Thursday, April 10

The last session will be held in the barrel room. An in-depth description of barrel aging will take place, including the making of the modern whiskey barrel. The session will also include time on the bottling line to see how the actual product is hand bottled at FLD. Get a chance to bottle your own whiskey.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Sakonnet Sirius (RI)

Sakonnet Vineyard is historic soil in that Sakonnet was one of the pioneering vineyards of the New England wine scene. The vineyard’s microclimate and soil conditions resemble the maritime climate of northern France, allowing for production of some of New England’s best and popular wines. Founded in 1975, the Vineyard includes 150 acres of land with 36 of those acres in production, growing award winning wines. I've been going there since the mid-1980s, and I have almost always been both impressed and pleased. The drive out there is absolutely gorgeous. Lots of small lanes, and a drive around Newport harbor. Fantastic!
Sirius is a semi-sweet dessert wine. The wine is made from late-harvest Vidal. This lovely, medium-bodied wine features a big nose of peach, apricot and honeysuckle flavors. And most of them come across on the palate as well.
We served this recently at a party we threw for a small number of guests, and this wine went flying out of the bottle, filling glasses, and left the guests wondering why we had not bought more!
A wonderful wine!!!

Vignoble Le Mernois: Cote d'Alban and Florisca (CA)

I first discovered Vignoble Le Mernois while attending the Taste Camp 2013 in Quebec, Canada, sponsored by the New York Cork Report and organized by Remy Cherest and many others. They were among some of he wineries at the first day's Grand Tasting. I immediately liked what they did.
Vineyard Mernois was established on a reclaimed tobacco farm, about 45 minutes from Montreal. The Vineyard Mernois took root in 2004. The farm is rich in sediment left by the passage of the Champlain Sea. Established in 2004 with 5600 vines, the Vineyard Mernois continued its expansion adding 4,500 new vines in 2007. Their selected cultivars are hardy and can withstand the northern climate of the beautiful region of Lanaudière . In 2010, the expansion continued with the addition of another 4,500 new plants including 200 Merlot vines.
Consultant Jean Berthelot, a well known Quebec winemaker, allowed the owners to develop a good range of wines including: Holes of Phine (red wine), Côte d' Alban (white wine), Florisca (rosé) Terratabac (red wine) and others.

Since April 2013, four new owners took over the operations of the winery, including Annie Pronovost, Éric Gagnon, Myriam Pelletier, and Alain Vallières. Under the guidance of a new winemaker, Jeremiah D' Hauteville, they envision a future brighter for the vineyard.

Leveled and converted in the 1960s to produce tobacco, the Alban coast (Cote d'Alban) was once the delight of winter sledding and skiing. This collection of memories and stories fed their first vines. While it is a white blend it is a blend of two different strains of Seyal Blanc. This wine has a pale yellow color. It is a light styled, white wine, with big citrus notes such as lemon and grapefruit. It leaves a refreshing pucker on the mouth. Immensely refreshing.  Great acidity. Absolutely lovely!
Florisca is a bright salmon pink colored rose'. It has a big, beautiful nose with lots of floral notes, and a big wallop of strawberries. A lovely rose' with lots of zippy acidity, and a nice refreshing finish. A wonderful wine, perfect for sipping. A lovely wine for a lazy afternoon or a light dinner.

Two lovely wines from Vignbole Le Mernois!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Lenz White Label Chardonnay 2003 - Maturity Never Tasted So Good (NY)

Lenz is always one of my favorite wine producers. I have always loved pouring Lenz when I am with the biggest of food and wine snobs - because it never fails to impress. Recently, with a group of foodies, it came through with flying colors again! And in a most impressive fashion.

I love experimenting with wines, leaving them in the cellar for a long while, especially east coast ones, to see if their quality stands the test of time. I think it's an important part of a region's coming of age if their wines cellar well. I won't lie - sometimes I just forget I even had the damned bottle. I'm not as exacting as all that. I wish I were.

Lenz is a relatively small winery, on the North Fork of Long Island, making wines to exacting standards. All of their wines are estate bottled, meaning they are made from grapes grown entirely in their own vineyards.

So, at this party we had, I put out a bottle of Lenz White Label Chardonnay 2003. Several people in the crowd, foodies mind you, asked with incredulity if I thought a ten year old bottle of white Long Island wine would be any good. It was just the kind of reaction I had wanted!

The white label program at Lenz are their series of everyday wines. Lenz White Label Chardonnay is cold-fermented Chardonnay. It's meant to be a nice, Chardonnay, more stainless-steel than not, but with a nice touch of oak. But when I opened the bottle I knew we were in for a treat. Big whiffs of apple and pear came wafting out of the glass. Dried apple notes as well And still some tropical notes and citrus and some small, small note of vanilla.  But ripe, Bosc pear was solid and up front. And still, the minerality was there. It was gorgeous. It was luxurious. It was amazing! So impressive!

I uncorked the bottle and walked around pouring the wine for anyone who had an empty glass. I didn't say it was local, but my friends know who I am when it comes to local. Suffice to say, instantly people wanted to know if it was French. I shook my head. California? Again, I shook my head. Long Island.

But is cant be! Long Island?! But then I told them that it was a 10 year old chardonnay and their eyes widened. People asked why I even bothered to keep whites around for 10 years. I just nodded to the glass.

Lenz's winemaker Eric Fry has been one of the best and most consistent winemakers on the East Coast for several decades now. And his wines continue to impress. The maturity of this older white was yet another example of his technical skills as well as his finesse. A master at work!

Jonathan Edwards Cabernet Franc 2011 (CT)

I have been a big fan of Jonathan Edwards since I first happened upon them, while traveling through northeastern Connecticut, near Mystic and the surrounding environs. North Stonington, Connecticut has a history rich in both agriculture and industry. Thanks to its many waterways early mills sprung up with such a proliferation, that the downtown village was once known as Milltown. Although the milling industry is long gone, the agricultural nature of the town continues. Anyone who drives the back roads of North Stonington will see some of the most beautiful farms anywhere. The Edwards family is proud to have joined this longstanding history and agricultural life.

Their farm is situated on Chester Main Road. It was a classic New England dairy and cattle affair for over a century, and early maps of town show that during the 1700′s this was once the Williams Homestead. In the late 1970’s the farm was donated by Carol Maine to a church in town and it was subsequently sold to a family who started Crosswoods Vineyards in the early 1980’s. Despite a massive effort, a stunning renovation of the barn and an aggressive expansion of the vineyard, success was ultimately elusive and the winery closed. During the next decade a portion of the land was subdivided but the heart of the farm was preserved. In 2000, 48 acres were purchased by the Edwards family. The property included the winery, the historic farmhouse, overgrown but very fertile fields, and even the original “3 holer” outhouse. Farming continues to this day.

The wines from Jonathan Edwards are incredibly polished. And that's because a four man crew tag-teams the wines in a seamless effort to create quality products. Of course Jonathan Edwards himself takes the lead. Jonathan Edwards co-founded the winery in 2000. A former speech pathologist at Walter Reed Hospital, he graduated from University of Massachusetts 1993 and received his masters craft_mike
Michael Harney has been the day-to-day winemaker at Jonathan Edwards Winery since 2003. He has a B.A. University from Colorado, Boulder (1998)
Robert Edwards was a co-founder of the winery in 2000. Jonathan received his B.S. Penn State University in 1964. His very impressive resume includes being Vice President Global Sourcing at
Warner Lambert; he was Vice President Technology and Manufacturing at Novon Products; and President General Electric Plastics in Spain.
Justin Sutherland I the assistant winemaker at Jonathan Edwards Winery, and received his B.A. Johnson and Wales University 2009.
I have had a number of bottles of Jonathan Edwards over the years. A wonderful winery experience awaits you if you go there, or if you just find a bottle of their wine. A few months ago I went to Providence, RI, and had dinner at one of the better restaurants in that city, Gracie's.

At Gracie’s their mission is simple – enhance and educate the palate with the freshest ingredients and flavors. With an eye toward sourcing the freshest ingredients, they change their menu seasonally to reflect the flavors found at each time of the year. And, they look to their local farms and purveyors, and even their own roof-top garden, to reap the best each season has to offer.

I ordered a beautifully prepared pork chop from a local, Rhode Island farm. And I was THRILLED to see some local wines on the menu!!!! One of these was the Jonathan Edwards Cabernet Franc 2011.

Jonathan Edwards Cabernet Franc 2011is an estate-grown Cabernet Franc. It's a classic cool-climate red wine with bright and ripe red cherries, a hint of graphite, and lovely light cranberry. A beautiful slight scent of vanilla and cedar characteristics. Lovely fruit up front, and with a nice amount of acidity to keep that fruit lingering, and nice, soft tannins. Very well balanced.  The pork chop was spectacular (I apologize for a less than fabulous photo) that was served with a lovely polenta. The wine went beautifully with the meal. Fantastic! The wine and the meal were both exceedingly wonderful!!! I laude Gracie's for carrying local wine! And of course, I lade Jonathan Edwards for making great quality wine.

However, the real test was just a few weeks ago when I put out a bottle of the wine at a small get together. The bottle was looked at quizzically by our guests. Connecticut wine? Red wine?! But once people started drinking it, the wine flew out of the bottle. These were foodies. Hard markers. And this wine was the instant talk of the crowd. A shocker and a success!

I urge you to try Jonathan Edwards!!!

Hopkins Estate Seyval Blanc 2009 (CT)

In 1979, Bill and Judith Hopkins transformed their dairy farm into a vineyard, one of the first in what has become a thriving Connecticut industry. I've been going there since the mid-1980s. Since then, it has consistently produced award-winning whites, reds and sparkling wines. Hopkins Vineyard grows 11 varieties of grapes in a spectacular setting overlooking Lake Waramaug. Located in Pomfret, Connecticut, in the Litchfield area, it is as charming a setting as I have ever driven through. Especially in summer and fall, the rock walls wind through the countryside like ribbons, the hills are dotted with wineries, there's charming Connecticut fall foliage, and tons of antique shops to survey.


Winemaker Jim Baker has said, “I’m proud of the work we do in the vineyard. I’m proud that other winemakers come here and are impressed with how well our fruit looks, and want to buy our grapes. I’m proud when people come here and enjoy the wine. I like to see people smile. I enjoy producing a product that people enjoy.”

Recently, we threw a party and set out a number of East Coast wines from anywhere from Maine to Virginia. Among the favorites on the table was the Hopkins Estate Seyval Blanc 2009. It I made from estate grown Seyval Blanc and Traminette grapes. This wine was crisp, clean, and dry. Big notes of tropical fruits, green apple, and lots and lots of citrus, especially lemon. Very much like a lemony Pinot Grigio-styled table white. Absolutely lovely!

Hopkins has become a leader in quality. They are making wonderful wines, and have really established themselves as one of the better wineries in New England, whose wines easily stand up outside the region.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014


The other day my son told everyone to shut up before he loaded this “old CD I found” in a used book and record store. Dylan prefers “vinyl – first pressings.” He slipped in the CD and the first notes of Birth of the Cool played.

“That’s Birth of the Cool by Miles Davis,” he explained to his poor, under jazz-educated parents. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I’d thrown away the vinyl I owned of that one back in 1994, when I decided moving my 1000 albums from one NYC apartment to another was just too laborious a task. I didn’t want to prove to him how absolutely crude and dumbass I really am.
The cool came first. Miles Davis, one of the greatest musicians of the 20th century, with his nonet, created, the Birth of the Cool (with the help of arranger and collaborator Gil Evans). It was a breakthrough in jazz as much as it was also a cultural breakthrough for African-American musicians and performers.
“The command of the poetic emotion made Miles Davis the greatest player of romantic songs to emerge since World War II and the innovations of Charlie Parker. By the mid-'50s, he had come into his first period of maturity and developed a style in which his lyricism was so revealing that it brought unexpected pleasure to his listeners. Davis' improvisation testified to his willingness to share the facts of very introspective feelings. And none of what he did seemed easy,” opined controversial and highly-acclaimed jazz critic Stanley Crouch in “Listening to that side of Davis' talent is like a form of eavesdropping. ..Davis became a matinee idol in the mid-1950s when dark-skinned men were beginning to break through the barriers that kept them from being seen in romantic roles or thought of as superb interpreters of love songs. Davis shared this moment with Sidney Poitier and Nat Cole...”
“Miles was very sharp and at different points he would take an overview of the whole jazz scene, who was heading in the direction he was wanting to go in… he was often the second guy, the guy who popularized movements not who started them. Kind of Blue did that for modal jazz, and the guy he brought in with the sound he wanted was pianist Bill Evans,” wrote Harvey Pekar (of American Splendor fame, but equally well known as a serious and insightful jazz critic) in the Austin Chronicle about Davis.
With “Birth of the Cool” and “Kind of Blue” Davis and his nonet set the jazz world on an entirely new course. With their “cool” new sound, they set a standard and created a music that would change jazz for a generation and create music that would live and thrive well beyond their lifetimes.
So too was it that GI’s returning from war in Europe brought home a thirst for the wines they had drank in France and Italy especially. These were medium bodied and light bodied wines. From the heavier but elegant, notes of Bordeaux, to the wonderful, complex wines of Barolo and Chianti, to the light, delicate notes of Burgundy, the wines service men began to want were complex, well-balanced, with lots of different, soft notes, much like the cool jazz Crouch wrote about of the same period. Bright cherry and ripe cherry as well as raspberry, plum, and hints of cassis or black berry epitomized these wines, with alcohols that ranged from 11-13%. They were great food wines. They rarely over-powered meals, and were designed to be part of the meal. As the Greatest Generation matured, they craved more of those wines, and importers did not disappoint. The great wines of France and Italy were brought over in droves and set a standard for the entire industry. Men like Frank Schoonmaker and Frederick Wildman and others trumpeted estates and regions, and made icons of these long established wine houses large and small. These wines dominated the wines lists of major American cities for decades, virtually unchallenged. Their dominance was so secure it was thought to be unquestionable.

But stasis creates a void in the world of art.

In 1970, Miles Davis released Bitches Brew, a jazz-rock-funk hybrid that rocked the jazz world all over again. “Miles' music continues to grow in its beauty, subtlety and sheer magnificence. Bitches' Brew is a further extension of the basic idea he investigated in his two previous albums, Filles De Kilimanjaro and In A Silent Way. In a larger sense, however, the record is yet another step in the unceasing process of evolution Miles has undergone since the Forties. The man never stops to rest on his accomplishments. Driven forward by a creative elan unequaled in the history of American music, he incorporates each successive triumph into the next leap forward,” read the review in Rollingstone magazine. “In its current form, Miles' music bubbles and boils like some gigantic cauldron. As the musical ideas rise to the surface, the listener also finds his thoughts rising from the depths with a new clarity and precision.”

“What Miles wanted from the music industry—and record buyers—was even more serious money that he merited for being so singular. Before Bitches Brew was made, I remember Miles saying of the rockers that “these white boys are making a lot of money with that, and I could do much more with that music than they can….” But that was not the primary reason he kept exploring rock, funk, and anything else that challenged him to transmute whatever interested him into Miles music,” explained jazz critic and reporter Nat Hentoff in Jazz Times. Hentoff opined that rock and the other new music stimulated Davis and helped reinvent himself and the others playing with him. His new direction, like the one before, catapulted a fledgling backwater of studio musicians into a whole new industry. Purists, like Crounch, did not like the new direction, and criticized it heavily, but the fusion movement thrived like a fright train.

And thus it was with wine. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, winemakers in California decided they too would express themselves. They originally thought to emulate the great masters from Bordeaux and Burgundy which resulted in the famous Tasting of 1976, when the American wines showed extremely well compared to their European counterparts. New voices joined the growing chorus of celebrants chanting the success of these wines. They came from odd places, new slick wine magaazines and small newsletters, alien to the traditional print world - Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, Stephen Tanzer, and Robert Parker were among those glorifying the old world wines as well trumpeting the new ones as the thirst for more wine began to grow. And there were new wine regions associated with this movement, such as California, Chile, Argentina, Australia and South Africa. They were warm climate regions, whose grapes were reaching exceedingly high sugar content allowing for higher alcohol and a hint of sweetness to offset that alcohol.

Eventually by the 1980s tastes were starting to change in the wine industry as well. The new kind of wine was extolled – the Fruit Bomb. A fruit bomb was an immensely big wine, with big dark fruit up front – generally characterized by blackberry, black currant, blueberry, and dark cherry. Its brawny shoulders carried new alcohol highs. Some were almost like port. They were heavily concentrated and the darker and more opaque they were the better. Deep purple wines with dark red rims. The more muscular these wines were, the more impressive they seemed. What news highs could be reached? The rewards for the winemakers were high praise from the chorus, especially Mr. Parker. A winery needed what became known as a “Parker Fruit Bomb” to ensure a good score to bouy their list. Winemakers who specialized in the beefy wines were called in to “consult” and voila! a sensation was confirmed. No doubt wine buyers bought into the craze, and American (and some foreign) collectors scooped up these wines. I myself collected a number of these huge wines. It was part of the zeitgeist of the 1980s and 1990s. The New Guilded Age. So great was the tumult, and the rush for sales, that winemakers who made beautifully balanced wines were fired if they could not create these “new” wines. Tim Mondavi the winemaker at Robert Mondavi was the most notable of these instances. These were show wines. They were imbibed in tasting rooms and seemingly meant to be drank alone…to be shown off. They were most-often paired with giant slabs of marbled, charcoaled steaks, grilled Portobello mushrooms, and big, heavy pasta dishes. Always a lot of fun. I drank a lot of them! And I still have a lot of them to drink.
Now, something new is going on. Influences are waning, and the wine collecting crowd is changing. Some of them have gotten older, and looking for something that is not quite so heavy.

Think Of One
But like Stanley Crouch, I am a classicist. With the appearance of Wynton Marsalis, a young jazz trumpeter from an old line jazz family, there was a return to classic trumpet fare and classic jazz. He released his first classical recording Trumpet Concertos: Haydn, Hummel, Mozart. Becomes the first and only artist to win both classical and jazz GRAMMY® Awards in the same year for Trumpet Concertos: Haydn, Hummel, Mozart and Think Of One.
Marsalis is the perfect metaphor. He is a return to classicism, as well as classic jazz. I return regularly to the The Birth of the Cool and Kind of Blue. I find those compositions enhancing and not over powering. I am not so into raw and loud as I am into smooth and soothing. I am not alone.
And now there are also new regions of wine, especially those from the east coast and mid-west where the trend is to make wines fruit forward but with a less heavy sense of fruit. There is a return to more moderate shades of red fruit, there is less alcohol, and the wines are meant to be had with all foods.  Older wine drinkers are returning to these wines. Younger wine drinkers are discovering for themselves these wines for the first time – and liking them. New regions like New York (which was long a winemaking region, has finally matured), as well as Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, even New Jersey, and other areas through-out the east coast. New voices are rising up from non-traditional formats alien to the established media – bloggers and tweeters. The Virginia Wine Mafia, the New York Cork Report, and many others, including even this publication.

The day of the fruit bomb is over. The fruit bomb is dead. It is cold hard fact. Yes, some are still being sold, and some being collected, and some being imbibed, but more and more the old dark fruit elixir is losing ground. It is the NEW Birth of the Cool.

Lenn Thompson recently asked in a facebook discussion, ‘what is a cool climate wine?’ Cool-climate wines, as they are commonly referred to, are often considered to be wines grown in cooler climates. That’s not always the best way to think of them. I think cool climate wines are described as much as by what they are not, as much as by what they are. Cool wines aren’t 15% alcohol. They are not overpowering. In general, they are not fruit bombs with heavy purple fruits up front. They pair well with many foods. Obviously some pair better with others. But they are not big, grapey wines, super concentrated wines. The “new cool” tend to be made by winemakers who prefer an non-interventionist slant. They tend to shun concentrators and manipulation. They tend to prefer a stonieness in their wines – red and white. Can a cool climate wine be made in California? Absolutely! They did it for years! Am I saying that big, concentrated wines are bad? Or that California wines are bad? No. I am simply saying there is a trend going on.
And the birthplace of the “new cool” wine movement was the east coast. Argue what you will, but with the ascension of New York and Virginia, the temperature in the room began to cool. The “new cool” started on the east coast, a smaller region than California to be sure, but nonetheless this new region rose as a challenger, supplied a consumer base looking for less alcoholic, overpowering wines, and helped mold that discussion. Even some regions of California are professing “cool climate” styled wines…and they are!
But the “new cool” wine movement isn’t just about style. It’s about place. And the burgeoning wine industry that is growing up around the US, especially on the east coast, are producing more medium bodied wines. These wines are gaining in popularity. The ascension of popularity of New York and Virginia, and their tremendous growth, have helped to spawn a new awareness in wine drinkers. And in wine writers. And the “new cool” wines have caught the eyes of established newspaper veterans like Eric Asimov and Dave McIntyre, as well as Dan Berger and others. Suddenly the “new cool” is becoming the main stream!

Well balanced, complex wines, with acidity and tannins, will always be appreciated. There is a whole new movement afloat to reward these winemakers. Because of their acidity (which cuts through and compliments fat), they tend to be much more food friendly. And the lower alcohol is easier the consumer as well. Hell, even my son is listening to Birth of the Cool and Almost Blue. It’s good to be cool again.

2014 EWE Conference Program Announced

MARCH 4,5 & 6, 2014
LANCASTER, PA–The Eastern Winery Exposition has finalized the 2014 conference program and has publicly posted it on the EWE website. EWE is dedicated to providing members of the Eastern wine and grape industries with relevant, practical and valuable information to further their product quality and business success.

Highlights of the new 2014 program include:
  • Solutions to current issues in Eastern viticulture, from the grape supply to frost damage and more;
  • New technology sessions for enology and viticulture;
  • Spotlight on social media: setting and achieving sales & marketing goals and more;
  • Two enology sessions for Better Bordeaux Blends;
  • A wine flaw focus on the reduction/oxidation spectrum;
  • Two half-day workshops featuring distillation and direct-to-consumer marketing
  • Four industry newcomer sessions
  • 90% new conference speakers and 100% fresh topics
  • A variety of registration options for any professional budget
  • 17 state and industry associations offering conference registration discounts to their members
For a complete list of sessions by track (Enology, Newcomer, Marketing / Money / Management, Viticulture and half-day workshops) visit and scroll down. Speaker biographies, session descriptions and complete event schedule will be available online by the end of October.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Dana Milbank Lauds Fine Wine in Virginia in the Washington Post

The sun rises over a valley of fog below the RdV Vineyard. RdV’s pampered grapes _ merlot, cabernet sauvignon, petit verdot and cabernet franc _ are blended into two Bordeaux-style wines: Rendezvous, a round, merlot-based blend; and Lost Mountain, a Medoc-style blend with more cabernet sauvignon that is more tannic and meant to be aged. 

Virginia wines: How a few vineyards are putting the state on the fine-winery map
By Dana Milbank, The Washington Post
Posted: 12/31/13, 12:03 PM EST |   

Thomas Jefferson was a failure.

Yes, the man did some good work, writing the Declaration of Independence and running the country as our third president. Monticello is fairly impressive, too. But there is no way around it: As a winemaker, Jefferson was a disaster.
He began planting grapes in Virginia in 1771. In 1773, he had an Italian, Filippo Mazzei, plant a variety of European vines on his land. Yet in the years that followed, Jefferson had not a single harvest of grapes and produced not a single bottle of wine. His precious European vines were killed by insects, fungus and harsh winters. Some were trampled by horses. As recounted in a recent history by Richard Leahy, “Beyond Jefferson’s Vines,” the great man eventually packed it in, claiming that he “would in a year or two more have established the practicability of that branch of culture in America.”
Sure he would have.
Instead of bringing viticulture to the New World, Jefferson may have helped set in motion the devastation of the wine industry in the Old World. The phylloxera vine louse, believed to have helped to kill off Jefferson’s vines, was eventually exported to Europe, where it wiped out most of the continent’s grapevines. It took the better part of a century for Europe to recover.

And for the next 200 years, wines in Virginia — based on native grapes not susceptible to the dreaded louse — were mostly undrinkable. When oenological pioneers revived winemaking in Virginia 40 years ago, the result was, as often as not, something that tasted like detergent. Gradually, the wines became tolerable, if usually unremarkable.

The past several years, however, have brought Jefferson vindication. A new generation of Virginia winemakers has begun to produce wines that can compete with the best of those from California and Europe. Here in the Mid-Atlantic, a petite Bordeaux is taking root. Technological advances in vineyard site selection, viticulture and winemaking have combined to create a critical mass for Virginia, establishing this area as what Decanter magazine in July called “the next big thing in American wine.”

“The current renaissance of serious vintners in the Virginia wine community has made Virginia a major contender,” says Jennifer Knowles, wine director at the Inn at Little Washington, which has 52 Virginia wines in its cellar and this year won a Wine Spectator Grand Award. She calls the wines “beautiful in their balance” and, ranging from $30 to $240 at the Rappahannock County restaurant, competitive with similarly priced wines from California and Europe.

This is not to say Virginia is the new Napa Valley. The Virginia Wine Board Marketing Office reports that the state has at least 230 wineries, and offers impressive statistics: an all-time high in wine sales in fiscal 2013, more than 511,000 cases sold, tied with Texas (yes, Texas) as the fifth-largest wine-grape-growing state. But independent experts I spoke to generally agree that many Virginia wineries are still making wine that ranges from unremarkable to unpleasant. That helps to explain why all but about 3 percent of Virginia wine is consumed in Virginia — much of that by tourists at wine festivals and winery tastings.
The making of high-quality wine is a rather different story. It is the work of about 20 producers. Some, such as Jim Law of Linden Vineyards and Gianni Zonin and Luca Paschina of Barboursville Vineyards, have been at it for many years. Others are Johnny-come-latelies with deep pockets. Donald Trump bet on Virginia wines two years ago, buying Kluge Estate winery and naming it — what else? — Trump Winery, under the direction of Donald’s son, Eric. AOL founder Steve Case and wife Jean bought a producer and reopened it last year as Early Mountain Vineyards; they have said they’ll donate any profits to furthering Virginia wine.

In between are small, little-known estates with names such as Rappahannock Cellars, Pollak Vineyards and King Family Vineyards, scattered from Loudoun County to the Charlottesville area. Within a 90-minute drive from Washington, you can find three of the best:
RdV Vineyards, in Delaplane, is the work of Rutger de Vink, a Dutch American who poured a family fortune into building a great vineyard and now sells out his $100-a-bottle wines.
Delaplane Cellars, just a few minutes from RdV, was built by Jim Dolphin, who was in real estate and used proceeds from the sale of his home to turn his winemaking hobby into a business.
Glen Manor, in Front Royal, was the brainchild of Jeff White, a fifth-generation farmer along Skyline Drive who discovered that his land was perfect for wine grapes.

The three have little in common, except that they all learned the trade from Jim Law at Linden Vineyards. In just a few years, they have employed technological advances to make world-class wines, at times exceeding the quality of their mentor’s.
As I write this, I am sipping 2010 Hodder Hill, a Bordeaux blend from Glen Manor, which sits on the west side of the Blue Ridge. The vines are grown on impossibly steep slopes at altitudes above 1,000 feet, using viticultural advances unknown just a few years ago and hand-pruned with the care of bonsai artists. It’s mostly cabernet sauvignon — a finicky grape hard to ripen in Virginia — softened by merlot and given rich color by petit verdot, a favorite grape here because it resists fungus and rot. The result is a flawless, silky wine with flavors of black cherry and currants that won a gold medal in the 2013 Virginia Governor’s Cup; the 2009 Hodder Hill won the 2012 Governor’s Cup overall.

At $48 a bottle, it’s a steal — if you can find it. White produced only 350 cases of the stuff.
“There was a tendency in the past in Virginia to think, ‘I just have to get my fruit through the growing season clean, disease-free, so I can harvest it,’ ” White told me. “Now we’re kind of pushing the envelope.”

At first glance, there is no reason anybody would try to make wine in Virginia.
Its clay soil has poor drainage. It gets far more rain than is good for grapevines, and in the form of torrential thunderstorms. The high humidity encourages fungus and rot. A short growing season means grapes don’t have time to ripen. Then, just as harvest season arrives, there is the annual threat of bad weather related to tropical storms that can wipe out harvests.

“You look at our climate, and you don’t jump up and down and say, ‘Oh, my God, this is a perfect place to grow grapes,’ ” said de Vink, the RdV proprietor.

Essentially, what’s good for most crops — fertile soil and ample moisture — is precisely what you don’t want if you’re trying to make good wine. When a vine is in nutrient-rich soil and gets plenty of water, the plant puts its energy into leaves and shoots. But when a vine is stressed — not getting enough nutrition and water — it devotes its energy to perpetuating the species and protecting its seed by producing the most succulent fruit.
These new Virginia winemakers are mimicking the conditions of great wine regions such as Bordeaux and Burgundy. Consulting with soil scientists, they are finding rocky soils on steep, wind-swept hillsides that promote drainage and air circulation around the grape clusters. They graft European varietals onto phylloxera-resistant rootstock and use new techniques in “canopy management.”

There have been advances in the wineries, too, including micro-oxygenation, enzymes and concrete tanks, and more widespread use of stainless-steel equipment. But while such techniques can make an otherwise bad wine tolerable, the real difference has been outdoors. The fickle climate, says Knowles, of the Inn at Little Washington, “means an incredible amount of time spent physically tending the vines. This is where Virginia viticulture differs from most wine-growing regions in the world and why winemakers here have to have an almost fanatical attention to detail.”
The vagaries of nature, and the resulting need for labor-intensive farming, means the top Virginia wines have more in common with the understated wines of Bordeaux and Burgundy than the bold wines of California. California wines are all about ripe fruit and heavy oak, but Virginia wines are more delicate and require gentler extraction of juice from the grapes.

Virginia’s Old World style has won some critical acclaim. Four years ago, The Washington Post’s wine writer, Dave McIntyre, hosted a blind tasting in which Virginia wines only narrowly trailed competitors from France and California. Then, last year, Steven Spurrier, the British wine merchant who arranged the “Judgment of Paris” wine tasting in 1976 that put California wines on the map when they beat their French rivals, arranged a blind tasting of Virginia wines alongside top candidates from France, Italy, Portugal and California. Spurrier preferred the Virginia contender in six of eight comparisons, and the other two were ties.
Also on that blind panel was Jay Youmans, educational director of the Capital Wine School, who runs the annual Virginia Governor’s Cup competition. In the past two years, his well-credentialed judges have given 88 of 100 points to more than 40 wines from a handful of Virginia producers. The influential British wine writer Jancis Robinson, too, has called the Virginia wines she tasted “thrillingly good,” and McIntyre has been a key figure in spreading the word about Virginia’s advances.

In theory, the same sort of technical advances that have helped Virginia wineries should make it possible to produce decent wine almost anywhere. But Virginia has had a jump because of favorable tax and distribution laws. Maryland, for example, is 15 to 20 years behind its neighbor, Youmans estimates, though wineries such as Black Ankle, Boordy, Sugarloaf and Old Westminster “are making great inroads.”
Still, Virginia’s critical acclaim is of limited use for now, because the wines are produced in such small quantities they are rarely available beyond the tasting rooms. But even if Virginia wine never becomes The Next Big Thing, there is a triumph in making Jefferson’s 18th-century prediction come true.

A century ago, Jeff White’s great-grandfather was looking for a spot for the family farm. Out in Shenandoah, the best parcels were always down in the valley, where the soil is rich and the water abundant. But the good farming land was taken, so White’s ancestor decided to try his luck on the western slope of the Blue Ridge. The land was scenic — it sits just below modern-day Skyline Drive in Front Royal — but not much of a spot for agriculture. The best White’s ancestors could do was to grow fruit trees. “It was not one of the sought-after farms,” White says with some understatement.
But it turns out White’s ancestor was quite accidentally prescient. The mountains were steep and rocky — rain simply runs off.

White planted his first vineyard in 1995 at 1,100 feet, on a patch of granite and greenstone, with a slope of 15 degrees. He sold his grapes to Law at Linden, where White worked as a winemaker, and it turned out the fruit was good. So White planted his second vineyard at 1,300 feet, with a 35-degree slope, on soil so rocky White’s ancestors let the forest keep it. White’s farmhands probably wish he had continued the practice, because everything in the new vineyard takes them twice as long as it took in the old.
Viewed from his Glen Manor winery, White’s newer vineyard looks almost as if it is growing on a cliff face. And because of the west-facing orientation, the vineyard is in the scorching sun until 8:30 on summer nights.

If he leaves too many leaves on his vines, the grapes will become moldy and diseased. If he leaves too few, they’ll sunburn. And so he trims each vine by hand, leaving extra shading over the grape clusters on the west and south side, but pulling leaves from the east and north side to let sun and air in. “I make multiple passes through the vines, plucking leaves as the summer goes by,” he explains.
He tried growing chardonnay grapes but had to pull out the vines; they were getting a bacterial illness called grapevine yellows, transmitted by a leafhopper. He has encountered a fungus — ripe rot — that can grow even in direct sunlight.

But White is keeping one step ahead of Mother Nature. Through pruning, he tricks his vines into growing a large number of smaller grape clusters. This increases the “crop load,” further stressing the vines and dissuading them from more vegetative growth. He then cuts half of the grape clusters in midseason and discards them. To protect his remaining grapes, he covers them in bird netting. An eight-foot electrified fence and aluminum pie pans keep out deer and bears.
White grows only 14 acres of vines, and his newer vineyard uses slow-growing rootstock. He switched to a newer variety of cabernet sauvignon that ripens earlier — clone No. 337 — and plants his vines more densely so they compete over the limited water supply. The result: “It’s night and day,” White says. He planted 450 vines per acre in his first vineyard, but now plants 1,400.

He also lowered the fruiting wire — where the grape clusters sit — to two feet above the ground, to get more radiation heating to ripen the grapes.
As he gains confidence, White grows bolder: He has been experimenting with sauvignon blanc grapes, which, according to conventional wisdom, should not be grown in Virginia: They are thin-skinned and in tight clusters, so the heat and humidity cause the grapes to burst and rot. But this year, White let the vines’ leaves grow at the top late in the season to take moisture away from the grapes and prevent them from bursting.

These heroic efforts mean White is producing some wines that are world-class. Yet the world may never know it: He sells as much as 70 percent of his wine straight out of the winery. That’s too bad, because White’s wine could change impressions about the region’s winemakers. “There’s still a stigma that a Virginia wine could be a risky proposition,” White admits.
Jim Dolphin is a no-frills winemaker. He was the chief financial officer of a real-estate investment company, fermenting grapes at home as a hobby. But he left his job, sold his home, bought hilly land in Delaplane, and planted grapevines in 2008.

Dolphin’s is a shoestring operation. Other wineries have vibrating tables to sort grapes from stems, but not Dolphin. “The one I want costs $19,000,” he says. “Maybe next year.” Neither can he afford the drip-irrigation systems others use. His irrigation technique? “You do a rain dance.” He doesn’t drape his vines in bird netting, opting for an inexpensive device that mimics birds’ distress calls and, theoretically, keeps the birds from eating his grapes.
Dolphin sprays 15 or 20 times each season for the extraordinary range of hazards: powdery mildew, downy mildew, black rot, phomopsis, Japanese beetles, Asian fruit flies, bunch stem necrosis and many more. “You see a leaf that has some symptoms,” he says, walking between rows of vines. “It’s like, ‘Okay, what the hell is this?’ ”

He plants grapes that suit the hot, moist climate. He favors tannat, a red grape with thick skins, and petit manseng, a white grape with thick skins and loose clusters, allowing for more air circulation. Both are from southwest France. Dolphin also likes the petit verdot, a deep red grape that comes from small berries in loose clusters.
Dolphin plants only eight acres and buys half his grapes from other farmers. Like other high-quality producers, he understands that most of the quality is in the grapes — “What ends up in your bottle, 80 to 90 percent of what happens is in the vineyard,” he says — but he has been particularly proficient at adapting the winemaking process to Virginia’s vagaries.

“Here, we adjust our winemaking practices to the vintage,” he explains. He cites the example of 2011, “probably the worst year ever in Virginia for growing grapes.” There was Hurricane Irene and a tropical storm. There were 30-odd rainy days before the harvest, causing rot and under-ripe grapes. “We processed very, very gently,” he says. “We didn’t try to extract much at all from the grapes.” He fermented the grapes at a cooler temperature. And, as it turned out, the 2011 wines from Delaplane are, if not memorable, at least clean and without flaws.

Even in bountiful vintages, Dolphin believes in minimal extraction — not overstating the natural flavors of the grapes. “I’m a surgeon, not a butcher,” he says. His yields are very low: He harvests only two or three tons per acre, though he could produce six tons, and he uses no mechanized harvesting or weeding.
But who will know of Dolphin’s extraordinary winemaking efforts? Sadly, few. He reports that 98 percent of his wine is sold in his tasting room, where jazz music, nibbles and views are the selling points rather than the wine. A moment later, he notices that a tourist has begun to sample grapes from the vine. He excuses himself, then confronts the miscreant, who is picking the fruit while talking on his cellphone.

When Rutger de Vink was looking for land for a vineyard, he hired a soil scientist and said, “Find me the poorest, droughtiest soils.”
Eventually, he found a wooded hillside on the southern tip of a granite knoll in what’s called the “Lost Mountain Range” between the Blue Ridge and Bull Run. The area was labeled “not suitable for agriculture” on Fauquier County soil maps. Says de Vink: “That was the first indication that it was good for grapes.” Core soil samples, now displayed in glass cylinders in his cellar, show 26 feet of rock. On top of the solid granite is weathered granite, and on top of that is a thin, 18-inch layer of sandy loam.

Starting in 2006, De Vink poured a good chunk of his wealth (his family has money from pharmaceuticals) into making a rocky 16 acres into a top vineyard. He admits to spending $10 million, not including the land. He spent $100,000 per acre just to develop the land for planting. He installed drip irrigation and recruited some of Bordeaux’s leading wine authorities to serve as his consultants.
Viticulturalist Jean-Philippe Roby of the University of Bordeaux recalls meeting an inquisitive de Vink in 2002: He “was the first person I’ve met who asked so many questions concerning terroir” — how the soil influences the wine. As they spent a day in a Bordeaux vineyard, de Vink fired off questions in halting French, Roby recalled: ” ‘What is this pruning system, and why do you prune like this, and why do you plant with, so, this density here, another density [there], and why do you edge like this?’”

“I said, ‘Well, I don’t want to consult in America,’ ” but de Vink eventually persuaded him, Roby explains on one of his harvest-season visits to RdV. “As it was a new vineyard, it was really interesting, because I usually work in Europe in established vineyards,” where “you see something, and you correct. Here it was like a new baby.”
Another Frenchman, oenologist Eric Boissenot, is overnighted juice samples as the season progresses and consults with wine director Josh Grainer on fermentation and blending.

De Vink’s fingers are purple in fall from squeezing grapes to test ripeness. He patrols the vineyard in a golf cart, in which a shotgun (to fire at varmints) dangles precariously from the roof.
De Vink went to Colgate University to study business but enlisted in the Marine Corps before graduation and spent time in Somalia during his four years. He later did a stint at Columbia Capital — the venture capital firm founded by Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, D, — before turning to winemaking. In 2001, he joined Linden Vineyards as an apprentice, working with Law.

De Vink looked at possible vineyard sites on the Sonoma Coast, but settled on Virginia. When prospective consultants boasted about the great vineyards they had tended in California, he’d tell them: “Good for you. Do it in Virginia — then you can have something credited to your name.”
He wanted to make wine in Virginia that would sell for $100 a bottle and more. The site fixes many of Virginia’s problems: Elevation (850 feet at its highest) increases the air flow, and the average slope is 20 to 25 degrees. But location alone won’t get him to $100.

De Vink built a barn-size cooling room, kept at 40 degrees, so grapes can be picked and stored if a storm is looming; the cooling of the grapes also allows for gentler extraction of the juice, therefore subtler wine. To protect against disease and pests, de Vink had to spray his vines 14 times this year, 40 percent more than is typical in Bordeaux. Even then he loses to powdery mildew, black rot and grapevine yellows. He has all the latest fermenting equipment, and, in a nod to another fact of life in Virginia, he has a grape-sorting table that separates out the stink bugs.
De Vink, who lives in an Airstream trailer on his property, plants “cover crops” between the vines to compete for water. He removes all clippings to keep nitrogen from the soil, because the nutrient causes vines to grow too vigorously. He adds Epsom salts to the soil to reduce the potassium the plants take up, because too much potassium throws off the pH balance of the wine.

“This is where modern science and techniques help,” he says. He strips leaves from grape clusters in wet periods to admit more air and sunlight. He, like White, grows his grape clusters about a foot lower than in Bordeaux because he thinks they benefit from the warmth of the ground and because doing so produces an overall leaf canopy better for airflow. Even so, he plants only half as many vines per acre as they typically do in Bordeaux, because, even with all his efforts to restrain growth, the vines will still grow bigger and faster in Virginia.
Like other quality producers, he uses cane pruning, a labor-intensive method of training vines. This creates perfectly vertical, pencil-shaped shoots, six or eight per plant, evenly spaced. It reduces the amount of old wood on the vines, reducing the risk of disease. The result is row after tidy row of almost flat sheets of leaves — “solar panels,” de Vink calls them — facing the sun.

Under the guidance of Roby, de Vink sometimes swaps grape varietals — say, attempting to grow cabernet sauvignon where merlot had been before. The slopes of RdV display “a lot of difference of soil,” says Roby, who consults for about a dozen vineyards worldwide. “You have green leaves at the bottom [of the hill], very dry yellow leaves in the middle, middle green and on the top it’s yellow. . . . the terroir effect is very strong on the behavior of the plant, and the objective for Rutger and I was to understand the difference of behavior of the plant.”
And for all that, there are things about Virginia no amount of ingenuity and money can fix: In 2011, de Vink lost 70 percent of his harvest to storms. Even if everything goes well, his capacity is only 2,000 cases a year — barely a drop in the barrel. It will take de Vink a long time to earn back his investment, but he aims to be cash-flow positive within a couple of years.

But his wines, though they cost around three figures per bottle, quickly sell out as sommeliers and connoisseurs scoop them up.
De Vink’s pampered grapes — merlot, cabernet sauvignon, petit verdot and cabernet franc — are blended into two Bordeaux-style wines: Rendezvous, a round, merlot-based blend; and Lost Mountain, a Medoc-style blend with more cabernet sauvignon that is more tannic and meant to be aged. 

"We want to make a wine that transcends Virginia,” he says as we taste the wines in his cellar. There’s a bowl for spitting after each wine is tasted, but these fluids are too precious to be expelled. “It’s a big ambition: We want to be a great American wine. For me it’s nails on a chalkboard when somebody tastes this wine and says, ‘Not bad for Virginia.’ You know what? This is not bad for an American wine.”
Read the whole thing at:

Wednesday, January 01, 2014



There’s been a lot of marriage talk going on.

Kelly Urbanik is the classic girl next store. Young. Pretty. Lanky. With a great, great smile. She is tall, thin, athletic. Great eyes. Long brown hair. She’s almost like a model. Healthy. Comfortable in her own skin. Her daily uniform is a t-shirt and jeans. Maybe a hoodie to go with it? But don’t let those looks fool you. She is no push over. Kelly is a killer. She is a passionate, focused, dedicated winemaker. She knows her stuff. And she is not good at what she does – she’s very good. And she is getting better. She is in love with her industry and her craft. She is absolutely dedicated in her zeal to make great wine. Her recent wedding this last September was a perfect example.
“When Kelly Urbanik, winemaker for Macari Vineyards in Mattituck, was planning the most important day of her life, she knew she wanted to be surrounded by family. And that's why she decided to hold her wedding in the Macari vineyard, surrounded by relatives and friends who are as close as family in a place that resonates with deep meaning,” wrote Lisa Finn in the North Fork Patch on September 9, 2013. “Urbanik, 32, who married her longtime love Rob Koch on Saturday, said the pair dated for six years before getting engaged in December.”

Kelly Urbanik is from St. Helena, California. Kelly’s love of wine stems from early childhood, growing up closely connected to vineyards in her hometown. From a young age, she worked on her grandfather’s vineyard and enjoyed making homemade wine with her father and grandfather. Kelly received a Bachelor of Science degree from University of California, Davis in Viticulture and Enology with a minor in French. She has worked at a number of prestigious wineries including Beringer in California and Maison Louis Jadot in France under the tutelage of legendary winemaker Jacques Lardière. Kelly arrived to the North Fork of Long Island in 2006. She became winemaker at Macari on 2010. Joe Macari and the family brought in some consultants to back her up. She’s got some exceptional people she can rely for ideas, advice, and information. But Kelly is no wallflower.

"I moved here to try a different region and to see what it was like, making wine on the East Coast," she told Finn. Rob Koch her husband is a mechanical engineer and avid fisherman. The happy couple met in a local North Fork volleyball league. Kelly wanted to be married during the start of the harvest season. "It's my favorite time of year," she added. "We wanted to do it in the fall but not too late in the season, because I'd be too busy at work."

According to Finn, the Marcari family offered to hold the wedding at the vineyard. Kelly was thrilled. Flowers were everywhere. There were winery workers, interns, friends, and family – hers, his, and the Macari’s. "There's a special connection to the winery — and to the family," Urbanik said.

I saw Kelly just a month later. Rob and she had a short honeymoon….a few days, and then she went back to work. It was the harvest season after all. How can you not love this woman?!

My favorite part of the wedding story was that as she was planning her wedding by night and weekend, but she was completely redoing the winery inside during the work week, trading out more than a dozen and a half tanks, and bringing in cement egg fermenters. It was a major undertaking just before the harvest happened. Then there was a wedding. And then there was harvest!
When I came to visit, the transformation was complete. She showed me around her new tanks and equipment like a little kid shows off their new Christmas or birthday presents. She was proud and giddy. She bounced from tank to tank. But what was really interesting was that her chatter wasn’t about the tanks themselves. It was about the wine.
Kelly was very happy with her wines, as she described the different techniques and processes she had used between one wine and then another. All she could talk about the natural techniques she was using, maceration times, and about the fruit quality at time of picking. And that is the real part of Kelly’s charm that absolutely comes through – she is a wine geek, and proud of it! And her pride, zeal, and excitement are infectious!

While I was there, I tasted two examples from Macari Vineyards. The tasting notes were incredibly rich, and detailed. 
The first was Sauvignon Blanc No. 1 2012. According to the tasting notes, “For this wine, the Sauvignon Blanc grape juice was skin fermented, a technique used normally to extract color, flavor and tannins for red wine making.  Half the batch was skin fermented in a 500L Barrel and the other half, left on the skins for one night in a stainless steel tank.” That’s geek talk right there….and I love it!!!!!! The wine? Oh yeah, it was awesome! Big, huge citrus notes of lemon and lime, with hints of honeydew, mango, and cantaloupe. Very round and full and fruity up front, with a nice big yellow grapefruit ending. A nice, zippy, refreshing white wine. Elegant, balanced. Delicious!!!!
The next was a 2010 Bergen Road. This is Macari’s flagship red blend made only in premium vintages. This is a big tasty Meritage which they have been making at Macari for some time now. It is one of the stalwart classic Meritages of Long Island, and has long been one of my favorites.  The 2010 vintage is made from 56% Merlot, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Cabernet Franc, 3% Malbec and 2% Petit Verdot. This is an exceptional wine. Blends, to my mind, almost always are! This is no exception. Big notes of dark red fruits of raspberry, black berry, and cherry in a deep, purple stew. Hints of spices, cocoa, and vanilla. This is a complex wine, with excellent balance. The fruit is almost overwhelming at first, but balanced by nice tannins and a good long finish by acidity that has not been over powered. The finish on the palate is rounded by oak and time in the bottle. Elegant. Intense. Beautiful. Impressive.

Macari has been one of the back bones of wine making on Long Island since the mid-1990s. So that why I am so interested in this marriage. But the marriage I am interested in is of Kelly and Macari – I am hoping will have one of those fairytale endings where they are together a good long time and make lots of beautiful little babies just like these two little bottles...they lived happily ever after.

There is no doubt that Kelly has joined the upper echelon of winemakers in the North Fork.

After that…sorry Rob, you’re on your own! Congrats to Kelly, her crew, and the Macari’s! Here’s to a happy ending.