Secrets of the Winemakers, in Celebration of Virginia Wine Month

by Patrick Evans-Hylton | Posted: Oct 10, 2014

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The Jamestown colonists tried to make wine with the native grapes they found, which were probably scuppernong, only to produce vintages that one early Virginian described as having notes of “wet dog.”

Sunset Hills Vineyard. CameronDavidson@CameronDavidson.com

CameronDavidson@CameronDavidson.com photo

Thomas Jefferson tried to grow classic wine grapes, Vitis vinifera.

But there wasn’t the technology in the late 18th and early 19th centuries to overcome some of the difficulties in producing the same vines that thrived in Europe in the New World due to climate and disease here.

Fast-forward almost two centuries, and vintners here found success. In fact, over the past 30 years, Virginia wines have found their rightful place at the table, and are recognized for their caliber and characteristics.

October is Virginia Wine Month, a time to venture out across the state to visit some of the more than 200 award-winning wineries and celebrate by raising an extra glass or two.

It’s no secret that it’s a great time now – as well as the whole year through – to enjoy Virginia wine, but here are a few insider tips for making the most of your sips from three Governor’s Cup-winning winemakers.

Fabbioli Cellars
15669 Limestone School Rd., Leesburg | 703-771-1197

Fabbioli Cellars is a family operated winery focused on offering a unique tasting experience of artisan and well regarded wines from grapes grown on the estate and in the region.

Winemaker Doug Fabiolli. Jeffrey Greenberg photo

Winemaker Doug Fabiolli. Jeffrey Greenberg photo

Winery Opened: 2007

Winery Offers: 7 wines

A Signature Wine: Fabbioli Cellars’ Tannat has been quite well regarded. It was awarded a Gold Medal in the Governor’s Cup competition and it got a spot in the Governor’s Case.

It is full bodied red with firm structure, a bit of savory character as well as lots of rich red fruit.

Tours/Tastings Offered: Daily, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Interview with Doug Fabbioli, owner and vintner:

Fabbioli started in the wine industry in upstate New York in 1981.

“I love working the farm and being able to grow a crop that can turn into a product that can last for years and can be very well regarded.

“I spent 10 years in California working in the cellar, making home wine and studying viticulture.

“Our future is in using the land to grow our products on a local level. But we need young folks that want to be farmers. Join us in the dirt.”

What sets Virginia wines and wineries apart from others?

“We have good wine history, great state support and a collaborative culture that will increase the quality for all that participate. We are recognized as smaller and higher quality.”

What are some tips for tasting, whether at the winery, a festival or at home?

“Do your homework, sight, swirl, sniff, sip, slurp and swallow. Focus on certain varietals at a time.”

“[At a winery,] visit during the week, ask good questions and don’t wear cologne.”

What trends do you see in Virginia wine?

“We have good wine history, great state support and a collaborative culture that will increase the quality for all that participate. We are recognized as smaller and higher quality.”

What are some of your favorite wine and food pairings?

“Our Raspberry Merlot with a flourless chocolate torte.”

“Sangiovese with lobster macaroni and cheese.”

How will you be celebrating Virginia Wine Month?

“Crushing grapes from harvest and breaking ground on a new tasting room.”

This winery won Gold Medals in the 2014 Virginia Governor’s Cup awards for their 2011 Tannat and 2011 Tre Sorelle.

They won a Silver Medal for their 2011 Cabernet Franc, and Bronze Medals for their 2012 Chambourcin and Raspberry Merlot (NV).

Sunset Hills Vineyard
38295 Fremont Overlook Lane, Purcellville | 540-882-4560

From the tasting room in a historic, restored Amish barn, views of spectacular sunsets behind the nearby mountains are the backdrop to acres of rolling vineyards.

Sunset Hills Vineyard

Sunset Hills Vineyard

Winery Opened: 2006

Winery Offers: 15 wines

A Signature Wine: Viognier is the most popular white wine at Sunset Hills and a specialty among the white wines produced. The wine is highly floral, texture-driven, exotic and bright.

Tours/Tastings Offered: Monday-Thursday, noon to 5 p.m.; Friday and Sunday, noon to 6 p.m.

Interview with Nate Walsh, winemaker and vineyard manager:

Nate has been working in vineyards and wineries for 10 years.

“I enjoy the cyclical, seasonal nature of the work, and the fact that there is a lot of intuition, experimentation, creativity, and flexibility required to explore the best use of our vineyards and grapes.

“It is a profession where getting settled into any kind of dogmatic outlook seems ultimately to be a mistake.”

What sets Virginia wines and wineries apart from others?

“Because of the topography, our vineyard sizes are small, and also our wineries are small.  So we have lots of great tiny winemaking operations, lots of family-run wineries.”

“Our wines themselves are interesting because they generally fall into an Old World style, specifically the reds.”

Sunset Hills Vineyard. CameronDavidson@CameronDavidson.com photo

Sunset Hills Vineyard. CameronDavidson@CameronDavidson.com photo

What are some tips for tasting, whether at the winery, a festival or at home?

“Weekdays are best at most wineries.  Often scheduling an appointment with the winemaker or tasting room manager will allow you to learn the most about the practices of the winery.”

What trends do you see in Virginia wine?

“[Virginia wine has had] a nice build over the past twenty years or so.  Recently, I would say the best wines coming from Virginia are getting better and better, and as such more and more wine drinkers are paying attention.  Also there are simply more wineries, and so there are more options for drinkers.”

What are some of your favorite wine and food pairings?

“Viognier with seared tuna with a cream sauce.”

“Rose’ of Cabernet Franc with a nice picnic basket with burratta, salami, and bread.”

How will you be celebrating Virginia Wine Month?

“Harvesting!”

This winery won Gold Medal in the 2014 Virginia Governor’s Cup awards for their 2010 Mosaic.

They won a Silver Medal for their 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, 2010 Peit Verdot, and 2012 Cabernet Franc. They were awarded Bronze Medals for their 2012 Merlot and 2012 Sunset Red.

The Williamsburg Winery
5800 Wessex Hundred, Williamsburg | 757-229-0999

The winery, the Gabriel Archer Tavern, and the Café Provencal, as well as a small boutique hotel, Wedmore Place, are located on the historic 300-acre Wessex Hundred farm.

Winery Opened: 1988

Winery Offers: 24

The Williamsburg Winery. Kelly Mihalcoe

The Williamsburg Winery. Kelly Mihalcoe photo

A Signature Wine: Created in the Virginia style, Adagio is a balanced wine with the fruit, oak, tannins and alcohol blended in the Bordeaux style. It is 42 percent Cabernet Franc, 30 percent Merlot and 28 percent Petit Verdot.

Tours/Tastings Offered: March-December, daily, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. January and February, Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Interview with Matthew G. R. Meyer, winemaker and executive vice president:

Matthew’s father introduced him to the joys of wine at an early age.

“I grew up collecting wines from around the world and sharing with my father at dinner.  I then decided to turn my hobby for wine into a career.

“I love the complexity and diversity of wine.  To me wine is very sensual.  I have been making wine for almost 20 years professionally.”

What sets Virginia wines and wineries apart from others?

“The quality of Virginia wine is exploding.  We are competing on the national and international wine stage and consistently ranking as high or higher as wines coming from established wine growing regions around the world.”

“I believe the physical location of Virginia is unique as well as the wines.  We have a wonderful balance between Old World and New World wine styles in one bottle.”

What are some tips for tasting, whether at the winery, a festival or at home?

“Don’t treat the wine like a shot of tequila.  Swirl the wine in the glass and take in the aroma before sipping.  When you are ready to taste, the first sip usually just serves to cleanse the palate while the second sip will actually give you a better sense of the flavor of the wine.”

The Williamsburg Winery. Kelly Mihalcoe

The Williamsburg Winery. Kelly Mihalcoe photo

“Taste with friends.  The more people involved in the conversation, the more nuances and aromas you will begin to discover in the wine.  Additionally, if conducting a home tasting, pick a theme and have each person bring a different bottle connected to that theme (region, varietal, or style).”

“Frequently we hear stories about the wine not tasting as good at home as at the winery.  This is frequently because white wine is served too cold and red wine too warm at home.”

“White wine should be chilled (50F-55F) but not served at refrigerator temperature.”

“Red wine should be served at cellar temperature (60F-65F), not room temperature.  White wines taste dull and overly acidic with little aromatics when served too cold.  Red wines taste alcoholic rather than balanced when too warm.”

What trends do you see in Virginia wine?

“I see the younger generation being more adventurous in their wine drinking.  They are more apt to select a variety they haven’t had before or one that is more esoteric.  They experiment more and like discovering new wines.”

“In Virginia I see blends doing very well.  Also being so young in the world of wine we tend to experiment more with different varieties.”

What are some of your favorite wine and food pairings?

“Our Trianon (Cabernet Franc) paired with lamb or a heavy pasta dish.”

“Acte 12 Chardonnay paired with crab bisque.”

How will you be celebrating Virginia Wine Month?

“Since Virginia Wine Month is in October, and October is the peak time of the harvest, I will be celebrating it by making Virginia wine.”

This winery won Gold Medal in the 2014 Virginia Governor’s Cup awards for their 201 Adagio.

They won a Silver Medal for their 2010 Trianon and 2011 Acte 12 of 1619. They were awarded Bronze Medals for their 2011 Lord Botetourt and 2012 A Midsummer Night’s White.

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From the mountains to the sea, there are many wineries to visit, chat with the winemaker, and sample some of the varietals that grow here.

For a list of wineries, wine festivals and wine events to enjoy not just during Virginia Wine Month but all year long, visit Virginia.org/Wine.

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Patrick Evans-HyltonPatrick Evans-Hylton, a Johnson & Wales University trained chef, is a Norfolk, Va.-based food journalist, historian and educator. His work has appeared in print, television, radio and social media since 1995. Evans-Hylton calls his cookbook, Dishing Up Virginia, his love letter to the state’s foods and foodways. He blogs at PatrickEvansHylton.com

 

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