My name is Melanie Ofenloch and I have a philosophy – no wine snobs allowed. While my profession is marketing communications, my passion is drinking wine. I don’t consider myself a wine expert – just an everyday person with a love for the grape, a few annual Pilgrimages to wine regions and at the end of each year, an ugly Visa summary to prove it.
Duffy Keys, Co-Founder of B Cellars Vineyards and Winery, recently came through town for a wine dinner hosted by Tracy and Kent Rathbun from Shinsei, and I had the chance to hear a story that has remained the industry’s best kept secret of luxury brands, reinvention and putting the customer first.
When two luxury brand veterans came together to recreate their career experience in the world of California wine, B Cellars came to fruition showcasing wine, food and the experience of the vineyard.
Duffy Keys and Jim Borsack met in Southern California in 2002, while working as executives in the luxury business: Duffy with Four Seasons Hotels and Jim with El-Portal, a global chain of designer leather goods. They soon realized they were both ready for the next stage of their careers, had a love for great wine and food and a passion for treating customers in a way that was different than what they saw in the current landscape of Napa wineries. That was the dream for B Cellars.
And then they found the perfect site in Oakville. Clark and Lisa Miller owned an 11.35-acre property that was used to breed and raise cutting horses. Clark played for the San Francisco 49ers and the Los Angeles Rams and had a successful Coors distribution business. The family happened to apply for a winery permit in 1970’s, but never planted grapes.
Right around the time that Duffy and Jim began looking for properties, Lisa was considering selling the property. The timing was perfect. In 2012, Duffy was in process of negotiating his exit from the Four Seasons and was living in Singapore, but had decided with his wife, Judy, that they were going to move to Sonoma and apply the same luxury lessons to the wine business that served them well in his executive position at the Four Seasons.
With the property purchased and with the same shared vision, Keys and Borsack needed a winemaker and they needed to secure great grapes. Remember these were two men that weren’t going to settle for anything but the best as they took enology and viticulture classes at UC Davis.
With perseverance and with lots of good connections, they found Winemaker Kirk Venge, who opened the doors to vineyards like Beckstoffer and To Kalon. Venge instituted a multi-vineyard winemaking strategy where the wines are blended, crafted and procured from Napa and Sonoma’s top growers. B Cellars has a long-term partnership with Pioneering Grower Andy Beckstoffer, who works in partnership six single-vineyard heritage wines from Bourn, Dr. Crane, Georges III, Las Piedras, Beckstoffer Heritage Vineyards, Missouri Hopper and To Kalon. They also work with Dutton Ranch Manzana Vineyard in the Russian River Valley; Dutton Ranch Mill Station Vineyard in the Russian River Valley; Ehrlich Vineyard in Napa Valley; Kenefick Ranch Vineyard in Napa Valley; Kick Ranch Vineyard in Sonoma and Star Vineyard in Napa Valley to make the 15 wines produced.
Duffy talked about the luxury experience at B Cellars. The wine tasting room features a demonstration kitchen that prepares food from its seasonal gardens found on the estate. The vineyards, production facility and caves showcase the experience of hospitality that is the cornerstone of the B Cellars philosophy. The tasting experience is not usual. It starts with a tour of B Cellars vineyards, gardens, winery and caves. Along the way, guests partake in a barrel tasting followed by a seated wine and food pairing in the Hospitality House with a tasting of 5 award winning wines selected from the portfolio of appellation/vineyard designates and proprietary blends served with seasonal B Bites prepared by the Executive Chef Derick Kuntz and his team.
“I think with our luxury experience and focus on the customer, we knew needed to do things differently in the wine business,” he said. “Our fear of failure made us succeed – we had no other option.”
And the critics have taken notice – Travel and Leisure Magazine has named B Cellars as a top wine experience and The New York Times has featured it in its 36 hours in Napa story. Click here to read both stories.
But let’s talk about the wine and food. If you’ve followed the dining scene in Dallas, you know Chef Kent Rathbun, who has led some of the top restaurants in Dallas, is a four-time James Beard Award-nominated American chef and restaurateur who beat Bobby Flay with his brother, Kevin Rathbun, on Iron Chef America.
What an incredible food and wine pairing we were in for that evening:
The reception was Truffled King Crab “Cappuccino”; Smoke Soy Glazed Duck Yakatori and Warm Forest Mushroom-St Andre Tart paired with the 2017 B Cellars Blend 23.
The 2017 B Cellars Blend 23 was a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and Chardonnay. I tasted stone fruit, honeysuckle, lemongrass, grapefruit, white flowers and a nice minerality.
Our first course was the Togarashi Seared Sea Scallops with Spaghetti Squash Noodles with Yuzu-Toasted Garlic Soy paired with the 2016 B Cellars Star Chardonnay.
The 2016 B Cellars Star Chardonnay has notes of crème brulee, apple tart, honeysuckle, fresh baked bread, citrus, pear and flowers.
The second course was a Habanero-Persimmon Glazed Berkshire Pork Belly with Black Bean-Cilantro Chili with a Green Chili Potato Flauta served with a 2016 B Cellars Blend 24 and a 2016 B Cellars Blend 27.
2016 B Cellars Blend 24 – this was a play on a Super Tuscan wine and a blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet and Petite Sirah. I tasted cedar, herbs, black fruit, red fruit, spice and loved how this continued to open during the dinner.
2016 B Cellars Blend 27 – this blend of Cabernet, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon is smooth and elegant. I tasted notes of smoked meat, black fruit, blue fruit, cocoa, anise, spice and herbs.
Our third course was the Texas Mixed Grill which consisted of Coffee Crusted Venison Loin, Jalapeno Rabbit Sausage, Bobwhite Quail and a Chili-Tomato Pozole paired with a 2016 B Cellars Star Cabernet Sauvignon and a 2016 B Cellars Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon.
2016 B Cellars Star Cabernet Sauvignon – I tasted black fruits, cocoa, chocolate, purple flowers, pencil lead, spice and herbs.
2016 B Cellars Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon – I tasted black fruits, mocha, forest floor, cassis, eucalyptus, herbs and spice. This is velvety and elegant.
Our final course was the S’mores Pot de Crème with Sea Salted Caramel with the 2016 B Cellars Dry Creek Zinfandel.
2016 B Cellars Dry Creek Zinfandel – I tasted black and blue fruit compote, plum and black pepper. What a great match with the dessert!
While I have not yet had the B Cellars wine and food experience, this appears to be a five-star food and wine experience begging to be discovered by consumers that want to take their Napa experience to the next level. I can’t wait to discover the magic of B Cellars my next trip.
The Berryessa Gap website starts out with a strong statement — we are immigrants, pioneers, farmers and entrepreneurs. What better way to stay true to one’s heritage and farming roots than to proudly lead with that statement in a time where it is anything but vogue to remember that no one actually started in the place that we now live. Sorry, but I digress.
I was invited to Twitter tasting by my friend Robert Larsen of the Larsen Projekt, PR pro and winemaker, to meet with Nicole Salengo, the winemaker for Berryessa Gap. First, I had to learn about Winters, CA and Yolo County. Winters County is located just 30 miles from Sacramento and 60 miles from San Francisco. The region is in the process of establishing its own AVA and is located on the eastern edge of the California Coastal Range and has cool temperatures in the morning and late evening and warm day temperatures. Moderate rainfall combined with rolling terraces and excessively to well-drained soils provide ideal conditions for growing wine and yet somehow this region hasn’t been on my radar in the past.
First let’s talk about the winery and how it came about. Berryessa Gap’s roots go back to both Spanish and German farmers who first planted and farmed fruit. The site literally refers to a gap in the hills, east of Lake Berryessa.
In 1969, Dan Martinez, Sr., first planted apricots, almonds, prunes and walnuts and then partnered with Ernest Peninou, a San Francisco winemaker and wine historian to develop Yolo Hills Viticulture Society, a grapevine rootstock nursery business that supplied UC Davis-sourced grapevine rootstock. This was the business for 30 years until Dan Martinez Jr. and his business partner Santiago Moreno purchased the Coble Ranch at the crest of rolling hills overlooking Berryessa Gap in 2000. To date, the Berryessa Gap’s grapes are sourced here over 60 acres of rolling hills of coastal range.
Nicole talked about the rootstock to bottle heritage and how important it was to showcase the uniqueness and potential of the terroir.
We sampled four wines during our tasting:
2016 Berryessa Gap Zinfandel – this was full of black cherry, blackberry compote, red fruit, cocoa, spice, earth and coffee bean. This was an intense wine with a 600 case production, SRP $22.
2016 Berryessa Gap Tempranillo – I tasted currant, dark fruit, dried rose petals, earth, blood orange, cigar box and leather. This easy to drink wine was the highest in production with 800 cases, SRP $26.
2016 Berryessa Gap Malbec – this wine was a blend of three Malbec clones and had lots of dark black and blue fruit, flowers, violets, toast, spice and herbal notes. The winery made 750 cases and the SRP is $25.
2015 Berryessa Gap Durif – a Durif is 100 percent Petite Sirah and this was delicious. I tasted savory notes of blackberry, cocoa, spice, espresso, herbs and a nice minerality, SRP $32.
Spottswoode’s CEO, Beth Novak Milliken, told us about the family history and gave us a glimpse into how the Novak family began their business knowing nothing about growing grapes and evolved to where they are today making world-class wines.
Spottswoode Estate Vineyard & Winery is known as one of Napa Valley’s extraordinary vineyards that is grown and farmed by generations of family members who have the same authenticity, character and grace of the matriarch who found herself having to keep the winery going after the sudden death of her husband with five children to raise. Recently, daughters Beth Novak Milliken and Lindy Novak hosted a seminar at the Mirador in Dallas of ten vintages of Spottswoode’s Estate Cabernet Sauvignon from the 80s to the 2000s, made by five winemakers including all of the Cabernets made by current Winemaker and Vineyard Manager Aron Weinkauf.
Spottswoode is a story of family, dedication and perseverance as well as a women success story. Mary Novak, and her daughters, Beth and Lindy, pioneered organic viticulture in Napa Valley and championed the role of women in the wine industry.
First, a little history. In 1882, the first wine grapes were planted by George Schonewald on the site of today’s Spottswoode Estate Vineyard. Over the next few years, George built a home based on the famed Hotel del Monte in Monterey, California, and in 1910, the vineyard and its buildings were named Spottswoode. When Prohibition happened, selling sacramental wine, frog legs and mushrooms was the way the winery survived.
In 1972, Mary and Jack Novak moved from San Diego to St. Helena, looking for a rural area to raise five young kids and found the 31-acre Spottswoode property. They had a vision of growing wine on the property, had solid advice from their winemaker neighbor Rick Forman, acquired an additional 15 acres adjoining the property and began replanting the vineyards with Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc. They started as grape growers and sold to Robert Mondavi, Frog’s Leap and Caymus.
In 1977, Jack died suddenly of a heart attack leaving Mary with the property and five kids. She decided to pursue their vision and continued to sell grapes to a supportive Napa community including Duckhorn, Shafer and Heitz and they encouraged her to make wine. In 1982 – 100 years after the original planting of Spottswoode — she made her first vintage and Winemaker Tony Soter came onboard.
“Tony wasn’t just a winemaker,” as said Mary on Spottswoode’s website. “He was a philosopher, who thought deeply about everything, asked questions and embraced new ideas. Tony was instrumental in helping to establish the elegant, complex style of our wines. He also set the precedent for how involved our winemakers have always been in the vineyard, which wasn’t the norm of the day.” In addition to making the wines, Tony soon took over management of the Spottswoode Estate Vineyard, and in 1985, he and Mary introduced organic farming to the estate—an uncharted idea at the time.
Two years later, Mary and Tony were joined in their efforts by Mary’s youngest daughter, Beth, who dedicated herself to stewarding the family business. Beth’s first major decision was to acquire the historic Kraft property adjacent to Spottswoode, which included a pre-Prohibition Victorian home that was turned into the Spottswoode offices, and a stone winery that became the Spottswoode barrel room. When phylloxera hit the valley, Beth also oversaw the replanting of the Spottswoode Estate Vineyard in stages. While Mary died in 2016, it is clear that her legacy is very much alive.
There have been several notable winemakers for Spottswoode – well-known women like Pat Starr, Rosemary Cakebread and Jennifer Williams. Today, Aron Weinkauf is the Vineyard Manager and Winemaker is in charge of carrying on the rich tradition of embracing an interconnected view of winemaking.
So how cool would it be to try a bunch of wines made in essentially the same style with different winemakers through the generations …. Well, we had the opportunity to find out.
Our line-up was as follows:
2017 Spottswoode Sauvignon Blanc: this is a lovely wine with notes of lime, citrus, stone fruit, vanilla, minerality, and herbal notes.
2014 Spottswoode Lyndenhurst Cabernet Sauvignon – notes of Asian spice with black fruit, raspberry, red fruit, cassis, spice, cedar and cinnamon. This is a more affordable way to get Spottswoode’s second label wine.
2015 Spottswoode Lyndenhurst Cabernet Sauvignon – this wine was earthier than the 2014. I tasted black and red fruit, earthiness, cedar, spice and eucalyptus.
1987 Spottswoode Estate Cabernet Sauvignon – notes of blackberry, earth, currant, spice, licorice and notes of roses. I was surprised how fresh this wine still was. This was a blend of 94 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 6 percent Cabernet Franc and was aged for 20 months with 95 percent in French Oak and 5 percent in American Oak. It was made by Winemaker Tony Soter.
1992 Spottwoode Estate Cabernet Sauvignon – this wine was a little funkier. I tasted tart cherry, herbs and chocolate. This wine was a blend of 94 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 6 percent Cabernet Franc and it was aged 24 months in 95 percent French Oak and 5 percent American Oak. It was made by Winemaker Pam Starr.
1998 Spottswoode Estate Cabernet Sauvignon – I tasted notes of earth, tobacco, black fruit, rosemary and green olive. The wine was a blend of 95 percent of Cabernet Sauvignon and 6 percent Cabernet Franc and it was aged 20 months in 100 French Oak. It was made by Winemaker Rosemary Cakebread.
2001 Spottswoode Estate Cabernet Sauvignon – I tasted notes of cranberry, raspberry, licorice and forest floor. This wine had great balance. The wine was 95 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 5 percent Cabernet Franc and was aged 20 months in 100 percent French Oak. It was also made by Cakebread.
2006 Spottswoode Estate Cabernet Sauvignon – this wine was still big, but balanced and elegant. I tasted flowers, blueberry, mushrooms, earth and boysenberry. Still wanted to see this age, but it was really good today. This was 98.5 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 1.5 percent Cabernet Franc. It was made by Winemaker Jennifer Williams.
Then we shifted to a vertical of wines all made by current Winemaker and Vineyard Manager Weinkauf. His oak profile of aging for 20 months in 100 percent French Oak did not change, but his blends varied.
2011 Spottswoode Estate Cabernet Sauvignon – notes of blackberry, black currant, black pepper and spice. This continue to be an underappreciated vintage that continues to impress with time. It is a blend of 89 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 8 percent Cabernet Franc and 3 percent Petit Verdot.
2012 Spottswoode Estate Cabernet Sauvignon – notes of blackberry, charcoal, blueberry, white flowers and forest floor. This is a big wine that makes an expression. It is a blend of 85 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 10 percent Cabernet Franc and 5 percent Petit Verdot.
2013 Spottswoode Estate Cabernet Sauvignon – this wine still needed the gift of time, but the elements are there. Notes of blackberry, blueberry, graphite, violet, balsamic vinegar, minerality and clove. This is a blend of 88 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 8 percent Cabernet Franc and 4 percent Petit Verdot.
2014 Spottswoode Estate Cabernet Sauvignon – this was excellent. The wine had notes of dried herbs, chocolate, red and black fruit, cocoa, rose petals, leather and coffee. It was a blend of 86 percent Cabernet Sauvignon.
2015 Spottswoode Estate Cabernet Sauvignon – this also is a gorgeous cellar-worthy wine. Notes of rose, sandalwood, plum, tobacco, black fruit, Asian spice, violets and mint. This is a blend of 90 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 7 percent Cabernet Franc and 3 percent Petit Verdot.
It was such an honor to be a part of history with a family who has shown so much pride and perseverance. As Beth wrote in her handout to us, “At the highest level, wine is somehow ethereal. A well-crafted wine possesses a truly timeless quality. In a very real sense, its life stages mirror our own – wines can live as fully as we do. As someone lucky enough to have grown up in a vineyard, I celebrate this parallel connection between wine and people.”
To truly explore this grape, you need to begin with a focus on Cariñena, a Spanish wine region located in the heart of the Ebro Valley in Spain’s northeast region of Aragón. The area is bordered by the Pyrenees and France to the north, and Catalunya to the east. While the region was not named a D.O.P. until 1932, monks have been making wine here since the 1400s and this region is known as the birthplace of this grape dating back to the Roman era. The region is planted at high altitude – usually in the 1,800 to 2,000-foot range — and the vineyards benefit from extreme day-to-night temperature differences, ideal conditions for wines crafted from layers of rock, mineral, and earth. These soils saved the region from Phylloxera blight in the 1860s.
Lyn Farmer, the James Beard Award-winning wine and food writer and WSET Instructor, guided us through the many facets of Garnacha and D.O.P Cariñena. If you want to really geek about Garnacha, here’s a video showcasing seminars and panelists’ insights from The Global Garnacha Summit.
As we explored the region, I realized how close I had come during my trips of Madrid and Barcelona, yet I completely missed the chance to visit such a historic wine region. Garnacha is one of the oldest vines in Spain and it is the second largest producer after France. Our first week we focused on Grandes Vinos, who works with five winery partners in each of the 14 areas of D.O.P. Cariñena to vinify fruit from 10,000 acres of vineyards. These co-ops produce a majority of the Cariñena Garnacha from “old vine” vineyards that are 50-100 years old.
We tried two wines including:
2017 El Circo Garnacha, a 100 percent Garnacha filled with black fruit, spice, black pepper and herbs. Value priced at $9.99, this is a heck of deal and drinks like a much more expensive wine.
2016 Monasterio Old Vine Garnacha, a 100 percent Garnacha had notes of cracked pepper, plum, black tea, smoke, leather, cigar, blackberry, savory meat, fig and dark chocolate. It was nuanced and big and another great wine for $17.99.
The next week we focus on Bodegas Paniza, a winery where the same family growers have cared for the vineyards since 1953. We tried two wines including:
2012 Viñas Viejas de Paniza Garnacha, this 100 percent Garnacha had notes of black fruit, dried plum, spice and rose petals. The average vines are aged 50 years and you could tell the difference between these Old Vine wines and the younger ones we tasted the week prior. This was another bargain priced between $15-20.
2014 Artigazo Edicion Limitada – this was a blend of 40% Garnacha, 30% Syrah, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and had a rich, satin-like texture. I tasted notes of black fruit, earth, spice, flowers, granite and menthol. This was another winner priced between $20-$25.
The final week we tasted wines from Bodegas San Valero, a winery that has the longest history in Cariñena and was established in 1944. We tried two wines that kept the value theme alive and well.
2017 Bodegas San Valero Particular Garnacha, a 100% Garnacha blend with notes of raspberry, red currant, blackberry, spice, granite and cloves. Priced between $8.99-$10.99.
2015 Bodegas San Valero Particular Old Vine Garnacha – this 100% Garnacha has notes of spice, plum, leather, black fruit and cassis. Priced between $10-$15.
I then jumped to a sustainable wine tasting of Garnacha/Grenache wines led by Christy Canterbury, a Master of Wine, journalist, speaker, who led us in a chat about the Sustainable Wines of Garnacha.
Christy talked about how the first known written reference about these wines dates back to 1513 underscoring how important they are in the world of wine. We tried five wines, one which was a repeat of the 2017 Bodegas San Valero Garnacha. Here was our line-up:
2017 Domaine Lafage ‘La Grande Cuvée’ Côtes du Roussillon Rosé – this blend of 70% Grey Grenache and 30% Mourvedre was one of my favorite rosés I tried all year. I tasted floral notes, lime, orange, strawberries and some minerality. I loved the finish and the acidity. This was $18.
2016 Viñas del Vero ‘La Mirande de Secastilla’ Blanco 2016, Somontano, this 100 percent Garnacha Blanca had notes of pear, apple, peach, melon and a nice minerality. This was priced at $12 and was a great choice in whites.
2015 Mas Amiel ‘Altair’ Côtes du Roussillon Blanc – this blend of Withe Grenache, Grey Grenache and Maccabeu was really interesting. Christy talked about how it is often stylistically compared to a Chardonnay because of its diversity. I tasted lime zest, almonds, oyster shell and white flowers. Great layers and depth. This wine is priced at $21.
2017 Bodegas San Valero ‘Particular’ Garnacha 2017, Cariñena – (see above)
2011 Las Moradas de San Martín ‘La Sabina’ 2011, Madrid, this 100 percent Garnacha is named after an interior castle and I tasted notes of black fruit, fennel, chocolate licorice, red fruit and spice. This is priced at $14.
Across the board, however you refer to this grape – Garnacha or Grenache, you have to love the diversity, value and quality that you will find, especially when you look across Spain and in the Cariñena region.
This October, I had the opportunity to attend the Virginia Wine Harvest Party, which was a two-day whirlwind media tour that was held in conjunction with Virginia Wine Month, the longest running state wine month. As I mentioned before, it had been 7 years since I visited the region. I had heard some great buzz lately about the Commonwealth and was excited to get back and see for myself what was happening.
I was happy to find that the buzz was well deserved. A group of media were brought together by the Virginia Wine Board to celebrate the Inaugural Harvest Party, a new tradition that was formed to celebrate the past, present and future of Virginia wine. Created by the Virginia General Assembly in 1984 as part of Virginia’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Virginia Wine Board promotes the interests of vineyards and wineries in the Commonwealth through research, education and marketing.
First a little about the State of Virginia and its place in North American wine history, which actually predates our country itself. At one time, planting vineyards was a state mandate. In 1762, Charles Carter proved it was possible to grow wine grapes successfully in Virginia. Twelve years after English colonists settled in Jamestown, the Virginia House of Burgesses passed Acte 12, requiring each male colonist to plant and tend at least 10 grapevines. In the 1800s, Thomas Jefferson started a vineyard and winery near Monticello. Virginia kept showing progress through the 19th century until Prohibition in 1920 killed all progress.
Things begin to look up in the late 1950s when wineries began to plant experimental grapes with success. By the 1970s, six new wineries existed, and European winemakers started to see potential in the region. In 1976, well-known Italian Winemaker Gianni Zonin, hired Gabriele Rausse to grow and harvest grapes near Charlottesville and established Barboursville Vineyards. He is credited with helping to establish five more vineyards. By 1995, Virginia had 46 wineries. By 2005, there were 107. Today, Virginia is home to nearly 300 wineries and is located halfway between Europe and California.
Katie Meyers, Padilla; Neal Wavra, Field & Main; and Megan Womack, Virginia Wine
We started our first evening with an intimate six-course wine dinner at Fathom Gallery in Washington DC, that was hosted by the Virginia Wine Board and Neal Wavra, Owner of Field & Main. Neal is such a passionate ambassador that he personally choose the food and wine with the pairings that made our group want to stand up and want to evangelize what a match made in heaven these were. He talked about generational farming and how many of these families had the land first and then decided to plant vineyards.
We were greeted with 2017 Slater Run Vineyards “Pet Nat” Fauquier, Virginia with Beet Poke and Won Ton Chips.
Our First Course was 2015 Linden Vineyards Hardscrabble Chardonnay, Fauquier, Virginia, with Dashi Poached Mussels with Coconut Milk, Lemongrass, Pok Pok Pineapple Vinegar and Shaved Vinegar.
We moved to our Second Course, which was 2016 Sunset Hills Vineyard Viognier, Loudoun, Virginia, with Seared Diver Scallop with Cucumber, Calamansi, Paw Paw Vinaigrette and Pine Nuts.
Our next course was the 2015 Boxwood Estate Winery Topiary from Middleburg, Virginia, with the Wet Nose Farm Pork Coppa Roast with Braised Collard Greens and Cherry Demi-Glace. I refrained from the pork due to my allergy, but it got rave reviews.
Our fourth course was the 2014 RdV Vineyards Rendezvous, Fauquier, Virginia, with the Martin’s Farm Beef Tenderloin with Wild Mushroom Ragu, Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes and JQ Dickerson Salt.
Barely able to breathe, we powered on to the fifth course, which was the 2016 Paradise Springs of Clifton, Petit Verdot, Virginia, paired with Braised Lamb Osso Bucco with Curry Spiced Tomato Sauce and Charred Cauliflower.
We ended the evening with a 2013 Glen Manor Vineyards Raepheus Petit Manseng, Warren, Virginia, with a Bruleed Pumpkin Custard in a Roasted Pumpkin.
It was a magical dinner served outside under twinkling lights, full of stories and comradery where writers had a chance to share their favorite stories of Virginia wines.
Owner of Linden Vineyards, Jim Law, and me
The next day we got to spend time with a legend. Jim Law, the owner of Linden Vineyards and wine grower of Hardscrabble Vineyard, spent the morning with us tasting through a vertical of his Hardscrabble Chardonnays and showing us reds from his other vineyards.
Linden Vineyards is one of Virginia’s top wineries, and is located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, 60 miles west of Washington DC. The entire wine production of 4,000 cases comes exclusively from three distinct vineyard sites. Hardscrabble, the twenty acres surrounding the winery; Avenius Vineyard, one mile north of the winery; and Boisseau Vineyard, which is six miles west of the winery in the town of Front Royal. Linden is best known for single vineyard bottlings of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Bordeaux variety red blends.
Jim was originally from Ohio and was raised by parents who were passionate about food and wine. He studied in Europe and grew up drinking French wines. He decided, after teaching agriculture in the Congo as a Peace Corps Volunteer, that he wanted to grow grapes and found a vineyard job in Ohio.
In 1981, Jim was hired to start a winery in the Shenandoah Valley and his love affair with Virginia began. While establishing Linden Vineyards in 1983, which was once an abandoned apple orchard, he consulted for other wineries and taught winegrowing at local community colleges. He purchased the 76-acre vineyard and planted the first eight acres in 1985. The first planting consisted of Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Vidal, and Seyval. The winery was finished in time for the harvest of 1987, Linden’s first commercial vintage.
Jim talked candidly about the lessons he learned over the years and how he wants to discover his own journey vs. relying on consultants. He’s passionate about continuing his journey to make better wines. He walked us through the vineyard and talked about how glad he is that the 2018 vintage is over. “It will be a rosé year. I just couldn’t see myself releasing a red wine from these grapes with pride. We’ll have previous vintages available – it’s always key to us to have the best wines that represent Linden out there and we couldn’t do that this year.”
He talked about how eerie it was to be so quiet in October. “My entire adult life this is when everything is happening – it’s so strange to be done.”
And Jim talked about the future. Things that show vision like experimental vineyards and how grapes react to climate change. Things like single soil wines. But don’t push him too far. As we walked by a forlorn looking concrete egg that sits empty he remembered his roots and is quick to remind you “that Linden is not about being ‘cellar people’. We don’t want the change to happen in the cellar – it’s about what happens in the vineyards.” They used it once and it changed the wine – it’s no longer being used.
Jonathan Weber, who has been Linden’s winemaker since 2016, also joined us. Before we launched into our vertical tasting, Jim and Jonathan stressed what happens in the vineyard is all about the terroir, the site and the ageability of the wines vs what happens in the cellar.
We tried a vertical of the renowned Hardscrabble Chardonnays made in the Burgundian style including:
· 2014 Hardscrabble Chardonnay – I tasted notes of lemon curd, apple, minerality and tropical fruit. This was a leaner vintage that didn’t show well at first but was a great wine.
· 2015 Hardscrabble Chardonnay – this wine had a bigger mouth feel with notes of pineapple, citrus, apple and butterscotch that was made during a perfect growing year.
· 2002 Hardscrabble Chardonnay – I tasted notes of pear, crème brulee and spice. Jim described being able to “taste the picking decisions that they made that year.”
We then moved to three 2015 single-vineyard reds where it was evident how different the wines can be from different terroir.
· 2015 Avenius – this blend of 46 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 46 percent Merlot and 8 percent Petit Verdot is farmed on five acres of vineyards planted in 1996. I tasted blackberry, red fruit, herbs, cinnamon and rose petals.
· 2015 Boisseau – this 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon is the youngest property and is described as “hedonistic.” I found it earthier with notes of spice, eucalyptus, cherry and herbs.
· 2015 Hardscrabble – this was a blend of 46 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 35 percent Merlot and 19 percent Cabernet Franc grown on the largest vineyard of around 20 acres. It was described as “an intellectual wine.” It was elegant and Burgundian-like with notes of blue and black fruit, cocoa, chocolate and pepper.
· 2001 Hardscrabble Reserve – after one of our media attendees asked to taste a specific vintage, Jim readily popped open a bottle. It was a blend of 42 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 25 percent Petit Verdot, 3 percent Merlot and 30 percent Cabernet Franc. It had some notes of stewed fruit and blackberry, but you could still taste the fruit and it was so interesting to taste the process and evolution of the wine.
We then traveled to the Red Fox Inn & Tavern. Established in 1728, the Red Fox Inn & Tavern rests in the heart of the historic village of Middleburg, VA. With a rich history dating back to the Revolutionary and the Civil Wars, the Inn & Tavern maintains the traditions of days past. We enjoyed a multi-course lunch matched with several of Virginia’s top wines.
We then moved to Boxwood Winery, where I had a chance to visit during the Wine Bloggers Conference of 2011. Boxwood was once actually one of the first horse farms in the eighteenth century located in Middleburg, Virginia, and is designated as a historical landmark.
When Rita and John Kent Cooke’s acquired the property, they had one goal – to make a wine that would rival wines across the world. Cooke hired well-known viticulturalist Lucie Morton to design the 16-acre vineyard and Purdue University Professor of Enology Richard Vine to advise architect Hugh Newell Jacobsen on the design of the winery. Then in 2006, they brought in the famed Stephane Derenoncourt, one of Bordeaux’s great winemakers, as a consultant who still works today with Boxwood Winemaker, and Viticulturist Tyler Henley and Executive Vice President Rachel Martin. Seven years ago, Boxwood was one of two wineries where I purchased and shipped wines home while at the conference. I was excited to see what had happened over the last seven years.
It turns out a lot, but not much. The winery has expanded beyond the reds into a lovely roséand sauvignon blanc. But the goal of staying a 5,000-case production maximum (today the production is between 3,000-4,000), boutique winery focused on making really great wine had not. The winery still was dedicated to helping other Virginia wineries flourish and become successful because that helped the entire industry. Jessica Chivers-Wilson, the National Sales Director, talked about the challenging 2018 vintage and echoed the same thoughts as Jim. Only the best wines would be released under the Boxwood name, so expect rosé this year.