[Well, so much for the reliability of the WordPress autopost feature. Just realized this did not post yesterday as scheduled. Oh well, the delay gave me another chance to correct a few spelling errors and make some edits.]
‘January 1st is my favorite day of the year. Quiet, reflective, and full of potential. If only we could make this our every day.’ ~ Jack Dorsey
Tis the season when wine writers flood the interwebs with their year-end reflections, lists of their ‘best or favorite wines of the year,’ and wine-related pontifications for the New Year.
As the year wraps up and work slows down, I enjoy taking time to relax to catch up on my much neglected reading pile and visit blogs to read about about the many wines my friends experienced throughout the year. I’m always impressed at how my blogging colleagues can itemize a year of wine experiences into a top 10 list (a few excellent examples you should read; 1WineDude, Wild4WashingtonWine, Bigger Than Your Head – 12 Days of Christmas).
Though I’m not able to condense a full year of wines and wine experiences into a top 10 list, below are a few of my memorable wines that I enjoyed in 2013 along with some random Virginia wine pontifications.
If pressed to pick ‘one‘ favorite wine of 2013, it would be the Bertrand Senecourt Beau Joie Special Cuvee Brut Rose Champagne, NV (Epernay, Champagne, France).
Without question this was my favorite wine of 2013. Not because of the obnoxious copper wrapping, or the lively bubbles or the refreshing flavors of cherry, strawberry and rose petal, or even the perfect balance. The Beau Joie Brut Rose was my favorite wine of 2013 because my wife bought this bottle for us to celebrate our anniversary in April. I love and appreciate my family and if I ever have another bottle of this particular Champagne, opening the bottle will evoke memories of our 2013 anniversary — a quiet night at home, cooking dinner together (lobster rolls w/ various sides), talking and being present.
If pressed to name all of my favorite Virginia wine(s) of 2013, I couldn’t. Literally. My favorite wines are experiential, based on where and with whom I enjoyed them.
Below are a few of my favorites from 2013 based on the experience that accompanied each wine:
The Gabriele Rausse Vin Gris de Pinot Noir. Drinking this, or any of Gabriele’s wines, takes me back to a warm, late summer day in 2010 when he spent an entire day with me walking the grounds of Monticello, sharing his seemingly unlimited bank of knowledge about viticulture and history of Thomas Jefferson’s trials with grape growing. In November I had the chance catch up with Gabriele and his son Peter at their home in Charlottesville where we tasted this wine from tank, which brought back memories of that day at Monticello. Gabriele is one of the true pioneers and gentleman of Virginia wine. Drinking his wines remind me of his graciousness and spirit.
One of my favorite whites of 2013 is the Annefield Vineyards 2012 Chardonnay. I enjoyed this wine with a grilled cheese and tomato sandwich on a mild summer afternoon, paired with the Sunday Times and Christopher Hitchens’ Mortality while my family was out for the day. This wine represents a quiet afternoon with no place to be and no email to check — just a beautiful day on my deck with a delicious wine and well written sentences to read.
My favorite Virginia sparkling wines of 2013…
2007 Thibaut & Janisson Blanc de Blanc. I picked up this bottle during my last visit with Claude and opened at home on the Sunday after my birthday with friends. To me, this wine also represents time spent learning about the sparkling wine process and tasting still tank samples with Claude. I would put Claude’s sparkling wines up against similar-priced Champagne, Franciacorta, Prosecco, Cava, sparkling wine from around the world.
The Trump Winery 2008 Blanc de Blanc. Though I’ve had many Trump sparkling wines, the 2008 BdB serves as a personal reminder of the success of the first live video Virginia Wine Chat. Thanks in large part to Meg, Nadia, Kerry, Jonathan and the entire Trump Winery team that made the live video Virginia Wine Chat happen!
One of my favorite reds of 2013 was the Breaux Vineyards 2005 Nebbiolo. I’ve enjoyed a couple of bottles of this wine but had this particular bottle at Bedales Wines in London as part of a Virginia wine tasting hosted by Chris Parker’s New Horizon Wines in May. Before ‘project family expansion’ in 2011, I used to travel to the UK several times per year for the 9-to-5 hustle. Now, I get over once or twice a year so catching up with my UK friends is harder to do. This last trip, and this wine, was opened for the tasting but was finished with new friends and a long conversation about the wine world, kids, politics and food.
Barboursville 2001 Octagon. An Oregon winegrower friend graciously gave me this bottle, which I opened with friends that were new to Virginia wine. Barboursville’s Octagon represents all that is right about Virginia wine and is a reminder of an evening with friends and conversation (and, no iPhone or any other place to be). Thank you Tai Ran for sharing.
Admittedly, I dropped the proverbial blogging ball in many ways in 2013. Family and work obligations left much less time for wine travel and blogging activities this year. Though I wrote fewer blog posts and made less trips to Virginia wine country in 2013 than in the prior five years of DrinkWhatYouLike, I still did manage to host or participate in a number of blind comparative Virginia vs. other regions tastings (here, here, here,…) and several events like the Virginia Governor’s Cup and the 2nd annual Virginia Wine Summit.
Based on these experiences, I have a few Virginia wine observations and pontifications of my own…
2013 — The Awareness Tipping Point?
Was 2013 the tipping point of national and international recognition of Virginia as a serious wine region producing world class wines? With positive profiles in national and international publications — Forbes, Decanter Magazine, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal among others — I believe 2013 will be remembered as the year the Virginia wine industry broke through with the national and international wine media. There is clearly much work to do in 2014 and beyond — like continue to improve quality industry-wide, significantly increase acreage under vine, and continue to work on improving awareness here ‘in’ Virginia — but 2013 was arguably one of the biggest media years for Virginia wine. Congratulations winegrowers, industry folks and the Marketing Office of the Virginia Wine Board that played a role in making 2013 happen!
The Virginia Wine Industry Will Miss The McDonnells
I may not agree with Governor McDonnell’s political positions, but I enthusiastically endorse his position of strong support for the Virginia wine industry. Few, if any, U.S. Governors have supported their state’s wine industry with such vigor as Governor Bob McDonnell and First Lady Maureen McDonnell have supported Virginia wine. Governor McDonnell is known in many wine circles as ‘the wine Governor‘ because of his administration’s unwavering support and promotion of the Virginia wine industry. The Governor, and the First Lady in particular, along with Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Todd Haymore have set a very high bar for the incoming McAuliffe administration. In a move viewed a positive indicator that the next administration may be equally committed to promoting the Virginia wine industry, Governor-elect McAuliffe recently announced the reappointment of Todd Haymore as Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry. Mr. McAuliffe would also be wise to recognize the vital role that the Virginia Wine Board Marketing Office plays in the success of the industry as a whole.
The Growing Divide
The growing divide between Virginia’s excellent wines and all others is a subject that I think about often. Much like the U.S. economy — with the middle-class being squeezed as the ranks of the poor grows and the rich accumulate more (this is not a political statement of any type, just an economic fact) — there is a growing divide in the Virginia wine industry between the ‘exceptional’ wines and all the others.
When I first got into wine in 2005/2006 there seemed to be three distinct classes of Virginia wines (my opinion based on tastings): exceptional; ‘ok or good;’ and blech. Today, I taste far fewer ‘ok or good’ Virginia wines. This middle-class of Virginia wines is shrinking. The good news is there are more wines that I would categorize as exceptional and, unfortunately, many more Virginia wines I could categorize as blech! This is just my opinion based on my personal experiences tasting many Virginia wines and participating in many blind comparative tastings.
In 2014, I believe more wineries will fall further behind, while those ‘in front’ will pull further ahead by way of national/international media recognition, higher scores from critics (to the extent that scores even matter any more), resulting in significantly increased demand and higher prices for those few. I hope I’m wrong about this.
This opinion will no doubt raise the ire of many in the industry. I welcome thoughts from others on this topic.
Virginia is Not Bordeaux or Loire or California
Though I’ve heard the comparisons many times, I still cringe when tasting room staff, winemakers or other industry folk compare Virginia’s terroir/micro/meso-climate to that of Bordeaux, Loire, Rhone or California. No matter how much some may want to believe otherwise, Virginia is NOT Bordeaux, Loire, Condrieu, or California. There may be some similarities (i.e. – grapes grow on vines here too, etc.) but… Virginia is Virginia! As Oz Clarke encouraged during his Virginia Wine Summit keynote — lets embrace Virginia’s uniqueness!
If anyone reading this believes that Virginia is like Bordeaux or California or some other region, I would appreciate hearing from you (in the comments below).
Diane Flynt is a Cider Rock Star!
Wine wasn’t the only fermented fruit beverage that received many nods from national press. Virginia cider was also on the receiving end of much deserved national press recognition. When I talk to cider enthusiasts or cidermakers in other regions, Diane Flynt and her cidermaking expertise and success at Foggy Ridge Cider always comes up in conversations when I mention that I’m from Virginia. Diane is known and respected throughout the cider world. Virginia is lucky to have her.
The Old Guard Remains ‘The’ Guard
Along with dozens of new winery openings in the last few years, and over a dozen new winery operations set to open in 2014 (or by early 2015), comes many new winemakers with varying degrees of domain expertise. These new operations and winemakers bring diverse backgrounds, new techniques, shiny new equipment and some varieties new to Virginia. None of this replaces experience and expertise of Virginia wine pioneers like Jim Law of Linden Vineyards, Jeff White of Glen Manor Vineyards, Luca Paschina of Barboursville, Shep Rouse of Rockbridge Vineyard, Dennis Horton, and Gabriele Rausse. In 2013, I found myself returning to the pioneers for much of our wine consumption, and this is where I will continue to look in 2014 for consistently exceptional wines.
With that being said, Virginia is fortunate to have a seriously talented group of young winegrowers like Jordan Harris of Tarara Winery, Stephen Barnard of Keswick Vineyards, Emily Pelton of Veritas, David Pagan Castano of Breaux Vineyards, Nathan Vrooman of Ankida Ridge and Rockgarden Cellars, Josh Grainer of RdV, and Trump Winery sparkling winemaker Jonathan Wheeler to name a few.
Not sure when and how the word ‘serviceable’ came to be used by so many in the wine world to mean so little but, I vote we discontinue the use of this worn out adjective.
Overusing and abusing oak does not a good wine make. Stop it! Using over toasted oak adds nothing positive to wine. Stop it!
Bloggers, oh the Bloggers
Virginia is home to a vibrant group of bloggers passionate about promoting the wineries, winemakers and wines of the Commonwealth. But, too much of a good thing is, well, not such a good thing.
Some among us have contracted what appears to be a serious case of entitlementitis. Symptoms of entitlementitis include slapping down a business card upon entry into local tasting rooms while announcing to the tasting room staff that you are “a Virginia wine blogger” (as if there should be a red carpet awaiting your arrival), whining about who gets invited to what event that you didn’t get invited to, nagging winemakers about sending them wine because they happened to give a bottle to someone else and you are equally deserving (yes, sadly, this is happening), and chronic complaining about being relegated to the D or B or whatever list, etc. etc. Newsflash: There are no A, B, C, or D lists. Really. None of us are entitled to anything from wineries just because we pitch a tent in the wine blogosphere and write a few sentences about Virginia wine.
Another newsflash: Aside from Dave McIntyre writing about Virginia wine in WaPo or on his blog, and maybe Virginia Wine Time, no other Virginia wine blogs move the needle for Virginia wineries (based on the many, many conversations I’ve had with winery folks about this subject). Really. Yes, I know, some reader somewhere in Pennsylvania or Sheboygan told you he bought xyz Viognier or whatever after reading your last post. That’s awesome but, that’s not moving the needle my friends.
Some of us have such a severe case of entitlementitis that a member of the management team of a well-known Virginia winery contacted me about writing a guest post for DrinkWhatYouLike — tentatively titled, ‘Bloggers Behaving Badly’ — to share recent experiences this person has had with the blogger folks. Some among us are as bad as the lame YELP’ers that display those stupid ‘I Write Reviews’ cards on their tables while dining in restaurants.
Want to be on the magical list and be taken more seriously? We all could learn a thing or two from those that take online wine writing seriously and have set the benchmark of excellence — Fredric Koeppel author of BiggerThanYourHead, Meg Maker, Alder Yarrow of Vinography, Richard Jennings, Elaine Brown of Hawk WakaWaka Wine Reviews, and the New York Cork Report.
We all can do better, friends!
Be Kind to Your Bubbles — Ditch the flutes!
The flute may show off the mousse and bubbles but the aromatics and flavors shine in stemware with a larger bowl. A simple Chardonnay stem is much better than a thin, long flute.
Wishing everyone in the Virginia wine world a very happy and prosperous New Year!