2014 wine, Annefield Vineyards, Beau Joie Special Cuvee Brut Rose Champagne, Breaux Vineyards, Champagne, Gabriele Rausse, Virginia Wine, Virginia Wine Blog
[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!
Richard Jennings (@RJonWine) said:
Thank you for your kind mention of my blog in your very thoughtful piece here. And thank you for your observations on the Virginia wine world. Excellent update.
All the best,
You’re most welcome, Richard. Appreciate you stopping by to comment. Happy New Year!
Jordan Harris said:
Great Post Frank. You certainly have laid a lot out there. Some making me laugh like crazy and some making me really think about our future.
First, i want to say that it is refreshing to see someone just say that certain wines were there favorite because of surroundings and timing. This is lost all too much in the wine industry. There are some things in life that are more important than wine. These things often help wine be even more enjoyable as well as you point out above. I have had some pretty stunning bottles of juice but none of them are as memorable as those that I enjoyed for my children’s birth, anniversary’s with my wife or traveling some far off area. I think my favorite Rose to this day is some house wine i ordered a half liter of for 5 euro because I was on my honeymoon eating seafood pizza in Nice looking at the Mediterranean.
You make some valid points about the divide but I also think that as the strong get stronger those are also the ones that will be what Virginia is known for. There is garbage made everywhere. The big difference in Virginia will always be that since we are so close to it we try an disproportionate of it including good and bad because it is there. We aren’t always lined up with the bad from other regions and most tend to start with a reference point in wine shopping to steer clear of some of the bad from elsewhere. The one I always look at is Burgundy. The best Burgundy (whether Chardonnay or Pinot) is in my opinion the best wines in the world (for my taste). That said, there is more crap by comparison in Burgundy than any other region in the world (probably for anyone’s taste).
One of the most important messages you put forth though in my opinion is that we need to be Virginian. Napa is not Napa because they said they were like Bordeaux. They said they were different but just as good or better and set out to prove it. I am not saying the “Judgement of Virginia/California/Paris/Etc” should ever happen for our wines since it is played out. There is no basis of comparison anymore due to wild variance of price points between qualitative levels. I don’t want my wine to be equal in quality to entry level anything, but price point it is in that level because we haven’t been here hundreds of years (modern industry, not Jefferson…).
As for being at the tipping point, I think we are well on our way but have a lot of work still to do. Will 2013 be remembered as a great year, yes, but i hope there are even better ones with even higher acclaim that make us look back and say that was no big deal. We always have to strive to be better and not think we are there yet.
Overall, a very thought provoking post. Thanks for sharing.
Happy New Year, Jordan. Thank you for stopping by to read this post and comment. I always appreciate your feedback – and glad I could make you laugh. 🙂
I agree 100% with you that there are bad wines made in all regions. Not my intent to imply that more is made here in Virginia. Our state clearly has a lot of excellent wine… but … in terms of trends, I worry that this divide is going to grow.
I suppose I could be wrong about this. But, suppose that I am right — what can/should be done? Is this growing divide a function economics, skill, demand, …?
Unfortunately I do not drink enough ‘great’ Burgundy (Pinot or Chard) to challenge your assertion that more crap is made there by comparison. If you have some great Burgundy laying down in the Harris cellar, I certainly wouldn’t mind testing this with you. 🙂
Thanks again for the feedback on the post.
Great post, and insightful as always. 2013 was the year I started paying more attention to the wine region in my own back yard after branching out on my own, and it’s been refreshing to experience and share wine from some of the VA wine pioneers you mentioned. I love that your top picks focus so much on the context and the memories- for me, that’s at least half of the experience of a great bottle of wine and it’s rare to see a glimpse of the full experience instead of mere tasting notes. Cheers and Happy New Year! Thanks for the blogging inspiration to those of us a bit newer to the game! -Alison (@districtwino)
Happy New Year, Allison. Appreciate your feedback. Hope to catchup at a tasting next time I’m in DC. Cheers!
Absolutely- I always love putting a face to a name! I was bummed to hear we were at different Chablis tastings recently. Did I hear correctly that you snagged a coveted spot at Marcel’s? I was one rsvp too late for the dinner slot, although the luncheon at Proof was spectacular as well!
Jim Raper said:
Exceptional post, Frank.
Bravo Frank for a piece well written and thank you to you, for being such a staunch advocate of Virginia Wine. Virginia is such a great place to be making wine in right now, it has all the potential to be regarded as one of the best wine regions in the world if we play to our strengths. Will be interesting to see if wineries still try the angle of diversity, trying to accommodate all palates, or focus on what their specific vineyards do best and try and make the best wine possible. Either way, 2014 is going to be a fantastic year for this industry and we are glad you are a part of it.
Happy new year to you
Thank you, Stephen. Appreciate your comment. I can’t imagine wineries thriving too far beyond Virginia’s borders without focus on the two or three varieties that are absolutely best suited for their vineyard sites. I don’t think a (long-term) successful winery can be all things to all people. Although, several successful wineries here are taking that approach and it seems to be working…
Agree that 2014 is going to be a fantastic year.
Wish you, the family and everyone at Keswick Vineyards all the best in 2014.
Stephen Mackey said:
Well said Frank, thanks for your continued passion for our industry! Agree that 2013 will be remembered as a milestone for Virginia wine, and we’re incredibly proud to have seen our name in the back of the December Wine Enthusiast along with a growing number of our talented colleagues. Agree the challenge now is to continue the hard work on both the wine quality and marketing fronts, while constantly elevating the customer experience in our tasting rooms.
Stay tuned for a major announcement from Notaviva Vineyards in the days ahead about our first International initiative, will be a huge win for Virginia wine.
the drunken cyclist said:
We also had some of the Senecourt champagne recently: great juice, obnoxious bottle….
I can’t help but wonder how much all that copper wrapping adds to the cost of the bottle…? 🙂
Stephen Ballard said:
Frank, we appreciate the mention and being part of a memory! I’ll second Jordan’s comments about context — how the total experience influences the recollection, and wine is just a part of that. Wine, food and travel make for stupendous memories. Even when visiting wineries this happens — you might be seduced by the charms of an especially effective person in a winery’s tasting room, you buy several bottles and when you get home and open one for friends, the result is “Yuck. What was I thinking?”
But the most thought provoking of the issues you raise is how Virginia needs to stop comparing itself to other regions. An excellent one, and a bit of a conundrum, because I don’t think we’ve yet developed a “style” for describing our wines. Many of us are still promoting “Bordeaux style blends” (then having to explain what makes it a Bordeaux style blend, followed by an explanation of the difference between Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon (sigh)). I recall reading about one winemaker (I don’t recall his name; I think he was from Washington) who is trying to get away from identifying the fruit and just calling his a red (or white) wine, forcing it to be perceived as expressing his particular vineyard or place, allowing the contents to speak. I like that idea.
Jordan mentioned Burgundy, which you know is the most terroir conscious winegrowing region on the planet, while here our labeling laws compel us to focus on “truth in labeling” and identify the contents (Chardonnay, etc.). Even though the TTB rules are flexible enough to allow fanciful names or just “red wine,” which in some quarters might appear suspect or perceived as lesser in value for an American wine, but if it comes from Burgundy, say, no one bats an eye.
Thanks for a thoughtful post, and Happy New Year!
Happy New Year, Stephen! Thank you for your thoughtful comment. The more I learn about wine (the less I know) the more I appreciate the ‘experience’ of each wine. Each time we open a bottle of Annefield wine, my wife always mentions the beautiful afternoon we spent at Annefield enjoying time with friends, wine, and touring the property (and, that was the day my wife fell in love with your home! 🙂 ).
Lack of a developed style is a conundrum indeed — one I think about frequently. From my viewpoint, there is not ‘one’ particular reason as to why Virginia has not yet defined ‘a’ style (or, rather than define – a style has not ’emerged’?). Style seems to be a function of maturity (wiengrowers experience with land and varieties), money, unified winegrowing (more formal knowledge sharing), and absolute commitment to varieties that work with a particular site. Not sure if I’m right, wrong or somewhere in between on this. Will admit that I thought the ‘Viognier as Virginia’s Signature Grape’ would have united more behind this variety, but I seem to have overestimated how the grape (and a style?) would be embraced industry-wide.
Do you believe it’s possible to define a ‘Virginia’ style… or is it more likely that each region will have it’s own style? An interesting topic to explore and discuss.
All the best in 2014!
Stephen Ballard said:
We went back to Tallulah in Arlington for dinner a couple of weeks ago and thought of you —
On style — I wonder if developing a regional “style” calls for some measure of control. The Europeans are masters of it, the way they tightly control some elements of production (for example, the rules a winery must follow for a wine to be called “Chianti Classico” — see http://www.chianticlassico.com/en/vino/il-vino-chianti-classico/).
American wines are literally all over the map when it comes to style, though certain styles seem to emerge by virtue of climate and taste — don’t the words “California Chardonnay” conjure up something? For me, a slab of oak with a little high alcohol wine sprinkled on it. “Napa Cabernet?” I picture an inky black punch in the face. At least from the poorly made ones. I wonder if, in part, this was driven by the market. At one time oaky Chards sold well, so everyone made them — hence a uniform “style.” In California its hard not to make a high-alcohol wine, with the heat and long growing season.
Some commentators have characterized Virginia’s style as something halfway between California and Europe, which is a result of our primarily continental climate, but our soils play a part, too; yet wineries on the Eastern Shore have sandy soils and a maritime climate to contend with. The differences are fascinating, at least to me.
I doubt anyone would stand for the type of rigorous rules the Europeans use to protect a wine’s style, and the Commonwealth is trying to promote standards with its Commonwealth Quality Alliance, which could be a step in the right direction, but I wish it wasn’t so expensive — for each wine tested, its $170. We had six wines last year, and it doesn’t make much sense to spend over $1,000 to get a “seal of approval” that not many people have heard of. Only 26 of some 230 wineries participate in the program (according to their website at http://cqawine.org/index.html.
Next time you’re in Northern Virginia, give a holler!
Aaron Nix-Gomez said:
Frank, your comments about Commonwealth wine bloggers are interesting because they concern visits to tasting rooms, receiving bottles, and moving the needle, presumably selling wine. Perhaps this is revealing. Do you find more VA bloggers focus on what is in the bottle instead of other areas like history, viticulture, vinification, spread of new ideas, etc? Do your benchmarks of excellence not only write better but also pick more interesting subjects?
Aaron – thanks for commenting. Yes, I believe most of the local (VA) group is focused more on winery/wine review types of posts vice history, viticulture, etc. Those writers I referenced as the benchmarks of excellence do both – with great depth and often times a slightly different angle. With that said – the benefit of the blogging medium is that everyone gets share ‘their’ voice in the way they choose. This is good. An entitlement mindset because they are sharing their voice is not. IMHO.
All the best in 2014!
Great post, Frank! We agree with so much of what you mentioned…especially the divide and the excellent winemakers in Virginia. And we certainly understand the blogger issue. Thank you for mentioning us. We appreciate your kind words. Nice job!
John Witherspoon said:
nice post dude! Need to get together for a glass sometime soon! It’s been way to long!
Thanks, John! Man it’s been forever. Will drop you an email next time I’m passing through RVA. All the best to you and the family in 2014!
Central CA WineGuy said:
Good stuff here. These challenges are not unique to Virginia. Interesting observation about the growing divide which many regions have or are experiencing. Each region has their bit time standouts. Pressures from the economy and even competition could be the reason for some of this divide. The problem of comparing one region to another is also something seen in many other small regions and here in CA too. Not sure why wineries feel compelled to make these comparisons. CA has tons of bloggers, probably more than anywhere and many of them are clueless and know little about wine yet have the entitlement mentality that they expect to be invited to all the same trade tastings that are for real trade members and longtime wine journalists. Go figure
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