, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

In 2011 longtime Virginia residents Jean and Steve Case — better known for their role in helping usher in the Internet age via AOL and for philanthropic endeavors — became part of the Virginia wine family with their purchase of the former Sweely Estate in Madison, VA, about 25 miles northeast of Charlottesville.

The Cases rescued the 300-acre property, which included 40 acres of grapes planted on rolling hills around a winery facility and 18,000 square foot tasting room and event space, from an uncertain future after the former owners filed for bankruptcy.

The tasting room and winery were closed for renovation and strategy development following the purchase in late 2011, and reopened in June 2012 as Early Mountain Vineyards, named for Lt. Joseph Early who served during the Revolutionary War and contemporary of George Washington.

The high-profile purchase and subsequent reopening brought a lot of attention to the local wine industry.  

Virginia’s governor (at the time) expressed enthusiasm about the potential for the Cases to help elevate the stature of the state’s wine industry in much the same way they did internet access two decades before.

A cornerstone of the new Early Mountain Vineyards included the commitment to “elevate, celebrate and champion the finest Virginia wine” through a program called the ‘Best of Virginia’ that showcases notable wines from across the state.

As part of the program, wines from some of Virginia’s most notable winemakers are available for tasting in flights, by the glass, or for sale by the bottle at the Early Mountain tasting room.

Offering wines from other producers across the state alongside their own wines is just one way Jean Case and the Early Mountain team celebrate and champion the local wine industry.  

Net proceeds from Early Mountain Vineyards are invested back into the industry in other ways including events intended to raise awareness of Virginia wine.  

Eager to share the message of Virginia wine with wine enthusiasts and influencers in other regions, the Early Mountain team contacted me a few months ago to propose sponsoring an ‘introduction to Virginia wine’ dinner in Corning, NY, before the 8th annual Wine Bloggers Conference.

The dinner was held on Thursday, August 13 (prior to the opening WBC reception) at Corning culinary gem, Hand + Foot restaurant.

Twenty invited guests enjoyed a three-course dinner featuring wines from Early Mountain Vineyards and nine other Virginia wineries.  Virginia-based Sommelier and owner of FABLE Hospitality, Neal Warva served as the emcee of the evening.


Early Mountain Vineyard’s crisp, refreshing 2014 Rose (a blend of 75% Merlot, 20% Malbec, 2% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Cabernet Franc, 1% Syrah) provided a welcome respite from the heat and humidity of the day for guests as they arrived at Hand + Foot.


First Course:
Southern fried yard bird with bitter greens and bacon (of course) served with a soft-boiled quail egg atop a field green salad with anchovy vinaigrette paired with:



Thibaut-Janisson Blanc de Chardonnay, NV. Few wine and food pairings are as delicious as fried chicken with crisp, refreshing, dry sparkling wine.  Made from 100% Chardonnay grapes grown in the Monticello AVA, this cuvée is produced under the experienced hand of Claude Thibaut, widely considered the father of Virginia sparkling wine. Refreshing with a lively bead and notes of pear, saline, and red apples, the Thibaut-Janisson provided the perfect introduction to Virginia sparkling wine.

Veritas Vineyards & Winery 2014 Viognier. Made from grapes grown on the estate vineyard at Veritas in Afton, Virginia, this is 100% Viognier.  Year after year the Veritas Viognier is one of my personal favorites and is widely considered one of the best in the state.  Gold color in the glass, this Viognier offers notes of peach, nectarine, honeysuckle and white flowers with a lovely waxy-peach texture that is the hallmark of this delicious Viognier.  Rich without being cloying.  

Linden 2009 Hardscrabble Chardonnay.  An elegant, stunning wine.  Vinted by one of Virginia’s most recognized wine pioneers, Jim Law, the Linden 2009 Hardscrabble Chardonnay is without peer in the Virginia class of 2009.   One of my favorite Virginia wines.   Made with grapes grown in Linden’s estate vineyard surrounding the winery in the town of Linden in the Blue Ridge Mountains.  This particular vintage is a model for elegance and balance.  

Early Mountain 2014 Block Eleven White Blend (67% Petit Manseng, 22% Muscat, 11% Chardonnay).  A lovely, balanced wine that grows in complexity with each vintage.  The melon offered by the Chardonnay and aromatic white blossom and peach of the Muscat perfectly tames the racy pineapple acidity of the Petit Manseng.  Winemaker Ben Jordan recently joined the Early Mountain team so it will be interesting to see how this popular wine changes/evolves. 

Second Course:  
Cholula honey ham with kale, bacon and white beans.  Cornbread, hush puppies (delicious hush puppies!), and boiled peanuts as accoutrements.



Barboursville Vineyards 2010 Cabernet Franc.   Established in the mid-1970’s by Gianni Zonin (of the Zonin Italian wine family), Barboursville Vineyards and winery is located in Orange County, 20 miles northeast of Charlottesville, VA.  One of Virginia’s most recognized wineries, the Barboursville property is rich in history, once belonging to 19th century statesman (and 18th Governor of Virginia) James Barbour.  Ruins of Barbour’s home still remain on the Barboursville property today.   Barboursville’s red Bordeaux-style blend, Octagon, tends to be get top billing at dinners and tastings so we included this Cabernet Franc to showcase one of the state’s best examples of this grape as well as the depth of wines made by renowned winemaker Luca Paschina and his team.  

Fabbioli Cellars 2012 Tannat.  A blend of 75% Tannat with 19% Cabernet Sauvignon and 6% Petit Verdot, this wine represented Virginia’s Loudoun County region at the dinner.  Long-time winegrower Doug Fabbioli produces one of the state’s most celebrated Tannats.   The fan base for this big, inky variety is growing.  Several of the dinner guests told me they were glad we served a Tannat since they rarely taste varietal Tannat made in the U.S.

King Family Vineyards 2012 Petit Verdot.   Located in Crozet, VA, at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains, King Family Vineyards was established in 1998.  Like Tannat, Petit Verdot is showing great promise in Virginia and is growing in popularity with consumers.   This wine was selected for the dinner to showcase the potential of varietal Petit Verdot in Virginia.  Many local wine enthusiasts consider the Petit Verdot Virginia’s red grape (second only to those that believe Cab Franc is the state’s most promising red variety).  

RdV Vineyards 2009 Rendezvous.  Located on 16 acres of rolling hills in Delaplane, VA, about 60 miles west of Washington, D.C., RdV is named for founder Rutger deVink.  Due in large part to deVink and his team’s uncompromising commitment to make iconic American wines, RdV has become one of Virginia’s most recognized wines since the first vintage in 2008.  I have tasted this particular vintage a couple of times a year since 2010 and continue to be impressed at how the wine evolves.   A blend of 35% Merlot, 32% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Cabernet Franc, and 12% Petit Verdot, the 2009 ‘Rendezvous’ is RdV’s second label wine.   Hard to believe this could be any winery’s ‘second label’ given the elegance, balance, and long life ahead.

Third Course:
Savory cheese tart with chutney, prosciutto and nuts with:


Shaps Wineworks Raisin d’Etra.  Made by Burgundy and Charlotteville-based winemaker and consultant, Michael Shaps and his team at Shaps Wineworks.  A unique late harvest wine made from Cabernet Franc grapes that were dried (raisined) in an old tobacco barn salvaged by Shaps.  Of the eight dinner attendees I asked, this was their first time tasting a late harvest wine made from Cabernet Franc.  Seriously delicious wine that paired perfectly with the cheese.

Glen Manor Raepheus.  Petit Manseng — a rising star of Virginia wine!  Jeff White — an established winegrowing star in Virginia wine!  Located on his family’s farm in Front Royal, VA, on the western side of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Jeff White established Glen Manor Vineyards in 1995.  Rich, deep flavors of pineapple, honey, and apricot, there is a whole lot of amazingness in a small sip of this late harvest wine.  Perfect with the cheese.  A Virginia gem.

This dinner proved to be a perfect and delicious way to share the Virginia wine message with wine enthusiasts that may not have otherwise tasted these wines. 

I would like to thank Sommelier Neal Warva for sharing his time and knowledge at the dinner, Rachel Caggiano for organizing and helping make this dinner possible, Jade Floyd, Allison Conway, Dave Kostelnick, and the entire Early Mountain team for making this dinner happen.  A big thanks to Dan and Laurie Morton and the entire team at Hand + Foot for sharing your culinary skills with us on Thursday night.  And, special thanks to Jean Case for graciously championing the entire Virginia wine industry, making this dinner possible.



WineLover-in-Chief Luiz Alberto, me, Patrick Farrell, MD, MW following dinner

For more information about Early Mountain wines or the Best of Virginia program:

Early Mountain Vineyards
6109 Wolftown-Hood Rd, Madison, VA 22727
Twitter: @EarlyMountain