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Thursday, May 29, 2014

Naked Mountain Winery

In northern Fauquier County, within sight of the Blue Ridge you’ll find some of the Middleburg AVA’s finest wineries. When Naked Mountain Winery opened its doors thirty nine years ago, it was the first, not only in the county, but all of Northern Virginia. Today, there are only two wineries in the state that have been around longer. Naked Mountain not only endured the early years, but has remained relevant as an important player in Virginia’s wine industry.

Bob and Phoebe Harper planted the first vines at Naked Mountain back in 1976. The total acreage under vine eventually reached six acres and they sources other fruit locally to achieve a production level of about 6000 cases annually. Long-standing connections allow the winery to continue to purchase local grapes even in this time of shortage. The Harpers, I should add, built a reputation for quality wine, which endures to this day.


In 2010, the winery changed hands. Randy and Meagan Morgan purchased the property, but they continue to honor the traditions established by the Harpers. I understand that there are plans to increase production slightly, to about 7000 cases, but both the Naked Mountain experience and the quality of wine remain intact.

They were pouring eleven wines on the day of my visit. I enjoyed all the wines, but I found the reds to be particularly special. They were serving a light-bodied Cabernet Franc that was well balanced with nice fruit and a bit of pepper in the finish. The Raptor Red was another brilliant wine. This blend of Petit Verdot, Tannat, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon was complex with lots of red fruit on the nose and palate ending in a finish that just kept going.


My favorite of the tasting, however, was the Old Vine Riesling. This dessert wine was made from some of those vines planted back in 1976. It’s a well balanced with stone fruit and honey notes. Sadly, these were the oldest Riesling vines in the Commonwealth, but they have subsequently been pulled up.  It’s truly an amazing wine, but this represented the last vintage. Buy it before it’s gone forever.


The winery and the property are a beautiful venue. There’s a large lawn opposite the tasting room, that offers ample space for a picnic or for the kids to play. Inside there is a fireplace for the colder months and tons of balcony space for the rest of the year. They were serving food and visitors were enjoying live music. There seems to be a little bit of something for everyone.

If you are interested in experiencing a piece of Virginia wine history or if you are looking for a venue to relax and enjoy well-crafted wine in any season, Naked Mountain is an option. I’ll certainly return when I’m not working, so I can spend a little more time getting to know the winery.


Thursday, May 22, 2014

Linden Vineyards

During a recent visit to Virginia, some British wine expert identified several wineries as producers of world-class wine. I read this type of news all the time. I’m always dubious of such pronouncements, because it assumes the wine celebrity has visited every winery of note. Nevertheless, Linden Vineyards is typically on that short list and that restores at least some of my confidence. Curiously, you won’t find Linden on the Virginia wine map, nor will you see them advertising. They neither encourage, nor discourage visitors. They do not sponsor events and they keep very strict hours on the days they are open. Linden is dedicated to production of the best possible wine that reflects the local terroir and a visit to Linden is simply an opportunity for them to tell that story.


Jim Law grew up in Ohio. Wine was a regular feature during meals, so he learned to appreciate it at an early age. After graduating for Miami University (Miami of Ohio that is), he spent time in the Peace Corps teaching agriculture in Zaire. I’m not entirely sure of the timeline, but Jim also spent a period of his life working in the wine industry in Indiana and Ohio. This was part of the trajectory that led him to purchase the abandoned farm just outside Linden, Virginia. What he brought with him was a work ethic, some knowledge of viticulture, and a love of wine. These things are reflected in the tasting room.


The full Linden experience includes the standard tasting, which is conducted at one of the tasting bars on the main floor. There are regular tours that take visitors into the vineyard and through the winery. The final component is the a cellar tasting that includes elements of a small vertical tasting and is organized to demonstrate the impact of vintage or terroir. I wanted to learn everything I could about Linden, so I participated in all three.


If you only went for the basic tasting, you would never know what you were missing and might likely walk away from Linden quite satisfied. The wines in that lineup are crafted using grapes from two or more of the Linden vineyards. On the day of my visit, the five wines on the menu included a Chardonnay, two Riesling/Vidal blends and two red Bordeaux blends. They are all excellent wines and, as I said, you’d be none the wiser, if you stopped here.


For my part, I think the guided tour is an essential educational leg of the visit. I learned that Linden has now been producing wine for thirty years. Today there are twenty-five acres under vine at three different vineyards. The majority of acreage is located on Hardscrabble Farm, which is the original Linden property. About a mile further down the ridge line is Avenius. Boisseau is a little further still and, at 600 feet, it’s the lowest and warmest of the vineyards. The fruit from the three vineyards contributes to the 5500 cases that are produced annually.

For anyone intent on increasing their wine knowledge, the cellar tasting is a must. It is conducted in small groups and the tasting lineup changes periodically, but the general theme remains. There are total of six wines tasted in groups of two. So you will taste a pair of single-varietal wines from different years or different vineyards. This is really an opportunity to experience the difference between growing seasons or terroir. It’s a brilliantly constructed tasting and extremely insightful. 


The Linden staff will tell you that the purpose of the tastings and tour is to educate visitors about their winery, but I think it really goes much further. The full visit is an introduction to wine and specifically Virginia wine. It’s a learning opportunity and it’s completely worthwhile for anyone wishing to expand their wine knowledge. I simply can’t say enough good things about it. If you want to have a unique winery experience and come away just a little better for the time spent, take a trip to Linden. If you want to hang out somewhere and just drink wine, there are any number of other venues in the Commonwealth that will meet that need.