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Monday, January 19, 2015

Magnolia Vineyards

Rappahannock County, Virginia is home to a number of great wineries. As of this writing, the newest addition is Magnolia Vineyards, which opened in July of 2014. It takes its name from a magnolia tree that was planted when Glenn and Tina Marchione first purchased the land.

Magnolia Vineyards sits on a beautiful property, that is bordered on two sides by Hawkins Run, a small stream that meanders down to the Rappahannock River just a few miles away. It’s a lovely rural setting that offers a nice view of the Blue Ridge. It was here, on the hillside above Hawkins Run, in the clay and sandy loam soil, that the Marchiones planted their first vines back in 2009. 

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The Marchiones have long been interested in wine and inspiration came during a trip to Tuscany prompting them to think seriously about making wine. Following that trip, a conversation with Doug Fabbioli convinced them to take the plunge. They harvested their first vintage in 2011 and opened a tasting room in the basement of their home in 2014. Fabbioli was retained as a consultant and their winery is now producing a modest 500 to 700 cases of wine each year.

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I was able to taste six Magnolia wines and a seventh, a 2013 Viognier, was about to be released. I observed that they were producing a handful of good wines for such a new winery. The 2011 Viognier was excellent, but 2012 Black Walnut White really rocked the house. It was a bone-dry traminette with zero residual sugar, that was not overly floral. It is a potential award winner with its honeysuckle nose and pear and apple notes.

There were two vintages each of Cabernet Franc and Hawkins Run Red, which is their Bordeaux blend. The 2012 vintages showed real promise. The Cab Franc was blended with a little Cab Sauv and Merlot and spent ten months in French and American oak. It was a medium bodied wine with nice red fruit and a long peppery finish. After nine months in French and American oak, the Hawkins Run Red was much more complex. It contained hints of leather, fig and cassis. There were firm tannins in a very nice finish. Two thumbs up for the Marchiones. I think we’re going to see good things come out of this winery.

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There are plans to build a new tasting room on the hill overlooking the vineyards, which should also provide a better view of the mountains and surrounding countryside. Other projects include increasing the vineyard by another fifteen to twenty acres and topping out around 2500 cases of wine per year. There are a few public music events currently scheduled. A number of wine dinners and weddings will eventually round out the social calendar. 

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I had a very nice visit. I thought the Marchiones were great hosts and presented the wines well during the tasting. There’s a lot of positive energy out at Magnolia Vineyards and you should really stop in and see for yourself. After you’ve made your visit, let me know what you think.

Cheers!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Dry Mill Vineyards Winery

I was up near Leesburg in Loudoun County, Virginia checking out a few wineries I’d never visited. (So many wineries, so little time). One of the tasting rooms I stopped at on that afternoon was at Dry Mill Vineyards Winery. This place was totally off my radar, but it turned out to be one of those great discoveries. I can’t believe this wasn’t on my list of “must visit” wineries.

Dean and Nancy Vanhuss came to winemaking as a retirement project. They started planting their six acres of fruit in the late 1990s and sold grapes for a few years. In the mean time, they set about restoring the old stable that originally belonged to the Loudoun Hunt Club. That effort resulted in a beautiful and inviting tasting room and winery complex. This, in turn, allowed them to open their own winemaking operation in 2009. As of this writing, Dean and Nancy are heading up a very successful boutique winery, that produces about 1200 cases annually.

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As luck would have it, Dry Mill was offering a barrel tasting on this particular day. So I ponied up the fee and wondered around back to the winery. It was there that I met Karen Reed, the winemaker, and Andy Narusewicz, who has signed on at Dry Mill to perform a variety of roles too numerous to mention. Anyway, I got a preview of the 2014 Traminette, Chambourcin Rosé and Merlot, but the highlight for me was the 2013 Cabernet Franc. It appears Karen is earning a reputation for her Cab Franc. 

Karen Reed started her wine career working at Whitehall in Central Virginia. From there she went on to attend the University of Adelaide, where she graduated with a Masters of Viticulture. She went on to make wine in Napa and sell wine, for a time, in Brooklyn, but the siren song of Virginia wine was strong. She jumped at the opportunity to return and take on the winemaking position at Dry Mill. While she may have the just the right touch for Cab Franc, she’s no one trick pony. This is a winemaker that is destined to do great things. 

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The barrel tasting gave me a great point of reference for tasting the other Dry Mill offerings. So after we wrapped that up, Andy took me back into the tasting room. He started by pouring a pair of Chardonnays. The 2011 was good, but the 2010 was over the top with it’s mouth feel, apple and melon notes and just the right amount of oak. This was followed by a pair of Rosés. The first was a Merlot, which was well crafted, but the Chambourcin Rosé was just crazy. It was a dry-style, fruity wine, with strawberry on the nose and palate. Oh, but let me tell you about the 2012 Cab Franc. This was the main event. The leather and red fruit gave way to a very complex body with nice minerality and structured tannins followed by a nice long finish. It’s a potential award winner and certainly ranks among the best Cab Francs in the state.

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If you need more prompting, the property is another great draw. The rustic tasting room with its fireplace on a raw day or the large patio in nicer weather offer spots to enjoy the wine. It is a beautiful venue. So what are you waiting for? Make the drive, check it out and let me know what you think. 

Cheers!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Hunters Run Wine Barn

In the late 1990s, when Geri Nolan and her husband purchased their Loudoun County property, there were just a handful of wineries in that part of the state. In fact, the Middleburg American Viticultural Area (AVA), in which the Nolan property is situated, didn’t exist. Wine country just sort of grew up around them.

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With the children grown and out of the house, Geri started casting about looking for a project. The viticultural potential for the property was not lost on her. In 2009, she converted her hunt country barn into a tasting room. The theme is somewhat reflective of her roots in County Limerick Ireland, where her family was involved with farming and hunting. The tasting room is sort of a tribute to her past. I can’t say that it is distinctly Irish, but the tribute to her equestrian, hunting roots definitely comes through.

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Of course, more than a tasting room was necessary. Geri located grapes both locally and at Mount Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley. She also brought in the highly-regarded winemaker Randy Philips from Cave Ridge. As of this writing, Hunters Run is making about 800 cases of wine annually, which they can easily sell exclusively through the tasting room.

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When I visited, there were eight wines available for tasting. The whites included a stainless steel Viognier, with a nose of pineapples and citrus, which was followed up with peach and bright acidity. I also enjoyed the off-dry traminette and an excellent dry-style Riesling. I thought each of the whites was exceptionally well crafted. Among the reds, there was a Chambourcin and a couple of blends, but the Cabernet Franc was just crazy. This light-bodied red spent fourteen months in French oak. It showed nice fruit, structured tannins and a beautiful peppery finish. That one was a real winner.

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A visit to Hunters Run Wine Barn will likely find Geri and her sister Anne working behind the tasting bar. They actively engage with all the guests and there is a lively banter constantly taking place. It creates a very welcoming atmosphere and makes you want to linger either inside, out on the large deck or around the fire pit in the yard. There are many options for hanging around and sipping a favorite Hunters Run wine. It appears to be a very popular spot and it’s easily accessible from Route 9, which is one of the main roads through the heart of Northern Virginia wine country. So it’s easy to access and definitely worth the stop. If you get a chance to visit, let me know what you think.

Cheers!