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Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Notaviva Vineyards

Most of the 250+ Virginia wineries have a tasting room, where they pour their wines. A small handful pair food with their wine. I more frequently encounter chocolate paired with various offerings. I have noted a few throughout the Commonwealth, where they offer art classes or display art somewhere on premises. So it is fair to say they are pairing wine and art. Only Notaviva Vineyards in northern Loudoun County is pairing music and wine. Now, I’m not talking about a band or a guy with a guitar playing music in the tasting room. I mean to say that they create each of their offerings to be paired with a particular type of music. 

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Stephen and Shannon Mackey left careers as sound technicians to pursue a life as winery owners. They have not actually forsaken their earlier lives, they still produce digital media in their studio somewhere above the tasting room and of course, there is the wine and music pairing. So they have just added a bit of a twist and brought a part of their other world into the tasting room.

When I bellied up to the tasting bar at Notaviva, there were lively conversations taking place all around me. Visitors were interacting with the wine stewards or engaging in side conversations. There was a lot of energy. It appeared to be a bit edgier than most wineries I have visited, but I mean that in the most positive sense. I was approached almost immediately by Jane, who seems to be involved in all aspects of the winery operation, but on this day she was pouring wine. I introduced myself and presented my card and this led us into a lengthy discourse on the winery, its history, the owners and of course the wine. Not only was she a fabulous wine steward, Jane was a wealth of knowledge.

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The 42 acre property was originally a cattle ranch. After it was purchased by the Mackeys, they built their home, which also houses the tasting room. The property was manually cleared by Stephen, who then planted seven acres of vines. These vines currently provide about sixty percent of the fruit for the 3000 cases of wine produced annually. Future plans include increasing the acreage to about twelve, but it is unclear if all the vines will be planted on the property or a second site. 

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Stephen has made the transformation from sound technician to winemaker with stunning success. He is making many of the wines that are found throughout the Commonwealth, but there are a couple of surprises on the menu. Few wineries are making Sauvignon Blanc and even fewer are working with Blaufrankisch. The Sauvignon Blanc was a particular standout with its bright tropical notes and it can be paired with salsa music. Of course Cabernet Franc is a grape that does well throughout the region, but the Notaviva example was still pretty special. Tobacco and cherries on the nose gave way to more red fruit and complexity. It should be paired with string concerts. 

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My experience and, based on my observations, everyone else’s experience was extremely positive. I had a great time, enjoyed the wine and walked a way feeling like I’d learned a few things. It just doesn’t get much better. So I strongly urge you to visit Notaviva. Find out what it is all about and check out the only Virginia wines that are made specifically with music in mind. When you do, let me know what you think.


Monday, April 6, 2015

Hillsborough Vineyards

After parking your car at Hillsborough Vineyard, get out and take a few minutes to orient yourself. The first thing you’ll notice will be the view. I arrived on an early spring afternoon and despite the lack of foliage and the fact that it was a less than perfect day, it was obvious that this is the best view in Loudoun County. From up on the hillside, you can take in the distant mountains and all the surrounding farmland. In a word, it is breathtaking. 

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Look a bit more closely and you will note the beauty of the property and design of the tasting room. If you are astute enough, you might even key in on ideal positioning of the vineyards on the southwest-facing slope. This combined with the excellent drainage and elevation offer optimal growing conditions. At this point, you should wander inside, taste the wine and possibly linger a bit to admire further admire the view.

When I entered, I had the good fortune to encounter Kerem Baki, who is co-owner and winemaker at Hillsborough. Kerem’s afternoon was devoted to greeting and orienting scheduled parties of visitors, but there was a brief lull in the action, so he was able to give me a few minutes. The winery is really a family business, so Kerem’s parents Bora and Zeynep along with his wife and brother oversee every aspect of the winery, tasting room, vineyard and property. Their passion for the land, the wine and the tasting experience are obvious in the Baki Family’s attention to detail. 

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The Bakis purchased the property in 2001, began planting vines in 2003 and opened for business that same year. It typically takes at least three years before grapes can be harvested for winemaking and it can be many more months (or years) before those wines are in the bottle and ready to pour. So in the interim, the Bakis purchased fruit and worked with Horton Vineyards in Central Virginia to do a custom crush to Kerem’s specifications. Today the Hillsborough wines are made exclusively from the twelve acres of estate fruit. There are plans to increase to about twenty acres (some of which may be contracted) and increase production from the current level of 2000 cases to around 3000 cases annually. In the end, however, they desire to remain a medium-sized boutique winery and concentrate on production of world-class wines.

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Kerem’s background is in biochemistry, but he did take a “Wines and Vines” course during his undergraduate years at Virginia Tech. This was just the beginning. He went on to intern with Professors Tony Wolf and Bruce Zoechlein, who are among the Commonwealth’s most knowledgeable viticulture specialists. This education armed Kerem with an enviable pedigree, but "the proof is in the pudding," as they say. So on to the tasting bar.

Now, I went to the University of Virginia and Kerem went to Virginia Tech. If there were any underlying tensions resulting from my ingrained disdain for the Hokies, I walked away from the tasting bar with nothing short of profound respect. The offerings were absolutely spectacular. In addition to quality, the Bakis are taking some risks by adding a few varietals that are not widely grown in Virginia. Among these are Tannat (which I am seeing more and more), Fer Servadou and a Rousanne. I can say with absolute candor, that the wines were uniformly excellent, but I do want to talk about a couple of them in more detail.

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I had not previously tasted a Fer Servadou.  It is a Malbec relative and Hillsborough is only one of three wineries in the country using this varietal, so this was an exciting find. It was blended with about 6% Tannat. It appeared to have a light body, but had an amazing nose that included notes of persimmon. On the palate I discovered grapefruit and berries with a bright acidity. Definitely a food wine and a potential award winner. The Rousanne was not available for tasting, so I took a bottle home and opened it a couple days later with dinner. If I were going to describe it in a word, that word would be “Wow!” It had all of the classic characteristics from the herbal aroma to the pear notes and a big mouth feel. It is truly a great white wine.

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I will just say that the Bakis have paid great attention to each detail of the operation. From site selection to landscaping and the tasting room experience, they have covered it all. Of course these elements would mean nothing without good wine and they have hit that out of the park. I place Hillsborough among the top wineries in the state. Many wineries of this caliber have accomplished as much by hiring a dream team to oversee all of the details. The Baki’s managed this as a family business, which certainly deserves respect. It is in many ways quite remarkable. If you have never visited, you should go. If you have been there, you should go back. When you do, let me know what you think.


Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Two Twisted Posts Winery

I pulled into the parking lot at Two Twisted Posts Winery, grabbed my camera and began wandering around the grounds taking pictures. It was a rather raw, early spring day, so less than perfect for taking photographs, but I needed to document my visit. As I walked back toward the door to the tasting room, I happened upon Krista, daughter of owners Theresa and Brad Robertson.  

I knew a little about about Two Twisted Posts. I was at a Governor’s Reception in Leesburg the previous year, where I tasted their Reserve Chardonnay. It had just been awarded a gold medal in the 2014 Governor’s Cup and was subsequently select for inclusion in the prestigious Governor’s Case. I seemed to recall that the winery was very new and did not yet have regular tasting hours. That was not much prior knowledge and, of course, that was a year ago. A lot can change in a year.

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Well a lot had happened since I tasted that Chardonnay at the reception. Krista told me that the first of their wines were barely in the bottle, when the decision was made to enter wines in the Governor’s Cup. They didn’t anticipate winning, but were hoping for the tasting notes that came with making the second level of the competition. Then, of course, they earned a gold medal and that Chardonnay was then selected as one of the top twelve wines in the state. At that point, it was a requirement to have a tasting room and regular tasting hours. So they set up a tent next to the winery and poured wines under canvas while converting one end of the winery into a tasting room. 

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We walked through the doors of the winery building, on the end that houses the tasting bar. Inside I met Theresa, who is co-owner and winemaker. As Krista poured wine, Theresa continued to fill in details about the winery. It is her first attempt at making wine. She prudently consulted with Tom Payette, who is a highly regarded Virginia winemaker and consultant, but the wines are really a product of her effort. She is currently making about 1500 cases annually from the six acres of vines that are managed by her husband Brad. They plan to plant more grapes on the property, but are also looking elsewhere for acreage. The goal is to eventually top out at around 6000 cases.

Krista poured eight of the Two Twisted Post wines. Among the whites were a Chardonnay and the Reserve Chardonnay that won the Governor’s Cup. Both were great wines, but the reserve was vastly superior. On the nose, it had that same oakiness I remembered from my earlier tasting and on the palate were the creamy tropical notes that make it such a fabulous, award winning wine. Later in the lineup, Krista also poured a Seyval Blanc and a Vidal Blanc that are supposed to be their “sweet” wines. The sweetest had only two percent residual sugar. Both were well balanced wines and might easily have been served along with the other whites. 

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The red offerings included a 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, that was light bodied and slightly sweet. It is potentially a great gateway wine for those who don’t yet appreciate reds. There was also a very nice Cabernet Franc, but I want to talk about the 2012 Petit Verdot. When done as a single varietal, this is a wine that will be very good or very bad. There is seldom an example that falls in the middle. This particular full-bodied red took silver in the Governor’s Cup and it is simply amazing. The leather notes gave way to dark fruit, structured tannins and bit of spiciness in a very long finish. It definitely needs more age, but it really is a world-class wine.

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So Two Twisted Posts is a winery with a very bright future. There are plans for a new tasting room on the property, but don’t sit around and wait. They have gone to great ends to make the temporary room homey and inviting. Of course the wines are the real draw and the tasting-room experience is first rate. So yeah,,, Stop in and see for yourself. When you do, let me know what you think.