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Sunday, November 22, 2015

Lost Creek Vineyard and Winery

I typically do not schedule my visits at Virginia wineries, but I ran into Todd and Aimee Henkle at a wine event in Leesburg and arranged to meet them at their tasting room the following day. The Henkles purchased the vineyard and winery just three years ago and they were still finding there feet when I last visited. As you might imagine, in the nearly two intervening years, much had changed.

The approach and grounds around the winery and tasting room were much as I remembered them, minus the traces of snow. Instead, the last hints of autumn clung to the trees. The outdoor seating was not in use and there were probably only a few days left in the season before all tasting activities will move indoors. You will find that the exterior of the building seems vaguely European. The front patio with its seating, pergola and fountain add to that same general vibe. It is quite lovely reminds me that I need to make an effort to stop by during a better season.

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Seating on the Lost Creek lawn. 

Inside, things had changed dramatically. Gone were the large round dining tables. In their place are smaller tables with black table cloths that lend an upscale feel to the tasting room experience. The centerpiece of the room is the large stone fireplace against the far wall, which must make the room particularly inviting during the winter months. There are few things better than drinking wine in front of a fire.

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Inside the tasting room. 

Aimee met me at the tasting bar and led me to a room that has been redecorated and reserved for club members. I see much more of these appointed spaces in Northern Virginia. It is a great perk that allows members to avoid crowds around the tasting bar. It is a beautiful space that is tastefully decorated in a very inviting and comfortable way. 

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One corner of the club member’s room. 

When Todd and Aimee first took over, they were still learning the business, so they brought in Sebastien Marquet to make the wine. It is impossible to say enough good things about Sebastien. He is definitely among the top tier of Virginia winemakers. Three years later, Sebastien has stepped back into a consulting role and the the Henkles are taking a more active role in making the wine. I still see Sebastian’s influence, but that is a decidedly good thing. I will say without reservation, all of the Lost Creek wines are exceptional.   

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Aimee Henkle behind the tasting bar in the member’s room.

I tasted several of the Lost Creek wines. In my tasting notes I always use stars as cues that remind me how much I liked a particular wine and it is one that I should mention in my review. Honestly, there were just too many stars. I enjoyed both the estate and reserve Chardonnays, but the real standout white varietal was the Vidal Blanc. Yes, you heard me, Vidal Blanc! The first Vidal was bone dry and its acidity makes it a perfect food wine. The second Vidal had about 1.5% residual sugar, which is not enough to actually taste, but I was stunned by how that little bit of sugar emphasized the fruit. It is a wine that can pair with a meal or be opened and consumed by the glass. The real story, however is the reds. They are pouring a Bordeaux blend and a Cabernet Sauvignon from 2012, which was a great year. That Cab Sauv is simply over the top. It saw 24 months in oak, which imparted a great deal of complexity on the palate. It is big and almost jammy with a beautiful nose and finish that seemed to go on forever. Amazing! I am told that 2014 is looking even better, so hold onto your seats.

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Bottles of Lost Creek wine. 

You know, after my first visit Aimee told me that their goal was "to create the highest quality Virginia wine possible while maintaining a great friendly atmosphere for people to come and enjoy [the] wines and the property.” I feel like they have accomplished that in spades. It is a gorgeous venue, where they are pouring world-class wines. They might improve on that slightly, but they seem to have hit the mark. I don’t just recommend a visit, I insist that you get out there at the earliest opportunity and I want to know what you think.


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Terra Nebulo Vineyards

Just north of the beautiful and well preserved colonial village of Waterford, Virginia, a new winery recently opened for business. I had heard a little buzz from a local blogger, so I knew Terra Nebula Vineyards was finally pouring wine. The original opening was scheduled for the spring, but construction of the tasting room took a little longer than anticipated. In any case, I needed to get up there and find out a little about the operation.

The road that runs north from Waterford and past the tasting room was known during the colonial period as a region beset by highwaymen. Borrowing from this piece of historical background, owners Mike and Cheryl Morrison first elected to name the winery “Rogues Hollow,” but it was already trademarked. The second choice was “Rascal Hill,” but that two was under trademark. So they resorted to the Latin Terra Nebulo, which means “land of the rascal.” Problem solved.

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The drive through Waterford alone makes the trip worth taking. Founded in 1733, the village is now a national historic landmark, whose narrow streets are lined with the original shops and homes. From the hillside at Terra Nebulo, you can look back down at the village and surrounding farmland. In order to build in such close proximity to the historical site, the Morrisons were required to conform to strict construction guidelines. The tasting room structure was constructed by Amish builders to resemble a colonial barn, so that it would not detract from the local charm.

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The winery building does resemble a much older structure, but inside it opens into a number of well-designed rooms. Upstairs is an event hall and several smaller rooms. Downstairs is the tasting room with large doors opening onto a large patio. There is more than ample space inside.

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There are 1.5 acres of fruit on the property that the Morrison’s planted in 2009. There are plans to expand the vineyard to between 4 and 5 acres, but for now most of the grapes are grown in the Shenandoah Valley. Randy Philips of Cave Ridge began making wine for Terra Nebulo in 2013. He bottled 500 cases that first year and 700 in 2014. It is unclear how many cases of the 2015 vintage will be bottled, but it is fair to say that production will need to increase once the word about Terra Nebulo gets out. When the crowds descend from Northern Virginia, those small numbers will be depleted in short order.

The Morrisons were behind the tasting bar when I arrived and they poured a few of their wines. There were a total of eight on the tasting menu and there are separately priced standard and reserve tastings. I, of course, did both. Of the four whites, I have to point to the Riesling as the real standout. This varietal does well in the Shenandoah and this balanced, dry-style example did not disappoint. Among the reds, there was a Chambourcin and Port-style dessert wine made from the same grape. Both were excellent wines, but the Cabernet Franc was my favorite of the tasting. 

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All in all, it is still a little soon to get a good sense of Terra Nebulo. It still felt a little like a soft opening as the owners were trying to get their bearings and deal with the periodic influx of visitors. I am confident, however  that things will shake our. In the mean time, the wines are quite good and the venue is spectacular. I strongly recommend lending your support. Drop in and check out this new winery. After you do, let me know what you think.