Is Virginia “The Bordeaux of North America?”

Guest Author Jay Youmans, MW, CWE, dares to ask the question!

Is Virginia the “Bordeaux of North America?”

MonticelloI know that this is a bold, if not outright outrageous, question to ask about an East Coast wine region that is relatively unknown to most of the country. But before you start pelting me with your Napa Cabs and Your Washington State Merlots, hear me out!

I truly believe that some of the red blends being produced in Virginia are closer stylistically to Bordeaux than the vast majority of wines being made in California, Washington, or Oregon.

I was recently honored to be the Judging Director for the Virginia Governor’s Cup Wine Competition. This was a large and prestigious wine competition, with 377 Virginia wines entered and 43 accomplished wine judges from all over the world.  If you have attended SWE Conferences before, you might know two of our superstar judges – Shields T. Hood and David Denton, both CWE’s.

At the upcoming SWE Conference in Orlando, I will be showcasing the top 12 wines from this year’s Governor’s Cup Competition, and I find it very interesting that 11 of these wines are blends of grapes you would find in Bordeaux and Southwest France.  Here is a list of the wines we will taste:

  • Cooper Vineyards – 2010 Petite Verdot Reserve
  • King Family Vineyards – 2010 Meritage
  • Lovingston Winery – 2009 Josie’s Knoll Estate Reserve (Meritage)
  • Philip Carter Winery – 2010 Cleve (Petite Verdot/Tannat)
  • Pollak Vineyards – 2009 Cabernet Franc Reserve
  • Potomac Point Vineyard and Winery – 2010 Richland Reserve Heritage (Merlot/Cabernet Franc/Cabernet Sauvignon/Tannat/Petite Verdot)
  • Rappahannock Cellars – 2010 Meritage
  • RdV Vineyards – 2010 Rendevous (Meritage)
  • RdV Vineyards – 2010 Lost Mountain (Meritage)
  • Sunset Hills Vineyard – 2010 Mosaic (Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon/
    Cabernet Franc/Petite Verdot)
  • Barboursville Vineyards’ 2009 Octagon 12th Edition (Meritage)
  • Trump Winery – 2008 Sparkling Rose (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir)

Shanandoah Valley MerlotAccording to the Virginia Wine Marketing Board’s “Virginia 2012 Commercial Grape Report,” the most widely planted red grapes in the Commonwealth are Bordeaux varieties:  Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot, in that order.  The number 5 red wine grape is Tannat, a variety found throughout southwest France.  The only other red wine grape with much presence in Virginia is Pinot Noir…and it trails pretty far behind.  As a matter of fact, Virginia grows 20 times more Cabernet Franc and 10 times more Cabernet Sauvignon than Pinot Noir.  (Virginia is definitely NOT the Burgundy of North America.)

Fast Facts About the Virginia Wine Industry:

  • The Jamestown settlers had high hopes that Virginia would become a major source of wine for the British Empire…so much so that in 1619 they passed a law requiring each male settler to plant and tend at least ten grapevines.
  • In 1774, Thomas Jefferson, along with Florentine Viticulturist Filippo Mazzei, established vineyards using vitis vinifera grapes on a plot of land adjoining Jefferson’s house at Monticello.  Unfortunately, they had very little success, and soon gave up their efforts altogether due to the revolutionary war.  In 1981, a new venture known as Jefferson vineyards began growing grapes and making wine on the historic site.
  • George Washington, at Mount Vernon, also attempted to grow European grape varieties.  However, every attempt to grow vinifera vines by the colonists met with failure.  Now, almost 240 years later, we know that the main culprit was Phylloxera, as well as other unknown pests and diseases in this new environment.
  • Beginning in the 1800’s, Virginia wines made from Native American grapes were very successful. So much so that, in 1873, a Virginia wine made from Norton, a native American (Vitis Aestivalis) grape variety, was named the “Best Red Wine of All Nations” at the Vienna World’s Fair.
  • At 230 wineries and counting today, Virginia is the fifth largest wine-producing state in the union after California, New York, Washington State and Oregon.
  • Virginia currently has 6 AVAs.  Click here for a list of The AVAs of Virginia .
  • The modern wine industry in Virginia has its share of interesting characters:  Dave Matthews (of the Dave Matthews Band) is the proud owner of Blenheim Vineyards in Charlottesville, and Donald Trump (yes, that Donald Trump) bought the former Kluge Estate Winery in 2011.  Now producing wine under the name Trump Winery, one of their specialties is a Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc/Merlot/Petite Verdot blend called “New World Red.”  It seems The Donald might think Virginia is “the Bordeaux of America” as well!

Jay Youmans, MW

If you have an opinion about whether or not Virginia is “The Bordeaux of North America,” would like to, or would like to try these wines and judge for yourself, be sure and join me at this year’s SWE Conference!

Jay Youmans, MW, CWE, owns the Capital Wine School in Washington, DC, www.capitalwineschool.com; and Rock Creek Wine Merchants, a sales & marketing consultancy. In addition, he is a partner in Manse Field, a Pinot Noir vineyard in Martinborough, New Zealand.

Jay will be presenting his session, “Is Virginia the Bordeaux of North America?” at the 37th Annual Conference of the Society of Wine Educators in Orlando on Wednesday, July 31st at 4:45 pm.

Click here for more information on the SWE Conference.

The Maestro

Andre TTTAndré Tchelistcheff (1901-1994) was so impressive as a winemaker that he earned the lasting nickname “The Maestro.”  Born in Moscow, he fled Russia during the Revolution and studied agricultural technology in Czechoslovakia before landing in France, where he studied microbiology, fermentation, and oenology at the Institut Pasteur.

In 1938, Georges de Latour, the owner and founder of Beaulieu Vineyards in Napa Valley, made a tour of France in search of a new winemaker. He was looking for someone with a sophisticated palate and a scientific background.  He found it in André, who was working at the French National Argronomy Institute at the time.  André had already received numerous offers of work from all over the world, yet he accepted the challenge and, in 1938, moved to Napa to become the Vice President and chief winemaker at BV.

Upon his arrival in California, he stopped the over-sulfuring of wines and put an end to the practice of dumping large amounts of ice into the crusher to combat the searing heat of the Napa Valley in fall.  He pioneered the cold fermentation of whites and rosés, the control of malolactic fermentation in red wines, and the use of small barrel aging.  He spent years replacing rusty cast iron piping and pumps that were causing the wines to have unacceptably high levels of metallic concentration.

Napa AndreAndré also pioneered the study of viticulture and terroir in Napa Valley, implementing frost protection in the vineyards and the prevention of grape diseases. He studied the various sub-regions of Napa, identifying areas where world-class Cabernet Sauvignon could be made, and is credited with coming up with the term “Rutherford dust.” Most importantly, he created Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, which quickly became the benchmark style for high-quality Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.

During his time with Beaulieu, Tchelistcheff trained many soon-to-be-famous winemakers, including Mike Grgich and Joe Heitz. He remained vice president of Beaulieu Vineyards until he retired in 1973.  In his “retirement” he consulted with dozens of wineries and winemakers in California, Washington State and Oregon. One of his first clients was Mary Ann Graf at Simi Winery, who is now recognized as the first woman winemaker in America. In full circle style, he consulted once again with Beaulieu Vineyards from 1991 until his death in 1994.

Always a gentleman, André was well-known and much beloved for his for his quick wit, sharp intellect, and European charm.  He was considered a master of the language of wine, and once described a Beaujolais as “a young woman, barefoot, the wind blowing in her hair, ruffling her blouse.  She has the look on Andre Tchelistcheffher face of an early peach, a teen-age beauty.”

Considered the most influential California winemaker since the repeal of prohibition, his many honors include being inducted into the Culinary Institute of America’s Vintner’s Hall of Fame in 2007, Wine Spectator’s Distinguished Service Award of 1986, and the 1970 Merit Award of the American Society of Enologists.  He was also recognized internationally, being named both a “Chevalier” and an “Officier du Mérite Agricole” by the French government.

However…to all those countless winemakers, grape growers, wineries and wine drinkers from the early days of the California wine industry and beyond, he will always be “The Maestro.”

 

Post written by Jane A. Nickles, CWE (your SWE Blog Administrator) bevspecialist@societyofwineeducators.org

 

Heaven and Earth

Hermanus HarborIf you are ever lucky enough to make a trip to South Africa, as a wine lover you will most likely tour dozens of the gorgeous wineries of Stellenbosch, make an excursion to Groot Constantia, take the cable car up to the top of Table Mountain, and spend a few nights on the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront in Cape Town.  That would make for a wonderful trip!

But if you could extend your trip for just one more day, you might find yourself in a place that deservedly calls itself “Heaven and Earth.”  Here’s how to get there:  Rent a car and drive 70 miles southeast of Cape Town.  Stop in the town of Hermanus, a former fishing village built alongside Walker Bay that rivals the beauty of any beach-front Riviera in the world, complete with umbrella-tabled wine bars lining the sand.

Hermanus Whale CrierHermanus has many a claim to fame, including the fact that it employs the only full-time whale crier in the world.  The town’s centerpiece, Walker Bay, is a breeding ground for the Southern Right Whale and in 2001 was declared a whale sanctuary – meaning no boats or water craft of any kind are allowed in the water from July until November.  During season, the whales can be seen from the cliffs along the shore, and when the whale crier sounds his kelp horn people pour out of their homes to watch the show.

Just before the entrance to Hermanus you’ll find the turn-off to the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley.  It is a valley of indescribable beauty, the name, after all, is Afrikaans for “Heaven and Earth.”  Hemel-en-Aarde is home to the southernmost vineyards in South Africa, and due to its proximity to Walker Bay and the South Atlantic Ocean, some of the coolest as well.

Part of the Walker Bay Wine District, there are three wine-producing wards in Hemel-en-Aarde.  Hemel-en-Aarde Valley begins less than a mile from the shore.  A few miles inland, along the scenic Hemel-en-Aarde Road (R320), resides the second ward, Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley.  Extending 11 miles into the valley formed by the majestic Overberg Mountains, Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge is the furthest inland.

hermanus vineyardThere are currently just over a dozen wineries in Hemel-en-Aarde.  The pioneer in the area’s wine history is undoubtedly Tim Hamilton Russell, the founder of the Hamilton-Russell Estate.  Tim purchased his 170 hectare property in 1975 after a ten-year search for the ideal spot in which to plant cool climate grapes in South Africa.  Soon thereafter, the estate began producing world-class wines; one of which won the 2003 International Wine Challenge as the best Pinot Noir in the world.  This success paved the way for other wineries in the region.

Another Hemel-en-Aarde Winery that might sound familiar is Bouchard Finlayson. Established in 1989, Bouchard Finlayson is a boutique winery located on a 125-hectare property with just over 22 hectares under vine.  The remainder of the property remains a conservatory dedicated to the pristine, indigenous “fynbos” flora of the Western Cape.  The leading wine of Bouchard Finlayson is Galpin Peak Pinot Noir, grown in the Bokkeveld Shale and clay-based soils of Galpin Peak Mountain, at an elevation of 2,000 feet.

hermanus vineyards bouchardOther outstanding wineries of Hemel-en-Aarde include Creation Estate, Southern Right, Newton Johnson, and Jakob’s Vineyard, but, alas, they are hard to find outside of South Africa.  You’ll just have to make that trip…

For more information:

 

Post written by Jane A. Nickles, CWE (your SWE Blog Administrator)

 

Extreme AVA’s

vernaccia san gimignanoAccording to the website for the TTB (the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau), an AVA is defined as “a delimited grape-growing region having distinguishing features, a name, and a delineated boundary.”  The website goes on to state that “these designations allow vintners and consumers to attribute a given quality, reputation, or other characteristic of a wine made from grapes grown in an area to its geographic origin.”

 

Anyone, including a winemaker, landowner, or interested party may file a petition for the recognition of an AVA.  The petition must include:

  • Evidence that the proposed name of the AVA is “directly related to the location” and that the name is locally or nationally known to refer to the region.
  • USGS maps with the boundaries of the proposed region clearly marked.
  • An explanation as to why the geographic boundaries are drawn where they are as well as a description of the distinguishing features such as climate, geology, elevation, or soils that differentiate growing conditions from the area outside the proposed AVA’s borders.
  • While there are no size restrictions, proof must be provided that either total acreage or a broad distribution of viticultural activity across the region is enough to constitute both a “grape growing region” and “an area in which viticulture exists.”

Cabernet TopOnce an AVA is established, at least 85% of the grapes used to make a wine must be grown in the specified area if an AVA is referenced on its label.

While of course I agree with the official governing body, I also like to think of The American Viticultural Areas like a big, unruly political family.  Someone, it seems, is always trying to take the helm or grab all the attention as the biggest, the newest, or the always-and-forever reigning patriarch. I’ve been trying to keep up with it all since the AVA system since it began back in 1980.

As of today (March 13, 2013), here are the contenders:

Oldest AVA:  Augusta – Located near the town of Augusta, Missouri, the Augusta AVA was approved on June 20, 1980.

Smallest AVA:  Cole Ranch – Located in Mendocino, California, the Cole Ranch AVA spans just 62 acres.  That’s less than one quarter of a square mile.

Largest AVA:  The Upper Mississippi Valley – The Upper Mississippi Valley AVA, approved on July 22, 2009, covers 29,914 square miles and includes parts of Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

077Runners Up:  Coming in at #2, The Ohio River Valley AVA covers 26,000 square miles.  Third place goes to The Columbia Valley at 26,000 square miles.

Happiest AVA Names (Just for Fun):  Fair Play, Happy Canyon, Horse Heaven Hills, High Valley, and Rocky Knob.

Best Use of an Abbreviation:  Sta. Rita Hills

Most Mysterious Names:  Linganore, Lime Kiln, and Jahant (Comment below if you know what they mean!)

 

For more information:

Post written by Jane A. Nickles, CWE (your SWE Blog Administrator) bevspecialist@societyofwineeducators.org