In addition to my figurative love affair with wine, I'm happy to say that I'm literally in love with a very awesome guy, and have been for three years in October! Charlottesville is an epicenter of history, scenery, and of course WINE MAKING! What better place to spend our anniversary? I was able to carve out a weekend and celebrate with a quick road trip.
Just a note about responsibility: Wine Cruising =/= driving drunk. We either have a designated driver, and if we don't, one of us will choose not to swallow our tastings so that we can drive safely. I wanted to make this clear before striking fear in the hearts of motorists everywhere when I say that on this day, we visited an impressive SIX wineries. This was a new record for us! This was the day that I drove, and let's just say that Andrew slept pretty well that night! We were able to get a decent hotel in spite of it being Parents' Weekend at UVA. Make sure to check on things like that before booking a trip to Charlottesville. With the small inconvenience aside, it's well worth it!
One reason we were able to start this early was because places in Charlottesville open EARLY. As in, 9am early, which is when our first scheduled stop at Keswick Vineyards opened. Unfortunately, we braved the freezing rain and slight flurries only to be locked out. We checked and re-checked our phones to see if anything had happened (like maybe it was Christmas or something and we were caught in a time warp, or maybe Halloween weekend is a religious holiday for some people), but they seemed to be genuinely closed. Not to be detered, we went to our next stop happy to have the extra time!
This is a fixture on the Virginia wine scene. You can find a lot of their stuff at Total Wine and in the "local" section of grocery stores in Virginia (if they have it). They're one of the first, and the biggest. You name it, they have it. I dare you to walk in with any of your friends or family members and have one of them walk away without something that suits their taste. Some of their wines were even served at a Clinton state dinner, as boasted on a photo collage on their wall.
This diversity means that not everything is estate grown, but it still has all the local flavor you need. We were able to try 6 apiece, making for one of the longest, most complicated decisions of my life. I'm counting 46 on my sheet, but they may have had many more. Of these 46, they have a selection of reds, whites, a LOT of dessert wines, and a very healthy selection of fruit wines. I was a fan of the Touriga Portuguese-style red, tasting chocolatey to me. Andrew liked the Tannat, which is about as dry as they come! The most memorable were the fruit wines, my favorite being the Pomegranate. It has the tartness of the primary fruit balanced out with a bit of Cab Franc.
We left with a style of Georgian-style white wine for Andrew's parents, who had spent time working the the Republic of Georgia (the country, not the state). The 2010 Rkatsiteli is clean and about as citrusy as they get. It went really well with our Thanksgiving dinner. Horton is a true sampling of wine styles from around the world. The wines are set up in stations since there are so many, and the large scale of operations means that the service is hit-or-miss. There was a particular staff member whose people skills leave a little to be desired, but the rest of the experience more than made up for it. Their Norton is a must-try...Horton Norton just rolls right off the tongue!
At this point, it had started to snow/sleet or whatever you want to call it. In October! We found refuge in one of Virginia's most popular wineries, complete with fireplaces! Barboursville is most famous for their Octagon red, which is their Bordeaux style blend that was raved about at the [LINK] Washington Wine Academy. We were anxious to see if it lived up to their reputation.
The weather didn't sway a lot of folks, who were lined up at various stations. They were divided into whites, reds, and dessert sections, almost like a walking tour. They offer an incredibly diverse selection for tasting, and they do everything pretty well. Their whites started off with a Brut sparkling wine (i.e., champagne) which was okay but really no memorable than a bottle of Korbel. I enjoyed their very pear-forward 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, along with their 2010 Reserve Viognier. The Riesling was a bit too sweet.
My favorite reds were the 2008 Nebbiolo Reserve, which smelled initially of sweetness. I don't know how it's possible to smell sweetness, but it's one of those things you just know! It tasted smokey and pretty heavy. Our favorites were the 2008 Cab Franc Reserve and 2008 Merlot Reserve. The 2007 Octagon came last as their flagship. This is probably due to being an amateur wino, but I felt like maybe it had TOO much going on. It's a blend of Merlot, Cab Franc, Cab Sauv, and Petit Verdot. All I remember is that it was pretty fruit-forward, and at $40 a bottle, there were plenty of other wines that were just as good, if not better...for much less cash. They are also one of the few places I've been to that has more than one dessert wine. Their Rosato is a dessert rose that tastes like a strawberry shortcake, and was my favorite. We ended up leaving with a bottle of the Cabernet Franc we had adored. Barboursville didn't have the "mom and pop" feel of some of the other places in Virginia, since they've been around for a while and are a corporate. You'd be pretty hard pressed to find something you wouldn't like at this place, and they really know wine.
Jefferson is closer to Charlottesville proper, and just a stone's throw away from historic Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's home. He tried unsuccessfully to make Virginia wine world-renowned. Sadly, it didn't happen in his generation, but places like Jefferson (named after the guy himself) are making the best use out of the same land he cultivated centuries ago. Jefferson is a peculiar place...they looked like they had a couple of different buildings, so we found our way to what looked like a small house that turned out to be pretty bustling inside. They offered ten wines: 4 whites, 4 reds, and 2 semi-dry whites. Their 2010 Chardonnay was pretty earthy with mineral notes. When you hear someone say they taste "mineral," they are speaking of wet rock. "Mineral" just sounds nicer. Their Viognier was not as floral as many I've smelled, but still tasty with hints of tropical fruits.
The Reds started off with their "Vin Rouge," named after a rooster that had hung out around the farm. It's a "fun red" blend that has notes of cherry and chocolate. They also featured a very earthy Petit Verdot, and well-balanced 2008 Meritage blend. Their Cabernet Franc was a bit too peppery and herbal for me. Their semi-sweets were a Riesling and Vin Blanc, the latter being way too sweet for me. Nothing too impressive from this place, but the staff is friendly and the tasting fee includes souvenir glasses. Not just any of those little souvenir glasses, though....these were crystal and made a very lovely addition to our collection.
Yep, you read that right...Trump as in the real estate mogul and reality TV star. We had heard some buzz about how he was going to open up a place in Virginia, we just didn't think it was ready yet. However, we stumbled upon the place on the way to our next stop. We had heard some rumors about the former Kluge Estate winery being sold, and we finally made the connection when we realized that their wines were what we were sipping on. Except they are now being marketed as Trump wines for a princely markup. We're talking big money to taste, here, folks. I'm not gonna lie. Although I like this place because the thought of the Donald actually participating in the winemaking process makes me giggle a little bit.
I honestly forget everything we tasted, but they ask you to select what you want to taste, as opposed to a pre-selected list. To taste all of the wines (which we wanted to do) cost us about $50 for two tastings. The pours are generous, and the wines are REALLY high class. Probably as close to French as you can get in Virginia. They are made in that style, after all. They have the Albemarle Rose and Sauvignon Blanc, a "Simply Red" blend, a Cru (Chardonnay), Kluge New World Red, and two sparklings: Kluge Blanc de Blanc and Kluge Rose. Their sparkling wines were spectacular, made in the Méthode Champenoise that is associated with the best bubbly out there. If you are willing to spend the money, go here for the sparkling ones if that's your thing. It's also beautiful, of course, but reminded me of being in an overpriced hotel that charges you $50 to take a bag of M&Ms from the minibar. If you come here, go for the sparkling wines only. And for an experience that is truly high-class.
What else is famous about Charlottesville? Not just Thomas Jefferson and UVA, but also that Dave Matthews guy. Yep, he got into the winery business and owns Blenheim. We aren't too crazy about the band, but we'll come back to his winery any day of the week!
The coolest part about this place is probably the setup and the architecture. The outside has a display of four giant letters: "L-O-V-E" that look over the vineyard. It was part of a tourism campaign since "Virginia is for Lovers." The tasting room is timber frame with large windows affording a breathtaking view of the vineyard.
They only offer a handful of wines for tasting, which is actually kind of a good thing...they don't try to do too much, and what they do have is done really well. Our pourer explained that this is exactly what their winemaker goes for, and wants to make sure that the wines are "drinkable." Meaning you could take them all home and drink them immediately, sharing with friends or on your own. They'd be just as good taking up space in your wine cellar for a little while, but since they are so delicious they probably wouldn't be there that long!
Their 2010 Chardonnay was crisp and steel-fermented, and will probably go down in history as one of the only ones Andrew would actually drink! They also have a Viognier, Red Table Blend that tastes a lot like Chambourcin, a Merlot, Cab France, and Syrah. All of the red had hints of cocoa/chocolate, so I was a fan. Speaking of fans, the staff informed us that they get a lot of random calls from people wanting to know if Dave is there. A lot of them are disappointed to find out that he doesn't hang out there on a regular basis, but they should definitely stay for the wine and the view!
King Family Vineyards
This was a very happening place. It was packed with many people; and I noticed that there was a diverse mix. Some places have more of a "younger" vibe, while some places seem more mature. This had a mixture of everything for young and old alike. UVA students mixing with retirees. Mountain view and bonfire out back. Good times.
This place is family-owned (can you guess what the name of the family is)? It had an unpretentious and relaxed atmosphere while still being classy. I loved the Viognier...part of it is fermented in stainless steel while another is in barrels. They also offer a Chardonnay, a Cab Franc, a Merlot, Meritage, and Petit Verdot. Their dessert is the Loreley 2010 Late Harvest Viognier and Petit Manseng (50-50). Try it for a citrusy treat! We would have stuck around, but we were covering so much ground and we still had time to fit in a couple more venues in Virginia's Napa Valley!
Afton Mountain Vineyards
Breathtaking. I have seen websites time and time again claiming to have "breathtaking" mountain views, but this place really makes you go "whoa." Their website says that "grapes don't grow in ugly places." I don't think the grapes at Afton will ever have to experience that problem.
The tasting stuff is bubbly and friendly. Their indoor area is kind of small, but there is an awesome pavilion outside. We would like to have used it for hanging out if it wasn't freezing! We tried a delightful Pinot Noir, which you don't taste too often around here! Same with their Sangiovese. They also have a Cab Franc, and a Cab Sauvignon that are all amazing. Their Mountain Red is slightly sweet, and their Festa di Bacco is an awesome blend that imitates the robust Italian "Super Tuscans." For the whites, their Gewurtztraminer has a beautiful fresh scent but has only slight sweetness. My favorite was that Estate Reserve Chardonnay, which was delightfully buttery and my beloved Californian style; where you can taste where the wine lived (i.e., the oak).
For a newer place, I felt that their wines were reasonably priced, especially for such great quality. The staff was patient with us hanging around, even though it was getting close to closing time. The owner also talked with Andrew at length about his experience with opening up a winery and the educational program he went through, since he is pretty new to the business. We hope he finds much continued success!
We stayed for a second to gaze out at the beautiful view, which distracted Andrew so much that he dropped and shattered his bottle of Cabernet Franc! The staff was kind enough to replace it for us. It was a great way to end our day, but we were down for the count! We took our haul and headed back home after a record-setting day.
BONUS- Keswick take 2
Before leaving the next morning, we decided to give Keswick one last try. The weather had cleared up significantly at this point. It was a completely different world than the last time we went! We were heartened that there was some activity outside. There were people setting up booths in anticipation for a dogs in costume event for Halloween. You never know what event a winery will be hosting next!
After we got in and explained what happened the previous day, the staffer profusely apologized. There was a mix-up in scheduling that caused the opening manager to arrive late. We forgave them enough not to put them in the redemption section :-)
They have an oaky Chardonnay to appease the likes of me, and a 2010 Touriga that is delightfully fruity. I could taste coffee notes in their Merlot. I also liked their earthy Chambourcin. Chambourcin in general is starting to grow on me! They also have a "Les Vents d'Anges" Rives Red that is dark and smoky. They have a small tasting selection, and a winemaker who is up for any challenge that the tricky Virginia terroir can bring. Seems if you can make good wine here, then you're a pro!
Sadly, we couldn't hang around too long because it was Sunday and time to get back to reality. The same reality that has delayed my wine tasting adventures and caused me to take months to finish this post! But I promise dear readers, it's not you...it's definitely me! Thanks for coming back to us! While it is now February and not the best weather for wine tasting, we may just have a few little surprises for you ;-)