Friday, September 6, 2013

Virginia's Mountain High Wineries

Picture grapes growing on vines that weave through rolling hills, framed by the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. Most American wine lovers agree that the wineries in eastern Virginia are exceptional but, according to many well-respected wine specialists, western Virginia is an up-and-coming wine region.

So veer off the Blue Ridge Parkway for the opportunity to taste and buy wines along the Wine Trail.

On a high plateau (1720-foot elevation) ringed by the Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains, David and Marie Gibbs grow vinifera grapes on ten acres of rich soil to produce French wines. According to David, his location enjoys a micro-climate where the hill is actually warmer than the valley. It’s apparent that he loves his land. He says, “I like making the earth better than how I found it.”

They make 12 different wines, featuring Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Traminette and Petit Verdot. Their two Chardonnays differ in style because of their fermentation. Chardonnay Reserve is aged in French oak. Oak adds complexity to wine, and this wine picks up a nutty flavor. The Chardonnay from the stainless steel vats has a tender, but crisp, note. Bring a picnic lunch along with you to eat on Virginia Mountains’ outdoor covered patio. Great wine, great food, great views.

Vintners Jim Holaday and Barbara Kolb Holaday employ “green” or organic growing methods and use only natural products. For instance, they clear the trellises of unwanted leaves so that the sun and air can circulate between the vines, thus preventing fungus. They compost with old leaves and crushed grape residue. They add carbon dioxide in bottles to push out oxygen which spoils wine.  “We make wine as if for family and friends,” says Barbara.

For a real tasting treat, sip the following wines from Blue Ridge Vineyards: Riesling, crisp and easygoing with a green apple taste that goes well with food; full-bodied Sweet Shiloh; Pinot Noir, a very light Burgundy that’s delicate on the palate; Gewurztraminer (or “G-wine”), spicy with a floral aroma of lychee nuts and excellent with Thai food; Traminette that’s blended with Riesling for texture; and Big Bear Red, a smooth and tender red.

Located in the tiny village of Eagle Rock (pop. 120) in the bucolic Shenandoah Valley, its hospitality is legendary. From March through December, people are invited to enjoy the 300-acre farm, picnic area, hiking trails, music performances and complimentary wine tastings. Check online for upcoming events.

A wine lover’s dream: To wake up at a winery and spend the day wandering through the vineyards, observing and learning Old World winemaking techniques in the winery and then sampling quality wines in the tasting room of a 1926 quaint farmhouse. That’s life at Fincastle Bed and Breakfast. Day trippers are welcome just to visit the tasting room and take the winery tour. The B and B is simply an added bonus to the award-winning winery.

Fincastle’s Cabernet Savignon, with its smooth, fruity hints of cherry and black currant, has won medals in the Virginia Governor’s Cup, the Atlantic Seaboard Competition and the Wines of the South. Cabernet Franc, infused with notes of anise, black cherry and blackberry, has won awards in the International Eastern Wine Competition, the Virginia Governor’s Cup, the VWGA Virginia Wine Competition and the Atlantic Seaboard Competition. Semi-sweet Hybrid Vigor is blended from French-American hybrids and has placed in the Wines of the South and the Atlantic Seaboard Competition.

One of the owners, David Sawyer, lauds the area. “We moved here in 1987 in order to live in the mountains, and raise our children in a country environment,” he says. “The winery came into being in the late 1990’s. The land and climate are ideal for several varieties of French viniferas.”

When William, Nancy and David Morrisette established their boutique winery, it produced a mere 2,000 gallons. Today, its output exceeds 60,000 cases. Their success should be attributed to David and his staff.  David, who studied enology and viticulture at Mississippi State University, has developed exceptional and even some unusual wines.  

They’ve had fun creating their Signature Series. Many of the selections revolve around their love of dogs. For instance, Black Dog is a blend of Cabernet, Chambourcin and Merlot. Blushing Dog combines Vidal Blanc, Chambourcin, and Riesling to become a semi-sweet blush wine. Dogs grace the labels. Nevertheless, Chateau Morrisette celebrates the Blue Ridge by paying homage to its mountain laurels and parkway mile markers, too.

You can also experience gourmet dining in Chateau Morrisette’s elegant restaurant. The chefs use regional produce and game to create French, Italian and American dishes. And don’t miss the specialty shop to purchase wine, gifts and apparel.

Just be sure when you leave these wineries (unless you have a designated driver) that you’re not as high as the mountains.