Friday, March 23, 2012

An Afternoon with Jordan Harris, Winemaker of Tarara, Virginia, USA

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller and Jordan Harris

As head of the Viginia Wine Meet-Up Group, Allan Liska regularly organizes wine events at wineries in Virginia. This time, he had arranged a tasting at Tarara, lead by winemaker Jordan Harris. See: Meeting Virginia and Bordeaux Wine Expert and Wine Blogger Allan Liska, USA

Picture: Allan Liska and Jordan Harris


Tarara Winery is in Loudoun County, about an hour by car from Washington DC. The beautifully manicured 475 acre farm stretches along the Potomac River. Founded in 1989 by RJ (Whitie) and Margaret Hubert, Tarara is home to some of Virginia’s finest wines. Annual production is 10.000 cases.

Pictures: Tarara

Last week, the gorgeous pear trees on the property bordering the road were in full bloom. A raised deck just outside the tasting room provides nice views of the Potomac River, back dropped by the Sugar Loaf Mountains in the distance. Tarara has free outdoor concerts every Saturday on the outdoor deck in the summer. 


Tarara’s main vineyards are Nevaeh (the estate vineyard managed by Ben Renshaw), Tranquility (in Purcellville, also managed by Ben Renshaw), Honah Lee (in Orange managed by Wayne and Vera Preddy), Mountainview (in Roanoke County managed by Megan and Andy Seibel), and Indian Springs (in the Winchester area managed by Steven Brown).

Nevaeh is made up of three distinct blocks – The Hill, The Road and The Pond.

The Hill has the deepest soils made up of red clay with limestone deposits cutting through the block. The varieties planted on the Hill and used for Tarara bottlings include: Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Viognier and Petit Manseng. 

The Road is the flattest of the sights and furthest from the Potomac River. Varieties planted and used for Tarara bottlings: Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot.

The Pond is the coolest site of Nevaeh. This block is the best for Tarara’s aromatic whites like Viognier, but is also home to some of Tarara’s most elegant Merlot due to the length of the growing season it can have and small amounts of Grenache and Mourvedre. 

Tranquility Vineyard is a seven acre vineyard planted in 1999 by it's owners: Al and Mary Taylor, set in the rolling hills of the Virginia Piedmont. Starting with the 2011 season, the Tranquility Vineyard is being leased entirely by Tarara Winery. Tarara only bottles wine using the Cabernet Sauvignon and Tannat.

Honah Lee Vineyard is a very steep South-West facing slope at about 1000 feet elevation. The wines from Honah Lee tend to be the most “exotic” of the wines produced at Tarara with soft structures and lovely rich ripe fruit. Honah Lee grows the following varieties for Tarara: Viognier, Petit Manseng, Roussanne, Chardonnay, Petit Verdot, Tannat and Pinotage.


Jordan Harris – this became more than clear during the tasting – is very passionate about the natural wine concepts. The idea behind the winemaking at Tarara Winery is to take a minimalist approach to allow the vineyards to best express themselves. Jordan believes that fine wines are made in the vineyard. Every time they have to get in the way of the wine, it is less of an expression of that vineyard.

Pictures: The Cellar

The Tarara wines are made in a 6000 square foot cave – which we did not visit, but I could look at the cave from the tasting area - to allow nature to give the winemaker consistent cellar temperatures and perfect humidity. This allows the wine to age gracefully in predominately Virginia Oak barrels until the wine is ready for bottling and eventual release.

Pictures: Tasting Room and Deck

Jordan Harris:  “All of our wines are meant to be a definition of the grapes. The wines are not treated with enzymes, fining agents or any unnecessary additives. The wines will occasionally need slight adjustments with sugar or acid to help the wines keep their balance and to fine tune the alcohol. All of the wines are fermented on indigenous yeasts with limited temperature control. Our belief is that the natural warmer fermentations allow wines to have more structure and depth, while the cooler temperatures are less necessary to preserve the aromatics which are abundant from the vineyard.”

Jordan Harris

Jordan grew up in a little village in Canada, an hour north of Toronto. He went to a Culinary School and became the manager of a fine Italian restaurant. He left the restaurant and went back to school for Oenology and Viticulture at Niagara College. Before moving on to Virginia, he made wine in the Niagara region of Ontario, Canada, where he worked for a few wineries. He made a lot of Icewine, in one country more Icewine  alone then Virginia produces wine in a year.

Pictures: Jordam Harris

Jordan shares the winemaker job with his Canadian compatriot Jonathan Boyle.


The Tarara wine portfolio currently comprises the following wines.

Charval 2009

Our crisp white blend that is all about refreshing acidity paired with bright fruit and complex aromatics. $20.00

Leap 2010

Every four years we will release a wine that is unique to one of the four prior years.  This wine will be released in very limited quantities to celebrate Leap Day - February 29th.  This is Leap XII. $50.00 

Long-Bomb Edition 1

This wine is all about going big, just like the football play. Each vintage the wines blend changes depending on what is the biggest fruit we have in the cellar. $20.00 

Long-Bomb Edition Four


Boneyard Red 2010


Boneyard White 2011


Honah Lee White

Coming from a steep hillside outside Orange, VA, Honah Lee Vineyard wines show great power while the cooler nights from the higher elevation lend to the brighter acidity. With the Honah Lee white, think tropical and exotic while fresh. $30.00  

BossaNoVA 2009


CasaNoVA 2009

Based on the selection of the winemakers favorite barrels of Nevaeh Vineyard, Tranquility Vineyard and Mountainview Vineyard. This wine spent 18 months in New Virginia Oak. Unfined and Unfiltered. $45.00 

Fume Blanc 2010


SuperNoVA 2008


TerraNoVA 2009


The Wines We Tasted

Jordan Harris: “In 2011, there will be no flagship wines, only entry level wines; this is what mother nature gave us.”

Pictures: The Tasting

Boneyard White 2011

Jordan Harris: “This first release of this fun wine is as crisp as our harvest mornings”

Petit Manseng 2011

Jordan Harris: “Petit Manseng is in my view an under- rated variety. There is nothing petit about Petit Manseg, other than the berries.”

Three Vineyards Chardonnay 2010
Three Vineyards Chardonnay 2009
Three Vineyards Chardonnay 2007

All blends of Nevaeh, Mountainview and Indian Springs vineyards. All barrel fermented and aged in Jupilles forest oak (10 months, 85% New). Indigenous yeast. Tarara’s flagship wine.

Jordan Harris: “2009 was a much cooler year and is a touch lighter than the 2010. All three wines are made in the same way, 100% barrel fermented, 10 months in oak. 2007 was my first vintage – one of my best vintages.”

Boneyard Red 2010

This is a steal. Pricewise, it is an entry level wine, but from the quality it should be at a different price point. In fact, the grapes were not harvest with this wine in mind but for higher quality wines. But Tarara wanted to start the Boneyard series (Red and White) and therefore decided to utilize higher quality wine that was available.

The wine is approachable and drinkable now, but will also do well with some more age.

Cabernet Franc 2010
Cabernet Franc 2008
Cabernet Franc 2007

18 months in Virginia Oak. Indigenous yeast. Unfined and unfiltered.

Cabernet Franc – one of the 3 Bordeaux grapes, but the one which has not been able to succeed on its own feet, like the Cabernet Sauvignon and the Merlot.

The 2007 was Jordan’s favorite wine. “Has perhaps another 2 years to get to the peak”.

Cabernet Sauvignon 1995

Has meaty leatheriness, certainly past its prime, no fruit anymore, but still decent tannins.

Petit Manseng Late Harvest 2010

Honey, pinapple. Interestingly, as Jason pointed out, this is not a noble-sweet wine. The grapes had plenty of sugar without being frozen (icewine) or rotten (Botrytize) so when the fermentation stopped at 15.4% alcohol, there still was quite a bit of unfermented sugar.

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