Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Wining, Dining and Grovin' at the 36th Annual Virginia Wine Festival in Centreville, USA

Picture: 36th Annual Virginia Wine Festival in Centreville, USA

One of the most popular wine festivals on the US East Coast - the annual Virginia Wine Festival - took place on September 17 and 18 at Bull Run Regional Park in Centreville, just half an hour away from Washington DC. I went there on the second day.

US East Coast wines from Virginia got a lot of attention over the weekend as a result of a Jancis Robinson column in the Financial Times about this emerging wine region. Virginia is indeed an emerging wine region.

The Wines of Virginia

Virginia is the 5th largest wine industry in the US, with nearly 200 wineries and 2,500 acres of vineyards. Over the past 50 years, Virginia wines have experienced a tremendous development - to elegant and balanced, mostly European vinifera-based wines.

As far as white wines are concerned, the European vinifera grapes Chardonnay and Viognier are the leading varieties today. Increasingly they are made “naked” or with little oak only, with the objective of retaining natural acidity and freshness. Indeed, Viognier has been named as the official grape of Virginia.

For French-American hybrid varieties, Seyval Blanc is still popular, but resembles now the fresh and crisp wines from France’s South West. Vidal has become the backbone of the artificially frozen ice wine (cryoextraction), which I am not a great fan of.

Picture: Map of Virginia

The first ice wine was reportedly produced in Germany in 1794. Today, ice wines are highly prized wines that are made not only in Germany, but also in Austria and Canada as well as other countries, including the United States. Canada has experienced an amazing ice wine boom in the past decades. See about German and Canadian ice wine here. In the context of ice wine, some wine regions, including Virginia, are pushing cryoextraction. This is an approach, which kind of simulates the frost in the vineyard in the wine cellar. It was developed by the French. Instead of waiting for mother nature to produce frosty temperatures in the vineyard, the winemaker subjects the grapes to frosty temperatures in the cellar and presses them while frozen.

As far as red wines are concerned, there was a shift in top Virginia reds from straight varietal wines to blends. And blends have gone from being dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon to Merlot and Cabernet Franc, with a significant amount of Petit Verdot. There is an increasing focus on neutral oak and clean, vibrant fruit, mirroring the evolution of Virginia white wines.

Picture: Two Guests at Wine Festival from Washington DC

Tannat, Uruguay’ signature grape from the South West of France, is showing up in more Virginia wines, usually as a blend. The only red French American hybrid which has performed consistently well in Virginia is Chambourcin, which, with its bright cherry aromas and flavors, crisp acidity and low tannin, resembles the Gamay grape of Beaujolais.

Finally, Claude Thibault, a native from France, has now been producing premium sparkling wines in Virginia. While respectable sparkling wines have been made in Virginia in the past, sparkling wines have been taken to a new level in Virginia by Claude Thibault. His NV Thibault-Janisson Brut, made from 100 percent Chardonnay, which President Obama offered his guests at his first state dinner is as close as you can get to Champagne outside of France.

36th Annual Virginia Wine Festival

This was a great wine event, offering as many as 20.000 visitors a one-stop tasting opportunity of more than 300 different wines. In addition to offering free tastes, all wineries also offered their wines by the glass and by the bottle and at special discounts if you bought several bottles:

For the first time, the Trump Winery in Charlottesville offered wine. Of course, the wines poured were still made by the former owners, the Kluge family and the bottles had the Kluge label on it:

Non-oenophiles could learn the basics of aromas, tastes and mouth sensations from wine experts in a special seminar tent:

Not sure what wines go with which foods? With the Private Food & Wine Pairing Package, you can learn about complementary pairings:

The new 'You be the Judge!" ticket option guided patrons through the process of wine judging:

In addition to the wine, there were many food stands:

In particular liked the Pepper Creek both from Mathews in Virginia, which offered clams and oysters:

A range of fine artisans and crafters were on site:

You could hear the music from the main stage everywhere. Seven different groups were performing on the main stage over the course of the weekend. Indeed many people appeared to have come because of the music. There is a large lawn area, which was on Sunday covered by groups of people who had come well prepared, with lawn chairs, banquets, camping tables and food:

Plenty of activities for the children were also available:

As usual in the US, these wine festivals start early (11:00 am) and end early (6:00 pm). In that respect, I am looking forward to the wine festivals in Germany, which end around midnight. But apart from this, the 36th Annual Virginia Wine Festival in Centreville provided me with a superb opportunity to review what is happening in the Virginia wine industry.

Tickets were $15-$25 in advance, and $22-$30 at the door.

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