Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Touring Virginia Wineries - Fabbioli Cellars, 8 Chains North and Breaux Vineyards - with Virginia Wine Expert Allan Liska

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller with Allan Liska, Lindsay Morriss and Doug Fabbioli at Fabbioli Cellars in Virginia, USA

I was treated – with Lindsay Morriss - to a wonderful tour of Virginia wineries – Fabbioli Cellars, 8 Chains North and Breaux Vineyards – by Virginia Wine Expert and Blogger Allan Liska.

Allan Liska and Lindsay Morriss

Allan Liska is well known in the wine world. He runs the wine blog CellarBlog, which focuses on wines from Virginia, where he lives, and on wines from Bordeaux, where he probably would want to live and frequently travels. CellarBlog is currently in the US Wiki ranking among the top 20 US wine blogs. Allan reported about the trip to Virginia on CellarBlog here. Allan also runs a Virginia wine Meet-up group, of which I am a member. Allan is well connected in the Virginia and in the Bordeaux wine industry.

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller with Allan Liska and Lindsay Morriss at Breaux Vineyards in Virginia, USA

Allan organized the tour for Lindsay Morriss. Allan and Lindsay met a year or so ago in Bordeaux, where Lindsay was going to school and Allan tasting wines. Lindsay Morriss came to Virginia to present her MBA thesis and to lead a tasting of Georg Albrecht Schneider wines at the September meeting of the German Wines Society (DC Chapter), which I coordinated. For more on the German wine tasting see here. Lindsay lives in Rhode Island and had been flown in by the German Wine Society for the tasting and the presentation of her ideas. Lindsay runs the wine blog Lindsay du Vin, where she also reported about this trip.

Jancis Robinson on Virginia Wine in the Financial Times

It so happened that Jancis Robinson’s Financial Times weekend column of that week-end dealt with Virginia wine. She came over to Virginia earlier this year for the American Wine Bloggers Conference in Charlottesville in which she participated as key-note speaker. Of course, the Jancis Robinson column praising Virginia wine in a paper that is read around the world, was the “talk of the town” in the Virginia wine community that weekend.

Picture: Jancis Robinson and Annette Schiller in Berlin

Wine Producer 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. Recently, Donald Trump bought a Virginia winery and AOL founder Steve Case is in the process of buying one.

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. It appears Viognier is on its way to becoming Virginia’s official “signature grape”.

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.

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.

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.

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller with Claude Thibaut at screwtop Wine Bar in Arlington, Virginia

First Stop: Lunch at Fabbioli Cellars

Our tour day began at Fabbioli Cellars, where Doug Fabbioli and his team were in the middle of crushing some Petit Verdot.

Picture: Crushing Petit Verdot

But Doug took the time to sit down with us and have lunch with us, which I appreciated very much. Doug told us that before starting Fabbioli Cellars in Virginia, he spent 10 years working in California. “When we moved to California in 1987, we had in the back of our minds the idea that we could find a piece of land and grow some grapes” said Doug “Kids, life, careers, land prices, cash flow and family steered us back East in 1997.” In California, Doug worked at Buena Vista Winery in Sonoma with Anne Moller-Racke, who now owns and runs Donum Estate. Donum produces super premium Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines in very limited quantities.

Pictures: Christian G.E. Schiller and Doug Fabbioli

In early 2000, Doug and his wife bought a 25 acre parcel in Loudoun County. The planting began in 2001, along with building the house. The main planting was Merlot with a little Petit Verdot for blending.

Today, Fabbioli Cellars produces about 4000 cases. Three quarters of it is sold on the premise. Doug produces 60% of the fruit himself and buys the remainder from others.

Doug is a great person to talk about the Virginia wine industry and he is a great winemaker. “I am still learning” Doug said. “First I had to learn the climate. Now I am learning the soils”. He was very enthusiastic that Viognier has become the official grape of Virginia. “But I am a red wine house”.

Doug also acts as a consultant to new growers and winemakers in the area.

Second Stop: 8 Chains North and its German Connections

The next stop was at 8 Chains North, a winery that just opened its doors a year ago. One of the reasons for stopping at 8 Chains North was because the tasting room also featured the wines of Otium Cellars, a small boutique winery with a German-born owner, who makes a point of growing traditional German grape varieties like Dornfelder and Blaufränkisch (Lemberger, as it is called in Germany).

Pictures: At 8 Chains North

The other reason was that Allan Liska is a big fan of 8 Chains North owner Ben Renshaw. “Ben is a great viticulturist, who also manages the vineyards of a number of other wineries. If you want to know about the essence of a grape in Loudoun, Ben is your man” said Allan. Unfortunately, Ben was out of town for the weekend.

Vineyards Managed by Ben Renshaw

Here are the vineyards Ben takes care of.

The 8 Chains Vineyard onsite at the winery: This is the vineyard located at the winery in Waterford. It is about 2 acres of Sauvignon Blanc, planted in April of 2010. Ben Renshaw expects to have useable grapes by harvest of 2013.

Furnace Mountain Vineyard: The vineyard was planted in 2006 on Ben Renshaw’s sister Avis' farm on the Potomac River north of Leesburg: 1.5 acres of Merlot, .5 acres of Malbec, .5 acres of Petit Verdot and 3/4 acre of Traminette.

Creek's Edge Winery in Taylorstown: 4.5 acres planted in 2010; Creek's Edge plans to open in 2012.

Tarara Vineyard: Tarara is where Ben Renshaw started his Virginia winery career in 1998 as the Winery Manager. Tarara has 48 acres that began to be planted in 1985.

Goose Creek Farm and Winery: Goose Creek is the home of Otium Cellars. Planted in 2007, this vineyard is home to several German varietals: Lemberger, Dornfelder and Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris).

Tranquility Vineyard : Set in the rolling hills of the Piedmont, Tranquility Vineyard is 7 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, Tannat and Pinot Gris.

Otium Cellars

We did not visit Otium Cellars, a new boutique winery located just outside the town of Purcellville, but we tasted one of the Otium Cellars wines – a Dornfelder - at 8 Chains North. Goose Creek Farm and Winery is the home of Otium Cellars, owned by the German Gerhard Bauer. This vineyard is home to several German varietals: Lemberger, Dornfelder and Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris). In 2009, Otium Cellars celebrated its first harvest.

Third Stop: A Chat with Jennifer Breaux Blosser and the Wines of Breaux Vineyards

Our last but not least stop was at Breaux Vineyards, which is owned by Paul Breaux, who made his money with a real estate company specializing in sales and property management on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, and managed by Jennifer Breaux Blosser, Paul’s daughter, and her husband Christopher M. Blosser. We had the pleasure of meeting with Jennifer Breaux Blosser.

Pictures: Christian G.E. Schiller and Jennifer Breaux Blosser

What began as a small hobby in the carriage house of the original 1750's Log Cabin on the far side of the property, the winery has grown into what the Washington Post describes as "Loudoun County's most impressive wine undertaking." Featuring the finest of European winemaking equipment, Breaux Vineyards is often credited with standard for winemaking facilities in Virginia. Today, the 404 acre estate has over 100 acres planted in 18 different grape varieties. Breaux Vineyards produces 10.000 to 12.000 cases per year. 90% of it is sold on the premises.

It was definitely a party-like atmosphere when we arrived, where a good 100+ people were gathered at bistro tables and chairs throughout the property, surrounded by cheese, crackers and bottles of Breaux wine. No wonder that Breaux has for the 4th year in a row been named Virginia’s Favorite Winery. “I wanted to bring Lindsay and Christian to a winery that is as packed as any winery in Napa or Sonoma to show the potential of the wine business in Virginia” said Allan.

Pictures: At Breaux Vineyards

Breaux Vineyards is one of the few VA wineries that is represented overseas, with a fairly healthy export market in the U.K. In fact, this year Breaux Vineyards was even awarded three medals at the Decanter World Wine Awards.

Jancis Robinon’s, Lindsay Morris’ and Christian G.E. Schiller’s Favorites

Jancis Robinson

Here are Jancis favorites, from her article in the Financial Times.

Ankida Ridge Chardonnay 2010 and Vermentino Reserve 2010
Barboursville Cabernet Franc Reserve 2002, 2008
Barboursville, Octagon 2002, 2007
Barboursville Malvaxia Passito 2006
Breaux Vineyards Viognier 2010
Chrysalis, Lockeley Reserve Norton 2008
King Family, Meritage 2007, 2009
Linden, Hardscrabble Chardonnay 2008 and Hardscrabble Red 2009
Linden, Claret 2009
RdV Vineyards, Rendezvous 2010
RdV Vineyards 2008, 2009 and 2010

Lindsay Morriss

Here are Lindsay’s favorites, from her posting on Lindsay du Vin.

Fabbioli Cellars 2010 Something White – refreshing dry, white blend of Traminette/Vidal blanc. Crisp, aromatic—think Gewürztraminer on sedatives. ($16.00)

Fabbioli Cellars 2009 Chambourcin – dry, light red wine with an abundance of bright strawberry and cherry flavor; none of the foxyness you may expect from a hybrid red. ($16.00)

Picture: Fabbioli Cellars 2009 Chambourcin

Breaux Vineyards 2010 Viognier – a surprisingly light style wine, yet full of flavor; peaches & cream in a glass. ($24.00)

Breaux Vineyards 2009 Nebbiolo – Wow, reminiscent of a great Langhe Nebbiolo. All the dark fruit flavor, leather and rustic notes you’d expect from the mother county. Good structure, acidity and fairly light on the palate. ($38.00)

Picture: Breaux Vineyards 2006 Nebbiolo

Breaux Vineyards 2006 Petit Verdot – I think this is for wine club members only (thank you Allan for the hook-up). This is a big wine full of black fruit flavor with plenty of structure, yet offers a smooth, velvety texture that’s not too tannic.

Christian G.E. Schiller

Here are Christian’s favorites.

Claude Thibaut is winemaker/co-owner at Thibaut-Janisson, a small producer of ultra-premium sparkling wine in Charlottesville, Virginia. His flagship sparkler NV Thibaut-Janisson Chardonnay, Brut is arguably the best sparkler produced in the US East Coast and is as close as you get to (French) Champagne outside of France (in terms of quality). No wonder, that the NV Thibaut-Janisson Chardonnay, Brut was served at President Obama’s first State Dinner in November 2009 .

On one of the Virginia Meet-ups organized by Allan, we went to Corcoran Vineyards, which has a nice portfolio of wines, including French-American hybrids.

Norton is the only American grape that makes a really good wine. It is enjoying a resurgence of popularity. One of the driving forces behind this is Chrysalis Vineyards, with the largest planting of Norton in the world.

Finally, Veramar Vineyard of Berryville was my first direct contact with Virginia winemaking, when they extended an invitation to wine bloggers to come to their winery for a tasting and a tour of the winery.

We had a wonderful tasting and an exciting tour of the winery, the latter with Jim Bogaty, one of the owners; if nothing else, he is a fantastic story teller. Jim’s son and winemaker Justin Bogaty lead the tasting of excellent wines, providing a wealth of information, including Virginia labeling regulations and distinctions between Veramar and other vineyards during the tasting.

Since the tour of Allan, I am a big fan of Fabiolli, 8 Chains North and Breaux wines.

schiller-wine: Related Posting

Maryland Crabs and Wine

The Wines of Veramar, Virginia, US

The 2010 DrinkLocalWine Conference in Virginia, US

Thomas Jefferson, 3. President of the United States, Visited Hochheim, Germany on April 10,1978

Top Virginia Red Wines - Governors Cup 2010

Norton and Other Wines of Chrysalis Vineyards in Virginia

Fine Virginia Wines from Corcoran Vineyards

As Close as You Can Get to (French) Champagne at the US East Coast – Claude Thibaut and His Virginia Thibaut Janisson Sparklers at screwtop Wine Bar

Wine Producer Missouri – Once a Major Force in the US Wine Market, Then Non-existant and Now on a Rebound with French American Hybrid Grapes

Eiswein in Germany and ice wine in Canada

Virginia Wine and Lots of Fun: The 30th Annual Vintage Virginia Wine Festival in Centreville

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

An Evening with Lindsay Morriss: The Wines of Weingut Georg Albrecht Schneider and her Ideas on How to Raise the Profile of German Wines in the USA

Visiting Anne Moller-Racke and her Donum Estate in California: Old World, Terroir-driven Winemaking in the New World

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