Sunday, July 20, 2014

PoLo Trek 2014

I'm lying in bed at 6:30 am in my hotel room in Danville (VA of course) hoping the light from my new iPhone 5S doesn't wake Diane.  There's so much to say about our trip so far, but I wanted to get something posted.

Mike and Deb met Diane and me at our hotel in Roanoke on Thursday. We set off Friday morning, determined to get as close to #200 as possible. Details will come later, but here's what we've covered so far.


  • 187 - Chateau Morrisette: an impressive tasting with Ray. Yes, they're big, but we had many favorites.
  • 188 - Villa Appalachia: Italian style wines. 
  • 189 - Attimo : Diane and I were here when their tasting room was their living room. 
  • 190 - Beliveau Estates: beautiful site with an incredible B&B. 
  • 191 - Hamlet: a private tasting with the ambitious and creative Virginia Hamlet. Only 3 wines right now, but 3 winners. I especially liked her easy to drink red blend. 
  • 192 - Preston Ridge: Much more than you might expect when you drive up, but owner/server Lawrence was great. He has passion and is working hard to learn his craft. 
  • 193 - Stanburn: an unexpected treasure. Loved the wines. Loved Cindy, the server. Loved Nelson, the owner. 
  • 194 - 2 Witches: an urban winery in Danville, just getting started. 
We plan to visit 3 more today, getting us up to 197. In case anyone is actually reading this, I'll add more details when I get home.

Po #1

Monday, August 12, 2013

Going Down I-81

When we began our quest to visit every winery in the state (oops, commonwealth) of VA, it seemed like a challenging but doable goal.  Then Mike and Deb moved to PA, and the target of 180-something wineries ballooned to over 230.  At first, after they moved, we were able to meet once every few months.  That has become increasing difficult to do.  Mike's job is demanding, and we all have obligations that make it tough to coordinate our schedules.  The wine trip we took this weekend was only the second of the year.  The first was a single visit to Potomac Point, bringing our total from 162 to 163.  The previous trip was after Christmas last year, but due to so many wineries being closed that time of year, we had only knocked two off our list.

Our plan was to reach #170 this weekend.  As John Lennon (and I'm sure countless others) said, "Life is what happens when you're making other plans."  We had to be satisfied with five wineries in two days, as unexpected circumstances got in the way.

We met at Diane's and my hotel in Waynesboro early Saturday morning.  We had two appointments, one at 10:00 and the other at 11:00.  This was the first time we began a tour with back-to-back by-appointment visits.  Another first was that the owner of the second winery was meeting us at the first winery.  As you'll see, it was a weekend of many firsts.  We arrived at Jump Mountain Vineyard a little early.  We were greeted by the owners, Mary and David.  A short while later Janet and Calvin from Lexington Valley Vineyard arrived with their son, daughter, and some other dude (someone who worked at their winery, I believe).

Jump Mountain is a new winery.  In fact, we were the first visitors to do a tasting in this space.  They only had one varietal/vintage bottled, so they also poured several white wines from Reynard Florence, which is located in Burnley, near Barboursville.  As an aside, we discovered Reynard Florence about a year ago when another winery was closed and we needed to find a place to round out our numbers.  We fell in love with this small, but special place.  The last time we visited them, which was just a few weeks ago, they included in their tasting a wine from a "new winery over the mountain".  Suddenly, it clicked.  As Jump Mountain was pouring Reynard Florence, we remembered that it was Jump Mountain that was that "new winery over the mountain".  We really liked it then, and we really liked it on this visit.  It was a 2011 Cab Sauv, quite nice.  David also brought some samplings from his barrels of 2012 Cab Sauv, a Cab Sauv/Tannat blend, and a Petit Verdot (I think).

After the tasting, they gave us a tour of the winery.  Even though both Mary and David work at UVA (we're VA Tech fans), they've got the beginnings of something special in the valley.  I was particularly impressed with their interaction with Calvin and Janet.  I love the collaborative nature of the VA wine industry.  Even though they are competitors of sorts, they support each other in all kinds of ways.

Our next first was that we received the winery equivalent of a police escort from Jump Mountain to Lexington Valley.  The difference was that instead of a police car it was Calvin and Janet.  Like Mary and David, Calvin and Janet were not native to this area and worked in higher education.  Their specialty is hybrid grapes.  As Calvin explained, except for the Norton, all their grapes are hybrids.  We tasted a Marechal Foch, which was a new grade for us.  My personal favorite was their 2010 Traminette.  (And, I learned that Traminette was a play on words, short for Gewurztraminer.  We're always learning new things on our travels.)  Calvin was full of all sorts of facts and figures.

I hate to short change our next two visits, and hopefully, I'll come back and work on this some more later.  We visited Blue Ridge Vineyard and Virginia Mountain Vineyards after lunch.  We had very nice experiences with the women who co-owned these wineries with their husbands.  We ate dinner at Beamer25, a VA Tech themed restaurant in Roanoke.  I had one of the best burgers I've ever had.  After some frozen yogurt at the local Sweet Frog, we were all bushed.  Mike and I worked on our notes a little while, but it was time to get some sleep.

We had hoped to make it to two or possibly three wineries on Sunday.  Our first stop was Am Rhein, an old favorite of Diane's and mine but one to which Mike and Deb had never been.  First, we had our traditional power breakfast sandwiches at Panera Bread.  While sipping our coffee, Diane got a call from our older son.  This is neither the time nor place to get into personal details, but something came up which delayed our departure by about an hour.  Everything is okay, but we were all a little shaken.  In fact the weekend had already been colored by two events in Mike and Deb's life.  Their oldest son was visiting Russia and preparing to leave for Germany.  Their younger son was beginning basic training, and they were waiting to hear from him for the last time in eight weeks.  Despite the tenuous nature of the events in our lives, we soldiered on to Am Rhein.

Years ago, when Star Wars came out, I heard so many people raving about it that I was disappointed when I finally saw it.  I don't know if that analogy holds true, but I could tell that Am Rhein did not live up to Mike's and Deb's expectations.  I'm not sure how much of it was unrealistic expectations, the inattentive pourer, the changes of our wine preferences, or just a bad year for Am Rhein, but they did not seem impressed.  I still stand by my opinion that Am Rhein is one of the best in the state, and Mike did agree to give them a second visit.  

We had brought sandwiches, planning to stay their, buy some wine, and picnic.  We thought it might be best to picnic somewhere else.  Both couples had to be somewhere before 6:00, so we decided to revisit another favorite, which was more or less on the way back to the hotel.  We went to Valhalla Vineyard a year ago to the day with our son Nathan, after moving him into his apartment in Roanoke.  He was getting ready to begin his first teaching job, and we all celebrated with a superior tasting and a magnificent view.  

On this visit, we arrived at Valhalla a few minutes before they opened, but our wait was short.  Here's another first.  We didn't do a tasting.  Mike looked at his notes, found the wine that we liked the best, and we bought a bottle to share while we ate.  We tried supping outdoors, not wanting glass between us and the beautiful view.  By the time we sat down, the clouds had moved and exposed the sun and its evil rays.  We moved our party inside and enjoyed the wine, the food, and the air conditioning.

Our next stop was our hotel in Waynesboro, where Mike and Deb had left their car.  Traffic was horrendous, and 90-minute drive turned into a 2+ hour drive with several detours (of our design) off the interstate.  It's always sad when we have to part, but it's better to end the weekend to soon and wish for more than to be on the road too long.  They headed for Northern VA to visit with friends, and we headed to Richmond, where Diane will be staying a few days for training for a new job.  We're hoping to do our next tour in early November.  In the meantime, we'll have to settle for what's in our over-stuffed wine rack and some wonderful memories.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Potomac Point and Beyond

The PoLo Wine Club of VA has been off the trail for the last six months.  It's been almost four years since the Lo half of the club moved from Yorktown, VA to State College, PA, and it has gotten more challenging coordinating our schedules.  This past Friday was graduation at the high school the Lo's younger son's Yorktown friends attended, so they came down for one last hurrah.  As always, we love getting together, and they are very easy house guests.

Our plan was to spend Saturday driving up to Potomac Point Winery in Stafford.  It's about 2 1/2 hours and not particularly close to other wineries, so as Jerry Seinfled would say, "It's hanging out there like a matzoh ball."  Potomac Point would be #163 on our quest.  From there, we would head about 2 hours south to the only new winery on the Northern Neck we have not visited: Jacey.

We enjoyed Potomac Point tremendously.  It's a big operation, designed as much for events as for wine sales, but we definitely had some favorites.  The Viognier was excellent.  It had no residual sugar, yet its fruitiness gave the hint of sweetness.  Their Belle Vie, a white table wine, with its slight sweetness is the proverbial "porch wine".  They had a wonderfully bold red blend, I believe it was called Richland Reserve Heritage, but it was a little pricey for us.  We ended up buying a bottle of Abbinato, a very drinkable Chianti-style blend.

Potomac Point is an impressive facility, and it would be the perfect setting for a wedding or other big event.  It's clear what it wants to be, and that's fine, but it lacks the personality and character of some of the smaller, more personal wineries.  No doubt, it's worth visiting and worth spending the day, and the servers were personable and knowledgeable (thanks, Erin), and I'm sure we'll be back.

Our next stop was to be a restaurant in Fredericksburg called Foode (w/- on top of the e).  Our son's girlfriend is from the area, and he visits her often.  Somewhere in their travels, they discovered it, and he said the "burgers are to die for".  Our GPS directed us to I-95 S, but we could see from the on ramp that the interstate was bumper-to-bumper, so we opted for Route 1 instead.  BIG MISTAKE.  It took us about an hour and a half to get from Stafford to Fredericksburg, and that delay put us on the wrong side of Foode's lunch hours.  When we finally got past the traffic jam, we decided to go directly to the Northern Neck.

Before going to Jacey, we wanted to revisit Ingleside, an old favorite.  When we arrived, I programmed the GPS for Jacey to see how much time we had.  If we had stayed at Ingleside for a half hour, we would make it to Jacey just as they were closing.  Mike's a charmer over the phone, so we had him call to see if they would stay open late for us.  This usually works, but they had an event planned for the evening and needed to close on time to get ready.  Number 164 would just have to wait.

We used the time we had left to grab a bite at a roadside eatery and then make a stop at General's Ridge Winery.  This was another old favorite.  I think that between the traffic and the long distances, we were about all spent.  We did a full tasting, but our hearts just weren't in it.

From there, we headed back to Yorktown and on the way we planned our next trip.  We're hoping to hit the trail again the second weekend in August.  We'll either go to the very northern tip of the Northern VA Region or hit the I-81 to Roanoke to Blue Ridge to Southern regions.  With luck and effort, we'll get to #170 by the end of the summer.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Bookending

     Our 23rd wine tour (with an average of almost 7 wineries per weekend) was a rousing success.  It was the first time we ended where we began.  Mike has the notes, so I'm at a loss with the specifics, but I'll do my best with what's left of my memory.
     As mentioned in an earlier post, our weekend began Friday night at The Barns at Hamilton Station.  After a lengthy guided tour of the winery and grounds, we enjoyed a couple of glasses of wine and then headed back to the hotel.
     Saturday took us to Purcellville, starting at Above Ground, the self-proclaimed "only urban farm winery" in the state.  We had a grand time sampling the wines, talking to Mary Beth, and visiting the town.  Otium was next.  Max, the owners' son, was a class act.  He recommended our lunch stop -- Magnolia's -- and 8 Chains North, our third stop for the day.  It was there that we met up with the infamous green shirted contingency.  (How many cock jokes can one person make with a fake chicken?)  After lunch we went to North Gate.  We loved that it is a "green" winery.  We finished the day with Kyra at 868 Estate, #157.
     Sunday began early at Jim Hanna's Catoctin Creek winery/home.  We love visits like that!  From there we went to Crushed Cellars, where we were wined and dined by Bob and his gracious server, Charmain(sp?).  Number 160 was Hunters Run with its decidedly Irish flair.
     Diane and I had planned on going as far as Fredericksburg Sunday night, but like steel to a magnet, we were drawn back to The Barns.  We spent a raucous late afternoon/early evening drinking bottles of Cab Franc, eating freshly baked bread, creamy cheeses, and artery-clogging sausage, listening to great sin-along/dance-along music, and even watching a little football. 
     We fell back to our hotel, none of us having the energy to go out for dinner.  Somehow we survived the night.  We said our goodbyes the next morning after pancakes and eggs at IHOP, already planning our next tour.
     That's the quick and dirty version.  It was a weekend bookended by visits to the Barns with some spectacular filling in between.  Thanks, Loudon County.  You never disappoint.

Loud in Loudon

     I don't know who was louder, that group from Harrisburg we met at 8 Chains North, the large crowds at so many of the wineries we visited, or our own crooning as we drove and listened to our homemade wine CD ("Sweet Caroline...bah, bah, bah...")
  • #152 The Barns at Hamilton Station
  • #153 Above Ground Cellars
  • #154 Otium Cellars
  • #155 8 Chains North Winery
  • #156 North Gate Vineyard
  • #157 868 Estate Vineyards
  • #158 Catoctin Creek Winery
  • #159 Crushed Cellars
  • #160 Hunters Run Wine Barn

Catoctin Creek Winery

     Every so often we come across a true surprise.  On day 2 of our "Loud in Loudon" tour, we had an appointment with Jim Hanna at Catocin Creek Winery.  Jim's operation is so small, you can see his barrel room, office, wine press, storage room, and tasting room standing in one spot.  Nothing against large operations, but these very personal, intimate visits tend to be the most memorable.
     Jim began his journey of wine making about 7 years ago.  Working closely with Doug Fabilioli, Jim, currently a photographer by trade, produces only about 300 cases a year, but he is deadly serious about developing his craft.  Not one to put ideas in your head, he believes in "wine democracy."  He understands that everyone's palate is different, and he lets you draw your own conclusions about each wine. 
     We started with a small vertical tasting of his '09 and '10 Cab Francs.  The four of us were in disagreement about which we preferred, but we all agreed that Jim was doing something right.  He didn't have any whites bottled, but he gave us a barrel tasting of his Sauvignon Blanc.  It still had some aging to do, but it's going to be a great summer wine. 
     Before we left, we took our obligatory group picture.  The server/owner isn't always invited to be in the picture, but Jim was special.  As this professional photographer set up our small, point and shoot camera on his tripod, he left us in stitches when the camera decided it wanted to visit the floor.  What a funny picture he got as it took our picture on its way down!
     Jim's hospitality and stories about his wine making experiences made us feel at home.  We highly recommend that you contact Jim and make an appointment to meet him and see his unique operations in person.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Barnstorming

     On Friday, November 8, season 5 of the PoLo Wine Club of VA quest to visit every winery in the state of VA began in earnest.  We met in Leesburg and headed for our 152nd winery visit since November 2008.  If there's one thing we've learned, it's that expectations are rarely accurate.  In this case, I don't believe we were expecting much one way or another from The Barns at Hamilton Station Vineyards.
     We had been in touch with Kim, one of the owners, and we knew they had music and food.  Originally, we had hoped to visit two wineries on the 8th, but the POs and the LOs didn't meet up with each other until after 6:00, so we figured we'd only have time for one.  Music and food was a big incentive, so off to the Barns we went.
     When we arrived, it was dark, dark, dark outside.  We pulled in beside an old house and were surprised at the large number of cars in the driveway.  There was a chill in the air as we maneuvered through the dark parking area and headed toward a large barn still with its original silo.
     Upon entering we were greeted with the sounds and smells of a busy winery evening at the Barns.  A guitarist was singing over by the fireplace.  Patrons were scattered around at tables eating chicken pot pie, salad, and whatever wine they thought paired best.  A few small groups were doing tastings on or around the bar.
     We bellied up near the far side of the bar, and we met Ashton, a young aspiring teacher who began our tasting while also serving another group.  Soon, Charlie, an amiable sort who fit right in with our corny sense of humor, took over the pouring duties.  I think Mike scared him a little when he took out THE BOOK and started asking him THE QUESTIONS.  He did fine spouting off facts and figures about this relatively new winery, while we sipped Chardonnay, Viognier, Cab Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and a wondeful Meritage.
    Charlie introduced us to the owners: Kim and her husband Craig and their partner Andrew (absent was Andrew's wife, Mary Ann).  From there, the real fun began.  After pouring a full glass of our favorites (most opted for the light but fruity Cab Franc -- I, for the deep, rich Petit Verdot) Craig and Andrew gave us a personalized tour of their winery.  We learned all about how they met 30 years ago, how they transformed the old barn into an amazing facility, and how their vision has changed and still is with more changes to come.  Their personal stories were funny, warm, and inspiring.  By the time we refilled our glasses, we felt like we were all old friends.
     The Barns has only been opened a few months, but they already have a large, loyal following.  Some wineries attract you with their ambiance.  For others, it's all about the wine.  The Barns has it all.  This is definitely a place where one visit won't be enough.