Situated on 75 acres in the rolling hills of Hogback Mountain in Loudoun County, Virginia, Stone Tower grows and produces chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, and viognier, as well as Bordeaux-style black grapes such as cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and petit verdot. They also produce very small amounts of grenache blanc, malbec, marssanne, nebbiolo, pinot noir, and roussanne. During this tasting, we had the opportunity to sample three wines. Unfortunately, during my life upheaval, I lost my notes for the viognier, but below are my reviews of the other two wines, the sauvignon blanc and the Wind Swept Hill red blend. As always, your palate may vary.
2016 Stone Tower Winery Sauvignon Blanc, Loudoun County, Virginia, $40 (sample)
Don’t let the delicate gold color in the glass fool you. This is a chardonnay lover’s sauvignon blanc. Although the blend is 90% sauvignon blanc and 10% sémillion, the sémillion influence is notable, with its pleasantly bitter fruit characteristics. However, the sauvignon blanc component dominates the palate with lush, rich tropical fruit flavors and spiciness from French and American oak aging. On its website, the winery compares this sauvignon blanc to those of California, but living here in the Napa Valley, I haven’t experienced a sauvignon blanc quite as voluptuous as this one yet.
2014 Stone Tower Winery Wind Swept Hill, Loudoun County, Virginia $65 (sample) A magenta-brick red color in the glass, this Bordeaux-style blend of 31% merlot, 28% cabernet franc, 28% cabernet Sauvignon and 13% petit verdot, is already showing some age on the palate. Restrained cranberry and plum flavors are accompanied by meatiness, mint, a bite of French and American oak spiciness, and a distinct minerality, so much so that I feel like I am tasting the vineyard soils of Hogback Mountain, and I mean that in a good way.
Both of these wines are still available for sale directly from the winery via their website at this link, and they also ship.
‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy.
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.
~ Juliet in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet
A little over years ago, I was invited to participate in #VAWineChat with Drink What YOU Like’s Frank Morgan and Trump Winery’s winemaker Jonathan Wheeler. The two sparkling wines, the 2008 SP (Sparkling) Blanc de Blanc and 2008 SP (Sparkling) Rosé were both fantastic and the name on the bottle went mostly unnoticed.
Fast forward to 2015. I was asked again to participate in #VAWineChat, tasting four wines from Trump Winery. I immediately said yes, because I remembered how good the wines were two years ago. However, this time around, just the mention of the name Trump in social media outlets has caused extreme reactions on both ends of the spectrum. I was on the receiving end of some divisive, presumptuous tweets and I found myself in Facebook discussions having to defend my choice to taste the wines. I wanted to say, “It’s wine, for goodness sake!” Some assumed that because I tasted these wines and enjoyed them, I must be sending a message about politics. I was not. From what I have observed and read, some are buying the wines because they love the name or boycotting the wines because they hate the name, without having tried the wines. Has the name Trump trumped what’s inside the bottle? I hope not, because the wines, the livelihood of the winery employees, and the impact on local and Virginia wine tourism and economics are what matter most.
Award-winning Trump Winery (formerly Kluge Vineyard and Estate until 2011), was planted in 1999 and is Virginia’s largest estate winery at 1300 acres with 195 acres planted. In 2013, Wine Enthusiast awarded the 2007 SP (Sparkling) Reserve a score of 91 points, which is the highest rating ever received by a Virginia wine. The president of the winery is Eric Trump, who was named a Wine Enthusiast Rising Star in 2013, and is also a key fundraiser for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital through The Eric Trump Foundation. The general manager is Kerry Woolard, herself a star in the Virginia wine industry by her own right. Winemaker Jonathan Wheeler has worked for the winery since 2006 and brought with him winemaking experience from Sonoma and Monterey, California; Marlborough, New Zealand; and the Finger Lakes, New York. An estate winery would be nothing without a vineyard supervisor like Rafael Sánchez, who has been with the winery since 2004, and brought with him experience from Salinas Valley, San Joaquin Valley, and Paso Robles, California.
On Thursday, December 10, 2015, a few of us gathered online via Ustream and Twitter, while some met at Trump Winery for this most recent #VAWineChat. We were hosted by winemaker Jonathan Wheeler and Drink What YOU Like’s Frank Morgan. The winery sent those of us who tasted remotely a box of four sample wines along with a beautiful folder of technical sheets and even a tasting mat. This was by far one of the most organized tastings in which I’ve ever participated. I loved that Jonathan led the discussion while Eric Trump jumped into the conversation on Twitter. Frank, of course, was the consummate facilitator. As expected, the wines were very good. Below are my tasting notes.
2009 Sparkling Blanc de Blanc, Monticello, $24.00
This sparkling wine from Central Virginia near Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello is a rich, creamy expression of 100% first-press chardonnay from Trump Winery’s best grapes. It’s weighty and textured in the mouth, with flavors of yeast rolls, tree fruits, citrus, and loads of juicy acidity. You would be hard pressed to find a vintage sparkling wine at this price that is so well made and delicious.
2009 Sparkling Rosé, Monticello, $28.00
Brut Rosé is always a favorite for me and this is no exception. Although only 8% pinot noir (92% chardonnay), the pinot noir characteristics shine. The wine is a pale salmon color and even the frothy mousse reflects some of the color. Bright, red berry fruits dominate the nose and palate. The mouthfeel is creamy and the acid is as lively as the bubbles. This is an amazing value for vintage brut rosé.
2014 Chardonnay, Monticello, $16.00
I’m not quite an ABC (All But Chardonnay) gal, but I have become particular about still chardonnay. Thankfully, this chardonnay is my style: stainless steel fermentation, no malolactic fermentation, a bit of sur lie treatment, and 90% stainless steel, 10% oak aging. This wine is almost clear in the glass with yellow edges. It’s fruit forward, yet round, with bright citrus and tree fruit aromas and flavors, a hint of spice, and lively acidity. What a steal at $16.00.
2014 Meritage, Monticello, $20.00
This pre-release sample is very young, but should come together with more time in the bottle or some decanting, should you decide to open it sooner rather than later. It’s a Bordeaux-style blend (40% merlot, 35% cabernet franc, 20% cabernet sauvignon, 3% malbec, 2% petit verdot) that exhibits a softer side of red with its 13% ABV. It’s medium ruby in color with medium body and fine tannins. The nose and palate are delighted by flavors and aromas of blackcurrant, black cherry, bitter chocolate, and coffee, with a warm, spicy, tart cherry finish. This is a whole lot of wine for $20.00.
No matter which side of politics you find yourself, these wines are worth trying and tasting. The Trump Winery story is one of crafting high-quality wines from locally grown grapes and supporting the local economy. Make your decision whether to buy or not buy based on how the wine tastes, not the name. That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.
Cheers to the wines and the people that make them!
I’ve attended four Wine Bloggers’ Conferences: Virginia (2011), Okanagan (2013), Santa Barbara (2014), and New York (2015). While I always enjoy the conference, I’ve always found it challenging to share with my blog readers, most of whom may never attend a conference. I am also the kind of person who feels an experience and finds it very hard to put my feelings into words. That being said, I do have some favorite activities and takeaways each year. Below, in no particular order, are some of my highlights and thoughts.
The Host Region
My primary reason for attending the conference is to connect with and learn more about the host region. I came to the Finger Lakes because I wanted to taste Finger Lakes wines and interact with the region’s key players in the wine industry. While this year’s conference had many Finger Lakes sessions and tastings, I still think more could be done to focus on the host region each year. In my opinion, there should be more winery excursions or more sessions held at local wineries, because the best way to learn about wine and winemaking is tasting the wines and visiting the winery and/or the vineyards. Also, because being a conference sponsor is quite costly, I fear that some of the best, small producers are being left out due to financial constraints.
Keynote Karen MacNeil
This year’s keynote by Karen MacNeil, author of The Wine Bible, was on target. Her inspirational remarks included personal and professional stories as well as serious and funny ones. She told her own story of perseverance and success and offered us advice on how to improve our wine writing and tell our own stories, then took questions from the attendees.
Riesling, King of the Finger Lakes
This was my favorite wine discovery session, as we had the opportunity to taste Finger Lakes Rieslings from Keuka, Seneca, and Cayuga Lakes. The samples from Dr. Frank, Keuka Spring, Red Newt, Knapp, Lamoreaux Landing, Sheldrake Point, Fox Run, and Lakewood varied in terroir, style, and age. The session was a nice introduction to Finger Lakes Rieslings, especially for those who had never tasted them before. The only caveat is that there’s never enough time to fully taste and experience wines in a 60-minute session that includes 30+ minutes of introductory material. Key Takeaway: Finger Lakes terroir varies greatly from lake to lake, vineyard to vineyard, and winemaker to winemaker. There is not just one Finger Lakes style.
Conference Winery Excursion
Every year, there is a surprise destination excursion to a local winery. This year’s excursion took my group to Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars on Keuka Lake. I had visited Dr. Frank before on my first trip to the Finger Lakes in November 2012. This visit included a library wines tasting with wines from Dr. Frank, Glenora, and Lucas, followed by a wine dinner on the patio overlooking Keuka Lake. It was a perfect evening, complete with a rainbow and a gorgeous sunset. Key Takeaway: We may be doing Finger Lakes wines a disservice by drinking them too early. Many of these wines are built to last for years and evolve wonderfully in the bottle. We tasted Brut Rosé, Blanc de Blancs, Riesling, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon from all three wineries, vintages 1983 to 2007, that were outstanding.
Jordan Winery After Party
The Jordan Winery after party is always one of the highlights of the conference. While it’s difficult (at least for me) to stay up until 11:00 p.m. to attend, I always do, because Jordan is one of the masters of wine and food hospitality. This is the premier, official networking event every year. Thank you especially to Lisa Mattson for hosting us.
The Final Dinner
The final dinner was both delicious and fun this year, held at the gorgeous Corning Museum of Glass, with a preceding glass blowing demonstration. Each meal course featured a wine showdown of sorts, a lighthearted, competitive pairing of two different wines from Finger Lakes producers. Representatives from the wineries shared with us why they selected their particular wine for each food offering.
Unofficial Activities Some of the unofficial (aka #goingrogue) activities are fantastic, because they allow us to step out of the conference box and taste some great wines. This year’s favorites included:
Craig Camp and Cornerstone Cellars
Craig Camp is a longtime supporter of bloggers as well as the conference, so I don’t feel guilty attending his Cornerstone Cellars tasting, where he opens his hotel suite to participants so we can experience some of his California and Oregon wines in a very relaxing, friendly, and hospitable atmosphere. The wines are exquisite and improve every vintage. The dialogue between Craig and those of us who attend is open, honest, and educational.
Virginia is the state I call my second home. I spent 24 years there, most of them without knowing about Virginia wine. It was around 2010 when I became aware of it, when I first visited my closest winery, Abingdon Vineyard & Winery. When I would travel around the state for conferences, I would try to find Virginia wine or beer to taste. In 2011, I began this website, partially because I wanted to attend the 2011 Wine Bloggers’ Conference in Charlottesville, Virginia, and learn more about Virginia wine.
Earlier this month, Virginia wine advocate and writer, Frank Morgan, reached out to me to ask if I wanted to participate in #VAWineChat, a Twitter/Ustream virtual tasting which features wines from Virginia wineries. Without hesitation, I said yes. On June 25, 2015, I virtually returned to my Virginia roots with wines from Early Mountain Vineyards.
Early Mountain is not only an outstanding winery in its own right, but is also a proponent of Virginia wine through its Best of Virginia experience, where one can explore a plethora of wines from across the Commonwealth. It also sets an example with its biodynamic, ecosystemic, and sustainable farming practices. Early Mountain crafts wines that exemplify Virginia terroir and are drinkable now, yet have the potential for ageability. I am pleased to share three Early Mountain wines with you as part of my virtual Virginia homecoming.
2014 Early Vineyards Rosé, $22, only 640 cases produced, Stelvin closure (sample)
This rosé is comprised of 75% Merlot, 20% Malbec, 2% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Syrah. Most of the grapes for this wine are produced specifically for making this rosé, with only a 15% coming from saignée. The color is eye-catching, a gorgeous pale orange-salmon. The mouthfeel is light and crisp, yet textured. On the nose and palate, layers of stone fruits, tree fruits, melon, and red berries intertwine with spice, herbs, and tangy acidity.
2014 Early Vineyards Pinot Gris, $24, only 500 cases produced, Stelvin closure (sample)
Pinot Gris is not typically my go-to grape, but the uniqueness of this one makes me think I should revisit Pinot Gris. The grapes for this wine come from two vineyards: block 1, fermented in stainless steel with wild (native) yeast, and block 9, fermented with yeast 58W3 to enhance spice. Throw in a some wild-yeast, neutral barrel-fermented juice and partial malolactic fermentation and you have a complex, food-friendly wine with a rich mouthfeel , good minerality and acid, and juicy fruit flavors such as green apple, pear, and sweet lemon (Citrus limetta).
2013 Early Vineyards Foothills, $27, only 428 cases produced, choice of cork or Stelvin closure (sample)
My immediate reaction to this wine is what a beautiful example of a Virginia-made, Bordeaux-style, Right Bank blend. While made from 64% Merlot, and 36% Cabernet Franc, it is the Cabernet Franc which shines, offering dark berry, pepper, and spice. The Merlot completes the blend with red berry acidity and fine, soft tannins. The judicious use of barrel aging (35% new French oak) for 12 months adds a slight cedar quality and a lush, silky mouthfeel.
You, my readers, have no idea how much joy this tasting brought to my soul and my palate. I truly felt like I had been reconnected with my past. The only thing that would have made it better would have been to be there in person. Thank you, Early Mountain Vineyards, and Frank Morgan, for welcoming me back into the #VAWineChat fold.
This month, Virginia celebrates the 25th anniversary of Virginia Wine Month. Since 2010, sales of Virginia wine are up 23 percent. In 2012, Wine Enthusiast recognized Virginia as one of the 10 best wine travel destinations. This year alone, Virginia has sold more than a half of a million cases of wines. Virginia wine has never tasted better.
A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to participate in #VAWineChat, a virtual tasting hosted by Frank Morgan of Drink What YOU Like and Boxwood Estate located in Middleburg, Virginia. Although I live in Virginia, I do not often have access to premium Virginia wines, so I was honored and thrilled when Frank asked me to participate. Half-bottle samples were graciously provided by Boxwood.
Boxwood currently produces red wines in three Bordeaux styles. During the tasting, I had the opportunity to taste the 2011 Topiary, produced in the Saint Émilion style, a blend of Cabernet Franc (68%) and Merlot (32%), and the 2010 Boxwood, produced in the Médoc style, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (50%), Merlot (43%), and Petit Verdot (7%).
Both wines were fantastic. The Topiary ($25.00 at the winery) is the lighter, refined, more feminine blend, if you will, a dark, clear red wine with aromas and flavors of red berries and violets and a sweet tannin, herbal finish. On the other end of the spectrum is the Boxwood ($25.00 at the winery), the more masculine blend, a full-bodied, dark red to purple wine, with aromas and flavors of blackberry and plum, and a long, velvety finish.
Last night and today, I tasted another Virginia wine, this one from Stinson Vineyards. Stinson is a sustainable, family-run boutique winery located in a repurposed garage in White Hall, Virginia, although the official address is Crozet, Virginia. The winery has planted five acres of Sauvignon Blanc, Petit Manseng, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Tannat. The first harvest is this year, 2013, and grapes from previous harvests have been sourced from local growers.
The wine I tasted is the 2011 Meritage ($25.99 at the winery), a red blend consisting of Merlot (35%), Petit Verdot (25%), Cabernet Sauvignon (20%), and Cabernet Franc (20%). This wine is floral and feminine, with aromas and flavors of red and dark berries and a spicy tannin finish. I found it opened up quite nicely from last night to today. This wine was a sample provided by the winery through Folsom + Associates.
Virginia Wine Month runs through the end of October. If you will be in Virginia, I suggest planning a trip to one of Virginia’s more than 230 wineries. For event information around the state, please visit this link.