Celebrating #VAWineChat 50 and Founder Frank Morgan

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Photo courtesy of Frank Morgan and #VAWineChat

Those of you who have been following my writing for the past seven years know that I am relatively new to the wine industry and wine writing world. My first “wine moment” was in 2008. A couple of years later, I visited my first Virginia winery, and in 2011, I attended my first Wine Bloggers Conference held in Charlotteville, Virginia. It was at that conference that I truly discovered Virginia wine. In late 2013, #VAWineChat founder, Frank Morgan, invited me to participate in my first #VAWineChat. Here we are, five years and 50 episodes later. For this momentous occasion, Frank inteviewed Kirsty Harmon, winemaker at Blenheim Vineyards, Ampelographer Lucie Morton, winemaker Katie DeSouza of Casanel Vineyards and Winery, and Maya Hood White, Viticulturist and Assistant Winemaker at Early Mountain Vineyards. Those of us who participated tasted the following wines.

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2016 Chatham Vineyards Steel Fermented Chardonnay, Church Creek, Eastern Shore, SRP $20 (sample)
Although I lived in Virginia for over two decades, regretfully, I never had the chance to visit the Eastern Shore. This steel-fermented chardonnay was an ideal choice for my inaugural wine from this area. The boldness and ripeness of the fruit was surprising. I did not expect the palate to have what I call warm climate characteristics. What a clean, crisp, tropical delight.

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2017 Veritas Rosé, Monticello, SRP, $20 (sample)
A blend of cabernet franc, merlot, and touriga nacionale, this is a bone-dry rosé, a little weightier than some due to some neutral oak fermentation and aging. It is replete with red fruit flavors like strawberry and watermelon, but especially juicy, raspberry deliciousness, which popped on the nose and palate. This should be your go-to Virginia rosé this summer.

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2016 Blenheim Vineyards Cabernet Franc, Virginia, SRP $22 (sample)

Cabernet franc is one of my favorite varietal wines and especially when it hails from Virginia. I love the tart cherry, earthiness, and lower alcohol. What a delicate, lovely, and elegant wine. I am also a big fan of the screw cap closure. Only $22? Holy moly. I’ll take a case or three. Thank you, Blenheim, for the overdue, Virginia cabernet franc fix I was craving.

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2015 Casanel Vineyards and Winery Petit Verdot, Middlesburg, SRP $42 (sample)
Petit verdot is my other varietal wine sweetheart. I love it much more than cabernet sauvignon. (Don’t tell anyone here in Napa.) Flavors like blackberries, blueberries, and bitter chocolate dominate the palate. It is dark and delicious, but lower in alcohol than the West Coast versions, a veritable balance of depth and restraint. This is how petit verdot should be. Be still, my heart.

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Photo courtesy of Frank Morgan and #VAWineChat

Shortly after the event, I virtually sat down with Frank via email, who has become a great friend and supporter, to learn why he began #VAWineChat and what it really takes to pull off these tastings. Details about all 50 chats can be found at this link.

1. Congratulations on 50 episodes of #VAWineChat! Share with us the “#VAWineChat” history and story: when and how it began and why you created it.

Thank you!  I very much appreciate you (and everyone) who has participated and helped make Virginia Wine Chat successful. Although the first official Virginia Wine Chat episode was in early 2013, the idea for a monthly virtual tasting series focused on the wines and winemakers of Virginia came a couple years prior.  In 2011, I helped the Virginia Wine Board Marketing Office organize several Twitter tastings to help raise awareness of local wines leading up to the Wine Bloggers Conference in Charlottesville in July of that year. Those three or four Twitter tastings in early 2011 were more popular than I expected. I received a lot of positive feedback about the wines and requests for similar tastings focusing on Virginian wines. I started Virginia Wine Chat in early 2013 as a way to connect notable Virginia winemakers with online wine influencers (a group many local winemakers would not have connected with otherwise).

2. What has inspired you to continue producing episodes?

Good question. I continue with Virginia Wine Chat because I appreciate the time these tastings provide with local winemakers, learning more about their backgrounds, philosophies, and of course their wines. And, I like connecting them with wine folks who are curious and enthusiastic about Virginian wine. This is a labor of love for sure; I do not charge for organizing and hosting the ‘chats. With the cost of camera and mic and the time spent traveling to the wineries plus hotel if I stay over, my wine income statement is always in the red. 🙂 At some point, I would love to find a way to at least cover the cost of Virginia Wine Chat.  Perhaps one day…

3. Take us behind the scenes of #VAWineChat from start to finish, to give us an idea of the logistics involved in bringing together the producers, the wines, and the participants.

Thankfully there’s no shortage of local winemakers interested in connecting with curious and engaged wine folks online via Virginia Wine Chat. Logistics of scheduling a monthly Virginia Wine Chat — oy! Selecting a date that fits in to the winemaker’s schedule and my work travel schedule may be the biggest challenge.  Once a date is set, I reach out to a few regulars and a few new folks that have asked to participate. Confirming 10 — 12 online participants (and then re-re-reconfirming) on the given evening is time consuming. If the ‘chat includes a live winemaker interview (streamed live via the Va Wine Chat Ustream channel or via Twitch), I have to drive to the winery.  Since most wineries are located about 2 ½ hours from my home, I usually have to arrange a place to stay if I don’t drive back that late evening. Staying in the Charlottesville area, or points west, on Sunday evening means a 4am wake up call on Monday morning to drive home and to work by 8am.

4. What makes #VAWineChat different from other virtual tastings?

Virginia Wine Chat is the only virtual tasting series (that I know of) focused on the wines and winemakers of Virginia.  It’s one of the few online virtual tastings that is focused on a small, emerging region. With 50 monthly episodes complete, I believe Virginia Wine Chat is one of the the longest continually running virtual tastings in the wine world.

5. Any idea how many Virginia wineries have participated since the inception?

In total, we’ve had about 65 Virginia wineries and five cideries participate since 2013.  Some months we feature three to five different wineries or cideries.

6. Do you measure the success or impact of the chats? If so, how? Quantitatively and/or qualitatively?

Success is measured in several ways.  The first measure is logistics success: did all participants receive the wines on time; did I make it to the winery on time; did the winemaker I’m interviewing show up on time; is the internet connection at the winery strong enough for video feed? Positive comments from participants about the wines and engagement from the winemaker following the chats are a measure of success, though hard to quantify.  Articles written about the wines are another measure of success. Though the total number of tweets is not a measure of success, it is cool to see the #VaWineChat hashtag trending #1 or #2 on Twitter ahead of big events like football games or the latest political scandal.

7. Which chat(s) have been the most popular?

In terms of overall number of tweets, online engagement, and in-person attendees, the 50th episode featuring the Women of Virginia Wine was by far the most popular. A close second was the November 2017 ‘chat featuring Diane Flynt of Foggy Ridge Cider (where she announced Foggy Ridge would no longer produce cider under the Foggy Ridge Label).  The January 2017 ‘chat featuring Virginia cider was very popular as well.

8. Have any of the chats been controversial?

Not really.  Because the #VaWineChat hashtag usually trends on Twitter, we do get some interesting spam during the chats. Occasionally there is an attention-seeker in need of a fix but otherwise, no controversy.

9. Are the chats saved for later viewing?

I have recorded most of the 50 Virginia Wine Chat episodes.  I have posted a few for viewing but am saving them to use as part of a larger project that’s been a few years in the making.  Stay tuned…

10. What is the future of #VAWineChat?

As Virginia Wine Chat has grown in popularity, I’ve received interest from wineries in other regions especially those in the eastern U.S.  Beginning last month, I expanded Virginia Wine Chat to include other notable eastern regions — like Maryland, New York, Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania.  I’ve named this series East Coast Wine Chat (#ECWineChat). The eastern U.S. as a ‘region’ is exciting and overlooked by most wine media.  I believe East Coast Wine Chat will bring (at least a little) much-needed attention to the many deserving winemakers growing world class wines the eastern U.S.  I have some really cool East Coast Wine Chats planned — like a focused discussion of east coast Cabernet Franc, Pet-Nats, and ciders — that I hope will foster some collaboration between winemakers in the the eastern U.S.

 

#VAWineChat with Stone Tower Winery

In late September 2017, shortly before the Northern California wildfires threw my life into a bit of a tailspin, only to be topped by an unexpected career curveball, I had the opportunity to participate in #VAWineChat with Stone Tower Winery and facilitated by Frank Morgan of Drink What YOU Like.

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.

Sauvignon Blanc

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.

Wind Swept Hill

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.

Enjoy!
Beth

A Rose By Any Other Name

The Trump Winery Lineup
The Trump Winery Lineup

‘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

2008 SP (Sparkling) Blanc de Blanc
2008 SP (Sparkling) Blanc de Blanc

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.

2008 SP (Sparkling) Rosé
2008 SP (Sparkling) Rosé

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.

2008 SP (Sparkling) Rosé and Blanc de Blanc
2008 SP (Sparkling) Rosé and Blanc de Blanc

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.

Our Tasting Packet
Our Tasting Packet

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 SP (Sparkling) Blanc de Blanc
2009 SP (Sparkling) Blanc de Blanc

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 SP Sparkling Rosé
2009 SP Sparkling Rosé

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
2014 Chardonnay

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
2014 Meritage

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!
Beth

2015 Wine Bloggers’ Conference: Highlights, Takeaways, and Thoughts

Excursion to Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars
Excursion to Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars

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.

Thank You
Thank you to Finger Lakes Wine County, Finger Lakes Wine Alliance, Zephyr Adventures, and the sponsors for a well-executed conference.

Overlooking Keuka Lake
Overlooking Keuka Lake

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.

WBC Networking (photo by Jeff Kralik, I think)
WBC Networking (not sure who took this)

The People
The second best part of the conference is the people. I attend each year to network with like minded writers and people in the wine business, make new connections, and rekindle professional relationships and friendships. This year a few of my attendee friends made this conference extra special: Bon Vivant DC (Alison), Drink What YOU Like (Frank), The Drunken Cyclist (Jeff), The Grape Belt (Tom), and International Wine of the Month Club (Kristina). Thank you so much.

Karen MacNeil
Karen MacNeil

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.

Finger Lakes Riesling Samples
Finger Lakes Riesling Samples

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.

Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars
Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars

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.

2008 Jordan Cabernet, Alexander Valley
2008 Jordan Cabernet, Alexander Valley

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.

My Favorite Dinner Wine Pairings
My Favorite Dinner Wine Pairings

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:

Pre-Conference Virginia Wine Dinner Course
Pre-Conference Virginia Wine Dinner Course

Pre-Conference Virginia Wine Dinner
The food from Corning’s Hand + Foot paired with wines from key Virginia producers was a perfectly executed, pre-conference kickoff to my arrival in Corning. Producers included Early Mountain, Thibaut-Janisson, Linden, Veritas, Barboursville, Fabbioli, King Family, RdV, Michael Shaps, and Glen Manor. Thank you to Frank Morgan and Early Mountain Vineyards for organizing and sponsoring this wonderful dinner.
Key Takeaway: Virginia wines have come a long way since I started seriously tasting them at the 2011 conference. The samples served at this dinner were in a league of their own.

Cornerstone Cellars' Wines
Cornerstone Cellars’ Wines

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.

Next year the conference will be held August 11-14, 2016 in Lodi, California. An outline of the conference agenda is already posted. I hope that organizers and Lodi wineries will perhaps consider freshening up the schedule a bit to include more of what Lodi has to offer.

Cheers!
Beth