Monday, September 5, 2011

Tasting Notes and Winery Reviews: Nelson County, Virginia

So, yeah, this is only about four weeks late, and that's being overly generous with myself. I've been doing a lot of thinking since the Wine Bloggers' Conference, and I got stuck in think mode rather than write mode. Oh, and there's that whole writer's block thing that's finally lifting. Before this year, I didn't believe in true writer's block, but I do now!

Hubby and I were on Bus Two, which went to the following Nelson County wineries: Flying Fox Vineyards, Cardinal Point Winery, and Afton Mountain Vineyards. When they were telling us where we were going, I at first thought it would be the critter tour, but Afton Mountain doesn't have an animal in the name. We later found out that Cardinal Point is not named for the bird (although they have a cardinal head as their logo), but for a military exercise. Flying Fox is named for the fox atop their weathervane, so it's not a true flying fox, either. Oh, well.

Several of the other inhabitants of Bus 2 have blogged about the wines themselves, so I'm going to talk more about visiting the tasting rooms. Yes, I realize we were in unusual circumstances, but I think it's telling how a place handles a big crowd. First, I'd like to point out evidence that, being one of the original thirteen colonies, Virginia has had plenty of time to perfect its lawyering, even to the point of making wine tasting sound like a potentially dangerous activity:

We started at Flying Fox Vineyards, which had set up its tiny tasting room to accommodate our group of twenty-ish. Although it was snug, it felt more cozy than claustrophobic, kind of like if I had an American grandmother with a winery, and she had the extended family over. I did feel bad for one non-blogger couple who showed up to taste. They seemed more bemused than annoyed, and they agreed to wait for the twenty minutes or so for us to finish the tasting. At some point, it occurred to me that we were those annoying bus people who drive around and crowd tasting rooms, but only temporarily.

Flying Fox had some lovely Viognier, but the highlight of the visit was the vertical Petit Verdot tasting. I found the 2006 and 2007 vintages to be a little tart. The 2008 seemed a little rough around the edges, but I liked it the best of the three. It would be great with barbecue.

At this point, I get to curse technology because I took my notes about Cardinal Point on my phone, and they're gone. I have no idea what happened to them, and of course it's been too long for me to remember specific wines. Lesson learned.

The tasting room at Cardinal Point looked familiar, so Hubby pulled up a blog post from our first visit to Virginia. We'd been there and to Afton Mountain but hadn't been impressed. I'm happy to say that both wineries have improved a lot since that first trip.

I do recall winemaker Tim Gorman bringing out a Cabernet that was almost old enough to drink itself but had more smoothness than most late adolescents. Almost as many pictures were taken of that bottle as of the cat Aubie (named for Aubaine, an alternate name for Chardonnay), who totally mugged for all the cameras:

Yes, the winery dogs and cat make a visit to Cardinal Point fun, but the wines make it worth it.

We ended the excursion at Afton Mountain Vineyards, which has great views from, well, everywhere. Owner Tony Smith met us at the barrel cave, where we escaped the heat and tasted the 2008 Tête de Cuvée, their sparkling. In 2010, the tasting room moved to a newer building further down the slope, and we ate a lunch provided by a local restaurant while looking over the vineyards and lake. Tony and his wife Elizabeth bought Afton Mountain after our first visit, and their enthusiasm for the wine and the land itself is evident. They admitted that the lifestyle of a winemaker is tough with all the uncertainty, even with their ideal growing location. Like the parents of a cranky toddler on a rough day, they smiled tiredly and said it's worth it.

The highlight for me was the 2009 Festa De Bacco, their super Tuscan.

Although I was originally annoyed that the excursion took me to two wineries I'd been before, I'm glad it did because it shows how dynamic the wine industry in emerging states can be. Cardinal Point has found its stride, and Afton Mountain, under its new owners, has become both more interesting and more welcoming. I would definitely like to return to all three of the wineries in the future.

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