The 2010 Texas – Virginia Wine Summit – Part 2: The Great Tasting

Looking for part 1 of the 2010 Texas – Virginia Wine Summit? You can find the Dawn of Cooperation here on Vinotology.

Chairman: Welcome to the second session of the 2010 Texas – Virginia Wine Summit. Our participants are Joshua Sweeney, Virginia born-and-bred and host of today’s venue, Wine(Explored), and Ben Simons, native son of Texas and the man behind Vinotology. In our first session, we laid the groundwork evidence for Virginia’s and Texas’s credentials as major wine-producing regions. Today, we will accept one wine from each state as physical evidence. Virginia, please present your wine to the chamber for review.

Chairman of the wine summit

Josh: As evidence of Virginia’s worth as a major wine-producing region, I submit for review the 2008 West Wind Farm Rosé. I have selected this wine because it showcases both the abilities of Virginia wine growers as well as the creativity inherent in Virginia wine culture. When you think of a Rosé, what wine characteristics come to mind? What would you consider to be the typical Rosé? *pause for dramatic effect*

Close behind the argument of red wine drinkers versus white wine drinkers is red AND white wine drinkers versus Rosé. Bastard child of the red wine, white wine wearing the makeup of an incorrigible trollop, a blush wine for people who can’t handle their tannins, Rosés have suffered many slights in the minds of drinkers with a wine superiority complex. In actuality, a pink wine is an art unto itself, a beautiful, shape-shifting creature that can embody the crispness and sweet nature of a white or the aggressive acidity and tannic bite of a mature red. The trick is, as with any wine, in the respect and dedication of the wine maker.

When I first tasted this wine, I had no idea what I was getting into. The color was rich but light for a Rosé, a pure pink that betrayed only the slightest hint of red. The nose was dry and pungent, fruit-forward but rather tame. I was ready for the standard pink experience. Fool me once… The thing is, Merlot grapes aren’t the standard grape for a Rosé, and if I had bothered to read the tasting notes, I would have known the wine, 100% Merlot, was allowed a little under a day’s worth of skin contact to get that deep pink color.

Putting that first sip on my tongue was like dropping a bomb of dryness on my palate. After I figured out that no, I hadn’t utterly lost my mind, I was absolutely in awe of the characteristics of that wine. So crisp, so dry, balanced so well, and with a beautiful red fruit flavor that faded to a ripe strawberry finish, I was duly impressed. Unusual innovation like that is one of the benefits of living in an “up and coming” wine region, as there are no traditions to buck or expectations to meet. An additional benefit of the lesser-known region is the lower price point on these wines. The Rosé sells directly from the winery for $14.

I’ll now yield the floor to my colleague from Texas before I encroach upon his rebuttal. Your thoughts on this wine, Mr. Simons?

West Wind Farm emblem

Ben: Josh, I have to say that I admire the courage of choosing something unconventional like a Rosé.  I admit that I was intrigued when I heard that you would be presenting this wine.  As a resident of a state that is making some interesting wines from some unusual varieties, I can appreciate the creativity shown with this wine.

I really like the color of this wine, most definitely somewhat lighter than you generally see, but an interesting pinkish hue. * sniff- Hmm, the dryness of this wine is surprisingly evident even on the nose.  I do smell a bit of red fruit, but I wouldn’t say that the nose is overly fruity.  I also wouldn’t call the nose overly friendly or inviting, but it is interesting.

*sip – Wow, very interesting flavors. Surprisingly dry, and surprisingly big on the palate. The flavors of crisp cherry and citrus stand out. This wine feels like a walking contradiction. I’m getting citrus, but not a ton of acidity. I get something that seems slightly like cherry candy, but the wine is by no means sweet. The lingering flavor of strawberries and a touch of apple finish are like a nice hug goodbye.

Chairman: Thank you, Texas. The chamber now calls on you to present your wine for review.

Ben: Mr. Chairman, as evidence for the quality of Texas as a wine region, I submit the 2006 Pheasant Ridge Pinot Noir. I selected this wine for a number of reasons, but one of the primary reasons is that Pinot Noir is a grape that most people would assume cannot be grown successfully in Texas. In fact, I have even been told by a Texas winemaker that Pinot Noir can’t be grown here. This wine shows the amazing versatility of Texas viticulture.

This wine was produced in the High Plains of Texas, in my hometown of Lubbock. The winery operates under a philosophy of minimal intervention, trying to do their best to let the grapes speak for themselves. The High Plains is probably the only place in the state where Pinot Noir could be grown, as the nights get cool enough to support these thin skinned grapes. Pinot Noir is a notoriously difficult grape to grown, and an even more difficult one to do well, but I think this winery has done an excellent job.  There were only 70 cases of this wine produced.

The color of this wine is what you want a Pinot Noir to be, not dark and inky, but a somewhat light shade of garnet red. There is no doubt that this is a true Pinot Noir. The nose has beautiful red fruit notes of strawberry and cherry, with just a touch of earthiness. When I sip on this wine, I love the acidity that leaps out, with tangy fruits like sour cherry and cranberries standing out. This wine practically screams for a pork tenderloin to pair with it, which we just happen to have to serve the Chairman and each of the panelists after the evidence presentation is complete.  One final note, this wine costs only $15, which is a remarkably low price for a Pinot Noir, especially one made from a small production winery.

I now yield to the gentleman from the state of Virginia, Mr. Sweeney…

Pheasant Ridge logo

Josh: Thank you, Ben. Like that misinformed winemaker, I had never considered that Pinot Noir could be grown in a state so far south as Texas. Consider me enlightened. It would seem that Texas, like Virginia, has an interesting array of growing areas. I had known about how Texas was well suited for Mediterranean varietals such as Tempranillo and Sangiovese, but Pinot Noir? It will be very interesting to see how this pans out.

I can see what you mean about the color of this wine. That is a very rich red, though still light enough for a quality Pinot Noir. *sniff – Those red fruits really jump out at you. The cherry smell dominates for me, but I still get that undertone of earthiness that seems to me an appropriate expression of the terroir. It’s a little bit spicy and floral, but just enough to accent the red fruit, nothing overpowering. Its aroma is powerful, too. I can smell it from across the table.

*sip – Oh my. That is an incredibly harmonious wine. Fantastic acidity, and it’s well-balanced, off-dry. A very easy drinker. Again, massive red-fruits on the palate, raspberry, cherry, and, yes, cranberry. The mouth feel is velvety with a pleasant bite. I’m even getting something a little like cinnamon and pepper on the mid-palate, which transitions nicely to a long, dry, cherry finish. I probably would not have placed this as a New World wine in a blind tasting. It’s only 15 dollars, you say? I would have pegged this wine for at least $20. Chairman?

Chairman: We will now take a recess. I would like to thank our participants, Mr. Ben Simons representing Texas and Mr. Joshua Sweeney representing Virginia. We will pass preliminary deliberations onto you, the panelists. Pass the pork tenderloin, please.

The 2010 Texas – Virginia Wine Summit – Part 1

Check out this collaboration between me and Ben Simons of Vinotology on his blog. We present the cases for Virginia vs. Texas wine as taking the next step towards becoming major North American wine regions. Part 2 will be up tomorrow morning right here on Wine(Explored)!

The 2010 Texas – Virginia Wine Summit – Part 1

West Wind Farm: Tasting Notes

Part two of my profile on West Wind Farm. You can find part one here

As I mentioned before, the best part of my tour of West Wind Farm was the wine-tasting. Although, to be honest, if you do decide to visit a vineyard, the wine should always be the focus of the trip. If the wine is mediocre, but the tasting room is an exercise in lavishness and indulgence, the winery probably has their priorities in an unfortunate order. Luckily, flying into this winery’s offerings entirely blind, I stumbled upon a consistently well-made collection of vintages.

I’m not going to give a full review of each one as I wanted to get only the overall impression of their wines. I’m hesitant to even assign a rating to them because I could very well have a different opinion once I get more than just a sip. Consider the ratings tentative, merely an indication of a positive or negative impression.

Now, onto the wines:

West Wind Farm white wine

West Wind Farm white wine (from http://www.westwindwine.com)

2007 Galena Creek White
The Galena Creek White is 100% Vidal Blanc and fermented one-third in Minnesota oak. West Wind considers it to be their Chardonnay-alternative, which I would take to mean a relatively light, easy-drinking, agreeable white wine. At that level, I would certainly agree, though the wine itself doesn’t exactly exhibit the aromas and flavors characteristic of a New World Chardonnay. I found it to be crisp and relatively dry, with a very fruity aroma. The flavor was relatively simple, predominantly apple with just the right level of tartness. Jason mentioned a melon finish, and after he said that, I did get that, though I probably wouldn’t have been able to pin it down without that suggestion. Overall impression? Good, not a world-beater, but definitely a solid buy at $15. 6/10

2008 Pinot Gris
The Pinot Gris was the first of its kind I’d had in Virginia. As such, I didn’t really have a similar wine to compare it to as I tasted. Three things I noticed about the bouquet: it was very tropical, it was surprisingly hot, and it was lacking in floral characteristics. This isn’t necessarily a detriment; I was merely expecting a lighter-bodied, tamer wine like the California variety. It had a decent sweetness and acidity. The flavor also exhibited tropical undertones, though I first detected a distinct orange. A decent wine though, at $17, a little pricey. 5/10

2008 Riesling
Surprisingly, given my affinity for this grape, it was my least favorite of the whites. The nose was an interesting blend of floral and tropical notes and had a strong, sugary scent, combining into an aroma that smelled almost exactly like bubble gum. Given this, the flavor was drier than I expected, and was both light-bodied and simple. Pear, and lots of it. It wasn’t bad, though at $17, I would hope for a bit more. 4/10

2008 Rosé
This wine took me entirely by surprise. It was a fairly light Rosé, maybe a tinge of red, but mostly a pure, rich pink, and the nose, though noticeably dry and pungent, did not suggest how potent this Rosé would be. If I had asked before I tasted, I would have known it was 100% Merlot, with almost a full day’s worth of skin contact. The dryness was shocking to say the least. After that, though, the flavors of the wine really came together. Red fruit forward, rather full-bodied, with a strong, ripe strawberry finish. Again, unexpected, but an altogether pleasant wine, and at $14, it’s their cheapest grape offering. 8/10

West Wind Red Wine Glass

West Wind Farm red wine (from http://www.westwindwine.com)

2008 Galena Creek Red
Their only grape blend, the Galena Creek Red combines Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chambourcin, resulting in a very fruit-forward, very dry offering. The nose suggested red-fruits, mostly raspberry and strawberry, while the flavor was an incredibly brisk, tart cherry. Very good acidity, decently balanced, and full-bodied. At $16, it’s a very good base for their red wines. 7/10

2007 Cabernet Sauvignon
After multiple attempts to detect the aromas in this wine, I could only reach one conclusion: eggnog. It was extremely pungent, spicy, with a little red-fruit, maybe a hint of vanilla, possibly cinnamon or mint, and very hot. The scent was almost jarring. The taste was much more palatable, with strong red berry flavors and a spicy finish. It wasn’t too potent, with a surprisingly low acidity and a medium body, and after the initial shock wore off, I found it pleasantly drinkable. It seems like a wine that would benefit from a few years in the bottle; it might still have been a little young. $18 is a little much, I think, but it’s a unique experience that might be worth the price for those unfamiliar with east-coast Cab Sauvs. 6/10

2006 Heritage Reserve
The flagship wine of West Wind Farm, the Heritage Reserve is the premium barrels of their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon harvest. It spent 30 months aging in French oak, such a rarity for them that only 45 cases were ever produced. I noticed first and foremost the exquisite mouthfeel, extremely silky and fine. The aging in oak significantly toned down the jarring scent I experienced in the younger Cab Sauv, resulting in a softer, more balanced red-fruit flavor that even exhibited hints of tobacco. At $29, it’s a little pricey, generally out of my comfort range, but the scarcity and improvements over the regular Cab Sauv definitely make it worth a try. 6/10

Non-Vintage Galena Creek Blackberry
One of the two Galena Creek fruit blends, this one combines Blackberry wine with Cabernet Sauvignon. The fruits never co-mingled during fermentation, resulting in an interesting dichotomy in the bottle. The sweet, overpowering blackberry flavors meet the tannic spiciness of the wine and never quite come together, though the low residual sugar (4%) lessens the impact. For a fruit wine, though, it wasn’t half bad. It was relatively well-balanced with a very appropriate acidity. I might consider pairing it with some sort of milk-chocolate-based dessert, something light that would complement the blackberry flavor. For $13, it makes an interesting and not-too-pricey alternative for those looking for a fruitier wine experience. 5/10

Non-Vintage Galena Creek Peach
The other fruit wine, however, did not fare as well. I didn’t feel there was enough balance between the peach wine and the Vidal Blanc. The flavor was helped by the low residual sugar (again, 4%), but the flavors just didn’t pair up for me. I wouldn’t say it’s undrinkable by any means; the taste was pleasant enough. The peach flavors simply overpower the delicate balance of the grape and make it a little too sweet, a little too tart, and a little too simple. That might be your thing, and if you’re willing to pay the $13 admission fee, I’d say give it a shot. 4/10

Overall, their selection is pretty fantastic, especially considering how young the winery is. And if you’ve had the opportunity to run across a West Wind Wine, I’d love for you to share your experience with me. Let me know what you had and what you thought of it. As of yet, I haven’t met anyone else who’s had one.

West Wind Wines: A Taste of Blue Ridge Culture

Part one of my profile on West Wind Farm. You can find part two here

The aristocratic tradition of wine has ingrained certain romantic images in our minds: a stately manor, both decadent and rustic in its decor; vineyards surrounded by lush, rolling hills and finely cropped meadows; an isolated, seemingly infinite stretch of verdant grapevines embedded in soil so rich it resembles a powdered ebony; nothing but dirt roads and classic cars ambling down them at a leisurely pace.  Compared to these heightened expectations, the four-lane highway that approaches the West Wind Farm Vineyard is hardly suggestive of a bastion of fine wine. The stretch of I-77 leading up to its exit from the south is wedged between a barren, rocky mountain slope on one side and a sudden, yawning expanse of pastoral yet relatively uncultivated farmland on the other. It felt like any other stretch of mountainous road between big cities, basically a connecting drive where the best you can hope for is not running out of gas or losing your cell phone signal.

I’m kidding. Let’s backtrack. Growing up in a family that thrived in the slopes of Catawba Valley, I learned, and will maintain, that the rural valleys of Virginia are hardly an empty, forgettable green blur outside of your car’s windows. A vibrant, close-knit culture and community has grown in this oft-overlooked region in Virginia, far from the urbanites and city lights of D.C., Virginia Beach, and Richmond. In my youth in the valley, I learned how to play the jaw harp and the guitar and drums; I learned how to catch and gut fish and to cook gourmet; I learned how to hunt and survive in the wilderness and pursued the highest reaches of academia. Thanks to West Wind Farm, I’ve now learned more about wine. Yes, The Blue Ridge Mountains are a bastion of fine wine.

West Wind Farm House

A relic from West Wind Farm's past life

West Wind Farm began in the 19th century as Mount Zephyr, named so because of the gentle wind that often blows through the Blue Ridge Mountains. As a quick mythology lesson, Zephyr was the Greek god of the west wind, by legend considered the the most pleasant wind and a good omen. The Humphrey family took over the farm in 1914 and Anglicized the name to its current state. The farm still belongs to the family, now husband and wife Paul and Brenda Humphrey and their nephews Jason and David Manley.  As soon as they took over the farm, in 2003, they broke ground for their first grape vines, eager to strike out on their own after running a very successful garden nursery in Greensboro, and the wine-making process began soon after with their first vintage in 2005. In just a few years, they’ve already become a fixture in the wine culture of Southwest Virginia which, for a family so new to the wine business, is a rather impressive feat.

I explored the facilities and vineyard with Jason, master of the tasting room and wine shop. When I told him about my mission, exploring Virginia wine, he gave me an enormous, unfoldable Virginia Winery Guide, recommending several of the wineries on the map. It was a simple gesture, but it was just one of many personal touches around the shop that demonstrated they were involved in more than just making and selling wine. While Paul made a brief appearance, singing praises of the growing interest in wine in the area and lamenting the lack of Hokies in the wine business (he sported the cap of my alma mater), sadly, the off-months of viticulture required his attention in other areas besides the vineyard. He apologized for the sudden departure, mentioning that during the growing season, he (or anyone at the vineyard) would gladly step away from tending to their vines to talk your ear off. My kind of people.

tasting room at West Wind Farm

Jason proudly displaying his wines and awards

My tour of the facility began with the best part: tasting wine. An interesting mix of swing, classical, and modern blues played in the tasting room as I went about the shop, snapping photos and firing off questions. To be honest, as it was my first interview, winery visit, and future blog post all in one, the experience was rather nerve-wracking. Jason was so helpful and candid, though, that any apprehension I had at messing up my story quickly melted way. Jason gave me the rundown on all of their current vintages, taking pride in the many awards they had won in a relatively short period of time. I tasted the gamut of their wines, and I’d be lying if I said I spat instead of swallowing; it was that good. I thoroughly enjoyed each of their grape wines, though their fruit blends weren’t exactly my favorite. I won’t get on too much of a tangent, though; full tasting notes will be posted tomorrow. Unfortunately, they had sold out completely of their Chambourcin, so I missed out on one of their local specialties. Their tasting prices are very reasonable: you can taste up to three wines free, and anything after that is a three-dollar charge. For five dollars, you can taste all of their wines and keep your tasting glass.

From there, we toured their wine-making facility. I got to see everything from the vines to the crush pad to the oak barrels in which they age their Galena Creek White. The winery is still small enough that the Humphreys and Manleys can attend to almost all of their winemaking  personally. No conveyor belts, no assembly line production, only four people and their hands prompting fine wines from stubborn fruit. Their involvement is so deep, in fact, that they even bottle and label their wine themselves. “If you get the bottle home and [the label] is a little crooked, you’ll know why,” Jason joked as we moved through the bottling area. For over 1300 cases produced per year, the amount of attention they personally give each bottle is almost staggering. I can understand why they take so much pride in their work.

The dining and event room at West Wind Farm

The stately room where West Wind Farm hosts many of their functions

Second only to their wine, West Wind Farm’s involvement with the community is a principal source of pride. As we walked through the facilities, Jason recounted the numerous events the winery hosts, accommodating anywhere from a few dozen to a couple hundred people. In addition to the usual parties, class reunions, and weddings (which David Manley is licensed to perform, by the way), West Wind Farm also relishes its role in the local music scene. They host a wide range of music acts, from classically styled rock to Motown, from bluegrass to blues. One of their feature events is the Wine & Swine Festival, an all-day indulgence in barbecue and live music. Even in the dead of January, they were booking events for the summer, hopefully a sign that the wine industry may be a little more recession-proof than other venues.

Unfortunately for the vast majority of the country, West Wind Farm only distributes their wine personally through Southwest Virginia. In fact, the furthest away I’ve seen their wine was at Vintage Cellar, about an hour and a half away in Blacksburg, Virginia. However, if you’re looking to try West Wind Farm’s wines, and you don’t live in Southwest Virginia, you’re not out of luck. They’ll gladly take orders via email and phone, even though they don’t have an online shop. If you’re interested in their wines, they absolutely want to make sure that you can experience them.

If you’re looking to book West Wind Farm for an event or just want to order some wine, you can contact them through the following:

Phone: 276-699-2020
Email: info@westwindwine.com

Or you can visit their website at http://www.westwindwine.com for more information.

Tomorrow, I will post my tasting notes from all of their wines as part two of my profile of West Wind Farm.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.