Virginia Wine Tour: Breaux Vineyards

It’s not often that a place I’ve never been to before makes me homesick.

Breaux Vineyard

The Vineyards at Breaux

Not that I’m homesick for Northern Virginia, but for Virginia in general. I spent pretty much my entire life (other than a few months in Northern Europe) in the state, and I left rather abruptly last year in the name of my career, leaving behind all of my life-long friendships and my comfort zone for a brand new area. It was a passing sensation, missing where I used to live, but the fact that it even happened, considering the amazing circle of friends I’ve already developed in North Carolina, speaks volumes.

More than anything that I want to drive home with this post is that these wineries made me feel like I was home. I never felt like I was sitting on the deck of a business. I felt like I was sitting in someone’s home, someone’s life, somewhere that I had been invited.

Every winery I visited this week was both beautiful and hospitable. It was the perfect combination of gorgeous landscapes, friendly people, and fine wine. I’ve got tasting notes from three of the vineyards, and accompanying each one will be photos and a little bit of background. I don’t need to rehash the history of each one… I can link to their website, and each winery can tell it better in their own words than I. I simply want to give you my experience as a first-time visitor to the wineries, to explain what makes this area the next big thing in wine.

Today’s post is on my first stop on my trip: Breaux Vineyards.

Breaux Vineyards tasting room and winery

At the Entrance to Breaux Vineyards

I actually attended Breaux on two separate trips with fellow wine Tweeters/bloggers, once with @TLColson (of Southern Wine Trails) and the other with @SuzieLin (Running Wine Girl).

The first time was a late afternoon visit, merely an opportunity to taste their wines for the first time. We showed up after most of the crowd had left, waiting for a spot to open up at the tasting counter. I lucked out on this trip because @TLColson and I had been tweeting with Jen, the Tasting Room Manager and social media mind behind @BreauxVineyards, so when we arrived she came out to the tasting room to meet us. This was a fantastic opportunity to chat with her about the wines, about the winery, the history, everything that I would have wanted to know about the facilities.

In fact, before she closed up, I got a brief tour of the winery as well some great info about current and future wines and events. Jen’s one-of-a-kind when it comes to customer service; she thrives in the social role, inviting people to follow her on Twitter and Facebook so she can keep up with them after they leave the winery.

Breaux barrel room

Inside the Winery at Breaux Vineyards

The second time I visited, with @SuzieLin, was for a Face to Facebook event hosted in the outdoor pavilion. It was a much less official visit marked mostly by just sipping a Reserve Cab, conversing, and taking in the atmosphere. Later in the afternoon we met a friendly couple from D.C. who offered to share a picnic and some wine with us. I meant to head out by 4 for another event, but I think we ended up heading out sometime around 7:30. It’s easy to lose track of time there.

Before I get too long-winded, let’s do a rundown of their wine, shall we?

White / Rosé

2007 Jolie Blond – Made from Seyval Blanc. It’s citrusy, with a high acidity, dry, slightly hot on the alcohol. Stark flavor of grapefruit. For $14.00, it’s a good entry-level Virginia white. 6/10.

2008 Viognier – Very ripe, exotic tropical nose. My tasting notes say “fantastically dry,” to the point but perfectly accurate. Flavors of passionfruit and honey with a beautiful sweet pineapple finish and a lush, full mouthfeel. At $23.00, this easily rates an 8/10.

2009 Madeleines Chardonnay – An unoaked Chard is a way to my heart. It has a very unusual dark floral nose and flavors as well as tangerine, and the finish has a very clean kiwi flavor. Great balance. For $19.00, I’d say it’s a 7/10.

2008 Syrah Rosé – Strong nose and palate of cranberry with a strawberry candy finish. A little bit thin, but the finish is great and clean. 6/10

Dessert

2008 Jen’s Jambalaya – Ripe tropical nose and flavors, hints of honeysuckle and peach. It’s fairly sweet, and it honestly reminds me of a Moscato. It’s a blend of 7 grapes that I neglected to write down. Sorry about that. I wasn’t crazy about it in the tasting room when I first had it, but the second time I was around, I thoroughly enjoyed it. For $18.00, it rates a 7/10.

2007 Chère Marie – Created from Vidal Blanc, the Chére Marie is a simple, sweet, basic tropical wine. Fairly non-descript, but there’s nothing wrong with it. For $12.00, it’s a 5/10.

2008 Nebbbiolo Ice – Color me surprised. This wine has ridiculously clean flavors of pineapple, banana, and orange. I wrote “lush fruit,” and every positive thing that can mean should be implied here. It’s only the slightest bit syrupy, at 10% sugar, but damn if it isn’t satisfying. $24.00 for a half bottle, and I’m giving it an 8/10.

Breaux wine line-up

The victims of the evening's after-hours wine consumption

Red

NV Equation – Thin but sharp tannins, a medium finish of spice and redfruits. Notes of blackberry and plum. A very good under $20 Merlot. 6/10

2005 Marquis De Lafayette – I had more than my fair share of this that first night. 100% Cabernet Franc, which is my regional guilty pleasure. Plummy and peppery, a fairly light structure with pleasant, subdued tannins. A fantastic summer red, especially at $19.00. 7/10

2006 Meritage – Blend of 38% Merlot, 24% Petit Verdot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Malbec, and 6% Cabernet Franc. Aggressively tannic, with flavors of coffee, red fruit, and dark chocolate. Very luxurious, with a long chocolate finish. You better believe I brought a bottle of this back with me. At $28.00, it’s a good bargain that could cellar for a decade. 8/10

2004 Merlot – Flavors of tart cherry and baking spices, with a ripe plum on the finish. Fairly simple, medium-bodied, not terribly tannic. Like the Meritage, a great value at $28.00. 7/10

2005 Nebbiolo – A very light red in the glass, Strong tobacco and smoke. I personally have a problem getting past strong tobacco and smoke in any wine, so I can’t give a good estimate of this wine’s flavor components beyond red fruits and floral. The balance, texture, mouthfeel, everything was well rounded. It was a fantastic wine to sip on in the sun. Well worth it at $48.00. (no rating)

2007 Double Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon – A rare treat that I got to sample, it has a fantastic balance. Deep ruby color. Very complex with red fruits, spices, tobacco, and a bit of smoke. Long black cherry finish. 7/10

Essentially, this is one of the best all-around line-ups I’ve ever been able to taste through. If you ever find yourself in Virginia northwest of D.C., you owe it to yourself to make the detour out to this countryside winery. Even if they’ve got a crowd (and they often do), you’ll have a phenomenal time.

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.

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