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Saturday, July 24, 2010

Wine Dogs Ride off into the Sunset Hills


Sunset Hills Vineyard
Purcellville, Virginia

Munchkin and Pomeroy first rode into Sunset Hills following orders from the Generals' Wine Trail. They discovered a beautiful setting where great hospitality complements quality wines.

Mike and Diane Canney bought the 40-acre farm because they loved the rural feel of the land. They got bit by the wine bug after a romantic trip to Napa. Recognizing Virginia's growing reputation as a wine region, they planted their first vines on a cold and rainy day 12 years ago. Today, the Canneys run the 4th largest of the 25 wineries in Loudoun County. Sunset Hills has 20 acres in vines, producing about 5,000 cases a year.

During the Wine Dogs' initial visit to Sunset Hills, Mike poured out the wine -- along with stories of the tangled trail that led him from spy satellites to NASCAR raceways to Virginia vintages.

A physicist by training, Mike compared making wine to a science experiment. You can't just follow a recipe because the main ingredients -- the grapes -- are different each year. So you experiment, seeing what works well and what does not.

Mike and winemaker Nate Walsh have done an admirable job figuring out what works well at Sunset Hills. Although the winery only opened in November 2008, Sunset Hills already has racked up a healthy collection of medals.

Among them are "Best of Category" from the 2009 Atlantic Seaboard Competition for the and Gold medals at the Virginia State Fair for both the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon (a wine that grips and relaxes you) and the 2007 Reserve Cabernet Franc (a delicious example of Munchkin's favorite varietal, darkened with a touch of Petit Verdot to produce a full-bodied, complex wine). The Wine Dogs were fortunate to taste these jewels before they sold out.

Munchkin and Pomeroy watched with fascination as the first five tons of 2009 Cab Franc grapes to come off the vine were carefully hand-sorted to remove stems and ensure the highest quality. It was relatively early in the fall but, Mike explained, at Sunset Hills the harvest is based on the flavor and soundness of the fruit. With Cab Franc, Mike finds that the longer the grapes hang on the vine, the less the distinctive pepper finish.

To further intensify the flavor, Mike planned to bleed off juice and make a Rose. The Wine Dogs discovered the result this summer as server Lindsey Christensen poured the 2009 Sunset Rose, which earned two paws up from both Munchkin and Pomeroy -- and a Silver Medal at the Virignia State Fair (as did the Viognier, which Munchkin also considered worth barking about).

Sunset Hills wines are served in an impressive tasting room. Diane told the Wine Dogs how six Amish brothers came down from Pennsylvania to transform the dilapidated barn into a showroom, complete with gleaming wood bars and 2,500 square feet of decking to showcase the spectacular views. It took the craftsmen over a year to perform their magic -- they returned recently to restore the stone pavillian outside. (Amish specialties also figure prominently among the light fare offered to accompany the wine).

The Wine Dogs rode into Sunset Hills for their second visit with a violent thunderstorm at their tails. Fallen trees cut off power to the winery and blocked the roads. Diane, ever the gracious hostess, made the rounds to ensure all her guests were comfortable and content. Munchkin and Pomeroy had no complaints as they enjoyed the delicious 2008 Merlot on the deck with photographer Bob Burkhart (whose photos can be found on the Sunset Hills Red label as well as the poster for the Generals Wine and History Trail).

As a special treat, Diane took the Wine Dogs downstairs for a candlelight tour of the cellar. Pomeroy was impressed with the aptly named Chandelier Room. Stone walls, beamed ceilings, and antique furnishings offer a distinctive setting for a private tasting or dinner, such as the one Sunset Hills hosted for the Congressional Wine Caucus last year (perhaps a rehearsal dinner, Munchkin hinted).

Through the stained glass doors is the barrel room, where next year's fine wines are gently aging. With their passports stamped thanks to Mike, the Curious Canines appreciate Diane giving them the perfect excuse for a return to Sunset Hills to see how the wines turn out.

2 comments:

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