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Sunday, November 4, 2018

Wine Dogs Check Out What’s Smoking in Sonoma

Santa Rosa, CA

Virginia growers are used to contending with the uncertainties of nature: late spring frosts, summer droughts, tropical rains before harvest all come with the territory. California, on the other hand, enjoys predictable weather – yet 2017 threw a curve-ball at this state with a near-perfect grape-growing climate.

For three weeks in October, historic wildfires raged across California wine country. Arriving in downtown Santa Rosa for the 2017 Wine Bloggers Conference the following month, Ecco’s sensitive nose twitched as she picked up the lingering smell of smoke in the air. The million dollar question lingering as well – would it affect the wine?

The Show Must Go On

“Sonoma Strong” banners greeted the Wine Dogs and other bloggers, proclaiming the region’s determination to recover and move forward. The conference, which had been set in Sonoma over a year advance, embodied that spirit.

Ecco saw the charred remains of burnt-out wineries only in presentations by Signorello Estate and Paradise Ridge.

These were the exceptions. Only a small fraction of the area’s 425 wineries (around 50) suffered direct damage from the fires and only 5 percent had significant damage. “If you didn’t know, you wouldn’t know” was true for most of Sonoma – except that almost everyone knew.

The nighty reports took their toll on the wineries. The fires struck during peak tourism season – and continued to have an impact long after the blazes had been extinguished. So the first challenge was letting everyone know what Sonoma was still in business – even if for some it was not business as usual.

What About the Grapes?

In addition to the heroic efforts of firefighters and other first responders, the vines themselves could be considered heroes of the saga. It turns out grapes – with their roots that run deep and ability to hold moisture – serve as a natural firebreak.
The 2017 vintage was 90 percent harvested before fires, and winemakers were reported to be “very optimistic” about vineyard. What was left hanging on the vines was mainly cabernet – a relatively thick-skinned grape.

Will there be smoke-taint? It is still too early to know. Reds are still in the barrel. Ecco tried to find an early 2017 Sonoma white to sample as she wrote her blogpost. Nothing was available yet on the East Coast. She did, however, get her paws on a 2017 Napa Chardonnay, and it was excellent.

And the Sonoma Strong spirit endures. This year’s recently concluded Sonoma County Wine Auction broke records, bringing in $5.7 million dollars, almost half of which will go to fire relief. 

Eight months after the fires, eight months after the fires, Signorello Estate unveiled a temporary tasting room and began pouring wine. Paradise Ridge has plans to rebuild their tasting room and events building, with a prospective reopening in the fall of 2019. In the meantime, you can visit them at their tasting room in Kenwood.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Wine Dogs Can Live it Up in Livermore

Livermore, CA
November 12-13, 2017

The Wine Dogs always look forward to the annual Wine Bloggers Conference (we are preparing for our 5th), a highlight of which are the pre- or post-conference excursions where we can truly dig into a region.

2017 brought a trip to the Livermore Valley, part of the Tri-Valley (Livermore, Amador, and San Ramon) which bills itself as “The Sunny Side of the Bay” – a welcome change from days of gloomy weather with an occasional sun break in Sonoma.  
Chris Chandler of the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association notes Livermore is very Dog Friendly.

As soon as she boarded the bus, Ecco knew she had chosen wisely. In her overview of the region, Chris Chandler, Executive Director of the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association, noted the region is VERY dog friendly. 
A glance through the winery guide bears that out – with 30 of the 43 wineries listed including a paw icon indicating dogs are welcome. Paws up!
Check out Livermore Valley's Wine & Wags event on June 2, 2019. 28 wineries participated at the first annual event last year!
Ecco searches out the "Mother Vine,"  at Concannon 
Deep Roots: Livermore Valley’s roots as a wine-growing region run deep. English merchant Robert Livermore planted the first commercial vines in the 1840s. He was followed by the Wente, Concannon, and Wetmore families in the early 1880s. Concannon's "Mother Vine" is the source of 80% of all California Cabernet Sauvignon while Wente's clone 4 is the source of the majority of the 100,000 acres of Chardonnay planted throughout California. In 1889, Charles Wetmore's Cresta Blanca Vineyards won the Grand Prize at the International Exposition in Paris for his first Sauvignon Blanc vintage, putting Livermore (and California) wine on the world map.
Ecco helps Jim Concannon celebrate his 85th Birthday and Concannon's 134th consecutive Cabernet harvest
CEO Carolyn Wente is focused on rgw 5th generation now entering the family business.
Ecco brought home an outstanding Sauv Blanc from Murrieta’s Well, a property dating to 1884 and now owned by the Wente family where the bloggers enjoyed lunch paired with stand-out wines.
Ecco checks out the 1884 property that serves as a tasting room at Murrieta's Well
Climate and Terroir: The Ghielmetti Vineyard offered a perspective on the aspects of geography and terrior that make Livermore a great wine region – the high mountain valley (900 feet above sea level), rocky soil, and east-west orientation. The Altamont Pass keeps cool air from the Bay in Livermore, creating an excellent ripening climate characterized by warm days and cool nights.
Ecco explores the Ghielmeti Vineyard with winemakers Steven Kent (Steven Kent Winery), Mark Clarin (McGrail Vineyards) and Collin Cranor (Nottingham Cellars)
Urban Pioneers: Livermore also boasts a thriving urban winery scene. Arriving first was Longevity Wines, which features a funky tasting room filled with antiques. You will be welcomed by owner Phil Long and winery dog Press-ton, a Havenese featured as “Mr. November” in the 2017 SPCA Critter Catalogue. Next door is the Wood Family Vineyards, with their signature station wagon logo.
Ecco with Phi Long of Longevity Wines, Livermore's first urban winery.
Ecco with Longevity's Press-Ton, aka "Mr. November"
More to Do: Want to do more than taste? Check out the Wente Winemakers Studio. Ecco tried her paw at winemaking and came up with a lovely red blend while learning what goes into choosing the right grapes. 

Livermore also boasts the first Ice Cream Trail. Restaurants open their patios to four-legged diners, and downtown Livermore features the Smooches Pooches boutique – a Yorkie never knows when she’ll need a new bow.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Elite Wines Make the Case for Virginia

Main Street Station
Richmond, VA

Representatives of the 10 wineries in the Governor's Cup Case await Governor Ralph Northam's announcement of the winner of the 2018 Governor's Cup. 
Paws up to the 10 wineries whose 12 wines made the Governor's Cup Case for 2018. Although the number of wineries in Virginia has grown to over 280, an elite class is emerging. Four wines in this year's case were produced by past Governor's Cup winners and all 10 wineries have previously had wine in the case. So if you are looking for a chance to taste Virginia's finest, follow the Wine Dogs' lead and put these on your list.

A couple more observations from this year's case. The Monticello AVA continues to dominate - seven of the 12 wines are from Mr. Jefferson's 'hood, including the Governor's cup winner (Barboursville, Early Mountain, Jefferson, Keswick, King Family, and Veritas).

Reds are Virginia's strength, with this year's case featuring three Meritage blends, three Petit Verdots, and two Cabernet Francs (the most planted red grape in the Commonwealth and a Wine Dog favorite). Competition rules guarantee that at least four whites make the case. The Wine Dogs were pleased to see two examples of Virginia's official state grape - Viognier - both produced by Jefferson Vineyards. Two sweeter dessert wines complete the case.

Barboursville Vineyards, a winner this year with the 2014 Paxxito, a honey-sweet dessert wine.

Barboursville winemaker Luca Paschina earned gold for six wines, including two vintages of his signature Meritage blend, Octagon (the 2009 vintage won the Governor's cup in 2013).  
CrossKeys Vineyards produced the second dessert wine in the case, the 2015 Ali d'Oro.

CrossKeys owner Bubbles Snarr-Beiler and Operations Director Saan Bakhtiar treat York to a taste of their Ali d'Oro. Cross Keys is the only winery from the Shenandoah Valley represented in the Governor's Cup Case.
Early Mountain Vineyards brought home gold for its merlot-based red blend, the 2015 Eluvium.

Early Mountain Marketing Director Aileen Sevier shares a taste of the 2015 Eluvium. The 2014 Eluvium and three other Early Mountain wines earned gold in the 2018 competition.
Jefferson Vineyards made history with Virginia's state grape, earning two spots in the Governor's Cup Case with its 2015 and 2016 Viogniers.

Jefferson Vineyards Tasting Room Manager Paul Villageliu displays the 2015 Viognier (fermented in steel and oak) while Vince Mazzola shares the 2016 (all neutral oak).
Keswick Vineyards Cabernet Franc Reserve once again makes the case, this time with the 2016 vintage (the 2014 vintage won the Governor's Cup in 2016).

Owner Cindy Schornberg welcomes wine and dog lovers to taste the award-winning wines at Keswick Vineyards, which features an off-leash dog run and pet-adoption events on Sundays.
King Family Vineyards took home the Governor's Cup this year for their 2014 Meritage.

York congratulates King Family Winemaker Matthieu Finot for winning the 2018 Governor's Cup. Read the Wine Dogs report here. Four additional King Family wines won gold in the competition.
North Gate Vineyard in Loudoun County produced an outstanding Petit Verdot (perfected with 5% merlot).

Owner and winemaker Mark Fetzer has had wines selected in the Govenror's Cup case in four out of the last five years.
Potomac Point Winery earned a spot in the case with a spicy 2016 Cabernet Franc.

Come see us, says Wine Club and Guest Services Manager Laurel Budd. Potomac Point was the first winery Ecco visited as a fledgling Wine Dog. Read about her visit here.
Veritas Vineyards & Winery claimed a spot in the case for the 2015 Petit Verdot, Paul Shaffer 7th Edition.

Veritas Tasting Room Manager Sarah Ponton displays the 2015 Petit Verdot, one of four Veritas wines to earn gold in the competition this year. 
After winning the Governor's Cup last year, The Barns at Hamilton Station is back with two wines in the Governor's Cup Case - the 2015 Meritage and 2015 Petit Verdot.

The Barns at Hamilton Station Owner Andrew Finchon is excited that dogs are coming back to the tasting room, thanks to legislation approved by the Virginia General Assembly. The Wine Dogs had a delightful visit to the charming Loudoun County winery last July. 
King of the Golds Michael Shaps was the winemaker for the two  wines in the case from The Barns at Hamilton Station as well as claiming golds for nine wines produced under his own label (Michael Shaps Wineworks) and three additional wines produced under the Virginia Cellars brand.

King Family Declared Top Dog in Virginia Wine

Main Street Station
Richmond, Virginia

Over 440 wines competed, but only one could be declared top dog in the Virginia Governor's Cup competition. This year's prize went to the King Family Vineyards for their elegant 2014 Meritage. This is the third time the King Family Vineyards has claimed this pretigious honor.

Governor Ralph Northam presents the Governor's Cup to the King Family Vineyards.
As Wine Dog York led the pack through the 12 outstanding wines that made the Governor's Cup case this year, the 2014 Meritage stood out. The wine is a blend of 50% Merlot, 23% Petit Verdot, 21% Cabernet Franc and 6% Malbec, aged 18 months in French Oak. It is smooth, layered, and complex.

Winemaker Mattieu Finot pours pure gold - the King Family 2014 Meritage.
The King Family Vineyard is located in Crozet, Virginia, part of the Monticello AVA. The Virginia Wine Dogs' visit in 2010 was captured on the evening news featuring Munchkin and Pomeroy.

The Virginia Governor's Cup competition is among the most preeminent in the country. Under the revamped format adopted in 2012, all wines must be from 100 percent Virgnia fruit. The judging panel is headed by Jay Youmans, one of only 45 Masters of Wine in the United States. 

York poses with King Family Winery Owner Ellen King, Winemaker Mathieu Finot, and Judging Director Jay Youmans.
Adding to the prestige, Virginia's Governor personally presents the award at the annual Governor's Cup Gala. Before announcing the winner, Governor Northam said "My ask of you tonight is can I please sign up to be a judge next year?" We'll see.

In the meantime, the Governor's Cup is returning o the King Famly Vineyards and Winery.
The Governor's Cup heads to Crozet, Virginia, with King Family Vineyards Winemaker Mathieu Finot.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

A Well-Manored Wine Dog

Glen Manor Vineyards
Front Royal, Virginia

A pawsome 39 wineries scored gold in the 2018 Virginia Governor's Cup competition. We will find out February 27 who wins the cup and who makes the Governor's Case.

Several winemakers earned multiple golds this year, among them Jeff White, who mined gold for a vertical trio of his Hodder Hill (a Bordeaux blend). Glen Manor claimed the Governor's Cup in 2012 for the 2009 Hodder Hill. This year, the 2013, 2014, and 2015 are in the spotlight.

Ecco was intrigued, and led the pack to Glen Manor Vineyards on a chilly January afternoon.

The winery and tasting room were little changed from when Virginia Wine Dogs Munchkin and Pomeroy made their first visit in 2009 (read more). All the money has been going back into the vineyards, including a recent planting of Nebiolo (all Glen Manor wines use estate-grown grapes).

And the vineyards are producing awesome wines. Carol was pouring seven wines on the day of the Wine Dog visit, and Ecco didn't find a dog in the bunch. The one white was a 2016 Sauvignon Blanc - perfect for her friend Reagan. Ecco was partial to the Morales Rose, a saignee' bleed of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot (the latter two from blocks grown specifically for the Rose).

Hard to say which was the pick of the litter among the reds. Jeff says the 2014 is his favorite year for Cabernet Franc since he opened the winery. Elegant and restrained, the wine was exceptionally smooth with a very nice nose.

A newer partner to the Hodder Hill is the "right bank" ST. Ruth, named for the first two generations, Susan and Stephen who purchased the farm in 1901, and their daughter, Ruth. Late Harvest Petit Mansent is named Raepheus, honoring Jeff's parents, Anna Rae and Alpheus. Jeff's niece Ashleigh and nephew Jack recently committed four years to the winery as they decide if they will be the next generation.

The Wine Dogs have little doubt Glen Manor will be a strong player in the Virginia wine scene for years to come. A peak ahead: With very dry weather in the area at exactly the right time, the Wine Dogs were told Jeff expects the 2017 wines to be history-making for the area.

Ecco wraps up her visit to Glen Manor with a hug from owner Kelly White.
Only service dogs are allowed in the winery at Glen Manor. On winery grounds, dogs must remain leashed to their owner at all times.

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