Monday, June 24, 2013

Summertime Sipping at Virginia's Early Mountain Vineyard

I spent the weekend in the Blue Ridge foothills of central Virginia, trimming back my newly-sprouted Chardonnay vines and further prepping the vineyard. This area of Virginia has seen tons of rain in the past month and the creek on my family’s mill house property has flooded twice in only two weeks. But after the deluges, the sun always manages to come out and shine down on the baby vines. The resulting growth has me feeling good about the future of Bakers Mill Vineyard.

After a weekend of hard work, I was ready to head back to DC, but not before stopping at Early Mountain Vineyard in Madison County. I’d heard good things about this relatively new endeavour, located right off Route 29 in the heart of central Virginia’s wine country. I’m happy to report the experience exceeded my expectations.

Let me start with the obvious: the winery is located in a beautiful spot. Grapevines stretch up and down rolling hills, which surround the winery like the lip of a bowl. The nearby forest is verdant, sporting a hundred shades of green. Fruit trees dot the grass around the driveway.

The winery itself is massive and modern, with a long bar and plenty of comfy seats for tasting. As I arrived with a friend, many people were busy setting up the ground-floor event space for a wedding reception. On the side lawn, white chairs sat in rows, waiting for some couple’s big event. Out back, a band played easygoing rock.

At the bar, Early Mountain takes a bit of a different approach to wine flights. They offer one flight of their own wines and several other flights featuring wines from some of Virginia’s best producers: RdV, Barboursville, King Family, Thibaut-Janisson, Ankida Ridge. I applaud the way Early Mountain promotes other Virginia wines through this “Best of Virginia” program. Having never tasted an Early Mountain wine, however, I paid $12 for some 2-oz. samples of their new releases.

Here are my notes…

2012 Early Mountain Pinot Gris - Virginia, Central Region, Madison County ($22)
Pale straw color. Smells of white peaches, orange blossoms and sugar cane. On the palate, this has an oily texture, medium acid and flavors of white peach and creamy green melon. Pretty decent stuff, just not all that complex. (82 points)

2011 Early Mountain Chardonnay - Virginia, Central Region, Madison County ($18)
Nutty on the nose, like hazelnut and almond, also some lime, yellow apple and white flowers. On the palate, chunky pineapple meets tangerine, backed up by white flowers, hazelnut and an herbal aspect that reminds me a bit of white pepper. Fresh acid keeps this balanced. Overall, I appreciate the nuance and freshness of this Virginia chardonnay. (86 points)

2011 Early Mountain Handshake Red - Virginia, Central Region, Madison County ($27)
Love the nose: sweet cherries, red licorice, smoke and rich earth. On the palate, fine-grained tannins and medium acid provide structure. Silky in texture, this wine displays flavors of fig, sweet berries, cedar and loam. Toasty, but not too much. A blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Verdot. For a Virginia red, this shows a lot of structure and some complexity that could open up over the next few years. (87 points)

2008 Early Mountain Merlot - Virginia, Central Region, Madison County ($25)
This Merlot smells soft and plush, with black cherries, plums, violets and mocha. Firm and grippy on the palate with rich plum and black cherry fruit. Notes of potting soil, smoke, mocha and toast are well-integrated. Sweet caramel on the finish. A very forward and generous wine, but the quality of the fruit is solid. (85 points)

There are so many wineries to visit in this region, but I’m sure I’ll be back to Early Mountain for another tasting.


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