If you enjoy Virginia wine, and you’re social media savvy, there’s only one online place to gather: #VAWineChat. Frank Morgan, a friend and fellow blogger who tweets @DrinkWhatULike, has been bringing wine lovers and Virginia vintners together since 2013.
I recently popped some corks and tuned in as Frank met with Mark Fedor of North Gate Vineyard of Loudon County. I’d tasted and enjoyed a few North Gate wines before, including the 2015 Governor’s Cup Award-winning 2012 Meritage, so I was expecting good things. The wines delivered.
North Gate planted its first vines in 2002 and kicked off the winery in 2007. For a relative newcomer, proprietor Mark Fedor says he feels like a veteran in Loudon County. There were just 18 wineries in the county when North Gate opened, Mark says, but that number has more than doubled to 42 now.
Mark was proud to point out the winery’s environmental certifications. A lot of these certifications are not easy for the average consumer to understand, but it seems clear North Gate Vineyard has ingrained environmentally sound methods into many of its practices. This is something I think should always be pointed out and celebrated.
As part of the Twitter-based tasting, participants sipped through three North Gate wines, a Viognier, a Merlot and a Meritage.
Viognier is Virginia’s official state grape, and consumers have a ton of options to choose from. Mark says it’s hard to define Virginia Viognier as a category because the wines are so diverse. “As an industry we haven’t come down to one style of Viognier,” Mark says. “We have so much diversity that people are somewhat confused as to what it should be.” A lot of growers let the fruit hang long on the vine, which drives up the alcohol content and allows the grape to reach the heights of honeyed creaminess. But more and more producers are picking earlier, refraining from too much new oak, and releasing Viogniers with a bright and steely posture. I found Mark’s wine to be somewhere in the middle of the Virginia Viognier spectrum. It’s creamy, tropical and floral but stays fresh and balanced.
2014 North Gate Vineyard Viognier - Virginia, Northern Virginia, Loudoun County
Pale gold color with a tinge of copper. Smells of pineapple juice, guava, kiwi and some dried honey and spicy white wildflowers as well. Very creamy and smooth on the palate, the acid is a bit low as the wine runs like honey, but not too full. (The label says 13.8% alcohol but supposedly the wine is somewhere north of 14%.) Super tropical, with pineapple, papaya, guava, the fruit is doused with whipped honey butter, lilies, baby’s breath and nougat. Fun stuff, very ripe and forward but stays steely and bright. (87 points)
Merlot has found a sweet spot in Virginia. It seems every time we talk about Merlot, the movie Sideways comes up, and the conversation turns to the ensuing popular dissatisfaction with this noble grape. Look, there have always been shitty Merlots and there always will be. But I’m glad Virginia growers have stuck with this grape and taken it so seriously. Lots of high quality Merlot is coming out of Virginia, and many of them carry modest price tags. A number of the 2015 Governor’s Cup winners had Merlot in them, usually blended with Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon. North Gate’s Merlot is a solid buy at $19, and their Merlot-based Meritage is no joke.
2013 North Gate Vineyard Merlot - Virginia, Northern Virginia, Loudoun County
Vibrant but deep ruby color. Juicy black and red plum fruit on the nose, mixed in with cedar shavings, light roast coffee, loamy soil. Tangy acid meets fine-grained tannins, making this an easy-drinking wine with a delightfully fresh appeal. The fruit is juicy and tart (black cherry, red and black plums, wild blueberry). Lots of mocha, cedar, roasted coffee and cinnamon sticks… hints of loam and dried violets. I love the freshness and vibrancy of this wine. Probably not one to store for more than a few years, but a delightful Virginia Merlot. Another example of how Merlot kills it in Virginia. The wine is aged for 17 months in 25% new French oak and includes 10% Petit Verdot. (87 points)
2013 North Gate Vineyard Meritage - Virginia, Northern Virginia, Loudoun County
Deep ruby color. Tart red and black cherries and plums on the nose. I get some coffee, dark chocolate, smoky toasted oak. Tart and crunchy on the palate, dusty tannins of medium strength give this structure. The black cherry and plum fruit is tangy and fresh, laced with notes of smoke, cherry wood, anise and dark chocolate. Forward with the oak but the wine still maintains and fresh presence on the palate. Accessible now or good for near-term aging. Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. (88 points)
I just found out North Gate also produces a non-vintage Rkatsiteli, which I now have to try. There aren’t too many American vintners who try their hand at this ancient white grape from the Republic of Georgia.
If you’re a fan of Virginia wine, or just touring the beautiful winelands of Loudon County, Virginia, North Gate is a good bet. I’ll definitely be stopping by the next time I plan a Loudon County wine trek.