Wed 19 Mar 2014
Wine has been made in the state of Virginia since about 1607, beating the Spanish missions in California by some 160 years. The early English colonists produced wine — or “wine” — from indigenous grapes. It was Thomas Jefferson, perhaps American’s first wine connoisseur, who famously brought vinifera grapes from France and planted them (unsuccessfully) at Monticello. The climate seems iffy; Virginia is, of course, The South, and the growing season is hot and humid. Such factors as fungal diseases don’t discourage the truly dedicated, however, because if people are determined to grow cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay grapes where it might seem inappropriate, they’re just gol-darn gonna do it. Many traditional vinifera, i.e., European grapes are cultivated in Virginia, though many wineries also rely on native or hybrid grapes. I have heard and read that in some of these regions and AVAs such white grapes as viognier and petit manseng perform surprisingly well, but I have not tried these wines.
The state is organized into nine regions and seven official American Viticultural Areas — AVAs — with such colorful names as Rocky Knob and Northern Neck George Washington’s Birthplace. According to the very helpful virginiawine.org, there are 248 wineries in the state. Virginia is the country’s fifth largest wine-grape producer and fifth in the number of wineries. How many people outside of Virginia have tasted wines from the Blue Ridge State? Not many, I would guess. In fact, until recently, I had not tried a single wine from Virginia, and that’s when Stinson Vineyards, a small producer in the Blue Ridge Mountains sent me a few bottles.
How small is the operation? The estate encompasses 12 acres, of which five are in vines. In a winery converted from an old three-car garage, father and daughter Scott and Rachel Stinson make minute quantities of wines that follow, they say, a French model, particularly of Bordeaux and the Loire Valley. Stinson’s historical feature is Piedmont House, seen in the evocative image to the right, built in 1796 and expanded in the 1840s.
These wines were samples for review.
The Stinson Mourvèdre Rosé 2012, Monticello, was my favorite of these three wines. The color is classic pale copper-salmon; the wine is quite fragrant and evocative, offering hints of apple and gardenia, melon and dried red currants. It has that Provençal thing going on: dusty roof tiles, a hint of dried rosemary, warm rocks, zinging acidity, with final hints of raspberries and limestone, all delicately knit in a pleasing slightly lush texture. 13 percent alcohol. Production was 220 cases. Drink through Summer 2014. Very Good+. About $17.
The bright gold color of the Stinson Chardonnay 2012, Monticello, seems like a pretty good indication of the ripeness of its pineapple and grapefruit flavors, though perhaps I’m being metaphorical. In any case, this is a very ripe, slightly smoky chardonnay whose fruit feels rather roasted and candied, with a spicy overlay and a hint of ripe fruit sweetness — peach and lemon balm — from mid-palate back through the finish. Still, for the price, you get a lot of burnish and style, though I would prefer more restraint. 13 percent alcohol. Production was 200 cases. Now through 2016. Very Good. About $22.
The Stinson Cabernet Franc 2012, Virginia, offers a luminous medium ruby color and attractive aromas of blueberries, black currants and plums, highlighted by notes of cloves and dried thyme; bright acidity enlivens tasty black and blue fruit flavors set into a moderately tannic structure. 12.8 percent alcohol. Production was 100 cases. This is a truly delicious and drinkable wine, but its relationship to what the cabernet franc grape does best is fleeting. Now through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $23.