Todd Godbout

Drink from the Comptrollers Cup at Catoctin Breeze Vineyard

Each year the Maryland Wineries Association holds a state competition now named the Comptrollers Cup that is a blind tasting historically judged by fellow winemakers. This year other industry professionals such as sommeliers joined the panels and the Best in Show winner was a winery that I belong to their wine club: Catoctin Breeze Vineyard and their 2016 Estate Cabernet Franc.

Catoctin Breeze is located north of Frederick Maryland on Route 15 between Thurmont and Emmitsburg.  It was founded in 2010 when Voytek Leon Fizyta planted two blocks of vines along a hill slightly east of the Catoctin Mountains. These blocks consisted of Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Chardonnay, and Viognier.  The well-draining, loose, alluvial soil contains some quartz deposits which assist in preventing frost prevention as well as the ripening of fruit.  The estate also receives a consistent breeze from Owen’s Gap – keeping the vines ventilated helping to prevent mold formation – which is also limited by abundant morning sun. Today there are 7,000 vines carefully maintained by Vineyard Manager, Larry Sipe. The winery also augments their portfolio with fruit grown from a vineyard in St. Mary’s Maryland – a sandy coastal region.

Visitors are normally either touring wineries or taking side trips after visiting Liberty Mountain Resort, Cunningham Falls State Park, or the Catoctin Zoo and are offered three tasting packages: Signature ($10), Premier ($12), or Sweet ($8) – the later including three Mead wines.  I generally prefer the Premier tasting as it usually includes wines available in the wine club. In my previous visits this has included different vintages of the Serenade Sauvignon Blanc ($24), Estate Chardonnay ($24), Estate Cabernet Franc ($36) , Concerto Bordeaux Blend ($35), and the Oratorio Barbera ($38). As you can tell, the brands have a classical music theme. The Comptrollers Cup 2016 Estate Cabernet Franc is a treat and while sampling you can view the actual cup behind the tasting bar. The wine starts with black fruit and leather on the nose which transitions into the mouth feel where hints of tobacco and dirt round in before seguing to a long and soft finish.  A cup worthy wine.

The Signature and Sweet tasting packages contain a range of Vidal, Chardonnay, a Merlot-Syrah blend in the Bolera Blend, and the three honey wines. These are all from a large 2010 vintage and each has a touch of sweetness without any clawing sugary aftertaste. The Honeymoon ($25) is blended with orange juice and feels like fall whereas the Amber ($23) is spiced with Christmas flavors. Both are solid meads. However, we came home with a bottle of the Dolce Vita ($24), a melomel mead made with blackberries. The berry flavors are prevalent with the sweet honey kicking in near the tail. Nicely done.

After sampling the wines kick back on their large back lawn to view the vines and let the kids and dogs play.  The winery hosts food trucks on weekends as it has no other food options and the food trucks are usually paired with a musical act. In conclusion I make Catoctin Breeze Vineyard a regular visit; you should as well.

Catoctin Breeze Vineyard
15010 Roddy Road
Thurmont, MD 21788
240-578-3831

Monday-Thursday: 11:30am-3:00pm
Friday: 11:30am-9:00pm
Saturday: 12:00-6:00pm
Sunday: 12:00-5:00pm

 

 

Borderless Wine from Harvest Ridge Winery

Straddling the border between Delaware and Maryland along the Mason-Dixon line lies Harvest Ridge Winery. Whereas the winery and a majority of the estate vineyards reside in Delaware, a significant block of estate vines are planted in the Free State. In fact, one of the original Mason-Dixon witness stone and crown markers, number 47, is located on the property. After fifteen years of home winemaking, Chuck Nunan converted his family farm to an estate vineyard by planting a series of vinifera grapes in 2011.

After the winery opened in late 2013, he expanded the original planting of Chardonnay, Viognier, Malbec, and Merlot to include both Cabernets, Chambourcin, Vidal, Barbera, and several other grape varieties. He also hired Jason Hopwood, who had experience in Sonoma and the Finger Lakes, as the head winemaker. This growth enables Harvest Ridge to provide over fifteen wines in their tasting room as well as a new cider brand Rebel Seed.

I arrived on a Friday just after noon (Friday – Sunday they open at 12) and several visitors had beaten me to the tasting room. Harvest Ridge offers three different flights of eight wines for $7 (dry, sweet, and the mixed variety). There is also a cider flight at the same price and additional samples can be purchased as well as wine and cider by the glass or bottle. Children and outside food are allowed inside and on the outside courtyard but you will need to keep your dogs leashed outside.

I chose the mixed flight in order to gain an appreciation for the winery’s many styles. For dry whites, they offer two styles of Chardonnay ($22), one unoaked, the other barrel fermented. I was more intrigued with the 2016 White Wine No. 47 ($17) – note the marker reference – that is a 90-10 blend of Vidal Blanc and Chardonnay. The wine has depth you normally don’t associate with Vidal combined with the characteristic floral and spice profiles. A nice summer-beach wine. Similarly the 2016 Red Wine No. 47 ($17) is light and refreshing.

This blend of Chambourcin, Barbera, and Landot Noir can also be served slightly chilled as there are few tannins. And as a single varietal wine, the 2016 Barbera ($25) shows excellent promise. It is, again, light bodied with subtle spice, moderate tannins, and abundant acids. Harvest Ridge offered two rosé wines with the Rosé of Chambourcin Country Bloom ($16) included in the tasting. The grapes macerate on their skins for 48 hours providing a blush like color and this clean wine is targeted more to that style with its 5% residual sugar. Also high in sugar is the 2016 Blue Hen Blue ($16) a blend of blueberries and concord grapes. Because of the berries acidity I was attracted more to this wine than the rosé as the grapey character of the concord was also restrained.

Finally, I was able to sample three dessert wines starting with the Portella ($18) made from a Muscat descendant Aromella — which was recently bred at Cornell University. The wine possesses a raison-fig profile with a strong floral and spicy aroma. The 2015 Chamfort ($22) is a Chambourcin based ruby port styled wine fortified with neutral grape spirits and exuding chewy blackberries and chocolate. Last up was the 2013 Late Harvest Vidal Blanc ($15) that reminded me of the Tokaji styled dessert wines with the strong apricot flavor combined with smoked almonds. Quite Nice.

The DelMarVa Coast’s Salted Vines Vineyard & Winery

The DelMarVa coast is not only beaches, boating, and fishing. There are a plethora of craft beverage producers in the area such as Delaware’s Salted Vines Vineyard & Winery. The establishment operated for five years on Route 54 as Fenwick Wine Cellars on Route 54. by 2015 they had outgrown that location and found a 26-acre parcel near Frankford that now houses the winery — rebranded as Salted Vines. The estate vineyard was first planted with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon vines and has slowly expanded with more two additional acres of grape varieties planted each year.

Salted Vines encourages families to visit as children are allowed in the tasting room and leashed dogs are allowed on the outside grounds. They also host a summer concert series on weekends with popular local bands and food trucks. We’ve already missed the lower case blues and Love Seed Mama Jump shows – but that demonstrates the caliber of the lineup.

At the tasting bar, the winery provides fifteen wines — all included in the $10 tasting fee (that includes keeping the glass). Some of these wines are hold-overs from the Fenwick Wine Cellars brand and they range from dry to semi-dry to sweet. Until their estate is completely utilized, most of the fruit is sourced from various regions particularly for the labrusca based wines of Catawba ($15), Niagara ($15), Steuben ($15), and Concord ($15).

These wines were clean and well-made despite their inherent funky and jammy characters.  However, the dry Traminette ($19) and semi-dry Riesling ($19) and Reflections ($17) were my preferences. The first two were very representative of their respective grapes whereas the later was a refreshing summer beach wine.

As for dry reds, their Chambourcin ($22) shows off quite nicely.  And if you do prefer a sweeter style, their Fredonia ($15) and Ambrosia ($18) are good choices.  Unfortunately, they do provide the dreaded wine slushies, but I guess these have a market. Besides that, this is an enjoyable stop at the Maryland and Delaware beaches.  Cheers.

Nebbiolo is Still King at Breaux Vineyards

Breaux Vineyards opened in 1997 when it was only the fifth winery in Loudoun County and the 50th in Virginia. Today Breaux is one of the largest of the 43 wineries in Loudoun and statewide (270 wineries) and its success can be attributed to several factors — starting with their location at the western foothills of the Blue Ridge and Short Hill Mountains. The 104-acre estate benefits from plenty of sunshine from late morning to sunset and consistent breezes that help alleviate mildew.

The second factor occurred when founder Paul Breaux and original winemaker Dave Collins (owner of Maryland’s Big Cork Vineyards) not only heavily invested in new state-of-the-art wine making equipment but also planted a pioneering set of vinifera grapes. These grapes include the standard Bordeaux varieties but also Virginia’s signature grape Viognier and Nebbiolo. In fact, to this day Breaux is still only the third winery in the state to plant this Italian grape (known as The King of Wine) and it has become the winery’s signature wine.

Third, Vice President Jennifer Breaux and her team are skilled marketers, active on social media and hosting multiple events including the annual Cajun and Key West festivals. To illustrate how savvy Jennifer is once I tweeted that I was heading out to Loudoun and Jennifer replied quickly to stop in for a free tasting. Invitation accepted.

Finally, and most importantly, Breaux Vineyards has succeeded over the last 21 years because they produce quality estate wines in each successive vintage. That was on display when I visited recently to discover a huge, renovated tasting room with abundant inside seating to handle the summer humidity. There is still plenty of space outside for dogs, children, and picnicking with outside food. Tours of the new facility are available weekends for $5 and the tasting fee is $15 for half a dozen wines. The charitably staff member also poured me their 2012 Nebbiolo ($59) as I had mentioned that I was unable to attend a special vertical tasting event the next day. This wine was for sale only because the winery had discovered several cases hidden during the recent renovation and the bottle aging had tamed some of the tannins and acids. But not all. There’s still plenty of chewy texture and tannins to accompany the dark plum characters and fresh acidic finish. This showcases why Breaux = Nebbiolo.

Here is a quick rundown of the remaining wines in the general tasting. Cheers.

2016 Sauvignon Blanc ($25) – Light and refreshing with more grapefruit than lemongrass.

2016 Viognier ($28) – 10% was aged in neutral French oak with another 5% in large Acacia Puncheon barrels providing additional depth to the traditional tropical and stone fruit flavors.

2016 Rosé ($24) – A blend of five Bordeaux grape varieties, obtaining color from two hours of skin contact, and providing a refreshing strawberry and melon flavors. The wine for dinner that evening.

Equation Red ($20) – Another blend; this a kitchen sink of Merlot, Petit Verdot, both Cabs, Chambourcin, and Malbec; is a juicy fruit forward easy drinking wine in-spite of or because of 18 months aging in American and French oak. The approachable tannins made this a clear second course for dinner.

2012 Cabernet Sauvignon ($42) – A second wine bottle aged in addition to 18 months in American and French oak this wine is excellent – texture, fresh juice, hints of chocolate, but just a tad pricey for our budget.

2013 Meritage ($43) – Another higher priced wine with a pedigree of being in the 2016 Virginia Governor’s Cup Case Club. This blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Verdot, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec showcases structure and integrated tannins, yet I preferred the varietal Cabernet Sauvignon more because of its edginess.

Off the Beaten Trail in Virginia Wine Country with Rosemont Vineyards and Winery

Located in a remote area of the Commonwealth, Rosemont Vineyards and Winery is relatively disadvantaged when selling their wine. It is the sole craft beverage producer situated in southeastern Virginia along I-85 — which runs from I-95 south of Richmond-St. Petersburg to the Raleigh-Durham triangle. Since they cannot leverage an existing wine or craft beverage trail to attract consumer traffic, they must attract customers through the quality of their portfolio. That is what enticed us to visit the winery as well as most other visitors who travel from Richmond, Raleigh, and nearby Lake Gaston.

The 450-acre Rosemont Estate has been a working farm ever since the Rose family purchased the property in 1858. In 2003 Stephen Rose, along with his wife Chandra, returned home and planted 22 acres worth of grapevines. And in 2007 they produced their first wines using an underground and modern gravity-flow wine production facility. Their son Justin volunteered to assume the winemaker position and “subsequently enrolled at Napa Valley College to study viticulture and oenology, while interning at O’Shaughnessy Winery and Capiaux Cellars.” Since their first release, the vineyard continues to expand as the winery maintains releasing only estate wines.

Upon arriving at the winery, their large tasting facility is partly enclosed by newly planted vines and a large picnic area suitable for dogs and children. Inside there are also spacious accommodations both at the tasting bar and at various tables to enjoy a sip at your leisure. Tasting fees are $10.00 per person which amounted to 11 wines during our visit. In general, all the wines were well made and reasonably priced. With almost a dozen wines there is also enough variety to satisfy most tastes. This should be enough to entice visitors to their remote location, but for music lovers, the winery even hosts a summer concert series during the major holiday weekends. Safe travels.

Traminette 2016 ($16.95) – the grape is a cross of the French American hybrid Joannes Seyve 23.416 and Gewürztraminer with the intention to produce the distinct varietal character of its vinifera parent. And this dry wine lives up to that reputation. It possesses the floral aromatics of Gewürztraminer as well as it’s distinct spicy character. The winery recommends serving with spicy foods or oysters.

Virginia White ($14.95) – is a bright, dry wine blend of Vidal Blanc, Chardonel and Traminette. There is abundant stone fruit and citrus character throughout – from the nose to the tail – creating a refreshing summer sipper.

Pinot Grigio 2017 ($18.95) – in 2016 Rosemont lost 88% of their Pinot Grigio crop to frost and as a result experimented by barrel fermented the harvested fruit. That process was well received so they continued into 2017 with a portion of the grapes fermented in barrel. This results in a wine with more body than anticipated while retaining the refreshing green apple and acidity character. One of our favorite wines.

Rosé 2017 ($18.95) – produced from lightly pressed Chambourcin grapes that combines both strawberry and tart cherry with refreshing acidity. This wine is what attracted us to visit and we were not disappointed.

Virginia Red (15.95) – is a medium-bodied blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chambourcin and Syrah. This is an easy sipper – perhaps an entry point into red wine – with hints of oak and tobacco that melds with the cherry profile.

Syrah 2015 ($19.95) – this is a medium-bodied wine that still packs plenty of fruit alongside the grape’s spicy character. Although it spent 16 months in oak before bottling it is not overdone as the vanilla easily mingles with the spice and fruit.

Merlot 2015 ($20.95) – an estate favorite as Rosemont believes their Merlot “shows the best of our terroir” and it was the wine we opened at the hotel that night. It is a delicious wine, plenty of berry fruit with hints of chocolate and baking spices. The winery suggests pairing with rustic Italian, hard cheeses, and steak; but we preferred solo surrounding a fire pit.

Cabernet Franc 2015 ($22.95) – this was once considered Virginia’s unofficial signature grape as its relatively thick skins and loose clusters handle the region’s high humidity. This release includes 12% Merlot which softens the wine’s prolific profile. This wine would still benefit with aging to soften the remaining rich tannin structure and spicy and nutty characters. We have a couple that hit the cellar on our return.

Kilravock 2015 ($32.95) – is a Meritage blend of 40% Merlot, 36% Cabernet Franc, and 24% Petit Verdot and named from the Scottish castle where the Rose family traces their ancestry. This is an excellent wine, our favorite of the reds, with a structured backbone, leather and tobacco, and a little vanilla to soften the finish. The tannins and finish are also very approachable. Nicely done.

Lake Country Sunset ($12.50) – the first sweet wine in the portfolio is made from a blend of early and late harvest Vidal Blanc. It is sweet, but the grape’s acidity counters the sugar allowing the citrus and stone fruit to shine through. At this price, it’s worth opening at dock side.

Blackridge Red ($12.50) – made from 100% Chambourcin, this wine is sweet and jammy. Although well made, for my palate, the acids do not compensate enough for the high sugar profile. But residents of the area seem to disagree.