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An English Pub...In the Middle of Breaux Vineyards?

Date: Sat, May 25, 2013 Wine Tasting

When Paul Breaux, of Breaux Vineyards, returned from Italy he decided to plant Nebbiolo. When Paul Breaux returned from London he decided to build an English Pub.

The Cork & Key is a beautiful little surprise hidden under the Acadia -- the new tasting room at Breaux. The room is a nod to English Pubs with dark mahogany colors contrasting against white stucco walls, leather furniture and light fixtures that resemble British lamps.

The room has a warm, cozy feel, perfect for hosting an intimate gathering. Surprisingly, there was no dart board though.

Separately, I think Paul should travel more, it seems every time he does he comes home with a great idea!

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New Building at Casanel

Date: Thu, May 23, 2013 Wine Tasting

If you have not been by Casanel Vineyardss lately, you should definitely stop by an see the construction on the beautiful new tasting room. The work is coming along quickly and the is really taking shape. When the tasting room is complete, there will be plenty of space for tastings, plus a large room to host events and two patios that will look out over the lake.

Nelson is doing most of the work himself and has plans to make a functional and multi-use environment that will be able to host weddings, wine dinners and handle the rush of visitors during the fall.

The space is great and I am looking forward to seeing the finished space

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Ain't That a Kick in the Teeth

Date: Wed, May 15, 2013 Wine Tasting

Virginia just loves to test the mettle of its winemakers and, unfortunately, yesterday was no exception. After getting a late start to the season because of the cold weather, vineyard managers were excited about the prospect of a growing season without frost concerns.

The frost arrived Tuesday morning, impacting many vineyards in central and northern Virginia. It will be a few weeks before we know the full extent of the damage, but if the pictures popping up on Facebook and Twitter are any indication it is not good.

We'll keep you updated

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A Look at the skybar One

Date: Thu, May 9, 2013 Wine Tasting

I have been intrigued by the skybar wine system since it was first introduced. I like the idea of preserving a bottle wine at the perfect temperature after it has been opened. With diabetes limiting my wine intake this has become even more important.

Last month I took the plunge and invested in the skybar one, the single bottle wine preservation system. So far, I am impressed.

The skybar wine system is a countertop system and it is about an inch shorter than the cabinets in our kitchen. For the most part this is okay, but if you need to change the type of wine you want to preserve you have to pull the system out to change the settings.

This is a good problem to have though, the strength of the skybar one system is its versatility and ease of use. The system allows you to set the preserving temperature based on wine type or you can manually set the temperature. I cools the wine down quickly, and except for when it is first starting up, it is quieter than other wine chillers I have used. Loading a bottle is simple, as is serving the wine.

The big test comes with the taste. We've loaded a bottle into the system each week, switching between red, white and rosé. Each bottle has lasted for the full week, in fact the red wine we tested was significantly better by the end of the week than at the start.

I definitely feel the skybar one was worth the $229 we paid for it on Amazon, especially if you only drink a glass or so a night.

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Win 120 Bottles of 2010 Bordeaux!

Date: Wed, May 8, 2013 Wine Tasting

Praise for the 2010 vintage in Bordeaux continues to grow and now you have a chance to win 120 bottles of 2010 Bordeaux -- 1 bottle from each of the Grands Crus.

The contest is sponsored by Bordeaux negotiant Millesima USA, who will be at the Weekend des Grands Crus next weekend as well!

To enter the contest, visit the Millesima Contest Page, answer a couple of questions about Bordeaux and you will be entered.

This is a unique opportunity to own an amazing vintage, and the beauty of it is that even if it takes you forty years to drink all that wine it will still be good.

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Why We Should Celebrate Virginia Rosé

Date: Tue, May 7, 2013 Wine Tasting

Virginia Rosé (#varosé) is coming up on the 29th of May, so I wanted to take a minute and talk about the importance of rosé wine in Virginia. First, out of 228 wineries in Virginia 82 of them produce a rosé. That means 36% of Virginia Wineries are making a rosé. That is the same number of wineries that produce a Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Secondly, American wineries tend to make bad rosé. Alder Yarrow wrote about the problems with American rosé back in 2010:

Of course, this isn't the first time I've cursed in frustration at the sorry state of rosé in this country, but what I don't understand is why it doesn't really seem to be getting any better. It's not like there aren't plenty of examples of how to do it well. It's not like American winemakers haven't managed to figure out how to make decent Pinot Noir. It could hardly be as difficult as growing The Heartbreak Grape.

The only reason I can think of for the pitiful state of rosé in this country is that most consumers don't know the difference between good rosé and bad. Otherwise why in the world would they keep drinking Merlot that is only one or two shades of red lighter than the wine it was pulled out of a few days earlier? Or maybe it's just that most American winemakers are too lazy to be bothered with learning how to make rosé properly and can't be bothered to pick their grapes before they hit 26 Brix?

While I can't say I have seen improvement in much of the rest of country, rosé in Virginia has gotten significantly better in just a few short years. Virginia winemakers are showing more respect for rosé and it shows in the quality and finesse of some of the best Virginia rosé wines.

I think the knowledge amongst winemakers that their rosé is being compared to other winemakers locally, and around the world, is driving continued experimentation and improved quality.

And there is a demand for it. A study done in 2011 shows Americans love for rosé is continuing to grow:
Americans’ awareness of and demand for dry rosé is increasing. The reasons for its popularity likely include the rise of younger, more adventurous wine consumers, an appealing color, an attractive price point, and an accessible flavor profile.

Projections show this growth trend continuing. According to a Vinexpo study, U.S. consumption of rosé wine is forecast to rise by nearly 10%, from 565 million bottles in 2008 to 620 million bottles in 2012.

The point is, next time you are out at Virginia winery pay close attention to the rosé, it is another area where Virginia winemakers shine.

Also, make sure you pick up a bottle to celebrate #varosé day on May 29th!

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Budbreak in Loudoun County

Date: Sun, May 5, 2013 Wine Tasting

I love budbreak. It is the time of the year when the vintage holds the most potential and excitement. We started seeing budbreak in Virginia a couple of weeks ago and now the vines are growing like gangbusters.

These images were taken today at Breaux Vineyards, Fabbioli Cellars, Lost Creek Winery and Casanel Vineyards. Bonus points for any commenters who can pair the vines with the vineyards.

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Why the Virginia ABC is Horrible

Date: Sat, May 4, 2013 Wine Tasting

Virginia has a great wine industry which routinely produces wines that win awards in judgements around the world. But, it is more than that, not only are Virginia wineries winning awards around the world they are being sold across the country and around the world in Great Britain, France, China and more.

But more than that, Virginia wine benefits from the enthusiasm and excitement that wine lovers across the State show for the wine. Whether they are bloggers, wine aficionados or the Governor and the First Lady the biggest advocates for the Virginia wine industry are the people of Virginia.

Then there is the Virginia ABC. The purpose of the Virginia ABC is to collect revenue from the sale of alcohol and ensure that companies who are selling alcohol remain within the law by not selling to people who are underage or drunk. We can all agree that this is a necessary function and we are glad they are doing it.

The problem is with the way the Virginia ABC carries out his mission. As most of you know we had to cancel the our Wine & Cheese Tasting Fundraiser to Fight MS. The reason for the cancellation is that we ran afoul of the ABC, even though we thought we were doing everything correctly.

We ran into a problem last year with getting ABC approval, but working with an agent we were able to resolve any issues. This year we were set to do the same thing when I received a call from an ABC agent last Friday. The agent started off the conversation by telling me I was committing a Class 1 Misdemeanor. There was no interest in her part in finding out what we were doing or how we did it last year. There was also no interest on her part in working with us. This is an event where a dozen people have donated their time and money to bring it together and we had seven wineries who were willing to donate wine and time to raise money for a good cause and the only concern of the agent was how the ABC was going to collect taxes. The agent also implied that if we did figure out a way to host the event, it would be under heavy ABC scrutiny.

I am not advocating, and would not advocate, violating ABC rules. However, there is no reason for a confrontational attitude in a case like this. We were hosting the event in a hotel that maintains an ABC license and the wine was being poured by wineries who hold ABC licenses. No one would do anything to jeopardize those licenses. I consider most of the wineries who would be pouring friends and would not want to do anything that would get them in trouble -- but starting the conversation off by assuming I am a criminal doesn't inspire confidence that the ABC is willing to work with us to figure out a solution.

if this were an isolated incident that would be one thing. But, the ABC in Virginia seems to have gone nuts lately trying to beat down the Virginia Wine industry. An industry, that pours more than a billion dollars into the state economy.

Last year, the ABC came down hard on Virginia Wineries who engage in barrel tastings. Barrel tastings are a wine tradition the world over. En Primeur in Bordeaux is built around tasting wine from the barrel and the highlight of any premier wine tour in Napa is the ability to try the vintage in the barrel. Barrel sampling also affords consumers the opportunity to purchase futures, based on the way the wine is developing in the barrel.

ABC has made performing barrel tastings so onerous that most wineries won't do them any more. For a young wine region with a lot of potential -- not being able to conduct barrel tastings can do a lot of damage to the reputation of the region.

Finally, the ABC has made it a habit to target certain wineries. For whatever reason some wineries get on the radar of the ABC and the agents become tenacious in looking for violations. I won't mention the wineries, because I don't want to bring further reprisals on them, but there are wineries that have been repeatedly targeted with sting attempts, have had agents pouring over every transaction and are punished for things that are routinely overlooked when other wineries do them. These are not wineries that flaunt the rules either, these are wineries that do their best to live within the ABC rules and still they are targeted.

Frankly, I am afraid that this out of control ABC is going to hurt the Virginia Wine industry, not to mention the fast growing Virginia craft beer industry and burgeoning spirits industry. I call on Governor McDonnell and the Virginia Assembly to look into complaints against the Virginia ABC and do what you can to keep them in check.

I would also like to ask for your help. With the loss of the event, Jacki's Determined Soles has lost thousands of dollars off their fundraising goal for the year. If you have a few dollars to spare and can make a donation they would appreciate it. All money goes directly to the Washington Chapter of the National MS Society and is tax deductible. We are going to try to host the event later this year, after we re-group, but in case we can't I know they would appreciate the donation. Thank you!

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Discount Tickets to Weekend des Grands Crus in Bordeaux

Date: Thu, May 2, 2013 Wine Tasting

The Weekend des Grands Crus de Bordeaux is, by far, my favorite annual wine tasting event (aside from En Primeur). It is a chance for everyday wine drinkers to try wine from some of the best Châteaux in Bordeaux and do it in the city of Bordeaux!

The UGCB is offering a discount on tickets for the Grand Tasting to their Facebook fans. Follow this link and like the UGCB Facebook page. You will then be able to purchase tickets to the Grand Tasting for 51 € instead of 60 €.

If you are going send me an email and we can meet up!

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The 2012 Bordeaux En Primeur Campaign from 6159 Kilometers (Part 1)

Date: Wed, May 1, 2013 Wine Tasting

I was really excited about the En Primeur campaign in Bordeaux this year. After the excitement of 2009 & 2010 and the challenges with the 2011 campaign it would be nice to see a normal campaign. Unfortunately, I was not able to make it - I will be going out in May for the Weekend des Grands Crus des Bordeaux -- but I watched the action closely and wanted to share my thoughts.

Before you read further stop and read Gavin Quinney's weather report on the Liv|EX blog.

A couple of weather highlights that are important to note. While the summer was nice and hot, after October 6th much of Bordeaux was wet, which means that grapes which ripened early such as the whites of Pessac-Léognan and the Merlot-centric Saint-Émilion tended to do better (there are never any absolutes in Bordeaux). For the second year in a row, Château who invested in optical sorting machines and other technologies to improve sorting during harvest benefitted greatly from that investment.

It is also clear that the age-old game of finding previous vintages to compare this year's harvest to is becoming more difficult. Wine writers still talk about the weather from one year to the next. But vineyard care, harvesting techniques, sorting and care in the tanks have improved so dramatically over the last few years that going forward it will be hard to find a truly bad vintage in Bordeaux.

it was also important to understand each vineyard plot, from Chateau Kirwan:

After a mild month of March, cold rain in April delayed budding. A warm and dry May, and then a cold and wet June complicated blooming. Heat and drought from July 14 to September 23 lengthened the ripening process and generated significant stress. We even experienced the hottest August on record since 2003!
With all of these contrasts, the vines truly illustrated their ability to adapt to any condition. Our job was to help as much as possible by understanding and proceeding calmly. We worked on the plants or with the soil, vine by vine, as needed, according to the situation. This allowed the grapes to ripen, but slowly and behind schedule. In certain situations, we thinned the vines late in the ripening process, eliminating underdeveloped bunches for uniform ripeness. We also managed to keep our composure at the end of September, when the rains set in. The wet weather was far from a burden; it was a welcome booster for the physiology of the vine. While rainfall arrived a bit late for the almost-ripened Merlot, it greatly contributed to bringing the Cabernet to full maturity.
The harvest took place between September 28 and October 17 under mild skies with little rain. Perhaps even more than other years, the various plots required painstaking individual monitoring. We took our time tasting and analyzing the grapes, as phenolic maturity was reached long after the sugars and acids had developed. Inside the plots, substantial differences in heartiness and/or the nature of the soil led us to pick the grapes in two or three rounds and to sort the fruit according to strict criteria. Furthermore, as the grapes matured, the skins rapidly developed, leaving no leeway for timing the harvest. That is why we bided our time, waiting for each plot to mature and often suspending the harvest. However, each plot had to be picked quickly once it ripened. Thanks and congratulations go out to our team of grape-pickers, made up for the most part of regulars, who spent three weeks accommodating our diverse demands.

Harvest notes from all over Bordeaux show the same kind of extra care being taken throughout the vintage. From Chateau Cantenac-Brown:
Every day, foot by foot, cluster by cluster, the vineyard workers magnified what nature had given us. Even if the rain at the end of September gave us some doubts, the experience of the technical team allowed us to come out on top.
We started picking Merlot October 1st, and we finished the Cabernet Sauvignon on October 17th.
The botrytis that ambushed us never bothered our harvest. The deleafing and crop thinning done in the vineyards allowed for greater aeration and better exposition to the sun. This proved to be very beneficial.
All the grapes were sorted with care: first pass manually, at the entrance of the winery. Then a second time, in between the destemming and crushing, by hand or by optical sorting machine.
Only the best grapes reached the tanks. The first pump overs alleviated our concerns, the juice was beautifully colored, and the tannins were soft.

More tasting harvest notes and information about tasting notes tomorrow...

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Brane-Cantenac to Auction Eric Boissenot Photos During Vinexpo - to Raise Money for Solidair

Date: Thu, Apr 25, 2013 Wine Tasting

I wrote about the amazing pictures taken by Eric Boissenot that were on display at Château Brane-Cantenac during En Primeurs, now you have a chance to own one!

On June 17, during Vinexpo, Brane will be holding an auction of some of the best photos, with all proceeds going to benefit Solidair. The photos up for auction are originals, genuine silver prints on Barita quality paper. They measure 30X30 cm or 30X40 cm depending, they are all beautifully framed and signed.

You can see the different prints up for auction and get more details on their flip book, there is also a form if you would like to bid on an item but will not be present at Vinexpo (information is available in French and English). The auction is being conducted by Jamie Ritchie, CEO of Sotheby's Wine USA & Asia.

Here is a great video in which Dr. Chastan describes his work with Solidair.

More details;

Why Doctor Philippe Chastan, MD and Solidair ?
The idea of selling Eric Boissenot’s exceptional photographs came to us one day when discussing the success of his exhibit and the next steps to follow up on it. Many were the guests who had expressed their desire to purchase those pictures…When we met Doctor Philippe Chastan, it became clear that his values were equal to ours and his charity organization, discreet yet indispensable, was well worth being supported. Rather shy, never bragging about his achievements, his perilous flights or his generous gifts, Doctor Chastan livens up when he talks about his African MD friends, their enormous needs and their absolute destitution in most improbable, God forsaken places such as the Bijagos Islands in Guinea Bissau (check on the map!). At Brane, we favor quality and efficiency, just as Solidair. That’s why we get along so well!

A specialist in digestive surgery and abdominal lining, the world renowned Doctor Chastan is also an experienced pilot in his spare time, even though he does not have much of it. A passionate amateur of small planes, he has dedicated himself to the needy for almost 20 years. In 1995, when still a young pilot, after participating in a humanitarian raid to Africa, he decided to create Solidair to raise funds in order to finance charitable organizations and actions in Mali, Burkina Faso or Ethiopia. Regions whose names are synonymous with famine and misery. But the deceit caused by unscrupulous customs officers or administrative corruption led him to get involved personally and orchestrate his own actions. This is when Doctor Chastan made the decision to deliver surgical tools, hi-tech machinery and medicines himself (100 000 euros worth!).

For the last 8 years, he has been flying to Africa on a regular basis, along with three other pilot friends, distributing video cameras, and surgical supplies for operating and resuscitation rooms. For instance, he contributed to the creation of the first laparo-surgical center in West Africa, with Professor Sangaré in Bamako (Mali) thus giving him not only sophisticated tools but also spending precious time training 60 surgeons for 3 days. Numerous are the doctors who from Mopti in Northern Mali, to Dakar, via Ouagadougou, have benefited from the generous donations of Doctor Chastan. Many are the Africans who could be operated on by laparoscopy or resuscitated from a heart attack thanks to a defribrillator which came from France by air! Micro-computers, automatic prongs, ultrasonic echographs, respirators, monitors, cardioscopes…beds,clothing, without forgetting technical training; you name it, they received it. Basically all that is needed by those African doctors who lack the bare essentials but certainly not courage and tireless dedication. ‘Why send these goods by air?’ one may ask. “First for the fun, of course” says Philippe Chastan “because each flight requires months of preparation and a total involvement. But also to get to the heart of the matter directly and without middlemen. We reach the poorest, the neediest in the depths of the continent”. Where we know the equipment will not be stolen or re-routed, where we know there are precious lives to be saved and where those who are in charge of human souls think about eradicating diseases before thinking of their own fame.

Each year, Doctor Chastan gathers material and medicines from pharmaceutical companies and hospitals who generously donate them to his cause, but the financing of these expeditions is entirely up to him. This is why we have chosen to give him all the money from this auction in order to help him increase his well-targeted actions and reach new destinations, such as Romania or Albania.

Information about Jamie Ritchie:
“I am honoured to be part of this wonderful evening, which will combine the arts of winemaking and photography with raising much needed funds for such a worthwhile charity: Solidair”

Jamie Ritchie will be conducting this auction, donating his services to benefit Solidair. We are extremely grateful to him for his precious time and energy, especially when so many events are taking place during Vinexpo.

Mr. Ritchie has just celebrated his 21st Anniversary with Sotheby’s. He joined Sotheby’s London in 1990 and was responsible for launching Sotheby’s first wine sales in New York in 1994, moving to the United States in 1995, when he was appointed Head of Sotheby’s North American Wine Department.

More recently, he expanded Sotheby’s wine auction business with the company’s launch of wine auctions in Asia, with sales in Hong Kong reaching US$98 million in 2011. Mr. Ritchie is one of the world’s leading wine auctioneers and was one of the auctioneers at each of the 16 consecutive Hong Kong “white glove” auctions, selling 10,202 consecutive lots (without an unsold lot).

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Guard Your Vines Here Come the Cicadas!

Date: Thu, Apr 11, 2013 Wine Tasting

After 17 years of hibernation the Cicada swarm, known as Brood II, is set to return. Which means in a few weeks, perhaps as long as a month, millions of Cicadas will be filling the air and making a constant racket while their one-every-seventeen-years mating ritual commences. It also means:

Females place eggs on thin tree limbs, and six to eight weeks later, nymphs hatch and pour to the ground. They burrow their way to tree and plant roots, where they suck their juice.

That sounds potentially bad for grape vines. What is interesting about that question is that 17 years ago, there wasn't much of a Virginia Wine industry, so I wasn't sure how much institutional knowledge there would be around Cicada attacks on vines.

Fortunately, Virginia Wine Legend Lew Parker, from Willowcroft Winery, was making wine in Loudoun County then and was willing to share some thoughts about Cicadas and their impact on vines:
My how time flies. Yes, I remember the last 17 year cicada rising. The night time noise was impressive, but the damage to the vines depends on the age and status of your vineyards.

In answer to your first question, one must remember that the cicadas are not up out of the ground to eat, but to mate. They eat underground. So we saw no damage to grape foliage. The only damage is when the female gets ready to lay her eggs and uses her ovipositor to slit the bark on the vine for that purpose. If you have just planted a new vineyard or a second leaf vineyard, and are bringing up trunks to the wire, this can be damaging because this ovipositor slit can injure the new shoots and trunks and cause you to need to start over again and replace them. Later, damaged cordons could develop from this injury and impair productivity. A vineyard that is cane pruned could also see some damage in the canes. We had a young vineyard the last time the cicadas came and wrestled with replacing some of the trunks and cordons for a couple of years.

For older established vineyards, we saw minimum damage in our spur pruned vines. The insect lays eggs in the new wood, so existing old cordons are not threatened. If you have older spur pruned vines, you are in a better position to avoid damage.

As far as anything vineyards owners can do to protect their vines:
In answer to your second question, I don’t know what can be done to avoid damage. It’s a question for the viticulturists. For Willowcroft, we will take no steps on our older vineyards. In our younger vineyards, we will probably also wait and try to correct any issues by later pruning. During the last outbreak, one of our neighbors had a young vineyard and used some sort of clay to cover the vines. I don’t know how it worked for them.

It's just another day in Virginia Wine. if it is not heat, cold, hail, stinkbugs, then of course it is Cicadas!

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Pre-Sale Tickets Now Available for Wine & Cheese Fundraiser

Date: Thu, Apr 11, 2013 Wine Tasting

Good news, you can now purchase advance tickets for the Wine & Cheese Fundraiser to Fight MS!

This is your chance to try wines from the following wineries:

All paired with a variety of cheeses. So, get your tickets now and we will see you on May 5th from 1:00 to 3:00!

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And The Winner Is....

Date: Tue, Apr 9, 2013 Wine Tasting

Last Friday, coinciding with the release of the Jane Anson book Bordeaux Legends in the United States, we had contest on CellarBlog to give away a copy of her book. We asked readers to email us with the answer to the following question:

The question is: There are 6 red varietals that can be used in Bordeaux wine: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec, and _______?

The correct answer is: Carménère. And the winner of the contest is Danielle Steelman! Congratulations Danielle!

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