Posts Tagged Blenheim Vineyards

Albemarle County’s Celebrity Wineries

11 August 2012

The wines of Virginia blew me away at the Wine Bloggers Conference, held last year in Charlottesville. I had no idea such great things were happening down there; after all, I’d never even sampled a Virginia wine before the conference. They’re not available in every corner grocery. And because of the rarity of these wines up north, I was excited to have the opportunity to return to Albemarle County and get my palate around a few more of these beauties.

Two wineries I put at the top of my list were Trump and Blenheim, owned by Donald Trump and Dave Matthews, respectively. I missed their wines entirely on last year’s visit, and I was curious how these celebrity wineries, set less than a mile apart from each other, would perform. Would Trump wines be overblown, lacking restraint and finesse? Would Blenheim’s be, as iTunes describes the Dave Matthews Band’s debut album, “long-winded” and “unfocused”? I was determined to find out.

The Trump Winery, as you might imagine, comes with quite a story. Trump purchased the winery from Patricia Kluge, a figure who is not beloved in the Virginia wine scene. She engaged in some major real estate bets and winery expansions just as the economy tanked in 2008, and lost much of her fortune, including her winery. A certain sommelier told me that he engaged in a little Schadenfreude, attending the auctions of her furniture, jewelry and wine, managing to purchase hundreds of cases for as little as $2.00 each (most cases of wine went for $14). But an assistant winemaker I spoke with said that Kluge was actually great for the Virginia wine industry. She brought in major winemaking talent, but no one could stand to work for her longer than a year or two. They would then quit, and go off to start their own wineries or find employment at existing ones.

Donald Trump purchased Kluge’s winery, as well as the front lawn of her palatial mansion (he’s waiting for the price on the house itself to go down, as it surely will, since Trump owns all the land right up to the front door). Amid all these shenanigans, Kluge Estate (now the Trump Winery) continued to produce acclaimed wines, and I wanted to try some myself. After a drive through some beautifully rolling countryside past notable landmarks such as Monticello, I found my way to the glossy tasting room.

Some Trump wines worked better than others. Calling the rather tart Chardonnay “Chablis-style” was a bit of an exaggeration; it lacked Chablis’ steely, minerally, focused vigor. The Sauvignon Blanc, rosé, and Bordeaux-style blends were all pleasant enough, but it was the sparkling wines, produced in the traditional Champenoise method, that really caught my attention. The Blanc de Blanc (100% Chardonnay) had a strawberry and honey nose, a touch of sweet apples on the palate, and ample but elegantly small bubbles. Berry notes marked the aromas of the Rosé as well. This blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir had some currants and yeast to it, along with those same delightful bubbles. The Blanc de Noir (100% Pinot Noir) had an almost jammy nose, but lemony acids, some yeastiness and a dry finish kept it balanced. Well, I suppose it makes sense that Trump’s Champagne-style wines were the most successful!

A two-minute drive away, Blenheim Vineyards has a dramatic vaulted tasting room overlooking a wide tract of vineyards. The space alone makes a visit worthwhile, particularly since you can bring your own picnic to enjoy with some Blenheim wine on the terrace. All of Blenheim’s wines had very prominent, food-friendly acids, and they would surely be fun with some picnic fare. But tasted without food, most of the wines were a little over-acidic for my taste. I did enjoy the Viognier, with its honeysuckle nose, tropical fruit flavors and limey acids, and the light-bodied Cabernet Franc, with surprising aromas of vanilla, dark fruit flavors and very bright acids. I wish I could have tasted these wines with food, because I suspect the acids would have felt more in balance.

Next Up: The four wineries you absolutely shouldn’t miss in Virginia.

A Weekend In The Country

2 August 2011

Monticello: The beginning of the U.S. wine industry

Now that I’ve undoubtedly frustrated you by describing all sorts of wonderful Virginia wines that you can’t find in your local wine shop, I thought I had better come up with a way for you to try them at the source. Here is a great itinerary for a long weekend in Virginia wine country:

Thursday: Fly to Charlottesville. If you’re coming from Chicago, take advantage of the new non-stop flights from O’Hare with American Airlines (my tickets cost about $215). Pick up a rental car at the airport and drive to the Clifton Inn, a manor house built by Thomas Jefferson for his daughter, set on 100 rolling acres. Check in and relax at this elegant estate before driving to downtown Charlottesville.

Have dinner along the historic pedestrianized Main Street, perhaps at the noted wine bar Tastings of Charlottesville. Return to the Clifton Inn for the evening. (If the Clifton Inn looks pricey, there are numerous charming bed-and-breakfasts and reasonably priced hotels in Charlottesville itself.)

Friday: Spend this morning at Monticello, Jefferson’s Palladian-style mansion. Wander the gardens, stand in Jefferson’s renowned wine cellar and tour the house itself, still decorated with Jefferson’s personal furnishings. The history and beauty of this great house are thrilling — it gave me chills to visit.

Drive to nearby Barboursville Vineyards, Virginia’s most famous winery, and have lunch in their renowned Palladio Restaurant. After a stroll along the vineyards to the evocative ruins of Governor Barbour’s mansion, tour the cellars and taste their superb wines. The nearby Horton Vineyards is also well worth a visit. Where else could you taste a sparkling Viognier, an Rkatsiteli, a Petit Manseng, a Tannat and a Pinotage, and have them all be delicious?

Return to Clifton for some time to relax at the infinity pool before dinner in their romantic gourmet restaurant. (more…)