For years, I've been hearing winemakers gush about the special fruit from Virginia's 'Honah Lee' mountain vineyard, so I reached out to the owners to learn more about it.
Yes, Honah Lee is named after the mystical land in Peter, Paul, & Mary's 'Puff, The Magic Dragon' song. The vineyards start around 650 feet and rise up to the top, where you'll find some old-vine viognier at about 1,000 feet. Two turkey barns sit in the middle of the vineyards. Here's a link to their full story.
In 2016 I was researching for an article about passito wine. At the suggestion of a winemaker friend, I took up a tiny project to learn more by going through the process and making a small amount of it. I thought I could gain more insights into the production side if I watched a wine through from harvest to bottling. With the help of some friends, I harvested about 10 small lugs of grapes, dried them by fan, pressed them in a tiny basket press, and fermented the juice in a glass demijohn. I held back a small beaker of inoculated juice to add to the demijohn of must-- but only as a last resort if I couldn't get a ferment started with the native yeasts.
I lost the demijohn of wine to a bad fermentation. But I did make about eight tiny bottles of tasty passito dessert wine from the beaker-- meager gains from a small experiment. Though the amount of wine is insignificant in the grand scheme of things, I learned much about winemaking in the process. The palpable, tactile joys of handling the grapes, the smells and sounds of a fermentation-- all these things brought me closer to wine.
Hearing the satisfying "glug" as a gas bubble first made its way through the air-lock and signaled fermentation had begun, watching CO2 bubbles churn during the fermentation as tiny universes of yeast worked through their micro-life-cycles, and performing mundane tasks like siphoning without disturbing lees-- all the small decisions-- increased my appreciation for the motions and quotidian labors of winemaking. I always knew these things happened, but by performing them, I saw them in a new light.
Outside of educational experiments for professional growth, I still approach 'sommelier winemaking' with extreme caution. And yet, just yesterday I found myself bottling some experimental PetNat to see what happens... There's a certain gravitational force that pulls a wine lover to make wine. I already relish the day when I can pop the first bottle of PetNat, irregardless of what quality it might embody. I'm now viscerally connected to that wine and to this vintage. I can only imagine that this fierce connection to the casual wines I've "made" must be much more intense for the great winemakers of the world.
A splendid chameleon, the 1980 Musar white presents differently every time you stick your nose into the glass, and just when you think you can finally nail down what it is, it changes yet again. This is a wine to sit down with over the course of a day or two, and revisit every few hours.
I opened this up by myself, in a new house, with belongings in boxes that made cardboard skylines against a wall in each room. The 1980 Musar was a good choice to commemorate the experience. As I drank it, I had fleeting thoughts of insightful comments from the late Serge Hochar. I came for sips between the newly-freed contents of each settled box, and the wine slowly unpacked on me. It became a bottle inexplicably linked with the christening of my new home.
Once again, the phenomenology of wine emerged from a bottle whose producer had been intent to create such experiences.
In Serge's own words, (circa May 2013), "My white wine is for your brain. My white wine is way more complex than you could ever think. These whites mature long after the reds."
I'm frequently re-amazed at the nascent power of communication locked inside of wine bottles. The elemental expression of the producer-- or lack thereof-- can't help but be obvious.
A few months later, looking for that same bottled charm, I splurged and opened another 1980 Musar white, but it wasn't the same. How could it be? That's not what these wines were made for.
Rhone varieties have a storied history throughout California. A few months ago, I traveled throughout the state to chat with winemakers and learn about why they love working with Rhone varieties. I wove their thoughts together into an audio essay-- click here to listen to the podcast episode that tells their story.
A couple of weeks ago I teamed up with Booth Hardy of Barrel Thief (Richmond, Virginia) and Kim Prokoshyn of Rebelle (Manhattan, NY). We traveled to the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA in search of pinot noir for the Wine & Spirits Magazine Sommelier Scavenger Hunt.
We learned so much about the AVA! The Santa Cruz Mountains are so special-- this wine region has an altitude requirement which lifts most of the vineyards up above the fog line. You end up with small, meticulously farmed vineyards that on the tops of mountains. The vineyards are often surrounded by redwoods and eucalyptus trees. The smell of the forest can be sensed in the glass.
Check out our full report here.
Here is a recent article about Virginia's wine growth. Production, interest, and quality have all increased in the last decade....
I’m Erin, and I’m thirsty for drinks and the secrets they hold. Wine is my main game, but I’ve been known to love a cocktail here and there, and who doesn’t like a good beer on the regular? This blog is for wine/spirits/beer geeks. No beverage will be left unsipped!