Archive for July, 2010

New Hume Vineyards Producing Virginia Wines with French Touch

Stéphane Baldi grew up in France and lived in some of the most respected wine regions in the world. His family owned farms in Burgundy and later moved to the Loire Valley. But, they never grew grapes or made wine.

Nonetheless, the blood of a winemaker courses through Baldi’s veins. Perhaps there is a genetic throwback to his passion. Shortly after graduating from college his love affair for the fermented grape began to blossom in earnest; first as a consumer, then a collector—and following its natural evolution—a winemaker and owner of the new Hume Vineyards.

The young entrepreneur does not fit the profile of many of today’s Virginia winery owners who are enjoying second careers after successfully retiring from their chosen life’s work.

Stéphane, and his wife Andrea, are a couple that might be mistaken for up and coming, inside-the-beltway professionals, out for a day of winery hopping. And indeed, that is part of their current lifestyle as they delve into the art of winemaking and its marketing. But they are hopeful of transitioning their current business careers into full time winery owners.

If the past is prologue, success seems likely. Stéphane holds a PhD in social science and is a principal in a Georgetown firm doing work in the field of education for the federal government. Andrea also has a PhD and works for a research and consulting firm in McLean. Given the nature of their jobs, they are able to live full time on their fifty acre farm, commuting back to the city occasionally to meet with clients. The dovetailing of their professional careers and winery ownership provides them financial stability while launching their new business.

The Vision

The Baldis have a tightly focused vision for succeeding. “We want to be a boutique-styled winery producing small lots of quality wine that we only sell in our tasting room and at selected high-end wine shops and restaurants. Our goal is to ultimately produce around 5,000 cases annually. But, we are going to grow slowly and maintain quality,” states Stéphane. Currently, their production is 500 cases a year spread about evenly over four bottlings; Vidal Blanc, Chambourcin and two distinct Cabernet Sauvignons.

“During our travels, we fell in love with the wines of Paso Robles and Santa Ynez in California. Many of the best were coming out of smaller wineries creating exceptional wines. We wanted to produce a Virginia version of this exciting region,” Stéphane explains.

Tasting Room

The winery is located off Leeds Manor Road in Fauquier County, a few minutes from the historic village of Hume. It’s a bit ironic that folks are now imbibing wines in their tasting room which is located minutes from the old Barbee Tavern built in 1787, where travelers and locals alike sipped eighteenth-century refreshments such as cider, beer and whiskey.  Quality Virginia wine was still a few centuries away.

The couple evaluated some 200 properties before making the decision to purchase the land. “We wanted to be about sixty miles from DC but in a relatively undeveloped area that emphasized the beauty of a rural, agricultural region. Hume met all our needs,” explains Andrea.

Historic Land

The farm dates to 1883 and was established by John Carper whose family has a long history tied to the early days of Virginia farming. He built a log cabin on the site of the current farm house which has been renovated into a modern colonial style home. “During the course of expanding the home, built in the early 1900s, we found evidence of the original log cabin,” Andrea says. John Carper was laid to rest on the property and his grave overlooks the young grapevines, a crop he would have likely never seen during his lifetime.

In 1901, the Wright family purchased the farm and kept it in continual agricultural production until the Baldis purchased it three years ago. Thus, the legacy of farming the land will continue into the twenty-first century.

Currently, the winery has five acres of vines consisting of Merlot, Viognier, Petit Verdot and Chambourcin. Future plantings will include Sauvignon Blanc, Grenache, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, growing the vineyard to eleven acres of fruit.

The Winemaking

For most new wineries, the first few vintages are often produced using purchased fruit and the assistance of an experienced winemaker. This is somewhat true for the Hume Winery. The steep learning curve in cultivating vineyards, producing wines and opening a tasting room can be leveled under the tutelage of a professional.

“My relationship with our consultant is different than most. I am producing all of our wines and seek input on an as needed basis. I control the wine growing and winemaking and utilize a consultant to deepen my understanding of the nuances of the art,” Stéphane emphasizes. His skill as a vineyard manager and vintner is evidenced by the high quality of his first bottlings.

For the Baldis, the winery is a passion with callused hands. They manage every aspect of the business and are emblematic of a family run farm operation. There is no staff to provide assistance. Moreover, the winery commitments are balanced with the demanding requirements of their professional lives. “We only travel into the city as necessary. Our ultimate goal is to be working here exclusively. I love the farm. This was not Andrea’s dream originally, but mine. Now she has become an integral part of our winery and we are working together to make it a reality,” says Stéphane.

After visiting the peaceful setting of the Hume Vineyards, it’s easy to appreciate why one would want to abandon the rigors of a high pressured job requiring an extended commute. Even if it means working harder than ever.

Stephane & Andrea Baldi

Categories : WINE ARTICLES

John’s July Pick of the Month

Posted on Jul 29 2010 | By

Hume Vineyards




A popular French-American hybrid grape grown widely in the mid-Atlantic region, the Hume Vineyard’s “Sham-boor-san” stands above its typical rendition. Possessing a strikingly deep garnet color and alluring aromas of spice and plum, the wine engages the palate with smooth, even creamy, flavors of black cherry, spice, pepper and licorice. Pair this beauty with barbecue short ribs and corn on the cob. Drink now through 2014.

The grand opening for the Hume Vineyards was July 10.  It is located just south of the village of Hume, off Route 688 on Washwright Road. The tasting room is opened on weekends from noon to 6 PM on Saturdays and noon to 5 PM on Sundays. (540) 364-2587.

Categories : WINE ARTICLES

Six Wine Myths

Posted on Jul 03 2010 | By

We live in an age of science. A rational explanation exists for everything. Anyone relying on unproven tales from the past is simply out of step with the technology gods.

True? Well, not exactly.

We all love to cling to personal theories, home remedies, conjecture or simply “gut feel” to help us navigate through our world of insecurities.

A few examples: Most body heat is lost through the head. The darker the beer the higher the alcohol. Newton was hit on the head with an apple. Salem witches were burned at the stake. You must drink at least eight glasses of water a day. Cracking your knuckles causes arthritis.

All classic beliefs. All false.

OK. You get the idea. Now, let’s have some fun puncturing holes in a few wine myths.

Wine Improves with Age

Wine changes with age but for most moderately priced bottlings it does not improve in flavor, especially whites. Today, most wine is vinified to be enjoyed the day it was purchased—displaying fruit forward traits and bright, fresh tastes. As whites age they tend to oxidize, turning a golden hue and losing most of their youthful exuberance. Reds also lose fresh fruit characteristics and become somewhat flat as the years roll by.

Of course, high quality—read expensive—reds and whites from world renowned vineyards will evolve over time from a fruit and acidity center to ones with more compelling aromas and tastes. It is not unusual to discover notes such as earth, cedar, tar, pencil shavings, mushroom and similar complex characteristics in a twenty-five year old bottle of First-Growth Bordeaux. But, if you are paying less than twenty dollars for a bottle, drink up. Your purchase is not an investment, it’s tonight’s dinner companion.

Critics Know All the Answers

There’s no denying trained professionals know quality wine. But experience has shown that often the wines preferred by the experts are not the ones attractive to the average wine drinker. Pros have developed a more acute palate and tend to favor more complex tastes, traits the average person is not looking for in their wine.

Use the experts as a guide but rely more heavily on what your own taste buds are telling you rather than what a slick and expensive magazine purports as good. Better yet, develop a “go to” relationship with your local wine shop. Owners of these establishments work hard to identify your flavor profile and will consistently guide you to wines that create smiles.

Smelling the Cork is Important

The tradition of smelling the cork actually originated in France in the early 1900s when wine fraud was rampant. Shysters would bottle cheap wine in used expensive bottles and pawn it off as the real thing. An easy way to spot such fraud was to examine the cork and see if it bore the same châteaux name as on the label.

Over time, this evaluation test morphed into the practice of smelling the cork. Smelling the cork will tell you very little about the quality of the wine therein. When offered the cork by a waiter, accept it graciously and set it aside. Wait for an actual sip to learn if the wine is good.

White with Fish & Red with Meat

Years ago this was a faithful guide when ordering a dinner wine. Today, restaurant meals are often a fusion of many styles, opening up the possibilities for a variety of wine/food matches. While the old adage still has some merit, do not be bound by its restrictive guidance. Seek matches that also marry the weight, color, or spice notes of the wine with your entrée. Some examples are Pinot noir with salmon, dry Rosé with rosemary chicken, off-dry Riesling with Indian cuisine, and even champagne with potato chips. An almost endless number of wines will pair well with an array of dishes. Have fun discovering new matches.

Wine and Cheese Are a Perfect Match

Most everyone will agree that wine and cheese are tasty companions. But it can also lead to a diminution of wine flavor when the sipper coats his palate with the fat and protein of the cheese, thus disguising the true taste of the wine. One improbable study was conducted by Professor Hildegard Hildmann with the Sensory-Science lab at US Davis in CA a few years back. The professor found that when wine and cheese were tasted together in a laboratory environment, the wine came off a little less oaky and a little less fruity.

Hildmann also discovered every cheese she tested had the same dampening effect on every wine in the study—Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, whatever. It seems if you really want to assess the true flavor of a wine steer clear of all food, including cheese. But, hey, are we seeking a technical evaluation of our dinner wines or trying to meld the flavors of our food and wine for maximum enjoyment. So technically, this myth is, indeed, a myth. But who cares.

A “Reserve” Wine Means Quality

Surely the word “Reserve” on our bottle of wine means its special, right? Well, maybe. Or, maybe not. No one other than the winemaker knows for sure. The use of the word “Reserve” in the United States can mean anything the producer wants it to. There are no laws regarding its use.

Typically, it connotes a wine of higher quality, aged longer, vinified with better quality fruit and other conventional benchmarks used to identify fine wine. What is doesn’t mean is a guarantee that it possesses any these particular traits. Since there is no restriction on its use, be careful basing your buying decision solely because the word appears on the label.

The list could go on and on. The world of wine is replete with misinformation. The point is, when it comes to “facts” involving our beloved social lubricant challenge everything. You are your own best critic because only you know what you like.

For beginners, don’t be brow beat into thinking a White Zinfandel or a 3 liter jug of Burgundy is the height of poor taste. Yes, most ardent wine lovers steer clear of these inexpensive offerings. But many passionate drinkers started their early sipping career downing lesser known—and lesser respected—vinous products. Think Boone’s Farm.

In this age of science, rely on the most trustworthy expert available. Your own palate.

Published in the July 8 edition of the Culpeper Times.

Categories : WINE ARTICLES