Archive for March, 2012


Will Bud Break Lead to Heartbreak

Posted on Mar 25 2012 | By

 Likely Warmest March on Record Poses Threat to Virginia Wine Industry 

Spring is perhaps the scariest time of the year for vineyard managers. As life springs forth everywhere—driven by rising solar energy—a bracing northern chill can bring it to an end.

Frost. It’s a chilling thought.

Farmers of a variety of crops can be hurt by a spring freeze but growers of delicate wine grapes are particularly vulnerable. If a vine’s tender buds are frozen, they cannot recover as some plants indigenous to Virginia can.

From March 1 through the 22nd, over 6,000 daily temperature records have either been broken or tied across the Nation. And as tempting as it may be to cry “Global Warming”, experts finger the cause to an unrelated high pressure ridge from the tropics that has moved as far north as Canada. This air movement has been further amplified this past week as we saw temperatures soar into the eighties. Where’d I put that can of sunblock?

The effect of the warmth is obvious…things start to blossom and grow. Lawns are being cut and the beautiful redbuds and forsythia are arrayed in purples and yellows. In the vineyards, many vines have begun to bud.

The Old Dominion’s Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc are among the first vines to stir. In February of last year, I posted a story about one vineyard that sustained a mortal blow. The forecast for tomorrow night calls for temperatures around 32 degrees. ‘Tis scary.

Ironically, some vineyards at higher elevations may be more protected than their lowland cousins. A sloping vineyard permits cold air to run off the vines and pool outside the growing area. Conversely,vineyards that are on flat terrain or slightly depressed are particularly defenseless to frigid air settling in and freezing the tender shoots.

Actions can be taken to protect the vines ranging from using wind machines, spraying the vines with water to insulate the buds—or for deep-pocket vineyard owners—employing helicopters to force warmer upper air down on the vines. Nonetheless, many vineyards will remain unprotected if cold air comes calling.

With forecasts around the state calling for a possible freeze tomorrow evening, it’s nail biting time for many vineyard shepherds. And the last expected frost date in Virginia is May 10, some six weeks off.

So here’s a plea to all Virginia wine lovers: please keep your wine glasses crossed for the next month or so.


Categories : WINE ARTICLES

 American Wine Society Recognizes Two Virginians for Industry Contributions 

The American Wine Society–originally organized in 1967 at the winery of the legendary Dr. Konstantin Frank—culminated its 44th national conference in Rochester, NY on November 11, 2011 by honoring two men with close ties to the Virginia wine industry.

pixGordon W. Murchie received the Award of Merit, the highest honor bestowed by the society. Murchie, one of the most recognizable wine names in the Old Dominion, has forged a storied second career promoting Virginia and the Eastern US wine industry since his retirement as a Foreign Service Officer in 1993.

Murchie’s numerous accomplishments include:

  • President of the Vinifera Wine Growers Association from 1989 to 2008.
  • Executive Director of the Virginia Wineries Association from 1999 to 2005.
  • Preeminent leader and advocate in the growth and quality-focused development of both the Virginia and Eastern U.S. wine industries.
  • Served on the board of the National Wine Coalition in 1991 and as its Executive Director from 1993 to 1996. In this role, he laid the groundwork for the U.S. Congressional Wine Caucus.
  • Executive Director of the Licensed Beverage Information Council and legislative Chairman for the World Association of the Alcohol Beverage Industries, Inc.
  • Tireless advocate on behalf of the wine industry to U.S. Congresses, administrations, Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau and international organizations since 1993.

One notable achievement familiar to Virginia wineries was Murchie’s role in founding the Mount Vernon Wine Festival, held twice yearly on the grounds of our first President’s home. Selection to participate in the festival is one of the more coveted honors a Virginia winery can receive.

Jim Law Winter Pruning

“I appreciate the time and effort Gordon has devoted to advancing the industry for two reasons: one, I don’t do it nor do I have the time; and two, I’m in awe of those who contribute to the extent he has. Gordon has actively advanced the growth of East Coast wine for the last few decades and his commitment has borne ripe fruit,” says Jim Law, owner of Linden Vineyards and one of the Mid-Atlantic’s leading vintners.

Lucie Morton, an international vinicultural consultant and lecturer, says, “Gordon Murchie has been a rootstock in the renaissance of Mid-Atlantic wine growing.”  Praise from the likes of Law and Morton is not easily earned and reflects the respect the gentleman has earned in the Commonwealth and beyond.

“It’s gratifying to receive this award.  My wife Anita and I have enjoyed our work on behalf of the industry. Over the years, we have met untold numbers of wonderful people in the East Coast wine scene. The memories are treasured,” Murchie says.

Dave Barber received the Outstanding Member Award at AWS’s annual conclave in recognition of his valued service.  Barber is the business consultant for Hartwood Winery in Fredericksburg, VA.  He is also an International Certified Judge, participating in a number of wine competitions.

His award highlighted his many achievements, including:

  • Chapter Chairs of the Philadelphia and Northern Virginia AWS; the latter position he has held from 1986 to present.
  • Coordinated the 1989 AWS Amateur Wine Competition.
  • Served as Virginia Regional Vice President of the AWS for eight years beginning in 1992.
  • Graduated from the Wine Judge Certification Program in 1988. He has been an instructor for the program from 1990 until the present. His dedication as a leader and mentor raised judging standards and assisted the AWS in achieving a reputation for qualified judges and reputable wine competitions.

pixBarber says, “It is truly an honor to be recognized by the American Wine Society.  My work with AWS has been one of the most rewarding of my life. I look forward to many more years of advancing our region’s cause.”

Murchie and Barber are also active in the Atlantic Seaboard Wine Association, ASWA.  Murchie serves as President Emeritus for the organization formerly known as the Vinifera Wine Growers Association, and is an elected member of the Virginia Wine Council. Barber is a member of the ASWA Board of Directors.

The association’s current president is Carl G. Brandhorst, an illustrious wine educator and a certified wine judge with national credentials. Brandhorst is also regional officer of the American Wine Society, Chapter Board Member of the German Wine Society, and travels widely in furtherance of his wine expertise.

ASWA is the preeminent East Coast wine association with numerous achievements, including:

  • Organized in 1973 as the Vinifera Wine Growers Association, it was among the first wine trade associations on the East Coast.
  • Promoted the planting and harvesting of the European Vitis Vinifera wine grapes inVirginiaand the Mid-Atlantic.
  • Organized and conducted the first Virginia wine festival and competition.
  • First organization to present Virginia and other East Coast wines at the WineTECH/grapeTECH, and Unified Wine and Grape Symposiums, as well as conduct public wine tasting lectures on the West Coast.
  • Organize and conduct the annual wine awards and tasting reception on Capitol Hill in cooperation with the U. S. Congressional Wine Caucus.

Men such as Gordon Murchie and Dave Barber have done much to advance the cause of East Coast wine. Mid-Atlantic wine lovers are fortunate to have such talent and commitment working on their behalf.

Published in the Spring 2012 edition of the Virginia Wine Gazette. 

Categories : WINE ARTICLES

                                                                                                                  Book Review

Beyond Jefferson’s Vines

The Evolution of Quality Wine in Virginia

By Richard G. Leahy
Sterling, 230 pages, $19.95

In 1809, Thomas Jefferson, contemplating the future of making wine from Vinifera grapes wrote his friend John Adlum, stating, “I think it will be well to push the culture of that grape (Alexander) without losing time and effort in search of foreign vines, which it will take centuries to adapt to our soil and climate.”

Jefferson’s observation was prescient. It would be two centuries into the future before Vitis vinifera grapes would prosper in abundance in the Old Dominion.

Today, some 230 wineries are operating throughout the state with over 80% of the vines being Vinifera; a species that produces 99% of the world’s wine. Mr. Jefferson would be pleased.

Science, coupled with perseverance, has produced a vibrant wine culture in Virginia that is on the cusp of national and international recognition. It couldn’t be timelier then to have a book appear that explores the Commonwealth’s vinous achievements and showcases the men and women who are the driving force behind the revolution.

Author Richard Leahy, who interestingly enough, lives near Monticello, has created a career as a wine educator and promotional maven. His writing centers on the Virginia and East Coast wine industries. His Wine Report chronicles his writings and travels.

Beyond Jefferson’s Vines takes the reader on a tour of selected Virginia wineries, spending time with owners and winemakers to better assess how the state has catapulted itself into the top five wine producing states in the Nation.

The journey begins with a thumbnail sketch of the state’s wine history centered on a visit by the Circle of Wine Writers, a predominately British group of journalists and lecturers, who travelled to Virginia in 2010 to experience first hand its winemaking and wines. The scene is set next to the re-planted vineyard at Monticello; an appropriate venue for the beginning of a leisurely tour of all the major wine regions in the state.

The excursion itself starts with a visit to the eponymous RdV Vineyards in Delaplane, owned an operated by Rutger de Vink, a talented and committed vintner producing Bordeaux reds that have garnered surprising critical acclaim for his first two vintages.

de Vink has raised more than a few eyebrows among the state’s winemakers for his flash-like leap to prominence. Reputations in the industry are generally hard-earned and there are some who question the accolades being extended to the creative artisan. Nonetheless, he earned his bona fides as an apprentice to noted winemaker Jim Law and has established a following of wine lovers eager to see if time will confirm his initial impressive bottlings.

Jim Law, Dennis Horton, and Luca Paschina receive early on attention given the out-sized roles they’ve played in Virginia. These are men who will be chronicled in the future as major contributors to the industry-wide advancement of what grapes to grow and how to craft the best wines.

It’s not widely known that Jefferson worked tirelessly for thirty years trying to produce a palatable wine but without success. Thus, it’s intriguing to learn the owner of Phillip Carter Winery, Philip Strother, discovered through diligent research that Charles Carter successfully made wines in the mid-eighteenth century—nine years before Jefferson planted his first vines.

In 1763, Carter shipped a dozen bottles of wine to England from grapes grown in his vineyard.  He earned a gold medal for his efforts. It is the first recorded history of successful wine grape production in Virginia using European vines.

The reader is then guided on a fascinating tour of the state’s wine regions, including; the Tidewater, Northern, Central, Southern, Blue Ridge Highlands and Shenandoah Valley appellations. Along the way, personalities—known and new—are profiled, offering perspectives on career backgrounds and wine philosophies of a broad and diverse group of owners and winemakers. Only a select number of businesses are highlighted given the sizeable number of wineries in the state but it produces a rich tapestry of the industry as a whole.

A transition device used between visits is driving directions leading to the next winery on the tour, creating a useful guide book within the larger work itself.

The role the state government has played in building the industry is explored in a separate chapter. One learns that Governor Robert McDonnell signed into law last year a bill requiring the portion of the wine liter tax collected from the sale of wine produced by farm wineries be deposited in a Virginia Wine Promotion Fund. These revenues now total $1.35 million annually; double the previous amount and further advancing efforts to promote the industry’s growth.

Moving beyond the winery journeys and government support, Leahy pays respect to the small but increasing cadre of wine women in the Commonwealth. From legends such as the internationally known viticulturist Lucie Morton to Christine Lezzi, a regional wine distribution executive, to winemakers and vineyard managers such as Jeanette Smith, Kirsty Harmon, Amy Steers, Debra Vascik and Emily Hodson Pelton; fascinating women all who are contributing to the state’s repute.

Richard Leahy

Leahy also focuses his attention on how the national wine media is increasingly noting the accomplishments occurring within the state. For years, positive reviews were hard to come by but today as proprietors and winemakers set the bar higher the media is taking note.

Closing out the book, the phenomenon of exporting Virginia wine overseas is examined. The nascent but growing overseas distribution of Virginia wine by entrepreneur Christopher Parker and his company, New Horizon Wines, has almost single-handedly raised the profile of the state’s wine in Great Britain.  Overseas acclaim and acceptance is emblematic of the broader recognition unfolding stateside.

Beyond Jefferson’s Vines is a valued addition to current genre of wine writing. It’s clean, straight forward prose and broad scope assures its use as both a who’s who of  Virginia wine and a ready reference for readers who will be drawn back to its informative content often.



Categories : WINE ARTICLES

Spring Break

Posted on Mar 07 2012 | By

Turning the Corner on Winter with Old Friends & Mountain Trails 

Take seven friends, fifteen miles of mountain trails, a cabin built in 1933, and late winter weather serving as a backdrop, and you’ll find a cure for any wintry blues that might be obscuring your life view.

And oh, throw in a couple of strangers to further brighten things up.

Son-in-law Drew & the old man

So it was on March, 2, 3 and 4, that I spent a rewarding three days in the Shenandoah National Park. I’ve been backpacking for over two decades. It began as a defensive measure when my four teenage children began to lose interest in Dad’s car and cabin camping trips and discovered girlfriends, boyfriends and cars. The great outdoors fell by the wayside as the young’uns got on with their lives.

Since the mid-eighties, I have logged hundreds of miles on Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and western region mountain trails enjoying every footfall. The central focus is to lace up the boots and hoist the pack with both old friends and new.

During warmer months my trips are exclusively tenting events. But when winter comes round, a snug cabin after a full day on the trail is captivating. And it’s an indulgence easily acted upon by renting one of the numerous rustic cabins maintained by the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club.

Range View Cabin

In early January, I reserved Range View Cabin in the North District of the SNP and issued a clarion call to my backpacking friends to join me; seven of them responded and the March trip was on.

The long weekend was divided into two parts. Since I’m retired I elected to escape into the forest on Friday morning and was joined by another retiree who has logged many trail miles with me over the years. We drove up Skyline Drive to milepost 22, parked, and hiked a mile to the cabin. Securing our backpacks inside, we grabbed light day backs and headed out for a seven mile mountain loop, arriving back at the stone dwelling around 4 p.m.

As we approached our lodging, voices and barking dogs broke the mountain silence. Who are these people hangin’ round our humble abode, I wondered.

“How are you guys doing,” the stranger said. We’re doing just fine I thought, but what about you two?

Not so good. Two friends, ably prepared to complete their day’s backpack, were overtaken by adverse weather four miles short of their destination. Windy, pelting, cold rain is not conducive to enjoyable hiking as dusk is falling; especially after having already logged ten hard miles on the trail. It was serendipitous they passed our cabin just as we were arriving.

Trail Break

“Would you mind if we spent the night on your cabin porch?” one of the hikers inquired. Hmmm. Moment of truth. I had two more friends joining us that evening so the eight person cabin could accommodate more people. But strangers?  Instinct took over as I quickly assessed that the two trekers were solid citizens. “You’re in luck, we have room, come on in,” I said.

Later, when my friends arrived, an evening of warm camaraderie unfolded on the cabin porch as friends and strangers quickly became comrades. It didn’t hurt that our best new buddies—former military men—indulged in libations and stogies, a trait not often found among the outdoor set but one our crew engages in on every trip. Yep, outlaw backpackers, that’s us. And we happened to have run across two of our own. Sweet.

The next morning we parted with the two men and drove down to the morning side of the valley to meet the rest of our band. At 10am, eight hikers split into two groups at the traihead; one ascending Little Devil Stairs and the other the Keyser Run Trail. Two hours later we reassembled and group hiked the remaining four miles to the cabin. Cobalt blue skies and a fresh breeze driven by a cold front pushed the rain off to the east creating stunning views of the Shenandoah Valley below.

Saturday evening was a reprise of Friday’s celebration, sans our two newest mates. Old friends engaged in an evening of conversation, catching up with our lives since we had last gathered. The second evening was not a late one with the tired band hitting sleeping bags around 9 o’clock for a night of sound sleep.

We awoke Sunday morning to temperatures in the mid-twenties, prepared breakfast, packed up and hit the trail by nine. Our descent back to the cars was via the Piney Ridge and Hull School trails and included one dicey stream crossing. No one took a plunge, thankfully, and by noon we were bidding each other our goodbyes with promises of future trips to come.

To pull on a pair of hiking boots, throw a pack up on your back and wander over mountains trails with boon companions is the soul of a satisfying experience. It’s a primeval adventure in many ways, pulling you back to the essence of life.

Good friends. They’re hard to find, difficult to leave and impossible to forget.

Our stalwart group absent photographer Bob


Categories : HAGARTY TALES

Old House Vineyards, Culpeper County’s first vineyard and winery, has received the Chamber of Commerce’s 2012 Agribusiness of the Year Award.

The Chamber’s selection committee reviewed dozens of deserving candidates and chose Old House for its significant contributions to agriculture, tourism, and local business development.

“My wife Allyson and I are honored to be recognized for what we have built here at Old House,” says Pat Kearney, vineyard owner. “It’s been a lot of hard work. It’s gratifying to know we are contributing to the growth of the county’s business community.”

The Kearneys purchased their seventy-five acre abandoned alfalfa farm, located three miles east of Culpeper, in 1998. Their dream was to build a small winery and enjoy a more rural lifestyle with their family of three children. They lived in Fairfax County at the time of the purchase and subsequently moved to the Culpeper property.

After restoring an 1800s era farmhouse, they moved in and simultaneously used the residence as a home and tasting room. “Needless to say it was bit hectic in the early days. Raising a family in a place of business had its challenges,” says Pat smiling. Today, the family resides in a beautiful home on a small rise on the back of the property, within sight of their tasting room.

Old House Vineyards exemplifies how an entrepreneurial spirit can blossom into a valued asset for the owners, countless visitors and local businesses. The multiplier effect on the local economy has been dramatic in the fourteen years since the winery was founded.

Pat Kearney was operating a successful millwork firm in Springfield, Virginia when he purchased the farm. Today, Kearney & Associates, Inc. is located adjacent to the vineyard. The firm specializes in creating display cases, artifact mounts, dioramas and assorted graphics for museums nationwide.

“I enjoy my primary business. It lets me express my creative side. Allyson runs the winery operations on a day-to-day basis. It’s a heavy workload for the both of us but we love our life here in Culpeper,” says Kearney.

And the love shows. Over the years, the hard working couple has built an impressive property that attracts thousands of wine lovers from across the state and Nation.

After completing restoration of the original farmhouse, a four thousand square foot pavilion was built nestled next to a bucolic lake surrounded by vineyards. On a summer day the property is graced with picnicking couples and families, creating a scene out of a romantic movie.

The vineyard consists of twenty-one acres of grapes including Vidal Blanc, Chambourcin, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Tannat. The fruit produces about 36,000 bottles of wine a year and has won numerous awards. Currently, their winemaker is a young Frenchman named Thibaut Debourg who holds degrees in enology and viticulture, the scientific study of winemaking and grape cultivation.

Wedding at Old House Vineyards

Their successful wine operation has spawned a hospitality business that has seen dramatic growth over the years. Old House has already has booked twenty wedding parties in 2012 in addition to other corporate and family events that lease the screened-in lakeside pavilion.

“One of the wonderful benefits of our success is sharing it with other local businesses,” says Allyson. “We are always referring our guests and wedding parties to local B&Bs, restaurants, caterers, florists and other shops in Culpeper County. We’ve become good friends with so many of our fellow business owners,” she says.

Fred Furtado, a county resident who has enjoyed wine tasting with his wife Betsy at Old House, says, “I love the beauty and serenity of the place. The Kearneys and their staff are hospitable folks who make you feel at home. We always enjoy relaxing in such a peaceful setting.”

Reflecting on the success of Old House Vineyards, one is tempted to think of a pebble tossed into their serene lake and rippling outward in all directions. Culpeper County is, indeed, fortunate to have a business that is green, sustainable and generating economic success throughout the county.

The Culpeper Chamber of Commerce honored Old House Vineyards on March 2 with a ceremony held at the winery.

Published in the February 23, 2012 edition of the Culpeper Times.

Categories : WINE ARTICLES