Archive for April, 2012


Pearmund Cellars up for sale

Posted on Apr 27 2012 | By

 Fauquier County vintner positions himself for career shift 

Tracking Chris Pearmund down can be a challenge. The man is seemingly everywhere as he expands his wine realm.

Case in point: This writer recently placed a call to the wine maven and after the eighth ring heard him answer with a groggy, “Hello?”

Did I catch him at a bad time? “No, no, it’s four o’clock,” he responded. Indeed, it was exactly 4:05 p. m. “Not here. It’s four in the morning. I’m in Beijing.”

Ooops. Sorry about that.

But the ill-timed call was not surprising. The peripatetic wine merchant is constantly on the move as he consults, buys or sells wineries at a brisk pace.

His latest move is placing his original business, Pearmund Cellars, on the market. The asking price is $5 million. The property includes his home, twenty-five acres of land—fifteen in productive Chardonnay vines—and the winery. He has tasked two real estate agencies with extensive experience in the Virginia wine trade to find a buyer.

And if the new owner wishes to retain Pearmund as a consultant, he will oblige.

In January, Pearmund sold a seventy-five percent interest in his Winery at La Grange in Haymarket to a major Chinese firm, Beida Jade Bird. “The sale was valued at $5.6 million and I retained 25% ownership. I currently run the operation as the managing partner,” he said.

Pearmund’s quest is to advance the Virginia wine trade beyond the state’s borders and believes China is one of the lucrative markets. But he’s not limiting himself to just Virginia wine.

“There is a growing class of wealthy Chinese who are interested in an upscale lifestyle, including wine. Annual per capita consumption in China is less than one liter. Europe enjoys a 35 liter consumption rate and the US an eight liter. China has a huge potential for growth,” he says.

To underscore his point, he recently sold a container of Washington state wine—14,400 bottles—to a wealthy Chinese businessman who intends to gift a bottle to each of his employees. Pearmund will ship the wine with a customized corporate label affixed.

Chris Pearmund

Why his involvement in wine other than from Virginia? “I’d love to sell more Virginia product overseas but, frankly, there’s not enough of it. Over the last several years there’s been a five-fold increase in wineries in the state but only a two-fold growth increase in productive vineyards. There’s a looming shortage of fruit with a commensurate opportunity for growers,” he explains.

In the interim, Pearmund will shift gears and focus on both domestic and international sales of Virginia and other wines, primarily those from Washington State, where he has close ties with some of its industry leaders.

In addition, Beida Jade Bird has hired him as its consultant and spokesperson. The multi-billion dollar corporation is a high technology enterprise focused on the production of software and advanced technologies and has made a commitment to pursuing the wine trade. “The firm is eager to advance their wine business but needs resources to make that happen. I’ll be providing my expertise,” he says.

Pearmund explains his latest ventures were driven largely by Lyme disease he contracted two years ago. “I lost a year of productive work. Lyme robs you of both physical and emotional energy. I pretty much turned the operations of my wineries over to my senior staff, Melissa Stephan and DJ Leffin. They performed beautifully. When I began to recover my strength, I realized I didn’t have to manage on a day to day basis. It reduced my stress and opened doors to new projects,” he says.

One of those projects was attending the fifth annual wine show in Beijing where he was awakened by an inquisitive reporter. “It’s an amazing scene here. There are hundreds of wineries from around the globe pouring thousands of wines for Chinese buyers. Only five are from the US, and only one from Virginia—me,” he says.

With his vision extending well beyond the borders of the Old Dominion, will Pearmund be leaving the area? “I have no intention of moving out of Fauquier County. I’ve lived here since ‘84 and love the area and its people.”

By moving into international business, the former substitute school teacher and native from Great Britain is paralleling his father’s career, who is a senior vice president for a world banking association. “Not many people know my family is exceptionally successful. My father has been to China dozens of times over the last several decades. He’s pleased to see me make this move, especially with my focus on China,” he says.

And as for his health? “I’m almost fully recovered from the Lyme attack. I’ve been walking five miles a day here in Beijing, my diet is nutritionally sound and I’m still enjoying wine daily. I’m eager to see what I can accomplish in this new arena.”

Published in the April 27, 2012 edition of the Fauquier-Times Democrat.  

Philip Carter Winery Vineyards

Categories : WINE ARTICLES

Fermentation Fever

Posted on Apr 24 2012 | By

  The Wine Guy Adds Brewer to His Resume  

Its ten o’clock on a late September evening as I slip down to my dark wine cellar to observe white wines in late-stage fermentation.

As I shine a beam of light across the neck of a carboy, I stand in awe. A gazillion bubbles race up the sides and into the top of the six gallon glass jug. The air lock bubbles away. The exuberance of primeval fermentation transfixes me.

Boiling the wort

Fermentation has been used by man for thousands of years to make bread, cheese, yogurt, pickles, beer and wine. Essentially the action converts a carbohydrate such as sugar into an acid or alcohol. Eons ago earliest man harnessed this natural process to produce foods and beverages near to his heart. I relate to my ancestors’ ardor for the magic-like transformative process.

For eight years I have been a home winemaker. I’ve produced over 4,000 bottles of wine in my humble wine cellar. It’s an endeavor framed by challenge and satisfaction. To take fruit from the field and produce a libation that satisfies both body and spirit is rewarding. And it’s fun.

For a like period of time I have also been a home bread maker and its obvious derivative, pizza maker. My children and their families are known to clamor, “Dad, make your pizza when we come over tonight.” Not a problem.

Enter beer. Over the last two years, I have been a member of a local hiking club called Boots ‘n Beer. Its motto is “A drinking club with a hiking problem.” The group roams the trails of nearby Shenandoah National Park monthly. At the end of each ramble, we adjourn to a local pub to hoist a pint or two and have dinner.

While wine is my passion, the pub visits ignited an interest in microbrewed beers: Amber ale, Stout, Pilsner, India pale ale, American wheat, Bock, Porter, Vienna lager…the list is endless. I recognized a parallel between wine and beer. Both possess an incredible scope of styles and flavors. And both are produced by fermentation.

One reason for my previous low interest in beer was the bland and watery taste of most popular brands. Leading beer makers today produce light lagers that appeal to the widest audience. Unfortunately for me, they are boring; a grievous sin when it comes to alcohol consumption. Give me body, depth, complexity and variety over easy drinking any day.

Why Light Beers
Let’s digress a moment to better understand why Americans consume such large amounts of uninteresting beer. Granted, it’s refreshing. And given its lower alcohol content, it can be consumed in larger quantities. But volume consumption is not my thing. Flavor appreciation is.

The state of current consumption tracks back to the repeal of prohibition in 1933. After thirteen years of the “Noble Experiment”, only a few major breweries were still operating; they had survived by producing malted products for the food industry. Thousands of small brewers had long gone out of business and their equipment fallen into disuse.

After Repeal, the major breweries sought to produce a product appealing to the largest audience possible, including women. When World War II began, a significant percentage of the male population were overseas defending freedom, leaving women to run the factories and calling the shots on what type of beer they preferred. The production of light and innocuous beer exploded. When the men returned, the pattern was established for easy drinking lagers; think Bud, Coors and Miller type beers.

Further abetting the decline of interesting beer was an oversight in repealing prohibition that did not permit home beermaking. Not until 1979 was the error corrected and homebrewers emerged as a force. In the ensuing three decades these talented—mostly men—created the microbrew market. Today, some 2,000 craft breweries are operating throughout the country and they are growing faster than the major producers; most are run by former home brewers. The movement is analogous to the dramatic increase in small wineries being run by previous home winemakers.

Once the beer making bug bit, I jumped in full force. I purchased the equipment I needed such as a brew pot, bottling pail, capper and beer bottles. Other items such as a hydrometer and carboy came from my winemaking supplies. Making beer is not difficult but close attention to cleanliness is paramount. Fresh brewed beer is highly susceptible to bacterial infection. Cleanliness is next to beeriness.  

To date I have brewed six different styles: Amber ale, American wheat, Oatmeal stout,Vienna lager,India pale ale, and Rye pale ale. Two more versions of ale are in the offing. In the months ahead, I will share my experiences in producing fresh, delicious and healthful homebrewed beer.

“Filled with mingled cream and amber I will drain that glass again. Such hilarious visions clamber through the chambers of my brain—quaintest thoughts—queerest fancies come to life and fade away; who cares how time advances? I am drinking ale today.”   Edgar Allan Poe

Categories : HAGARTY TALES

A Chat with Richard Leahy

Posted on Apr 21 2012 | By

Author of New Wine Book Muses on Virginia’s Industry 

Richard G. Leahy grew up in a Foreign Service family and was exposed to European wine and food culture at a young age. Being a natural raconteur, he can spellbind a person with tales from his colorful life.

One fascinating story involves a trip on the Orient Express at the age of 15 with a buddy that resulted in both being tossed off the train because of passport issues. The duo then grabbed a series of freight trains and arrived safely at the Black Sea eighteen hours later. 

“I particularly remember that adventure because the next day we had dinner on the Danube. Two teenagers with access to unlimited wine soon turned the repast into a smashing good time. It was an early object lesson in moderation in all things,” he recalls smiling. 

Fortunately, moderation did not inform Leahy’s work ethic and sense of wonder. After recovering from his first wine dinner, he went on to become a world traveler, earning a Masters Degree and doing stints as a hospital administrator, educator, wine steward & judge, wine journalist, home winemaker, and producer of winery trade shows. His latest trade show was the successful Eastern Winery Exposition held March 7 & 8 of this year in Lancaster, PA. 

Recently, I caught up with this Renaissance Man to discuss his latest book, Beyond Jefferson’s Vines, The Evolution of Quality Wine in Virginia. 

Richard Leahy

So how did the idea for the book come about?
I’d been thinking about a treatise devoted to Virginia wine for sometime. In the 1990s, I was Mid-Atlantic regional editor for the Oxford Companion to Wine and had the honor of working with its author Jancis Robinson. Then last year, Carlo Devito, a noted wine journalist and publisher, asked me to pen a book on Virginia as a follow up to another author’s work on the Finger Lakes region. My desire to write a book was fulfilled with an actual request and the project took shape.

You travelled extensively throughout the state to gather portraits of proprietors and winemakers. How long did it take to write the book?
Negotiations with the publisher extended over several months but when it came time to start writing, I learned I had somewhat over a month to complete the volume. It resulted in a whirlwind tour of the Old Dominion that worked in my favor. I devoted myself full time to travelling and writing. It was fun. I had no time for writer’s block to set in.

Why did you create a travelogue format to tell the Virginia story?
The Commonwealth’s wine industry is diverse in both players and terrior. I felt that by profiling its men, women and vineyards it would best convey to readers what was unfolding here. And I surprised myself with the scope the industry now encompasses; from Northern & Central Virginia, to the Shenandoah Valley, the Eastern Neck and the Southwest. The state’s enterprise covers all points on the map.

At times one hears that Virginia wine is overpriced.  Your thoughts?
I don’t think it’s valid. Look at any artisan producers worldwide and you will see prices commensurate with Virginia. Can the state compete with wineries producing 200,000 cases or more a year? No. The economy of scale simply isn’t there. But our wines are not homogenized either. There is a terroir distinction to Virginia and to bring these unique wines to market in limited quantities requires a substantial investment. I think most buyers recognize the good price to value ratio.

What’s your take on wine tourism?
Tourists are also wine drinkers. When I wrote my book eight months ago, there were about 200 wineries. Today, there are some 230. I believe much of that expansion is fueled by rising quality combined with tourism. Some wineries do not embrace the tourist trade but for many it is a channel to success. Our reputation can grow through a diverse group of travelers who visit, taste and return home with words of praise for what is happening here; each visitor has the potential to be an ambassador for the industry.

How else can Virginia grow its reputation?
The Virginia Wine Board Marketing office is seeking to build market share in the Mid-Atlantic region and I agree with the strategy. I don’t think we can simply leap to the national stage without expanding regionally first. There’s simply not enough wine to make that happen.

Advancing our status through acclaim from regional wine critics and sommeliers in major markets like Washington and New York is important. Also, more vineyards need to be planted to match demand from the increasing number of wineries. I think we should seek new markets on the East Coast first and let national expansion unfold from there. Finally, we shouldn’t under estimate the power of online sales to stoke growth. You don’t have to have product in a shop in Chicago to sell wine there.   

Closing Thoughts?
Thomas Jefferson spent the better part of his life unsuccessfully trying to advance the cause of wine consumption in the United States. Today, his dream is being fulfilled. We are now the largest wine consuming Nation on earth and Millennials—folks under 30 years of age—are fueling much of that expansion.

The future for Virginia wine and other emerging domestic wine markets couldn’t be better. It’s an exciting time to chronicle the Old Dominion’s success. Perhaps I should start thinking now about a sequel to the book. It’s fascinating to contemplate where the industry will be in another decade.

Beyond Jefferson's Vines: The Evolution of Quality Wine in Virginia

Categories : WINE ARTICLES

Love of the vine produces best wine in Virginia

On February 24, Governor Bob McDonnell announced the winner of the 2012 Governor’s Cup Wine Competition. “I raise my glass to Glen Manor Vineyards, whose 2009 Hodder Hill Meritage is a stunning representation of the best in Virginia Wines,” the Governor said. The wine trumped more than 400 other entries.

Jeff White

Accepting the award was Jeff White, owner and winemaker at Glen Manor Vineyards in Front Royal. Uncharacteristically, White was dressed in coat and tie instead of his ubiquitous farmer’s overalls.

But if the award winner had walked on stage in brown denim with pruning shears in his hip pocket, he would have been instantly recognized by those who know him best. The man is a farmer, first and foremost.

White’s love of agriculture might well be genetic. His great grandparents purchased his farm in 1901 and worked the hardscrabble property growing apples, peaches, wheat and corn and tending both dairy and beef cattle. They lived off the land emblematic of early rural America.

Decades later, early childhood visits to the homestead transitioned to full-time farming when White opted out of a Beltway defense contracting job in 1990. Wrestling with what crops to raise his Dad suggested wine grapes. There were sixty wineries operating in the state at the time and he reasoned a market for the fruit existed. Today, some 230 tasting rooms dot the Old Dominion landscape and White has evolved into both grower and winemaker.

But what does it take to make the best wine in the state? Like most thoughtfully posed questions, the answer is subtle and layered. But it begins with a passion for growing vines. A critical component of a well-made wine is the winemaker’s shadow falling frequently in the vineyard. 

An aptitude test taken in the third grade identified White as an adventurer, thrill seeker and farmer; widely divergent traits. He engaged in rock and ice climbing as pastimes early on but farming turned out to be his abiding interest.

A winemaker’s education
Once he committed to growing wine he educated himself for over a decade. White recalls, “I sought the advice of many folks but two important influences were Tony Wolf, the Virginia state viticulturist, and Jim Law, the respected East Coast winemaker and owner of Linden Vineyards. In my twelve years of working for Jim, I came to more fully understand what it takes to produce superior fruit. Jim was also instrumental in educating my palate. If you are going to make great wine, you need to know what it tastes like.”

The 2009 Virginia vintage was good overall but exceptional for Glen Manor’s Hodder Hill vineyard. “There was considerable rain around harvest time but most of the storms missed our farm. We harvested clean fruit. A perfect vintage year would be cool, sunny weather followed by a dry harvest. It doesn’t happen often but ’09 was close to perfect for us. Weather and our vineyard site produced quality fruit that year,” says White.

But how is a Governor’s Cup winner actually crafted? It starts in the vineyard. There is irony in the fact White’s great grandparents purchased land good for only subsistence farming. It is not rich, fertile farmland but thin-soiled, rocky and steep; ideal for growing wine grapes. The best grapes come from soil that stresses the vines. It might be called “tough love”. Colors and flavors deepen as the vine is forced to thrive in such conditions.

At harvest time, White double hand-sorted the fruit, removing any rotten or unripe grapes. He only destemmed the clusters and did not crush the berries. “I also cold soaked the fruit in its juice for about four days to extract more color before inoculating with yeast in open bin fermenters. We punched down the carbon dioxide created hard cap twice a day to assure full juice-to-skin contact.” he explains.

Secret to a winning wine
Once fermentation begins it might be assumed cellar alchemy is employed to produce a winner. But White says, “The secret to my wine success is that there is no secret. I let the fruit fully express itself with minimal intervention. I make no sugar, acid, or tannin additions. I only add a malolactic culture to encourage a necessary secondary fermentation and use a minimal amount of sulfur to control harmful bacterial growth. All my wines are unadulterated. In reality, the more one manipulates a wine the harder it is to make a great wine; less is literally more.” 

Aging is also an important element in producing red wine and small sixty gallon casks were used to bring the best out in his reds. For the 2009 Hodder Hill, White aged it mostly in new French oak barrels for ten months. He then continued the process for an additional five months in older, neutral barrels to increase palate depth and enhance mouth feel.

Blending was a critical element in making the wine. Like the French, this winemaker believes a blended wine is greater than its individual parts. His Cup winner was 63% Cabernet Sauvignon; 25% Merlot; 6% Petit Verdot and 6% Cabernet Franc. “We conducted blending trials for three months tasting and re-tasting all of the potential blends before committing to the final cuvée. We produced 200 cases or 2,400 bottles.” he says.

So might a future Governor’s Cup be lurking in Glen Manor’s cellars? Vintage 2010 was one of the best statewide in a decade. “I have some very nice wines barrel aging now. I’d be pleased if we could garner further recognition for what we are doing here in the vineyard and cellar but only time will tell,” says White.

Glen Manor’s tasting notes describe the 2009 Hodder Hill as “a complex wine with ever-evolving aromas of dark red berries, eucalyptus, licorice, tea leaf, cassis and fresh ground coffee beans.” Given that description,Virginia wine lovers will be looking forward to the 2010 rendition.

For more information on Glen Manor Vineyards wines and hours of operation, visit


Published in the 2012 Spring edition of the Piedmont Virginian.

Congratulations to 2012 Governor’s Cup Wine Competition winner Glen Manor Vineyards for its 2009 Hodder Hill Meritage and the twelve other gold medal winners.

  • Jefferson Vineyards 2010 Cabernet Franc Gold
  • Sunset Hills Vineyard 2009 Cabernet Franc Gold
  • Bluestone Vineyard 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Gold
  • Keswick Vineyards 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Gold
  • White Hall Vineyards 2010 Gewurztraminer Gold
  • Delfosse Vineyards & Winery 2007 Meritage Blend Gold
  • Glen Manor Vineyards 2009 Meritage Blend Hodder Hill Gold
  • King Family Vineyards 2008 Meritage Blend Meritage Gold
  • Potomac Point Winery 2009 Meritage Blend Heritage Reserve Gold
  • Veritas 2010 Meritage Blend Vintner’s Reserve Gold
  • Keswick Vineyards 2010 Merlot Gold
  • Trump Winery 2008 Sparkling Kluge SP Blanc de Blanc Gold
  • Tarara Winery 2010 White Vinifera Blend Honah lee Gold
Categories : WINE ARTICLES