Virginia is making some superb wines. Situated halfway between California and Europe, Virginia produce wines that seem to have European elegance with California richness. I visited about a dozen wineries during my recent trip.
Family owned Breaux Vineyards is located in Loudoun County in the north-west of the state. The winery building, surrounded by lawns, is set back from the road among sloped vineyards. I visited on Labour Day. Trees near the entrance shaded picnic areas packed with adults quaffing wine and snacking while children ran and played. "If you think this is busy, you should come on Saturdays," said General Manager Chris Blosser who, with his wife Jennifer Breaux Blosser greeted me to their winery which has been voted 'Best winery in Virginia' for the third consecutive year.
Through the crowded tasting room to the calm of the winery where upended barrels, with tasting paraphernalia on top, were in a semi-circle. Feeling like Weakest Link contestants my companions and I faced Dave Collins, winemaker & vineyard manager, who has been working with the Breaux family since they bought the property in 1994.
When we questioned the name of the first poured wine, 2009 'Water Bent' Sauvignon Blanc Dave explained that barrel staves were usually bent by steam or heat but these ones had been softened by long immersion in water and he preferred the effect this had on caramelisation caused by subsequent toasting. Dave said he was "happy with the sweet impression this French oak gives to wine." This wine is exclusive to Breaux Cellar Club’s 1,000 members.
After tasting a good Viognier and Chardonnay we finished the whites by referencing the Breaux family's Cajun origin with ‘Jennifer's Jambalaya’, an off-dry blend of seven varieties that was, Jennifer said, their version of the popular California brand Conundrum. Dave said he was "trying to get floral accents" by using Muscat Giallo, and sent out to the loading bay for a box of just harvested grapes for us to taste.
It was the reds that surprised: a flight of estate grown Nebbiolo's from 2006 (unreleased yet), 2005, 2002 and 2001. Who expected Nebbiolo in Virginia, and of such high quality? I found them attractive young and very beautiful aged. But they are difficult to sell. "Customers used to Cabs and Merlots say these wines are not dark enough to be any good," Dave told us. Nebbiolo is an Italian used to make Barolo and Barbaresco wines.
A Cabernet Franc Reserve from the perfect 2007 vintage was superb and didn't show it’s 16.4%abv. This stunner will be aged for another 12-14 months before release.
We moved outside to a long table with nibbles and ice buckets holding Nebbiolo 2009 'Ice' and a vertical of three Soleil brand blended frozen after harvest 'Ice' wines dating back to 2000.
Before leaving we were taken to the Nebbiolo vineyard high above the winery. “Nebbiolo is a grape”, said Dave “that accumulates high sugar, it’s late ripening and we never have any problem getting sugars to make wine even in cold years. It has high sugar, high acid, high tannins, and low colour: it is the bane of winemakers.”
I left Breaux knowing that, if I lived nearer, I’d have bought a case or two of their Nebbiolo.
My tasting notes here
Disclosure: The author toured Virginia as a guest of the Virginia Wine Board. He thanks them for making his visit possible and the owners and staff of Breaux Vineyards - www.breauxvineyards.com - for their hospitality.
Peter F May is the author of Marilyn Merlot and the Naked Grape: Odd Wines from Around the World which features more than 100 wine labels and the stories behind them, and PINOTAGE: Behind the Legends of South Africa’s Own Wine which tells the story behind the Pinotage wine and grape.