Virginia Wine: Off the beaten path in Northern Virginia, part 2

Our journey to Northern Virginia continues as we visit with a couple of the Commonwealth’s most celebrated winemakers.

Wine-Nova2-Front

Our journey to Northern Virginia continues as we visit with a couple of the Commonwealth’s most celebrated winemakers.

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Linden Vineyards

This is the guy. This is the guy I will hold up as an example to anyone that doubts the ability, viability, or sincerity of our wine industry. This is the guy I nominate to be the face (and the beard, and the ponytail) of Virginia viticulture: Jim Law.

Jim has been tending vineyards in Virginia for more than 30 years. Soft spoken and unassuming in person, Jim’s resume speaks volumes of a genuine love for working the land. He taught agriculture in the Congo as a volunteer for the Peace Corps and worked his first job in a vineyard for nothing more than room and board. When he left his native Ohio for Virginia, he was lured not by the promise of upward mobility, but of elevation. Convinced he couldn’t produce the wine he wanted on those Midwestern plains, he went in search of steeper pastures. During a stint with a vineyard in the Shenandoah Valley in 1981, Jim discovered the land he was looking for. With a modest amount of seed money and grand ambitions he started Linden Vineyards on an abandoned farm high up in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

What’s amazing is how, after 29 years of tending this very vineyard, Jim Law still treats it like a work in progress: charting the shrinkage of vines over time inspires a new planting schematic, the discovery of a small patch of granite soil yields a new site for Cabernet Sauvignon. At an age where most people are looking forward to retirement, Jim is contemplating what his vineyard will look like in 20 years–and planting accordingly.

Whether discussing Jim’s approach to vineyard management, or the relaxed feel of the beautiful tasting room, “patience” is a word that seems universally applicable to the Linden aesthetic. And nowhere is this more applicable than with the wine itself. While many Virginia vineyards have already sold through their entire 2010 vintage, Linden is just beginning to make theirs available. The pride of their portfolio are the so-called “library wines”– bottles that have been held for several years or more. The Linden website even features a database where guests can access detailed notes on any bottle going back to 1997.

The wine at Linden reflects a much older, pre-California conception of “Bordeaux-style.” These are wines of depth and structure with plenty of acid and tannin to regulate those big fruit flavors. As much as I despise the term “serious wine”…well, these are some pretty serious freakin’ wines. Thankfully the vibe in the tasting room doesn’t follow suit and remains laid-back and inviting (although I did feel a little out of place wearing this shirt).

Glen Manor Vineyards

Jeff White worked under Jim Law for 13 years before starting his own Glen Manor vineyards in 2007. Though ultimately these two make very different wines expressive of very different visions, in a more general way, Jeff and Jim strike me as kindred spirits. Both are very much farmers of grapes, who view the spoils of being a vineyard owner as unfortunate distractions from time better spent among the vines.

Glen Manor possesses a pastoral solemnity that makes it feel almost like a religious retreat—albeit a well lubricated one. The tasting room is a simple wooden structure flanked by mountains on all sides. A sign at the base of the driveway keeps the peace by discouraging tour buses and large groups (so I quietly unhooked my trailer of half-drunken Spring Breakers, gave it a gentle shove down the hill, and went about my business).

Jeff White met me in the tasting room fresh from the vineyard, sporting a pair of well-worn coveralls. A quiet, fairly serious man with tired yet intense eyes, he hipped me to the history of the Glen Manor site. The farmland that houses Glen Manor has belonged to his family since 1901. Jeff planted the first vines in 1995, 1,200 feet up on a rocky mountainside. Almost immediately it became clear that this was a special site capable of producing exceptional fruit–which Jeff sold to Jim Law at Linden before setting out on his own in 2007.

Since then, Glen Manor has been quietly racking up awards while remaining a tiny, family-run operation. I don’t know if the credit belongs to the steep slopes, the rocky soils, or White’s skill as a winemaker (probably all of the above), but Glen Manor produces one amazing Sauvignon Blanc. The initial whiff of cat piss1 (a fairly classic, albeit quirky, characteristic of this grape) gives way to bright citrus flavors and a pleasing minerality. Glen Manor is probably best known for signature “Hodder Hill” blend. A composite of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petit Verdot, Hodder Hill is rich and masculine yet graceful (I love when I can just cut and paste descriptors from my old Match.com profile) with ripe fruit flavors and notes of cinnamon and spice. The sold-out 2009 vintage took home last year’s Governor’s Cup, with the current, gold-medal winning 2010 release in short supply. Snatch up a bottle while you can and enjoy it now, or allow it to improve with age. According to the winemakers you have until 2028 to drink it so, you know, no rush there.

Photo courtesy of Glen Manor Vineyards

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Footnotes

  1. I mean this in a good way. Like if a really amazing cat peed on your face. 
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Matt Brehony

When he’s not musing on food for his blog, or working as a server/Minister of Propaganda for Secco Wine Bar, or writing editorial pieces for various media outlets, or starring in sketches and commercials, Matt Brehony doesn’t do much of anything.

2 comments on Virginia Wine: Off the beaten path in Northern Virginia, part 2

  1. Like your style and wisdom of your commentary.

  2. Thanks Jim! Much appreciated.

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