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Friday, September 19, 2014

Howard County Maryland's First Craft Brewery: Frisco Tap House & Push Brewery

There are a number of breweries that have opened in the Columbia, Maryland area recently with the first being Frisco Tap House & Push Brewery. Known for providing a comprehensive craft beer menu (56 taps), the restaurant added brewing capabilities last year. On my recent visit to watch a Redskins game, they were pouring four of their Push Brewery brews: Push Meyer Lemon IPA, Push Midnight Mistress Dark Pumpkin, Push/Boulevard Mark Of The Beast, and the Push/Terrapin Dankenstein Rye IPA.

Obviously I started with the rye that is a collaboration with Terrapin Beer Company. Apparently it was inspired by Phish's two night stand at nearby Merriweather Post Pavillion. The beer starts with pine and citrus, then continues with a spicy bold flavor, and finishes with four pound of hops: Columbus, Chinook, Summit, and Simcoe. The Lemon IPA was very refreshing made from Meyer Lemon juice and finished with El Dorado hops. The Push/Boulevard Mark Of The Beast is a Pumpkin Saison in collaboration with Kansas City's Boulevard Brewing Company using Boulevard's proprietary Belgian yeast strains. Fall spices dominate, the pumpkin is subtle, the finish - long. On the other hand, the Push Midnight Mistress Dark Pumpkin is a different beast, over 100 lbs of local roasted butternut squash and 60 lbs of house-made pumpkin purée were used in this mash. This is a bigger beer with even more spices and even lactose to give a milk stout feel. Pretty interesting. Cheers to Maryland beer.

Monday, September 15, 2014

#WBC14 Pre-tour: Discovering the Diversity of Paso Robles Wine in 24 Hours

While attending the 2014 Wine Bloggers Conference, I jumped at the opportunity to participate in the Paso Robles Pre-tour. The mission? To visit six wineries and taste wines from 50 producers from the region in 24 hours.  Most of the participants rendezvoused at the San Jose Airport and were picked up by Chris Taranto, Communications Director of the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance and Sarah Wolcott (representing Zephyr Adventures & WBC14). A charter bus then transported us the hour plus ride to the Paso Robles AVA -- California’s largest and most diverse AVA and best known for their Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Our first stop was Niner Wine Estates where we met the remaining participants and were greeting by a panel discussion on Paso Robles History and Terroir. The roundtable including pioneers like Gary Eberle of Eberle Winery, Jason Diefenderfer of Hope Family Wines, and Augi Hug of Hug Cellars as well as our host Patrick Muran of Niner Wine Estates, Niels Udsen of Castoro Cellars, and Stephanie Terrizzi of Giornata. This tasting showcased the diversity of Paso Robles while sampling wines made from Cabernet, Zinfandel, Rhone blends, as well as Spanish and Italian varietals. The Castoro 2013 Balena White Blend (Whale Rock Estate) seemed to encapsulate this diversity being a an interesting blend of Pinto Grigio, Grenache Blanc, and Falanghina. The Giornata 2011 Nebbiolo Luna Matte Vineyard was another tasty wine and Stephanie Terrizzi painfully described her travails in growing this stubborn grape. Paso wines can also age. Jason Diefenderfer opened their 2002 Treana Red (CS, Merlot, Syrah) which had lost some acids, but was quite flavorful with a fig interior. (I had previous tasting a 2003 Eberle CS that was still youthful at Nomacorc tour.)  We also learned about the history of the region from Gary Eberle  particularly the 1970's with the rise of Cabernet Sauvignon and the first commercial Syrah vines.

From Niner we traveled over rolling hills of vineyards for our second destination: Tablas Creek Vineyard. Here we learned about the prestigious Rhone inspired brand as well as tasted wines from a few other Paso Rhone producers. A more detailed description can be found at #WBC14 Paso Robles Excursion: Tablas Creek Vineyard.

Our first day of the pre-tour culminated with the Paso Robles (Cabernet and Bordeaux) Collective - an organization which "strives to promote the full potential of the Paso Robles AVA in producing superior-quality, classic and age-worthy Cabernet and Bordeaux varietals". Our host was DAOU Vineyards and what an amazing setting - both the winery's architecture and the surrounding views. Needless to say, there was a dozens of nice wines offered as a large majority of the collective's members participated.  There were many standouts including the wines from Red Soles Winery, J. Lohr Winery, Villa San-Juliette Winery, Vina Robles, and Sextant Wines. In fact, the Sextant 2012 X-Series Marselan Cabernet X Grenache was one of the most interesting wines of the trip. The two J Lohr Cuvees were quite delicious as well. During the evening we experienced the full diurnal temperature change that benefits Paso Robles as our shorts and t-shirts were covered with jackets and sweatshirts.

We started day two at Vina Robles and a discussion on The Paso Robles AVA. The presentation was lead by Steve Lohr of J. Lohr Winery and included Kevin Willenborg of Vina Robles, Mike Sinor of Ancient Peaks Winery, Justin Smith of Saxum Vineyards, and Cris Cherry of Villa Creek Winery.  The most important fact we learned is that the Paso Robles Wine Alliance has petitioned the TTP to split the broad Paso Robles AVA into 11 separate sub-AVAs. The winemakers present discussed how each region differed based on weather (Templeton Gap) and soil. The predominate soil is bedrock derived from marine and volcanic activity - particularly oyster fossils.  If approved, 85% of the grapes must be source from that appellation and they will utilize conjunctive labeling where both the sub AVA and the Paso Robles AVA will be included. The wine in this tasting was quite delicious and centered on Rhone and Bordeaux varieties.

From Vina Robles we rode to the iconic J Dusi Wines, where Zinfandel vines brought directly from Italy were planted in 1924 by Sylvester and Caterina Dusi. The original vines are still in use, old and gnarly with holes forming at the vine's base.  Third generation Janell Dusi greeted us along with four other wineries that source fruit from J Dusi: Brochelle Vineyards, Tobin James Cellars, Turley Wine Cellars, and wines from winemaker McPrice Meyers. We tasted their wines and learned about their history steps from the very vines that provide the fruit.

At separate tents we experienced a comparative tasting of Dusi sourced 2012 Zinfandel from J Dusi, Brochelle, and Turley. The base for each wine was similar, full jammy flavors with a creamy texture, and usually differed at the tail - with varying degrees of spice and acids. For each group, Tobin James spun an entertaining tale of his entrance to wine making and apprenticeship at Eberle to the creation of his label. They poured a delicious 2011 Dusi Zinfandel as well as two reserve wines. I was particularly fond of two brands from McPrice Meyers. Barrel 27 Wine Company is his brand and he poured the 2012 Paso Robles Zinfandel as well as a fascinating barrel sample of PFP 21. Paydirt Wines was the second brand, a collaboration with Patrick McNeil, and he featured the 2012 Paso Robles Red a blend of Zinfandel, Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, and Petite Sirah. This wine has that WOW factor, juicy, creamy, and simply delicious.

Our final stop in Paso Robles was Wild Horse Winery & Vineyards, named for the wild mustangs that once inhabited the region.The winery opened in 1983 selling a Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir but today produce a plethora of wines from Blaufrankisch, Verdelho, Pinot Noir, Malvasia Bianca, Rose, Merlot, Cabernet, Chadonnay, Zinfandel, Viognier, Malbec, and Syrah. We were greeted by General Manger and Director of Winemaking Chrissy Whittmann and two refreshing wines their 2013 Central Coast Floyd Rosé and 2013 Paso Robles Verdelho. The Floyd Rosé (Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, and Sangiovese) is named after their resident llama Floyd (named after the legendary band Pink Floyd) - thus a proper name for a pink wine. Over lunch we sampled three other wines with gourmet tacos the 2012 Central Coast Chardonnay, 2011 Paso Robles Unbridled Merlot, and the 2012 Central Coast Pinot Noir 2012. All three were approachable and easy drinking - nice entrance wines. In the tasting room I discovered several very nice Pinot Noirs as well as a fruit forward new world Blaufrankisch. A pleasant end that illustrates, once again, the diversity of Paso Robles. Cheers.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

#WBC14 Vineyard Tour of Bien Nacido Vineyards with Qupé & Hitching Post Wines

My favorite event during the Wine Bloggers Conference is the mystery vineyard tour, where participants board random buses and are taken to a mystery winery. For this year's conference,  I was fortunate enough to board the Stripper Pole School Bus and after departing, Nicholas Miller, announced our destination: the famous Bien Nacido Vineyards in the Santa Maria Valley AVA.  Famous in that Bien Nacido Vineyard is the most widely bottled single vineyard designate wine in the world. The vineyard's high quality Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, and Syrah grapes are in high demand and when wineries source fruit from the vineyard, they are obligated to produce a vineyard designate wine. The Miller family purchased the property in 1969 and planted the original vineyards on their own rootstock since the sandy soil is resistant to the louse.

When our bus arrived at the vineyard, Gray Hartley, winemaker for Hitching Post Wines, greeted us with unique Hitching Post glasses of rosé.  Outside vehicles are not allowed in the estate so we boarded their  “CHOOL BUS for a vineyard tour.  While driving around layers and layers of vines, Bien Nacido Vineyard Manager Chris Hamell discussed the region and vineyard's history. Our destination was Z Block, the source for many highly rated Syrah wines and in fact the Millers were the first in California to grow cool climate Syrah. Arriving at the hilltop we were poured wines from a few wineries that source fruit from Bien Nacido: Qupé Chardonnay, Foxen Chardonnay and Steele Pinot Blanc. Check out the labels - all labeled with the Bien Nacido name. During this period we enjoyed the view of the 600 plus acre property; walked through rows of grapes entering verasion and over recently dropped fruit; and conversed with Hartley, Miller, Hamel, and Luke Lindquist from Qupé.

Returning to the main facility, we were provided with a barbecue of grilled meats and vegetables and loads of wine. We are talking Qupé Roussane, 1998 Hitching Post Pinot Noir, and a 1997 Hitching Post Highliner Pinot Noir. Over dinner Mr. Hartley discussed his relationship with Qupé, Bien Nacido, and the Hitching Post as well as his part in Sideways. None of us wanted to leave. Can you blame us?

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Cider and Spirits Arrive in the Middleburg AVA with Mt. Defiance Cidery and Distillery

Middleburg Virginia was already a solid wine destination with several surrounding the old town; but now there is even more of an incentive with the addition of Mt. Defiance Cidery - right at the end of Washington Street. The cidery is the second cider operation started by Marc Chretien, who opened Vermont's Stowe Cider last year. Growing up in Northern Virginia, Chretien wanted to return to the DC area to join the growing Virginia cider movement. Currently the cidery operates in an old gas station in Middlburg, but Chretien plans to move production to a larger facility in the country to accommodate a canning line. Don't worry however, the location will then be home to Mt. Defiance Distillery. The nano-distillery is currently producing small batches of rum, absinthe, and applejack that should be available in ABC stores and the distillery this fall.

Currently at the cider, there are four ciders on tap. And I mean on tap - bring your growlers to stock up; although there are some bottles for sale. The flagship Farmhouse Cider is a traditional dry cider, very tart and refreshing. They also produce a Ginger Cider with this batch evidently higher in ginger - interesting - but not my thing. The Cider Blanc was fermented with wine yeast and is tasty with a more bready flavor than apple. Finally, their General's Reserve Barrel Aged is apple cider aged in used Wild Turkey bourbon barrels. This is delicious, only subtle hints of the whiskey that doesn't overwhelm the apples. This one is only available in growlers so be prepared when visiting. Cheers.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

W&OD Bike Trail: South Arlington -> Where the Sidewalk Begins

In my commute to work, I veer off the W&OD Trail around mile marker 4 to join the Custis Trail as detailed in my W&OD post on North Arlington. This past weekend, I remained on the W&OD to ride where the sidewalk begins - in South Arlington. This stretch of the trail is flat and scenic, even along Four Mile Run Drive which is aligned with community gardens. When the trail ends, hang a right on Shirlington Drive, catch a bite at the Weenie Beenie Sandwich Shop or head into Shirlington and Capitol City Brewing Co. Cap City produces decent beers - particularly their Signature beers - try the Capitol Kolsch during a ride. They also produce several seasonals - even a Farmhouse Saison so expand your palette.

Now, for the adventurous, Alexandria's Port City Brewing Company is only four miles away. There are multiple routes you can take, so I highly recommend using theCompass Winery Brewery Distillery locator to integrate into your device's navigation feature. I selected the Quaker Lane route which entailed a steep hill on my return, but it did pass a Civil War historical marker.  I arrived to a packed brewery, even with the second bar and the seating area in the brewing area. Today was their Oktoberfest release day, and despite usually trying to avoid this style (many are too sweet and malty), the beer-tender talked me into one. Glad he did. This beer was far from overly sweet and had a bit of smoke at the tail. I saved room for the Ways & Means, a rye beer that is funky, spicy, and a session beer. Perfect for cycling - except when you have 17 miles to home. Safe travels.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Learning About Hudson Valley Wines on #WineStudio

For the month of August, #WineStudio featured wines from the Hudson River Region AVA - the oldest continually-productive wine region in the United States. The first vines planted in the Hudson Valley occurred in 1677  in Ulster County (New Paltz) and it hosts the oldest continually operating winery in the country: Brotherhood America's Oldest Winery, originally established as Jacques Brothers’ Winery in 1837 to make sacramental wines. The earliest-planted continuously-used vineyard, going back to 1845, was planted by William Cornell in Ulster County. That vineyard is today part of Benmarl Winery & Vineyard, in Marlboro. Interestingly the Hudson River is a tidal estuary meaning the river flows in both directions. The growing season is short in the Hudson Valley (180 to 195 days). "By comparison, Long Island’s season lasts from 215 to 230 days, while the Niagara Escarpment enjoys 205 days, and the Finger Lakes AVA has 190 to 205 growing days."  In order for a winery to place a Hudson River Region label on their wine, then 85% of grapes used were grown in the AVA. And finally, the Hudson Valley Wine and Grape Association has agreed on a benchmark white: Seyval Blanc.

Yet, there was no Seyval Blanc in the wines we tasted. Instead, we received the Whitecliff Vineyard & Winery 2013 Estate Bottled 'White Rose',  the Brotherhood Winery NV “B” Sparkling Wine 100% New York Estate Bottled Chardonnay, the Millbrook Vineyards and Winery 2013 Tocai Friulano Proprietor’s Special Reserve Estate Bottled, and the Millbrook Vineyards and Winery 2012 Cabernet Franc Proprietor’s Special Reserve Estate Bottled.
Whitecliff Vineyard & Winery is located on the west of the Hudson River (near New Paltz)opposite the Shawangunk Mountain chain. The winery was established in 1979 and currently the estate is one of the largest vineyards in the Hudson Valley, with over 20 varieties of grapes planted. Two of these are Traminette and Gewurztraminer and proprietor Michael Migliore like the idea of a "father/son blend" since Traminette is a Gewurztraminer hybrid. Thus, the 2013 Estate Bottled 'White Rose' 75% Traminette 25% Gewurztraminer ($18) results from a field blend, where the grapes from both varieties are picked together and co-fermented. The wine, named for the climbing vine on the cliff behind the vineyard, comes in at 12% ABV and .75 RS. The wine starts with plenty of aromatics, lychee and honey, followed by a mouthful of citrus and melon flavors, finishing with refreshing acids and a bit of white pepper. Very nice.

As previously stated Brotherhood America's Oldest Winery originally established as Jacques Brothers’ Winery in 1837 and is also on the New York State Register of Historic Places. The winery is currently owned by Cesar Baeza, who had been a young winemaker, then came back as owner/partner. Baeza purchased the property in 1987, but a near fatal fire almost closed the winery permanently. With a new partnership with two winemaking families from Chile (the Castro and Chadwick families), much needed capital was injected for a complete restoration and renovation.Yet, visitors can still walk through the original cellars built by Jean Jacques over 175 years ago.

For our #winestudio session we were sent the Brotherhood Winery NV “B” Sparkling Wine 100% New York Estate Bottled Chardonnay ($11.99). As in the name, the grapes were grown within the Empire state and the sparkling aspect was generated using the Charmat method.  The aroma and flavor resemble bruised pears co-mingling with yeasty green apples. And the tail finishes with nice acidity. A pretty decent value at $12.
The History of Brotherhood Winery

In 1810, a French Huguenot emigre named Jean Jaques purchased land in New York’s bucolic Hudson Valley and began planting grapes. By 1837, Mr. Jaques needed more land, so he purchased a plot in the quiet village of Washingtonville, NY, and planted another vineyard. By 1839, his first underground cellars were dug and Mr. Jaques fermented his first wine vintage. Those cellars, the oldest and largest in America, are still in use today at Brotherhood Winery.

The Jaques family made wine at the Washingtonville facility for almost 60 years, selling much of it to Jesse and Edward Emerson, two New York City wine merchants. The Emersons, Finger Lakes vinters themselves, understood the high quality of Mr. Jaques’ wine and used it to improve a blend of wine from an organization called The Brotherhood of New Life - an experiment in utopian communal living in the Hudson Valley. When the Emerson family took control of the Washingtonville winery, they renamed it Brotherhood, a name that it still proudly bears today.

The Emerson family operated Brotherhood until Prohibition. In 1921, Louis Farrell purchased the winery and its large stock of sacramental wine. He sold wine for religious ceremonies throughout Prohibition, which was finally repealed in 1933. It has been noted that the clergy population in the area grew substantially during this period.

Louis and his wife were the first to grasp the value of Brotherhood’s location, as the nearest winery to New York City. They began conducting tours of the winery, highlighting the now-enlarged underground cellars, the history of the facility and its picturesque site. In fact, the Farrell family initiated the very concept of wine tourism, hosting parties and events at the winery that drew hundreds of thousands of fans annually, and introduced the Brotherhood brand to generations of American drinkers.

The final winery featured was Millbrook Vineyards & Winery, which was the first Hudson Valley winery to dedicate production exclusively to Vitis Vinifera grapes. Millbrook's founder John Dyson started growing grapes by planting an experimental acre at his family farm in Millbrook in the 1970's. The first commercial vintage was made by winemaker John Graziano in 1984 and Graziano has been producing wines at Millbrook ever since. Millbrook is also in the cutting edge of labeling. Check out the back of the Cabernet Franc and the plethora of information available to consumers. You can thank GM David Bova for this.

Millbrook is also in the cutting edge of grape diversity. Since 1985 they have been producing a Tocai Friulano as Dyson evidently became very fond of the grape during his travels to Italy. Their 2013 Tocai Friulano Proprietor’s Special Reserve Estate Bottled ($20) is a star, bright acidic, and low ABV at 13%. Their 2012 Proprietors Special Reserve Cabernet Franc ($30) is also a solidly delicious wine filled with layers of red fruit, some pepper and tobacco, and nice acidity. It contains 20% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon which may explain the fruit over green pepper dominance. 

I'm really looking forward to visiting the Hudson Valley this fall. Who's with me?