Boy, oh boy, have we been busy here at Brix & Columns.  Hurricane Florence was scheduled to bring a deluge of water to the Shenandoah Valley, and Jeanette didn’t want to risk letting the grapes stay on the vines.  Mom, Gene, and everyone they recruited to help them worked all day for many days to get the grapes picked and properly stored.

Just before that busy week, Mom, Dad, and Erin met with Mikey from Mashita to plan the menu for the food and wine pairing dinner.  I’ve not had Mikey’s food because “This food is not for you, Winston,“ but he has come to a couple of Friday night music events and his food smells REALLY good.  Unfortunately for me, whenever I get close to tasting it, Mom walks right around the corner. It’s like she has a sixth sense, or something.

Anyways, during the food meeting I made sure to stay close by just in case anyone needed me to do some menu testing…. No such luck.  I did notice something though – when they tasted the wine to determine if it had the proper characteristics to appropriately complement the food flavors, they were swirling it, smelling it, and even slurping it.  What in the world! I never take that kind of time with my water. I just enjoy drinking it straight out of the 5-gallon bucket without swirling it or sniffing it any more than is necessary.

After a little research, I discovered that there is method to the seeming madness of wine tasting.  As long as you remember these 5 “S’s”, you will have more memorable tastings and continue to expand your understanding of wine characteristics and your personal tastes.

See – Color is your first clue into a wine’s integrity.  The hue can guide you to determining the varietal used to produce it as well as the level of saturation.  This is best achieved by looking straight down into the glass. Next, view the wine from the side to measure clarity.  Good wines should be sparkly and brilliant; if they are less than clear, it is a sign of either unfiltered or shaken up wine or a wine with some sort of issue with its chemical composition. Finally, tilt the glass to examine the color near the edges of the wine.  It shouldn’t appear pale or discolored. Thinned out color suggests a wine with less oomf and discoloration indicates that the wine is past its prime.

Swirl – Swirling the wine in the glass, by keeping the bottom of the glass on the bar or table, allows you to see the legs of the wine as they roll down the sides.  Thick legs are evidence that the wine is full of flavor and high in alcohol content.

Smell – Sniffing the wine is best accomplished by holding your nose slightly over the glass, after giving it a good swirl, and taking a series of short smells instead of one large one.  Allow your brain to process after. Not only can this alert you to any flaws in the wine, but a thoughtful sniff can also clue you into the fruit flavors, herbaceous characteristics, and even hints of the terroir in which the grape was grown.  Smelling the wine is also a great way to determine the barreling process used on the wine, and it can also give clues about the fermentation process used. A great example of this is the buttery smell that Chardonnay takes on when taken through malolactic fermentation.

Sip – At last the moment has come that you have been waiting for: it is time to taste the wine.  Take a small sip into your mouth, tilt your head slightly forward, and breathe air in through pursed lips to bring the air through the wine.  This allows you to fully taste the wine by incorporating both its smells and flavors.

Savor – Now it’s time to savor.  Use the previous techniques to choose wines that are harmonious, well-balanced, appropriately complex, and, most importantly, pleasing to YOUR palate.  

At this point, I would propose we add a 6th S.

Sitting – We have a lovely patio for you to sit on while you enjoy all of our wines, and if you stay long enough I am sure I will be down to greet you and do my own sniff test on any goodies you might have brought!

Oh boy, oh boy, yesterday was an exciting day here at the vineyard.  All of the staff came over after closing hours for a bit of on-site training.  The field trip started with a reminder to all staff that, due to recent treatments, they may not to eat directly from any vines except Chambourcin.  This was a very important reminder to our staff, because they seem to love all things eating and drinking that have to do with wine – and to be honest, who doesn’t?

The journey around the vineyard started in our Chambourcin vines (coming into the vineyard they are the rows on your right hand side).  We have about 2 acres planted of this grape, and it is growing exceptionally well. I’ve heard Mom say that this varietal will “fruit itself to death”  and she has talked about “dropping” half of the fruit clusters. It took me awhile to figure it out, but apparently the Chambourcin vines just keep producing grape clusters even when it saps all of the energy out of the vines.  One way the vineyard managers can circumvent this in the vine’s younger years is by aggressively cutting off clusters and leaving just a few on vine. We are going to harvest our Chambourcin in about a month as we want it to fully ripen before harvest.  We would like the grapes measure about 23°-26° Brix and we estimate that we are going to get about 3.3 tons out of that lot.

Next we stopped by the Vidal Blanc vines.  These are the prolific vines growing on your left when you are driving toward the vineyard. I heard Dad remind everyone that during the height of the growing season, vines can grow up to 6 inches a day.  In my world, that means they are growing one whole Winston every week! Mom and I walk the vineyard rows every single day to make sure the grapes are ripening correctly and to keep an eye out for any of the pesky wildlife that likes to eat our delicious grapes.  Last weekend we saw something a little disturbing. Our Vidal leaves were exhibiting signs of downy mildew. The first sign is yellowed spots scattered around the leaf, if left unattended, these spots will grow larger and the leaf will start to develop downy white spots on the underside of the leaf.  We treated the vines immediately, and we expect them to have returned to full health and vigor by the time we have our harvest our acre for approximately one ton in about couple weeks.

Our Cabernet Franc vines are a short walk down a few rows – you might be able to recognize them looking out from the tasting room because they are the only vines in the lower vineyard that aren’t wrapped in the protective covering.  The grapes on these are very small – even smaller than the Petit Verdot whose name would suggest otherwise. There is quite a lot of growth happening at the bottom of these vines, and this is the root stock coming up as the plants establish themselves.  It will be another month or more before they reach prime harvesting specs.

Next it was back to the truck and on to the upper vineyard.  To get there, we needed to drive around the barn and through a ravine that we have designated as a CREP area.  This area can get a little washed out during heavy rains, and we almost always need to put it in 4wd to make our way up the hill.  Thankfully, Dad finally listened to me and hopped out of the truck to lock all of the wheels into position. The road we were on deposited us directly next to the Petit Verdot.  These grapes grow in very tight clusters and require the full length of the growing season to really come to their prime ripeness. Gene is pretty sure that we will get about 2,000 pounds out of these vines.  I know that sounds like a ton (pun intended) of grapes, but it doesn’t actually translate to that much wine. One ton makes averages about 2.5 barrels and one barrel is equivalent to 300 bottles of wine.

We will be harvesting both the Viognier and the Chardonnay in the next few weeks.  The Viognier vines look pretty bare, but they actually have quite a bit of fruit hidden beneath its leafy cover.  The Chardonnay clusters are even smaller than the Viognier, but I heard discussion that they have a much more delicate skin.  I would tell you for certain, but grapes are actually poisonous to dogs, so I steer clear as much as possible.

After touring the vineyard, everyone went back to the tasting room where Mom had an absolutely delectable spread of food.  I tried hard to sniff everything out so I could tell you details, but all I heard was, “No, no, no.” Apparently Italian food wasn’t on my menu last night.  The rest of the folks seemed to really enjoy the lasagna and chicken marsala from one of my Mom and Dad’s favorite restaurants, Romano’s. They even deliver to the vineyard!

For dinner, all of our wines were on the table including some of the old favorites like the 2015 McGahey and Cab Franc.  Our Port style even made an appearance for dessert! I think everyone had a really great time and everyone (except me) ended the evening with full bellies and tastes of delicious wines.  

A special thank you to Gene, our vineyard manager, for having such a growth mind set and bringing such energy and care to our vines!

 

When Mom and Dad brought home a load of Cabernet Franc last month, I kept hearing them talk about bottle shock…  What in the world?! The only thing I want to be shocking about the wine coming from Brix & Columns is how delicious it is!

Apparently this “bottle shock” can manifest in a couple of different ways.  Extreme agitation, like our Cab Franc encountered during the bottling process (barrel to bin to bottling machine to bottle), can cause the wine to taste differently than it should.  Other times, bottle shock comes about due to the wine being transported over a long and/or bumpy journey. Although this phenomenon hasn’t been scientifically proven, the idea behind it is that because all of the elements of wine are so integral to each other, by disturbing the settled wine, the flavors are disturbed in turn. Most noticeable in newly bottled and significantly aged wines (10+ years), the agitated bottles can be quickly calmed down by simply letting them lay still for a few days.  With older wines, you may want to store them upright for a day or two before drinking to ensure that all sediment has settled back to the bottom of the bottle.

While doing my research about exactly what causes bottle shock, I was interested to find that there was actually a movie called “Bottle Shock” that came out several years ago.  The shock in this movie is not to the wine, but to the world when a California Chardonnay beats out a French Chardonnay in a blind taste test. I know I may just be a dog sniffing his way around the wine world, but I think that Virginia wines are well on their way to becoming world renowned.

Check out the movie and see what you think – I will be watching it as soon as I can figure out the tv remote.  In the meantime, look for our two newest reds that are coming out soon, now that they are over the bottle shock!

You may have seen that one of our wines is taking a trip this week. I would love to vacation, but for some reason I always seem to get stuck at home instead. “You’re too big, Winston,” they say, or “Why don’t you stay home and guard the house?” I guess it never occurred to anyone that I might want to go chase waves at the ocean or gaze out at beautiful landscapes while I stand majestically on the mountaintop. Oh well! One of the most wonderful parts of my job as mascot and wine maestro of Brix & Columns is that I get to meet people from around the country (and sometimes the world!); and I think that the people you meet on your journeys are by far more important than any sights you can see.

When Erin took the bottle of Petit Manseng on her trip this week, she packed it safely in a WineSkin that kept it cushioned, and sealed tightly to prevent any accidental leaks. We sell reusable ones in our tasting room, and we definitely recommend that you pick one up the next time you are planning a trip, either for vacation or to go visit loved ones. Being the cultured canine I am, I also have a few other tips on how you can make sure your wine is just as delicious and intact as it was when you left our tasting room with it.

Any time you are planning on visiting a vineyard, it is a good idea to have an insulated container in your car to safely store the bottles as you go from vineyard to vineyard. This has a few advantages:

  • By keeping the bottles contained, you prevent them from clanking around in your vehicle. This keeps the labels from getting banged up, creating too much noise, or even causing a bottle to break.
  • The insulation will help prevent your wines from being damaged from exposure to extreme temperatures.
  • On a hot day it is easy to throw in an ice pack to keep the bottles cool until you get them home.
  • Your trunk is NOT cooler than the passenger area of your car. If at no other time but on an especially hot day, consider storing any wine that you have bought in the passenger area instead of in the trunk.
  • Place your container on a level surface away from vibrating wheel wells to avoid giving your wine “bottle shock”.
  • If you are traveling for long distances in the car with wine, you may want to wait a few weeks before you crack open a bottle to allow any potential bottle shock to settle back down.

Hopefully this advice helps your future travels with wine to go more smoothly.  Now that you know just how easy it is to travel with wine, I know we will see you soon, so you can stock up before you go on the next adventure!

Just one request guys… can some of you research some tips on how to easily travel with Great Danes and share it with my mom?

If there is a wine that has been the talk of the tasting room lately, it is our Petit Manseng.  I hear people talking about how delicious it is and how they have never heard of that varietal before.  Fact be told, people are talking about our newest white ALMOST as much as they are talking about me. It’s not the first time I’ve heard of the grape, my mom has been raving about Petit Manseng wines for years.  Made into both dry and dessert styles, this wine is finding popularity all over the world, but it is especially gaining notice in the Virginia wine scene. Are we watching the next Viognier in the making?

Originating in the Southwestern Region of France, this wine sealed its popularity by being used to anoint King Henry IV.  The characteristic sweet and aromatic qualities of this Jurançon grape found a place in the hearts of all who had the pleasure to drink it. After becoming a beloved Jurançon varietal, Basque settlers took it with them to Uruguay (along with one of our favorites: Tannat) to cultivate there.

Dubbed by Matthieu Finot (winemaker at King Family Vineyards) as a “wet weather grape”, Petit Manseng has loose clusters of small berries that hold up well to high humidity growing environments.  The thick skin and ability to have increased airflow throughout the cluster makes this grape much more resistant to rot than some other varietals. Even though it does have a low yield and needs a long ripening season, many vineyards are choosing to work with the grape because it can be crafted into a wine that is flavorful, ages well, and has enough acidity that sweetness never overwhelms.

The flavor profile of Petit Manseng is composed of a variety of flavors with tropical fruit, citrus, peach, and a slight nuttiness that is most noticeable when it is young.  As the wine ages, the profiles of honey, preserved fruits, and sweet spices become more notable notable. It pairs well with many food dishes from spicy Asian foods to sweet pastries, and it is sure to delight your dinner guests when you present it to the table.

I’m starting to notice a trend: grapes with Petit in front of them seem to pack a lot of flavor and are looked upon highly by wine drinkers as full of flavor and overflowing with potential for greatness.  It must be the exact opposite of in the dog world where dogs with Great in front of their name are packed full of personality and handsomeness.

Let it be known that an old dog can always learn new tricks!  The other night, Mom and Dad had just popped open a bottle of our newest white wine, Petit Manseng, and I heard them start talking about the wine diamonds.  What?! Diamonds in wine? Now, believe me, having been the overseer at many a wedding here at the vineyard, I have seen my share of diamonds, but I have never seen any come in a wine bottle.

“Wine diamonds” is a term that wine industry folks use to refer to the tartrate crystals that form when tartaric acid bonds with potassium chloride.  The resulting product is potassium bitartrate. Before I get too involved, let me start off by saying that there are three acids that are always present in wines: malic, citric, and tartaric. Citric acid is pretty neutral and is used mainly to increase acidity and as a natural preservative.  The malic acid goes through malolactic fermentation which creates the creamy, buttery texture associated with some wines. Tartaric acid stabilizes the wine and helps make it more suitable to aging.

While some people don’t like seeing the tartrate crystals in their wine, please know that they are actually a signal to you that the wine is of a higher quality, has had less manipulation in the processing room, and the wine will age better.  These crystals occur when the temperature of a wine drops below 40⁰ F and the potassium chloride and tartaric acid come together. Formation of crystals can be avoided in two ways: winemakers can use cold-stabilization techniques at the end of the processing cycle or wine drinkers can avoid placing their wine for extended times in temperatures that are below 40⁰ F.

If your wine does develop crystals, don’t be alarmed.  They aren’t dangerous and they don’t have a flavor, but if you want to strain them out simply use a cheesecloth.  As for me, knowing what a sign of quality these little crystals are, I will welcome seeing them in the bottles coming from our winery!

Once you have realized that I am not a Holstein calf or a miniature horse, you don’t have to look very hard to see that I am a big, loving dog with a large, welcoming heart.  Even with all of the loving and giving that I dole out at the vineyard (like greeting you at the car and walking you to the door, letting you pet my soft, soft ears, and sniffing all of your coolers as a measure of “quality control”) there is still room for a little more loving and giving.  Mom and Dad recently paired up with Kerus Global to create a wine that not only gives you a delicious beverage to savor, but it also gives money from each bottle sale to to a global education foundation that is working hard to make this world a better place.

Kerus Global Education was founded by two local Valley residents, Dr. Cerullo and Dr. Ball.  Kerus, which means doing something with all of your heart, is a wonderful organization that is providing support and AIDS education to children who have been orphaned by the AIDS epidemic in South Africa.  By using the It Takes Courage! curriculum, Kerus works to promote abstinence and faithfulness in relationships in order to lessen transmission rates. They also opened the Kerus Go Amogela Orphan Care Center to provide children who have been orphaned by AIDS academic and emotional support and guidance on making good life choices.  Kerus is making such an impact in the areas that it serves that the local governments have even started working with them to develop government run programs that employ the same educational strategies.

The wine, a Merlot and Chambourcin blend, is a table red and is sure to please everyone’s palate.  Notes of jammy dark fruit, vanilla, coffee, and leather on the nose are only a hint of the richness to come.  Once in your mouth, the complex flavors of tart cherry and ripe blackberry envelop the taste buds in a way that makes evident that this medium-bodied wine embodies all of the best qualities Merlot and Chambourcin have to offer.  The artwork on the bottle is particularly striking. Painted by South African artist Adrian Swartz, it features a stunning depiction of an African Elephant. The original painting is now displayed in our tasting room.

Make plans to come out and try our newest red soon.  Having the double benefit of being a delicious wine and doing a good deed for humankind through your purchase, buying this wine will also serve as your perfect cover-up for the real reason that most people come to Brix & Columns: to see your favorite wine blogger, ME!

You know what they say! It’s a dog’s life! I know I have it good, I’ve got a mom and dad who love me very much, I’ve got rolling hills of land to run around on, and I even have my own blog. You might think that it couldn’t get better than that, but think again. Over the past month I have been lucky enough to have my very best friend (and little nephew) Ryland come stay with me. We were assigned a very important task, and we definitely earned our bones.

Gene, our Vineyard Manager, and Taylor, my big brother, had a lot of work to do on the vines over the past month, and mom and dad sent us out to make sure that they were doing everything they needed to do. We laid in the shaded, soft grass and watched as they inspected each vine to determine its health. They were looking for bud swell and the magical bud break,  As they inspected the growing shoots, they tied them to the cordons to begin training their future growth.

Most people think of the spring season as a time of new beginnings, but the growth cycle of the grape vine actually renews each fall.  That is when the new buds begin to form on the vines as hard brown bumps, and they rest with a protective cover over the winter. In the early spring, as soon as ground temps break the 50⁰ mark, vines begin to bleed.  The roots wake up and pump water through the plant, distributing the needed “energy fuels” throughout the vine. These sugars, minerals, and hormones will all go to work immediately nourishing the sleeping buds and preparing them for bud swell. During the bleeding process, up to 1.5 litres of water can be pumped up through the plant and will “bleed” out of its pruning wounds.

 

Bud swell is the beautiful phenomena that begins to turn vineyards from the winter brown hues to the lush yellow-gold colors of all newly awakened plants.  Robert Frost warned us, though, that “nothing gold can stay,” and to be sure, these golden colors will soon erupt into a lush and vivid green as the bud swells burst into the bud break.  Tightly furled in these nuggets of green are everything the vine needs to make its next year of growth: leaves, shoots, and even the fruit clusters that will mature by the end of the growing season.

As Gene and Taylor moved through the rows examining and admiring each of the individual vines, they tied them to the cordon wires of the trellis to train their growth.  Next on the schedule, is stripping the trunks of their leaves. This will temporarily “de-green” the vineyard, but it is just to ensure that the energy of the plant is being used to produce healthy and vibrant shoots.  Each plant should have only two trunks, and by taking off the leaves, we are making certain that no additional shoots grow where we don’t want them.

I have a few more supervisor shifts coming up, and I will be meeting with Jeanette, our vineyard consultant, so look for a “growing” wealth of information to come!

Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy! I got so excited to tell you about our Rosé release that I completely forgot to do the final follow-up to my barrel series! The final type of barrel that I wanted to tell you about was the stainless steel barrel. Now I know that when you think of aging wine, oak barrels are automatically what you picture; however, they are not the only barrels that winemakers have at their disposal.

Stainless steel barrels have only been used in the wine world for a few decades, but don’t let their relative youth fool you.  They do have a plethora of benefits that come with their use, and only two negatives Let’s get the bad news out of the way first. One thing a stainless steel barrel cannot do is impact the texture of the wine by making it creamier. The other major drawback of using stainless steel barrels is that it cannot layer and increase the complexity of the wine that it is aging. A wine aged in an oak barrel has layers of complexity that a stainless steel barrel will never be able to duplicate.

The benefits of aging and stainless steel are so numerous I’m not quite sure where to start. The first is a no-brainer, they are more environmentally friendly because you don’t have to cut down trees to use them.  Hand in hand with that benefit is the fact that they are a more economical choice for the winemaker. A stainless steel barrel can be used for upwards of 10 years at a time with no leaks, and then used multiple more times.

When a winemaker is finished using a stainless steel barrel, the cleansing process is much quicker and easier than the one used on oak barrels. There is greater control over the temperature of the liquid and the barrel, and there is no oxidation, which improves the quality of the wine.

The fact that the flavor does not transfer from the barrel to the wine is viewed in a very favorable light by some people. It results in a wine that is light, fresh, and crisp. Wines aged in stainless steel barrels remain fruit-forward even as they age, and it really allows anyone enjoying the wine to easily taste the talent of the winemaker. If desired, oak chips can be added to the aging process to impart some of the flavor and texture that would be gained by aging in an oak barrel.

In a couple of weeks I’m going to be back to tell you about everything Mom, my brother Taylor, and I have been doing in the vineyards. We have been working very hard during this important season of the grape growing world and I can’t wait to tell you more!

When Mom and Dad came home from church on Sunday and had a dozen roses, I just knew they were for me. I had been such a good boy all weekend through all of our events, and at that moment I knew they had recognized my good behavior. Now I know not every dog wants to get a dozen roses, but I’m not just any dog. I’m Winston the wine dog and I am refined and distinguished, and I appreciate a bouquet of roses just as much as I appreciate a peanut butter-flavored dog biscuit.

You can imagine my surprise and dismay when Mom and Dad started dismantling that bouquet of roses without even letting me smell them! Next thing I knew they had them in a basket, they were nestling a bottle of rosé in the midst of them, and they pulled out their cameras without a single thought of me.  It turns out that if there’s anything more adored in the wine world than me, it’s got to be rosé. Rosé has been enjoyed from every imaginable group throughout the past centuries from royal courts to millenials and everyone in between, and even though rosé has just recently found popularity in the modern wine world, it actually has quite a long and reputable history.

When Greeks brought wine and vines to southern France in 600 B.C., they weren’t just bringing about the French vineyard, but they were introducing the type of wine that would eventually become adored around the world.  The wine that the Greeks originally brought with them when they founded Marseilles in southern France had the same hint of color our modern rosés do but nowhere near the depth of complexity and flavor that we are blessed with today.

During the Middle Ages, when the local monasteries begin to use wine as a source of income for their abbeys, wine making in that region saw a huge jump. By the 14th century, rosé had found its way into the most prestigious circles and was known as the wine of royalty.  In more recent years, the production of rosé has continued to be refined by combining traditional and modern techniques and wines have increased in the their depth and complexity.

Rosé can be made from a variety of different red grapes and it achieves its color through two different methods. The first, and the most common, is called maceration.  In this method the juice is allowed to lay on the skins of the grapes for up to two days before draining it off and continuing with the fermentation process on the entire batch of juice. In the saignée style, just a portion of the juice that is being macerated for a red varietal is bled off after a couple of hours. The rest of the batch is used to produce the red varietal and the smaller amount of juice that is drained off the top is processed to become a rosé.  This is not as common a method since it produces a smaller amount of juice from each batch, but it has the added benefit of making the flavors pop more in the red varietal from which it has been bled.  Very rarely, a winemaker will attempt to make a rosé by blending a white wine with a very small percentage of red wine, this method is frowned on by nearly all of the wine world.

Here at Brix and Columns, our rosé is made by the latter method. It is commonly produced from a variety of reds, and then aged in a combination of both neutral French and stainless steel barrels.  With the summer days quickly approaching, I can almost guarantee you that you will be spending a few hours on our patio sipping a delicious rosé and being greeted by the most wonderful winery dog there is: me!