Guess who showed up in Richmond last week? My mom has no idea that I sneaked in the car to make my own appearance at the Governor’s Cup Gala, but I did! I donned my best suit and snuck right in under everybody’s nose. It may seem like a dog would seem a little out of place in the newly remodeled train station, but I was a wine lover surrounded by other wine lovers, so I fit right in!

I will tell you who else showed up at the Gala last night: the Shenandoah Valley AVA, that’s who! From the gold medals won by five vineyards in the Shenandoah Valley AVA, to the awarding of the Lifetime Achievement Award to a local winemaker, to the delegate who introduced the presentation of the David King Advocate of Year Award, all the way to the Governor’s Case, the Shenandoah Valley AVA was present every step of the way.

Picture it: Our valley, the beautiful land we call home, showing up all the way in Richmond at a swanky train station where history meets architectural renewal. The light twinkling off of the walls of glass only enhanced the magical feeling of the evening. Tables laden with food were scattered around the room: the selections on these were a wide range from charcuterie and truffled macaroni and cheese to fruit spreads and decadent tarts. All around the room, people milled around with wine glasses in hand, eager to try as many gold medal winners as they could.

After a little over an hour of tasting time, everyone was called to the far end of the room to hear the evening’s program. The ceremony always begins with recognition of leaders in the Virginia wine industry. It was wonderful to hear Randy Phillips, of Cave Ridge Vineyard, recognized with the Lifetime Achievement Award. He started his venture 20 years ago when he opened his winery; before that, Randy was involved with resource management. Since entering the wine world, Randy has consistently acted in ways to further the wine industry in both the Shenandoah Valley AVA and Virginia. From his instrumental presence in the creation of the Shenandoah Wine Grower’s Association to his creation of the Virginia Wine Distribution Center, it is evident that Randy has had an incredible influence in the explosive growth the Virginia wine industry has seen over the past 20 years. 

When he stepped on stage, Randy humbly gave thanks for the award and encouraged all of those present in the room to do their part in whatever journey they are on: “The world is run by people who show up, so continue to show up.” Thank you, Randy, for continuing to show up everyday and for helping to shape the Virginia wine industry into what it is today.

Chris Runion, an area delegate, made his way to the stage next to announce a recently passed resolution that recognized the significant impact that David King had on the Virginia wine industry through his advocacy for needed legislation that supported wine growers and winemakers across the state. David King, of King Family Vineyards, was pivotal in moving the wine industry forward by fighting for legislation that supports wine growers and others in the industry, and the Virginia Wineries Association wanted to carry on his legacy by giving an Advocate of the Year Award in his honor. As his son James recognized George Hodson for this year’s award, he quoted one of his father’s frequent reminders that “90% of life is showing up, and if you don’t, you might be legislated out.”

After the awards were given, the portion of the evening we were all waiting for arrived: the announcement of the winner of the Governor’s Cup. Each year, the Capital Wine School in Washington, DC, organizes and manages the judging process, and this year they had their work cut out for them! Out of the 532 wines that were entered from 105 wineries, 64 of those won gold medals. The judges remarked that it was evident that “Virginia wine makers were becoming more comfortable with their craft” and they were routinely impressed with the “elegant” and “stylistic profiles” that they encountered in the process. The “world-class” dessert wines received special notice this year when 868 Estate Vineyards won the Cup with their 2017 Vidal Blanc Passito. 

All twelve wines that made it into the Governor’s Case are listed below with hyperlinks to their vineyards. Be sure to take your own trip to taste the best of what Virginia has to offer.

868 Estate Vineyards 2017 Vidal Blanc Passito

Afton Mountain Vineyards 2017 Tradition

Barboursville Vineyards 2014 Octagon

Barboursville Vineyards 2018 Vermentino Reserve

Delaplane Cellars 2017 Williams Gap

Lake Anna Winery 2017 Tannat

Michael Shaps 2016 Meritage

Pollak Vineyards 2017 Cabernet Franc Reserve

Pollak Vineyards 2017 Smuggler

Rockbridge Vineyard 2017 Vd’Or (Shenandoah Valley AVA)

Shenandoah Vineyards 2017 Shenandoah Reserve Red (Shenandoah Valley AVA)

Virginia Cellars Pippin Hill Farm & Vineyards 2017 Petit Verdot


It’s Valentine’s Day, and I am especially missing my favorite snuggler. It is always hard to lose a friend, and when you look up to someone like I looked up to Winston, the loss feels even greater. We were almost inseparable and the only time you could find us apart is when he had grown tired of my shenanigans and had gone to find a quiet place to nap instead. Mom has taken me on a lot of long walks these past two weeks, so I can get out my energy and emotions. Some days it has helped (like the day I found a bone to play with in the middle of the field) and other days it hasn’t (like the day I got sprayed by a skunk next to our barn).

I know I will never forget Winston no matter how many walks we take, and I know none of you will either. In fact, I like to think that we are almost famous- a dynamic duo that you can add a long list of others: Winston and Wyatt, peanut butter and jelly, Batman and Robin, cookies and cream, Romeo and Juliet, wine and chocolate.

I actually heard someone talking about pairing wine and chocolate in the tasting room just the other day. I had a little extra time on my paws that evening, so I researched a little bit about pairing. From what I read, when you pair those two, it is a little different than when I pair water with my dry dog food, but the results can be just as delicious. 

Wine and chocolate are actually sort of similar in their chemical makeups – they both contain tannins and polyphenols that make them a bit drying and bitter to taste. While unpleasant if not paired well, if done correctly the fats found in chocolate can help to make the fruity flavors of the wine stand out while any tannic qualities slip away. 

The key is making sure that the wine is a little sweeter than the chocolate you are pairing it with and to use similar weights when pairing (bold with bold, rich with rich, etc.). Milk chocolate and white chocolate are the easiest choices to pair with wines, and you should usually avoid pairing dark chocolates with dry wines because they can overwhelm each other. With careful selection, however, sometimes a bitter chocolate can help to allow the fruit shine through on tannic-heavy wines.  

After reading a bit on how to make good pairings, I have a few suggestions for you from our lineup:

If you are a sweeter wine drinker, I think our Kerus would go really well with a raspberry truffle. The pairing would help to illuminate some of the chocolate berry notes that are already deliciously evident in the wine. Our dessert style Petit Manseng, Lil Em, would pair perfectly with white chocolate. The sweet richness of both will bring the tropical fruit notes to surface and make the wine drinking experience a multi-sensory one. If you like a bit of both worlds, try our Six Penny Postscript coupled with a rich dark chocolate flaked with sea salt. Talk about sensory overload! The decadent sweetness of a port-style wine with bitter chocolate and savory salt is a match made in heaven.

I have some suggestions for you dry drinkers, too! What better way to celebrate this day of love than with a bottle of our Sparkling White and what better to pair it with than a few delicious chocolate dipped strawberries? Not only will you have a photo worthy of any Instagram post, but you will also have an explosion of flavor for your taste buds! It isn’t always easy to find a perfect piece of chocolate to serve with a dryer red wine, but I think a chunk of milk chocolate would go perfectly with our Merlot. The sweetness of the chocolate helps to bring out the berry flavors that exist just under the surface of the traditionally earthier wine. My final suggestion for you is to pair our McGahey Red Reserve wine with a slice of flourless chocolate torte. The creamy fudge-like texture will compliment the velvety structure of the McGahey perfectly!

Let’s be honest. Everyone needs a little sweet treat in their life and there is no better time to embrace the wine and chocolate duo than now! If you try a few of my pairing suggestions, let me know which one was your favorite!

XOXO, Wyatt

Almost all of you know my big brother Winston, but not all of you know that I have another older brother and a few older sisters scattered around the United States (and world!). I don’t get to see them very often, but when I do, I cover them with hugs and kisses and beg them to play chase – which is my favorite game of all time! Well, this past weekend, Mom and Dad were really excited to go visit my sister Hallie. They said she had an important job to do – which was news to me  because I thought Winston and I pulled all the weight around here.

It turns out that Mom and Dad named their newest wine after Hallie, and they needed her to say that it was delicious enough to release to the public. Hallie’s wine is called Hallielujah, and it is perfect for any celebration – just like her! The flavors are zingy and bright, and the bubbles are a delight to anyone who indulges in a glass of our Sparkling White and Sparkling Rosé wines.  

Sparkling wines might be new to our line up, but they aren’t new to the wine world. These bubbly wines were first noticed in the 1500s, but came about in a very accidental way. Wine makers were storing their wines in areas that had less than ideal conditions, and the warmer temperatures were causing the bottled wines to undergo secondary fermentations.

Everyone loved this new variety of wine to drink, so the winemakers decided to figure out a method to create sparkling wine on purpose. Over time, their trial and error processes became established practices, and now we have several processes in use today to create the sparkling wines that are so popular.

The most well-known method is the traditional method that takes the grapes through their first fermentation to create a base wine. This wine is then bottled with an addition of yeast and sugar.  After aging anywhere from 9 months to 5 years, the bottle is rotated to force the dead yeast cells to the top of the bottle. The yeast plug is removed, another shot of sugar is added to the bottle, and the cork is inserted. 

Another method, used mainly for Prosecco and Lambrusco, is the tank method. In this method, the base wine goes through its second fermentation in a pressurized tank to achieve the desired amount of bubbles (called atmospheres in the wine world). After the process has finished, the wine is bottled and dosed with sugar. A benefit of this shortened process is that wine tastes a little younger in bottle and brighter in flavor.

A third method that is revered in the wine world is the Ancestral method (lovingly referred to as Pet-Nat). In this method, the base wine does not complete its full fermentation process before it is bottled. Instead, the fermentation is halted so the wine can be bottled; fermentation finishes in the bottle. Eventually the bottle will be disgorged (when the yeast plug is removed), but no sugar will be added. This method gets as close to the original sparkling wines as winemakers are able.

Another common method of creating sparkling wines is to simply add carbonation to the wine. This is the simplest method, and is often employed in the newer sparkling wines hitting the markets.  

Regardless of the method used, you can be sure the product is delightful and ready to be enjoyed with your family and friends – even if it isn’t a special occasion!

What Winston and I want to know is when our wine is being released?  Of course it will be delicious, approachable, and sweet – just like us – but what would we call it? Until that day comes, Hallielujah will have to top your list of must drink wines at Brix & Columns Vineyards.


Boy, oh boy, over Christmas, Mom and Dad went on a vacation, and the three of us boys had the adventure of a lifetime!  Ryland, Winston, and I invited Erin and her daughter Halla to stay with us for the two weeks our parents were gone, and it was like a constant party.  We ran, we played, we ate, and we napped. There were rules (but we broke them), there were early nights (but we refused to go to bed), there were new toys (but we destroyed them), and there was an attempted structured schedule (but we overruled it). It. Was. Glorious.

Then Mom and Dad came home and straightened us all back out. It turns out that pups like us need a little bit of structure in our lives. I was reading the front of Mom’s shirt when she was giving me a few extra cuddles today, and I realized that the tagline for our vineyard is “Wine with Structure”. That makes sense because the structure of our tasting room is a little hard to miss when you are driving up to visit us. Our building is one that announces itself with a classical elegance that is reminiscent of the Jeffersonian architecture that influences it. Or so I am told. Who the heck this Jefferson guy is, I may never know. I’m just a little boy still!

Structure in wine, though?  How does that work?

After reading a bit, I found out that the structure of wine is a little bit different than the structure of a building EXCEPT that without structure, both wines and buildings fall flat. In order to find the structure of your wine, you have to put the flavors aside, and, instead, notice the way the wine feels in your mouth and what sensations it brings about.

There are five components that make up a wine’s structure Each of these components brings different qualities to the overall product, so it is important that they are in proper balance. 

Acidity – The higher the level of acidity is in wine, the lighter and brighter the wine seems and the more your mouth waters. When tasting, you can determine the acidity of your wine by noticing if it creates a tingling sensation on the front and sides of your mouth; if it does, the wine is high in acidity. You might also notice a rough sensation when you rub the tip of your tongue against the roof of your mouth.

Alcohol – The body of a wine gives you clues about its alcohol content.  The fuller-bodied wine is, the more alcohol it likely has (and tannins and acidity, too).  Wines that are lower in alcohol feel lighter in your mouth. Beware, though, you don’t want to be able to taste or smell the alcohol in your glass.

Body – When you notice how heavy or light a wine feels in your mouth, you are noticing the body of the wine. A fuller-bodied wine will not only present more robustly in your mouth, but it will also have a noticeably longer lingering finish. When you encounter a wine that you want to describe as bold or powerful or assertive, you can be sure that you have met a wine that is full of body!

Sweetness – When you perceive the sugar present in wines, you are recognizing how sweet they are, but sometimes that perception can be influenced by the smell of sweetness in the wine. The acidity levels or presence of tannins can also make wines seem sweeter or drier. To accurately measure this component, use the very tip of your tongue to dip into the wine to detect sweetness without being influenced by the aromatics. When you are drinking wines on the sweeter end, you may also notice an oily sensation in the middle of your tongue.  

Tannins – If you have ever tasted a wine that made your mouth feel dry even after you swallowed, you can be sure that the wine was high in tannins. Tannins make their way into wine from the skins, seeds, and stems of the cluster, and they help to add color and ageability. Wines that are lower in tannins present as softer and rounder when you drink them. Tannins will make their presence known by creating a bitter taste on the front and sides of the tongue. 

I know you already have a lot to think about when tasting wines, so just start while you are drinking a glass of your favorite wine. Notice the different sensations the wine is causing in the different locations of your mouth. By recognizing the structural elements of your favorite wines, you can start to fine tune your sense of what characteristics you are seeking when on the hunt for your new favorite bottle. . 

After reading all of this it seems like structure is important for buildings, wine, and puppies; I guess Dad was onto something when he came up with our tagline!

Dear Santa, 

I’ve always tried to be a good boy, but sometimes it is hard because there are so many fun things to get into. Earlier today, I wanted to show Winston what a good boy I had been, so I pounced on him while he was taking a nap and tugged at his ears until he got up to see the really cool blanket bed I had built all by myself in the middle of the living room floor. He wouldn’t even go with me to see!  He told me that I would know in a few weeks if I really had been a good boy because a man in a red suit would poof! appear in the fireplace, and as long as I didn’t bark at him, that man would leave me toys to play with and treats to eat! And guess what, Santa? That man is you!

Winston told me I could write you a letter and mail it to the North Pole, so you can know exactly what I want for Christmas, so that is what I am doing! I like yummy treats – any kind would do for me, but Mom says they have to be made for dogs. I also like toys that I can play tug and chase with. There is nothing funnier than running around the event space with a new toy in my mouth, but sometimes I get in trouble because even though something looks like a toy and smells like a toy, it isn’t a toy. I really, really like soft blankets to cuddle with. I even take them all over with me, then sometimes I lose them and can’t find them when I need a good cuddle.  

I hope it is okay that I am writing you. I know I am still learning to be a good boy, so maybe you can take some extra treats and toys and blankets into the dog shelters so those dogs and cats can have a good Christmas, too.  

I also have a few suggestions for what you can get all of the wine drinkers on your list! I don’t know if you know this, but I have very floppy ears and this makes them very good for listening (when I want to), and I hear a lot of people in the tasting room talking about what their favorite wine accessories are!

Someone talked about the 12 days of Christmas this weekend, and that is actually perfect because I have 12 items on my list to talk to you about! Can you come and drop these off to them over the 12 days leading up to Christmas? Is that how it works?


  1. Wine Cooler – I heard one day that wine should be stored at a certain temperature, so this sounds like the perfect present for someone who has a collection of wine that they want to save for a special occasion.  


  1. Decanter – Mom went to a conference a few weeks ago where she learned that all wine needs to breathe a little bit. After she said that, I looked closely at our wine bottles and I didn’t see any noses for them to sniff with, so maybe their nose comes in the decanter. I’m not really sure about this one. 


  1. Reidel Glasses – At this same conference, Mom learned about a special sort of wine glass called a Reidel (rhymes with needle). She said it really makes a difference in the way wine tastes! I wonder if it works with dog bowls, too? 


  1. Vacuum Wine Sealers – I heard Erin talking about these to one of our customers the other day.  She said it sucks all of the extra air out of the bottle and keeps the wine from getting too much exposure to oxygen. This your wine tastes better for longer.


  1. Barvivo Wine Opener – People ask all the time which wine openers we use, and this is the one all of our tasting room staff loves the most. The double-hinged metal part makes it really easy to pull even the toughest corks out of the bottle.  


  1. Vinglace Wine Chiller – This recommendation came from Kelli. She loves to drink COLD white wine, and this chiller keeps her wine ice cold for hours!


  1. Wine 2 Go Foldable Flask – We live in a beautiful area, and some people spend a lot of time hiking. Donna recommended this as a good gift because someone could easily take a bottle of wine with them on the trail without having to worry about the weight of the glass bottle. 


  1. Carrying Case – Speaking of carrying wine, a carrying case is the perfect present because if they take their own carrying case into a vineyard, it is even easier to take wine home. Who doesn’t need more wine?


  1. Sensory Kits – A few years ago, my brother and sisters got one of these kits for Mom and Dad. I am not allowed to get super close to it because I am still learning how to be gentle with delicate objects, but sometimes when they open the little glass vials, I can smell all sorts of yummy smells. Mom says they use them to help better pick out the scents that are in the wines.  


  1. Wine Skin – I was listening to a couple in the tasting room talk about their vacation to the beach. They said it had tons of sand for me to dig in and waves for me to chase, and they said the only thing they were missing was a bottle of wine from their favorite vineyard. Maybe this year, Mom will take me with her to the beach for a vacation. If she does, she can use a Wine Skin from our tasting room to pack a bottle of Petit Manseng, so it will stay safe in her luggage!


  1. Swig Mugs – We have these for sale in our tasting room, and they are the perfect size for stocking stuffers. These cups allow someone to have their favorite wine in front of a campfire, and the cup keeps it chilled if it is supposed to be!


  1. 12 Bottles from Brix & Columns – Now this is one that I really think you should bring before Christmas, Santa. If you bring the people on your nice list a case of wine by December the 13th, they will be able to countdown to Christmas. It would be like a miniature Advent calendar that all adults could enjoy! Errrrrr… Winston just came in and told me that the 12 days of Christmas actually starts on Christmas day, so if you have to wait until Christmas to give them their gift, they can still use it to celebrate the traditional 12 Days of Christmas that lasts from December 25th to January 5th. 

Santa, I hope my letter wasn’t too long, but I am just so excited to write to you and tell you all of my ideas.  I can’t wait to meet you on Christmas; I promise I won’t make a sound!



P.S. I will try really, really, really hard to be on my best behavior between now and then!

P.P.S. Winston said you like cookies; I do, too! (Please don’t tell Mom.) What sort of cookies do you want me to leave out?


One of the most wonderful aspects of Thanksgiving Day is that it prompts everyone takes a minute or two to list some of the things they are grateful for in their lives. With a wonderful life like mine, it isn’t hard to list all of the people and things that make each day a special one for me. 

I don’t know if you know this, but this summer, Mom and Dad told me that I was going to gain an exciting new title: they were going to make me a big brother!  Wyatt was a blue-eyed baby who was on his way to steal all of our hearts (and blankets, but who’s counting). It was hard for me at first to share my mom with him, but I quickly learned that the best thing about hearts is that they grow larger the more they love. In our house, there is always enough love to go around!

Having Wyatt around has meant that I always have a dog to play with (if he can talk me into it), but that doesn’t mean that playdates with my cousin, Ryland, are any less enjoyable.  The most amazing part of having Wyatt around for those is that they tire each other out, and then I get the benefit of all the puppy cuddles when they are too tired to play anymore.

Ryland isn’t the only dog that comes to see me. I adore all of the different visitors that come to the vineyard each day. Even though I am not always down there to receive them, the tasting room attendants tell me about how everyone asks about me. A few people this week sent in some special photos that they’ve taken with me over the past year, and I loved looking at all of them and remembering all of those wonderful moments that we shared.

It is often said that a business is only as good as the folks working there, and I am eternally grateful for all of the wonderful people we have in our tasting room. This group of ladies works seamlessly together to make sure that all of our visitors have a wonderful experience and also to make sure that everything that needs doing gets done. Plus, they rub my ears between their fingers and tell me my ears feel like velvet, and who doesn’t need more of that in their life?

There are some behind the scenes workers that you rarely ever see, but they are equally important to our success. Jacob works tirelessly in the vineyard, taking care of all of the manual labor, and he even comes inside to “back bar” whenever we need it! Joyce comes in once a week to make sure our floors, windows, and everything else you see sparkle. We don’t know what we would do without these two!

I think I heard a saying somewhere that fits this perfectly, “To everything there is a season…”  I have entered the season of rest, and it feels wonderful! Lately, my days have been spent laying around more and running around less, and for that I am grateful.  I am an old dog now, and lounging in the sunshine suits me much better than running from person to person and greeting them as they come in the door. Wyatt is able to take over more and more of my responsibilities, and I am happy to turn the reins over to him, so he can enjoy his season to shine!

Oooooh!  My turn, my turn!!  This is only the second time Winston has allowed me to write on a blog post, and I am so honored that he let me join in for this really important one!  I would say that I am thankful for that (which I am), but Winston is number 1 in my heart. He is the best big brother any little dog could ask for, and he has taught me everything I know (even the habits that Mom fusses at me about). Without him around, I would not be able to know all of the very important things I need to know about being a winery dog. 

Like, did you know we have people who come here every single week to see us?  Steve and Gina come in to eat dinner every Friday night by the fireplace. Steve makes sure to keep the fire going for us, and Gina tells me what a sweet dog I am in between chapters of her book! Sometimes we have horses that come to visit us, and they are even bigger than I am!  I like them a lot because they smell so good, and they can keep up when I run beside them!

I don’t meet many dogs that can keep up with me since I am so full of energy, and I am so big for my age. Last week, though, I was super lucky to meet a dog who is my age and almost my exact size! Finley is also a Great Dane puppy, and we had a lot of fun playing together – his mom even said we looked like a dog and pony show!

Even if every dog doesn’t like to play with me, almost everyone loves to give me cuddles. I love them most when they come from my mom or a from a little curly haired girl who comes to visit. We play and play for hours, and sometimes we lay down for naps next to each other, too!

Some nights are busier than others at Brix & Columns, and I really enjoyed the Friday night music series that just ended. If I was good, bands would even let me come on stage and sing with them! Speaking of singing, I am so grateful for my voice.  Mom says I can’t use it in the tasting room, but I love to talk and tell people what I am thinking.  Sometimes, when nobody will talk with me, I just lay on my bed in the corner and talk to myself! 

I also really love to lie around in the sunshine with Winston.  He doesn’t always like to play with me, but he always wants to snuggle in the sunshine, and those are my favorite naps!

I am just so happy that Mom and Dad chose ME to come live here on Six Penny Farm.  I have acres upon acres of grass to run on, I have so many new friends, and I have the best family a dog could ask for!

Man oh man, Friday night was a good time! We had to wait until Mom and Dad left for the Shenandoah Cup before we could call UberDog to come pick us up, but as soon as they were out the door, so were we! We both wore our very best black tie attire and even donned fur coats for the evening.

This evening was a very special one that came after months of planning. I (Winston) sat in on several of the phone calls and meetings that Mom had for this, but Wyatt missed out on most of them because he can never stay still for too long. The Shenandoah Cup was designed to celebrate the wines coming from the Shenandoah Valley AVA. Members of the Shenandoah Valley Wine Trail (SVWT) are really excited about the delicious wines being made in the Shenandoah Valley, and they decided it was time to have a wine gala in the Valley similar to the Governor’s Cup held in Richmond each year. 

Hosted by CrossKeys Vineyards, the evening showcased some of the 50 wines that were entered into the judging process by eight different wineries in the Wine Trail. In order to be entered, 85% of the grapes in the wines had to be grown in the Shenandoah Valley AVA, and the wines had to be produced by a member of the SVWT. This two stage process was completed by the Atlantic Seaboard Wine Association; during the first stage, the top six wines were selected, and during the second stage, a top wine was selected from those six.

Barren Ridge’s 2015 Meritage received the honor of winning the first annual Shenandoah Cup.  The other five wines that were recognized were Bluestone Vineyards’ 2017 Quartz Hill Red, CrossKeys Vineyards’ 2017 Cabernet Franc and 2018 Fiore, Muse Vineyards’ NV Blanc de Blancs, and Rockbridge Vineyards’ 2016 V d’Or.  I didn’t personally taste any of the wines (none of them were safe for canine consumption), but I heard plenty of people raving about how incredible they were and how much the industry has grown in our valley over the past few decades.  

Mom even invited a special guest to talk about this very topic!  Brian Yost, publisher of Wine Tourist magazine, came to speak about the merits of the Shenandoah Valley AVA.  He praised the “world class fruit” being grown in the Shenandoah Valley and said it was of a high enough quality that the “spectacular wines” coming from the area could compete on a world stage. He said that this area, ranging from the Potomac River to the Natural Bridge, is “blessed both geographically and geologically”  for grape growing and wine making. It sounds like we are some pretty lucky dogs to be living in the Shenandoah Valley!

Another very special guest was also there for this inaugural event: Emma Randel was a trailblazer for the Virginia wine industry, and she is considered the matriarch of both the Shenandoah Valley AVA and the Shenandoah Valley Wine Trail. When Emma and her husband opened Shenandoah Vineyards in 1976, it was just the second vineyard opened in the state! Emma fought hard to bring recognition to the Shenandoah Valley AVA, and I can only imagine that this evening was a special joy for her as she was able to celebrate the fruits of her labor.  

Our only regret of the evening is that we weren’t able to snag one of the delicious passed appetizers we saw being brought around the room. Despite this, we have to say that we really enjoyed ourselves!  It was so much fun to see everyone dressed up, and it was even more fun to see Mom in action as she spoke to the crowd. We are so proud of her!

Winston, here!  I sure am glad that all the hard work of monitoring Mom and Jacob as they picked grapes off our vines is over.  Watching over Wyatt already keeps my paws full, and I barely had any time for napping when I had to oversee all three of them!  Now that the grape harvest is over, it is time for this old boy to take a nap, but it is also time for the winemakers to shine! All of the grapes must be processed quickly in order to extract the highest quality juice to achieve the most delicious wines possible.   

White wines are a relatively easy-drinking bunch that are sometimes viewed as easier to process than red wines. This perspective comes, in part, because most of them aren’t taken through the maceration process. Eliminating that step removes much of the decision making process from the winemaker’s hands.  

It may be hard to believe, but all juices pressed from wine are clear. This is where maceration comes in. What is this maceration, you may ask? Maceration is the term used to refer to the amount of time grape juice sits on the skins after the grapes are crushed. By allowing the skins, seeds, and, often, stems to soak in the juice, the juice is able to extract all of the elements that you have come to expect from a fuller-bodied red wine: rich color, delicious aromas, complex structure, and the ever-important tannins that allow the wine to age. The maceration process can take place in three different ways – the two that are common in our area are cold soaking and extended maceration.  

Cold soaking, as you may imagine, takes place in cooler temperatures (below 55°) that ensure no fermentation takes place during the time the juice is on the must (the collective term used for the skins, seeds, and stems). The huge benefit of using the cold soaking method is that the winemaker has almost total control over the extraction process. Lasting between 12 hours and 5 days, it allows the juice to achieve more color extraction from the skins while lessening the influence of tannins in the wine. This is a great method for grapes that have thinner skins because it deepens the color. After the winemaker determines maceration has finished, the juice is warmed to a temperature conducive for fermentation.

Red grapes going through the maceration process.

Extended maceration takes place over a longer period of time and produces wines that are rich and supple and ready to age. Typically taking between 3 and 100 days, this sort of soaking results in wines that are lighter in color but richer in tannins. The longer soak not only has the added benefit of increasing the tannin count, but it decreases the bitterness of them by enlarging the size of the tannin molecules. Because wines that go through extended maceration are fermenting while soaking, the winemaker has less control over the process. In order to regulate this, winemakers have to manage the cap several times a day.  Cap is the word used to describe all of the bits of skin, seed, and stem that float to the top of the fermentation tank. By either punching this down into the wine or pumping the wine over the cap, the vintner is able to regulate the temperature, to ensure equal contact of wine with the must, to equally distribute the yeast, and to introduce oxygen to the blend. 

Clusters of Cabernet Franc still on the vine.

Carbonic maceration is not nearly as common a method as the other two; in fact, this particular style of maceration results in a particular style of wine: Beaujolais style. In this process, grapes are dropped into a vat in whole cluster form. The vat is pumped full of carbon dioxide in order to deprive the grapes of oxygen. As they starve for air, the grapes begin to release an enzyme that converts the sugars in the grapes into alcohol. This process continues until the alcohol level reaches 2% or until the grape cluster is crushed under the pressure of the clusters above it.  Wines produced in this style, in mere weeks after harvest, are known for their lively flavors and bright noses. They will not age well, due to lack of tannins, but these wines give an excellent declaration of the terroir in which they grow. In France, Beaujolais’ wines are released for sale on the third Thursday of November making them the perfect wine for this time of year!  

After all of this research, I am fairly certain that I am chock full of tannins; after all, have you ever seen such a handsome and distinguished dog as I? There has to be a factor of ageability going on here!

Winston is a regal gentleman! Photo by Greg Murray.

Winston here!  I took a few weeks break from writing this so Wyatt could take his own turn at blogging, and so I could turn my attention to harvest.  Good news! All of our grapes except ⅔ of our Chambourcin crop have been harvested and have been transported to Michael Shaps for him to work his wine-making magic.  As I am sure you can imagine, the entire world is enamored with Wyatt, his cuteness, and his speed of growing. Heck, I am even starting to love the little guy even if he gets a little more attention than me these days.  I guess that is a part of getting older, and I am happy to let Wyatt share the spotlight with me as long as you all (and especially Mom) remembers who the best boy is (ahem!).

One of the folks who came to visit last week kept saying, “Look at that guy, he’s all legs!”  I wasn’t exactly sure if they were talking about wine or Wyatt, so I decided it was time for the wine dog Winston to do a little sleuthing. Could legs be a wine term too?  Or were they just referring to Wyatt’s long, lanky legs?  

Wyatt and Winston laying next to each other on the rug.

It turns out “legs” is a term used in the wine world to refer to the droplets that roll down the side of the glass when someone gives it a swirl; these can also be called “church windows” or “wine tears”, but depending on who you ask, it is highly contestable that these droplets can actually tell you anything worth knowing about wine.  

Look at the shadows to see this glass of Cabernet Franc showing its legs.

The phenomena itself is an example of the Marangoni effect, and it occurs when the alcohol evaporates out of the wine that has been swirled away from the bottom of the glass and onto the greater surface area of the glass.  When this happens, a war is waged against the remaining water (which has a higher surface tension than alcohol) and the wine. The difference in surface tension pushes the water up towards the rim of the glass to fill the spaces left vacant by the evaporated alcohol. Eventually the pressure of gravity becomes too intense, and the water beads up to roll back down the glass to join the wine.

In sweeter wines, these droplets roll down more slowly because of the viscosity of the remaining water.  In wines with higher alcohol content, there are more droplets on the side of the glass.  

Our Lil Em has slower moving legs than our other wines.

All of this can change, though, based on the humidity levels and temperature in the room, so it is questionable if you can ever really tell anything from these wine legs at all.  If there is any pair of legs I know how to read, though, it is Wyatt’s. When they are getting closer to me, I know he is on his way to cause more mischief; when they have disappeared under a table, I know he is on the hunt for any fallen crumbs; and when they keep getting longer each week, I know he is nowhere near the end of his growing!

Oh boy! Winston told me yesterday that this time of year is when you wait, wait, wait for the grapes to be ready to harvest.  He said he was too busy to sit down and write today because between watching me grow and the grapes ripen that he had enough work to do this week.  You know what else he told me? He told me that one day I was going to take over this job because he was going to retire, so he could spend his days laying in the sun and waiting on Mom to bring him treats.  

Can you believe that a little boy like me is going to have a big grown up blog like this?  He said that if I wanted to practice this week I could. He even said it would be good for me to write down everything I’ve learned, so I can remember it better when I get excited. 

I’ve learned a lot about how to be a good winery dog, but these are the 10 most important rules for me to follow:

  • Say hi to all the people and all the dogs!  My job as a greeter is very important. Winston says nothing makes a person feel better than for you to tell them hello with a tail wag and a smile.  He also says dogs are the only ones lucky enough to get away with sniffing each other to say hi!
  • No barking in the tasting room.  Mom always tells me that I have so much to say, but Winston keeps reminding me that there is a time and place for everything and the tasting room is not the place for barking. He said some old man once said, “The quieter you become, the more you hear.”  The guy’s name was Ram Dogs, or something like that, but I doubt he had as much to say as I do. All I know is that when I am quiet, I just hear more things I need to investigate.  
  • I can’t eat the grapes. Winston reminds me of this whenever we go for a walk in the vineyard, and I start sniffing around too much.  He says they are toxic for me; I don’t really know what that word means yet, but I’m pretty sure it means they taste bad.
  • Stay close by! I’m just a little dog in a big, big world, but Winston says I can’t ever go too far away from home.  He said I can never go in the parking lot because cars aren’t always looking. He also told me that there are these really great stinky, smelly animals that run around sometimes.  He said they are black and white and they like to play chase, but he also said Mom gets really frustrated when he plays chase with them. I guess if I stay close to people who care about me, I won’t get into any trouble I can’t handle. 
  • No food, period.  Let me be clear here.  Winston is all about the food.  I’m all about the food. Do you know who is not all about the food?  Mom! She says that it is really important for us to have this thing called “table manners”.  She says that when we have this, we won’t ask anyone for food. She also says we are absolutely never allowed to put our heads on tables.  This doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, since that is where all the food is, but I am going to listen to her anyway because I don’t like to make her mad.  
  • “Curiosity killed the cat.”  This is one that Mom tells me all the time.  I don’t actually know what this has to do with me because I’m a dog and not a cat, but I don’t know if she’s just confused because she’s not a dog.  The problem with this is that Mom tells me this right before I’m about to make a really cool discovery, so I’m still deciding if this is the best rule for me to follow.    
  • Paw at the door to get back inside.  This is a really great trick, and it doesn’t take me long at all to teach the humans what I want when I do it!  Winston says this world is never going to know what you want unless you speak up, so he told me that whenever I really want to go inside or outside I should just paw on the door to let the world know.  The best part is when Winston plays a game I like to call “in-out-in-out”. When he’s playing that game, he waits for the people to sit down and then he paws on the door. As soon as they let him in or out and sit down again, he goes to another door and paws again.  He keeps going until he feels like they are tired, and then he just stays out and lays in the sunshine for a while.  
  • Naps are really important.  Is there anything better than curling up in a comfortable spot to snooze away?  Mom says when I don’t get enough sleep, I am not well-behaved. This is because when I get really tired I like to do lots of silly things to keep me awake, and this is always when I get put into time-out.  I usually lay down when that happens, and before I know it, I hear people talking to me and I am back to normal again!
  • Chew on toys, not humans or Winston.  I don’t know about this rule. My teeth are growing and they hurt sometimes.  The best way for me to make them feel better is to chew on something soft, but whenever I try to chew on Winston’s soft, soft ears to make them feel better, he growls at me.  When this happens, Mom tosses a toy my way. My favorite right now is a chipmunk that has ropes on it!
  • Sit down when I am asked.  You know what happens a lot when you are a winery dog?  You get your picture taken. Winston says I need to hold very still when that happens, and the best way to do this is to sit.  He told me that one day I would be big enough to sit my bottom in a chair like he does, but until then I need to learn to sit very still when I am saying hi to people or having my picture taken.  He also said I need to learn how to always stay down off of people’s laps because even if I am little now, I will be very big one day, and I will be too big to not listen when I need to.  

This is an awful lot for a little dog like me to know, but I know that if I try really hard, I can be the best puppy ever.  Winston told me that one day, a long time ago, he was just as little as I am now (pictured above!). He said that when he was little, he had a big brother named Vladimir, and Vladimir taught him everything he knows.  Mom even says that Vladimir had better manners than Winston! I hope I can be just as good of a dog as those two; I know with Winston showing me the way, I will have no problems at all!