Guest Author Time!
While we’re on the left side of the country, we’re not really coastal, therein the title.
My friends Dick & Jarlene recently took a month-long, coast-to-coast trip across America. Wine lovers both, they stopped at every winery that they could, when schedule, distance, and business hours would permit. I asked for them to send me a quick writeup of their trip, and here it is!
The Interstate Wine Trail
A travelers observation and tastings
America makes wine! As West Coast people we associate the term “Wine Trail” with Napa, Sonoma, Paso Robles, Washington, and Oregon.” How limited is our understanding of this term, or are we just snobs and feel only California, Washington, and Oregon are worthy of this term?
We recently traveled from Las Vegas east to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, then north to Cary, North Carolina, all the way to Portland, Maine, west to Cleveland Ohio, west to St. Louis Missouri, and west to Denver, Colorado, before turning south back to Las Vegas.
We covered the majority of Interstate 40 East, 95 North and the entire length of Interstate 70.
Somewhere in EVERY STATE was a sign, “_______ Wine Trail next exit.” For the first couple of states (Arizona and New Mexico), we chuckled and said “Really?” Then it did not stop. Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Arkansas, Georgia, S. Carolina and others. My wife is now the queen of the “Siri/Yelp” search”! Every exit, “Siri, check local wineries,” and when an answer popped up, check Yelp. Multiple wineries, some with “Awards.” Some with grapes we never heard of, others made with various fruits.
We were on a deadline to reach South Carolina which meant we couldn’t take the time to visit, but now we have a greater appreciation that America wants to make wine and that every state wants its wines to be recognized. What winemaker doesn’t want high scores from Wine Spectator! Since SC was climate and terroir compatible with vinus vinifera, we said “OK, maybe this is something to follow up on later.”
Our next leg was north to Cary, North Carolina, and then on to Portland, Maine. We pretty much had forgotten the wine trail thing until just north of Cary and there is was, “_______ Wine Trail next exit.” And so it went through Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, and Maine! You know Maine, the land of pine needles, lobsters, clams, and rocky beaches! But wine?!?
Moving west on Interstate 70, there was the Finger Lakes Region, where, of course there are wine trails! Then passing through Ohio along Lake Erie, we knew that there would be wine. But Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, and Kansas? Really! And then Colorado, where we stopped and were surprised.
We couldn’t stop everywhere, but the places where we did manage to visit gave us insight into the expansion and popularity of wine in the United States. So, the next time you travel take some time, check your route, Google Wine Trails, ask Siri (or whoever your device assistant is), see what Yelp has to say, and allow some time to experience some American wine. Maybe you will discover a gem and report back on your find.
So if I am traveling through, say, Idaho and see, “_______ Wine Trail next exit,” I’ll check it out!
Of Course There Are Tasting Notes!
The Interstate Wine Trail
There are 12 separate wine regions/AVA’s in Virginia! Our travels took us to the Charlottesville area.
31 Blenheim Farm
Charlottesville, Virginia 22902
A gem located in the north central part of Virginia. Wines are of good quality and reasonably priced. The Painted Red is a local version of a right bank Bordeaux (44% Cabernet Franc, 31% Petit Verdot, 13% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Sauvignon. 76% aged for 10 months in French, American, and Hungarian oak.) The interesting feature is you can choose one of three labels that have been drawn by Dave Mathews.
The other Reds will age nicely and the whites were of good quality.
The most impressive feature is the winery building:
Designed by Dave Matthews and master craftsman William Johnson and finished in 2000, the Blenheim Vineyards winery building was designed to have minimal impact on the environment.
The building is split into the tasting room above, from which you can peer through paneled glass floors into the wine production facility below, which is kept cool by being nestled into the side of a hill. Constructed from reclaimed wood fitted together with mortise and tenon joints, the timber frame tasting room is lined with south-facing windows and skylights, which facilitate full daylighting of the space. In fact, no electricity is required to light the space in the summer. In the winter, the lights are only turned on once it gets dark outside, and the tasting room benefits from passive solar heating throughout the day as well.
3550 Blenheim Road
Located a few miles away, Trump Winery is nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in central Virginia, Trump Winery’s stunning 1,300-acre estate lies just a few miles from James Monroe’s Highland and Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, the birthplace of American viticulture. They pride themselves on creating the finest terroir-driven sparkling, white, and red wines, which have won numerous national and international medals and best-in-class designations. Planted with 210 acres of French vinifera varieties, Trump Winery is Virginia’s largest vineyard and the largest vinifera vineyard on the East Coast.
The vines are 16 years old and the wines, particularly the reds, can use some age. We tried the Cabernet and bought two bottles which should age about five years to reach their maturity. The dessert wine was not very good and the whites were mediocre.
We discovered that there are 24 wineries scattered throughout Maine with no distinctive AVA. From Sanford in the south to Dexter in the north they are spread out on either side of Interstate 95. Wines are made from Grapes, Fruit, Ciders, Meads and Sparkling. We only had the opportunity to visit one.
324 Fore Street
Portland, Maine 04101
A unique experience! They feature a Cabernet/Blueberry wine using sourced California grapes blended with Maine Blueberries, a 100% Blueberry wine that is really good. On a blind tasting you would guess it to be a Syrah. They also do a spin on Beaujolais (Bleujolais), not so good. The highlight is their dessert wine called Cranberry Smash which is a blueberry/cranberry blend. All the reds were above average. We bought the Blueberry and dessert wines.
They have an Apple Hard Cider and Cranberry Apple Cider that we tasted, but since I’m not a fan of hard ciders, it comes down to personal taste.There were some rave reviews of the ciders on Yelp.
For the Mixologist, they feature a Blueberry Bitters using Maine Blueberries and a Cranberry Bitters.
Sweetgrass Farm is a family run business firmly rooted in the community, supporting local sustainable agriculture, and donating 10% of profits to organizations which support families, children, and rural life.
We visited the Palisades Trail just north of Grand Junction. Several have tasting rooms and the ones we have not mentioned that we visited were not ones we would recommend. The three below are standouts and worth spending time at.
Red Fox Cellars
695 36 Road
Palisade, CO 81526
This local winery is affiliated with a distillery and uses Bourbon barrels to age some of their wines: Red Fox Bourbon Barrel Merlot, Cab Franc aged in Whiskey Barrels, Bordeaux Blend aged in Whiskey Barrels. These are all well made and the slight burn at the back of the throat gives these a unique profile and taste. Some could use some age but the winery is trying to set a new standard for Colorado wine.
As others in the area do they have some Ciders to sample.
Overall Colorado winemakers are doing a good job in developing the wines and some are striving to make a name for themselves.
Maison la Belle Vie Winery
3575 G Road
Palisade, CO 8152
This is our favorite of the area. Several varietals are offered in both standard and reserve. Prices are in line with California higher end wines and worth the cost. A white desert wine made with Mscat grapes and peaches is available in addition to a very good Sauvignon Blanc. There is a nice patio to enjoy both a tasting and a light lunch cheese platter. The Winemaker is always on hand for questions and insight to his wines.
Maison la Belle Vie means “House of Beautiful Life”, and this winery encompasses this expression – beautiful ambiance, beautiful surroundings, and of course, beautiful wine. Owner John Barbier’s favorite saying is, “Life is too short for cheap wine!” Using this idea as the foundation of its art, Maison la Belle Vie Winery emphasizes quality, taste, and elegance in every wine. Growing up in the Loire Valley of France, Mr. Barbier has the knowledge and skill that his family has perfected in the past 150 years of making wine.
Under the direction and guidance of Mr. Barbier, Maison la Belle Vie has utilized this time-tested knowledge to grow the best fruit, which is the foundation for making the best wine. Mr. Barbier’s experience and expertise in the vineyard in addition to his intimate knowledge of the arid high-desert region of western Colorado is a combination that results in high quality wine. The age-old practice of “dry-farming”, a technique that works well with the arid climate of western Colorado, allows for maximum results that only add to the complexity and flavor of the fruit.
3269 3/4 C Road
Palisade, CO 81526
This is a small boutique winery with limited production but high-quality wines. The Winemaker literally does it all. Based upon conditions, he decides which grapes will be used for the current year wine. He also produces a Cherry dessert wine from the fruit of a nearby farm and it is very good. We tasted the reds which were good quality and have lots of flavors.
The farm was purchased in 1993. It was an apple orchard at the time. As picking cost for the apples exceeded the value of the apples, a lot of apple firewood was sold. In 1994, 15 different varieties of sweet cherries and 17 different grape varieties were planted. In 2001 a commercial winery was licensed, another vineyard site was purchased in 2005, it was planted in 2006, and a tasting room was added in 2011.