Words by Jessica Strelitz • Photographs by Jami McDowell 2015-03-28 01:21:20
LOCAL VINES YIELD BIG DREAMS WOMEN WINEMAKERS TAKE ROOT IN MID-ATLANTIC VINEYARDS The Virginia winemaking industry is starting to get the recognition it deserves, according to winemaker Lori Corcoran, co-owner of Corcoran Vineyards in Waterford. Increased investment has brought in new faces, including bold-letter names like Donald Trump, Steve Case and Mike and Kristi Huber, owners of regional furniture giant Belfort Furniture in Sterling. "They have brought in more awareness," Corcoran said. "Loudoun County is becoming a destination, with bigger properties that are also venues for weddings and events. It helps us all." Corcoran and her husband, Jim, started growing grapes on their farm in 2001. She then went to Virginia Tech to get a better understanding of the chemistry side of winemaking, and over the next 10 years increased the winery's annual production from 500 to 5,000 cases, now making more than a dozen wines. In early 2015, Corcoran released her most recent port-style wine from her final Viognier harvest–she lost all four acres of the varietal to the tough 2013–14 winter and doesn't plan to replant the finicky grape– which was aged for a year in whiskey barrels. She's been making port since 2010, but this unique release is different from the more commonly seen rubies, with notes of apricot from the fruit and butterscotch from the barrel. However, when new winemakers come to her for advice these days, they usually ask about her expanding portfolio of hard cider. Corcoran has long produced apple wine, sourcing several varieties from a third-generation apple farmer in Winchester, then doubling the Virginia quotient in her cider by aging some of them in bourbon barrels from A. Smith Bowman Distillery in Fredericksburg. Elsewhere in Loudoun County, Maggie Malick started making wine at home in the '00s after she and her husband, Mark, bought an overgrown Purcellville tree farm and planted some grapes. Classwork, research and mentorship from acclaimed Virginia winemaker Doug Fabbioli and, admittedly, a lot of "trial-and-error in the garage" led her to begin making wine that has since garnered awards across the nation. Maggie Malick Wine Caves opened in late 2013, and business has steadily grown. The first winter, Maggie ran the tasting room solo. This past winter, they needed a team of three to handle tasting traffic during what are traditionally slow months. Recognition has helped fill the tasting room. The winery earlier this year picked up a pair of gold medals for its fruity Petit Manseng and smoky Petit Verdot at the prestigious San Diego International Wine Competition, and added nine Virginia Wineries Association awards in February. The Malicks grow 13 different varietals on site, and are planting more vines and working to build a permanent tasting room closer to the vineyard. Malick, who also works full time in the intelligence industry, is so swamped she's had to cut back on her other love: music. She played sousaphone and tuba in the Washington Redskins Marching Band until the schedule got to be too much. Football season coincides with harvest and the busiest time of year in the tasting room. "We'd harvest and process all day Saturday, and then wake up and go to FedEx Field on Sunday morning. Something had to give," she lamented, adding she hopes to rejoin the band someday. At nearby Two Twisted Posts Winery, winemaker-owner Theresa Robertson opened with a jolt in early 2014, after a call from officials with the Virginia Governor's Cup Competition. She had entered several wines the previous fall, but hadn't actually opened the winery yet. "They said 'You've won three silvers and a gold [2012 Chardonnay], which is one of the 12 in the Governor's Case [considered the top Virginia wines of the year]. You have to come to Richmond and pour for the governor. You have to open,'" Robertson recounted a year later. With no tasting room in which to pour, she and her husband, Brad, pitched a tent in the parking lot of their Purcellville property, rolled out some barrels and poured wine en plein air. Robertson is a self-taught "new winemaker" and worked closely with Virginia-based wine consultant Tom Payette to hone her style, which she describes as "minimalistic." She also credits the local winemaking community for sharing both knowledge and time with her and other burgeoning enophiles. "When we first started, I was given a press by one of the wineries, and it's already been passed on to the fourth winery after me," she said. Robertson continues to work full time as a corporate accountant, and her four grown children and granddaughter all help out at the winery– from pounding posts to pouring on the weekends. She released several of her 2012 reds early this year, and "isn't even touching" her 2013 bottlings, including a Petit Verdot she says could be another case winner. "People who buy wine want to drink it then. I am never going to release a wine until it's ready. It can be costly, but worth it." Karen Reed, winemaker at Dry Mill Vineyards & Winery, started her career 15 years ago working at White Hall Vineyards outside of Charlottesville. "I knew I needed to know how to grow grapes to help make a difference in Virginia." So, her next stop was Australia, where she earned a master of viticulture degree from the University of Adelaide, and then she moved on to California's Napa Valley to deepen the bond between grape growers and winemakers. But Virginia called again, and after a year-long stint at Purcellville's Hillsborough Vineyards, she took over the vines at Dry Mill in 2010, producing wine alongside owner Dean Vanhuss. The Leesburg winery sells out of its most popular wines each year, and weather has been a challenge for grape growing during the last three vintages. Reed says she "talks to Mother Nature every day" about producing more fruit. 2014 was a little better, and she had enough Chardonnay to make another bottling in stainless steel, with plans to release it this summer. She's heartened by the influx of talented winemakers in recent years, but says the key to the future is getting people to invest in growing more quality grapes. "The term is overused, but it's what will shoot us forward," she added. Back in Purcellville, Heather Munden took over winemaking duties at Breaux Vineyards in May 2014, with big plans for the veteran winery. Breaux has grown considerably in popularity–and production–since it opened in 1997, and so have demands on its space. The second phase of a multi-year expansion is set to be finished this spring, with more tasting, event, retail and office space, along with a private Cellar Club and additional guest bathrooms. Munden, a graduate of the renowned viticulture and enology program at University of California at Davis and a trained chef, drove from California to begin her new life in Virginia. The draw? An opportunity to combine her wine and food expertise in one place. CEO Paul Breaux Jr. and GM Chris Blosser share her vision, with an on-site greenhouse already in the works. This year she is working on a reserve tier of wines, including an extended- aged Sauvignon Blanc that has been on the lees for more than a year. She's also hoping to soon find nearby property to raise pigs and begin making charcuterie again–all part of her new, and expanded, mid-Atlantic dream. Jessica Strelitz is a Northern Virginia–based food, wine and spirits freelance writer, editor and news geek, who has written for national and regional publications since 1999. Find her work @jstrelitz and jessicastrelitz.com ONE TO WATCH Emily Ye Yang, the new 20-something owner and soon-to-be associate winemaker of Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard in Dickerson, Maryland, has an apprenticeship planned this spring with her head winemaker Manolo Gomez–as soon as she returns from exploring the growing wine market in China. She passed the Wine & Spirit Education Trust Level III exam with merit, and said she's now ready to "practice and challenge." Also in the works: expanding the property's unfinished barn into a new tasting room. Breaux Vineyards: 36888 Breaux Vineyards Ln., Purcellville, VA; breauxvineyards.com Corcoran Vineyards: 14635 Corky’s Farm Ln., Waterford, VA; corcoranvineyards.com Dry Mill Vineyards and Winery: 18195 Dry Mill Rd., Leesburg, VA; drymillwine.com Maggie Malick Wine Caves: 12138 Harpers Ferry Rd., Purcellville, VA; maggiemalickwinecaves.com Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard: 18125 Comus Rd., Dickerson, MD; smvwinery.com Two Twisted Posts Winery: 12944 Harpers Ferry Rd., Purcellville, VA; twotwistedposts.com
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