In the rolling hills of western North Carolina nestled within the Crest of the Blue Ridge lies the beautiful vineyards and boutique winery of Souther Williams Vineyard. Souther Williams Vineyard sits on the remains of a 10,000-acre farm that has been in owner Ken Parker’s family for over 200 years. The vineyard and winery continue the family’s commitment to the land and their dedication to being responsible stewards as is stated in their motto ”Gargien de la terre” which means “Caretakers of the Earth”.
Souther Williams Vineyard Photo Courtesy: Souther Williams Vineyard
Ken currently has 8 acres in vines and plans for an additional 5 acres. The vineyards are planted at approximately 2500 feet above sea level in mountain loam soil with a rocky substrate that provides good drainage and mineral content allowing the vines to sink their roots deep into the ground. I originally heard of Souther Williams because of their Saperavi planting, which is the first in North Carolina, but after learning more about their vineyard I became very interested in their choice of grape varieties. They grow wine grapes that originated in Austria, Eastern Europe, Germany, and Russia because these grapes have proven to be reliable and produce quality fruit even when grown at higher altitudes in cool climates with shorter growing seasons. Ken planted one acre each of Grüner Veltliner, Riesling, Vidal Blanc, Cynthiana, Blaufrankisch, Regent, Saperavi, and Cabernet Franc with an acre of Rkatsiteli to be added in 2022.
Ken Parker and his wife Angela have a wine story that is a familiar one when it comes to people who succumb to the
Sun shining on rows of Cynthiana vines Photo Courtesy: Souther Williams Vineyard
irresistible pull of time and place by following their hearts home to live the “Winemaker’s Life”. Ken and Angela were professionals in banking and technology when they found their passion for wine. They left those careers to pursue new careers in the retail side of the wine industry but soon realized the only way they could truly fulfill their dreams was to return home to North Carolina and start their own vineyard and winery on the family farm. Souther Williams Vineyard will open its tasting room to the public in June 2021. Vidal Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Riesling, Grüner Veltliner, Rkatsiteli, and two Meritage blends will be available for purchase in the winery’s initial offering of wine
Aerial view of Gruner Veltliner and Vidal Blanc vineyard Photo Courtesy: Souther Williams Vineyard
In my last post, I explored the idea that you didn’t need to try wine from far away places to experience something new. There are plenty of grape varieties that were commonly found on kitchen tables and being made into everyday wines have fallen out of favor for a myriad of reasons can provide an interesting distraction from the predictable narrative of today’s offerings.
Isabella is a Vitis labrusca grape that was once prized for it’s ability to produce fruit that was marketable as table grapes, juice, and grapes for winemaking. Isabella is a large round grape with dark purple skin and a green-yellow flesh that is easily separated from its skin.
In many European countries, Isabella is still banned from being grown and it is illegal to make wine from its grapes. The importation of Isabella vines from North America was widely blamed for the phylloxera plague that ravaged vineyards across Europe in the mid-1800s. Despite it being outlawed in many European countries Isabella can still be found in vineyards and being made into various styles of wine, especially in Italy where the sweet dessert wine Fragolino is very popular. Isabella’s reputation as a desperado has necessitated it being known by more than fifty aliases. Those names range from Alexander and Fragola to Moschostaphylo and Kerkyraios but no matter what name you have known Isabella by it always displays that trademark “foxy” flavor that Vitis labrusca grapes are known for.
If you have followed this blog you know that I’m fascinated by uncommon wine grapes and where they are being grown by innovative vintners. I usually write about grapes that originated in other parts of the world but today I’m writing about a grape that was developed in the United States and is widely planted in my home state of Pennsylvania.
Traminette was created in 1965 at the University of Illinois by crossing the Vitis vinifera grape Gewürztraminer and the French-American hybrid grape Joannes Seyve 23.416. It was originally created as a white table grape but was then found to possess qualities that make it favorable for making wine. The result was a grape with a complex flavor profile, good productivity, resistance to cold temperatures, and versatility in the cellar. Traminette produces a straw-colored wine that has an enticing floral aroma and flavors of apricot, honey, and to a lesser extent, tropical fruit. I had the pleasure of tasting Traminette juice as it flowed from the press at Ripepi Wnery & Vineyard Monongahela, PA. It was bright and had a depth of sweetness with a flavor that is hard to describe. Traminette is most often made in a dry to off-dry style. I like both styles but prefer the off-dry wine when enjoying a day at the winery with my friends.
Traminette can be found throughout Pennsylvania but is most heavily concentrated in the southeastern and northcentral regions.
Winemakers in Australia and South Africa are facing a crisis. Australia is embroiled in a trade dispute with China in which China has halted the purchase of Australian barley, most beef, seafood, coal, and yes,wine. By early December 2020 Australian wineries had lost 1.2 billion in sales. South Africa has banned all alcohol sales as it battles a resurgence of Covid-19. You can help by buying a bottle or two of Australian and South African wine when you visit your wine shop. This is a perfect opportunity to revisit an old favorite from these countries or explore something new, either way it’s a win/win situation.
Twelve bottles of Bordeaux and hundreds of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon canes made it back to Earth Wednesday night 1/13/2021 when they splash-downed in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Florida near Tampa. The wine was sent to the International Space Station by the Luxembourg startup Space Cargo Unlimited. The object of the experiment was to determine how aging in space would affect the wine. The wine will first be taste-tested by a panel of experts then subjected to chemical analysis to verify if any alterations in it’s aging occurred.
The vine clippings arrived at the space station aboard a different SpaceX mission in March 2020. The focus of the vine experiment was to observe how they respond to the stresses of weightlessness and use that information to develop hardier and more adaptable plants for use on earth and on future space missions.
As interesting as the experiments are what I find amazing is the restraint those astronauts showed being stuck in space with a case of Bordeaux for more than a year and not opening a single bottle! WOW! I salute their will power! LOL
I just received an interesting email from my good friend Steve Casscles. You may recognize Steve from his many articles about wine grapes or his book “Grapes of the Hudson Valley and Other Cool Climate Regions of the U.S. and Canada” available on Amazon.com. Steve is a winemaker at Sabba Vineyard in New York’s Hudson Valley. He wanted me to share the exciting news with my readers that Sabba Vineyard has embarked on a new project and is offering a very limited quantity (about 20 gallons) of wine made from heritage wine grapes. Steve and Sabba Vineyard owner Abby Youghabi have worked tirelessly at preserving these and many other heritage grapes so they can be enjoyed by future generations. Anyone interested in purchasing these unique wines can go to sabbavineyard.com and click on “Order Now” to view the wines or use this link: http://sabbavineyard.com/s/order At this time they are offering:
-Baccchus Marion – a Ricketts Red variety developed in the Hudson Valley in the 1870s a flinty red variety, medium body, but a true wine grape developed in the 19th century (which was unique then) $25
– Baco Blanc – as steely and flinty white with fruits of soft lemons and green apples. The variety is used a lot in Cognac and Armanac to make brandy. $25
– Pallmer Noir – a chance hybrid Steve found at his farm. A big Malbec kind of wine.with lots of vinifera in its genetic makeup. $25
To say 2020 has been a difficult year would be an understatement of monumental proportions. Don’t let your haste to put 2020 behind you results in a missed opportunity to treat yourself to a New Year’s Eve toast with a great Champagne as you show the past year the door. Billecart-Salmon Brut Sous Bois Champagne ($85) is just such a Champagne. It is a unique cuvée made with three Champenois grape varieties blended in an artful style that resurrects the heart and soul of original Champagne. The Premier and Grand Cru Chardonnay from the Côte des Blancs, Premier, and Grand Cru Pinot Noir from the Montagne de Reims, Aÿ and Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, and Pinot Meunier from the right bank of the Vallée de la Marne are vinified entirely in oak and aged 6 to 7 years on their lees to yield a Champagne with a complex aromatic character. Brut Sous Bois displays a brilliant yellow color in the glass with sparkles of gold highlighting the steady streams of small bubbles that delight the eye. Aromas of fresh citrus and dried fruit lead your palate naturally into the bold burst of flavors featuring notes of grilled brioche and toffee, exactly what you would expect from a powerful mature wine from Champagne. Pairing suggestions include mushroom dishes, cheese (especially finely shaved Monk’s head), and poultry. This full-bodied wine will stand up to the heavier fare of the holiday season and can provide the perfect complement to steak or other grilled meat. Billecart-Salmon’s pursuit of quality doesn’t stop with what they put in the bottle but also with the label itself. Look closely and you will see the label is made from real cherry wood. To enjoy the true essence of Billecart-Salmon Brut Sous Bois Champagne pour a glass and just savor the moment.
I would like to invite you to view my latest article that was just published on The Vintner Project website vintnerproject.com It is a candid look at the Saperavi being grown and made in the State of New York. It includes intimate and insightful commentary from four legendary N.Y. winemakers, Fred Frank, President of Dr. Frank’s Wine, son of Willy Frank and grandson of Dr. Konstantin Frank, John McGregor, Vice-President of McGregor Vineyard and son of the founder Bob McGregor, Martha (Marti) Macinski, the founder and former owner of Standing Stone Vineyards, and Jim Baker, the founder, owner, and winemaker of Chateau Niagara Winery. This piece offers a truly unique perspective into the mystique of American Saperavi like never before. A “must” read for anyone interested in the future of emerging winegrapes in North America. Photos Courtesy: Dr. Frank Winery, McGregor Vineyard, and Chateau Niagara Winery. If you like the article please share. Link to article: https://vintnerproject.com/wine/saperavi-the-next-cult-grape/
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This year has certainly been a stressful and unnerving time for everyone. Our dependable way of life has been thrown into chaos with no foreseeable return to normalcy anytime soon. Traditional Thanksgiving festivities will be adapted to conform to the pandemic protocols just like every other holiday or event had to do in 2020. Since our Thanksgiving dinners will hopefully be celebrated with a smaller gathering of friends and family then why shouldn’t we treat ourselves with good wine?
A Chardonnay with a touch of oak will stand up to all the flavor profiles of a family-style turkey dinner. My choice for a Chardonnay with all the right characteristics is Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay 2018. This California Chardonnay shows well in the glass with an alluring straw color and aromas of oak, apple, and vanilla. It has a good structure that supports flavors of apple, pear, melon, and, citrus that are accentuated by its medium acidity.
Often you need a red wine as a counterpoint to the white wine you are serving your guests. Saldo Zinfandel 2018 by the Prisoner Wine Company will accent your table with its beautiful ruby color and notes of oak. The flavors of dark fruit on a balanced bold body, supple tannins, and mouthwatering acidity are certain to please your red wine lovers. TIP: Decant before serving.
For me, no Thanksgiving dinner would be complete without a Riesling on the table. If you have read my blog then it is no secret that I like Finger Lakes Riesling but they can be hard to find. The two wines I have recommended are substantially above the price point I tend to cover so when I need to buy multiple bottles I have found this Washington State Riesling to be a great pick to fill that need. My go-to Washington Riesling for value and taste is Chateau Ste. Michelle Dry Riesling 2019. This Riesling is made in a very approachable style that can be enjoyed by just about anyone. It is easy to drink with crisp acidity and flavors of citrus, tropical fruit, and peach. The price point is in the $10-$14 range.
I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving and please stay safe.
If you have visited this blog you know I am a big fan of the Georgian wine grape Saperavi. I have written about it often here and in print publications, websites, and online magazines. There’s another ancient Georgian white grape that is extremely widespread in that region whose wine I have also become fascinated with and that is Rkatsiteli. Rkatsiteli is a pale-skinned cold-hardy Vitis vinifera wine grape that can trace its origins as far back as Saperavi and like Saperavi it is considered to be one of the oldest wine-producing grapes in the world. Rkatsiteli is widely planted in the Caucasus Region, the area that connects Europe and Asia. While its acreage is considerable it is far less than it occupied during the Soviet-era when quantity was valued for the mass production of wine. The main reasons for the popularity of Rkatsiteli in that part of the world are that it has a strong resistance to cold temperatures while retaining a good level of acidity in hot growing conditions and versatility in the cellar where it can be made into anything from table wine to sparkling wine and everything in between. Rkatsiteli can be found outside of the Caucasus in China and the United States. You can find it being grown as Rkatsiteli in the northeastern U.S., mainly in the Finger Lakes Region of New York and also in Virginia. In China, it is being grown and produced as Baiyu.
Rkatsiteli is made in many styles and types of wine but it usually displays a light body and high acidity. Since Rkatsiteli is made into such a wide variety of wine by a diverse community of winemakers and cultures I will focus on the Rkatsiteli wine made on the East Coast of the United States where it is taking on the characteristics of each unique terroir it encounters.
Like Saperavi, Rkatsiteli was first planted in the Finger Lakes Wine Region of New York by the legendary Dr. Konstantin Frank where it continues to be grown and made into a classic style of Rkatsiteli by his family at the Dr. Frank Winery in Hammondsport on Keuka Lake. When you taste Dr. Frank Rkatsiteli 2019 the first thing you will notice is Rkatsiteli’s signature acidity and a lean body upfront but the flavors tropical fruit and pear come out on the finish. This wine is a nice light-bodied white wine now but will improve with time in the bottle.
McGregor Vineyard is one of the two vineyards that grow Rkatsiteli in the Finger Lakes. McGregor is most recognized for its iconic Saperavi blend Black Russian Red but their Rkatsiteli is one of their most popular and exclusive wines with only 41 cases produced in 2019. McGregor Rkatsiteli 2019 is a light wine perfect to drink at a festive gathering or on a picnic with friends because it has refreshing acidity and a long finish filled with fruit flavors.
Horton Vineyards in Gordonville, Virginia began growing Rkatsiteli after losing vines to the bitter Winter of 1996. Horton Vineyards Rkatsiteli 2017 displays aromas of nectarines and Meyer lemon that when combined with its prominent minerality and acidity renders a fresh-tasting wine that you can enjoy alone or pair with lighter fare.
As fall gives way to winter and our tastes turn to more full-bodied reds don’t forget about Rkatsiteli. My suggestion to you is to buy a couple of bottles to save for next summer because it will be here before you can say Rkatsiteli.