I’ve visited a ton of Virginia wineries over the years. But I’ve only been writing this blog for 15 months, so I’m gradually revisiting favorites, not so favorites, and new wineries so I can blog the experience. According to Virginiawine.org, there are 248 wineries in Virginia. Visiting all of them is starting to sound like Mission Impossible. But I’ll do my best . . .
A couple of weeks ago, I visited Early Mountain Vineyards in Madison, Virginia.
Early Mountain Vineyards is owned by Steve & Jean Case (of AOL fame & fortune). And it’s a stunning venue — it might be the prettiest winery I’ve ever visited. Absolutely no expense was spared to create an exceptional aesthetic experience.
That said . . . I felt more like I was at a restaurant than a winery. But more on that later.
Early Mountain Vineyards has a really interesting business model. It’s called Best of Virginia. They host cooperating wineries from all over the state (the selection of which rotates) whose wines are available for tasting as part of a “wine flight”. I love the concept of showcasing the best Virginia wines in one place. When we lived in Monterey, California, we used to visit a super-fun collaborative tasting room called A Taste of Monterey. I’ve long wished we had a similar venue here in Virginia. Early Mountain is as close as I’ve seen to that idea.
That said . . .
You only get one chance to make a first impression, and mine was this sign, posted right beside the front door:
Whaaaa? My girlfriend and I brought a picnic lunch with us. Uh-oh. It was 14 degrees outside, and neither of us was in the mood for an Arctic lunch, so we asked if we could eat our picnic inside. No dice. So right up front, my feathers were a little ruffled. Did I miss something when I checked their website before our field trip?? Steve Case founded AOL — he’s obviously on a first-name-basis with the Internet. And the website is gorgeous, but I found absolutely no heads-up about the no outside food inside rule. Btw, I couldn’t find any information about how much it costs to taste a flight of wine, either. It’s a small thing, but why not let people know what’s available for tasting . . . and exactly how much it will cost?
Just to make sure I wasn’t having a blond moment, I went back to the website when I got home, and here’s what it does say:
Taste and discuss the Best of Virginia wines by the fireplace. Bring friends, the kids, or the dog and have a picnic on The Terrace. Sample local delicacies from the Marketplace.
Hindsight being 20/20, I suppose “have a picnic on The Terrace” technically means my picnic has to be outside . . . but it’s a bit of a stretch.
Maybe it was the picnic rebuff, but my girlfriend and I were starting to feel a little underdressed in our jeans and now über-conspicuous picnic basket. Fortunately, this lady and her BFF strolled in wearing fox stoles and the entire Burberry’s catalog. So that helped. Of all the days to forget my chinchilla vest!
There is a beautiful wine tasting bar at Early Mountain, but we were quickly ushered away from the bar, straight to a table . . .
. . . where we were given a menu of wine flights available for purchase. And another menu for our now compulsory lunch selections.
Each wine flight is between $14-20. You get two ounces each of four different wines, delivered to your table in a handy, custom “wine flight tote”. But . . . if you want to taste more than four wines, you’ll need to invest at least $30 — for 16 ounces of wine. I don’t need (or want) 16 ounces to taste 8 wines. By way of comparison, in a “normal” wine tasting, you pay anywhere form nothing to $10 and taste anywhere from 5 to 20+ wines. If you don’t like a wine, you dump it. But once you invest in a wine flight, not liking/finishing a wine feels like setting fire to five bucks.
We ordered a Mini Charcuterie plate with local meats and cheeses ($26) along with our other selections of French Onion Soup ($7) and Ham & Brie Pannini ($10). The food was actually quite good. My picnic would have been good too, though. Just sayin‘.
Early Mountain Vineyards Malbec Merlot Rosé 2012 ⭐⭐/84
Not a bad little Rosé. Delicate and dry with bright cherry flavors and a buttery finish. $18/bottle.
Early Mountain Vineyards Block 11 White Blend 2012 ⭐⭐/83
Very Viognier-like. 65% Petit Manseng, 35% Moscat. Petrol nose with tropical flavors of pineapple and gardenia blossom (yes, seriously). $25/bottle.
Lovingston Seyval Blanc 2012 ⭐⭐/83
Bone dry. Mouth-puckering, itchy-tongue dry. There’s a bitter pineapple thing going on, too. I don’t dislike it, but it needs the right food. $20/bottle.
Trump Blanc de Blanc Sparkling Wine 2008 ⭐⭐⭐/85
My favorite of the flight. Crisp and clean with white peach and toast flavors. Decent acidity and balance, too. $30/bottle.
By the time I finished my $15 flight and my $32 lunch . . . guess what I wasn’t in the mood to do? Buy wine. I left Early Mountain empty handed. Not because the wines weren’t good. I just blew my budget on the wine flight and lunch.
Will I visit Early Mountain again? Probably. But with a different set of expectations. You aren’t so much wine tasting at Early Mountain as you are sitting down to experience a snapshot of Virginia wine and food. If you go in knowing that . . . you’ll have a great visit.
My biggest disappointment? I left not knowing any more about the wines than I did before we got there. I wanted to taste and learn more of Virginia. I’d love to see an option for a more traditional tasting upfront (and tasting sheets with some information about the wines) with the option to purchase a flight of my favorites to take to a cozy table afterwards.
But on the plus side, I spent a couple of hours with a good friend, sitting in front of a warm fireplace, eating good food, and drinking some pretty decent wines. Not a bad way to spend an afternoon.
Footnote: My girlfriend made a special stop at Pastries by Randolph to buy us these exquisite pear tarts for our winery picnic. I had visions of the Soup Nazi chasing us out of the winery with a giant ladle if we attempted to eat them inside, so we had to go to Plan B . . .