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Field Trip: North Gate Vineyards

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I’ve been hearing a lot of chatter about North Gate Vineyards in Purcellville — it’s known for being one of the greenest wineries in Virginia.  And since Earth Day was last week, North Gate seemed a timely choice for a winery visit.

The tasting room at North Gate Vineyards is LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) Gold Certified.  What does that mean?  In a nutshell, they’re not just green, they’re über-green. North Gate is 100% solar powered (impressive).  And all building materials are local, reclaimed or recycled.

The tables inside the tasting room are made from recycled and/or reclaimed wood, and the stone for the fireplace came from the Shenandoah Valley.

There are plenty of other green touches in the tasting room, too.  From stunning recycled wine bottle light fixtures to the Dyson Blade hand dryers in the restroom.  The landscaping outside the tasting room is all native Virginia plants, and they’re a monarch waystation.  Oh, and North Gate is completely smoke-free (yay!!).

I like to bring a picnic with me when I visit a winery.  So, before we left for North Gate, I called to make sure they allow outside food in their tasting room.  This is my Rule #1 for visiting Virginia wineries.  Virginia wineries are pretty divided on the issue of outside food — some don’t allow it at all, some only allow it outside the tasting room, and others pretty much give you carte blanche.  I’ve learned this lesson the hard way.  Call first — it’s better to be safe than sorry hungry and annoyed.  North Gate is in the carte blanche category.  The only thing they asked is that we not bring something “too stinky”.  So I guess lutefisk is off the table.  😉

Our tasting room host, Dave, navigated us through eight wines, plus a white ginger sangria. The standard tasting is $7, and if you want the chocolate truffle pairings (who doesn’t want chocolate truffle pairings?), it’s an additional $5.  Check out these gorgeous chocolate truffles — white ginger pear tea, dark chocolate cherry, and salted caramel.

The current estate plantings at North Gate include Viognier, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, and Petit Manseng.  Other grapes are sourced from different vineyards in Virginia (and even New York).

NV Rkatsiteli ⭐⭐⭐/86
Rkatsiteli is an ancient grape indigenous to the Republic of Georgia.  Translated literally, Rkatsiteli means red stem. If you’re cool, you call it Rkatz.  Rkatz is known for its cold weather hardiness, and high levels of acidity.  The North Gate Rkatz is made with grapes sourced from Horton Vineyards, in Gordonsville, Virginia.  It’s a blend of two vintages (the 2012 and 2013).   The nose reminds me of a Sauvignon Blanc — lime, green apple, and basil.  Crisp and lean with an entire citrus bowl of acidity going on in my glass.  Lovely finish.  The label is a play on Rkatz (our cats), painted by Leesburg artist, Penny Hoffe.  $17.  13% ABV.

I can only think of a handful of Virginia wineries (there might be one or two more, but I can’t remember) that produce an Rkatsiteli — Horton, Miracle Valley, Morais, Cana, and North Gate. It’s an interesting grape, and worth a visit to any of these Virginia wineries to try it.

Viognier 2014  ⭐⭐⭐/85
Made entirely from estate grapes.  Lately, I’ve been seeing a shift in Virginia Viognier from over-the-top tropical to leaner and lighter — and I’m a big fan.  Lighter bodied, and aged in neutral French oak.  This was our first chocolate truffle pairing, and I’ll admit to being a little skeptical. Chocolate with Viognier?!?  Insanity.   We were instructed to taste the wine, then the truffle, and then the wine again.  The truffle was white ginger pear tea, and while it wasn’t a terrible pairing, it wasn’t an ah-ha moment, either.  My second sip of wine tasted like ginger fireworks!

Chardonnay 2014  ⭐⭐⭐/87+
Fermented in stainless steel, and then aged in neutral French oak for six months.  The grapes are sourced from the Wild Meadow Vineyard in Loudoun County (I believe this is the vineyard Michael Schaps Wineworks in Charlottesville uses for their Chardonnay).  A lean nose gives way to a medium body with an impressive structure.  Flavors of pear, toast, and vanilla linger on the finish.  $19.  13.5% ABV.

Riesling ⭐⭐⭐/86
You don’t see a ton of Riesling in Virginia.  Our summers are too hot and waaaay too humid for the grape to really thrive.  You end up with a flabby Riesling with little to no acid, and really . . . what’s the point of a Riesling without acid?  The North Gate Riesling is made with unfermented juice from Lamoreaux Landing Winery in the Finger Lakes, NY.  There’s no Riesling Dryness Scale on the back of the bottle, but for me, this comes in at medium-dry acidity.  Very pleasant, with flavors of white peach and apple.  Would be a lovely food wine.  $22.  13.3% ABV.

Sidebar:  Winemaker, Vicky Fedor stopped by to chat with us during our tasting.  The label for this Riesling simply says American Wine and does not list a vintage year.  Vicky explained this is due to Federal TTB (Tax & Trade Bureau) regulations.  I tried to look this up for clarification, but quickly got bogged down in a headache of bureaucratic drivel.  I think it all boils down to this — if you get your grapes from a state that is not contiguous to your own, you cannot list an appellation or vintage year on the label.  To put an appellation of origin on the label, the wine must be “fully finished” in a state contiguous to that where it’s labeled.  And since New York is not contiguous to Virginia . . . American Wine is the only designation that can go on the label.

That’s a lot of hurdles to jump through to make a Riesling, but it’s well done, so kudos to Vicky for having the patience to sift through the regulations and make a non-contiguous Riesling.

Meritage 2012  ⭐⭐⭐/87
Both the 2011 and 2012 vintages of the North Gate Meritage were gold medal winners at the Virginia Governor’s Cup, and they were included in the Virginia Governor’s Case (the top 12 Virginia wines of the Virginia Governor’s Cup).  The Governor’s Case is the Valhalla of Virginia wine — it’s a big deal to be included.  And Meritage is well on its way to being the wheelhouse of Virginia red wines.  This is a blend of 49% Merlot, 41% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8.5% Petit Verdot, and 1.5% Cabernet Franc.  Light and bright fruits (raspberry and cherry) give way to some more brooding flavors (licorice and tar) on the back end.  Would really like to see what this does after a few years in the cellar.  $24.  13% ABV.

This was our second truffle pairing — the dark chocolate cherry truffle.  Wow, the truffle really leeches the acidity out of the wine.  Ooof.  Not my thing.

Petit Verdot 2012  ⭐⭐⭐/84
Made entirely from estate grown grapes.  Petit Verdot is usually a blending wine (it’s one of the components of  a Bordeaux red).  I’m not usually a fan of Petit Verdot as a stand-alone variety. By itself, it can be a bit harsh — it really needs a dancing partner.   This one feels heavily acidic, with a generous dose of tannins.  It’s a little hyper for me.  The nose is leather in a barnyard. My girlfriend said dog fart, which is way funnier and more memorable! 😉  With the right food, it would probably relax a little.  $28.  13.3% ABV.

Chambourcin 2013  ⭐⭐⭐/83
Dave called this North Gate’s “red wine on training wheels”.  I’ve heard that descriptor before — Potomac Point in Stafford uses it to describe their Coyote Red.  Chambourcin is a hybrid grape of unknown parentage, and I’ll admit it’s not one of my favorite grapes — most Chambourcin tastes like herbal Nyquil to me.  The North Gate Chambourcin is one of the better examples I’ve tried, and hey, it doesn’t taste like Nyquil.  It’s lower in tannin, lighter in body, and approachable.  $17.  11.8% ABV.

Apple 2013 ⭐⭐⭐/85
This is North Gate’s most popular and best selling wine.  And it’s kind of a surprise wine.  It’s very subtle, and honestly, if you didn’t tell me it was apple wine, I might not have guessed it. Very crisp and refreshing.  The residual sugar is 3.5%.  12% ABV.  And — a portion of the proceeds from this wine are donated to the Blue Ridge Greyhound Adoption.  Winner.

White Ginger Sangria 
Made from 75% Viognier, 25% Petit Manseng, and a ginger-tea syrup.  The nose is like cracking open a can of Seagrams ginger ale.  So much so, I expected it to be carbonated.  It’s unusual, and quite good, but if you’re not a fan of ginger, it might not be your thing.  The sangria is available by the glass or in this cute little growler:


My overall wine impression of North Gate Vineyards is consistency.  Nothing completely blew my socks off, but I was impressed by the across-the-board quality of the wines.  North Gate has a great tasting room, friendly staff, and a foundation of very good wines.  North Gate will only improve over time.  So, which wines went home with me?  Rkatz and Chardonnay.

Disclaimer:  I visited North Gate Vineyards anonymously.

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