September 11, 2014 § Leave a comment
Stellar wines this go-round!
Sunset Hills Vineyard 2013 Reserve Chardonnay – Seeing as how we don’t make very much of this wine on any given year, it’s been quite a while since we’ve had any bottles to sell. Seven months, to be exact. And as such you can imagine we’re very excited to be releasing the 2013 vintage. It’s been a long time coming, but we always like to hold onto our Reserve Chardonnay for an October or November release, as it generally prefers some time in bottle (and not to mention it’s such a great Thanksgiving wine).
The 2013 vintage is a blend of clone 17 fruit from our Shenandoah Springs Vineyard, as well as the “upper” block of Estate Vineyard #1 – both nice, rich, very-ripe expressions of the grape. These Chardonnays are entirely fermented and aged in French oak (about 20% new), with our standard lees stirring winter and spring, giving the wine wonderful vanilla, coconut, cream, and butterscotch qualities. Behind that stands exotic ripe fruit, a nice round mouthfeel, and a dashing of oak tannins. This wine is released specifically for the club shipment.
Sunset Hills Vineyard 2013 Cabernet Franc – The 2013 Cabernet Franc marks our second bottling of this wine as a vineyard designate, produced entirely from fruit off our Shenandoah Springs Vineyard. This wine is deeper and darker, with more extraction, than what was made from the 2012 harvest – this is a result of adjustments in pruning and cropload, as well as seasonal differences, and some slight adjustments in the winery (more post-fermentation maceration, warmer fermentation temperatures, a bit more oak, even a splash of Tannat).
One of our more dense, earthy vintages of Cabernet Franc to be released since 2009. Like the Reserve Chardonnay, this wine is just now being released to the club members.
September 9, 2014 § Leave a comment
May 29, 2014 § Leave a comment
May 28th, 2014
We are through initial tastings and have moved toward blending for many of our 2013 red wines, and as such the vintage itself has been coming into focus more and more. The 2013 vintage was often quite confusing for us, in that we saw considerably variation in fruit from different vineyard blocks, and it was not always as predictable as in pervious years. Additionally, we couldn’t make up our minds about which blocks would be standouts – sometimes we’d bring in a Merlot, for example, that seemed so promising as fruit in the vineyard, but during fermentation lacked vibrancy; sometimes vice versa; sometimes the wines surprised us as they grew out of their infancy in barrel. As the dust has settled and we look toward the early bottlings of these wines, our understanding of the vintage as a whole has certainly grown, and we can begin to make sense of the reds we’ll be bottling from 2013.
Merlots – Much like 2012, we see significant variation between vineyards and vineyard blocks. The standouts here are without a doubt Estate Vineyard #2 and Estate Vineyard #3. These wines are dark, complex, earthy, extracted, and powerful – not quite approachable yet, as far as tannins go, and as such we will allow another 6 months to a year on oak – but after some additional mellowing these two blocks will be promoted for use either in Reserve wines or in the Mosaic itself. Both vineyards were entirely uninoculated fermantations, which seems to push the wines quickly past their primary fruits into more interesting realms. Unfortunately for the season, the frost affected yields on much of our Merlot and our vintage bottling of this wine will likely be only half of what it was in 2012, but it is a strong year, vibrant, fruity, and dense. We plan to bottle the 2013 Merlot prior to the 2014 harvest, in August. The remaining blocks will remain in barrel until 2015.
Cabernet Francs – I remember saying during harvest, “I think all our Cab Franc this year will be Reserve quality.” We adjusted pruning in our Shenandoah Springs Vineyard significantly, and it paid off. Felix, one of our vineyard managers, said, “I’ve never tasted this fruit so ripe, or seen such dark berries.” And then we went nuts in the cellar, extending the maceration of certain lots to a month as the tannins softened and midpalate lengthened. Today we’re pulling the base for our 2013 Cabernet Franc blend. It’s a brooding wine. Dark and earthy like the bigger Merlots, but with cedar and smoke and clove. Less fruity and more evolved than our Cabernet Francs tend to be. And that’s not to mention what’ll actually make the Reserve – Estate Vineyard #1 and Estate Vineyard #3, which each have a well-defined savory quality, with cinnamon and nutmeg and juniper. Lots of great options here.
Cabernet Sauvignons – Picked after an almost four-day rain in mid-October, we unfortunately lost the bigness and impact that we were hoping for, trading it for some leaner, more round and easy-drinking Cab Sauvs. The standout here is Estate Vineyard #2, which we picked in two tries and which is still quite youthful and brightly fruity, but with complexity of texture and tannin. All our grower Cab Sauv will likely be used in the 2013 Sunset Red, leaving us with a small quantity of a high quality varietal bottling for 2013. Still we see that even in a solid season like 2013, the late-season rains can make this varietal very difficult in Virginia. But the blocks that are good are really good, so it’s hard not to give it a go each new season.
Petit Verdots – This was the year of Petit Verdot for Sunset Hills. Full crops from Shenandoah Springs, Catesby, and Estate Vineyard #3 – all quite different and destined for different bottlings. Shenandoah Springs is the lightest of the bunch, with black pepper aromatics and surprisingly round and easy tannins for this notoriously difficult to tame varietal. Catesby and Estate Vineyard #3 are both monsters – clove, bramble, fig, sultana, jammy fruit, with thick, sinewy tannins. As such, the Shenandoah Springs will likely find its way into numerous blends, lending structure and dark fruits, while Catesby and Estate Vineyard #3 will be promoted to use in Reserve wines and/or into our 2013 Petit Verdot.
May 14, 2014 § Leave a comment
May 16th, 2014
Sunset Hills Vineyard 2013 Viognier -
Something is in the air today. As I sat down to type up the notes for our 2013 Viognier, I see that just this morning the 2013 Viognier was awarded the Chairman’s Award (Unanimous Gold) at the Riverside International Wine Competition – an award no previous Sunset Hills wine was won. So what better day than today to open a bottle and write the notes?
The 2013 Viognier follows the 2012 vintage in many ways – these have been ripe, full years for Viognier, focused on large mouthfeel, full texture, and ripe floral aromatics. The 2013 shows acacia, honeysuckle, mango, and passion fruit, with a supple, rich body and a very vivid, lively finish. Slightly off-dry, even at this young age the 2013 seems harmonious and well-delineated. Sadly (yes, there’s a downside here), due to the now imfamous (amongst winemakers) Mother’s Day frost of 2013, we lost a good portion of our Viognier crop. As such, this wine will be reserved especially for our Club members, and will likely not be poured in our tasting room for the duration of the year.
Blend: 95% Viognier, 5% Petit Manseng
Vineyards: Estate Vineyard #1, Estate Vineyard #3, Catesby Vineyard, Bethany Ridge Vineyard
Sunset Hills Vineyard 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon -
At last! A new vintage of Cab Sauv! It’s been far too long, and what’s particularly exciting is how well this wine has already opened up in bottle, which is the reason we’ve decided to include it in this shipment. Generally we would sit on this wine until the fall, but it’s pouring far too well right now.
Aromatics of blackcurrant, stewed fruit, plum, and toast are already present, with a nice depth to the palate, and lots of black fruit flavors of black cherry and blackberry. Not quite as bulky and lush as our 2010 Cab Sauv, our 2012 vintage focuses on black fruits, sweet spices, and penetrating aromatics, with a medium body and a long clove and nutmeg finish. Fully ripe and very expressive at this early stage, we would expect this wine to continue gaining in complexity over the next five years.
Blend: 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot
Vineyards: Estate Vineyard #2, Shenandoah Springs Vineyard, Malick Vineyard, Breaux Vineyards
May 8, 2014 § Leave a comment
May 8th, 2014
“What a strange thing!
to be alive
beneath cherry blossoms.”
Spring has come fast and late in Virginia this year, and it’s erupting quickly. When the forsythia and jonquils first bloom I am always reminded of a quote – “Every spring is the only spring – a perpetual astonishment,” – but this year it has really exploded quickly. Partly this is due to the extremely cold winter combined with a cold early spring, pushing back the awakening period for most plants, so that they all came nearly at once, in one big burst.
It’s now the second week of May, and overall we’re seeing about 60%-70% budbreak. Ask me again after this weekend and it’ll be more like 80%. Budbreak was late this year – if there’s an “average” in Virginia, then the 2014 season seems to be about two weeks behind. Also interesting is that the order of varietal budbreak is a bit off this year. Whereas we normally see Chardonnay and Viognier first, coupled with Merlot and some of the young canes in Cab Franc, after which the later varieties begin to break, this year we’re seeing a pretty even break amongst all varietals, save for Petit Verdot, Cab Sauv, and Tannat, which are just starting to push. I’ve asked our neighboring grapegrowers and most are seeing the same. It will be interesting to see whether the timing of flowering and bloom adjusts to this pace or not.
“It is Spring again. The Earth is like a child that knows poems by heart.” – Rainer Maria Rilke
March 27, 2014 § 1 Comment
March 27th, 2014
Late March 2014 finds us with spots of snow still on the ground, freezing temperatures, and lots of work ahead of us. It has been a nearly unprecedentedly cold and snowy winter in much of the East Coast, certainly in Virginia, and absolutely here at Sunset Hills. In fact, the weather has been such a prominent topic of conversation for the past two months that I’m hesitant to bring it up at all. Instead we’ll take a stroll around the production end of Sunset Hills to see what we’ve been up to.
Nearly all our 2013 whites have been bottled this winter. Thus far we’ve bottled the 2013 Sunset White, 2013 Chardonnay, 2013 Rose, 2013 Rose of Cabernet Franc, 2013 Viognier, and 2013 Reserve Chardonnay. Due to low yields in our estate fruit, we will be skipping the vintage with Petit Manseng – a bummer for sure, but on the bright side we were able to do some wonderful blending with Petit Manseng in our Chardonnay and Viognier. The 2013 whites are quite nice – fleshier and riper than in 2012 – and we’re excited to see them appear on our tasting lineup and in the Club shipments. Bottling season will continue through June this year, as we still have our beefier 2012 reds to barrel, as well as some of the earlier 2013s. All told we will be bottling more wine in 2014 than ever before, and we’re quite fortunate to have some very exciting releases around the corner.
We were excited and honored to have our 2010 Mosaic included in the Virginia Governor’s Cup Case for a second year in a row. This is quite an honor, as the competition itself is quite stringent, and the fellow wines and wineries included in the Case are truly wonderful expressions of Virginia wine. We are further excited to be putting the finishing touches on our 2012 Mosaic, and moving it into bottle in May, although at this time we aren’t planning on releasing it until next winter.
And, of course, winter is for pruning. While we were hoping to have completed the installation of our new vineyard, Sherman Ridge Vineyard, the weather has not yet permitted. So, instead, the crew has been busy pruning through these freezing days. With 60 acres to prune, this task essentially spreads out over the entire winter. The picture above is the Cabernet Sauvignon in our Estate Vineyard #2. He should probably be wearing gloves.
March 17, 2014 § Leave a comment
March 17th, 2014
Below are descriptions of the wines we will be offering as “Nate’s Picks” for the April/May Estate Club Shipments. Enjoy!
Sunset Hills Vineyard 2013 Chardonnay – Unreleased until now, I’m very excited to be getting our 2013 Chardonnay (as well as all of our 2013 whites) into everyone’s hands. Made in a similar style to our “stainless” Chardonnays of past vintages, the 2013 Chardonnay benefited from the very cool and long ripening season at Shenandoah Springs Vineyard. Much more dense in the mid-palate, with riper aromatics of peach and pear and white flower, and a nice crisp refreshing acidity, this is more in line with the Chardonnays we were seeing from the 2009 vintage. Very expressive and vibrant. While the wine is very fresh and young now, we expect this to age from now until 2016. Also: ask about the screwcaps!
Sunset Hills Vineyard 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon – Some of you may have had this wine at private tastings or Estate Club events over the past year, but we’ve finally decided to let it go and release it to the Universe. Wonderfully aromatic, with great cigarbox and molasses and baking spice on the nose; super-smooth (my word) on the mid-palate, with flavors of tobacco, dried fruit, vanilla, and coffee. We were fortunate to be given a vintage in which we could make a Cabernet Sauvignon in the more “international” style (very ripe, very smooth, very expressive), while still retaining that great acidity and bright fruit of our Estate Vineyard #2, and we consider this to be a once-in-five-years Cab Sauv. This Estate Club shipment will sell us out, sadly.