We Couldn’t Be More Excited, or: An Early Taste Through The 2010 Reds

June 29, 2011 § Leave a comment

We hosted one of our “Premier Tastings” this past weekend, and a goal of mine in choosing the tasting lineup was to showcase wines that were more “vintage driven,” working from our white wines from the wonderful 2010 down to heavy reds from 2006.  I prefer to focus on vintages in these tastings because (a) who doesn’t like talking about the weather? and (b) it seems to me that wine drinkers can better relate overall structural differences in wine to seasonal variations than they can to winemaking decisions.  It’s more relatable when we talk about why a hot, dry Virginia summer tends to produce fatter, more exotic whites than it is to explain that your Semillon shows hints of orange peel because QA23 yeast produces so much beta-glucosidase that those terpenes just fly from the glass.

Here’s what we tasted:

2010 Chardonnay

2010 Viognier

2007 Reserve Cabernet Franc

2007 Cabernet Sauvignon

2006 Petit Verdot

2009 Sunset Red

Discussion of these different growing seasons led us to the memorable 2010 summer in Virginia, and while most people seem to enjoy the white wines from 2010, I am continuously being asked what is to come of the reds.  We taste through different varietals, vineyards, cooperages, and yeast selections fairly constantly here, and as we’ve moved into the summer I’ve been very impressed and excited by the blossoming of our red wines from 2010.

Breakfast. I mean, a Petit Verdot lineup!

 As we taste through these wines we’re hoping to accomplish a number of goals. (1) We’re critiquing our vineyard and cellar practices for those wines (should we have lowered yield? should we have picked earlier? should we have fermented hotter?, etc), (2) We’re critiquing our barrel selections (do we like the Zemplen forest better or worse than Nevers? do we like this cooper over that cooper?), (3) we’re trying to further understand the differences in vineyards, and the different varietals within those vineyards, (4) we’re slowly and thoughtfully determining which lots will make it into which final blends (does this Merlot block show varietal specificity? or would it be better suited helping soften the Sunset Red?), (5) we’re following maturation, (6) we’re looking for any possible problem barrels, and (7) we’re getting out of the vineyard for the hottest portion of the day.

As a whole, the 2010 reds are highly expressive and bold: these are big, lush, supple wines, with a lot of dark fruit, deep concentration, and in some cases extreme, almost Shiraz-like spiciness.  Although we’ll give them another 8 – 14 months in barrel, I can confidently let you in on the following:

– Our Estate Club Select wines from the 2010 reds will be Syrah, Nebbiolo, and possibly a vineyard designate Merlot.  The Merlot picked from our third-leaf vines in Vineyard 2 is much deeper, darker, concentrated, and tannic than our other blocks, which show great red fruit and openness.  We will certainly bottle this wine separately, but we have yet to determine whether we’ll single it out for the Estate Club, or bottle it as a Reserve.  Otherwise, (and without question) the Syrah and Nebbiolo are slated for the Estate Club.  These wines are both wonderfully unique from all the other reds, and from each other.  They are also our first foray into both varietals.  Overwhelming successes!

– Our Reserve Cabernet Franc will, for the fourth year running, consist of Cabernet Franc from the old block in Vineyard 1.  This block has consistently given us dark, brooding wines much more deep and complex than many of the other Cabernet Franc blocks.  This wine will be given an additional year in oak before bottling, and is slated for release in 2013.

– We will definitely be bottling a varietal 2010 Petit Verdot, also not to be released until 2013.  We utilized the Petit Verdot from 2009 for blending only, but the 2010 deserves its own bottle.


We’re planning both a Barrel Tasting and our Winemaker For A Day event for this fall and winter, both of which are great opportunities to taste some of these wines for yourself.  Hope to see you there!


Berry Development

June 23, 2011 § Leave a comment

Cabernet Sauvignon berry development


I Know What I’m Having Tonight

June 23, 2011 § Leave a comment

This past weekend our tasting room employees Alex and Dan hosted a wine and food pairing at Sunset Hills.  This event has always been a hit.  Below are their recipes.

Recipes to be paired with Sunset Hills 2010 Unoaked Chardonnay

Grilled Chicken Breast with Spring Salad

 Ingredients: chicken breasts, baby lettuce and baby spinach greens, seedless cucumber, sweet red pepper, mandarin orange slices, Asian pear of Granny Smith apple, raw almond slices.

Vinaigrette: olive oil (regular or light, not extra virgin), white wine vinegar (ordinary vinegar is OK), Sunset Hills Unoaked Chardonnay, salt.

  1. Baste chicken breasts with a little plain olive oil and grill to taste.
  2. In a large bowl, combine lots of your favorite fresh spring lettuce greens and baby spinach leaves.
  3. Add to taste some thin-sliced, seedless cucumber, small slivers of sweet red pepper, mandarin orange slices (drain the juice off first) and some thin-sliced pieces of Asian pear or Granny Smith apple.
  4. Make up a vinaigrette dressing from 2 parts olive oil (regular or light, not extra virgin), 1 part white wine vinegar (ordinary white vinegar is OK if you don’t have the white wine vinegar), 1 part Unoaked Chardonnay and a pinch of salt.
  5. Whisk the vinaigrette till well blended and drizzle over the salad, toss and then sprinkle with raw almond slices just before serving. (The dressing helps the almond slices hang onto the lettuce and not just drop to the bottom of the bowl).
  6. You can add an uptown touch by preparing individual plates, slicing the chicken breast and laying it over a bed of salad and adding a few additional apple or pear slices around the outside of the plate.

Recipes to be paired with Sunset Hills 2010 Rosè


  1. Pour one cold bottle of Sunset Rose into pitcher
  2. Pour a half a bottle of a Brute sparkling wine into pitcher and stir
  3. Get fresh strawberries and cut the tops off
  4. Put one strawberry into each champagne glass and pour mixture over it
  5. Serve with a cheese quiche and a green salad


  1. Make chicken salad and add tarragon, walnuts, cranberries and sliced grapes and serve in a pita shell or a croissant with a fruit salad
  2. Serve with Rose/Champagne mixture


Grilled Tuna Steak with Mediterranean Salad

Ingredients: tuna steaks, romaine lettuce greens with radiccio, cherry tomatoes, sweet onion (Vidalias are best), crumbled gorgonzola cheese, dried cranberries (Craisins).

Vinaigrette: olive oil, red wine vinegar, Sunset Rosè wine, salt.

  1. Baste tuna steaks with a little olive oil (oil can be infused with a little crushed garlic if you like) and grill to taste.
  2. In a large bowl, combine lots of fresh romaine lettuce and some radiccio to taste.
  3. Add to taste some cherry tomatoes (cut in half) and some thin-sliced sweet onion.
  4. Make up a vinaigrette dressing from 2 parts olive oil, 1 part red wine vinegar, 1 part rose and a pinch or two of salt.
  5. Whisk the vinaigrette till well blended and drizzle over the salad, toss and then add the crumbled gorgonzola and Craisins (again, the dressing helps keep the small stuff “engaged” so it doesn’t just drop to the bottom of the bowl).

Recipes to be paired with Sunset Hills 2009 Sunset Red

Marinade for Steaks

  1. Clean steaks and put in pan
  2. Add olive oil to cover bottom of pan, a splash of Sunset Red wine, cracked pepper and herbs de Provence
  3. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1.5 hours turning over half way through
  4. Soak wood chips for half an hour and put on coals
  5. Sear both sides of steaks and set aside to slowly cook
  6. Get 1 stick of butter and cut in half
  7. Melt half of stick and add to pan with olive oil, wine and herbs
  8. Get two garlic cloves, mince them up and add to pan and stir up mixture
  9. With pastry brush, baste steaks with mixture on both sides till done
  10. With other half of stick of butter, soften up, add fresh ground parsley and whip up
  11. Place a dollop of butter with parsley on top of each steak, close lid until melted and serve
  12. Serve steaks with garlic mashed potatoes, garlic bread, green salad and a glass of Sunset Red

The World of Leaf and Blade

June 14, 2011 § Leave a comment

“In June man, hustled by instinct, mows grass, riffles the earth with seeds, and locks in combat with mole and rabbit, ant, beetle, bird, and all others who gather to take his garden from him.  Woman looks at the curling-edge petals of a rose and melts a little and sighs, and her skin becomes petal and her eyes are stamens.

“June is gay – cool and warm, wet and shouting with growth and reproduction of the sweet and the noxious, the builder and the spoiler.  The girls in body-form slacks wander the High Street with locked hands while small transistor radios sit on their shoulders and whine love songs in their ears.  The young boys, bleeding with sap, sit on the stools of Tanger’s Drugstore ingesting future pimples through straws.  They watch the girls with level goat-eyes and make disparaging remarks to one another while their insides whimper with longing . . .

“In June the happy seed of summer germinates.  ‘Where shall we go over the glorious Fourth of July? . . .It’s getting on time we should be planning our vacation.’  June is the mother of potentials, ducklings swim bravely perhaps to the submarine jaws of snapping turtles, lettuces lunge toward drought, tomatoes rear defiant stems toward cutworms, and families match the merits of sand and sunburn over fretful mountain nights loud with mosquito symphonies.”

-John Steinbeck, The Winter of Our Discontent

2009 Tannat (Estate Club Select)

June 10, 2011 § Leave a comment

Two weeks ago we bottled the second wine which we felt had the filigree and uniqueness to wear the Estate Club Select label, our 2009 Tannat.  (Actually, the Tannat was the first Estate Club wine we made, but the second we bottled.)  It joins the ranks of our sold-out-so-fast-even-the-owner-can’t-get-it 2010 Petit Manseng, which is, in my opinion, one of the five most exciting wines we’ve ever made.  I won’t tell you what the others are, other than that our Tannat is in the ranks as well.

Tannat is a wonderfully obscure Madiranian varietal that produces dark, brambly, acidic, and highly tannic red wines.  It’s gained prominence in Uruguay, and is grown sparingly in Virginia despite making some of our most interesting, and apparently age-worthy, wines.

We understood early in the blending of our 2009 reds that the Tannat stood out amongst its peers, and that it would be a shame to lose it in blending and not showcase its wonderfully spicy fruit, huge, lean backbone, and depth.  In working toward the final blend for this wine, I tasted some really wonderful Virginia Tannats, notably Hillsborough Vineyard’s 2007 Onyx, and Horton Vineyards’ 2002 Tannat, and became more and more excited about how this grape was faring in Virginia.

The wine was given 18 months in oak and a blending partner in our Vineyard 1 Merlot (known, in the cellar, as the “strawberry and chocolate” barrels).  I expect we’ll give it 6-8 months in bottle (maybe more) before releasing it to the Estate Club.  Of all the wines we produce, this one especially has potential for laying down and allowing some serious bottle ageing.  Even now, though, just weeks after bottling, it’s hugely expressive and broad, very open and very powerful.  Estate Club members: look for this one in the winter!

Post-anthesis, pre-veraison

June 7, 2011 § Leave a comment

We’re through flowering and entering full bloom, with cap-fall almost complete for most varietals, and some of the earlier berry setting underway.   Mother Nature has been respectful of this and we’ve seen two wonderful rainless weeks during the full-bloom period, with highs in the upper 80s (and, occasionally, upper 90s), not a huge amount of wind,  and cool(ish) evenings.  Vigor has been high thanks to the much-higher-than-normal Spring rains, but the vines are healthy, disease-free, and entering into berry development and then (before we know it) ripening.   Is it almost time to pull out the press and grease the gears?

See the lateral in the upper left? Bane of my existence.

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