Monday, February 20, 2012

Day Two: Virginia’s Monticello Wine Trail – the Birthplace of American Wine

I’m not going to lie.  The facts that Donald Trump owns Trump Winery and Dave Matthews owns Blenheim Winery were my main reasons for wanting to visit both while in Charlottesville.  The third winery we visited on this day was Jefferson Vineyards.  Three wineries owned or named after famous men in America.

Most people who follow wine news in Virginia are familiar with the backstory on the recent Trump acquisition of bankrupt Kluge Winery.  I’ve heard many people say they would never visit this winery just because of the Trump affiliation.  I had an open mind and wanted to try it first-hand before making any judgments.

Trump Winery:  Entrance sign and tasting room
Trump winery lies along the Southern Monticello trail, and is located about 20 minutes south of Charlottesville.  The drive here felt more remote than the previous day – but it could have been the route we chose to take.  With all of the open territory, it wasn’t difficult to spot Patricia Kluge’s expansive Albemarle Estate and vineyards nestled in the hills.  The tasting room is across the street and just down the road from this estate.  What I found ironic, especially given the Trump reputation for acquiring and re-branding, is that the address of their tasting room is on Blenheim Road!

The tasting room is a small, cute building, but I was expecting the larger facility which is advertised on the main page of their website.  It appears their website has been updated since my visit, as the tasting room link now shows this smaller building.  Once inside, we encountered confusion, and first-hand reminders of where we were thanks to the Donald Trump book display.  We weren’t welcomed, nor told where to go.  Off to the side, we saw a very tiny tasting room packed with noisy people, and one young man trying to juggle the pourings for about 15 people simultaneously.  We stood three rows back for about 15 minutes, waiting for our turn, but ultimately gave up.  Their tasting menu offered six different options ranging from a tasting of two wines for $8 on upward to a tasting of six wines for $17.99.  Yes, we were definitely in Trump territory.  

Trump Winery:  Entrance table, tasting room, and our two glasses of wine

Opting out of the tastings, we decided to just get two glasses of wine for $8/$12 a piece, and invited ourselves over to sit at a table in the main room.  After a few minutes here, we were finally approached by an employee.  He offered to provide us tastings at the table (thanks, wish you had told us that when we walked in!).  We declined and just kept our two glasses.  I did take the opportunity to ask him a few questions.  I had noticed some cute Trump Winery labeled souvenirs – a woman’s shopping bag and etched wine glasses.  I asked how much the shopping bag was and he responded with “More than you want to know.”  Again, thanks.  The glasses, while attractive, were $12 apiece.  What I found most ironic, and confusing, was that the place still seemed to have a bit of an identity crisis.  While the Trump name was everywhere, all the wines were still labeled Kluge.  I asked about this, and the man stated that he thought a Trump labeled wine was in the works, but beyond that he didn’t know what the plans were for re-branding.  Huh.  Not long after this, the noise of the tasting room became too much and it was hardly a relaxed setting.  The boisterous group of middle-aged adults celebrating something was getting out of control as their wine kept flowing.  One of the employees shouted at them to keep it down.  Nice.  There was more confusion regarding how to pay as they were seriously short-staffed.  We finally managed to do this.  And bolt.

Trump Winery:  Trump displays, Trump accessories, Kluge wine

My Experience Rating (relative to other Virginia wineries):  Convenience: 5, Knowledgeable Staff: 3, Wines: Did not taste enough to judge, Tasting Room and Amenities: 4, Scenery and Ambiance: 7, Value: 3 

Blenheim Vineyards

Driving up the road to Blenheim from our raucous experience at Trump was a welcome relief.  We instantly felt the more laid-back style and a QUIET setting.  The tasting room building itself has somewhat of a ski-lodge feel.  The architecture inside is really interesting.  A glass floor allows you to see the wine barrels in the cellar downstairs.  The tasting counters back to floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking their vineyards.

Blenheim Vineyards:  Property, vineyards, and tasting room
We tasted five wines on their tasting menu for $5.  This included the Painted White 2010 (42% Chardonnay, 28% Viognier, 20% Roussanne, and 10% Marsanne), Red Table Wine (blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Syrah), Cabernet Franc 2010, Petit Verdot 2010, and their Painted Red (47% Merlot, 21% Syrah, 14% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Petit Verdot, and 7% Cabernet Franc).  Bottle prices ranged from $14 - $30.

Blenheim Vineyards:  Inside the tasting room and the glass floor
I asked our pourer how often Dave Matthews visits the winery these days (and no doubt I was the 4 zillionth person to ask him this question).  He said he does visit occasionally when he’s in town.  We were told Dave’s mother purchased the property in 1999 as she wanted a fruit farm, and this was subsequently turned into a winery in 2000.  His influence is elsewhere though, as Dave developed the designs for the building, and also designed the labels of the Painted White and Painted Red wines.

I would love to go back here!

My Experience Rating (relative to other Virginia wineries):  Convenience: 5, Knowledgeable Staff: 9, Wines: 8, Tasting Room and Amenities: 8, Scenery and Ambiance: 8, Value: 7

Jefferson Vineyards

This was our last stop of the day.  The oldest of the three wineries we visited this day, the tasting room is smaller and more discrete.  This is one winery where we will have to go back to as we walked into yet again the same inebriated crowd we’d run into at Trump.  [Note:  Ladies, if you think it is a good idea to gather your sorority sisters to celebrate your 45th birthday, or any birthday for that matter, and get completely wasted while swearing and yelling at the wine pourers, you WILL make a complete idiot of yourself and you SHOULD care.]  

Jefferson Vineyards;  Tasting room, grounds, and historical marker

Our experience was pretty well ruined, but we did try their tasting menu which consisted of a Pinot Gris 2010, Chardonnay 2010, Chardonnay Reserve 2010, Vin Rouge, Cabernet Fran 2010, Petit Verdot 2010, Meritage 2008, Johannisburg Riesling 2010, and Vin Blanc. We enjoyed nearly all the wines on this menu.

We will go back!

My Experience Rating (relative to other Virginia wineries):  Convenience: 7, Knowledgeable Staff: 9, Wines: 8, Tasting Room and Amenities: 6, Scenery and Ambiance (boisterous women aside): 7, Value: 8

No comments:

Post a Comment