Friday, July 20, 2012

Wine Country: West Virginia



West Virginia has fewer than two dozen wineries.  The number eleven kept turning up in my research, but the West Virginia Department of Agriculture lists 19.  They don’t list much more than that about wine or grape growing, though.  The state does, however, boast three American Viticultural Areas.  The Mountain State has a piece of the Kanawha River Valley, Ohio River Valley and Shenandoah Valley AVAs.  

A lot of French hybrids are grown in West Virginia, due to the cold winters, but Riesling is said to be a mainstay in the northeastern part of the state.  In the Potomac Highlands, the shale soil is compared with that of Germany's Mosel Valley.  With about 47,000 gallons of wine produced in 2009, West Virginia comes in ahead of only Oklahoma, Maine and Montana in wine production.

A big thank you goes to my friend - and West Virginia native - Jim Thornton, and his wife Sue, who were kind enough to make it their mission to find these two wines for me on a trip back to Jim’s home state. Without them, there may not have been a West Virginia page for the Wine Country series.

Daniel Vineyards is in Crab Orchard, West Virginia, in the southwestern corner of the state.  The winery and vineyard is located at over 2,500 feet above sea level, so cold-hardy grapes are a must.  Owner and winemaker, Dr. C. Richard Daniel, has experimented with over 114 different grape varieties since his initial plantings in 1990.  Presently he grows 14 varieties:

     Cornell University Hybrids (Cayuga, Chardonel, Traminette)
     French-American Hybrids (Seyval, St. Vincent, Vidal, and Vignoles)
     Native American (Norton)
     Swenson Hybrids (Brianna, Esprit, and Sabrevois)
     University of Minnesota Hybrids (Frontenac, La Crescent, and Marquette)

The doctor says his blackberry and Port-style wines are his best sellers.
Daniel Vineyards West Virginia Red Table Wine 2008
The wine is brick red color and medium dark in the glass.  Light passes through it easily, and it has the look of a delicate Pinot Noir.  The nose is very intense blackberry, lots of earthy minerality. I would guess that this wine is made from Frontenac grapes, but I don't know for sure.

The palate is loaded with true blackberry flavor as well, the kind one gets from eating actual blackberries. There is a fruity sweetness, but an earthy taste is quite prevalent.  Fennel also shows.  The wine is quite dry and has a strong tannic structure.

Acidity is also high, which leads me to believe it will pair well with food.  I'd imagine this to be a great match with sausage, pork or pepperoni roll.  As a matter of fact, I might make the latter my first choice.  Anything type of peppery or spicy meat would likely pair well.

Kirkwood Winery is in Summersville, West Virginia, owned and operated by Rodney Facemire.  Kirkwood is Nicholas County’s first winery, and Facemire makes wine from fruits and vegetables.  There is also a mini-distillery on the premises, the Isaiah Morgan Distillery.

Kirkwood Winery Royal Blush NV
This pink wine actually looks more orange, or salmon, in the glass. It's gorgeous to look at, with an alcohol content of 11% abv.  On the nose, there's a "foxy" character that is often noticed in wines made from North American grapes.  Kirkwood does make a wine from Concord grapes, but I'm told the makeup of the Royal Blush is all Katoba grapes. I have never heard of that one, and I wonder if it might be a synonym for Catawba. The foxy aroma is so overpowering, I can't determine any fruit aromas at all.
On the palate, things change.  There is a very intense flavor of orange peel, and a vegetal/herbal angle I can't quite figure out.  While the nose did not make me want a sip, the taste of the wine is actually very interesting.  Orange candy on the finish takes away the memory of the nose.  

As a "mountain wine" from Appalachia, it has a certain cachet.  I would imagine if one is accustomed to drinking this, it's quite enjoyable.  As for me, if there's a white Zinfandel nearby, I'll take that instead.