Friday, February 6, 2015

Wine Country: Delaware - Harvest Ridge Winery

Delaware's history with wine goes back a long way.  Historically, the first Swedish settlers in Delaware planted grapes and made wine as early as 1638.  Definitely a small production state, Delaware's wine output is lumped in with that of 13 other states collectively known as "other," totaling a minuscule amount of wine production.  There are only a handful of wineries in The First State, so nicknamed because it was the first to ratify the United States constitution.  It is sometimes referred to as the Diamond State, thanks to noted wine lover Thomas Jefferson.  He compared Delaware to a diamond, "small but valuable."

As a colony, Delaware was claimed not only by England, but Sweden and Holland as well.  The Dutch were the first to colonize the area.  Who knew Delaware was in such demand at that time?  By the way, Delaware is still in high demand.  Their corporation-friendly laws make it a very popular place to do business.  More than half of the publicly traded companies in America are incorporated in Delaware.

Harvest Ridge Winery consists of a 120-acre plot in Kent County - one of only three counties in the state.  The property actually straddles the Delaware border with Maryland. For this reason, the wines are labeled with the "American" AVA, not "Delaware."  Their unique location - on the Mason-Dixon Line - also allows them to claim as their own one of the original Mason-Dixon markers - number 47, if you're keeping score at home.

Owner Chuck Nunan was a home winemaker who got the bug to start a winery after visiting one in South Carolina.  Land was purchased in 2005, vines were planted in 2011 and the wine was poured in 2013 when they opened the doors as Delaware's fourth winery.  The farm was originally called Harvest Ridge, which Nunan thought had a nice ring to it for the name of the winery.

The Nunan family photo looks like a crowd scene.  I count fourteen Nunans, but several of them look a bit young to be much help working in the vineyard.  They probably like testing the grapes, though.  Winemaker Milan Mladjan lists Merlot as his favorite wine grape, and insists that he is not ashamed to admit it.

Harvest Ridge Winery revels in their East Coast terroir, proudly using only grapes grown on the estate or fruit sourced from other local growers.  They make wine not only from grapes, but also from apples, pumpkins and honey.  They were kind enough to supply me with three of their grape wines for the purpose of this article.


2013 Chambourcin  $17.00

The Chambourcin grape is a French-American hybrid that is resistant to fungus and does well in places where the winter climate is on the cold side.  Delaware comes to mind.

Medium dark purple, the rich nose offers notes of coffee grounds, earth and a grapy blackberry aroma.  On the palate, flavors reminiscent of Pinot Noir come forward - black tea, dark wild berries, pomegranate - but in a bigger, bolder setting than is usually found in Pinot.  Alcohol is quite restrained, at just 12.6% abv.  Great acidity makes it a refreshing sip and an easy wine to pair with food.  The tannins are subdued, but quite functional.  This is a very fruity - and complex - wine that feels big in the mouth and will pair wonderfully with grilled pork chops.  It's also amazing with fruit and nut bread.


2013 Cabernet Sauvignon  $22.50

The Harvest Ridge Cab has a tint and fragrance which remind me of Pinot Noir as well, at first.  The medium hue leads to a nose with cranberry and black raspberry apparent, but there is more to come in this complex set of aromas.  Plums and cassis seem to be trying to hide behind a screen of cigar tobacco, smoke, spice and herb.  The oak is well played - noticeable, but not overbearing.

In the mouth, this wine is big and juicy.  Fans of California Cabs may even be fooled by the 13% abv number - it tastes bigger than that.  The acidity is absolutely alive, while the tannins are forceful enough to take on a rib eye with their bare hands.  I don't know that I would guess it to be a Cabernet had I tasted blind; perhaps I would have blurted out "Zweigelt" before the unmasking showed my error.  The wine's cold-climate qualities are the story here - acidity, spice, tartness, low alcohol - but, as with any Cab worth its grape leaves, it is a real mouthful.


2013 Chardonnay  $18.50

This wine looks faintly straw colored and smells of tropical fruit and oak spice.  It is billed as an unoaked wine, a claim that the winery stood by in a series of messages with me on Twitter.  I still think it smells - and tastes - of oak, but they swear to the contrary.  It is one of the biggest, fullest unoaked white wines I have ever tasted.

There is the mark of oak on the palate, too - or, so say I - with apple and pineapple flavors abetted by a serious mineral streak that connotes wet stones and citrus fruit.  The finish takes quite a while, and that lovely touch of lime peel lasts all the way through it.

 All in all, the terroir of Delaware is well represented in the wines of Harvest Ridge.


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