Owned by Donald Trump and Stephen and Jean Case, respectively, both these Virginia wineries are experiencing a re-birth of sorts and the future looks bright.
Trump Winery, formerly known as Kluge Estate, was purchased by the Trump family and garnered some serious press, with everyone in the industry wondering what was going to happen with this estate. To find out, my wife and I visited their tasting room twice in the past couple of weeks to check it out. Truthfully, I was a bit let down in the past, not so much in the quality of the wines but more in the lack of personal service and the fact that plastic snow cones were just dropped off at your table with your wines.
As a winemaker, I believe that stemware really does play a role in your tasting experience and could not wrap my head around the notion of an expensive wine served in plastic.
On a gorgeous Sunday, we arrived at the tasting room and were greeted by none other than Billy Koenig, their new tasting room manager. I have had the pleasure of meeting Billy through his wife Tara, who was involved in distributing our wines while working at J.W.Sieg. Billy is a charming man, very enthusiastic and clearly very passionate about what he does, great way to be greeted at the door I must say.
After being shown to our seats, Kath decided to taste the sparkling wines and, true to form, I tried them all. I was pleasantly surprised right off the bat with their new Sauvignon Blanc, hands down my favorite white varietal in the world. I thought the wine to be well made displaying grapefruit and green apple flavors, a perfect wine for the summer months. My favorite red wine was the New World Red, with it’s dark flavors offset by smoky oak and dusty tannins. I think this wine may not appeal to everyone, but I really loved it.
While the still wines are good, I have always been a fan of their sparkling wines. Kath agreed, favoring the Blanc de Blanc [a gold medal recipient at the Virginia Governors Cup]. They also pour a Rose’ and Blanc de Noir, both are good and might be your favorite depending on your personal preference. Billy explained the wines as they were poured and answered all my annoying questions with aplomb.
We decided to stay for a while longer and we ordered some of the light fare they offered, Kath got the mushroom quiche and I the caprese salad. The food was fantastic and only served to enhance our experience.
The Trump brand is a juggernaut and they know how to do it, but the changes, although significant, were done in a very low-key elegant way, creating a tasting environment that is both relaxing and inviting. As for the plastic snow cones: GONE. Glasses ladies and gentleman, I mean real glasses! I cannot tell you how excited I am to have tasted Trump wines out of a glass, it adds so much more to the tasting experience.
We also bumped into Don Rhodes, who possesses a larger than life personality and is responsible for marketing. He let us in on some future developments and with this kind of passion and enthusiasm, I see nothing but a bright future for Trump Winery. There is definitely a new buzz in the air, something that was missing on previous visits and I can honestly say that we had a great time. Folks you need to get out there, I know you will not be disappointed.
A big thank you to Billy and Don, keep up the great work and best of luck for the future!
The other winery high up on the list was Early Mountain Vineyards, formerly known as Sweely Estate.
Set on Wolftown-Hood Road off highway 29, this is a gorgeous looking estate with the tasting room on the right and winery set off in the distance.
As we entered the tasting room, the changes were immediately evident. A new tasting bar on the left leads to ample seating areas, with a little wine market on the right. Since our 7 month old daughter Aria was with us, we decided to find a secluded corner in the back.
Early Mountain Vineyards offers three tasting flights, a white, a red and then a combination of the two. What is interesting of note, is that they are offering wines from other well known producers such as Barboursville Vineyards, King Family Vineyards, Linden Vineyards and Thibaut-Janisson Winery. Kath once again opted for the white flight and I decided to stick with red wines.
Kath loved the Thibaut-Janisson sparkling wine with its biscuit and yeast notes, while my favorite was the King Family Meritage. This Meritage is dominated by Merlot and is made by Matthieu Finot, a talented young winemaker who hails from France. The wine was dominated by berry notes with strong mocha and oak driven flavors. This is definitely a wine for the cellar and I believe it will be fantastic in 3-5 years, but definitely has the stuffing to age beyond.
Taking a walk around the back, I think the philosophy of this winery is easy to figure out. With ample deck chairs, hammocks and fire pits, I believe the emphasis is on the enjoyment of wine with loved ones. No need to rush, take your time and soak up the moment. With gorgeous views of the vineyards and comfortable chairs, you will need little persuasion to let the hours pass you by as you savor the fruit from the vine.
I also had the distinct pleasure of meeting Michelle Gueydan, a sommelier who hails from New Orleans. Clearly this lady knows her wines and is on hand to help customers with selections and general wine related questions. Very passionate about wine, I have no doubt she is a wonderful asset to the Early Mountain team.
I guess the only negative comment [and it is far from negative] is that you will have to wait and come back to taste the full range of Early Mountain vineyards wine, as they only poured two while we were there. We were told that new vineyards were being planted and that well known consultant Jeanette Smith was advising. Early Mountain Vineyards also possesses one of the most state of the art wine cellars in the state of Virginia, and under the guidance of winemaker Franz Ventre, I am eager to see their new wines come on board in the coming months.
So lovers of Virginia Wine, I can highly recommend visiting both Trump Wineryand Early Mountain Vineyards.
Both wineries have a renewed energy and optimism for the future and, based on our experience, their futures are nothing but bright.