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A conversation with the Old Dominion’s three top winemakers

Virginia’s Finest

By David White
VA Wine--3 bottles1Until 1976, few wine critics took California seriously.

That year, a British wine merchant organized a competition in Paris pitting California’s best Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon against the best wines that France had to offer. Everyone assumed that France would win. But with both the whites and the reds, California came out on top.

That competition—now known as “The Judgment of Paris”—transformed California’s wine industry. It helped accelerate vintners’ efforts to tout California’s wines as being on par with Europe’s best offerings.

Virginia’s wine industry isn’t yet on par with California’s. But wine critics everywhere are starting to pay serious attention to the state. After a recent visit to the Old Dominion, celebrated British wine authority Jancis Robinson suggested that Rutger de Vink—the proprietor of RdV Vineyards in Delaplane—has “a good chance of putting the state on the world wine map.”

De Vink’s name is almost always mentioned alongside Jim Law of Linden Vineyards and Luca Paschina of Barboursville Vineyards, two key figures in the industry. Wines from these producers would convert just about anyone who doubts Virginia’s potential.

In mid-May, I visited Linden to chat with De Vink, Law and Paschina. Sebastian Zutant, the co-owner and wine director of The Red Hen, a popular D.C. restaurant, accompanied me. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

David White: How and why did each of you decide to make wine in Virginia?

Rutger de Vink:  You’re starting with the newbie? But these are the two godfathers! For me, it started in 2000. I was working in the tech field, wearing a tie to work every day, and realized that life wasn’t for me. I wanted to work with my hands and be out in nature.

My parents grew up in Europe, where wine was always on the table. So I contacted Lucie Morton, a vineyard consultant in Virginia, and told her I’d like to get into the wine world. She said, “Before you do anything, you need to apprentice. There are two names I’ll give you: Luca Paschina and Jim Law.”

I was living in Alexandria so I contacted Jim. But he didn’t offer apprenticeships. So I contacted him again, stopped by, and finally broke him down. My first harvest here was in 2001. I remember coming in August and doing canopy management; I think it was my hazing period! It was buggy, hot and sweaty, but within the first week, I decided that this was what I want to do with my life. Working with your hands and working with the soils was just magic, right away.

I then started to look for a nice site, as I had been learning about the importance of site selection. I looked in Virginia for a while, starting in 2001. But nothing really presented itself. So I went out to California and looked on the Sonoma Coast and north of Santa Barbara. I wanted to be in a region where good wine was being made, but where there was potential to take it to the next level. And then I stumbled upon our little magic granite hillside.

Linden Vineyards_Dining Room1Jim, how’d you end up here?

Jim Law: I also grew up with wine on the table. And in the ’70s, I was an agricultural volunteer in the Peace Corps in Africa and fell in love with fruit crops. So when I came back, because I had a love for wine and growing fruit, I put it together.

I started in Indiana, just over the border from Ohio. I ended up pruning in the winter, by myself, and loved it! But I knew I couldn’t make the kind of wine I wanted to there. Not that it’s impossible, but I couldn’t sell it. People then just wanted inexpensive, sweet wines. So I decided to go to one of the coasts, mainly because I knew there’d be a market.

Long story short, I received a job offer in Virginia from an old Italian guy that had a vineyard and wanted to start a winery in the Shenandoah Valley. I fell in love with it and knew this was where I wanted to be. So in 1983, I bought this place. I planted it in 1985. The rest is history.

Luca?

Luca Paschina: I was one of those people who grew up in a family of winemakers—my father, uncle, grandfather and brother. Besides my grandfather, we all even graduated from the same school. Growing up in a family of winemakers doesn’t mean you’re going to be a winemaker, but I’m sure you’re more likely to at least try it.[/pullquote]

I ended up loving it! I graduated from school in 1982 and for the next eight years, I worked in quality control, vineyard management and sales. I got a chance to work in northwest Italy in Piedmont, in Spain around Barcelona, in the Finger Lakes and in Napa.

I eventually went back to Italy, and the company saw me as a great communicator so put me into sales. I liked it for three years because the travel was great. But it wasn’t what I really wanted; I wanted to grow grapes and make wine. The company I was working for didn’t have a position for me, so I quit.

I contacted about 75 companies that were invested in vineyards. The first one to reply was Zonin, one of Italy’s largest wine companies. They had purchased Barboursville in 1976 and offered me a two-month consulting job. I had no idea where Virginia was on the map, but I came and loved it. There was just so much to do, so much unknown. So I stayed.

What challenges does Virginia face?

JL: Every region has its own challenges. But when I came here 30 years ago, the biggest challenge was that nobody had a clue how to even grow grapes and make wine under the best conditions, let alone anything about terroir or what made sense where. It was a total crapshoot.

It was a lot of fun, but we really had no idea what we were doing. But it was sort of the same way in Napa at the time. I remember, right on Highway 29, people would say, “this is Moscato, this is Gewürztraminer, this is Zinfandel, this is Gamay, this is Cabernet.” They’d all be right there.

The defining thing in Virginia is rain. That’s the huge difference between California and us. At first, I would go to California a lot to try and learn. But then I realized we had rain and they didn’t—so I needed to go to Europe. That’s what we’ve all been doing, as we understand that rain influences everything. Especially site selection and how the soils absorb and retain water. Once you start understanding that, once you start finding the vine balance, you can do some wonderful things.

Is there enough experimentation in Virginia?

JL: We know some of the grapes that do well, and we’re lucky that those grapes are internationally accepted and make really good wine.

LP: What’s very important is that people like Jim—people who have been growing grapes for a few years—observe, listen and change. We learn which grapes go where. In … Read More

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The Goat Cheeses of Georges Mill Farm

The Goat Cheeses of Georges Mill Farm By Emily HilliardIMG_0198_1

Along the back roads of Loudon County, en route to Georges Mill Farm in Lovettsville, Virginia, there are signs that you’re still within striking distance of a major metropolitan area, as newer homes and development extend their reach among the rolling farms with old barns and white farmhouses.

But as you finally round the corner of Georges Farm Road and spot the Civil War–era stone house and the quaint barn-red Georges Mill Farm stand, you feel as if you’ve entered a landscape all its own, a historic haven very separate from the new growth in the county.

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Climbing the driveway past the lawn of the stone house-turned-bed and breakfast, you come upon a converted corn crib, now the home of Sam and Molly Kroiz, 31 and 28, respectively, who run Georges Mill Farm Artisan Cheese—the farmstead goat cheese operation on the property. Sam, whose family has owned the farm since 1732, now represents the eighth generation on the land. Though Georges Mill has not been actively farmed by direct members of Sam’s family since before his grandfather was born, the couple have reinvigorated their long-held familial tradition with their herd of Alpine dairy goats and artisanal goat cheese production.

“For a long time it was just a diversified farm,” says Molly. “They had some cows and horses and some crops. And primarily for at least the last 30 years it’s been mostly hay, with some horses periodically. For a few generations now, most of the actual farming has been done by other relatives and people that rented the land, so it’s great to bring it back to the family for sure.”

The couple became interested in goat farming when they were living out on the West Coast, where Molly had just finished grad school and was working as a biologist, while making cheese for fun.

“We came to farming in a sort of roundabout way from the cheesemaking side of it. I really liked making cheese and wanted to do that and I never really thought too much about buying milk—I always kind of wanted to do the whole farmstead operation where you’ve got the animals and the milk,” says Molly. (According to the American Cheese Society, “farmstead” refers to operations where the cheese is made only from milk from the farmer’s own herd, on the farm where the animals are raised.)

Molly, originally from Maine, had seen a lot of farmstead cheese operations in her home state as well as in Washington and Oregon, where the market seemed to be saturated. When they considered setting up their own operation on Sam’s family farm, they realized it might be the ideal place. Loudon County, historically the breadbasket of Virginia, offers advantageous tax easements for agriculture, and the D.C. metro area presented a very viable market, where excitement for local food is only growing. They moved back to the farm in 2011 and got their first herd of French and American Alpine dairy goats in 2012.

IMG_0119_1When asked why they chose goats
rather than sheep or cows, the Kroizes don’t blink an eye. “Cows are too big and sheep are too dumb,” says Molly. “I can manhandle [goats] if I need to. You can’t do that with a 1,200-pound cow.” Sam agrees, adding,“Goats are the coolest livestock, hands down.”

The couple’s affection for goat cheese was also a big selling point. Their original herd of two doelings and two does has now grown to over 30 goats, with two farm dogs, Loretta and Conway (named after Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty), to watch over them all.

While Sam takes on much of the farm infrastructure work, Molly is the main cheesemaker. She produces the Georges Mill farmstead goat cheeses out of a cheese room set up on the second level of the historic barn, which sits atop a hill, looking out across the corn crib, goat pen and stone inn. Beginning as a hobby cheesemaker, she took cheesemaking classes and developed her skills with the help of books such as Gianaclis Caldwell’s Mastering Artisan Cheesemaking and The Farmstead Creamery Advisor as well as The Fabrication of Farmstead Goat Cheese by Jean-Claude Le Jaouen. After testing recipes for a year, experimenting with different bacterial cultures, Molly settled on five styles—a fresh chèvre, a feta and three “bloomy rinds” or aged goat cheeses, including the Catoctin, a plain-rind aged cheese; the Cavalry Camp, which has a vegetable ash rind; and the Picnic Woods, which features a rind covered in fresh herbs.

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Molly makes cheeses about every three days, selling them at the Leesburg Farmers’ Market and supplying them to several area wineries and local restaurants including Market Table Bistro in Lovettsville and Market Burger in Purcellville, The Wine Kitchen in Purcellville, Patowmack Farm in Lovettsville and the Good Stone Inn in Middleburgh.

They also offer two 15-week cheese CSAs and have an adorably quaint self-service store on the property. There you can help yourself to freshcheese, goat’s milk soap and eggs from their chickens, leaving your money in an envelope in the mail slot. They even offer crackers in case you can’t wait until you get home to sample your newly purchased goat cheese.

While Georges Mill Farm Artisan Cheese has been successful despite only being in production for two years, maintaining the farm and operation does not come without its challenges.

“I think for us a lot of it is trying to balance,” says Molly, “like figuring out at what point are we’re going to need to hire somebody and whether we’ll have the income to do that as we grow. Another issue is just getting our product around.”

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Though relatively close to D.C., distance to restaurants and retail shops can prove difficult for distribution, especially because it’s just the two of them running the whole show. But the Kroizes are excited about the future, which they say includes getting a few whey-fed pigs of their own (they currently have another farmer’s pigs on the property that eat the whey left over from cheesemaking); hosting events and more cheesemaking classes (Molly hosts a few throughout the summer); and growing the operation to that sustainable point where they’re able to make a comfortable living.

“There was a certain amount of romanticism about moving here and starting the operation,” Molly says. “And I actually haven’t lost too much of it. There are definitely moments when I’m, like, ‘There have to be easier ways to make a living!’ But no, I still feel very good about the choice that we made.”

To find out more about Georges Mill Artisan Cheese, sign up for their CSA or attend one of their cheesemaking classes, visit GeorgesMillCheese.com.

- Emily Hilliard is a Washington, D.C-based folklorist and writer. She writes the pie blog www.nothinginthehouse.com.

You can find Georges Mill goat cheese at the following places:

• Direct from the farm in Lovettsville, Virginia

• Via the 15-week CSA (details at: GeorgesMillCheese.com/csa/)

• The Leesburg Farmers’ Market

• Market Table Bistro, Lovettsville, Virginia

• WK Hearth, Purcellville, Virginia

• Market Burger, Purcellville, Virginia

• Bluewater Kitchen, Bluemont, Virginia

• Bluemont Vineyard, Bluemont, Virginia

• The Natural Mercantile, Hamilton, Virginia… Read More

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Dolcezza Gelato Raises the Bar with New Venue

Get Your Licks InInteriorShot_1

By Tim Ebner

By the time late spring rolls around, Robb Duncan is salivating for summer. It’s the time of year when his business, Dolcezza Gelato, is busy whipping up frozen gelatos with fresh berries, including strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and red, black and purple raspberries.

Summer also means peak herb growing season. And, if there was a Super Bowl Sunday for gelato producers, Duncan says it would be during the last week of June.

“That one week is a big one. It’s just an amazing time for fresh gelato,” he says. “It’s the tail end of strawberry season, and it has a one-week overlap where blueberries, blackberries and raspberries are in season too.”

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This year Dolcezza is ready for that week. The gelato shop recently opened a 4,000-square-foot factory space, behind Union Market in Northeast D.C. The factory space feels light and airy, thanks to skylights and 20-foot open ceilings. This is part production part tasting room. Visitors can sample fresh off-the-line gelatos, and soon coffee too. It’s a big improvement over their first Georgetown shop, Duncan says, where they made gelato in a 300-square-foot retail space.

The gelato factory not only ups the production process, it also ups the flavor profile of the gelatos being made. Duncan calls it the “Krispy Kreme” effect. Just like freshly made glazed doughnuts, the gelatos taste better when they come straight from the source, he says. Gelato is meant to be served at a temperature around 20° F. When Dolcezza boxes and moves it to stores, the gelato is a bit colder, around 10° F. The temperature difference is small, but it matters, Duncan says.

“At the factory it has a melt-in-your-mouth consistency. You can really taste it.”

labveinteuno_1Just be sure to plan your visit in advance. On weekends, you can sample flavors like strawberry mint or champagne mango while learning how the gelato is made.

Visiting Dolcezza Laboratory—The new Dolcezza Laboratory is located at 550 Penn St. NW behind Union Market. Hours are Tuesday–Thursday, noon–5pm, Friday noon–7pm, Saturday 11am–8 pm and Sunday 11am–7pm. Tours of the production facility are given Saturdays at 2 and 4pm, and Sundays at 1 and 3pm. Those interested in tours will need to sign up in person the same day as their desired tour. DolcezzaGelato.com.

- Tim Ebner writes about food and travel in Washington, DC. He’s works on digital content and strategy at Education Week and contributes for Forbes Travel, Eater DC, The Washington City Paper’s “Young & Hungry” and The Washington Post Express. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram (@ebnert) for dining and travel tips.

Click here to get the recipe and directions to make Dolcezza Strawberry Tequila Sorbetto. Read More

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A Julep So Cool It’s Blue

By Tim Ebner

As the heat and humidity hit this summer, skip the Manhattan and order up an ice-cold mint julep. Sure, this cocktail has several centuries of history in Kentucky, and it’s the official drink of the Kentucky Derby, but it might also be the perfect remedy for a muggy D.C. afternoon.

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Nick Caruana runs a drinks site called The Straight Up, a Saveur 2014 finalist for best cocktail blog. Caruana says Kentucky Senator Henry Clay is credited with bringing the julep to our nation’s capital where he introduced the drink back in the early 1800s at the hotel where the Willard Intercontinental now stands. The Willard’s Round Robin bar still makes the julep according to Clay’s recipe, but for a summer refresh on this iced bourbon beverage, Caruana adds fresh blueberries.

He muddles mint and blueberries with Maraschino to create the base of his “Mint Blulep.” Then, he mixes bourbon (Woodford Reserve is his Kentucky standard), St-Germain, Creme Yvette and peach bitters over crushed ice. The result is a refreshing combination of fruit and herbal flavors.

“Taking a sip of it and then feeling the frosty cup will really help cool you down quickly,” Caruana says.

Don’t overlook the glassware. Juleps are a special drink for a special kind of glass. Caruana uses pewter julep cups, but highball or rocks glasses can work in a pinch. And, there’s no need to mound the ice over the rim, he says. It’s mainly for effect and might melt quickly on a summer day. Instead, use a few leftover blueberries and a sprig of mint to top off the drink.

The sweetness really makes or breaks the julep, Caruana says. Most people overcomplicate their syrups, but a good julep keeps the simple syrup simple, he says.

If anything, though, don’t let Senator Clay stop you from experimenting with the classic recipe.“ At its heart the drink is a Kentucky standard,” he says, “But D.C. has definitely helped to tweak and perfect it.”

Mint Blulep Recipe

  • 12 blueberries
  • 10 mint Leaves
  • ¾ ounce Maraschino liqueur
  • 2½ ounces bourbon
  • ¼ ounce St–Germain liqueur
  • 1 bar spoon Creme Yvette
  • 2 dashes Peach Bitters
  • 12 blueberries
  • 10 mint Leaves
  • 2 mint sprigs
  • Blueberries for garnish

Add the blueberries and mint leave to the bottom of a julep cup (a highball glass or rocks glass would also work). Top with the Maraschino, then generously muddle the mixture. Add the bourbon, St-Germain, Creme Yvette and peach bitters.

mint-blulep

Fill the cup with crushed ice, so that the ice fills the cup, but doesn’t mound up above the cup. Garnish with the mint sprigs, then add a few blueberries to the top of the drink to finish it off.

Notes about the ingredients: Crème Yvette is a liqueur made from parma violet petals with blackberries, red raspberries, wild strawberries and cassis, honey, orange peel and vanilla. St-Germain is a French liqueur made from elderflowers. These and the other special ingredients can be found at most spirits shops.… Read More

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Tips on Freezing Summer Fruits

Saving Summer

by Debra Moser

It is a sure sign that spring has arrived when the first local strawberries make their appearance in farm markets—bursting with flavor, bringing vibrant color at the end of a drab winter. We dream of sun-drenched days full of delicate red raspberries, overflowing cartons of juicy blackberries and blueberries bursting with flavor.

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As spring eases into summer and fruit-filled menus intrigue us, now it is the perfect time to start thinking about next winter. Freezing our abundant fruits and berries now to later add to breakfast dishes, entrees, soup desserts and smoothies will make your recipes sparkle long after summer is just a memory.

Freezing fruits picked at their peak is a must as it will give you the best chance of preserving the integrity, nutritional value and, of course, the intense flavors. Frozen properly, most fruits can maintain their quality for eight months and up to one year. To maintain that quality, fruits should be stored in a freezer at zero degrees F. or colder. Higher temperatures can cause them to deteriorate. Investing in an inexpensive freezer thermometer can help you maintain the correct temperature, especially if your freezer is not a chest freezer.

We talked to our berry experts at Westmoreland Berry Fruit Farm in Westmoreland, Virginia, and Moody Blues Farm in Windsor, Maryland, for their freezing techniques that will help you keep your fruits in perfect condition to enjoy throughout the long winter months. So head out to the local farmers’ market and start dreaming of the blueberry cobbler you’ll savor next January.

TIPS FOR FREEZING SUMMER FRUITS

  • Talk with your local farmers at the farm markets. They can tell you when the fruits will be at their peak. This is the best time to load up for freezing, especially if you have a chest freezer. With deeper freezers it is possible to freeze several flats of berries at a time.
  • It is important to freeze your fruits right away to maintain their flavor and nutritional value.
  • Gently wash and dry your fruits and make sure that they are completely dry before freezing. Do not soak the fruits in water as this will cause a loss of nutrients and flavor.
  • For strawberries, it is best to remove the green tops and make sure there are no blemishes or moldy spots. For cherries it, is best to pit them for later use. Blackberries, blueberries and strawberries can be frozen whole.
  • Stone fruits such as peaches, plums and nectarines should be peeled, pitted and can be sliced before freezing. Apricots can be pitted, halved and frozen.
  • Place berries in a single layer on a baking sheet and place it in the freezer. You can line the sheet with parchment paper if you like.
  • For smaller freezers, you can skip the baking sheet step and put the fruit right into airtight, zip-locked bags.
  • When the berries are frozen, roll them into a zipper-top freezer bag or other heavyweight air tight containers.
  • Because they are individually frozen, the berries won’t stick together and you can grab any amount you need quickly and easily.
  • If using frozen berries in baking, gently toss the frozen berries with a little flour before adding to your batters.

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Mockingbird Hill Fino Garlicback

The Weirdest Thing That Actually Tastes Great

By Alison Baitz

Garlic Back Two-2

Mockingbird Hill bar manager and head bartender Chantal Tseng was looking for a way to incorporate pickled garlic juice into a drink. Inspired by the classic pickleback (a shot of whiskey chased with pickle juice), she dreamed up the fino garlicback, a shot of dry fino sherry followed by a small saucer of pickled garlic juice. The result is a perfect note of savory flavor, and, as Tseng boasts, a “versatile” choice, as it works perfectly as a palate cleanser—or makes a great introduction to the nuanced world of sherry itself.

On a side note, Angie , manager just told Edible DC that Mockingbird Hill is also starting a high bar coffee service in mid-June and opening early for those seeking java and breakfast. Mockingbird Hill opens at 8 a.m. -3:00 p.m. daily for coffee, breakfast and lunch service, and at 5:00 p.m. for its sherry program and dinner. Located one block north of the Shaw/Howard Metro at 1843 7th St NW, Washington, DC. www.drinkmoresherry.com.… Read More

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JRINK Juicery

By Alison Baitz

JRINK

Shizu Okusa and Jennifer Ngai met in 2010 when they were both working at Goldman Sachs as investment bankers. They officially launched JRINK Juicery in January 2014—with a quick in-person debut in October 2013, at Taste of DC—while both still employed full-time at the World Bank, and are now the proud owners of a brick-and-mortar juice café in Dupont Circle. In between these milestones were several months of product testing, countless flavor combination tests and every-other-day visits to the grocery store for ingredient runs.

The first incarnation of JRINK was mostly as a juice delivery service—which was first executed by Shizu and Jennifer themselves—and a brick-and-mortar retail space wasn’t necessarily the plan from the beginning. But it’s not surprising that they’ve made the jump. “For us, we really wanted to build a community—we want to build something that people resonate with and a lifestyle brand, and it’s not just juice,” says Shizu.

Shizu thinks the brand has had such white-hot success because ultimately their outfit is modern, approachable. The JRINK customer is a normal, busy person but seeking a healthier lifestyle—not necessarily a total health nut. The owners are the same. “We call ourselves flexitarians, so we still like to have fun, we go out with our friends…,” says Shizu. “We all say ‘everything in moderation in moderation.’” Who couldn’t dig that outlook?

Product in demand: Popular 3-Day Reboot Package that comes with a daily regimen of JRINKs and 25/8 JRINK concierge service. More details online at www.JRINKjuicery.com.

JRINK is located at 1323 Connecticut Ave NW in the Dupont Circle area, between GBD Doughnuts and Madhatter. Look for the yellow wood door and go upstairs. Hours: Monday to Thursday 8-8PM and Friday to Sunday 10-4PM.

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“Summer Vortex” Issue Press Release

DC’s metro area and Capital region has a new source for in-depth information about local food: Edible DC At the heart of the magazine is a commitment to showcasing the unique local flavors, food artisans and farmers and the people and places that make the food from the region special.

In it’s premier issue, publisher Susan Able says, “We really aim to capture what is unique and front-leading about our local food scene here and build on the national Edible brand and mission. I stand on the shoulders of giants – dedicated Edible publishers, writers and community leaders who have done so much to promote the importance of eating locally, healthily, and sustainably across the US—and we want to chronicle that momentum here in the DC foodshed area.”

The June 2014 issue, themed ”The Summer Vortex Issue” celebrates summer in the region with a feature on young chefs hosting a picnic, an interview with leaders of the VA wine industry on its future, an interview with the Italian ambassador and chef on Italian food here and in Italy, and coverage of local artisan makers, Gordy’s Pickles and Georges Mill Cheese Farm. Edible DC also features other food entrepreneurs and tastemakers and includes an interview with Zatinya chef, Michael Costa on his patronage of the Penn Quarter farm market—what he shops for, what he makes back at the restaurant and what’s important to him about shopping direct from farmers.

Edible DC is a member of the James Beard Award winning Edible Communities publications, a family of 80+ locally based publications covering local food and a newly launched companion PBS television show, Edible Feast.

Edible DC, a seasonal publication, will be available free starting on June 18th at selected retailers, farmers’ markets, and other locations in the DC, Maryland and Virginia. Subscriptions will also be available for $32 per year for five issues.  Additional information about Edible DC can be found at www.edibledc.com or at info@edibledc.com.… Read More

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