Once you manage to traverse the winding, narrow gravel road that could just as easily be mistaken for somebody’s driveway, and approach the converted farmhouse that serves as the new tasting room for Wisdom Oak Winery, you instantly start to understand why owner Jerry Bias chose this small estate to start his winery a little over a decade ago. Formerly Sugarleaf Vineyards, the winery was rebranded back in January to coincide with the opening of its new tasting room and to create a newfound enthusiasm for its wines. Nestled in a small hollow in North Garden, Wisdom Oak exudes natural beauty, boasting a grand view of the Blue Ridge Mountains, expansive grounds for guests to explore, and an ancient, sprawling oak tree right in the heart of the vineyard that serves as the winery’s namesake.
Located at an elevation of over 800′ above sea level, with shade from the mountains and consistent winds that protect the grapes from the heat and humidity of the sweltering Virginia summer, Wisdom Oak Winery offers favorable growing conditions for winemaker Romulus Pascall, who’s overseen the 2,000-plus vines thriving on the estate since 2001. Chardonnay, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, and recently planted viognier grown on the property constitute the bulk of the production at the winery. However, to bolster the selection, Pascall also sources vidal blanc, petit manseng, and petit verdot grapes from White Hall Vineyards and Mount Juliet, now home to Grace Estate Winery.
Pascall shows a restrained hand in his winemaking techniques, opting for a lighter, fresher style that eschews the overuse of heavy oak and highlights the fragrant, fruity esters of the grapes themselves. It’s a (pun intended) refreshing approach to an industry that often favors the opposite. His white wines exhibit a lively acidity that excites the palate with lots of fruity and floral notes, while the reds offer a fresh style with lots of tart cranberry and a little spice. For the most part, they hint that they should be enjoyed relatively young, but the 2009 Cuvee Neubia certainly has aging potential.
With the pending release of the 2012 vintage (as of press time everything was less than a month out), Wisdom Oak will soon be offering its full lineup at the winery, including a new selection, the North Garden Red. A blend of cabernet sauvignon, franc, and petit verdot, the North Garden Red will replace the single varietal cabernet sauvignon in this year’s release, offering up a lively young red with hints of brambles and spice to accompany the tart red cranberry. Along with the North Garden Red, there are plenty of other notable selections from the winery.
The 2012 Chardonnay, aged in both French oak and stainless steel tanks, follows the lightly oaked fresh style that is becoming the norm in the region. To an extent, it delivers the rich buttery notes that many Chardonnay drinkers look for, but it also gives off ripe Granny Smith apples with a refreshing finish that doesn’t overload and confuse the palate.
The 2009 Vidal Blanc also excites. Retaining a vibrancy despite spending a few years in the bottle, this wine fills the glass with aromas of tropical fruits and citrus but finishes clean with a touch of minerality and just enough residual sugar to bring it all into focus. It would be quite enjoyable with spicy Asian cuisine.
The 2012 Rosé is quite possibly the most readily enjoyable of the 2012 vintage. Made from 100 percent cabernet franc and retaining only .8 percent of residual sugar, this year’s rosé is a marked change from the last. It entices with notes of cherry blossoms and orange zest, and refreshes you with a dry finish that delivers everything the nose would suggest. Like most rosés, enjoy it now, and whenever the opportunity arises.
The 2009 Cuvee Neubia is the top offering from Wisdom Oak Winery. Made from 100 percent estate-grown cabernet sauvignon and aged in Hungarian oak for 21 months, this wine is a step in a different direction for Pascall. While still exhibiting that fresh cranberry and cherry, the Neubia packs more of a punch with extra tannin, tobacco, and spice than exhibited in the other reds from the estate. It retains some acidity despite its time spent in wood, suggesting it could probably age for many years to come.—Andrew Cole
Andrew Cole is the manager and wine director at tavola.