As if Richard Hewitt did not have enough to do, the master of the Keswick Hall wine list (all 32 pages of it) will bottle 25 cases of Petit Verdot at the end of the month.
The name behind the fame: Get a taste of Barboursville Vineyards or Virginia Wineworks with these house wines from high-end restaurants and keepsakes from high-traffic visitor destinations.
Not exactly. Hewitt and others from Fossett’s, Keswick’s elegant restaurant, will bottle the 2008 Edith’s Reserve Petit Verdot, named for Fossett herself, TJ’s chef. They’re working with the custom crush operation Virginia Wineworks (think “do it yourself winemaking facilities—with experts close by”). The idea? To modestly supply exclusively labeled wine to Fossett’s, and, secondly, to get the kind of education that comes first-hand.
“It’s akin to talking to a chef about food and the guy has never been in the kitchen. How can any sommelier talk about wine if they don’t know anything about the process of making it?” Hewitt says.
Add to that, the drink-local angle: “It’s fundamental to understanding how wine is made in Virginia and how it’s different from making wine in Mendoza,” says Hewitt, who has followed every step of the winemaking from assessing grapes and harvesting them right through to racking and bottling for the 2008 Edith’s Reserve Chardonnay that was released two months ago. (“I didn’t realize how important a forklift was and forklift driving” was to winemaking, Hewitt says, when asked for specific lessons he’s taken from the process.)
Edith’s Reserve 2008 Chardonnay costs $36 per bottle—the least expensive wine at Fossett’s by $3—and nearly half of it has already been poured. Edith’s Reserve 2009 vintages, recently harvested and now fermenting, include Viognier and Petit Verdot.
In this region, Hewitt takes a rare approach to adding a house wine to his restaurant’s cellar. More common is private labeling. For more than eight years, the Inn at Little Washington, winner of numerous dining awards, including five from the James Beard Foundation, has decanted Barboursville wines from under its own label. “A large part of it is marketing,” says Scott Calvert, the inn’s wine director. “We sell as much or more of it through our gift shop to people who want to give gifts to others as we do through our dining room.”
About 150 cases of private label Chardonnay, priced at $30 per bottle, and 200+ cases of Cab Franc ($45) go out the door each year. Similarly, tourists who want a keepsake and leave this area with a bottle of Monticello Claret or Montpelier Chardonnay are buying Barboursville vintages, too.
Marketing is also a strong consideration at Barboursville. “For us, [private labeling} is a way to establish a relationship in locations visited by many people where those establishments treasure greatly that it is a local product,” says Luca Paschina, Barboursville Vineyard’s winemaker since 1990.
Albemarle leads state grape production
Need some good economic news? According to information released on November 2 by the state’s department of agriculture, grapes broke into Virginia’s Top 20 commodity list for the first time in 2008, at a value just above $10 million. That was an increase of $2 million from the previous year. Also in 2008, according to a report from the Virginia Wine Marketing Office, grape tonnage increased by 25 percent to 7,000 tons, commanding an average of $1,530 per ton for the top 10 varietals.
And, as is true worldwide, Chardonnay was the predominant varietal. Virginia winegrowers yielded 1,288 tons in 2008—24 percent of the state’s total production.
But even in the context of all this growth, Albemarle’s expansion was remarkable. Grapes harvested in the county in 2008 jumped 55 percent from 2007, to 1,442 tons. That makes Albemarle the biggest grape-producing county in Virginia. You hear that? Round these parts, we produce 20 percent of a Top 20 commodity.