Sunday, September 1, 2013

Crossing the Potomac: A sampling of vineyards in the Potomac Cluster

Pulling up to White's Ferry
About an hour's drive from the Baltimore area you can cross the Potomac river on Maryland's last operational line pulled Ferry - White's Ferry. I learned of the ferry by word of mouth and decided to make a day trip of it. Once you get out onto the country roads it becomes a very scenic drive along Maryland's farmlands boasting pastoral views. Be sure to stop at one of the numerous farmer's markets along the way to pick up fresh fruit or local cheeses. We had already packed a picnic lunch to eat at one of the vineyards but decided to stop anyway to check out the offerings, and left with a bag of fresh green tomatoes (which by the way we are frying up today). Once we arrived at White's Ferry, I found the entire process very simple.. simply pull up and wait just a few minutes for the ferry to return and board. They currently charge $5.00 one way or $8.00 for a round trip ticket.
The view from the ferry

Crossing the Potomac helps build up the anticipation. You might as well be crossing the Rhine, for there are plenty of vineyards waiting for your enjoyment just across the waters.

Our first stop on the Virginia side was at Fabbioli Cellars. If you are used to paying $5.00 to $10.00 per person for the wine samples, which normally include a glass with the vineyard's logo, prepare yourself for a bit of a price increase. The basic tasting which includes a bite sized niblet of cheese, cracker, chip or chocolate per wine starts at $15.00 per person.. and to keep the logo tasting glass they will charge you an additional $5.00. So count on at least $20 per person. The wines themselves are also a bit pricier than comparable wines in the VA/PA/MD areas. With that said, we found some very good wines in their selection and my personal favorite were their ports and the pear wine. The darker reds were fantastic, of which the Tannat had the most full bodied and well rounded flavors - but I wasn't willing to part with $45 per bottle when I can find comparable wines at other vineyards for less than half the price. On the plus side, the gentleman overseeing our tasting was very knowledgeable and took his time with us. We had his full attention as he was focused on just our small group.. whereas my experience at some other vineyards were a bit more hectic and felt a bit more rushed.

Just a few minutes up the road from Fabbioli Cellars you will find the Lost Creek Vineyards and Winery. You will have to drive about 1.5 miles up an unpaved trail of gravel and stone, hitting a few bumps and holes along the way.. but it should be no problem for most vehicles. As we passed the Lost Creek Vineyard sign, I noticed another sign for Hidden Brook Winery. Although we didn't visit Hidden Brook Winery on this trip.. I heard from other visitors that their wines tend to lean more on the sweet side, which is not something I personally care for, but if you don't mind sweeter wines you might as well visit this one as well since they are so close together.
Lost Creek was our hidden Gem of the day
Lost Creek was probably my personal favorite of the three vineyards we visited that day. The tasting room was beautiful, and we liked almost every wine we tasted. The tasting fee at this winery is $10, on the upper end of what I am used to paying to sample potential purchases, and again that price did not include a logo glass. I still have not developed a taste for most whites. When it comes to white wine I really prefer something smooth and light, like a refreshing Riesling, or a slightly spicy Gewurtztraminer. So keep in mind I am not a white wine person when I say the whites were just "ok". Lost Creek offers a variet of Chardonnay style wines and a Vidal Blanc. But the reds were the best that I've had out of the vineyards we visited that day.

The Patio at Lost Creek
Virginia has this love affair with Chambourcin and Cabernet Franc... but in the experience of my limited palette, I find the flavors to be all over the map.. one winery will have a Cab Franc that has a grassy tinge to the flavor and another one right next door will have one that smooth, full flavored, well rounded and hold up it's own against even some California wines. With the exception of the Merlot, which I found to be a tad metallic in flavor, the Lost Creek reds blew me away - I was truly caught off guard and had to ask myself "is this really Virginia wine?" - The Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and their special blend "Genesis" were all great for drinking now or storing away in your cellar.. but the one that left the biggest impression with me was the Reserve.. the deep, complex plum flavors went down so smoothly, and I immediately imagined having this wine with a dinner of grilled meats or pasta. The prices here run you from $20 to $30 per bottle for the reds, and while I think it's a bit steep.. I can see these as a good investment for a special treat with friends or a dinner with your significant other. I couldn't leave without a bottle of the reserve and look forward to the day I open it with my wife.
My wife and son at Lost Creek
There are so many vineyards in wine region known as the Potomac Cluster, but one should only do so many tastings in a day. So we decided our third and last visit for the day would be at the Tarara Winery. What a way to end out the day.. one final tasting followed by unpacking a picnic lunch at a table on the wineries deck. The Tarara winery is huge.. as you drive onto the property you pass several side roads leading to other buildings for wine production, a concert area, event grounds, etc. There is a main parking lot and a bit of a walk uphill to some wooden stairs that take you further up tree covered hillside and the building housing the tasting room with a deck overlooking the woods and vineyards. This winery felt more "commercial" - which from the sheer size of the grounds and vineyards I would suspect they produce wine in larger quantities than some of the surrounding wineries.
Barrels near the parking lot at Tarara Winery

Again, the basic tasting fee was $10 per person, no glass. You sample seven wines.. and the tasting room was very busy during our visit. We felt a bit rushed as there was one person pouring for three goups of people. So what information you could get about the wine was fairly limited. The winery does offer a more intimate one and a half hour premier tasting along with samples of cheese with the wines. The price for the premier tasting was $20 at the time of our visit. I found most of the wines enjoyable but nothing stood out for me as a must have bottle. I think our favorite was their blush, the Rose - it was very light and refreshing, but wasn't chilled well enough which brought out more herbal characteristics than I wanted.. but I could tell that when well chilled this would be a great wine to sip our back this summer. And at only $10 per bottle I thought it was a great value as well.  This vineyard appears to be very popular in the area, and swarms of people kept pouring in. In fact, after the tasting we were just lucky enough to grab one of the last tables available out on the deck. If you are planning on visiting Tarara.. I suggest coming around 11am or very early in the afternoon to ensure you get a less hurried tasting and can enjoy the grounds without he crowds.
So, we've now discovered yet another great area to explore.. within a relatively short driving distance from Baltimore/DC Metro area. As much as I love these little day trips - it's even better later when you pop open a bottle from a trip whether it's a few weeks/days or years later.. and you look down at the label and it brings back these memories.. and then as you take your first sip.. those memories come back even stronger, in full force. This is SO much better than simply going to the local liquor store to pick up a bottle of wine! I hope you take advantage of some of these local wineries, get out and enjoy the sights, and build your own memories that you can savor later! Enjoy!