Early Mountain Vineyards Review
Address: 6109 Wolftown Hood Rd. Madison,Virginia 22727.
Phone Number: 540-948-9005
Tasting Hours: Thurs, Sun 11:00-5:00, Fri 11:00-8:00, Sat 11:00-5:00
Reviewer: Anthony Marocco
Review Date: 8/10/2013
Reviewer: Anthony Marocco
When I first began my quest into the Central and Southern part of Virginia, Sweely Estate was on my radar of places to visit. The reason was not because I heard the wines were outstanding or that the property was beautiful, but because I needed to visit it in my goal to visit all Virginia wineries. Fast forward to early 2012 when the husband and wife team of Steve and Jean Case swooped in to expand on the recent success in the expansion of Virginia Wine Country and to transform Sweely Estate into a modern Virginia marvel. The Case duo consists of Steve, former Founder & CEO of AOL, and Jean, Vice President of AOL, who are residents of Virginia and have a passion for their state. Many ask the question – why Virginia?
Well, take a peek at the explosion of success and the eruption of new wine making talent and varieties coming from the Old Dominion state. The Cases simply believe in this state and have gone above and beyond to help promote Virginia wine – not only from their own winery, but on a world-wide scale.
Early Mountain opened its doors in June of 2012 in a newly transformed and renovated building with detailed stone work, airy ambience, open wood raftered barn style ceiling, swanky tile work, vintage farm tables and chairs, and gas fireplaces scattered about the facility. Shortly, after opening the facility, Early Mountain introduced their “Best of Virginia” tasting. Rather than simply offering Early Mountain produced wines, they hand-selected and feature wines they deem as the best wines from around the Commonwealth of Virginia. Wineries such as Linden, Ankida Ridge, Breaux, King Family, Chatham Vineyards, and Barboursville are intertwined with Early Mountains latest offerings, and the flights provide visitors a chance to taste several of the best local wines, along with some of Early Mountains offerings. The winery also offers a full lunch menu with some delicious paninis and charcuterie platters to accompany your tasting.
As you walk in from the parking lot, you will notice some of the nearly 40-50 acres of vines planted across the property. Varieties such as Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec make up the majority of the property. Just beyond the vineyard section is the production facility that on this particular day we were lucky enough to have the opportunity to tour.
Before heading towards the production facility, we took a walk into the tasting room to meet up with the rest of the Virginia Wine Bloggers that met for a tasting and tour. As you enter the door, a vacant elongated wavy shaped tasting bar is there to greet you, while the foyer resembles that of a ritzy hotel in downtown DC. There are vintage farm tables scattered about, a living room setup for visitors to sit and relax in some easy chairs, and a backdrop of a double sided gas fireplace. To the right hand side of the room is the entrance to the banquet facility, as well as the basement space, and the quaint country store with your typical wine swag, as well as Early Mountain and “Best of Virginia” wines for sale. The kitchen and food service center is located in the country store area.
Behind the fireplace are more modern-style table tops and bistro tables that lead to the large glass windows and doors that entice visitors out onto the patio. Covered from the elements and housing two fireplaces, as well as an assortment of wooden tables and wicker chairs, visitors enjoy their tastings while listening to live entertainment overlooking the vineyard.
Just below the patio, a few Adirondack chairs sit facing various directions, as well as some umbrella covered tables, for overflow visitors to visit. The facility overall is magnificent, if you could possibly sum it up in one word.
The banquet room, or Event Hall as they call it, is available for events and weddings and resembles a medieval castle with open ceilings bearing medieval chandeliers and floor to ceiling stone work. The event hall also has an outdoor patio to accompany the space and is furnished with several cast iron tables and chairs overlooking the vineyard. Though we didnt view it, there is a guest cottage that is also available for rent.
As for the production facility, no corners were cut in terms of providing the best possible equipment and space. Three rows of enormous steel tanks line the main production room floor, and it is equipped with a crane system to drop the juices directly into the tank from atop the upper level. New crushers, bladder presses, and destemmers sit up top for easy transition into the conveyor system to pump into the tanks, as well as direct access from the vineyard on the upper level for ease of harvest and production. The lower level also contains a couple of concrete eggs, which only a handful of Virginia wineries use in their facilities, as well as an automatic bottling and labeling system. The barrel room offers a tremendous amount of space for storage and currently contains barrels that are setup in one high multiple row fashion. The tour was very informative and provided us a glimpse of how much effort goes into the winemaking at Early Mountain. Our guide went on to explain its not about producing a large array of wines, but its about producing the highest quality of a handful of wines that grow well on the property. We exited the production room and trotted down the dirt road back to the tasting room, where 16 of us sat around a couple of wooden tables to order a flight of wine and some lunch.
For lunch, it was a no-brainer to try the gourmet roast beef panini sandwich, in addition to some garlic bread sticks that I shared with Fred from the ThisIsWine blog. Early Mountain creates a welcoming and relaxing environment without the big crowds pushing for position at the bar. The way they accomplish this is by bringing the tasting flights and food directly to where you are sitting so that you have a chance to sit and not be rushed during your tasting. All five of the wines in your flights are poured and brought to you all at once so that you can take your time and enjoy each generous pour. For $12, you have your choice of either the “Early Mountain Ascent” flight, which is entirely Early Mountain wines, the “Bright Lights and Bubbles” white flight, the mixed tasting or “Meet Your Match” flight, the “Red Berry Pickings” red flight, or the “Spring in Your Step” rose flight, which is seasonal.
I selected the “Meet Your Match” mixed flight that consisted of a Lovingston Winery 2012 Seyval Blanc, Early Mountain 2012 Malbec/Merlot Rose, Ankida Rockgarden Cellars 2011 Voyage de Rouge, and the Early Mountain 2011 Handshake Red. Being surrounded by other bloggers, I was able to taste other selections as we mixed and matched our flights to provide each other with the full spectrum of what is offered at Early Mountain.
Now the question is, being that we are visiting Early Mountain Vineyards, how are THEIR wines? Let’s get to it! First up is the Early Mountain 2011 Pinot Gris ($17). This moderately fragrant, dry white offers citrus throughout with highlights of apricot and tropical notes on the nose and palate, while providing a mineral texture. Bright acidity and citrus forward notes are balanced by the minerality and leave you with an off-dry finish.
The 2011 Viognier ($20), which sadly may be the last Viognier that Early Mountain produces, is full of those lovely fruit forward notes while maintaining a clean and light structure. Peach and tropical notes (guava) dance on the nose and well into the sip until the guava whisks away the peach notes and carry the flavors deep into a clean and refreshing medium length finish.
The 2011 Chardonnay ($18) was bursting at the seams with aromas of lush apricot and candied tropical fruit with hints of kiwi while the palate carried some nice weight with smooth creamy structure adding additional notes of pear that tapers off leaving behind some citrus and floral notes on the finish. Well balanced and excellent summer sipper, good with or without food.
Now onto the reds, beginning with the 2008 Merlot ($25). Plum and crushed berries stand out on the nose adding light notes of cherry becoming more prominent on the palate as notes of bing cherry and blackberry really thrive early into the finish until earthy qualities take over and drop off with bone dry tannins.
The last red of the tasting was the Handshake Red blend ($27), subtle in every sense of the word. Very faint aromas of black cherry show much of the same on the palate where flinty tannins carry the sip, finishing light and peppery. My only complaint is the fruit completely dropped off on the finish, though 2011 is known for producing very light bodied reds, and this was no exception.
The last of my Early Mountain tasting was capped by the 2012 Malbec/Merlot Rose, fresh from start to finish with pomegranate and acai fruit jumping out at you – finishing tangy and almost chewy. It is an interesting modern-style Rose an is actually quite enjoyable.
Overall, all of the wines were great, as was the staff and their hospitality. The facility is absolutely stunning, and the Case-run Vineyard and Winery has gone above and beyond to help promote Virginia wine. I love the concept of the “Best of Virginia” flights and the dedication that Early Mountain has shown to expand Virginias growth. Bottom line…..Early Mountain Vineyards is a must-visit, Virginia winery!