Is Virginia For Wine Lovers? Part 2: West Wind Farm
West Wind Farm is conveniently situated near the intersection of Interstates 81 and 77. Opened just two years ago by Paul and Brenda Hric and their nephew David Manley with help from David’s brother Jason, it is the result of modern economics: after watching other local struggling farmers sell out to housing developers, the family decided to replant much their own formerly arable acreage with grape vines and engage in the hot new business of wine-making rather than give up the ghost to another suburban development. As with many of the other wineries I visited, West Wind Farm has high elevation vineyards that help mitigate the power of the hot summer days, and cool, often foggy nights with good humidity; unfortunately, like many other wineries in this part of Virginia, West Wind was hit hard by late spring frosts this year, when temperatures dropped well below freezing in early May, and have already found themselves forced to tear up and replant many of their vines. Just as well that the majority of their production comes from sourced grapes, including a couple of contract growers. To its credit, West Wind has jumped into the wine game with a modern attitude, eschewing Chardonnay for Pinot Gris, skipping Cabernet Franc for a Cabernet Sauvignon, and planting small amounts of Viognier and Petit Verdot (that have yet to reach the production stage).
We were West Wind’s only guests this Monday afternoon, and David freely poured us generous measures in proper wine glasses without even hinting that he expected us to buy anything. It was a curious tasting: on one hand, David intimated that he and his family had little experience in wine-making or grape growing and were winging the whole affair; on the other, he seemed to know an awful lot about what he was pouring and what went into it. Let’s put it down to a necessary fast learning curve and get stuck into the wines…
The Galena Creek White 2005 is a dry Vidal Blanc as opposed to the usual sweet versions, with one-third fermented in French oak, the remainder in stainless steel. I found that oak surprisingly strong, and David agreed, but the wine had a surprisingly deep color for such a typically light grape, and offered up pleasant peach and apple flavors in an atypically full wine. The West Wind Farm Pinot Gris 2006 – the only 2006 wine on the list – comes partly from the winery’s own half-acre of said grape and, as per its spelling, is made not with the tart acidity of the Italian ‘Grigio,’ but in a fuller-bodied, riper, richer (they use the word “luscious”) Alsace style with a hint of residual sugar. We liked it enough to bring a bottle home with us. Opened a couple of nights later, it looked light and simple, but apple aromas escaped from the glass immediately, and the nose also gave up some pear, melon and minerality, all of which continued into the palate. The slight sweetness was, initially, like a Golden Delicious crunch at the back end. But as we stuck with the bottle, I realized that the wine was hollow – there was nothing more to it than those initial impressions, no real guts or finish or mouthfeel, other than the increasingly cloying sweetness. A nice attempt at something different but only half-way successful.
The Galena Creek Red is a relatively inexpensive ($14) blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Chambourcin, of which I primarily caught the middle grape, in all its spicy, tobacco, fruity and peppery glory. I was shocked then to learn that Merlot made up some 80% of the wine, and can only conclude that my impressions say something either about the weakness of the sourced Merlot or the power of the sourced Cab Franc. Still, it was much more interesting than it had a right to be, more so than the West Wind Farm Chambourcin 2005, which had some peppery complexity but a simple finish and seemed a little overpriced at $15. I found the West Wind Farm Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, at $18, better value. David opened a fresh bottle for us (nice touch), and though it failed to give up much by way of immediate aroma, it was silky without being drowned in vanilla like the Davis Cab Franc, and some tannins showed up along with black berries at the back of the palate. I ending up buying a bottle, which I’ll give a year or two in cellar to see where it goes. Certainly it got me off to a fine start with the bigger and bolder red wines of Virginia.
David then poured me some West Wind Farm Heritage Reserve 2005 ($29), the new Meritage wine, which was not listed on the tasting sheet. (“We normally charge to taste this one,” he said; I guess they normally don’t get visitors taking so many notes and asking so many questions.) This too was impressive and while I caught the bitter tannins up front and the oak at the back (the Heritage saw 20 months in oak, the Cab Sauvignon just 12 months), I also got oodles of fruit. In short, I was highly impressed, and left the place wondering just who was making wine this good given the family’s professed lack of experience. (Their back rooms are filled with barrels and tanks, so certainly, much of the wine is being made and/or stored on premises.)
West Wind also makes a couple of lightly sweetened, low alcohol dessert wines: a red Galena Creek Blackberry (made with Merlot), and a white Galena Creek Peach (with Vidal). I’m sure you can imagine what they taste like. While West Wind have yet to find their feet, or even to produce much wine from their own grapes, I like their thinking, warmed to the tasting room, and greatly enjoyed the hospitality. I also appreciated that they sold bars of 84% pure cacao chocolate at the counter, a useful pick-me-up after wine tasting in 90-plus Farenheit temperatures on a Monday afternoon when you really don’t want another cup of coffee sloshing about on the drive home.