Jefferson Vineyards Wine Blog
Brooke regularly visits our ten hives to check and care for the approximately four hundred thousand honey bees on our estate. A beekeeper for Elysium Honey Company, Brooke’s primary concern is for the wellbeing of these honeybees. We rely on bees and like pollinators to support a significant portion of the world’s plant life – our food included. She knows the bees’ patterns, the subtle language between a queen and her hive, and can explain in detail all that’s happening within the ten, stacked pastel-painted boxes the bees call home. She knows when there will be honey, when there is a threat of pest, and can read the bees well enough to hold a buzzing frame with her hands, unprotected. Attuned to the bees and to each passing season, she can tell you what blooms and blossoms the bees are enjoying each month, be it Apple Blossoms, or the white clovers speckling the fields, or the Tulip Poplars spread across our land.
This month, she harvested honey – only the excess of what the bees produced – and explained the process, step by step:
“The smoke is used to calm the bees and has the added benefit of masking a pheromone that alerts the bees to an intruder, the "alarm pheromone". A guard bee will bump us, dropping pheromone which serves as a guide for the reinforcements (Hive number eight would not be easily dissuaded by the smoke however). During the harvesting process we use it judiciously and sparingly, too much smoke irritates the bees and can flavor the honey. After such a long wait, we want the honey to taste exactly as the bees make it…
"To process, we first cut off the wax that caps the honey cells to release the flow. That is also the wax that makes lip balm and candles and then it is placed in a centrifuge - an extractor. A lot of the flavor resides in pollen cells as well, so we use a micron filter to allow as much of the natural honey flavors to be retained…
“Busy as a bee is well phrased. They are amazingly productive, and when the environment provides, they will collect as much as they can, far exceeding their needs… The upper boxes above the brood chambers are called "supers", short for superstructure. That means that anything they store there is surplus. We never harvest below the supers. Please also note that I am very conservative with the harvest too - I leave a minimum of 40lbs of honey on each hive to get them through the "dearth “in July and August, when most of the nectar sources have dried up, and the bees need a good supply of stores to get them through till the next nectar flow in the fall… Each colony at Jefferson Vineyards has at least 56lbs of honey to get through to late August, when the asters and goldenrod bloom and provide a nice nectar flow that the bees fill up on for the winter…
“It is wonderful when the weather, the forage and the honey bees collaborate to create an excess harvest like we had [at Jefferson Vineyards] this spring. The late summer delight of spending the afternoon with calm, healthy bees cannot be beat. They alight on your arm and the busy sound of their wings and vibrations is supremely delightful. The best feeling is knowing that they are doing just fine.”
Jarred and delivered by the Elysium Honey Company, the honey from these hives will be our second 100% estate honey harvest since we established the apiaries in 2019 (available soon!). With Brooke’s care and oversight, our bees are happy, healthy, and thriving.
As you notice bees this summer, note Brooke’s parting reminder: “it is the absence of bees in an environment that is alarming, not their presence. When you see honey bees visiting you on the patio, please endeavor to enjoy them. They are defensive, not aggressive. Leave them be and they will go about their highly productive business.”
Our estate honey will be available for purchase this late fall.
Twenty years ago, Robert joined Jefferson Vineyards and has been creating and caring for our gardens ever since. Born in England, Robert will tell you his life has centered around travel and horticulture. He specializes in the English Cottage Garden style, a style characterized by bright blooms, full garden beds, and bustling ecological life. Cottage gardens are not manicured or meticulously planned but curated and designed with spontaneous personal preference and available bed space. They celebrate natural beauty and connection, the simple wonder that springs forth when you collect beautiful things, teeming with life, and disregard ‘ought to’ and linear ‘perfection’. In his gardens, Robert aims to surprise and delight the onlooker with an array of self-seeding plants. For eight months of the year, these gardens bloom providing habitat for pollinators, birds, and insects while organically controlling pests. Swallowtail butterflies lay eggs in the Bronze Fennel beside the patio. The bright green shoot barely reaching above the stoned wall most likely will have come from a parent plant across the parking lot. Each is allowed and encouraged to flourish. For us, the onlookers, the gardens burst forth in bright blooms – at once comfortable and strikingly beautiful.
In 2017, we began working with Brian and his team to optimize our land for ecological support and environmental wellbeing. Brian is a Principal Wildlife Biologist with the Virginia Forestry and Wildlife Group. With his guidance, we have undertaken two massive initiatives: the transformation of unused land into wildflower meadows and reforestation with Tulip Poplar trees.
Four years ago, Brian and his team transformed eight acres of our land into wildflower meadows. These meadows bloom slowly and steadily for much of the year with an array of native plants, planted to provide diversified and sustainable nutrients for pollinators, including our ten apiaries and the over 400 different Virginian bee pollinator species. Now, in Spring, the largest meadow overflows with knee-high flowering grasses, interspersed with bright yellow blooms and purple-tinged foliage. We have, in turn, seen a tremendous uptick in pollinators among the meadows. In 2020, Brain and his team began a second initiative with us - the reforesting with Tulip Poplar trees. Under his guidance, we planted 12,500 Tulip Poplar bare-root seedlings on our property to replace harvested Loblolly Pines. Unlike the pines, the carbon-capturing Tulip Poplars better supports pollinator populations and adds native diversification to our local ecosystems. With Brian’s counsel and extensive knowledge, we are proud to make the most of our resources, striving to conserve and revitalize this precious land.
"If you've traveled or lived away from home, you have no doubt discovered the importance of "taste of place". In most cases, climate and culture dictate the ingredients that will be on your plate, or inside your glass. The textures, flavors, and colors of foods in each location are unique because each place is different. Flavors formed by a particular environment and culture. I learned that most acutely while living 14 years in Vietnam. Vietnamese food is beloved by many because of the sheer variety of ingredients and flavors. Culture furthered this delicious cuisine, a blend of Cambodian, French, Chinese, and Vietnamese all mixed into one delightful outcome. The concept of 'taste of place' is equally applicable to wine, but we call it a fancy name - "terroir". Virginia's terroir, and especially our very own terroir, influences the wines we produce. For example, I love how rich and complex our Viognier wines turn out - a true expression of the rich vibrant clay soils and the power of this land. Petit Verdot, with its tannic structure, is equally impressive. I have yet to taste a Viognier or Petit Verdot comparable to what we find here in Virginia. To me, this uniqueness in taste of place is something to be treasured. As we look back at our 40-year wine exploration at Jefferson Vineyards, we hope you will enjoy our 40 year anniversary bundle - an expression of the varietals (Viognier, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc) that reflect some of the best of our land. Salud! "
- Attila Woodward, Our Managing Partner
"Viognier is not only one of my favorite wines to drink, but it is one of the best varietals to work with. I love the versatility of Viognier. It can stand alone as a steel fermented or steel aged wine with all of its fruit characteristics, or as a light barrel-fermented wine for added complexity. One of my favorite wines we do is our skin-contact Viognier where we ferment the whole barrels on their skins before pressing. This allows for all the phenols to be extracted and creates a truly unique experience in the glass. Our 2019 Skin Fermented Viognier is delicious. I love enjoying this golden varietal out in the field after a long day of work with our "golden" vineyard assistant, Malcolm!"
- David Woodside, Our Assistant Winemaker
To celebrate our 40th Anniversary and enjoy our Featured Wines, click here.
Peach, apricot, and lychee on the nose, a delicately balanced palate precede a round and lengthy finish. This is our golden-toned Viognier. Pronounced "vee-ON-yay", this French grape has found a home as the state grape of Virginia. Crafted from vines cared for by hand, aged for months, and created with the artisan expertise of our winemaking team, it is Jefferson Vineyard's flagship white, our most consistently awarded wine.
With decades of Viognier production and accolades, we're ready to share the secret behind this delicious white wine. Curious to learn more? Read on.
In the Vineyards
We designate nearly a quarter of our twenty-two planted acres to Viognier grapes. These fickle grapes are challenging to grow, but for us, the risk is well worth the reward. These bright green grapes flourish with strong sun and heat and more water than other varietals; a perfect complement to Virginia rains and summers. For over a decade, Hector and Nora Guzman, with the help of their family, have cared for these vines.
Though labor-intensive, the Guzmans prune, hedge, and pick the fruit by hand, ensuring each bud, shoot and grape receive personal attention. Viognier in particular cannot compete with other growth - be it grass or weeds - and must be tended to accordingly. Shoots that grow laterally instead of horizontally (known as ‘lateral shoots’) are corrected. Hector and his family keep watch for the early signs of pests or disease, meticulously maintaining our vineyards' health. And when the end of August rolls around, they harvest only the healthiest and most robust of fruit.
In the Winery
Great wine cannot be made without great fruit and of course, great winemakers. Chris Ritzcovan, our winemaker, and David Woodside, our assistant winemaker, have been working together in our winery for nine years. Throughout their tenure, the two have approached production with a steady commitment to both quality and creativity.
Before our Viognier is harvested, our team tests the fruit for particular sugar levels that will bring forth the apricot or peach flavors and floral aromas that epitomize the viognier varietal. Once in the winery, they begin the stylistic processes that distinguish our viognier. They inoculate the wine with commercial yeast, ferment it in oak barrels and stir the barrels on their lees to build the body and weight you sense in a sip of our final product.
To age the Viognier, again consideration is given to the precise barrel type. On the wine, their selection gives way to a toasted influence, carefully curated to complement the fruit and structure of Viognier.
In the Glass
Nearly eight months after the fruit is picked, our Viognier is bottled and shared through our tasting room. It is championed by people like Heather Lavelle, our Retail Operations Manager, who will tell you our Viognier, though different from those of other regions, is consistent. Attila Woodward, our owner, will tell you he fell in love with Viognier because it is so beautifully balanced and pairs wonderfully with the South East Asian cuisine he spent over a decade enjoying while living in Vietnam. Both work to share their passion for this wine, submitting it to competitions across the country and encouraging those who visit us to try it for themselves.
In the 2020 San Francisco International Wine Competition, our Viognier 2019 received a Double Gold award, judged amongst thousands of other wines. Vinepair dubbed this same vintage one of the 28 Best White Wines for 2021. Savor Virginia Magazine Reader's Choice 2021 honored it with a Gold. Most recently, our Viognier was awarded a Gold by the 2020 Virginia Governor's Cup.
So, what is the secret to our Viognier?
It is the passion and dedication of the people who care for the vineyards, who craft the wine, and who advocate for its place among the top wines in the world. With every award, we are proud to advance the reputation of Virginian wine, with Virginia's own state grape.
Jefferson Vineyards is thrilled to be awarded three gold medals in the 2021 Virginia Governor’s Cup. Our 2019 Viognier, 2019 Cabernet Franc, and our Petit Verdot based 2016 Jefferson’s Own Estate Reserve each was awarded gold medals, highlighting the quality of fruit and craftsmanship across Jefferson Vineyards' wines.
The accolades awarded by the Virginia Governor’s Cup celebrate the craftsmanship of our winemaking team, Chris Ritzcovan and David Woodside, as well as the hard work of our vineyard team. Their combined efforts and ceaseless commitment continue our 40-year tradition of crafting high-quality wine.
Jefferson Vineyards is honored by the recognition our Viognier, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot based Estate Reserve have received. Each of these varietals defines Virginia as a growing region. To have received recognition within Virginia’s top varietals such as Viognier, the state grape, and Petit Verdot, is thus especially humbling, reaffirming both our investment and dedication to these programs.
Jefferson's Own Estate Reserve 2016 was crafted solely from the estate’s finest Petit Verdot fruit. This oak-driven red boasts a powerful spice and fig bouquet with a balanced acidity and plum on the palate. The already highly awarded Viognier 2019 opens with intricate floral notes, white peach and nectarine on the nose, the palate is delicate and balanced, before a round and floral finish with a lingering acidity. The Cabernet Franc 2019 vintage is marked by aromas of dark cherry and vanilla, with a palate of piercing cherry, blackberry, and black pepper. In the finish, one tastes candied cherry and vanilla with a balanced acidity, medium tannins and hints of oak.
Jefferson Vineyards congratulates all of our fellow wineries, as well as the organizers of this year’s Virginia Governor’s Cup event. Together, we expand and advance the reputation of Virginia’s exceptional wines and wineries.
We will be reopening our doors to visitors on March 11, and warmly invite visitors to enjoy our award-winning red and white wines this Spring. In the meantime, you will find our Triple Gold Bundle available in our online store for a limited time. Committed to memorable wine, experiences and education, we continue in Jefferson’s own viticultural dream.
"Jefferson Vineyards has been a big part of my life for over 20 years. I have seen many changes and enjoy seeing how each wine changes from vintage to vintage. One of my favorite Virginia reds has been Petit Verdot, which Jefferson Vineyards has been producing for many years now. It is a red that I like to sip on alone or with some hearty foods. After opening Petit Verdot for a while, it softens and the rich dark fruit flavors are revealed. Recently, I opened a 2017 vintage and had it with some full-flavored cheese, it was a great pairing."
- Rodger Patzig, Tasting Room Ambassador
To celebrate our 40th Anniversary and enjoy our Limited February Release, click here.
"I started working at Jefferson Vineyards in 2007. I was 24 and had just graduated from UVA the year prior. I stumbled across the Assistant Winemaker job on Craigslist and thought it would be a great experience before heading off to grad school. At the time, my wine knowledge consisted of little more than watching my Dad make wine in the garage, literally destemming individual clusters by hand, and then proudly sharing these bottles with my friends. After a year at JV, where I was able to take part in the full cycle of the winemaking/growing process, I left for architecture school. The endless days sitting through class, working in the studio, made me realize how much I missed and loved the winemaking process and the special connection it has with the land. Pruning in the freezing old, continually taming the wild growth of vines all summer, picking fruit in the fall, and then guiding its transformation into wine, these are all gifts of place... After school, I returned to the vineyard and have dedicated the last decade to the art of winemaking. I find the Estate Reserve wines that much more gratifying knowing the full effort that went into the process, from vine to bottle, and that the story unfolding in your glass will be unlike any other."
- Christopher Ritzcovan, Our Winemaker
To celebrate our 40th Anniversary and enjoy our Limited Releases, click here.
What a rollercoaster year we’ve had! Yet here we are, with an end in sight. We look forward to 2021 with hope and, of course, some delicious wines.
The year ahead represents a special milestone for us as 2021 marks our 40th Anniversary. The early days of Virginia wine were challenging. We learned through trial and error, we labored to determine which vine varietals would accept our land and which would not. Today’s wineries are blessed with the knowledge of years past. Today, we can leverage satellites and soil samples to determine which grape varietals will flourish in one plot of land, versus another. Just like that! Incredible! No such luxuries existed in 1981. Those were the pioneering days of the Virginia wine movement, days we remember fondly.
My grandparents started this venture in 1981 with the goal of creating wine to share with family, friends, and guests. As diplomats setting into a new life, wine was central to the conversations they had around the dinner table. In establishing a vineyard, they sought to make a wine of their own, a wine to serve and enjoy with whoever joined them at the table. They knew and appreciated the viticultural history of this land, and with the talented Gabriele Rausse, our first winemaker, we planted our first acres of vines.
Like my grandfather, my father too was educated in France and deeply appreciative of old-world wines. In 1993, he and his French wife took the reins of Jefferson Vineyards. Over the course of their twenty-years here, they both focused on improving our wine’s quality with the help of now renowned winemakers. First, they flew North to convince Michael Shaps to relocate to Virginia. Michael became our second winemaker and was succeeded by the French, Frantz Ventre. In my parents’ last decade, they hired the talented Andy Reagan. Each winemaker, in his own style, improved our wines and left an indelible mark on our winery.
2013 ushered in yet another new chapter for Jefferson Vineyards. My siblings and I, the third generation of Woodward’s, stood at the helm. We were incredibly lucky to join years after Jefferson Vineyards’ reputation had been cast but there was much work to be done. We strove to improve and expand: a new tasting room, a new deck, new gardens, new patios, and an expanded parking space. Our current winemaker, Chis Ritzcovan, and Assistant Winemaker, David Woodside, worked tirelessly on our Viognier wine program. Years later, it now stands as one of Virginia’s most highly awarded Viogniers, vintage after vintage. As it is the state grape of Virginia, we are deeply humbled by this honor.
In all of these endeavors, we were never alone. They say a rising tide lifts all boats, and so it is with other Virginia wineries. Together, we have vastly advanced Virginia’s reputation as an extraordinary wine region. Together, we are making wines that rival any of the best in the world.
In reflecting on how far we have come in these near forty years, I am most proud of Jefferson Vineyard’s unwavering commitment to producing quality wines, created to be shared together with friends, family, and guests.
In January, we will begin sharing a special blog each month to celebrate our rich history, wine programs, and our land. These stories will continue in our originating tradition, evoking the dinner table conversations of my grandparents and parents before me, each of whom believed wine is best enjoyed together.
As we look optimistically towards 2021, I express my immense gratitude to all of you who supported us this year. I am impressed by the talent of all our employees and our tasting room team who did their utmost to keep everyone safe with decorum and warmth. We could not have gotten through 2020 without your help.
Thank you, and merry holidays!