Early Mountain is everything that I would hope for in a winery. First off, the entire building is amazing to look at. The people who built it didn’t skimp on the details, be it a huge indoor space or a conference room decorated with wine bottles. Flight of wine? Yes please – take your choice of several options. Maybe a bite to eat? OK sure – here’s a menu from their kitchen. Maybe you’d like to sit outside on the porch? No problem – just check out the patio, where the view goes on for miles.
I’d been here several times, but it had always been on the tail end of a larger trip. This time, my taste buds came prepared for a more extensive visit.
With 35 acres of vines on this property (plus 20 on their leased Quaker Run site) they have a lot of fruit to choose from. While 90% of their grapes are estate, they do the usual horse-trading for grapes from other Virginia wineries. They make around 10,000 cases/year, plus their custom crush operation.
Ben Jordan is their wine maker. The guy has a fascinating back-story; he bounced around several jobs before landing at Early Mountain, including a previous stint as a playwright. Playwright to wine maker? This dude needs to write an autobiography. But when no less that Jay Youmans (the man in charge of the annual Virginia Governor’s Cup competition) tells you that he’s a guy to keep your eye on, you pay attention.
I went with the extended tasting (because why wouldn’t you?). One thing I learned is Ben REALLY likes blends, even if it was just a dash of something out of the ordinary. Several reds had a little Tannat or Syrah…or even more fascinating…a tiny amount of Petit Manseng or Chardonnay. Wait – white wine in my reds?! But hey – I loved them, so no complaints here.
What I tried:
2018 Rose: Made in steel; Merlot-heavy red blend with great color.
5 Forks white blend: Petit Manseng & Sauv Blanc, with a splash of Chardonnay and Pinot Gris. Very complex, creamy nose with notes of leche.
2017 Chardonnay: The French oak was noticeable but not overpowering, thanks to using neutral barrels. Nice acid; I liked this one a lot.
Soif (pronounced “Swaff”): A Cab Franc/Merlot blend with a little Petit Verdot and 3% Chardonnay. Made in stainless, which I suspect made the fruitiness more pronounced and lower on the tannins. Reminded me of a Beaujolais.
2017 Foothills: 6 blends; your traditional Bordeaux styles (minus Malbec) plus some Syrah and a smaller portion of Petit Manseng. Liked it a lot; nice raspberry notes.
2017 Cabernet Franc: Smooth but with a little spice. None of the tobacco or pepper notes that I’m accustomed to in other Cab Francs.
2015 Novum (red blend): I loved the nose!!! I swear I could nurse this glass for an hour before sipping it. Again with the raspberry notes on the palate.
2016 Novum: Another red blend, but heavier on the Merlot (which I found very pronounced). Nice medium body with noticeable fruit but not entirely fruit-forward.
I shouldn’t forget one of the coolest thing about their wine flights – they also have a rotating flight of wines from other Virginia wineries. Last time I was here, I had Ankida Ridge’s Pinot Noir. The time before that, a set of wines from southern Virginia. The philosophy is that when Virginia wines can enter the spotlight, all of Virginia wins. So why not give harder to find Virginia wines the chance to find an audience here? It’s a great concept, since as the old adage goes – a rising tide really does raise all boats.
A special shout-out to Aileen Seiver, Early Mountain’s director of marketing who kindly gave me a tour. Aileen has a really tough job; in marketing Early Mountain, she also takes visitors to other Virginia wineries like Afton Mountain and RdV (I’m sure there’s work in there somewhere).