It’s fashionable to model your wines after Bordeaux. If not Bordeaux, then maybe Napa. But the owners of the “Wine Caves” decided to look for inspiration elsewhere. Because here, you’ll find wines reminiscent of not only the Rhone, but Uruguay as well – with a Virginia twist.
Maggie & Mark Malick are the namesakes of this place; she’s the wine maker and he’s the viticulturist. They got their start in the wine business in 2001 when they bought a Christmas tree farm and converted it into a vineyard. Today, they have 15 grape varieties on 30 planted acres. Considering how around 80% of Virginia’s wineries grow maybe 10 acres of vines or less – that’s a lot!
When I asked Mark if I could drop by to see the vineyard, he said sure – how about 8 AM? That wasn’t exactly what I had in mind but hey…when you visit a farmer, you need to work farmer’s hours. Fortunately he switched things up and I did a tasting in the early afternoon, followed by a tour of the vineyard.
Even if you’ve never been to Maggie, you may have (indirectly) tasted the ‘fruit of their labor’. A large portion of their grapes are sold throughout Virginia – in part because they didn’t have the space to utilize everything they grew. That’s changing though; a new tasting building was almost ready to open when I visited, which should free more room for production and storage. Mark seemed especially happy that he wouldn’t have to sell his precious Tannat grapes.
Terroir is probably the most important ingredient to great wine, and this place knocks it out of the park. In a microclimate protected by the ridgelines of Loudoun Valley, Maggie has one of the most diverse vineyards I know about. Sure, they have your typical Bordeaux grapes. But beyond those they have varietals you just don’t see very often – including Albariño, Tannat, Malbec, and Tempranillo. But what really impressed me were the rows of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre – the ingredients for their Rhone-inspired “GSM” blends which first sparked the Malick’s interest in winemaking. Mark admitted these grapes don’t do well in Virginia but he is too stubborn to give up – much to the benefit of the rest of us.
Maggie isn’t just an aerospace engineer; she’s a mad scientist. You’d have to be in order to create the concoctions they’ve produced. I’m talking about combos like a Tannat/Viognier blend (90%/10%), their “Duet” Chardonnay/Petit Manseng blend (50/50), and (coming up) a Tannat/Tempranillo blend. I’ve seen a few Tannat/Petit Verdot blends around (and Maggie has one of those too), but I’d dare anybody to show me another Virginia wine maker with this breadth of experimentation.
As much as I enjoyed my vineyard joy ride and conversations, the best part of any winery visit is to taste the wines. I was VERY lucky as they brought out several bottles that weren’t readily available. What I tried:
2017 Petit Manseng (sweet): 2% residual sugar so it had its sweetness. Orange peel notes, heavy, but not desert-wine sweet
2018 Petit Manseng (dry): Grapefruit notes, made in steel.
2018 Viognier: Melon notes, soft but not overly floral
2018 Rose: Made with Cabernet Sauvignon! I don’t see many Virginia Roses made with Cab, although that was almost certainly due to 2018 being a horribly wet year.
2018 Sunset Sonata (Rose): Off dry, rich with notes of strawberry
2015 Cabernet Franc: Plumb or cherry notes, which is a major departure from the bell pepper or leather flavors I often find in Virginian Cab Francs. It also seemed a little vegetal, which in this particular case was not a negative descriptor in any way.
2016 Cabernet Franc: Rich but young nose. Spiced up with 8% Tannat, which made me VERY happy (I’m a Tannat fanatic)
2016 Mourvèdre: Earthy, maybe a little vegetal (again – this is the rare case where this is not a negative). My server recommended leaving this one open for an especially long time.
2016 Kaleidoscope (Bordeaux blend): Very good & rich.
2016 Tannat: Now we’re talking! Fruit on the nose, good tannin and acid. I still haven’t forgiven myself for not grabbing their double-gold 2014 Tannat when I had the chance…
2018 Duet (50/50 Chardonnay/Petit Manseng): Unusual blend made in Hungarian oak that may have been a way to experiment with the rain-soaked 2018 grapes. Very complex; you definitely got the Petit Manseng and it tasted heavy on the tongue but this quality was mitigated by the Chardonnay. I ended up buying a bottle so I could show it off.
2018 Sauvignon Blanc: Melon notes and nice acid.