I went into this trip with the full intention of treating all my wine visits equally. After all, there’s SOMETHING good to be said about everyplace I visited, even if it’s not the style of wine that I drink. I’m an advocate for ‘drink what you like’, so if you like hybrids and/or sweet wine – go for it!
But I have an admission: Hamlet was my favorite of this trip.
Hamlet has two big things going for them; an excellent vineyard that’s focused on vinifera…and Michael Shaps. Combine the two, and you have a clear winner.
Butch and Virginia Hamlet got into wine making the traditional Virginia way – by accident. They already owned 300 acres of land, so they decided they may as well put it to productive use. I suppose having a love of wine was another motivation, since despite not having a background in agriculture they chose to open a vineyard.
But the Hamlets bonded with their vineyard, as nobody wants to sell grapes that they invested so much time in growing. By happy accident one year Chateau Morrisette didn’t purchase Hamlet’s crop, so they sought the assistance of Michael Shaps to turn their grapes into wine. Now Hamlet makes estate wine out of its 5 acres of grapes – mostly vinifera.
I asked about Hamlet’s partnership with Shaps, and Virginia was a huge advocate of his custom crush program. Hamlet’s wines are 100% estate, and Shaps definitely knows what to do with them. Since Virginia knows her customers’ palates, she and Michael are able to collaborate on the styles that best suit Hamlet’s needs. That partnership has definitely worked out well; their 2016 Eltham made its way to the 2017 Virginia’s Governor’s Case, and having tried the entire Case lineup I thought it was one of the best of the bunch.
The tasting room is small and cozy. They have a small patio with pull down walls that has served them well for years, but that should be replaced in the future with something more durable. Given their location, I thought it was just the right amount of space.
Hamlet is only open on Sundays. That’s an unusual decision but one that makes sense for them, given how many Saturday evenings Hamlet’s space is rented out for events. I definitely got the feeling this was a popular watering hole, although being open all weekend might dilute the crowd for both days.
Despite that, Virginia was kind enough to allow me to visit her on a Saturday. I got to try the entire lineup of wines while she went over the business.
Pinot Gris: Light, refreshing, with citrus notes.
Viognier: Honey-ish notes. Also sharp and dry, without the perfume nose that I often find.
“Bottle Blond”: Sweet wine made with Pinot Gris/Vidal/Chardonel. Local favorite. Virginia explained it took a while for Hamlet to introduce a sweet wine into their repertoire as they didn’t want to have a reputation as a sweet-wine focused winery, but there was so much demand eventually they gave in.
Rose (Merlot): Merlot is a workhorse for their vineyard. Strawberry notes; just barely off dry. A good compromise that can satisfy sweet and dry wine drinkers.
“Old Virginia Red”: Soft red; also bridges the gap between sweet and dry wine drinkers. Fruity; can be chilled. It sorta reminded me of a sangria.
2016 Cabernet Sauvignon: Light, bramble fruit notes.
2016 Petit Verdot: Smokey!
2015 Eltham: Very yummy…soft fruit notes.
2016 Eltham (50/50 Petit Verdot and Merlot): Sooooo gooooooooood…and a worthy edition to the 2017 Virginia Governor’s Case competition. Very good complexity, very smooth.
“VA Vino” Sparking viognier. Fun, festive sparkling wine.
A special shout-out goes to their cans of Pinot Gris!