Hark Vineyards

Hark Vineyards is a place I’d been looking forward to visiting for a long time. Located north of Charlottesville in a neck of the woods packed with wineries (literally – it’s all forests here), it’s trip that’s guaranteed to quench your thirst.

I initially planned visiting the Friday of their opening weekend, but delayed when I realized they’d likely be too packed to answer geeky wine questions. Fortunately switching to Sunday morning paid off; nobody else had yet to arrive, so I had the tasting bar all to myself.

Although open to the public, Hark presently lacks a purpose-built tasting room. Fortunately, an ad-hoc bar in the production building serves just fine. Just drive past the old farm building (don’t despair! It’s not the tasting room) down the winding road.

Tasting room associate Paxton welcomed me when I walked in; owners Aaron and Candice Hark arrived soon thereafter. Between the three of them, I was treated to generous pours as they gave me the low-down on the business.

The Harks were bitten by the wine bug years ago. Eventually they found this parcel of land and liked it so much they put an offer on it immediately. Their eye for good terroir paid off; now they have 18 acres planted, all French varietals with the exception of Vidal and Pinot Gris. Hark’s focus on vinifera tells me they have lots of confidence in this site’s ability to grow great wine.

As soon as you walk in you can’t help but see the production building is HUGE. Candice joked how tiny their fermenters looked in the middle of the ginormous space. While modest now, they expect to be able to reach around 10,000 cases/year when at full production.

While the venue was impressive, more impressive is their collection of talent. Jake Busching is their wine maker. While not well-known to the general public, industry veterans recognize him as someone who’s been around the VA wine scene for decades. Jake not only makes Hark’s wines, you can taste his own lineup of wines here.

After our tasting, Aaron and Candice gave me the grand tour of the place (note to all readers; this is one of the perks to wine blogging…just saying). Assistant winemaker AJ Greely showed me the reds juice in their bins that had just been picked, followed by a barrel tasting of their recently picked Merlot.

AJ shimmied up the barrels with her wine thief to get some samples. Candice’s eyes light up after she tried it out; the freshness reminded me of a Beaujolais. To say we were near-giddy in excitement is an understatement; 2019 has been a great growing year and this vintage promise to be one of the best any of us had experienced.

We finished the day with a drive through the vineyard, stopping at where the future tasting room would be. The views promise to be stunning.

As for the wines…

The current slate of Hark white wines are 100% estate grown. The Busching wines are made with fruit from local growers he has relationships with, including Honah Lee (where Mike Shaps gets a lot of fruit from).

For whites, we started with a pair of Chardonnays, then the Viognier. The toastiness of the 2018 Chard was a pleasant surprise, given how wet it was that year. The 2017 had a bigger mouthfeel and benefited greatly from the new French Oak. A nice honeysuckle-driven Viognier rounded out the whites.

Next were the two Hark reds; a 2018 Cabernet Franc and a 2017 Merlot. The Franc was light with pomegranate notes; the Merlot reminded me of…cola! That’s right; a new tasting note for me!

Last but not least were the Jake Busching wine lineup. Across the board, Jake’s wines were INTENSE. I mean slap-your-face intense. First the 2017 Petit Verdot, followed by the 2016 Tannat. The very yummy and relatively softer 2017 “Spark” Bordeaux blend was practically a reprieve by comparison. But then….then came the 2016 “F8”, a 50/50 Tannat-Petit Verdot blend.

Let me tell you…that F8 was niiiiiiice. These are two grapes that play very well together. I’ve only had a handful of 50/50 blends like this and I can’t wait to do a blind tasting with all of them. I had to buy a bottle, even if it is likely to be a short-lived addition to my collection.

All in all, this is a strong start to Hark. Thanks to Aaron and Candice for their great hospitality, and I’ll be seeing Jake in a few weeks at a separate event!

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