The Ben Jordan Experience: Lightwell Survey and Midland Construction Wines

Ben Jordan is a busy guy. You’d think being the winemaker for one of the largest wineries in Virginia would be enough. But wait – there’s more!

Ben is also involved with two separate wine ventures; Lightwell Survey and Midland Construction. Both labels use Shenandoah Valley grapes; the former utilizing fruit from different parts of the valley (and some red grapes from Early Mountain’s Quaker Run vineyard), the later from his family farm in Ft. Defiance, just north of Stauton.

The two lines mostly use different grape varietals. But both share one big similarity – both are WEIRD, and I say that in a very good way. Ben has a flare for blending and demonstrates his talent here. It’s rare to see Riesling and Petit Manseng made together, but both Lightwell and Midland have bottles made in that style. But things get doubly weird with Lightwell’s Syrah-Riesling “Los Idiots” and Midland’s Cabernet Franc-Blaufränkisch blend.

Unfortunately neither label has a dedicated tasting room, so you have to watch their social media feeds for events where they are being served. Lucky for me, I was able to taste both Lightwell’s and Midland’s wines barely a week apart.

My experience with Lightwell came when Ben was visiting Walsh Family Wine. Walsh has a cool program where they invite winemakers who lack tasting rooms to pour their wines during special ‘bar takeover’ events; needless to say, I got my tickets as soon as they were available.

The combo of wines from Nate Walsh and Ben Jordan is a totally win-win scenario. I feel they could have placed their entire lineup on the counter, let me grab a random bottle blindfolded, and I would have been happy with whatever I got. I’m saving Nate’s wines for a future blog, so I’ll just concentrate on Lightwell.

Lightwell’s tasting descriptions are lighthearted and whimsical – like several of their wines. Ben was even behind the counter pouring. What I tried:

Goodbye Horses: A dry Riesling, which I found to be exceptionally rich and yummy.

EMV 2018 Young Wine: OK, NOT a Lightwell wine but nevertheless made by Ben. BIG fruit notes; seemed to live up to its name. Beaujolais style, perhaps?

2017 Los Idiots: Interesting blend of 59% Syrah/41% Riesling. Light, with the cherry notes very apparent.

2017 Weird Ones Are Wolves: 90% Cabernet Franc but dashes of Syrah, Petit Manseng and Riesling. Bright and spicy at the same time, with noticeable acidity.

My visit to Midland Construction occurred just a week later at their farm in Ft Defiance. Ben is also the winemaker but he runs the business with his brothers Tim and Grayson. The family roots go beyond the wine business; this was their grandfather’s farm, and the wine is named after his former construction company.

The farm has 10 acres planted; 6 of vinifera and 4 acres of hybrid. The location is very non-descript as vineyards go; wandering around I almost walked into the family home next door. The ‘tasting room’ must have been an old garage, with a paper sign announcing that you have arrived.

As I walked in I saw Ben and Tim pouring at the tables. It was a bigger event than I had expected; I guess they have a pretty decent social media following for so many to take this hike. I didn’t ask what their production is, but it’s most certainly a smaller operation.

The lineup included a trio of wines plus a selection of his aperitif “War & Rust” series. Ben must have recognized me because I got a “Hey, I know you!” look as I walked by. See what happens when you drink a lot of Virginia wine? Even the winemakers recognize their regular lushes!

What I tried:

2017 Riesl-eng: (69% Riesling/31% Petit Manseng): Think of a regular Riesling, but less apple-y and fuller. Different but liked it.

2017 Chardonnay: My favorite of the lineup. It had enough oak to make it noticeable but didn’t overpower it. I ended up with a glass of this as I walked around.

2017 Cabernet Frankisch (75% Cab Franc/25% Blaufränkisch): Spicy notes dominate here. Ben explained this was a product of necessity, as he didn’t have enough fruit to make wines from either varietal so he blended them together. I liked it but again it’s definitely different – but in a good way.

War & Rust series: Not sure how to describe these wines. Ben called them aperitifs, which is as good a description as any. Not sure what grapes they used either; apparently there are many. And it’s impossible to give you a vintage year since they are fermented solera-style, meaning every series is made of juice from multiple batches. Its sort of like a port-style, but not really.

I CAN tell you the flavors are bitter and heavy on the herbs, although the older bottles are more fruit-forward. I personally preferred the older bottles for that reason, but to each their own.

And so there you have it!

Enjoying the firepit at Walsh Family Wine

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