Bleu Frog Vineyards

For years I’ve passed what is now Bleu Frog vineyards while on my way to Fabbioli and other local wineries. From the road you can see it’s a pretty location, and once vines appeared on the hills I assumed a winery would be in their future. So when I got word this place was officially open, needless to say I was stoked.

Owners Jan and Joe Kernan bought the property in 2016, not long after Joe retired after a 30 year career in the US Navy. In fact, the name “Bleu Frog” is a nod to his former career as a Navy SEAL. On most days you’ll also find their daughter Shannon running operations at their tasting area.

It always puzzles me when people seek to buy a farm as part of their ‘retirement’. Farming is a tough business and viticulture especially so. But I suppose when you’re already accustomed to the military life, ‘taking it easy’ is tough to do. Plus, the Kernans knew this property was special and wanted to find a way to share it. Before long, they planted vines and had their first crop in 2019.

Right now Bleu Frog is primarily setup for an outdoors-only experience – although there are plans to build a barn in 2021. Fortunately winter firepits are coming, so being outdoors (hopefully) won’t be a big deal.

One thing that I felt really sets them apart from other local wineries is you get a feeling you’re ‘in the vineyard’. Their tables and buildings are literally on the edge of the vines – 9 acres in all, including Vidal, Chambourcin, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot. This is a sharp contrast to some of the other vineyards I visit, which have a plethora of signs prohibiting people from wandering amongst the vines.

Speaking of wine – I was thrilled when Shannon told me that Doug Fabbioli was their winemaker. But we shouldn’t give all the credit to Doug; Jan is a chef, so the wines are more of a collaboration with Doug.

Right now they only have four wines. I really liked the Vidal, which reminded me of a nice Sauvignon Blanc. But my Rosè loving girlfriend told me their Rosè is the best anywhere in Virginia. Given how much Rosè she’s bought, that should tell you something.

Zoll Vineyards

Zoll brings a lot to the table, both proverbially and literally. Since I was spending the weekend in the area I had to opportunity to swing by and visit for the first time.

Owner Frank Zoll moved from Boston to Virginia in 2017 and opened his winery not long afterward. But Frank was a chef before he was a winemaker, and opened this winery to utilize both talents.

While not part of the Northern Neck / George Washington Birthplace AVA (which is just north of here) Zoll vineyards shares many of the same conditions, including a large number of frost-free days and sandy soils. Vinifera can grow here, although you have to be smart about what you plant. Right now they have 16 acres of vines in total including Petit Verdot, Merlot, Cab Franc, Pinot Grigio, Sauv Blanc, Albariño, and Traminette. They also grow their own fruit for their mead.

The tasting room is an old school building (they plan on holding events as well). I admit – drinking in a cafeteria that serves wine, cider and mead gave me giggles. I suppose if you ever wanted to tell people you had wine at school – this is your chance.

By far, the hardest part of my visit was…deciding what to eat! Savory and sweet options were available, as well as farm-to-table food and wine pairing options. I tried several dishes, but my favorites were the smoked salmon cream cheese pinwheel paired with rose, and the s’mores for desert. Heck, I’m pretty sure I could eat the s’mores by itself.

I ended up trying a good number of their wines, but only have notes for these:

Little Tart Fresh Apple Cider: The tartness lives up to its name

Hibiscus Sangria:  Made with Chardonnay and hibiscus flowers (Frank called it a girly drink)

Cranberry Cider: Made with heirloom apples

Mariners Blend: “Tastes like Pecan Pie” is a great descriptor.

Cab Franc Reserve: Fruit and oak notes

Carriage House Wineworks

Carriage House Wineworks is (at the time of writing) Virginia’s newest winery, opening in September 2020. Right now they are taking visitors by appointment only, but that shouldn’t scare you off! Co-owner and winemaker Mike Fritze is happy to do a tasting at his vineyard.

Managing a winery is a tough business, but since Mike was already a home winemaker/wine judge and his partner Bruce Beddow is a longtime wine grower, they likely had a fair idea of what they were getting into. Bruce was already selling fruit to other Virginia wineries, so making a full-fledged winery was a logical next step.

Today, Mike owns 5 acres of vines at his property of Quartz Creek, while Bruce owns another 12 at nearby Windhorn Vineyard. Having 17 acres of estate vines (almost all vinifera) is a great way for any winery to start, but for vineyards as well as wineries it’s all about LOCATION LOCATION LOCATION.

It so happens, both the vineyards and winery are in a great spot. Planted on a gentle slope above Catoctin Creek, the vineyard is well positioned to shrug off cold air and excess water. Mike isn’t the only guy to realize this; you can see Staggerwing Vineyard and Bethany Ridge one hill over. Given Nate Walsh’s high praise of those sites, I’m confident Carriage House is in a good neighborhood. It also helps over a dozen other wineries are not far away.

While Carriage House has a tasting room, right now it’s only for club members. Not to worry; Mike is doing tastings by appointment at the vineyard – which not coincidentally is adjacent to his house. Hopefully when the COVID-19 situation is better visitors can do their tastings indoors, but I definitely enjoyed my visit in his backyard looking at the vines.

Mike and his wife Gerri sat us down during a rare brake for a tasting and chat about vines. Mike was especially proud that all his wines were made from fruit produced within a several mile radius of his farm. Following the tasting, we went on a tour of the vineyard.

All of Mike’s wine is on the younger side. That said, 2019 is a great vintage to start with, so no complaint there.

2019 Rosé (Chambourcin, with a little Cab Sauv): Good acid, nice color. The Cab gave it some earthy notes and complexity. I went home with a bottle.

2019 Vidal: Liked it! Dry, herbal notes.

2019 Chardonnay: Citrusy, made in steel.

2019 Petit Manseng: Little bit of pepper, which I found to be unusual. Also unusual is it was lower on the acid levels than I’m accustomed to (which in this case was a good thing).

2019 Merlot: Black currant on the nose. Soft, would be nice chilled.

2019 Cabernet Franc: Savory! Fruit on the nose. Not viscus.

Late Harvest Vidal: Very light and citrusy. Paired well with the rice crispy shared with us by some fellow guests.

Make sure to call ahead for an appointment!