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Wines of Sunset Hills Vineyard - Virginia @sunsethillwine

Virginia Wine Baby!

"Still a lot to prove, and I like that." - Nate Walsh

Last week I enjoyed another Virginia Wine Chat wine tasting with host Frank Morgan of Drink What You Like and Nate Walsh, Winemaker & Vineyard Manager of Sunset Hills Vineyard. I interacted with them and other wine media friends via twitter #VAwinechat. Frank and Nate were on a UStream video feed so we could watch them as they tasted.

Frank Morgan (left) and Nate Walsh (right).

Together we tasted three different Virginia wines made by Nate Walsh. We also learned a little about Nate. Nate Walsh arrived at Loudoun County wine country as a fluke. He's not from a wine making family and he was not educated as a winemaker. After earning degrees in English and Italian and in need of cash, he took a summer job working in the vineyard and never left. He's worked in the Willamette Valley in Oregon, Central Otago in New Zealand and then came back home to Virginia. "Still a lot to prove, and I like that." He's learned a lot about making wine; which shows by his many awards.

Sunset Hills owners Diane and Mike Canney planted their first vineyard in 1999 to Chardonnay. They remained only growers until 2006. The first year of production the winery produced 300-400 cases. With 20 acres of vineyards planted, not all the vineyards are local. Sometimes, the local area is not the best location for certain varieties. They have had to plant some vineyards 60 miles away.

In 2009 Nate Walsh joined Sunset Hills Vineyard. Today production is at 10,000 cases per year, and growing. More vineyards are being planted while they manage young vineyards as they come on-line.

This winery does not intend to make "inexpensive" supermarket wine. The styles of Virginia wines Sunset Hills has been making are thoughtful efforts to be a part of the most premium of Virginia Wines. They are pursuing excellence on their restored 140 year old farm. Information on their "green vineyard" practices and Loudoun County is below.

On to the tasting notes.

Tasting Notes 2013 Sunset Hills Vineyard Rose'
Color: Kool-Aid Cherry.
Nose: Strawberry, watermelon, mineral fresh. Cherry candy fresh as it warmed.
Palate: Strawberry rhubarb, long tasty finish. Creamy mouth feel. Touch sweet and nice acid back of palate roof of mouth. I liked. Think spicy grilled prawns and chicken curry to compliment.

Day two: Rose water and cherry blossom sprinkled over slate nose, creamy, full in the mouth with cherry and strawberry, gently tart on the edges of tongue with a citrus note mid-palate. Perfect for a hot, humid summer day. This wine will go fast. Recommended.

Blend: 81% Chambourcin, 19% Traminette
ABV: 13%
RS: 1%
Closure: Nomacorc
Production: 794 cases.
SRP: $22
Sample provided by winery

Tasting Notes 2013 Sunset Hills Vineyard Viognier
Nate said they have 3 blocks of Viognier grown on their Estate. He likes Viognier broad, ripe and textural.
Color: Silver straw.
Nose: Olive and honey. After 20 minutes olive blew off and left aromas of honey, herbal, rosemary, mineral, popcorn.
Palate: Almost honey sweet. Mineral on finish. Spice and acid top of palate. After 30 minutes: Apricot, melon, lot of honey, long finish. Suggest pork chops or spicy Thai, or even Mexican food. A truly interesting Virginia Viognier. Classic? Possibly. Big. Interesting. Recommended.

Day two: Darker color. Honeyed sesame, ozone after a thunderstorm, caress of chives on the wind nose. Creamy, round, honeyed pear, zing down middle of tongue, dusting of nutmeg on the finish. Kick back sipping wine day two. A treat. More my speed day two.

Day Three: Viognier was delicious. Integrated, honey not as dominant. Brie or cream cheese + croissant needed. This wine has some aging potential. Recommended.

RS: 1%
Closure: Nomacorc
SRP: $26
Sample provided by winery

Tasting Notes 2010 Sunset Hills Vinayard Mosaic Red Wine
This is their flagship wine. 2010 is the first vintage.
Color: Dark Burgundy.
Nose: Winner. Blackberry, deep aroma, whiff of olive, floral note of white carnation. After 55 minutes mocha spice and showing off with dried earthy strawberry.
Palate: Plush, Blackberry, spice mid-palate, black cherry, fine tannin, Dried strawberry with chocolate. Nice grip and really pleased. Sophisticated. 55 minutes was the magic window for me. Big, fruity, dark, plush, dry. Lovely wine especially at 1 hour. Exotic, great finish. Bottle emptied in four hours. More integrated and satisfying each hour.

Thoughts: Drink now if you decant first or enjoy in the next 10 years. Strongly Recommended.

Bordeaux blend: 37.5% Merlot, 37.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Cabernet Franc, 7% Petit Verdot
Closure: Natural cork
Production: 186 cases
SRP: $50
Sample provided by winery

Stylistically, these three wines are true representatives of Virginia wine. They have their own unique characteristics of terroir saying "we are from Virginia." Sunset Hills hopes their wines speak for themselves. Well done.

Sunset Hills Vineyard LLC    
38295 Fremont Overlook Lane, Purcellville Virginia    

Gone Solar

They have installed 154 solar panels on the south-facing roofs of their winery and case storage buildings that will supply 100% of their electrical needs, making Sunset Hills the largest producer of solar energy in Loudoun County to date.

Green Practices in the Vineyard
  • Spray very little chemical pesticide and herbicides in the vineyard to avoid polluting the ground and surrounding water supplies. 
  • Minimize the use of motorized vehicles such as tractors, employing manual labor instead to reduce energy usage and emissions. 
  • Anything used in the vineyard that might end up on the vineyard floor (like the fasteners to train vines, for example)  are biodegradable.
  • Recycle vineyard waste (such as spent grape skins and pomace) back into the vineyard as fertilizer and weed controls instead of disposing of it in landfills.
  • "Cold stabilize" wines, meaning put barrels outside during the months that the weather is cold enough instead of using refrigeration.
  • Use underground and partially underground spaces for cooling instead of refrigeration. 
  • Create plant environments that encourage environments to attract bluebirds and beneficial insects on the property.
Visit their website to learn more about their sustainable and green practices.

Where is Sunset Hills Vineyard located?

You will find Sunset Hills Vineyard in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The Appalachian Trail traverses the entire length of the mountain along its western slope and crest. Substantial portions closely parallel the Blue Ridge Parkway and, in Shenandoah National Park, the Skyline Drive. Parts of the trail near the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Skyline Drive are often considered the best for beginner hikers.

Sunset Hills Vineyard winery is between Route 7 West and Route 9 in Loudoun County, between Purcellville and Lovettsville, Virginia. Loudoun County ranks 20th in overall agriculture production in the state. Corn, wheat and beans remain staple crops, while berry production has increased dramatically (ranked 1st in the state). Christmas tree farming (3rd in the state) and livestock (11th in state for sheep and lamb, 14th in state for cattle) are also major agricultural ventures. In the last decade the emergence of vineyards and wineries in the valley has led to it being a top producer of wine in the state. Source: Wikepedia

Minutes from Dulles International Airport and 25 miles outside the nation's capital, Loudoun County is considered "DC's Wine Country." More than 34 wineries and tasting rooms are located along tree-lined roads. Also known as the Loudoun Wine Trail, this region should be your next wine country destination. View a list of the wineries in Loudoun County.

Related post: Dreaming of Virginia Wine

I hope you enjoy learning about Virginia wines and wine country as much as I do. For several reasons, I feel a connection to Virginia. Perhaps I'll address that connection in future.


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