Summer Sojourn to Barboursville Vineyards
by Bill Babash, Vice Chargé de Presse
The Bailliage of Washington, DC, continued its decade-long tradition of a summer sojourn away from the heat of the city with a delightful afternoon at Barboursville Vineyards in central Virginia – a region steeped in American history as well as the history of winemaking in Virginia.
Barboursville Vineyards is beautifully sited among rolling hills overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains, just nine miles from James Madison’s Montpelier and less than 30 miles from Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. The 1000-acre estate was the home of James Barbour, Governor of Virginia from 1812 to 1814 and later a U.S. Senator, Secretary of War, and Ambassador to the United Kingdom. The ruins of Barbour’s mansion are a focal point of the estate. Designed by Barbour’s friend Thomas Jefferson in 1821, it was consumed by fire on Christmas Day 1884; the ruins are now designated a National Historic Landmark.
Gianni Zonin acquired the Barboursville estate in 1976. Zonin is the eighth generation in his family’s 200-year-old wine business in Italy. Barboursville offered the exact combination of location and conditions he was seeking to establish European-style viticulture in the U.S. For his first 20 years at Barboursville, Zonin planted and replanted different varieties of grapes as he discovered nuances of the vineyard’s soil and microclimates. By 1990, he had found the best varietals for the vineyard, and Luca Paschina arrived as winemaker. A graduate of Umberto Primo Institute in Alba, Italy, with a degree in oenology, Paschina brings a traditional Italian approach to winemaking at Barboursville.
The day started with the picturesque drive to the vineyard on a warm, sunny morning. Many members took advantage of bus transportation arranged by the bailliage, during which they enjoyed a selection of mini-pastries from the Heidelberg Pastry Shop in Arlington, Virginia, and a fruit salad composed by Chevalier Bruce Reynolds. A glass of orange juice or La Marca prosecco the light brunch-on-the-road.
Fernando Franco, Barboursville’s viticulturist for the past 20 years, welcomed the bailliage with an introduction to the estate’s viticulture and wines. Franco described the varietals currently being grown and some of the unique conditions they sometimes face, such as heavy rains in the summer and abnormally warm temperatures in the winter. Despite these challenges, Barboursville produces consistently outstanding grapes resulting in superb wines.
Some two hundred years ago, Thomas Jefferson tried with little success to get European grapes to grow in the area. Thanks to Zonin, Paschina, and Franco’s experience, expertise, and passion, Jefferson’s vision for Virginia wines has been realized. Today, 150 acres of the estate are planted with vines, and Barboursville produces a range of award-winning varietals as well as their flagship Octagon blend. Franco was eager to share several of these with the bailliage.
The tasting began with a Brut Rosé. Made from 100% pinot noir, this sparkling wine is a. collaboration between winemakers at Barboursville and Zonin’s Tenuta Il Bosco winery in the Oltrepò Pavese region of Italy and is crafted in the finest Italian tradition. Next was a refreshing yet complex Sauvignon Blanc Reserve 2016, a blend of five cloned French vines brought to Barboursville from New Zealand and planted in 2010. Franco traveled to New Zealand to deepen his knowledge of sauvignon blanc cultivation – knowledge reflected in the nuanced notes of citrus and grass as well as the firm acidity and minerality of the resulting wine. The Fiano Reserve 2017 followed. This dry white wine with plenty of citrus, floral, and herbaceous facets is fermented entirely in stainless steel. Fiona is a vigorous variety common in southern Italy that does well in Virginia’s frequently hot conditions. Fiona is believed to have been cultivated in as far back as Roman times. The final selection was the Chardonnay Reserve 2017, which is barrel fermented and aged in oak for five months. This exceptional vintage is full of complex flavors and balanced acidity. Beautiful platters of assaggini accompanied the wines: crab salad; cantaloupe and coppa, roasted eggplant and burrata on baguette, and pork pâté with whole grain mustard and red onion jam.
The gathering then moved to the Palladio Restaurant for a delicious northern-Italian lunch prepared by Executive Chef Spencer Crawford. The restaurant is named for Italian architect Andrea Palladio (1508-1580), whose style Thomas Jefferson studied intensely and used as an inspiration for his Monticello estate and the Rotunda at the University of Virginia, among other notable buildings (including James Barbour’s now ruined mansion).
Chef Crawford is a native of central Virginia and graduated from Johnson and Wales University. He takes full advantage of the bounty produced by Barboursville’s own farm and at nearby farms and orchards. He and the winemaker collaborate continuously, ensuring the food and wine bring out the best in each other.
In the dining room, Sommelier Alesandro Medici oversaw the service of carefully selected Barboursville wines with each course. Medici is a graduate of the Professional Culinary Institute of San Pellegrino Terme, Italy, and worked with Gianni Zonin at his estate in Tuscany before coming to Palladio in 1999.
Lunch began with a crudo of wild Scottish salmon enhanced with lemon zest, thyme, chili, and olive oil. The luxurious fish was paired with the Barboursville Blanc de Blanc Brut, NV. This 100% Chardonnay wine is a collaboration between the winemakers at Barboursville and at Tenuta Il Bosco, its sister winery in Italy. Bottle-fermented in Italy, this lively cuvée provided a wonderful opening to the meal.
House-made tagliatelle with bottarga and estate-grown zucchini followed. Bottarga is a delicacy of salted cured fish roe, which added complex flavors as a counterpoint to the light, fresh flavor of the zucchini. The medium body, fragrance, and minerality of the Barboursville Vermentino Reserve 2017 was a great match to the perfectly al dente pasta.
Chef Crawford then delighted the gathering with potato gnocchi with brown butter, chanterelles, and sage. The chef noted that the chanterelles had been harvested the previous evening in the Shenandoah Valley and that the sage came from his own kitchen garden. The potato flavor shone in the gnocchi and the chanterelles were simply phenomenal. A glass of the full-bodied Barboursville Nebbiolo Reserve 2015 provided notes of dark berries and tobacco that further elevated the dish. Nebbiolo is a grape varietal from the Piedmont region of Italy and produces wines that are particularly well suited for aging.
Next was smoked and braised pork cheeks with sautéed corn, peaches, cherry tomatoes, lima bean purée, and pork glaze. The pork cheeks were amazing – the smoke subtly enhanced their flavor and the braising ensured they were spoon tender. The accompaniments made this a wonderful summer dish. For this sophisticated course the bailliage was treated to the Barboursville Octagon 2010. Octagon is Barboursville’s flagship wine. Each year the winemaker tailors a blend of varietals to create a wine that showcases the best facets of each. The 2010 Octagon is 60% merlot, 10% cabernet franc, 15% petite verdot, and 15% cabernet sauvignon and is aged in new and used oak, producing a dry, rich wine that was spectacular with the pork cheeks.
Chef Crawford’s dessert captured the essence of summer. Zabaglione is a light custard of wine, egg yolks, and sugar that is whisked to a light, airy texture over a double boiler. The chef’s version used Barboursville’s Paxxito wine, the sweetest of their dessert wines, creating an indulgent zabaglione served with peaches from Grelen Nursery in nearby Somerset, Virginia, and finished with spiced pecans, blackberry coulis, and mint. A glass of Barboursville Philéo, NV, dessert wine, notable for its bright, refreshing sweetness and mild acidity, was a wonderful companion to the composition.
As lunch concluded, Bailli Judy Mazza and Vice Conseiller Gastronomique Michael McHenry presented Chef Crawford with a Chaîne plate to congratulate and thank him for a delicious meal that showcased his creativity and technique as well as the finest local ingredients.
Several bailliage members extended their stay at Barboursville in the luxurious accommodations on the estate located in a Georgian villa built in 1804 and several cottages dating from the 18th to early 20th century. This provided time to enjoy additional wine tastings, visit nearby historical sights, and take in a truly excellent performance of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream by the local Four County Players, staged outside at the ruins of the Barbour mansion, complete with a picnic supper catered by Palladio.
Whether it was for the afternoon or the weekend, the bailliage again enjoyed discovering more of the culinary, oenological, and historic richness beyond the nation’s capital.