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Loudoun’s Wine Wednesday: Give me the gas!

Revered wine critic Robert Whitley noted about Greenhill's blanc de blancs: "With green apple and citrus aromas, it is fresh, crisp and clean. This bubbly is well balanced and flavorful, clearly fruit driven, and refreshing, with firm acid structure.” Times-Mirror Photo/Trevor Baratko

While the winemakers of Loudoun continue to make sensational strides in the quality and nuances of their juice, there's one glaring and unfortunate void when it comes to local wine offerings: Where's the bubbly?

Out of the nearly 40 wineries in Loudoun County, just a few offer sparkling wine, and those sadly are made with fruit grown outside the county lines – though, thankfully, within Virginia.

One – and perhaps the best – local sparkler comes from Greenhill Winery, the half-year-old vineyard in Middleburg on the former Swedenburg Estate Vineyard property.

Greenhill's bubbly is a 100 percent chardonnay blanc de blancs made in the traditional méthode champenoise – fermented in stainless steel and aged for 22 months in barrels before undergoing second fermentation in the bottle. The easy-sipper recently took gold at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition and Best of Class and Best of Show at The Wine Makers Challenge in San Diego. Revered wine critic Robert Whitley noted: "With green apple and citrus aromas, it is fresh, crisp and clean. This bubbly is well balanced and flavorful, clearly fruit driven, and refreshing, with firm acid structure.”

The recent accolades could lead Sebastien Marquet, Greenhill's winemaker, to boast of offering the top Virginia-grown sparkling in Loudoun, but it seems Mr. Marquet would prefer a wider cast of competition.

“People are not focusing on sparkling in Virginia, which is pretty sad,” he said. “Especially that it is easier to harvest a chardonnay or other varietals used to make a sparkling in August when the PH is higher – and more conducive to a great sparkling – than to risk stormy weather in September."

So if Greenhill and a couple other local spots – Stone Tower Winery, Cana Vineyards – are seeing a welcome reception to their bubbly, why aren't more vintners joining the sparkling stage? There are a number of reasons, said Bryan Toy, a local wine expert who recently launched Dionysos Consulting.

“It's no secret in Virginia we need more quality wine-grape production,” Toy, a former winemaker and general manager at Stone Tower, said. “Many of the leaders in the industry have been open and honest about this fact. When harvesting for a sparkling wine, the grapes are picked earlier than desired for a white table wine. So if a producer has a very successful program with their chardonnay, it may be a difficult choice of whether to limit that volume of bottled inventory in order to allow for a sparkling wine program.”

And then there's equipment cost, Toy said.

“There are a few different styles of sparkling wines but all require additional equipment able to handle elevated pressure levels, possibly rotating bottles during aging – known as 'riddling,' used during the methode champenoise style of sparkling wine production – as well as corking and caging the bottles,” Toy added.

Still, despite the obstacles, expect more proprietors and winemakers to experiment with bubbly in the near future; an ever-evolving local industry demands inventiveness and growth.

Loudoun wine powerhouse Breaux Vineyards plans to release its first sparkling label this spring, a dry, 100 percent vidal blanc made of estate-grown fruit, according manager Jennifer Breaux, who said customers have long-inquired about the prospect of a Breaux bubbly.

“We are happy to help contribute to relieving the void that currently exists in the Loudoun wine industry by providing a respectable, enjoyable sparkling wine made with our fruit,” Breaux said. "It's a very expensive and labor intensive product. For what we are tasting and checking every week, everything seems consistent, and I think we've done a great job so far ... Our winemaker is very happy with the way that our sparkling is shaping up."

Featuring news on the Loudoun County wine industry, the Times-Mirror's “Wine Wednesday” appears the first Wednesday of each month. Contact the writer at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Check out recent Wine Wednesdays below:

-"Outside the vineyard" -- Jan. 1
-"Mulling through the holidays" -- Dec. 4, 2013
-"Oz Clarke dazzles Virginia Wine Summit crowd" -- Nov. 6, 2013


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