Virginia Wine Country Weekend – Day 3

Although a bit delayed this is third in the series of posts from my Northern VA wine country weekend a couple of weeks ago. The plan for the day was to go hiking but we woke to pouring down rain so we pulled out the map to see what other wineries we wanted to visit. We decided to take the long way home and go West towards Harrisonburg before starting back East towards home. The decision was made around Cross Key’s Vineyards, a fairly new VA winery that is kind of out of the way (for us).

crosskeys_distanceI had seen Cross Key’s Vineyards in some VA wine press and been to their website and was amazed at the pictures of their Napa like tasting room and winery. In my research on their site they definitely have a recipe for good wines, a South African wine maker (with years of VA wine experience) with 2 French wine making consultants and 29 acres of well established vines. Well as with any good recipe, things can fall short in the execution and the final result is not what you expected. While I did enjoy a couple of the wines that we tasted, the wine I liked the most was fairly overpriced at $26. The rest of the wines were fairly thin and non-descript although tasting was rather hard since our pours were very small. That was another point of frustration with the winery, although our tasting was “comped” (in part) the pours were tiny, one sip worth, and if I had paid the $5 (for 6 wines) I would’ve been even more frustrated than I was. You might have noticed the “in part” statement above. When we saddled up to the bar they asked us to pay and we let them know we were industry and after a bit of weirdness they said our tasting would be comped and we would get 15% off our wine. As we started to taste one of the tasting room associates came back over and said only the main 6 wines would be comped but if we wanted the two reserve wines we would have to pay the extra $2 per person per taste for those. I was in complete disbelief! First that they are charging $2 per taste and second that they would charge industry for tasting. That turned me off so much, it really didn’t set a good tone for the experience. And one of the wines I really wanted to try because it was a Pinot Noir, and I haven’t tasted one from Virginia. Wow, a fellow industry member who writes a blog and manages a wine shop wants to try a wine that may possibly be the only one in the state, “that’ll be two dollars please”. No thanks! I know this rant really has nothing to do with the wine itself, but in my mind the lack of respect for people that can help build your brand is a big problem.


Cross Keys Wine Highlights –

  • 2008 Fiore ($16.50) – (Rose from Cab Franc) – pomegranate and strawberry and although only 1.1% residual sugar a bit too sweet for me and probably would’ve guessed closer to 3%.

  • 2006 Meritage ($26) (45% Cab Franc, 55% Petite Verdot; 15 mos. In 50/50 new/used French Oak) – full bodied with spice and black pepper, layered with boysenberry, red currant and dusty tannins

I would have hoped to have caught with the owner or one of the wine makers at Cross Keys but apparently no one was on site at the time of our visit.

Next up we decided to hit one of Virginia favorites, Pollak Vineyards and were excited that Jake Busching (wine maker and vineyard manager) was able to come down to the tasting room and chat with us as we tasted through their wines. Check back to a previous post for more of the background on Pollak Vineyards.

As usual we liked almost everything Pollak had to offer, my only dislikes were both the Chardonnay’s which I thought were over oaked, and just not my style. Although I didn’t like the Chard’s, the wines are all crafted with precision that is obvious in every sip. Jake really has a handle on what needs to be done to make great Virginia wine and is in touch, literally, with everything that is happening in the vineyard as well as the winery.

Pollak Vineyards Wine Highlights –

  • 2008 Durant White – blend predominately Viognier – tart apple, pear and apricot with touchs of honeydew melon and crisp mineral finish

  • 2007 Cabernet Franc – spicy with raspberry and red currant and hints of mint and fresh cocoa with tight leathery tannins

  • 2006 Meritage – rich with boysenberry and dark chocolate, touches of baking spices and tar with a finish of black cherry

Thanks to Jake for the tour and the special tastes down in the barrel room, great to see ya!

Categories: virginia wine, wine review | Tags: , , | 16 Comments

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16 thoughts on “Virginia Wine Country Weekend – Day 3

  1. John,

    Always a treat to have intense scrutiny in the winery. I have a chardonnay that you may just like for the new vintage. About 80% stainless with the 2008 minerality and fruit. Come see it in August.

  2. I stumbled on your site, and I have to say I’m leaving disappointed. The best I can figure is so long as the winery is willing to kiss your ass, they’ll get a favorable review. Are you really pissing and moaning because Cross Keys only gave you a 70% discount on your tasting and that their pours were small?!? While I’ve never been to Cross Keys, I’ve been to BOW, whom you can’t seem to fawn over enough, and their pours can’t even be an ounce – i’d be willing to bet money on them being anywhere between 1/2 and 3/4 – what do you call that? Is that your definition of a “generous” pour? But, I can also tell through your writing that the owners make it a point to have thier lipprints firmly implanted on your ass. And for Vintage Ridge, you mention they are busy and then in the same breath whine because the owner doesn’t drop everything he’s doing to start sucking up to you?

    Really, pal, you need to lighten up. You’re the kind of douche that gives wine drinkers a bad name.

    • vcuspoon

      I appreciate any and all feedback to my blog, but I don’t appreciate the language. I don’t want people to kiss my ass, but I do want the respect I deserve as a customer and as an industry professional. I have written in the past about my dislike for tasting fees that are unreasonable and that aren’t refunded with purchase–I don’t believe that tasting fees should be a means of making money. I have also written in the past about small pours as a major turn-off, not because I want to be catered to, but because I want to actually be able to smell and taste the wines, particularly if I paid for the tasting. My expectation for a complimentary, adequate-sized tasting has nothing to do with kissing ass and/or being a “douche” as you so kindly put it–it is standard practice for industry professionals and also is a matter of common sense. Wouldn’t it be worth losing the $2 tasting fee if I were to write about the wines on my blog and/or bring their wines into my shop? The fact that an owner doesn’t want to take the time to talk to someone who shows interest and who asks them questions is surprising to me. It is particularly disappointing to me personally because I am trying to build relationships with local wineries and have the ability to give them free press and constructive feedback. To that end, while I have become friends with Brian and Sharon at BOW, I have given them plenty of constructive criticism about their wines, and I think it says a lot about them that they are not only receptive to the feedback, but they actually request it. Cheers!

    • knightfan1014

      Hey man,

      I’ve been feeling bad about unloading on you and I want to apologize. I was at the office trying to find a couple of spots for my gal and I to hit and I found your site. It irked me because it seemed like the owner interaction reigned supreme. As an average joe, that isn’t important to me. Regardless, it was no reason to be a tastelss arse and for that I am sorry. Take care.


  3. Mike Ching

    Wow, I need to step carefully through this minefield. John, first and foremost I appreciate your candidness, something I absolutely believe in. Second, I have mixed feelings about how wineries should treat industry people. I agree with your summaries about tastings . . no matter who you are, they should pour enough for you to TASTE the wine and truly evaluate it. I also agree that wineries should treat everyone well.
    But I also admit I was a little disappointed by Cross Keys on a similar visit last weekend. In fact I received NO comps or industry discounts whatsoever (they even asked me if I wanted to keep the glass and then charged me for it) and tasted all the wines (including the reserves). I’ll have to admit this was off-putting and would discourage me from recommending them (even though I know folks who worked there and think it’s a beautiful setting). But back to the wines. I have given my review to other folks in the wine industry who asked my opinion ( who shall remain anonymous) but I agree their red wines are not as extracted as many other VA wines are but that is a choice of style. Many people know of my travels to the VA wineries and respect my opinion (though I don’t blog). I know more than I am writing, but just wanted to communicate my support. The bar is rising in VA and the wineries need to rise to the standards. Consider the economy, the remote location of Cross Keys, and the fact they do not benefit from the synergistic effect of other wineries around them and you might comprehend the financial burden they are experiencing at this time and their hesitance to comp. This is all speculation . . . but I bet I’m not far off the mark.

  4. Welcome to my world, John. It’s fun when people attack you on your blog without any real facts.

    And without being man/woman enough to publish a comment under his/her own name. It’s easy to hide behind an email address or other online handle, but in my opinion, if you’re going to lash at out someone like this, you should be a mature adult and post your name. Stand by what you’re saying instead of hiding behind the anonymity that the Internet so easily provides.

    You’re doing a good thing here, bro. It is of course Cross Keys’ choice how they want to handle those in the industry. They don’t HAVE to comp you and do 30% on purchase, but it IS common courtesy throughout the U.S. wine industry and I’ve never heard of it not being offered to a winey employee (forget you being a blogger, that’s less important in this case).

    And hey, at least this idiot only called you a douche 🙂

  5. Rick Tagg

    Wow! I can’t comment on the negative name calling, but civilized discourse is probably an oxymoron regarding this anonymous person. Extending courtesy to people in the industry is a no brainer-who else is going to represent us, to promote and support us? I think that all wineries need to remember that ours is a hospitality industry, and that people who are treated poorly not only don’t come back, they also tell other people of their experiences.
    What sets wineries apart for me is the enthusiasm and knowledge that staff and owners bring to the table and willingness to share that knowledge with customers.
    As far as having to mention BOW, I have a feeling that there are a few people who have an axe to grind with us for whatever reason. We are new, we are big, and we are highly successful. I think that makes us a big target and some sour grapes are felt by some. I hope they get over it. We take our craft very, very seriously and focus on making quality wine in Virginia with Virgina fruit in a place where people can have fun and enjoy a day in the country.
    On the subject of pours- if for any reason any customer feels that they aren’t getting enough-ask for more! Or revisit a wine that you need to try again-What winery in their right mind would refuse? Do they want to be blogged, tweeted, yelped?( I love being yelped, by the way. It is helping me develop a sense of humor).
    Part B: the ass kissing. I guess being friendly with people who are passionate in their choice of careers may be perceived negatively and reflect on how that influences your opinion but I would argue that knowing the people who make your food involves everyone in the process. I want everyone in on what goes on in the cellar-not for attaboys, but for feedback as to what we are doing right and what we are doing not so right. I want people to have an education as to how wine is made and be educated enough to know about what gos into the wine and just how hard it is to do sometimes. And it is nice to have a range of palates come visit now and again.
    Part 3: I am pretty sure that Rockbridge does a Pinot, as well as Swedenburg and I think Horton too.
    And believe me I have been called much worse than a douche.
    Rick out.

  6. The industry discount is for winery employees mainly. It’s hard to keep track of the thousands of bloggers these days so I don’t blame them for not rolling out the red carpet.

    I’ve poured a lot of wine myself in tasting rooms and even I have my “who the hell do you think you are?” moments with customers.

    • vcuspoon

      Hey Bryan
      I am affiliated/work at the winery that my parents own here in VA – that’s what I start with, I wouldn’t be expecting much if i wasn’t with a local winery or store manager of a local wine shop. I would however hope they would want to converse with a blogger about their brand and such.
      Thanks for commenting.

  7. wow.

    I’m hearing more and more anonymous vitriol on the web. Frankly, it’s like a gnat buzzing in my ear because what we get at the winery is extraordinary support for our efforts. Simply put, we work our hearts out to deliver an exceptional winery experience. And Sharon & Rick work their hearts out to deliver exceptional wine.

    What type of jerk anonymously calls someone a douche? And what immature idiot uses that word as a pejorative? And who would credibly believe that the writer of such garbage deserves anything other than pity?

    People need to get back to communicating directly and honestly. John does that and is anonymously slammed for it. We do it by opening our cellar and craft to all who are interested and we are slimmed anonymously by those who are jealous of our success. Every honest complaint that we receive we take very seriously and we review our operations to address it. Because that is the way that we do business, a majority of our 30,000+ visitations are from return customers and their guests.

    Addressing the short pour issue, which seems to have been the complaint of the month in our area, we pour 13 wines in a typical full tasting. At a half ounce that is a glass of wine. At an ounce that is two glasses of wine. We now pour over an ounce because we got tired of getting anonymously and inaccurately criticized as being cheap when in fact we have been attempting to pour responsibly. We now start our pours pointing out to folks that the full pour is a substantial amount of wine and that we will not be offended if folks spit or pour out their excess.

    The irony is that our visitors who choose to enjoy the full tasting and an additional glass or two should probably not be served at the next winery they visit because they would be likely to become intoxicated at that winery, exposing it to liability. Providing larger pours is not helping our industry and later in the day we often cut parties off before or immediately after their tasting due to their manifesting signs of intoxication. That’s why we always ask larger parties where else they have been as a gauge of their condition before service. Many assume that if they are in a limo they can safely get drunk. Not so under ABC laws.

    Yes, we charge for tastings. Anyone who thinks that we should automatically give away almost 15% of our bottom line needs to do a reality check on the cost of building and operating a winery. We have received fewer complaints than I can count on one hand about our tasting fees because there is so much additional value that we strive to provide in everything we do. Our customers appreciate our acceptance of families and dogs and picnics. They appreciate our knowledgeable, down to earth and friendly staff, our outstanding views, our private tours with the owners, our beautiful and perfectly maintained winery; our outstanding and broad selection of wines . But we do have a variety of ways that we comp tastings to our best customers and because every week’s email includes a comp card, there is additional value in that also.

    I stand by BOW. I am proud of our accomplishments. I appreciate the way that our efforts have been recognized by the Blogging community and others who dedicate a great deal of time and personal expense to sharing their knowledge and passion with others. We comp our BOW tastings to anyone in the service industry – restaurateurs, hoteliers, musicians, winery owners/employees/partners, bloggers and other media reps, wine shop owners, because these people are in the business of serving and giving pleasure to, and sharing their hard earned knowledge with the public.

    For those who would snipe anonymously, I wouldn’t worry too much. They’re clearly comfortable in their unhappy and smug world. As far as I care they deserve the lack of credibility and respect that they garner from those of us who look each other in the eye and strive each day to help each other do better. Thanks for all the help John!

  8. Kudos to Rick for being able to find humor with Yelp. I have to admit, it gave us some preconceived notions walking into BOW- which I guess was good, because we were REALLY pleasantly surprised.

    Anyhow, as for the anonymity issue: I read a bunch of VA wine blogs, and y’all get to do some pretty cool things because of who you are. It’s fun to read about, but then when you’re a normal Joe Schmo in the tasting room, you kind of feel like your experience bears no resemblance to the post you read. So we blog anonymously. I don’t think it’s a bad thing; we’re neither in, nor trying to be in, the wine industry, so we don’t care if people know who we are. We write about what a normal couple experiences when they hop out of the car at a winery. If people feel we lack credibility because we’re anonymous- that’s a sign that they’re thinking. I’m sorry, if you base ANY decision on what one person on the internet thinks, you’ve got issues.

    • Laura S.

      You can afford to buy the gas to travel over 100 miles to Cross Keys Vineyards, but you cannot afford to pay less $10 for a tasting? If you want to “really smell and taste the wines”, the vineyard does sell all wines by the glass. Or better yet buy a bottle!

  9. vcuspoon

    Thanks for the comment Laura. Although I didn’t drive to Cross Keys specifically – I was on the way home from other wineries. $2 per person to taste one wine is a little much – Only 3.5 people have to taste to pay for the bottle (give or take) and at the small 1 oz pours they were giving you can get on the conservative side 24 tastes out of one bottle. It’s one thing to make up the money you lose on a tasting bottle, it’s another thing to make money off of it. In my opinion at least.
    The point of the post was more about lack of respect for industry folks – versus the cost of the tasting itself.
    Thanks again for the comment and checking out my blog.

  10. Laura S.

    Thank you for your response. I feel that you are the one with with a lack of respect toward the business owners. To go to multiple wineries and saddle up to the bar and spout off “I’m industry. Give me free drinks” is very disrespectful and quite tacky. This is the way the owners make a living. It is their livelihood. I agree with the poster who wrote, ” It’s hard to keep track of all the bloggers these days so I don’t blame them for rolling out the red carpet.” I am very interested to know how freely your parents provide free wine to “industry.” Drinking wine can be and often is a very expensive “hobby.” Personally, I think that being cheap and enjoying fine wine are mutually exclusive. Yes, you can get good wine at stores like Target, so those who are thrify or on a budget can enjoy wine. But for you to go to a business and not only ask for but to also expect the business to give you their product? So not cool. Before you take your next wine tasting trip, please save up money so that you will be able to put a few extra twenty dollar bills in your wallet. You will hopefully be able to enjoy the wine and not have the absence of freebies and the disrespect ruin your experience. Good Luck!

  11. vcuspoon

    Hi Laura
    it has nothing to do about being cheap – I’ll leave it as my response to you was not to evoke a fight. As for my families winery – we give free tasting to any industry and 20% off wine.

    I’ve spoken to other winery owners, one in particular told me to leave if they charge you for tasting – I think that is a little much honestly. In trying to keep this short, i never used to even tell anyone who I was or who I was with – i thought the “incognito” approach provided a different experience….until after a couple of times of talking with winery owners/workers they inquired how I “knew so much” (just asking lots of questions about wine making) and then when I told them my credentials they would always say “why didn’t you tel me that, you would have gotten a discount, and not paid for the tasting etc., make sure to tell people who you are…”

    I always buy wine, when i go to a winery, usually quite a bit of it, so I do more than my fare share to contribute to the wine industry, the VA wine industry in particular.


  12. While tasting fees on the whole are a very important part of our bottom line profitability, at BOW we provide a free tasting to all industry people including media, restaurants, hospitality, and musicians. Everyone else pays a fee -currently $9 for their tasting.

    We also provide a 20% discount on industry purchases. It is easy to do and a small thing. We also receive such discounts at wineries around the world. John did not create this practice. We did not create this practice, but we appreciate and practice it ourselves. It is part of the collegiality that we enjoy.

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