Thursday, August 21, 2008

New line has Woodhall toasting its good fortune

Reserve wines aren’t anything new for
Woodhall Wine Cellars in Parkton, Md. I have about a dozen of them stashed away in my cellar and wine refrigerator (the Vidal Blanc) along with several bottles from the library sale they hold late in the fall that clears out some of their older stock. One that I purchased last year, a 1981 Cabernet Sauvignon, was just "shouting" at me to uncork it. So I did. It hadn’t lost any of its structure or taste, and it was fun as hell opening a bottle of wine with grapes that were growing while I was still working my first job out of school.

Anyway, Woodhall has bolstered its reserve line with a series that they are calling Vintner’s Prestige and offering for tastings every weekend. All of them have co-owner Al Copp and winemaker Chris Kent beaming.

“People have really come on to them,” Copp said yesterday. “We do a tasting at the winery where you can do all six [wines in the line] for $10 and we find that people are impressed enough that they buy mixed cases when they go home.”

It’s a group that’s anchored by a 2005 Copernica Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, the fifth time that a harvest produced a Cab grape superior enough to be given the status of reserve. They date as far back as 1991, with the others coming out in 1995, 1997 and 2002. Similarly, Parkton Prestige has its roots in the early ’90s and is back in the line. It’s a Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (70 percent), Merlot (25 percent), and Cabernet Franc (5 percent). Joining the group of reds are the 2007 Barbera and 2007 Merlot. Both were big hits at the barrel tasting in the spring and were recently bottled.

“I am really happy with the Merlot,” Kopp said. “It’s the best Merlot we’ve ever made and we think that it’s one of the better East Coast Merlots.”

Kopp said this batch of Merlot grapes was grown at Jubilee Farm in St. Mary’s County, in southern Maryland, and that the best might turn out to be the last in terms of using that distributor. “We’ve been using them for three years. We knew when we started that they were going to start a winery, but they weren’t ready yet. They needed an outlet for their grapes, so we were working with them. [Now they’ve] decided to do the winery, so we won’t be getting their grapes this year, so the Merlot may be a one-time shot. The Barbera, we have another source on the Eastern Shore that we’re going to get some from this year.”

Completing the reserve series is what they’re calling a Golden Run Reserve Vidal Blanc (“It’s an illustration of a Vidal Blanc that has a lot more character than a lot of the Vidal you see on the market,” Kopp said) and a late-harvest Vignoles, “which we think is a pretty nice dessert wine.”

Two more wines – a 2007 Cabernet Franc and another Cabernet Sauvignon – seemed destined for a reserve label. It’s a line that sells for you’d probably consider moderately priced, and definitely at the high end of the 20 or so wines that Woodhall offers.

“Our wines start at probably 12, 13 dollars in the store, then we go 13 to 18 or so, and then there’s this line,” Kopp said. “The [reserve line] are all 25 [dollars] to 30 [dollars]. I think Copernica is 30 dollars at the winery. We didn’t feel we wanted to go any higher than that until we understand what the market thinks of these wines.”

Available at the winery, Kopp said he’s starting to pitch the line to selected stores. “It’s not for all stores,” he added. “It’s pretty pricey wine. You’ve got to have a top shelf that they can go on, or nearly top shelf.”