Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Circle the calendar for annual Woodhall tastings

One of the things that officially says it’s the new year is the letter from Deb Morris down at Woodhall Wine Cellars in Maryland announcing the annual Barrel Tasting, Futures Sale and Chocolate Sampling with Red Wine. It’s one of our favorite wine events, combining a tasting of everything winemaker Chris Kent has aging in the barrel from the most recent vintage along with a chance to then go back up the hill and pair several of the wines with pieces of Kirchmayr chocolates. Why, that tastes even better than a Phillies title.

This year, the event will start Feb. 14 and take place each weekend day between 12 and 4 p.m. until March 29. It’s free for case club members (anyone on the winery’s books that have bought a case) and $15 per person for everybody else. All they ask is to let them know you are coming; either call (410.357.8644) or e-mail ( to let them know the size of your group and the date of your visit. Those first few weeks do tend to be busier, so anyone looking for a less crowded setting might want to wait until March. You can also have dinner there, courtesy of Patricia Della Fine Dining, a casual and rustic eatery located on the winery grounds and serves lunch from noon to 3 p.m., dinner from 5 to 9 p.m. each weekend.

I called Kent the other day and asked for his impression on this vintage, a great deal of which they bring in from other suppliers around the state. For the most part, he said, he was satisfied.

“There was really only one thing I thought underperformed, and that was
Sangiovese, and that’s nothing new,” he said. “Sangiovese is a difficult grape for this part of the country. The things that I think did well or that I’m excited about. We have a strong Cabernet Franc from two vineyards, we have Barbera again from a different vineyard than we have been using the last three years. This vineyard is one on the Eastern Shore. It was the first year for their Barbera harvest rand it was astoundingly good. Just bringing it down and looking at the numbers of the fruits when it came in, it was as good as any red vinifera that I have seen out of any of the Maryland sources that we have had since I’ve been doing this. I don’t think the wine will disappoint.

“In the whites the Vidal Blanc showed very well and we made Traminette, and that showed very well. We also have some pretty good Seyval. So there were lots to things to look forward to, but one of the things about the overall harvest is that it wasn’t very big. We came in probably 50 percent under our projected totals for production for the year. . . . There seems to be a pattern that develops when you come out of a drought year and in this case we’re talking about 2007. I’ve heard this from one of my industry colleagues who made an assessment on this and I think there’s some truth to it. In June of 2007 there was a streak of weather that was extremely hot. That seems to have had an effect on the vineyards of the area couple with the long dry period that, when you have that kind of condition going into the next vintage year, it seems like the vines are not too inclined to want to load up on fruit. We’ve seen this before. Yields tend to come down after the drought. [Plus] some of the suppliers that we have just had issues in their vineyards that had nothing to do with the weather. So, summing it up, there were some very good wines made, there just weren’t a lot of it.”

If you go, ask about the successful $100 case sale that the winery ran through most of the second half of 2007. Technically it ended in December, but ask nicely and you should be able to get yourself a deal, particularly if you are a member of the case club. Kent said the whole reason for the special was a desire to thin out the warehouse a bit. “We made an awful lot of wine in 2005 and 2006,” he said, “and we needed to move some of that stuff that was from’06 out. And it helped.”

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