Remember Dave Matthews? Oh, sure ya do: mid-nineties? All over the freakin' radio with such angsty hits as "Don't Drink the Water" and "Crash into Me?" Remember "Satellite," and that high school dance when you were slow-dancing to that song, and your hands were so hella sweaty that it soaked through that girl's dress, and then she freaked and called you a "scrub," and everyone just laughed and laughed? Remember? Don't you?!
In any case, shove that memory back into the ol' subconscious (who's a failure now! I write a blog, dammit!). On a recent trip to Charlottesville, we learned from a local that 'Dave' — a Charlottesville native — was in town that weekend, which put me in mind of Blenheim Vineyards, an area vineyard founded by the rocker in 2000. Thanks to its owner's fame, Blenheim is perhaps the most well-known winery in northern central Virginia, which makes it all the more odd that it was also one of the few wineries in the area without a tasting room. However, a quick glance at the new 2009 Virginia Winery Guide (an invaluable tourism tool, available at any VA winery or over the web) showed that Blenheim has opened up to the public as of this February. Just a brief drive up the road from where we were staying, we decided to brave the crowds of DMB fans to give the place a gander.
Okay, so there were no crowds, but there was definitely at least one major fan there (see picture at right. Tee hee). Nope, no crowds as we circled the big white barn and approached the triangular, lodge-style winery building below, but there was a contracted bouncer — big dude, in sunglasses, with a fancy ID badge, company windbreaker, the whole deal. He checked our IDs, stamped our hands (yeah, that's right), and allowed us entry.
The building — designed by Mr. Matthews himself for minimum environmental impact, and made with reclaimed lumber — is very impressive. Bare wood beams hold up a high, peaked ceiling, whose numerous windows let in tons of natural light. Three tasting stations are set up around a central walkway with a glass floor, allowing a view of the barrel room below. We walked up to cashier, paid our $5 each, and sat down at a large table close to the rear window.
Blenheim offers a generous nine wines for your fee, along with one of the sturdier tasting glasses I've used, which is yours to keep. The wines fall into two classes: those made from from the Viognier, Chardonnay, Petite Verdot, and Cabernets Franc and Sauvignon grown on premise, and those purchased from local farmers, with origins printed clearly on the bottle. For the current vintage, Blenheim has gone all screw cap, a further step toward protecting the environment.
I don't want to go into detail on every wine; suffice it to say that they were all excellent, and most very reasonably priced. The highlights for me include the 2008 Viognier, which has a lovely dry finish and a unique smokey quality, and the 2008 Rose, which is full of red berry flavor and has ample acidity. Of the reds, the 2005 Meritage is an undeniable steal for $10, and would make a fantastic summer patio wine thanks to its light tannins and juicy finish. The only wine that failed to impress was the 2005 Blenheim Farm Cabernet Franc; while good, and definitely age-worthy, there is no way this wine lives up to the $40 asking price. Though, according to our host, every wine on the list is available for $5 a glass, making the Cab Franc a bargain if you are a fan of dark, dusty, heavy expressions of the grape.
Blenheim is conveniently located about 11 miles south of Charlottesville city center, and very close to other great wineries, including Kluge and Jefferson Vineyards. The wines are very good, and commonly available, so if you can't make it down, definitely pick up a bottle next time you see it. If, however, you think DMB ROX, a visit to Blenheim is a must, as it is rumored that Dave sometimes shows up for the odd impromptu jam session!
31 Blenheim Farm, Charlottesville, VA
Food: Light fare (chips, soda, etc).
Wine Availability: Common in Virginia, occasionally seen in DC