Friday, March 21, 2008

Shenandoah Winery: Bray Vineyards

Last Friday I wrote about my recent trip to the Shenandoah AVA in the Sierra foothills of Amador County. Another winery I visited that day was Bray Vineyards. Bray Vineyards was started in 1996 when the land was purchased from an estate. The property sits on 50 acres of rolling hills ranging in elevation from 1100 feet to 1300 feet. The soil is heavy with decomposed granite and is very rocky in places. Bray Vineyards is one of the first wineries in the area if you are arriving from the south. It definitely was my favorite.

I got to meet wine maker John Hoddy. He poured for me and spent time talking about the wines and grapes. John started out making wine at home for fun. After a while he took winemaking classes from UC Davis extension. He got more experience working with local winemakers during harvest and finally started working with Bray in 2004.

What really impressed me about John were his friendliness and his attitude towards wine. If I asked a question about a flavor of a wine I tasted, he’d sample the wine and make comments. He took the time to explain about the grapes they were growing and gave me some history behind their chooses at the winery.

Bray Vineyards grows several grapes that the Shenandoah appellation is know for, like Zinfandel and Petite Sirah. They produce several nice wines from these grapes. But what really impressed me was the variety of grapes, especially Portuguese varietals. They grow Touriga, Tinto Cao, Souzao and Alvarelhao to make their own Vinho Tinto (a great earthy example with medium mouth feel and nice tart tannins.) They even have a white from Verdelho. Other grapes they grow are Sangiovese, Barbera, Black Muscat and Primitivo. Another of the favorites I tasted that day was their Tempranillo (it had faint fruit, light tannins and the flavor was very good.)

For this wine geek, their array of grapes was awesome. I don’t know if John Hoddy is pouring every day for visitors, but if you get a chance to talk with him it will be the highlight of your visit to the Shenandoah Valley.

I definitely want to make a trip back soon to buy some of the other wines I tried that day. According to the web site, many of their wines can be found in stores local to Sacramento (see their list.) However, their more obscure varietals like the ones from Portuguese grapes are available only on site. I bought one of them on my visit, the Verdelho.

Verdelho is both a grape and a style of Madeira, a wine from the Madeira Island off the coast of Portugal. The heavy wines of Madeira go through a process where the wines are fortified and then oxidized slowly over time. Verdelho Madeira is between off-dry and sweet, depending upon the age of the wine.

Still wines made from the Verdelho in Portugal in the Duoro Valley can be off dry and bland. But when grown in hotter regions like Australia or the Shenandoah Valley they are light and citrus like the one I had. I couldn’t decide if it was more citrus or peachy. The wine was a lot like a Gavi in both aroma and taste. It has a light mouth feel and light tannins. The first flavor was peach as the wine hit my tongue, but then it changed. This wine is a good sipper all by itself but it would probably be good with seafood or Asian dishes. (This grape is # 53 on my way to 100 grapes.)

Tasting Notes:

2007 Bray Verdelho (13.9% alcohol, $16.00)

Color:  Light yellow

Aroma:  Peach or citrus

Taste:  Like Gavi, peach at first taste then it changes. Light mouth feel

Finish:  Faint tannins with pleasant aftertaste

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