Chesapeake Bay Wine Festival at Stratford Hall

“Well rain or shine we still pour…” So started the e-mail I received from Ms. Michelle Patterson, the Wine Club Manager at Potomac Point Winery, about the 5th Annual Stratford Hall Chesapeake Bay Wine Festival which Emilie and I were volunteering for. Even if it didn’t rain during the upcoming weekend festival, the ground was already saturated from an entire week’s worth of rain and thunder storms…hence the next warning, “…pick your footwear carefully.” Time to dig out those rain boots!

One of the great things about volunteering to help your local winery out at a festival is the free admission into the festival. In our experience, admission can range anywhere from $10-$35 per person. For the Chesapeake Bay Wine Festival, Emilie and I were slated for the afternoon shift starting at 2 o’clock. We arrived shortly before 11, and after making a quick pit stop to see if Mark and the morning volunteers needed any assistance, we set out on our exploration. Our first stop was finding the tasting glasses, which were set up at the Visitor’s Center of Stratford Hall. Once we had our glasses in hand, we took a moment to walk through the galleries and take in the rich history of the location. Check out their website here to learn more about Stratford Hall and the Lee family.

Now it was time to hit the festival! With ten wineries, over 30 vendors, a grape stomping, and tours of the historic Stratford Hall grounds, there was no way we were going to hit everything. There just wasn’t enough time! Luckily, the live music could be heard from all over the festival grounds, so we didn’t miss out on that. Here are a few tasting highlights from the festival before getting to our first experience behind the tasting tables.

  • The Hague Winery: We were quite taken with the Rose 2009, a rose wine that both red and white wine drinkers can appreciate and enjoy together. However, their Cynthia Dessert Wine (a Virginia Wine Lovers Magazine Gold Winner last fall) surprised us in a very pleasant way. Neither Emilie nor I are fans of dessert or overly sweet wines, but just a hint of acidity brought a nice balance to this one.
  • Oak Crest Vineyard and Winery: Emilie fell in love with Ruby, a port-style wine made of Bordeaux varietals instead of the traditional Tourigas. However, what really excited us at Oak Crest was their Hot Jazz. This white wine is a blend of their signature grape, the Symphony, and… jalapeño peppers! Yes, jalapeños! In wine! I was a bit wary to try it, but the Oak Crest team assuaged my fears. Just a little kick in the back of your throat, it won’t hurt, they said. The fragrance is fresh, like a freshly cut bell pepper and they were right, just a little kick at the end.
  • Ingleside Vineyards: One of the oldest wineries in Virginia. If you live in Virginia, you have probably seen their Blue Crab series. I just saw all three (Blanc, Blush, and Red) Monday afternoon at the National Museum of the Marine Corps‘ Tun Tavern. My favorite was their Blue Crab Red, which can be served at room temperature or chilled (Emilie and I love to chill red wines during the summer!). However, their star gem is the Virginia Gold. This wine does not come around very often, as it is only made when their vineyard produces grapes even more phenomenal than usual…and it has to be all of the grapes, not just one or two of the varietals. So far this has only occurred twice: 2002 and 2007.

After Ingleside, Emilie and I realized we had barely an hour to get in some lunch before our shift started. Still so much to experience, but we needed to eat so we would have the energy to represent Potomac Point well. There were so many yummy smelling offerings! We settled on Crazy Jacks, a Fredericksburg based food truck specializing in steak and cheese sandwiches and fresh cut french fries. We both ordered the fish and chips. While we waited for our order , Emilie and I dashed to a tent where we had seen two adorable Alpacas, brought by King William Alpacas. We got to feed the two Alpacas (of course watching the kids feed them and squeal with delight was even more fun!), feel freshly sheered fleece, watch a demonstration on a spinning wheel, and of course feel the final baby soft yarn. Not bad for a five minute crunch!

When the two of us arrived at our duty station, Mark had us stand back and watch a presentation to get a feel of what we could expect. The afternoon crowds had arrived, their bellies full of lunch and ready for wine. We had to jump in head first and fast! “Remember,” Mark said to us as we assumed our positions behind the tables, “this is about marketing.” A festival is not about sales, but about getting the name of your business out there to the crowds and about sharing your love of wine with others.

I was still nervous! What if someone asked me a question I couldn’t answer (I’ll get to that later)? Was I pouring too much for the rules set down by the Virginia ABC (No more than five ounces of wine total per person…with seven wines that was just under ¾ of an ounce per wine)? Was I speaking loud enough (A little louder wouldn’t hurt)? What is your favorite Potomac Point wine? (The Petit Verdot, but it is not part of the selection for this festival).

Yikes! Luckily, the wet weather kept the crowds at a manageable level. We had a constant stream of festival goers. However, unlike the Virginia Food and Wine Festival Emilie and I visited in July, we did not have to worry about controlling long lines or deep crowds of people waiting a half hour or more to get to us and to the wine. I found 99% of the people we poured for very pleasant and friendly. On occasion we did have to grin and bear it through some not so pleasant people, but nothing too horrible. No one minded that I was following the tasting sheet along with them as I learned the order I was supposed to present the wines in or that I sometimes spilled a little wine on their fingers before I got a feel for the flow of the pouring spouts. I even joked with one group as I struggled with a cork screw on a bottle of Abbinato. “Ah, you’re doing it the old fashioned way!” I remember one of them saying to me, which was followed by applause after I successfully freed the wine into their glasses.

For any question I couldn’t answer, Mark was right there to help out.

  • How many acres of grapes do you grow? Five
  • When did Potomac Point open? 2007
  • What types of grapes do you grow? Yeah, haven’t caught on to that yet, but I do know that 100% of the grapes are grown in Virginia.
  • How long until the Heritage reaches peak flavor? Three more years to get the full flavor the wine maker is aiming for, but it is drinkable now.
  • Why is there no label on the Custom Sweet and Custom Red? So you can customize the bottle with your own label and make it special for a birthday, graduation, anniversary, or any special event. You can find templates on line and even at stores like Staples and JoAnn Fabrics.

Now, after four hours of pouring, you’re probably looking for what we learned about each wine on the tasting list, huh? Well, we each picked up different points, but here is a quick run down of the wines.

  • La Belle Vie Rose 2009 – Semi-dry rose made from Syrah grapes. Not overly sweet thanks to the citrus notes that balance out the strawberry nicely.
  • Chardonnay Reserve 2009 – Aged in French Oak, this wine is pretty popular with the white wine lovers. It has the traditional creaminess (malolactic fermentation, Emilie’s favorite wine word!), but not in an over powering way.
  • La Belle Vie 2009 – One of Potomac Point’s best sellers, this wine has a nice, fruity aroma. It’s sweet, but not too sweet. A good white to serve to a crowd where you have both red and white drinkers.
  • Custom Label Sweet 2010 – This wine just came out a few weeks before the festival. The sweetest of Potomac Point’s whites, the clean, citrus notes keep it from tasting too sweet.
  • Abbinato – A very earthy, Chianti style red. Easy to drink, making it one of those bottles you want to open after a hard day at work. Watch for this one in an upcoming post! Definitely a shared favorite of ours.
  • Custom Red 2008 – Fruit forward, light Bordeaux style wine that you can drink on its own or paired with a nice dinner.
  • Heritage 2008 – Full bodied and velvety smooth, this traditional Bordeaux style is a good drink now, but the wine maker made this one for your wine cellar. Set it down for another two to three years and watch it turn from great to amazing!

The hardest part of the shift was the end of it. We had to stop pouring wine and selling by the glass at 5:30. Happily, everyone understood that we had to follow the ABC regulations. Of course that didn’t stop any of them from asking sweetly for just one more glass. Lol!

In the end, Emilie and I had a great time and feel ready to volunteer again. Maybe even with a bigger crowd. We’ll be sure to let you know how those experiences go as well!

~Ruth~

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4 responses to “Chesapeake Bay Wine Festival at Stratford Hall

  1. Pingback: The Virginia Wine Expo 2012 | corkandspoon

  2. Pingback: The Hot Air Balloon Festival that Wasn’t | corkandspoon

  3. Great Time, Great Wine, Great Food..If you are all wondering Ruthie did a wonderful job selling the nectar of the gods. purchused a few bottles and enjoyed her presentation of the wines from Potomac Point. And Emily OMG she is the Einstien of Wines.

    Love Linda

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