This past weekend Ruth and I had the opportunity to volunteer for Potomac Point Winery at another wine festival – the Historic Longbranch Hot Air Balloon, Wine, & Music Festival. Unfortunately, high winds made it impossible to leave the hot air balloons up for festival goers. We also ran into some difficulties getting into the festival – it seemed that none of the festival volunteers knew what the deal was for winery volunteers – $10 festival admission? $10 wine tasting admission? Free? It took awhile, but we finally sorted everything out. Once inside, we were able to taste the wines of 6 of the 19 wineries present before reporting for our shift.
** Sorry we don’t have many pictures this time, fighting the heavy winds took up most of our time.
Chateau Morrisette – This winery had the second largest number of wines for tasting at the festival with 14 solid wines to choose from. We were particularly impressed with their reds, finding something to like about each one. Liberty, an easy drinking red with a smoky base was a steal at $13, especially when you learn that partial proceeds from sales of Liberty support service dog training programs! You have to love a winery that loves dogs as much as I do.
Horton Cellars – Horton had, by far, the largest tasting list of the wineries we visited – 25 wines ranging from a dry peppery Cabernet Franc to the sweet Blanco XOCO, which smelled just like white chocolate and reminded us of eating s’mores. Horton also brought several fruit wines, all blends of fruit and grapes, like pear with viognier and pomegranate with syrah. There was something for every pallet.
Hume Vineyards – Hume poured 4 excellent dry wines at the Longbranch festival. Bold with roasted coffee and vanilla tones, the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon is an excellent choice for a Bolognese sauce.
North Mountain Vineyard and Winery – North Mountain had 8 delightful wines for festival goers, each as good as the last. Standouts for us included the 2009 Cabernet Franc, a gold medal winner in Virginia and New York, and the Sweet Caroline’s Blush. This blush, which our pourer described as, “Not your Mama’s white zinfandel!” was clean and lightly sweet. excellent simmering Bartlett pears.
Stone Mountain Vineyards – Stone Mountain Vineyards was an enjoyable stop on our tasting tour of the festival. In addition to an interesting oak aged Chardonnay that had more of a smoky than buttery flavor, they also had the first Pinot Grigio either of us have ever seen from a Virginia winery. Easily my favorite white wine of the day, the Pinot Grigio had a zippy, fresh palate and a beautiful fragrance.
Williamsburg Winery – Ruth and I were particularly excited when we saw the Williamsburg Winery tent. Just a week earlier, Ruth had discovered their wine on the shelves of the local Wegmans. As the largest Virginia winery, Williamsburg Winery offers many affordable wines. We tasted several excellent reds, many under $12 a bottle! We definitely recommend their Jamestown Cellars Settlers’ spiced wine and Late Harvest Vidal Blanc dessert wine. The spiced wine smelled like Christmas eve with its cinnamon and cloves and would be excellent heated up with oranges or a touch of apple cider. As for the Late Harvest Vidal Blanc, many of you know Ruth and I generally shy away from dessert wines, often finding them more like pancake syrup in a glass than wine. The Meyer lemon and spice present in this dessert wine cuts through that honey like texture and sweetness providing excellent complexity to the wine.
Should you go to the Hot Air Balloon and Wine Festival Next Year?
To get into the Hot Air Balloon Festival, visitor’s paid $20 per ticket. That $20 gave one access to the food and craft vendors, the musical performances, and the hot air balloons (weather permitting). To access the wine tastings, individuals had to pay an additional $20, bringing the total to $40 for complete festival access. Festival admission did not include access to the historic home, balloon rides, monster truck rides, or hay rides. Considering a ticket to the annual Virginia Wine Festival, which hosts over 50 wineries (compared to 19 at Longbranch), costs about $30 per tasting visitor, this seemed a bit steep to me. The cost is, in my opinion, the biggest downside of the whole festival. Furthermore, Ruth and I didn’t even get to see any hot air balloons because it was too windy to have them out.
I’m not sure I’ll be returning next year. Although we had a great time once we finally got into the festival, there are many, many other Virginia festivals that provide a bigger bang for your buck if it’s the wine that is drawing you to Longbranch. However, if you love hot air balloons it might be worth the price. Just make sure you check the weather before you go!