Bordeaux expertise has come to Virginia wine country. Globetrotting French winemaker Michel Rolland -- whose clients include some of Napa's hottest cult wines -- is consulting for one of the newest entrants on the state's burgeoning wine scene, Kluge Estate Winery and Vineyard.
Winery founder Patricia Kluge, who runs her own venture capital and money management firm, wanted to help raise the winemaking bar in Virginia, starting in her own backyard. In 1999, she began planting vines on part of her 1,200-acre estate in Charlottesville, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Kluge, and her husband, William Moses, who is now CEO of the winery, are making a substantial investment in the project. They have planned for 150 acres of vines; contracted with architect David Easton of Rammed Earth Works to design a winery, tasting room and gourmet-food shop; and brought Rolland on board, which took a persistent courtship.
"It's another project for me," Rolland said, laughing. Rolland, who owns Pomerol's Château Le Bon Pasteur and other Bordeaux estates, estimates that he already consults for almost 100 wineries in 12 different countries.
But after visiting Charlottesville two years ago, Rolland determined that there was potential to succeed in the region. He said he was drawn to the area because it is "Jefferson country;" the former U.S. President, a wine lover who is still embraced by the French, made his home in nearby Monticello, where he tried his hand at growing winegrapes. Today, Virginia is the fifth-largest wine-producing state in the country and has about 80 wineries.
So far, Kluge has about 40 acres of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot -- French clones from California nurseries.
"What we have seen in the last two years, certainly, Cabernet Franc is going very well," said Rolland, who selected the rootstock. "Merlot is going well." He emphasized that he is carefully monitoring the yields to keep them under control. He will visit Kluge thee times a year, and an assistant will make three trips as well.
Making the wines are longtime Virginia winemaker Gabriele Rausse, who oversees the reds, and Emmanuel Fourny, from the Champagne region, who is responsible for the sparkling wines.
Kluge is releasing its first commercial wines this month: the New World Red 2001, which is a Bordeaux-style blend, a 2001 sparkling wine made entirely of Chardonnay; and a fortified aperitif called Late Harvest Chardonnay "Cru." Kluge's tasting room is scheduled to open next month. For more information, visit www.klugeestate.com.
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