Wednesday, June 12, 2013

A Couple of Local Favorites

As more wineries pop up around here, I’m increasingly asked, “What are your favorite local places?” I have to take an invariable deep breath when I get that question to keep from being, shall we say, overly honest.

The view from La Vigna  Estate Winery -- Higginsport, OH
There’s a reason that the best known wines in North America aren’t grown in the Midwest. Is there some good juice out there in America’s heartland? Sure there is! Alas, the process of creating those wines is going to be much more difficult than making good wine in, say, Sonoma County.

Most grapes that thrive around here are either going to be our area’s indigenous grapes or hybrid grapes crossbred to withstand our humid summers and cold winters. Let’s face facts – most of the wines made from either of these grapes are inferior. I have yet to find a winemaker that could wring consistently good wine out of Norton or Chambourcin. (Especially the latter…by the Seven, that’s awful crap. Prove me wrong, someone.) Even the native stuff, like Catawba and Concord, can rise a level above Manischewitz, but not much more than that.

There are a few wineries and winemakers in the area that fly in the face of our oenological reality. A small number have the proper terroir to grow vinifera grapes – grapes like Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Viognier, Chardonnay, etc. The winemakers at these wineries also need the technical knowhow to make these grapes into decent wine. Most importantly, those folks must possess the level of bullheaded stubbornness that prevents one from settling for an inferior product. A couple of these combinations are in the vicinity of Ripley, Ohio – Kinkead Ridge Estate Winery and La Vigna Estate Winery.

Every year on Memorial Day & Labor Day weekends, many local wineries take the opportunity to release some of their new offerings. The Sweet Partner in Crime and I took a little roll down the road to Ripley to enjoy a beautiful day’s drive and sample some of their new goodies.

We started at Kinkead Ridge, where we got reacquainted with Nancy Bentley, co-owner of the place with Ron Barrett, the winemaker. Nancy handles all the “front of house” duties. Kinkead Ridge, available in many local establishments, releases their new whites on Memorial Day. (Labor Day is for the reds.) They were pouring their three new whites for the assembled folks.

They opened with their River Village Cellars 2012 White Wine, a “field blend” of seyval blanc, Riesling, chardonnay, and a few other grapes from their “experimental” block, including albarino. The result was a light, zippy, grapefruity white that calls for a porch and some warm weather. $10.

The Lineup at Kinkead Ridge
From there, they shared the Kinkead Ridge 2012 Viognier/Roussanne. This is my personal favorite of the wineries’ selections, and they’ve rarely missed on a vintage of this. This is a more tropical, creamy wine than the River Village with a very pleasant, perfumey nose. The crisp finish would make it a nice accompaniment to plenty of fish, shellfish, or chicken dishes. $17.

Finally, they poured their River Village Cellars 2012 Traminette. Traminette (technically a two-vinifera hybrid, but we’ll give it a pass) yields a wine that’s a little on the sweeter side. It’s got a similar profile to gewürztraminer, but without the fullness of flavor or pepperiness. It still creates a fruity product that’s friendly enough – especially with spicy foods. I liked it, but it came in third at this tasting. $10.

We also learned that Nancy and Ron are trying to sell Kinkead Ridge and move eventually to North Carolina for their “second retirement.” We will hate to see them go, for sure.

We then rolled back up US 52 a piece to Higginsport, where we checked in on the latest offerings from La Vigna. Brad Hively, La Vigna’s passionate winemaker, was quick to greet us when we bellied up to the tasting table. Brad had two new releases to share with the world this time around, as well as several of his past releases.

The first of his two new wines was the La Vigna 2010 Proprietary Red. This cabernet franc-based blend is the winery’s signature wide-release red. I thought it was even, balanced, and fairly straightforward at this point in its life. Aged for 26 months in barrel, it’s got plenty of potential. $24. I thought it was fascinating to taste this alongside the 2008 Proprietary Red, of which some still existed. The 2008 was somewhat fuller and more complex than the 2010 – giving a hint into how the ’10 might develop. We split on this. I like the ’08 a little better. The SPinC liked the ’10. Either would be lovely next to a nice hunk of grilled meat.

The second new release was something I’d not expected. Because of last summer’s climate, the grapes ripened too quickly, which ordinarily yields a wine that Brad said would not “have reflected what we’re trying to do up here.” Rather than make an overextracted, one-note red, Brad used the whole crop to make a dry rosé in the manner it’s made in places like Provence. The result was, in my opinion, fairly remarkable. I’m a dry rosé addict this time of year, and the La Vigna 2012 Carnevale Rosato di Cabernet Franc was excellent. Wonderful bold fruit, very dry but substantial body, and crisp to finish – you could easily have this alongside…well…just about anything, but risotto or Nicoise salad would be good options. At $15, it’s a good value as well. It is a “crack and drink” wine. We had a little bit left over, and it wasn’t as good the second day.

We also had the opportunity to try one of the first “reserve” wines from La Vigna. Resulting from the “winning” barrel of 2008 juice at a recent barrel tasting, Brad made a wine he called “Hardtop,” sealed with a black wax capsule over the cork. This Bordeaux-style blend isn’t inexpensive – it’s around $40 at the winery; but it drinks like…well… a very good Bordeaux. I snagged a couple of bottles to stash for a couple of years, because I believe it’s potentially something special.

There are a few other wineries near Ripley with tasting events on those days. If you’re looking for a nice Memorial Day getaway, it’s worth the little trip up the road. Kinkead Ridge’s tasting room is open Saturdays for the rest of the summer from 11-5. La Vigna is open on Fridays from 2-7 pm and Saturdays from 12-5. For more information, see Kinkead Ridge at and La Vigna at

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