Tasting Virginia: Paradise Springs Winery

Wine tastes pretty good in a 200 year-old cellar. Subterranean drinking is not something I do very often, but when I found myself under an old log cabin at Paradise Springs Winery in Clifton, Virginia with my DC-based daughter, Tara, I thought, there’s really something different going on underground. Perhaps it was the negative ions, maybe the cool air. Whatever it was, I liked almost everything I tasted.

Paradise Springs is the closest winery to Washington DC, drivable within 40 minutes, and is the only winery in Fairfax County. Alone not by choice, but due to an unwelcoming zoning board. The name is reminiscent of the mineral springs on the west side of Clinton, a picture-perfect colonial-era town that was once a resort area for early Washingtonians.

The cabin was built between 1800-1825 and renovated in 1995. Paradise Springs winery was started in 2007 by the Wiles family who created their first vintage, (from purchased grapes), a Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon that year, and in 2008 they planted their first vineyard, cabernet franc.

We came seeking a mysterious red wine varietal called Norton, said to be the most original of all American grapes. I’d read about Norton in the book, The Wild Vine by Todd Kilman, given to all bloggers last year as research for the 2011 Wine Bloggers Conference in Charlottesville this July.

Created by Dr. Daniel Norton around 1820, Norton’s heredity is an unconfirmed mix of wild grapes and vinus vinifera, and may or may not be related to the Cynthiana grape. The way the author described Norton wine – “something wild, something alive” – and being a long time zinfandel fan, I told Tara I only want to go to places that make Norton. So she pointed us toward Paradise Springs.

And, they had no Norton. 2009 was a bad season for Norton, our hostess Linda explained, so none was produced. But there were plenty of other good things open and we tried them all. Here are my faves:

The 2009 Chardonnay had a rich body of green apple and vanilla and nice leesy finish. $29.

A very dry 2009 Petite Manseng had exotic orange and peach flavors. $27

2009 Sommet Blanc was truly blistering with tropical fruit, with a clean, slightly sweet finish. $22.

2009 Cabernet Franc had bright fruit, wood smoke, pepper and a slight minerality. $24. This one I brought home to Vancouver and plan to drink it sometime this year, perhaps against a BC Cabernet Franc, just for fun.

2009 Merlot was a good food wine with decent acidity, nice tobacco leaf notes on the stone fruit profile. $21.

2009 Meritage had very well-balanced tannins with integrated berry fruit and a long, dry finish. $32.

Aprés. A sparkling viognier made the traditional way. Interesting, though a little sweet. $43.

We didn’t make it to the antique reconstructed barn that serves as the winery because it was already afternoon and we still hadn’t met our first Norton. Pointing the car in a Northwest direction, we headed back to Hwy 66 (yes, that one) and through the Civil War battlegrounds of Manassas and Bull Run to our next destination, La Grange.

I’ll tell you about that next time.

Till then, Go Canucks!

Mari Kane

Mari is a writer, blogger and WordPress consultant, living in Vancouver, BC, the most wine-soaked town north of the 49th Parallel. She also blogs about WordPress web design at Blogsite Studio.com. Follow her on Twitter or Google Plus.