Inspired Magazine | Spring 2013
Wineries are popular places to visit for many reasons – some of which may not be immediately obvious. Growing grapes and making wine are not easy tasks, but they involve a fairly small set of standard practices. Vintners around the world spend their time doing pretty much the same things in facilities that differ very little in functional terms. You could get the idea that seeing one vineyard is seeing them all, but not once you understand the nuances of the trade.
Along with particularities of climate and soil, the real essence that differentiates one winery from another radiates from the priorities of the proprietor. It only takes a few minutes at Linden Vineyards to sense that the place is run by a farmer. Neither a merchandiser nor an entertainer, Jim Law is first and foremost a farmer, and that’s what makes Linden Vineyards such a distinctive and valuable enterprise in Fauquier County.
The vineyard itself is free of ornamentation, and refreshingly so, at least for those who prefer vineyards that aren’t dotted with a gazebo at every turn. T-shirts and mementos and packets of potpourri are conspicuous by their absence in the tasting room, which seems surprisingly singular in its devotion to tasting. The vista from the hilltop winery is beautiful, but to be more precise, it is naturally, rustically beautiful rather than what Law calls “golf course beautiful.”
All of this suggests that Linden’s proprietor is sharply focused on what he wishes to achieve and presentto the public, and that comes through clearly in conversation with Jim Law. He wants to make the best wines he can produce by coaxing his land to provide the best grapes it can grow. That’s about it. He’s one of the most focused vintners I’ve ever met, and I’ve met more than 1,100 of them during site visits around the world over the past 20 years.
There’s something worth remembering about focus: It isn’t just about zeroing-in, but also about occluding everything outside the point of focus. In the case of a winery seeking world-class quality in Northern Virginia, that means saying no to buses, limousines, groups larger than six, picnics, private parties, and weddings – all of which can be quite lucrative but also pretty distracting. Like bars, some wineries really get going at 5 pm, but that’s the hour when Linden closes.
Jim Law didn’t grow up on a farm, but his affinity for farming arose early, as a teenager growing up in Ohio. Interest in wine emerged in that same phase, transmitted by wine-loving parents, but vineyard work wasn’t exactly his first foray into agriculture. After a stint at a farming camp at Michigan State, Law spent two years teaching agriculture as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Congo. Upon his return to the USA, he set his sights on viticulture, first in Indiana and then Ohio, before being hired in 1981 to start a winery in the Shenandoah Valley.
Soon convinced that excellent wine could be grown there, he purchased an abandoned hardscrabble farm in 1983, and has devoted himself to cultivating fine wine from the land ever since. The notion of “cultivating fine wine” is worth emphasizing: For Law, wine is much more something he “grows” than “makes,” and his whole approach is a vinous echo of the farm-to-table movement.
Vines were planted immediately, but in his early days on the property, Law also grew apples and blueberries on a commercial scale and had what he calls “a nice little pick- your-own-fruit business as a hedge for the winemaking enterprise.” But all of that’s gone now, and Law is no longer hedging his bets. Years of working directly in the vineyard have taught him which vine varieties are best suited to his property, and also which particular slopes and parcels are best for growing each grape.
Law is still tweaking things, and notes that he is currently “planting Cabernet Sauvignon and pulling it out elsewhere at the same time” in order to get it situated optimally. This seems like a case in point for the winery’s motto, “Never Content,” but after 30 years of experimentation, he has placed his bets squarely on making Bordeaux-style red blends and single-site Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs. Whether white or red, all of the wines are crafted in a tastefully restrained, mineral, age-worthy style that leans more toward Europe than California.
Although Linden isn’t the place to go for a party, it is a great place to go to learn, and Law is a friendly and engaging teacher. Walking around the property and looking through the cellar offer opportunities to replace misconceptions with knowledge: Wine is not just a commodity shipped in from some exotic point on the globe, but something crafted by one’s neighbors. It isn’t simply a luxury product skimmed from nature like caviar, but an agricultural product conjured from the soil by the honest labor of farmers.
Vineyards are not just the stuff of travel brochures, but beautiful additions to our local landscape that keep land in agricultural production and serve as barriers to urban sprawl. And wine is not an impenetrably complicated product, but an essentially natural beverage made by a surprisingly simple process that can be grasped readily when explained by an articulate vintner.
Lessons like these are the real reasons to visit a winery, and there’s no better choice than Linden for learning them.
Michael Franz is a wine writer, educator, and consultant. He is editor of Wine Review Online and a freelance contributor to many national and international wine magazines.