Wine Solutions | 2017
Jim Law founded Linden Vineyards over 30 years ago and seems like the kind of guy that has his priorities in the right place. Like most great vignerons his biggest concern is not wine marketing or scores, his priority is the health of his vineyards and the quality of his wines. Without the former, there won’t be the latter. Jim Law carved out and planted the “Hardscrabble” vineyard way back in 1985 with grit, passion, and a determination to make great wine.
Linden was the first winery in northern Virginia, well before the recently created Middleburg AVA was demarcated. The wines speak for themselves, thus Jim and Linden are highly regarded in and out of the Virginia wine scene because of Jim’s dedication to making world-class terroir driven wines. Not much marketing is needed when you are great at what you do, so this allows Jim to focus on his three vineyard sites Avenius (5 acres), Boisseau (5 acres), and his home vineyard Hardscrabble (20 acres).
The tasting room staff is friendly and informative, happy to speak about each wine in regular or wine-geek-speak. The tasting room itself is clean, bright and simply laid out with warm-hued wood floors, walls, and counters giving the room a very natural feel. It comes as no surprise to see that after walking through his vineyards and speaking with him about his philosophy on making wine.
Jim is less concerned about many of the trappings you see in so many tasting rooms, especially in Virginia where many wineries require additional revenues from other businesses to survive. There is no kitsch, pasta, sauces, jams or other food items for sale. He also does not rent the facility for weddings or corporate events, a boon for other Virginia wineries, especially in Charlottesville. There also are no restaurants and overnight accommodations. Jim lays it out clearly on his website that his winery is also his home and thus not for rent. He does not have to worry about that because he has and continues to put the work in that results in Linden’s wines being held in very high regard critically and at the top of the heap in terms of quality and expression in Virginia.
Fortitude alone won’t bring about great wine consistently, site and know how are important as well. Site, just like any other successful vineyard, is the vital key to the next level of Virginia wine that Jim had unlocked. Like most stories about making a living with wine, it’s not all sunshine and roses. It took about 15 years of experimentation and more mistakes than most people would stomach to figure out the ideal planting sites. Jim is now looked upon in reverence as a pioneer as one of the most influential people ever for the Virginia wine industry. As much as he has “figured it out”, be it site location requirements, soil-stock-vine harmony, or “water evacuation” in his vineyards, Virginia is also a fringe climate for wine chock full of endless threats every growing season ready to ruin a vintage’s crop. Humidity, pests large and small, hurricanes, shorter seasons for ripening, and frost can wipe out a crop in no time.
Those kinds of battles take perseverance and fortitude, both traits in Jim that helped him persist all these years in an unknown and new wine region. To complicate matters, some battles fly under the radar. One such battle Jim conquered that from my talks with some insiders in the region is one many in Virginia at this point may be fighting and may not even be aware of it. That battle I am talking about is in regards to site selection, or simply terroir or a lack of good terroir being used in Virginia.
When I asked Jim to take me through the evolution of Linden, the most important point in its history was when Jim told me the following: “I liked my wines early on but they were never getting better than a certain level. I had this one section of Cabernet that overlapped onto the soil type most of the Merlot and Chardonnay (Wente and Dijon clones) were planted on and was always my best fruit that made my best Cabernet wine”. After some research, he knew what he had to do. Cabernet vines need soils that drain well. As it turned out the Chardonnay and Merlot were planted on the well-draining granite soils and thus were replanted with the Cabernets. Chardonnay and Merlot were then replanted on the moisture retaining, but rocky, greenstone soils. After another 4-5 years to allow the young vines to produce good enough fruit for wine, the proof was in the bottle as the wines performed well, blowing through that initial ceiling held in place by unfortunate site planting choices. Most would just shrug their shoulders and do nothing or maybe sell, deciding to stop at mediocrity. Jim did not settle then and even today he continues to evaluate his vineyard sites as he is still continuing to strive to make better wine.
Winemaking in the cellar is also pretty hands off but can follow different paths dictated by what the fruit is like in a given vintage. As an example, the Chardonnay grapes are harvested and stored in a cooling shed until ready to be crushed in an old automated chain-driven press. The crushed grapes and juice go into steel tanks where the solids settle as gross lees and are removed. Fermentation can start in tank, or later in barrel once the juice is racked. MLF is blocked in the Chardonnay wines to preserve fruit and acidity to allow the expression of the vineyard terroir to shine. Jim does not play around with fermentations, he likes them steady and clean so he does not rely solely on using native yeasts. The oak regimen for Chardonnay is moderate, rarely using much new French oak that would obfuscate the delicate aromas and flavors of the wines. The Chardonnay will age for around 10 months sur lie, with maybe a stir of the lees in that duration. Of the white wines, the Chardonnay and the Late Harvest are the only wines to see oak. The other whites are steel fermented and bottled. The red wines ferment in steel tank and age in a combination of 30-50% new French oak with the rest a mixture of 1-3-year-old seasoned French Oak barrels for 9-22 months. To help with all of this, Jim recently hired a winemaker so he can focus mainly on the vineyards and the aspects of running a business.
For our tasting Jim walked us through each wine, making up a large majority of the portfolio. Undeniable proof is in the bottle of Linden’s diverse offerings of Bordeaux blends or varietal reds, and what many consider the best white wines made not just in Virginia, but the east cost (straight from the mouth of a Master Sommelier). Wines made from Riesling and Vidal show true varietal typicity with a cool climate sensibility. Even an exceptional late harvest Vidal made its way into our glasses. The stars of the portfolio were the Chardonnays that shine with a verve, showing a depth and focus uncommon in Virginia wine. The Hardscrabble Chardonnay is a world class version of this grape, worthy of standing side by side with its Burgundian cousins from the Beaune.
Should you find yourself in DC or traveling along highway 95 or 81, Linden is not a far detour from either of those and is a must see for any wine enthusiast!