The World of Fine Wine | September 2017
East, East, East! Stars from the Other Side
The Pioneer: Linden Vineyards, Linden, VA
When Jim Law established his first few acres of vineyards in 1985 on an abandoned hillside farm at the edge of the Shenandoah Valley west of Washington, DC, he took the added precaution of planting an orchard of heirloom apples—just in case the wine business didn’t work out. “My main goal was to make a little money farming,” he told me during a recent visit to his modern winery. Fortunately, the feedback from his first wines was considerably better than “not too bad.”
Within a few years, Law’s wine sales were booming and he needed to expand beyond his initial 6 acres (2.5ha) of vines. The apple trees disappeared. Today, Law’s Linden Vineyards makes about 4,000 cases annually, mostly red Bordeaux-style blends, as well as Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, from his three vineyards, which total about 28 acres (11ha). His wines sell for about $25–50 a bottle, and he almost always sells out each vintage. As is often the case on the East Coast, Law’s wines are more like those of France or Italy than Napa Valley, the reds smooth with supple tannins. They are easy-drinking early, but they also age very well. Linden’s Bordeaux-style reds from 20-year-old vintages are still quite lively and remarkably fresh.
A native of Ohio, Law was a product of the 1960s, serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Zaire and taking some time off to travel in Europe. His first wine job was in a winery in Indiana that grew hybrid grapes and paid him for his labor with free lodging. He worked briefly in a Virginia winery—one of the dozen or so that existed at the time—before striking out on his own.
Part of Law’s success, he admits, has been due to the fact that Linden is located on the edge of a very cosmopolitan area—Washington—and started at a time when residents were hungry for produce that was good and local. “I thought that they would want simple wines,” Law says, “but they are more and more interested in finer things. They are interested, and they are involved.” The area’s wine critics were quick to jump on the bandwagon, and visitors to a destination restaurant a few miles away—The Inn at Little Washington—found that Linden was the only local winery on the restaurant’s sophisticated list.
Law’s winemaking style is a combination of modern and traditional practices. He seeks a Chablis style in his whites, using old-barrel fermentation though seldom any bâtonnage. His reds tend to be concentrated—cold-soak and lots of early pump-over—with good texture, and full-bodied without being heavy. In fact, if there is a commonality among East Coast red wines, it is their lack of big, sometimes abrasive California- style tannins. Law prefers not to filter or fine but will do if necessary. “I always try to ask the question, ‘What would be the best thing we can do for these grapes?’”
In the 30 years since he started, Law has also become a sort of East Coast Robert Mondavi in his willingness to share knowledge and experience with other winemakers. He frequently speaks at seminars and conferences and welcomes other winemakers to visit Linden.
Recently, Law has gone through an extensive replanting program—because his vines have aged and because “I planted Chardonnay and Cabernet, but in the wrong places, so I had to switch some things around. That meant planting some Cab where the Chard had been, and vice versa.” Now that everything is back online, he hopes to add back another 1,000 cases to his inventory—which is a good time, he believes, to gradually phase himself out of winemaking while remaining the owner. An estate’s winemaking, like its vineyards, sometimes needs to be refreshed.
[Excerpt from full article]