Winemaker Traces the Path of Award-Winning Champagne
Sometime in late winter, Matthieu Finot will decide which of the Chardonnay vines at King Family Vineyards will produce the fruit for the vineyard’s Brut. The Virginia champagne, made in the traditional way, won a gold medal at the most recent Governor’s Cup, the state’s premiere competition. The sparkling blanc-de-blanc is a practical as well as traditional choice: “That’s what I have here; that’s what does well,” he said.
The designated grapes are harvested a bit early to preserve the lively acid profile required for champagne, and fermented in older oak barrels for six months or so. The winemaker draws a taste from the barrels, decides when it’s ready to bottle, and to each bottle adds a mix of yeast and sugar, the potion designed to trigger the tiny, streaming bubbles that elevate the wine to the drink of choice for celebrations. Each bottle—they’re made of extra-strong glass to avoid explosions—gets a temporary cap before lying flat for a couple of years as the flavor develops. The long exposure to the yeast cells (the lees) develops a flavor Finot likens to toasted bread or brioche, the rich French pastry.
The problem with the added yeast and sugar (the process is called tirage) is that the spent yeast forms a sediment that’s visible to the naked eye. There’s an ingenious solution, an age-old process made a little easier by modern technology. When the time is near for the champagne’s release, the bottles are turned slowly until they are vertical, neck down, all the sediment drifting towards the throat of the bottle, which rests in a shallow, freezing bath of glycol. “There used to be special workers who were trained to turn the bottles slowly and to pop the frozen sediment out,” Finot said. “We have this done at an outside facility and it’s mostly automated.”
The temporary caps are replaced with the distinctive oblong cork, but not before the winemaker has brewed up another mix (called a dosage) with brandy, dissolved sugar and enough wine to replace the wine that’s been disgorged. Finot uses enough sugar to achieve the designation of “Brut.” There’s a range of sweetness in champagnes that’s meticulously measured and labeled—and some are finished without the added sugar—but the Brut remains the most popular, Finot said.
The King Family Brut disappears so fast that it’s rarely available, Finot said, but the vineyard plans the release of a festive local favorite, the Crosé, on Valentine’s Day. “It will be available only here at the vineyard then,” he said. The vines will still be sleeping but after tasting the new release, Finot confirms that the popular rose will add some life and color to the drab February landscape, the gorgeous, lush wine tasting of summer and peaches.
Delicatessen to Open in March
Shoppers at the Crozet Market can see the delicatessen taking shape next door, watching the construction of counters and cases through the plastic film. When the dust settles in a month or so, there’s still the hiring and training of staff, said owner Raphael Strumlauf.
“We mean for the delicatessen to complement the market,” he said. Plans call for two cold cases, a hot case, and a fresh bakery counter, as well as the rotisserie chicken and fried chicken stations. Hungry shoppers can also choose from prepared salads, sandwiches and sliced meat and cheeses. There will also be coffee and a selection of hot biscuits for people grabbing breakfast on the run. The expanded space also includes room for the office and customer service.
Although there will be a couple of tables, “We’ll be mostly grab and go,” Strumlauf said. In the market, as in the future deli, he’s very aware that he has a diverse clientele: “We’ve added more than 400 items since moving the produce department around,” he said. And every time he adds a specialty or international food, he adds something for families on a budget.
“I really like the model used by the former owners,” he said. “I’m building this item by item as people request things.” For instance, someone wanted store-brand milk and orange juice in gallons; young families wanted drinkable yogurt and large boxes of eggs; others requested fresh pasta and prosciutto. All of these––and dozens of other items––are now available.
Does this work? “Yes, it does,” Strumlauf said. “In my experience, one person often represents a lot of other people who would use a product.” He hopes that people will continue to let him know what they’d like to see on his shelves.
“So far, I’ve always had space to fit things in,” he said. “We may have to juggle things around a little, but we’ll do it.”
Barre.[d] Opens at Piedmont Place
Just in time to revive New Year’s fitness resolutions, barre.[d] opened a few days ago in downtown Crozet’s Piedmont Place.
The owner, Monica Asplin, has been in Crozet since 2009, and has two young daughters. At the same time she put the finishing touches on the studio (the former location of Santosha Yoga), she was also moving into a new home. “The timing was a little hectic,” she said, “but when I heard Santosha was moving, I knew I had to jump right in.”
Inspired by the famous ballerina Lotte Berk, the workout is intended to be low-impact and combine elements of pilates, yoga, physiotherapy, and dance.There’s a great deal of attention to the individual needs and level of each student.
“You will never plateau, you will never get bored, and your body will always be working at the level you want it to,” Asplin said.
Asplin believes it is important for those who live here to have opportunities to exercise without a great deal of commuting: “I wanted to bring this amazing workout closer to home and share it with my neighbors,” she said.
There are some special offers associated with the grand opening of barre.[d]. For more information and the schedule, go to www.barredstudio.com or the Facebook page.
Chocolates Star in Valentine’s Day Lineup
You can say it with flowers, spend hours writing the perfect inscription on a card or invest in a piece of jewelry, but the most popular expression of affection is the gift of chocolate; its sales equal all the other possibilities combined. “Valentine’s Day is the single biggest day for us,” said Tim Gearhart of Gearhart’s Chocolate. He said that the holidays––if you measure from Thanksgiving to New Year’s—inspire the greatest amount of chocolate consumption, but that’s for more than a month of seasonal purchasing.
Gearhart has found that Valentine’s Day gifts are likely to be bought at the last minute: “It’s usually either the day before or the day of,” he said. That’s appropriate, he added, because the Gearhart’s product most loved by Valentine gift givers, the 16-piece assortment, has a short shelf life. Among the 16 pieces, people seem to love best the Maya (a truffle with cinnamon, orange and chili) and the Criolla, a bittersweet dark chocolate. The 16-piece assortment is available at the Charlottesville store, but a number of local stores carry Gearhart’s shelf-stable varieties.
It’s no coincidence that this area was the home of one of the first artisanal chocolate shops. Gearhart grew up in Ivy, attended Western Albemarle High School, left for the marines, then attended culinary school to become a pastry chef. Eventually he worked his way back to his home and now lives in Crozet. Does the chef have a favorite? “Well, I eat a piece of chocolate every day,” he said. “But right now I really like the malted milk hazelnut.”
Find Gearhart’s chocolate in Charlottesville, at many locations in western Albemarle County, or order online at Gearhartschocolate.com.
Spotlight on Artisanal Chocolate at the Depot
During February, Crozet Artisan Depot presents the work of chocolatier Jennifer Mowad of Cocoa & Spice. Mowad will be at the Second Saturday opening reception February 10 from 3 to 5 p.m. in the Crozet train depot, and will answer questions about the art of working with chocolate.
The event will include samples of Cocoa & Spice products and a display of the tools Mowad uses to create her chocolates. Mowad will also provide samples of her creations at the depot on Sunday, February 4, and Sunday, February 11, from 12 to 5 p.m.
Mowad is a graduate of the Ecole Chocolate Professional Chocolatier Program and completed an apprenticeship at East Van Roasters in Vancouver, Canada.
Breweries Offer Valentine’s Specials
Stop in at Blue Mountain Brewery in Afton and treat your valentine to a heart-shaped pizza. This offer continues throughout the day, and since it’s locals’ night, pizzas are offered for $5 off in the evening hours. Or make reservations for the brewmaster’s dinner, a five-course meal pairing beer with food. More information and registration can be found at bluemountainbrewery.com.
For dessert, go to Starr Hill Brewery for pairings of beer and candy. On February 10, 11, 12 and 14, Cville Candy will offer free samples of sweets that go with the brewery’s pints, including Little Red RooStarr Coffee Cream Stout with RooStarr Coffee Toffee, a coffee-infused toffee and dark chocolate combination; Double Bass Double Chocolate Stout with Dark Chocolate Almond Bark, freshly toasted almonds in smooth dark chocolate; and Love Wheat Beer with Beertender Bark, a salty, sweet treat with heat that’s made with white chocolate, pretzels, and fiery Thai peanuts. For more information, go to starrhill.com. As always, Starr Hill shares the profits with a local charity, and February’s choice is Mended Little Hearts of Charlottesville.