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River’s Edge comes from the Casscles Vineyard. It is a blend of Burdin and Chambourcin. It is grown and made like a fine vinifera wine, and the effort shows.
So, what is Burdin and where did it come from? The vines themselves came from Philip and Jan Wagner, of Monkton, Maryland. Philip Wagner was the editor of the Baltimore sun for many years (succeeding H.L. Mencken), and the owner of Boordy Vineyards. He also sold French-hybrid vines from a nursery with his wife. Mr. Wagner, before the arrival of Dr. Konstantin Frank, practically saved east coast winemaking by offering these vines that were more suited for the region at the time. Wagner had imported the vines from France.
According to the notes on the Wagners’ vineyard brochure, “We introduced the French Hybrids commercially in this country more than three decades ago. Vines originating in our nursery are today yielding good wines in almost every state of the Union. Several of the hybrids have already become standard wine grapes in the older grape-growing districts such as New York State and Ohio. The family of the French Hybrids is large and varied: early ones for the more northerly regions, some that stand up under humid conditions and severe winters, others for hot dry climates, and so on. It is possible to choose with reasonable assurance for most parts of the country. But remember, the finest grape varieties and the famous vintages of Europe have behind them several thousand years of selection and adaptation and centuries of winemaking experience. You can expect to produce very good wine from the hybrids, but do not expect to equal the “great” wines of Bordeaux or Burgundy or Chablis.”
As a young grape growing enthusiast, Steve Casscles met the accomplished and insightful Philip Wagner when Steve was still in his high school and college years. Before Wagner closed his vineyard supply business, Steve Casscles plucked numerous vines from Wagner, who was always ready with advice and good cheer. Wagner always intimated to Casscles that the Burdin grape was a sleeper. Now we grow almost two acres of it. Steve Casccles grows two varieties of Burdin. He grows Burdin 8753 (An early mid-season. Pinot Noir hybrid and wine has finesse. Moderate vigor and productivity, in combination with short cane pruning; and Burdin 11042 which is an early mid-season ripener. Hybrid of Pinot Noir Droit. Good vigor, moderate production, fairly disease resistant, and to be grown using cane pruning.
Chambourcin is a French-American interspecific hybrid grape variety used for making wine. Its parentage is uncertain. The hybrid was produced by Joannes Seyve who often used Seibel hybrids produced in the 1860s. The grape has only been available since 1963; it has a good resistance to fungal disease, and is one of the parents of the new disease resistant variety, Regent. The grape produces a deep-colored wine and aromatic wine. It can be made into a dry style or one with a moderate residual sugar level. Chambourcin is a teinturier, a grape whose juice is pink or red rather than clear like most red vitis vinifera cultivars.
Steve Casscles, our winemaker, grows both of these varieties at his Casscles Vineyards in Athens at Cedar Ridge Farm.
The grapes are hand-picked in October on the very steep craggy slopes of Casscles Vineyard. The grapes are brought to the crush pad where they were de-stemmed. At least one quarter to two-thirds of the fermentation is done with whole clusters. Steve believes in carbonic maceration, which gives a very pretty sense of fruit to the final finished wine. The must is then pressed by hand, the old fashioned way, in a 100-year old wood basket screw press. The juice is fermented in stainless-steel, and then transferred to neutral French oak barrels. All done by hand. Each wine is done separately.
Then the wine sits for about 6 months in these casks, with a few carboys of wine that was also aged separately, with no oak. This was all according to plan. After six months, we blend the wines. This year’s blend is 50/50 of Burdin and Chambourcin.
This is a handmade wine. No fining. No filtering. Hints of vanilla and cherry are on the nose. Soft flavors of cherry and plum come through in a flash, and is accompanied by a hint of vanilla and spice in this wonderful, medium bodied red wine of great complexity. Hints of red currant and strawberry also come through. It finishes with some spice, dry and smooth. An incredible soft, medium-bodied wine that will age well for years. This wine is excellent with cheese, pork, chicken, pasta, and other gourmet meals.