Doukenie Winery: Wine Science!

Beer, beer, beer. The social life of a geologist is filled with it. It’s glugged after a day studying rocks, after seminars and there was even a beer made specifically for a geological conference.

Leanne Wiberg, a geologist and @craterlady on Twitter, was long swirling in this beer vortex until about 10 years ago when some geologists began sipping wine.

“I’m sure this is partly because of the relative worldwide upturn in wine drinking across the board,” Leanne said in a Q&A with “But still, geologists are uniquely qualified to ponder and enjoy speculating about how any particular wine reflects the characteristics of the vineyard, which is planted in soil derived from the rocks below the vines.”


Leanne enjoying a glass of wine. (Courtesy: Leanne Wiberg)

While geologists “can channel rocks through wine,” not so with beer, which has ingredients–hops, water, etc– that are not location specific, she said.

So when Leanne was working as a naturalist in Loudoun County, Va. she met a winemaker who asked her to apply her geological skills at a local winery on the weekends.

Now Leanne hosts tours highlighting the nexus between science and winemaking at Doukenie Winery in Purcellville, Va. and she took some time after attending the Virginia Wine Summit to share with me why winemakers are nerds, the origins of Rkatsitelli grapes and wine tour patrons’ fascination with maps.

Leanne with some of her many maps (Courtesy: Leanne Wiberg)

Leanne with some of her many maps (Courtesy: Leanne Wiberg)

WFTW: How can one apply science to winemaking?

LEANNE: Winemakers are the classiest nerds and geeks you’ll ever meet. Technology and science is intrinsic to all vinification and vineyard management. Initially a site for any vineyard has to be selected. Considerations must be made: macro climate, elevation, topography, slope, solar aspect, and rock and soil types (geology) and former land use. Then the specific grape varietals have to be selected for the vineyard, based on these site selected. After that, the game plans about how to best care for the specific grapes in the vineyard and about when to harvest them must be done – all with the same mindful assessments that any successful farmer makes (yes farmers are scientists).

The process of winemaking itself involves countless subjective judgements and objective measurements, all leading to irreversible decisions about how to proceed with fermentations and subsequent treatments (natural or commercial yeast, American or French Oak, malo-lactic conversion or not, addition of powdered tannins or not).

As well, the process of bottling in itself is a technical minefield (bag-in-a-box systems or conventional bottles, natural or synthetic corks).

The tools used by a viniculturist (winemaker) and viticulturist (grape grower) are the same as those used by a farmer, chemist, chef, microbiologist, plant geneticist, geologist, and geographer.

WFTW: What do people on your tours at Doukenie Winery find the most surprising?

LEANNE: The tours don’t just discuss wines made at the winery. Rather, they present an overview of the entire Virginia wine industry, based on my eight years experience in it.

In a very general sense, they are surprised to discover that Virginia wines overall taste as good as they do. As well, considering wines made at the winery where I work, many tour takers comment that varieties they generally avoided can taste more appealing when they are made using the traditional techniques used by winemakers from Burgundy (Doukenie’s winemaker trained in winemaking schools in Beaune and Macon in Burgundy, France). This winemaking style is not common in Virginia. Only one other winery in the state employs a winemaker trained in Burgundy – King Family Vineyards.

Second, they are impressed by how non-traditional some of the wines are. Stereotypes based on wines originating in Europe and California are broken regularly in Loudoun County, especially. Unconventional blends appear because Virginia, as a nascent winemaking site, has not become entrenched in any particular style. For example, Tarara’s 2010 Honah Lee wine blends viognier, petit manseng, and rousanne – all grapes that might be new to Virginia wine. As well, they are surprised to learn that French-American hybrid wine grapes are on the radar of more and more local drinkers. Purposeful genetic crosses have been undertaken by breeders to produce wine grapes with increased disease resistance and climate suitability. For example, Desert Rose Winery is growing grapes called Crimson Cabernet. These grapes are a genetic cross between Norton (a grape hybrid itself growing well in the USA) with Cabernet Sauvignon (originally a European grape). Other hybrids include traminette, vidal blanc, chambourcin, and chardonel.

Leanne showing off some grapes. (Courtesy: Leanne Wiberg)

Leanne showing off some grapes. (Courtesy: Leanne Wiberg)

Because it is my “new” favorite white wine grape, my tour takers learn about Rkatsiteli – a grape originally from Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Soviet Georgia which is making a fine showing in a small niche market locally….

They are fascinated by the maps I use, which feature the geology, topography, and hydrology of the estate at Doukenie….

Tour info:

The tours include a vineyard circuit, a barrel room visit, and a guided “techno-tasting” involving six wines with an emphasis on interpreting how the vineyard setting and the specific winemaking practices influence the taste of each wine. It’s free for wine club members and $15 for non-members. Find out more at

And if you’re wondering, Leanne’s favorite wines, other than Rkatsiteli, are Doukenie’s Petit Verdot, Merlot and Alsatian-style Riesling.

Review: Area 5.1 White Light

I trotted through the Urban Wine Trail in Santa Barbara after a friend suggested the route when I told her my boyfriend and I were celebrating our anniversary on the American Riviera. While on the trail–which has the feel of a bar hop swapping cocktails for wine–the lovely people at Oreana Winery suggested we check out Area 5.1 across the street.

It’s a small tasting room, tucked into what seems like a business plaza, much different than other wineries on the trail that actually make wine on the premises. Rather than looking like a traditional tasting room, the winery felt like a classy sports bar. Football was playing on TV–which I usually dislike in wine tasting rooms, but it went with the vibe– and a large scoreboard-like marquee noted who made what wine and who was on duty.

Area 5.1 is owned by two Australian guys who decided to play off their resident alien statuses. All their wines are blends and cheeky takes on secret government investigations of the other worldly.

I bought two bottles of wine from them, a white blend called White Light and a red blend called Majestic 12, although they were over my typical price limit. I was on vacation! It was my anniversary! I was getting tipsy!

This review is about the White Light. I’ll tell you about the Majestic 12 another time.


White Light was crisp and refreshing, fruity–think tropical tastes– without being sticky on the tongue. I uncorked it at a dinner party we had with some friends. We made shrimp strifry, cookies made from the spent grain left over after we home brewed pumpkin beer, and toasted with glasses of White Light.

I would definitely drink it again!

Nuts and Bolts

  • Winery: Area 5.1
  • Type: Blend of Savignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc and Semillon
  • Origin: Santa Ynez
  • Vintage: 2011
  • Price: $22
  • Alcohol content: 13.5%
  • When to drink: At a bachelorette party dinner, before the shots.


Shop: Vintage Berkeley

While I didn’t have time to head to Sonoma this weekend while I was visiting a friend in Berkeley, I did stumble across a gem of a wine shop. After having lunch on Monday at Gregoire, a cute-as-a-button French takeout spot, I mean check out this quiche and blood orange French soda:


my friend, a graduate student at UC Berkeley, had to head to class and I had an hour to kill. Lucky for me, there was a wine shop nearby that my friend recommended I check out.

From the outside, Vintage Berkeley doesn’t look like a wine shop. It doesn’t look like a store at all. It’s housed in a former water pumping station built in 1930. The station operated until the 1980s, but it sat vacant until nine years ago when Vintage Berkeley moved into the city landmark. 


While the exterior remains the same, the owner made some tweaks to the interior and rather than pumping water, the site now pumps out wines from labels you’ve most likely have never heard of. And here comes the selling point: most of them are under $25.




Vintage Berkeley throws the age-old point system out the window and instead offers descriptions of the wines written by staff. It reminded me of the staff picks at Skylight Books, my favorite book store in Los Angeles. When I told Ryan, who started working at the shop after being a frequent visitor at tastings during his time at Cal, that I’m on a kick to try wine types I’ve never had before, he pointed out wines from Slovenia, the Basque region of Spain, Corsica, and other exotic locales.

He sold me on the Slovenian number, a blend of dry muscat and riesling that came topped with a bottle cap. It’s a 2012 Crnko Jarenincan.


I also picked up two others–a red and a white–from Portugal. The white is another dry muscat, 2012 Herdade de Gambia, and the red is a 2011 HMR Varal Tinto. All were $15 or less. As soon as I get my package in the mail and can uncork (uncap for the Slovenian wine) those suckers, you’ll be sure to see some reviews.

If you’re in the Berkeley area, check out their free tastings on the weekdays from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.

It’s very beautiful right now, as the fall leaves come in and crisp breezes bookend the days.




Top 5: Non-California, U.S. wine locales

I get a little California-centric when it comes to wines, mostly because they’re delicious and secondly because I live here. However, I’ve been learning a lot about other wine locales in the United States that are getting my continental travel bug rattled up.

Here’s my top 5 to-visit list for out-of-state wine regions:

1) Finger Lakes, NY

It’s Harvest season right now in the Finger Lakes, which is home to about 100 wineries, a third of the state of New York’s total. From all the Instagram photos and news stories I’ve seen about it, the Finger Lakes region seems pretty tantalizing, especially from a place that can put both Pinot Noir and Gewurtztraminer (I still can not pronounce the latter for the life of me) in my glass in one visit. And, I want to see those views in person and explore the many hiking trails. A camping trip with a few wineries squeezed in would be awesome if that’s a possibility.

2) Colorado’s Western slope

I’m torn because I want to visit the rockies during the winter to go skiing, but I also want to see the grapes on the western slope bask in the summer sun. Most of the vineyards here are family-owned, a big plus in my book if you plan to visit a site. Some also grow berries, which they let visitors pick!

3) Columbia Valley, Washington

Not only is this region home to Walla Walla–one of the most fun names for a city–but it also has roughly seven dozen wineries. That’s small compared to other regions and I hear you’ve got to plan in advance because often wineries are closed to the public without notice. On the other hand, that makes for a more intimate affair that often includes peeks behind the curtain when it comes to the winemaking process. I’ve seen Muscat, Cab Franc and other great grapes grow here.

4) Eugene, Oregon (more generally, Willamette Valley)

I’ve already been wine tasting in Eugene-twice, but I’d happily go a third time. The area is known for its pinots and I had the best Pinot Gris at Silvan Ridge Winery when I was there last. I have yet to hit up the big fish, King Estate, but Sweet Cheeks brings back fond memories of good food, good friends and good wine, and you can’t beat that!

5) Loudoun County, Virginia

Loudoun County is mostly on the list because I know I’ll get there soon: I have several friends who live a hop, skip and a jump away and a free place to stay makes for a happy visit. Rolling hills, estates and horse-riding trails make up this region, which hosts several weekend wine festivals. And then there’s the pretty wineries: good looks and good grapes, I’m sold.

Plus, as Leanne Wiberg (aka @craterlady on Twitter) of Doukenie Winery informed me: Virginia wines are made from French hybrids, such as Traminette, Chambourcin and chardonel. So it seems there’s still French roots in Thomas Jefferson’s home state, how apt. Jefferson was once the American miniser to Versailles after all.

I had no idea there was a big wine scene in Virginia when I lived in D.C. If I had, I would have taken advantage of it!

Where else outside of California, in the United States, is a stand-up place to go wine tasting?