Scott Stinson refers to himself as a “contextualist.” An architect and builder who specializes in restoration, Stinson moved here from Montgomery County, Maryland, a year and a half ago to make over a White Hall house with an unusual history and one of Albemarle County’s most scenic views. First built in 1796 and then added on to 54 years later, the Piedmont House, as it’s known, is uncommonly large for a Civil War-era home. It housed Stonewall Jackson during the Valley Campaign. Honoring the home’s good bones and its history, Stinson has systematically stripped the “cosmetic” renovations that accreted in the years since. Given his line of work, he was counting on doing that.
Scott Stinson, with daughter Rachel, recalls thinking “Wouldn’t it be fun to have a vineyard?” when he discovered old vines on his Piedmont House property.
What he didn’t count on when he relocated here was that he’d undertake a sort of vineyard restoration, too. And yet somehow suddenly, Stinson Vineyards is in the process of being born, adding to Albemarle County’s bustling winemaking industry, which now numbers 17 extant wineries.
Sitting amidst barrels and tubs of Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon purchased from other local vineyards and at various stages of fermentation, Stinson and his 27-year-old daughter Rachel recounted the vinous chapter of their tale. “The house came with a vineyard,” Stinson says. “We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to have a vineyard?’”
Once they looked further into it, “fun” might not have been the first word to spring to mind. The aged acre-and-a-half of vines, first planted by Virginia pioneer Gabriele Rausse for a recreationalist more than 30 years ago, were rotted with leafroll virus. The choices: Nurse the vines to health, which could take three years or more, or pull them out and start again. The Stinsons went the second route, and after purchasing an adjacent lot, now have 12 acres planted with Bordeaux varietals.
And though those new plants are several years from producing, the Stinsons plan to open to the public late next spring. Fittingly, the winery and tasting room, still under construction when we met, springs from the property’s former garage. Using their purchased grapes, including some white varietals, they’ll have about 700 cases ready. Matthieu Finot, King Family Vineyard’s much-celebrated French winemaker, is aiding the winemaking effort. “People here are surprisingly open” and willing to help newcomers, says Stinson.
Timing is everything in life and adding to the fortuitous siting of their property, directly behind the Piedmont Store and thereby on the way to or from several established wineries, the Stinsons have moved into the ’hood just as their neighbors are developing a new marketing campaign. Stinson will join Mountfair, White Hall, Glass House and Moss (another newcomer set to debut next year or thereafter) to create The Appellation Trail, a mini wine trail through the northwestern portion of Albemarle County.
Stinson credits the current administration in Richmond with supporting the state wine industry to which he now freshly belongs.
“If I bought this property five years ago, I’d still only be building this winery now,” he says. “The marketing was not where it needed to be.”
To which he adds, “It’s been an amazing journey in a short period of time.”
No worries if you didn’t catch Vintage: The Winemaker’s Year on PBS earlier this month. The new documentary from Charlottesville’s Silverthorn Films, a loving look at the state wine industry and the 2008 vintage, will be screened during the Virginia Film Festival. Join us on Saturday night, November 6, at the Paramount for a wine reception preceding the film. Stay afterwards for a panel discussion with the filmmakers, several local winemakers and Virginia’s secretary of agriculture, moderated by yours truly.