By Ken Wilson –
They’re all around us and they’re looking their best right now, the mom and pop wineries that dot our lush Central Virginia countryside. Draw up a list of two or three, drive slowly like the native old-timers and take in the view, then stop and sample the prize winners and the latest vintages, and pick up a bottle (or a case) of fine wine and great memories.
Better yet, bring a picnic basket, come for a Mother’s Day brunch, or hit one of the annual festivals. What Jefferson famously failed at, 21st century wine enthusiasts are perfecting, and lucky us, we get to drink it: Virginia wine that isn’t just drinkable, but proudly takes its place at the table beside its European inspirations.
The list of wines produced here in Central Virginia is long (and mostly easy to pronounce): Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chambourcin, Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Malbec, Merlot, Muscat Canelli, Muscat of Alexandria, Norton, Orange Muscat, Petit Manseng, Petit Verdot, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Rkatsiteli, Sauvignon Blanc, Seyval Blanc, Syrah, Tannat, Touriga Nacional, Traminette, Vidal Blanc, Viognier and Zinfandel.
Naturally so much winemaking makes a big economic impact. According to official Commonwealth estimates in January of 2017, Virginia’s burgeoning wine industry contributes more than $1.37 billion annually to our economy, an increase of 82 percent since 2010. A little winery hopping shows why. Take a look at some of the upcoming festivals and other events at local wineries.
Orange Uncorked Wine Festival
The award-winning annual Montpelier Wine Festival has a new name: the Orange Uncorked Wine Festival. This year’s festival, with over 20 participating wineries, craft vendors, local artisans, food trucks, and music by Scuffletown, Billy and the Backbeats, Midlife Crisis and 2 Wishes, will take place Saturday and Sunday, May 5 and 6 from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on the historic grounds of James Madison’s Montpelier.
Tours of Madison’s mansion will be offered between 9:30 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., and adult tickets will be half price. Advance tasting tickets are $20. Tasting tickets at the Gate are $25. Designated driver tickets and tickets for youths 13 to 20 are $5 at the gate. Kids 12 and under get in free.
A Taste Of Monticello Wine Trail
This annual festival is sponsored by the Monticello Wine Trail, a not-for-profit organization with a mission to promote quality grapes and wine produced in the Monticello area. Local winemakers, the group says, “are creating a unique wine region that features wines with an authentic expression of place,” wines which often meet with success in national and international wine competitions.
The 2018 Taste of Monticello Wine Trail Festival runs from Monday, May 7 through Saturday, May 12, with events taking place at the Sprint Pavilion, the Jefferson Theater and area wineries and restaurants. Buy your tickets now, online and at the Charlottesville Downtown Visitors Center on the Downtown Mall.
The Monticello Cup Awards for the top six wines, and the winner of the prestigious Monticello Cup, will be presented on Monday, May 7 in the Jefferson Theater from 6:00 to 10:00 p.m. Tickets for the ceremony and tastings with the winemakers are $49. Winemaker Dinners, a series of collaborative dinners between local restaurants and wineries, take place Tuesday, May 8 through Thursday, May 10. Reservations are required for each dinner.
The 3rd Annual Monticello AVA Sparkling Brunch is on Friday, May 11 in the Afton Mountain Vineyards Pavilion from 10 a.m. to noon. Tickets are $55. The brunch features sparkling wines from five area wineries paired with a farm to table inspired menu.
Also on Friday, May 11, the 2nd Annual Rosé Lunch at Blenheim Vineyards is served from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Four rosés will be paired with their own small plate for a four-course lunch. Tickets are $45. (Patrons must purchase a ticket for the Saturday May 12 Grand Tasting event in order to purchase tickets for either the Rosé Lunch or the Sparkling Brunch.)
The Grand Tasting at the Sprint Pavilion on Saturday, May 12 from 1:30 to 5:30 p.m., will feature more than 25 local wineries and live entertainment. VIP ticket holders gain early entry at 12:30 p.m. VIP tickets are $80. General Admission for adults is $35, and $40 at gate. VIP tickets for designated drivers or those under 21 are $25. General Admission for designated drivers or those under 21 is $10. Tickets for kids ages 12 and under are free. Tickets are on sale at Monticellowinetrailfestival.com.
Cardinal Point Winery
Paul and Ruth Gorman first fell in love with Riesling wines while stationed in the little city of Bad Kreuznach, Germany on the banks of the Nahe River. When Paul retired from the Army in 1985 and they moved to their farm in Afton, their first order of business was to plant four acres —two of Riesling and two of Cabernet Sauvignon. Their eldest son John, an architect, designed the winery buildings. Daughter Sarah handles the business end of the operation, while youngest son Tim’s wife, Susan, runs the tasting room.
Cardinal Point will hold its First Annual Spring Oyster Roast on Memorial Day weekend, May 26 and 27 from noon to 7:00 p.m., with live music and raw, steamed, fried, and stewed oysters, and crab cakes hot off the griddle, all from Rappahannock Oyster Co.
Glass House Winery
Glass House Winery in Free Union currently has 12 acres under vine, and strives to treat them in a gentle and environmentally responsible manner. Owners Jeff and Michelle Sanders moved to Virginia in 2006, awed by the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the friendliness of their inhabitants.
Searching for a way to marry Jeff’s botanical skills with Michelle’s love of making chocolates, they discovered Virginia’s wine industry and opened Glass House Winery. Today they offer their own wines, chocolates, and chocolate wine.
The Willie DE Band will play Glass House Winery on Friday, May 4 from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.; the Got Dumplings food truck will be on-site from 5:00 to 8:30 p.m. Latin guitar duo Berto Sales and Miles Pearce play on Sunday, May 6 from 3:00 to 5:30 p.m.
The Bobby Midnight Band, featuring Rob Mezzanotte, Brian Wahl, Paul Rosner, and Nick Cardoni, plays on Friday, May 11, 6-9 p.m. The 106 Grilled food truck will be on site from 5 to 8:30 p. m.
Peyton Tochterman and Gary Green perform on May 13 from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m. All events are free, and take place rain or shine inside the glass conservatory. The tasting room and conservatory open at noon. Regular tasting fees apply. Picnickers are welcome.
Soon after Dennis Horton planted his first vineyard in 1983, he began searching for grape varieties best suited to Virginia’s warm and humid summers. In the Rhone Valley in southern France, Horton discovered the Viognier whose thick skin and loose clusters made it perfect for the Virginia climate. Richard Leahy, author of Beyond Jefferson’s Vines, a history of Virginia wine, credits Horton with “single-handedly” bringing Virginia Viognier to national attention in the early 1990s.
Today, he says, “we still have the reputation of being the most consistent Viognier producer in the U.S.” Horton Vineyards in Gordonsville currently bottles two varieties of Viognier, along with a full array of red, white, fruit (pear, peach, etc.) and dessert wines.
Horton will celebrate Star Wars Day on Friday, May 4 from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Visitors wearing Star Wars clothing or accessories will receive a complimentary wine tasting, and a drawing will be held for Star Wars merchandise.
Saturday, May 5 is National Nurses Day, with nurses receiving complimentary tastings from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The Ignatio & Maria food truck will be on hand in celebration of Cinco de Mayo.
Horton will serve a Mother’s Day Tea amongst the vines, Saturday, May 12 at 1:30, with individual pots of tea, an extensive menu of savory and sweet delights, and a glass of either Horton wine or sparkling grape juice. Tickets are $35 for adults and $25 for folks under 21. Reservations are required.
King Family Vineyards
When David and Ellen King moved to Virginia from Houston, Texas in 1995, it wasn’t to plant a vineyard and open a winery. What the couple had in mind was finding twelve flat acres for David, a polo player since 1980, to play the sport he loved.
Today their property in Crozet holds both Roseland Polo field and King Family Vineyards, from which they currently offer seventeen red and sparkling wines. Wednesdays are “Wine Wednesday” at King Family Vineyards from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m., with food for sale and the Tasting Room open for bottle and glass sales.
Loving Cup Vineyard and Winery
The vast majority of vineyards worldwide plant Vitis vinifera vines, the same notoriously vulnerable vines that failed for Jefferson. Karl Hambsch and family put in hybrid vines instead, vines produced by crossing the pollen of one variety with the flower of a second to produce a third and entirely new species. Hybrids date to the 1800s, but only in modern times have scientists and intrepid vineyard owners successfully grown varieties resistant to disease and cold temperatures.
Loving Cup is also one of just a handful of certified-organic winemaking farms on the East Coast.
Grape grower and winemaker Karl Hambsch, and Chris Hill, preeminent vineyard consultant and 2018 VVA Grape Grower of the Year, will lead tours of the Loving Cup vineyard and explain the workings of an organic farm, from soil to vines, on Friday, May 11 at 3:00 and 4:00 p.m.
Tastings will follow. In case of rain, the tour will explore the wine cellar instead. Tickets are $15 per person, and reservations are required.
Valley Road Vineyards
Valley Road Vineyards was the brainchild of a group of friends with careers in law, advertising, insurance, real estate development, writing and other professions. The group chose a site on Route 151 at the head of the Rockfish Valley in Afton, planted a vineyard in the spring of 2016, built a tasting room, and bottled their first wines—15 of them—this April.
The Good Waffles & Co. Food Truck will be on hand at Valley Road Vineyard from noon to 3:00 p.m. on Saturdays, May 12, June 16, and September 29. Valley Road will also host the third annual Rock the Ridge benefit concert in support of the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank on June 16, with the help of Bold Rock Hard Cider. Côte Rôtie will visit from noon to 3:00 p.m. on Saturdays June 23, July 21, and August 11.
Andrew and Patricia Hodson took the name of their Afton winery (planted in 1999 and opened in 2002) from the Roman historian Pliny the Elder’s famous observation that “In Vino Veritas”—“In Wine There Is Truth.” Veritas is a family affair that the Hodsons operate with the help of their children Emily, George and Chloe. Patricia cultivates the vines. Andrew and Emily, who earned a Masters in Enology at Virginia Tech, make the wine. Veritas will serve a Mother’s Day Brunch on Sunday, May 13 at 12:30 p.m.