Fall for it: Expert tips for throwing a wine harvest party

Table settings that include the color blue, like these from The Market at Grelen, in Somerset, are a good match for the neutral hues of fall. Photo: Courtesy of The Market at Grelen Table settings that include the color blue, like these from The Market at Grelen, in Somerset, are a good match for the neutral hues of fall. Photo: Courtesy of The Market at Grelen

After the harvest rain-out of 2018, this year’s Virginia wine vintage brings especially welcome news: a healthy, plentiful crop of ripe reds and whites, now bubbling merrily away in fermentation tanks before their long winter’s rest. Wineries are preparing to celebrate with harvest parties scheduled for the weekend of October 19, including events at Valley Road Vineyards, Courthouse Creek Cider, and Veritas Vineyard & Winery, among others.

“We kicked off the harvest party theme last year as a way for wineries, retailers, restaurants, and the public to help celebrate October as Virginia Wine Month,” says Annette Boyd, director of the Virginia Wine Marketing Office. “The concept has really taken off. This is an event we want to build each year to celebrate the bounty of all products grown in Virginia, in addition to Virginia wines.”

We loved the idea, so we asked local experts for some tips to help you plan your own harvest party this month.

Harvest wine and food pairing

Priscilla Martin Curley

Co-owner, The Wine Guild of Charlottesville; general manager, Monticello Farm Table Café

“I think a great way to celebrate the Virginia harvest would be to pair a Virginia wine specialty, such as dry petit manseng, with a fire-roasted pork loin served with paw paw jam. The sweet-tart quality of the paw paws married with the smoky char of the pork will bring out the subtle tropical honey notes in the petit manseng while contrasting with the bitter qualities. Plus, it’s an impressive but simple showstopper for any harvest party meal! You can even use the unique-looking paw paw fruit as part of your centerpiece along with some beautiful fall foliage.”

Where to find it: “Try Horton Vineyards’ 2015 Petit Manseng ($25)—it won the 2019 Virginia Governor’s Cup. I’d also recommend Michael Shaps Wineworks petit manseng ($30). Shaps was one of the first to make a dry version of this wine.” Curley forages for her paw paw fruit, but it’s also available seasonally at farmers’ markets. Horton, (540) 832-7440; hortonwine.com. Shaps, 529-6848; virginiawineworks.com

A fresh take on tableware

Tabatha Wilson

Manager, The Market at Grelen

“When creating your fall tablescape, don’t be afraid to mix up the traditional for something a little more fun—adding color is a great way to spice up your tabletop. Blue is one of our favorites because it is such a versatile color, and when paired with neutral hues it can be very elegant. Colored glassware is a beautiful way to add color to your table. Also, little seasonal touches, like a simple feather in a napkin ring, can make a big statement.”

Where to find it: The Market at Grelen, Somerset, (540) 672-7268; themarketatgrelen.com

Breezy centerpieces

Jazmin Portnow

Owner, Anyvent Event Planning

“My key to a good table setting is to incorporate quirky and unexpected seasonal elements as part of your centerpieces. A wedding trend that will make an appearance in my seasonal and holiday centerpieces is pampas grass. It’s wild, fun, and has a wheat-like aesthetic that’s perfect for fall.”

Where to find it: Pampas grass is readily available at local florists, including Colonial Florist, in Gordonsville. (540) 832-3611; colonialfloristantiques.com

Bring on the fire

Casey Eves

Founder and owner, Casey Eves Design

“For festive events, nothing is better than a supervised fire pit and a s’mores station! The secret ingredient to killer seasonal s’mores? Peppermint bark instead of Hershey bars.”

Where to find it: Feast! co-owner Kate Collier vouches for the peppermint bark personally—it’s made by her mom, Maggie Castillo, of nearby Hunt Country Foods. 244-7800; feastvirginia.com

Blue is a good choice for fall tablescapes because it’s “such a versatile color, and when paired with neutral hues it can be very elegant,” says Tabatha Wilson, manager at The Market at Grelen.


More food and wine pairings

The hearty, savory dishes of fall lend themselves well to wines like gewürztraminer, barbera, and cabernet franc. Mulled wine (heated and spiced with cinnamon, cloves, and other typical fall spices) is another great option for outdoor harvest parties. And don’t forget Virginia’s meads, the original party wine. Here are our recommendations; available at the wineries listed.

Gewürztraminer, Afton Mountain Vineyards, Afton ($28)

This aromatic, slightly sweet wine originally hails from Germany, but for a fun food pairing, think more exotic: coriander-spiced roasted chickpeas, garlicky grilled chicken wings, or cinnamon-laced chili. (540) 456-8667, aftonmountainvineyards.com

2017 Barbera Reserve, Glass House Winery, Free Union ($30)

This high-acid wine is a perfect match for a high-acid food like tomatoes, so try heirloom tomatoes with fresh mozzarella and balsamic, or spaghetti squash with a sauce of late-season crushed tomatoes and basil from the garden. 975-0094, glasshousewinery.com

2017 Cabernet Franc, Keswick Vineyards, Keswick ($59)

One of Virginia’s top wines for 2019, this cab franc stands up to strong herbal flavors, so how about surprising your guests with some surprisingly easy Cornish game hens roasted with plenty of herbs like thyme, rosemary, and sage? 244-3341, keswickvineyards.com

Spicy Rivanna, Burnley Vineyards, Barboursville ($15)

This blend is perfect as mulled wine—ready to heat and drink. The winery adds natural flavorings of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, allspice, anise, orange peel, and lemon peel to their Rivanna Red, and sells it by the bottle. 960-4411, burnleywines.com

Voyage, Hill Top Berry Farm and Winery, Nellysford ($22)

Made from 100 percent fermented honey, this is Hill Top’s version of the mead that the Vikings drank. It pairs with hunks of crusty bread, hard cheese, and cured meats. Pick up a bottle of Cyser (apple mead), Lavender Metheglin (spiced mead), or Hunter’s Moon (spiced pumpkin mead) and treat your mates to a mead taste-off. Hilltop Berry Farm and Winery, 361-1266—N.B.

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