Virginia Wine Country: The Coming of Age

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By Marianne E. Weaver | Photos by Kathy Strauss

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Virginia has a long, and somewhat bumpy, history of winemaking. The Virginia Wine Board marketing office in Richmond traced the origins of the state’s winemaking history back to the Jamestown settlers, who required each male settler to plant and tend to at least 10 grape vines. But unfamiliar diseases and insects attacked the vines, killing the crops.

Years later Thomas Jefferson attempted to establish a vineyard – two, actually – importing European grapes to be cultivated at Monticello. However, according to the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, “his continual replanting of the vineyards suggests a perennial and losing struggle with grape cultivation.”

According to the Virginia Wine Board, it wasn’t until the 1820s when wines made from Native American grapes created a good wine. In 1873, a Virginia Norton wine was named the “best red wine of all nations” at the Vienna World Fair. In 1889, the Norton was awarded a gold medal at the Paris World Fair. The industry began to flourish until shut down by Prohibition in 1920.

“From 1920 to the 1970s there were no wineries in Virginia,” said Chris Pearmund, managing partner of Effingham Manor in Nokesville, who has 30 years of experience in the Virginia wine industry. In the ’70s, rules changed, so you could grow grapes and operate a winery. In 1979 there were only six wineries, but by 1995 there were 46 Virginia wineries.”

The industry has been growing ever since. Annette Ringwood Boyd, director of the Virginia Wine Board marketing office said, “When we started in 2007, there were 119 Virginia wineries, and we are up to 275 today. From 2007 to today, there has been explosive growth. There are 20 to 30 new wineries each year.”

Boyd said years of experimentation—trial and error—are paying off. “People started realizing they could making a living doing this,” she said. “And the wines are clearly of better quality than the ones made 10 years ago. From Prince William County, you are within an hour and a half of 60 wineries, and another 25 if you include Charlottesville. They are all unique and special.”

The Blockers, a Navy family currently living in Gainesville, toured the local wineries while celebrating Mr. Blocker’s military retirement.

“We love the local wineries, such as Pearmund and La Grange, because the wine is top-notch, the location and facilities are beautiful, and the staff make you feel like you just came home from a long trip,” said Marca Blocker. “When my husband recently retired after 22 years in the Navy, we didn’t even consider celebrating somewhere other than our favorite Virginia wineries.”

In Prince William

Soon Prince William will be home to two wineries: Effingham Manor Winery and The Winery at La Grange.

Managing partner Pearmund is banking on that “special” factor to draw visitors to this new venture: Effingham Manor Winery, which is set amidst a centuries-old home built by William Alexander, a great-grandson of Alexandria, Va.’s, namesake.

“If you are going to open a new winery, you need to have something complex and of high quality and a good location,” he said. “You need people to not only visit, but to come back. Effingham is a 250-year-old manor plantation that is beautiful and unique.”

Effingham, located at 14325 Trotters Ridge Place, Nokesville, will open its doors in October. The winery will be open daily from 11 a.m. to dusk.

“We expect all of the Effingham wines to be popular,” said Jennifer E. Goldman, director of marketing and events for Effingham Manor and Vint Hill Craft Winery. “We have two very celebrated winemakers crafting our wines, and between the two (Chris Pearmund and J. Ashton Lough) they have about 30 years of industry experience. Guests have been enjoying the fruits of their craft for years at Pearmund Cellars and Vint Hill Craft Winery.”

Effingham offers Chardonnay, Traminette, Rosé, Norton, Merlot, Meritage, Sparkling Wine and King’s Ransom Reserve for tastings and purchase.

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Goldman said 1,100 Chambourcin vines were planted this spring, and Norton will be added to the vineyard in 2017. Most other grapes used to make Effingham wines are sourced from Virginia with a few grown in California and Washington State.

Pearmund said Effingham offers a little something for everyone: Good wine, good customer service and a unique place for families to visit. In addition to the historic manor house, the grounds include an old slave quarters, a blacksmith shop, well house, smokehouse, brick patio and tiered English gardens.

“Additionally guests will find the oldest concrete swimming pool in the state of Virginia, which has been converted into a scenic koi pond,” she said. “The property and structures at Effingham are on the National Register of Historic Places.” The manor, which was a private residence for most of its existence, will be available for weddings and private events.

As Effingham prepares to open its doors to new visitors, The Winery at La Grange, 4970 Antioch Road, Haymarket, could soon close its doors to the public. Ross Forry, La Grange marketing coordinator, said the current Benoni’s Reserve Wine Club will become private.

“Once that membership reaches 2,500, we will close to the public, and all current members will be grandfathered in at their current price,” he said. “We do not like to refer to it as a private club. What we are doing is taking our wine club and making it the best possible club experience that we can. Part of doing that is closing to the public so that our wine club members can enjoy the winery to its fullest extent.”

The transition, he said, will include changes and improvements to the property.

Until then the 10-year-old winery is open Monday through Friday from noon to 6 p.m., Saturdays from noon to 8 p.m. and Sundays noon to 7 p.m.

“The Winery at La Grange is situated on 20 acres with our 18th-century manor house as the centerpiece of the property,” Forry said. The manor house serves as the main tasting room, surrounded by about 5.5 acres of vines, mostly Cabernet Sauvignon with some Petit Verdot and Petit Manseng.

“Our winemaking philosophy is to make the highest quality wine possible with the best quality grapes that we can obtain,” Forry said. “To that end we use our estate fruit for high-quality Virginia wines and source other high-quality fruit from out of state to supplement our estate wines.”

He said the winery is best known for its reds, including the Meritage, Classic Cabernet Franc and Viognier, and Frenchstyled Chardonnay whites.

“We have a unique wine called the General’s Battlefield Red,” he added. “This wine was first made in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the First Battle of Manassas. It is placed in a special bottle with historical significance and is popular with wine enthusiasts and history buffs alike.”

Dana Alexy of Gainesville has visited often. “We love the atmosphere here with its large shade trees and historic home,” she said. “It’s always a family- and dog-friendly destination for us.”

Beyond Prince William

Dozens of wineries lie within an hour’s drive from any part of Prince William. Although each winery offers visitors a unique experience and selection of wines, some have gained notoriety beyond the immediate region.

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Barrel Oak Winery, 3623 Grove Lane, Delaplane, opened in 2008, and according to proprietor Brian Roeder, the winery has grown in acreage, offerings and activities. Roeder said the winery has expanded from seven acres to 30 with 12 varietals.

“Our house white and red have received numerous medals,” he noted. “We also have Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Viognier, Seyval Blanc and Cabernet Franc, Meritage, Chocolate Lab dessert wine, Norton and the new Madeira style ‘Declaration.’”

The winery is family-friendly and features pony rides throughout the fall. Other scheduled activities include:

  • Stomp-n-Chomp, Sept. 24-25
  • Columbus Day Harvest Events, Oct. 7-10
  • Fall Harvest Festival, Oct. 15-16
  • Halloween Dance Party, Oct. 29

“The views here are breathtaking,” Dana Alexy said. “It is one of our favorites for gathering with friends.” For more information visit barreloak.com.

Owned by Les, Karen and Annette Bell, Cana Vineyards and Winery of Middleburg, 38600 John Mosby Highway, Middleburg, is truly a family affair.

“We were driving down Route 50 around Thanksgiving in 2009. My brother saw the sign first: ‘Dad, land for sale!’” recalled Annette Bell, explaining that her father had a love for land and business development. “He turned his car around immediately and drove up a faint dirt road to the top of the hill. Although it was an overgrown hay field and in the midst of a bleak time of year, he recognized the property’s beauty immediately and declared, ‘This would be perfect for a winery!’” Her parents purchased the land in January 2011, and the winery officially opened on Sept. 22, 2012.

Cana offers many varieties of wine, including reds and whites, as well as apple wines. For reds they are selling Cabernet Franc, Chambourcin, Touriga, Merlot, Nebbiolo and their signature red blend Le Mariage as well as a premium red blend, O Casamento Reserve. They also have a Rosé. For whites they offer Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Seyval Blanc, Traminette, Vidal Blanc, Viognier and a sparkling white wine as well as two reserve white wines, which are both vintages of Albariño. They have three varieties of fruit wine: apple, raspberry apple and blueberry apple.

 

“When my family planned Cana Vineyards, we really wanted it to be a place where people felt welcomed,” Bell said. “When people visit us, we want them to feel like they are our special guests. We also hope they enjoy our wine.”

Elizabeth Linehan of Gainesville said she and her family have enjoyed their visits so much that they’ve become members. “We chose to be members because it is very reasonably priced. But more importantly, we get a ‘free’ date night each month with our membership at the wine club parties, and they are far and away the most kid-friendly winery I have ever been to,” she said. “If we want to go without our kids, they have a whole upper level that is child-free.”

Cana has planned a fourth anniversary celebration Saturday, Sept. 24, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. In addition to live music, local artists and bakeries, they plan to release their first estate wine, a 2015 Petit Manseng. For more information, visit /canavineyards.com. Pearmund Cellars, 6190 Georgetown Road, Broad Run, established in 1976, showcases a 7,500-square-foot geothermal winery and a 25-acre vineyard that produces Chardonnay, Viognier, Riesling, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Ameritage and other award-winning Virginia wines.

“I remember when hearing ‘Virginia wine’ made me cringe a little. Pearmund has won me over, however,” said Allen Blocker of Gainesville. “The wine is wonderful by any standard. The location and facilities at Pearmund provide a perfect backdrop for enjoying these incredible wines with both friends who came with you as well as friends you just met. Chris Pearmund has started a movement that will put Virginia wine on par with the best in the United States. I fully expect to one day see our state commerce slogan changed to ‘Virginia is for wine lovers.’”

Pearmund Cellars offer custom tours (which must be booked in advance) that teach visitors about:

  • Grapes (planting, trellising, harvesting),
  • Wine making (from vine to bottle) and
  • The barrel room (the aging process and barrel stacking systems).

For more information, visit pearmundcellars.com.

Potomac Point Winery, 275 Decatur Road, Stafford has a lot to offer. “Dog Friendly: check! Family Friendly: check! Picnics: check! Food on-site: check!” said Chelsea Sparaco, Potomac Point Winery sales and marketing manager.

She said Potomac Point Winery provides visitors with an onsite bistro called “Le Grand Cru,” which serves a lunch, Sunday brunch and dinner, outdoor dining in a courtyard and patio and indoor seating in the D’vine Lounge and Richland Ballroom.

“From the moment that you drive over our hill and enter the gates of Potomac Point Winery, you are immediately transferred to another place,” she said. “Our Mediterranean estate will make you feel as if you’ve entered Tuscany, only to be up-scaled by our award-winning wines.”

Tania Visconi of Fairfax concurred: “I went on an Air Force Officer Spouse Club wine tasting group trip. We had lunch followed by wine tasting. The winery is large and can easily hold larger group parties/weddings. The food and service were very good.”

Potomac Point opened in 2007 and at any given time offers between 10 and 15 different varietals of wines. “Our most popular white tends to be La Belle Vie White, which is a great fruity patio wine (not too sweet).” Sparaco said. “Our Coyote Cave Red blend has quickly become a popular choice. The subtle fruit flavors and the story of the coyote mom and pup, which we tell on our winery tours, have become a fan favorite.”

Each week features many events, including Wine Lovers Thursday evening happy hour, Friday night music and Sunday brunch. For more information, visit potomacpointwinery.com.

Vint Hill Craft Winery, 7150 Lineweaver Road, Warrenton, is a winery unlike any other. It’s not located in a pastoral setting, but rather in the original dairy barn of the old Vint Hill Farm on a former military installation.

“During World War II, the U.S. Army purchased the farm and converted it into a covert military post but persuaded the farmer to continue with his operations here so that they would be less likely to be found out by enemy forces,” said Jennifer E. Goldman, CTA, Vint Hill general manager. “Our history includes stories of farm life mixed with WWII and the Cold War.”

Within walking distance of the winery is the Covert Café, Green Maple Market, Old Busthead Brewing Co., the Fauquier Community Theatre, a dog park, a beauty salon and more.

“We enjoy visiting the Vint Hill Craft Winery due to its location near our favorite dog park and our favorite craft brewery,” said Kim Strohecker of Gainesville. “We also enjoy picking up a little information on Cold War history that we hadn’t known was in our backyard.”

The winery, which opened in 2009, has a small estate vineyard with about 90 vines. Otherwise, said Goldman, all of the grapes come from outside sources, the majority of which are from within Virginia, but also some from California and Washington State.

She said the winery offers a large variety of wines, including Viognier, Petit Manseng, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Chambourcin and a port-style dessert wine.

“My favorite is a red blend called Enigma,” Goldman said. “It’s named after the equipment used to protect covert military communications, much as our winemaker has protected his secret recipe for this wine. No one knows what’s in it, but we all love it!” For more information, visit vinthillcraftwinery.com.

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The Winery at Bull Run, 15950 Lee Highway, Centreville, was founded at a time most people shied away from real estate purchases. As most Virginians faced the real estate crisis in 2008, Winery at Bull Run owner Jon Hickox and his wife Kim saw opportunity.

“With the real estate market in a full downturn, an opportunity to purchase a 21-acre farm at the edge of Fairfax County, perfectly nestled against the Manassas National Battlefield and Bull Run Creek, presented itself,” he said. “My wife Kim and I took a leap of faith and four years later—and with a lot of hard work and determination—we opened the winery in June 2012.”

Today, the winery encompasses 51 acres of planted vineyards and produces wines from Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Norton, Malbec, Vidal Blanc, Pinot Gris, Viognier, Traminette, Petit Manseng, Riesling and Chambourcin grapes.

Hickox said the most popular wine is Delaney, a white blend named after his oldest daughter.

“Our Viognier and Norton wines, both made from grapes native to Virginia, are quite popular with our guests as well,” he added.

The winery, he said, has two acres of land designated as family-friendly, including a replica of a Civil War era winter quarters that children can explore. For more information, visit wineryatbullrun.com. For an interview with a Prince William local who has been to nearly 100 Virginia wineries, visit princewilliamliving.com/2016/08/virginia-wineries-locals-pointview/.

Marianne Weaver ([email protected]) is a freelance editor and writer. She earned a B.A. in English from the University of Pittsburgh and an M.J. from Temple University. She lives in Gainesville, Va., with her husband and two children.

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