One of the benefits of going to big tasting events is it exposes me to Virginia wineries from all over the state. At one such event I found a bottle of 2015 Cabernet Franc from Stanburn, and quickly snatched it up for my Cab Franc-loving mother. But I admit – I almost kept it from myself, as at that point I’d never visited Stanburn and wanted to know what I was missing. Fortunately, my trip to southern Virginia allowed me to find out.
Many wineries have a fun story about how they got started, but I think Stanburn’s takes the cake. Family patriarch Nelson Stanley got the idea of starting a vineyard from…plumbing. That’s right; he was doing the plumbing for nearby Chateau Morrisette when he heard they needed more grapes. Nelson figured he had the land to do it, so in 1999 he planted his first vines.
Like many others in the wine business, the vineyard eventually turned into a full-fledged winery. At 1300-1500 cases/year it’s still on the small side; to purchase bottles you’d either have to visit their tasting room, go to a local festival, or make the trek to The Virginia Tasting Cellar in Farmville. Now Stanburn’s vineyard is at 19 acres, about half hybrids and half vinifera – including 2 acres of Barbera.
Mike Shaps was their first winemaker, but that position has since been taken over by Jocelyn Kuzelka, a local and long-time friend of the family. If you haven’t heard of her give it time. She also consults for Albemarle CiderWorks.
After chatting a bit David Stanley let me try the entire tasting menu…and I think a few additional ones after that. Thank goodness I pace myself for these events!
White wines: We started with their dry and sweet-style Vidals, the “Highfly” Traminette/Vidal semi-sweet blend, a full Traminette, and a Chardonnay. My favorite was the regular Traminette, which was dry and well balanced.
But the most interesting story was that of the Highfly – named after the horse ridden by Civil War General J.E.B. Stewart (a native of these parts). It was definitely an easy drinking white, but calling it a ‘festival wine’ would be an insult. Everything about this wine was just on target. For $15 I also thought it was a total steal.
Red wines: I liked both the 2015 and 2017 Cabernet Francs; the first had some good body and complexity, while the 2017 was lighter and spicier. The 2017 Poorhourse was a 100% sweet-ish Chambourcin. We ended with the 2017 “Big A”, a very nice Chambourcin/Cab Franc blend.
My favorite reds though was a special tasting of their 2018 Barbera and 2016 Chambourcin. Barbera is rare in Virginia, and 2018 was a rough year in general. But that Barbera was soft, fruity, and subtle. It was young but easily can be enjoyed now.
The most surprising though was that Chambourcin. Most wines of this varietal tend to be too light and fruity for me – but not this one. It had fruit, but also a very noticeable smokiness to it that I honestly don’t think I’d ever seen in a Chambourcin before.
Southern Virginia isn’t (yet) known as a major wine destination, and when wine is discussed it’s probably better known for producing wines on the sweet side. But from what David showed me that reputation needs to be revisited!