Fifty-Third Winery and Vineyard

The opportunity to visit Fifty-Third (formerly known as Cooper Vineyards) poised an interesting question for me; if a winery rebrands, does it count as a ‘new’ winery on my checklist? I’d been to (and enjoyed) Cooper years back, but hadn’t revisited since they changed names in 2017. As I’m on a quest to visit every winery in Virginia, the opportunity to add another check-mark on my roster was irresistible.

Fifty-Third is so named because – wait for it – it was the 53rd farm winery in the state, planted back in 1999. David and Susan Drillock purchased the winery in 2015 and gradually made it their own. The rebranding was slowly rolled out, and even now their website and Facebook advertises them as Cooper Vineyard.

A new name wasn’t their only adjustment, as around that time the Drillocks hired Chelsey Belvins as their assistant wine maker. A former ‘cellar rat’ who started in the wine industry by cleaning tanks, Chelsey’s resume includes being a former Wine Librarian at Barboursville (which has to be the best library job ever) to recently becoming head wine maker at Fifty-Third.

The change of ownership brought other benefits as well. David and Susan brought with them a 23 acre vineyard in the Monticello AVA, most of which is vinifera. Coupled with the 20 acres on site, they have enough to produce 5000 cases/year of mostly estate wine.

Marie guided me through my tasting. I must have that ‘wine geek’ look about me, because she waived me over as soon as I walked in. The tasting room was PACKED, but we found an empty corner to tell me not only about the wine, but the building itself.

See, their tasting room isn’t just fancy; it’s one of the most eco-friendly tasting rooms on the east coast. We went over the checklist that certified them as “LEED Platinum” and it was impressive; solar panels, geothermal heating-cooling, pellet stoves, recycled wood, the whole shebang. And it looks good!

But time to talk wine!

The tasting menu gives you a tremendous biggest bang-for-your-buck, and the funny thing is she didn’t pour anything that wasn’t already open. I’m glad I didn’t have any follow on events to attend to, as this was more than enough for a day.

We started with 8 white wines, plus a rose. There was something here for every palate, be it the 2018 Albarino with strong lemon notes, the light 2017 Chardonnel, dry 2017 Chardonnay, or 2018 Vidal with orange peel and apricot notes. Rounding out the whites was the Shannon Hill white blend with a nice vanilla nose, and the 2017 Rose made with Chardonnel. All the wines were very wallet-friendly as well.

I was particularly taken by the 2017 Viognier/Chardonnay blend, which had just enough oak to give it some nice mouthfeel. My ‘runner up’ was the 2017 Petit Manseng which was heavy on the tongue and had lots of tropical fruit.

Moving on to the reds, we tried their “Two Springs” red blend, a Cab Franc, Chambourcin, Norton and a Petit Verdot. The PV surprised me as the tannins didn’t overpower the fruit notes, while the Cab Franc was soft for this varietal.  But the biggest surprise was the Norton; ‘Virginia’s most well behaved Norton’ as Marie put it. It was very soft, which she attributes to a splash of Tannat.

Finishing things off were an assortment of sweet/desert wines. At 9% the “Sweet Louisa” was high on sugar and made with some Concord. The “Vida” was an ice-style wine that begs to be paired with desert. The Exodus was a Norton port-style that was super rich – and I liked it a lot. The Red Genesis was another Norton desert wine that had less alcohol content but more sugar.

Last was the bottle that ‘built the new tasting room’, their “Noche” Norton-based chocolate wine. Let me tell you; I’m not a chocolate wine drinker, or a sweet wine drinker in general. In the future I’ll make an exception to this. It was rich and desert-y, kinda like eating a chocolate cheesecake.

Great visit to an exceptional place!

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