Sunset Hills is one of the most recognizable wineries in Loudoun. After all, how many places have tasting rooms based on a 150 year old barn, renovated by Amish craftsmen?
As one of the larger and more established wineries in the region, it’s also one of the busier ones. Lucky for me, I was able to visit on a Friday when things were relatively slow. I originally arranged a chat with tasting room manager Kevin Donley, but as luck would have it co-owner Mike Canney was around so he sat down with me as well.
Sunset planted its first vines in 1999, with 2005 being their first vintage. Doug Fabbioli was their first winemaker but now that title goes to Corry Craighill – recent winner of the 2019 Loudoun County winemaker of the year. Mike was exceptionally proud how Sunset is an ‘all woman managed winery’, specifically referring to their general manager, vineyard manager, and winemaker. Mike might add his wife Diane to that mix, although the two of them seem to take a hands-off approach to day to day operations.
I was surprised to learn their production of 10,000 cases/year is 100% estate; for a winery this size you’d think they’d need to purchase fruit. But with 5 separate vineyards scattered across the state they are actually in a position to sell fruit. Sunset’s production also covers sister winery 50 West, not far away in Middleburg. Although Corry makes wines from both locations using the same vineyards, she keeps the two wineries stylistically different from one another, to the point that certain grape varietals may only go to one or the other.
After I told Mike I had just come from Creek’s Edge, he explained my current surroundings should seem familiar; after all, Sunset’s barn was refurbished by the same Amish crew that built Creek’s Edge. As I looked from the 2nd floor loft it was impossible not to admire their handiwork; the high vaulted ceilings created sense of spaciousness, even when it was busy. They even had food options in the form of paninis and lighter fare.
The grounds outside are equally spacious; in good weather they have an outdoor tasting barn with a covered fire pit. Mike also gave me a quick tour of their barrel room.
Almost all the wines were made in a dry style, with a few off-dry exceptions. Sadly no Tannat or Petit Verdot on today’s menu!
2017 Chardonnay: Fermented half in steel and half in the barrel. Soft with some creaminess.
NV “Sunset White”: Blend of 50% Traminette, with smaller portions of Viognier, Vidal, and a splash of Albariño. It has less than 1% sugar but it could probably fool a sweet drinker.
2018 Sunset Rose: Surprising complexity for a Rose; 45% Merlot but also Cabernet Franc and some Cab Sauv.
NV Sunset Red: The first of their Bordeaux-blends, but made in a light, easy drinking style.
2016 Cabernet Franc: Kinda fruity with some pepper to it.
2015 Mosaic: Their flagship wine. The nose advertised its complexity before I even had a taste of it. Needless to say this was my favorite.
2014 Dusk: Chambourcin-based port style. Up until this point I thought the Mosaic had the best nose of the bunch, but this definitely came close.