Hampton Roads Vineyard has one of the best marketing ideas I’ve ever seen in the Virginia wine industry. After a long search for a good place to open a winery/vineyard, in 2008 David Sheldon and his wife Dianne found their future home in a rural area halfway between Richmond and Norfolk. He called it a retirement plan, – although I hate calling it that because owning a winery is a LOT of work.
The property had a lot of history, including a house once owned by a famous carriage maker and horse enthusiast. It’s also good for growing alfalfa and raising Red Angus cattle. But you know what David decided it needed to complete things? A goat tower.
Say again? A WHAT?
That’s right – Dave got the idea from a book named “The Greatest Wineries in the World” which included a picture of a goat tower at a South African winery. That planted an idea how he could distinguish Hampton Roads from all the other wineries in the state. The 34-foot goat tower is his own design, and is the largest such structure in the world. Visitors can’t go inside, but they can watch the goats run up and down the steps.
The goat tower is fun, but I was just as taken with the tasting room. Inspired by the trade of his home’s original owners, the building outwardly looks like a carriage house. It’s quite spacious inside, and being decorated with the works of local artists is a nice touch.
While some come for the goat tower – they stay for the wine. Visitors are a mix of locals as well as travelers from Williamsburg and Norfolk. So to satisfy this crowd, Dianne makes an assortment of wines ranging from on the sweet side to bold and dry. All in all they make 2-3000 cases/year using their 15 acres of vines. All their wine is made in steel, although a handful received some oak from wooden staves.
For the white wines, my favorite was the 2017 Chardonnay. Fermented in steel, it was light and easy drinking (I think I detected notes of pear). I also tried the “White Oak White” white blend which had grassy notes and a bigger mouthfeel, the Simply Seyval that was higher in sugar and more citrusy, and finishing the lighter wines was the Norton Blush which had a GREAT nose and color.
Moving on to the reds, I started with the 2018 Merlot and moved to the 2018 Petit Verdot. But my favorite? This sounds odd…but my favorite was their Hog Island Sweet Red – a Norton heavy blend. Now, I don’t typically like either Norton or sweet wines. But you know what? There was something about this that just hit the right spot!
Next time you’re visiting Norfolk or Williamsburg, swing on by. You might even be able to get a tour of the goat pen.