Grayhaven Winery

“Is everyone happy?” asked winemaker Deon Abrams, as he came out to check on the growing crowd. If there was a theme of the day, this was it.

Grayhaven is one of the more accessible wineries in the state, located roughly mid-way between Charlottesville and Richmond. Not nearly enough people from NOVA head this way, which is a shame because not only is it a great place on its own, it shares a wine trail with 53rd Winery (another favorite) just north of here.

The first thing you notice is the VIEW! Grayhaven looks something out of a Tolkien novel. Walking towards the tasting room you cross a tiny bridge over a koi pond, then approach a pair of doors that would be at home guarding a castle. There’s even a classic merry go round around the corner. With views like this, it’s understandable why Grayhaven has been used as a filming location for music videos and even a movie – including one with the awesome title of Attack of the Vegan Zombies (because why eat flesh when you can feast on wine grapes?).

Grayhaven is also one of the older wineries in the state, planting its vineyard in 1978 and opening the winery in 1994. Small to mid-sized by Virginia standards (translation: still very boutique), it has 9 acres of vines including Touriga Nacional, Pinotage, Frontenac, and a few other grapes you don’t often see in Virginia.

The vineyard-geek in me shouted for joy I heard about the sheer variety of vines. Pinotage is South Africa’s signature grape – a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault that provides a full bodied, low acid red wine. Touriga is the national grape of Portugal, used as the basis for Port. If you’re itching for a Virginia made wine made with these varietals, this is the place to find them.

Another thing that distinguishes Grayhaven is its South African theme – no doubt because it’s Deon’s birthplace. The Pinotage was definitely a nod to that heritage, but they also sell a variety of South African wines to supplement what the vineyard produces, and host an annual South African festival (well…with the exception of 2020).

What I tried:

‘M A N’ Chenin Blanc: A South African Chenin that was a great value-for-your-money wine. High acid, crisp and light.

‘Villiera’ (Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc blend): Bright and very lemon up front.

‘Blooming White’ (Gewürztraminer, Riesling and Cheinin): Floral, almost spicy notes. Perfect for hot weather.

‘Rendezvous’ (Pinot, Chambourcin and Sauvignon Blanc): This vintage was super light; I detected strawberry notes.

Pinotage: Dion seemed especially happy with this one; fruity, with spice notes on the finish.

Indaba ‘Mosaic’ (South African blend with all 5 Bordeaux grapes): More fruit than I expected. Long finish.

Rivercrest: Touriga/Pinotage blend. Smooth! So good I had to buy a bottle.

I would be remiss in not including a shot of their amazing cheese plate.  The goat cheese with South African chutney was off the charts, but also loved the Tuscan Fontina and Wisconsin Bellavitano. If the South African heritage festival isn’t enough they ALSO host several cheese events every year.

Eastwood Farm and Winery

Eastwood Farm is one of Charlottesville’s newest wineries, opening this past May. I’ve been on their mailing list for a long time and was intrigued by their unique pitch; they have a hiking trail that you can book, in addition to enjoying their wine! It’s a cool idea at any time, but in the midst of a pandemic the idea of a private outdoor walk seems especially appealing.

They serve their own wine (made by Brad Hanson at Prince Michel) but don’t have their own vineyard. But no matter; they make fruit wine out of pears, apples, blackberries, blueberries and sour cherries grown on the property, so they can still boast of having ‘estate’ wine on the menu.

For the time being the ‘tasting room’ is actually an outdoor tent at the top of the hill. Although their main tasting room likely won’t open until October 2020, this location gives them sweeping views of the surrounding area, access to the hiking trail, and lots of outdoor space for social distancing.

My server gave me the lowdown about how family matriarch Athena Eastwood wanted a venture that all their family members could participate in, and after brainstorming the idea they decided on a winery. Dog and kid friendly, ‘family friendly’ is the theme of this location as well.

The tasting menu is on the smaller side, likely due to them being fairly new. My favorite was the Tall Tails fruit wine, which was a blend of apple and pear – that pear shown through even though it had a natural apple sweetness to it. But they were also happy with their Viognier that had hints of honey and a Chardonnay that had a fair bit of (I suspect) new American oak. I was told to expect a Blueberry rosé in the future, which sounds like a good reason to return.

Eventually I sat down and enjoyed a wine slushy while taking in the view.

Finishing My VA Wine Journey

Virginia is said to have around 300 wineries. Actually I count 253…but if you include cideries and meaderies, we’re at 288. There are also several upcoming wineries that have licenses. So…pretty close to 300!

But as of October 14, 2020, I’ve visited ALL OF THEM. That’s right; I’ve visited EVERY ONE of the 253 WINERIES IN VIRGINIA that are open to the public. In addition to those, I’ve also visited 25 cideries and 8 meaderies. If we include wineries that are now closed or rebranded…I’ve visited 281 wineries.

I only count wineries that have tasting rooms which are open to the public. Unfortunately this leaves out several wineries that I love – such as October One Vineyard – but I’m not certain how to include them since they lack a designated tasting room. Neither do I count private wine labels by individual winemakers such as Ben Jordan’s Lightwell Survey, or temporary soft openings in tents such as Chapelle Charlemagne.

Like a crazed OCD gamer who must perform every quest, pick up every piece of loot, search every room, and interact with every character…I need to visit…ALL OF THEM.

Some commonly asked questions:

1) My favorite winery is a toss up; either Linden Vineyards or Arterra Wines. A lot depends on who I visited most recently.

2) My first Virginia winery was Casanel Vineyards and Winery, sometime in I think mid-2013. I credit Katie and Nelson for setting me on the right path from there.

3) My favorite grapes are Tannat, Petit Verdot, and Sauvignon Blanc.

4) I’m a member of Linden, Arterra, and Hiddencroft. I tend to do case-clubs, not full on wine clubs (where they usually pick your wines).

Ironically, I’ve also found myself struggling to define what constitutes a ‘visit’. If a winery is renamed, does visiting that same space constitute a ‘new’ visit? What about producers that lack tasting rooms; how does one ‘cross them off’ in a quest to visit every winery? What about wineries that are seasonal or special-event focused; do those get placed in the same visitation bucket list as the rest?

To narrow the question down of “How many wineries are in the state”, I use the following definition:

For the purpose of defining what constitutes a ‘visit’, a ‘visit’ must include the following criteria; 1) The location visited must produce a fermented beverage described as wine, cider, or mead, 2) it must have a physical tasting location under their control (no farmers markets), 3) it must have defined visiting hours or be available via appointment to the general public, and 4) it must use Virginia ingredients (grapes, apples, honey, or whatever other ingredients the beverage is primarily composed of).

I still track visits to wineries that lack a tasting room or non-Virginia fruit separately. But to qualify for this challenge, I’m using the above criteria.

I’m also tracking cideries and meaderies as sub-categories, as well as wineries that I’ve visited that have since closed.

Exploring Shenandoah Wine

I’m very happy how this article came out! I first learned of the importance of the Shenandoah American Viticultural Area (AVA) while taking classes at the Capitol Wine School. If there’s a place custom-made to grow wine in Virginia, this is it.

See my blog at the Old Town Crier.

https://oldtowncrier.com/2020/08/01/exploring-shenandoah-valley-wine/?fbclid=IwAR1bbRj23VlMqSNABb4u4jTwddshq1kL1YClG96TSUZpEuWiPlX4MK8x7yE