Loudoun’s “Pride in the Vines” Wine Trail

Starting June 1st, fifteen participating Loudoun County wineries are celebrating Pride Month with a special month-long wine trail. Passport holders for “Pride in the Vines” who obtain ten different stamps will be eligible to win a prize drawing which includes private wine tastings, bottles of wine, gear, tickets to events, and tours of the vineyards and wineries.

Pride Month has its roots in the Stonewall riots, which started on June 28, 1969. Coincidentally, Pride in the Vines celebrates a movement that was galvanized at a drinking establishment.

Located in New York’s Greenwich Village, the Stonewall Inn was one of the few local bars that catered to an openly gay clientele despite state laws which made it risky for them to show affection in public. The Stonewall was run by the Mafia, who saw gay bars as a good business opportunity. Police raids against such establishments were common but corrupt officers would typically tip the managers off in advance, allowing business to continue with limited interruptions.

This time was different. Not only was the raid unannounced (possibly due to the police not getting sufficient kickbacks), the patrol wagon responsible for picking up arrested patrons took longer than usual to respond. The gathering crowd became increasingly agitated as they watched the police manhandle those they detained, including those arrested for violating the state’s gender-appropriate clothing statute.

The final trigger was a scuffle between a lesbian woman who was roughly escorted to the awaiting wagon. She fought back, calling on the crowd for support.

The resulting riots (Stonewall veterans prefer the term ‘uprising’) continued for several days. It was a turning point in the gay rights movement, leading to the formation of several new LGBT advocacy groups. The first gay pride parades were held on the 1st anniversary of the riots.

Top left: Paul Armstrong and Warren Richard, Virginia Wine Time

Top right: Paige Poprocky and Holly Richardson, Sips and Trips with Paige

Bottom left: Sydney and Bridgette Smith, Williams Gap and Greenhill wineries

Bottom right: Brian Pace and Chris Sexton, Maggie Malick Wine Caves

How Loudoun’s First Pride Wine Trail Started

The idea behind Pride in the Vines in Loudoun County blossomed with Two Twisted Posts Winery, which has hosted gay pride events since opening in 2014. For the family that owns it, namely Krista Cato, her partner Lynda Dattilo and fellow owners and parents, Theresa and Brad Robertson, the topic is a personal one.

“We wanted to create a safe space for people to gather regardless of their orientation or race,” explained Krista. “From Day 1, we hung a Pride flag. It wasn’t always a smooth journey and we received some hate.

My family decided to host an event to celebrate National Coming Out Day (October 11). We thought about celebrating Pride, but Pride is already a big event in D.C. and we didn’t want to overlap with another important celebration.

We advertised it in a local paper, and they came back to us and asked, ‘Do you really want to publish this?’ And we replied; ‘yes we do!’

So we posted the ad and put out flyers in local businesses. We found a lot of them were afraid to post them out of fear of creating animosity with their customers. But a few did.

Simple things like getting a food truck was difficult. The first two canceled but eventually we found one that would support us.

When the day came, Two Twisted Posts had over 200 people come out from all walks of life. Since it was so well received, we couldn’t imagine not continuing annually.”

More Wineries Involved Than Ever Before

Over time, more wineries joined Two Twisted Posts in celebrating gay pride events. In 2019, Bob and Teri Riggs of nearby Forever Farm Vineyard noticed the Pride flag and asked what they could do to get involved. They were soon joined by Williams Gap Vineyard.

The issue hit home for Bob and Teri, whose son is gay. Teri explained, “My participation is to get families involved. We’re all in it together.”

This trio of wineries hosted an informal Pride trail for several years. But as the world around them became more accepting, the idea of a larger wine trail took shape.

“One of the things we’re learning in this journey is there are other people out there who hear them and see them,” said Bridgette Smith, tasting room manager at Williams Gap Vineyard. “So when I brought it up at the Loudoun Wineries and Winegrowers Association (LWWA) I was surprised how many wineries wanted to participate. I think there are more people out there who are willing to speak out loud to support their neighbors than we realize.”

Krista added, “The support is like 300 times more than when we opened. In the beginning, I don’t remember seeing a Pride flag anywhere. When we started hosting events for National Coming Out Day, we were so focused on the event, we didn’t reach out to anybody.

With the partnership of Forever Farm Vineyard, Williams Gap Vineyard and now so many others, it’s safe to say this year’s Pride in the Vines Wine trail is indicative of the changes that have happened in Loudoun.”

Guests can acquire a passport at any of these participating wineries. For more announcements, see the LWWA webpage at https://www.loudounwine.org/new-events.

  1. 8 Chains North Winery
  2. 868 Estate Vineyards
  3. Bleu Frog Vineyards
  4. Bozzo Family Vineyard
  5. Carriage House Wineworks
  6. Fabbioli Cellars
  7. Forever Farm & Vineyard
  8. Good Spirit Farm
  9. Hillsborough Winery
  10. October One Tasting Room
  11. Two Twisted Posts Winery
  12. Walsh Family Wine
  13. Williams Gap Vineyard
  14. Wine Reserve at Waterford
  15. Zephaniah Farm Vineyard

Opus One At Cheesetique

If you haven’t visited Cheesetique, you’re missing out. While a second location is in Shirlington the OG store is located in Del Ray, part of a row of cute of mom-and-pop restaurants and boutique stores.

One of my favorite evening events are their wine and cheese pairings, which have been on pause since COVID. But while avidly waiting for their return I saw Cheesetique post an event that might be better – the chance to try a flight of Opus One wines.

If you like to drink fancy red wine but never heard of Opus One…you might be living under a rock. For many years an Opus One wine held the record as the most expensive California wine ever sold. Even new releases go for almost $400 a bottle.

So when owner Jill Erber kicked off the event by describing Opus One as “One of the world’s most iconic wines” she wasn’t joking.

While often described as Cabernets Sauvignons, in truth they are left-bank style Bordeaux blends, often using all five noble red grapes. Cab Sauv comprises around 76-86% of the wine, depending on the vintage.

I went in expecting a wine tasting (and some bite-sized snacks). What I didn’t know is that I was getting a full history lesson, as told by one of their brand ambassadors, Emmanuel Padilla.

A Brief History of Opus One

The story of Opus One is really the story of two of the wine industry’s greatest marketers and innovators; Robert Mondavi and Baron Philippe de Rothschild.

Both came from famous wine families. Robert was the first person to open a winery in California since prohibition and went on to become known as the ‘father of California wine’. Baron came from the family that owned Château Mouton Rothschild, the only estate to be accepted as a “First Growth” Bordeaux winery after the initial Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855.

But their legacies were cemented by their ability to bring wine to the masses. In an era where it was customary for vineyards to sell to middlemen, both realized they could increase their profitability and control quality by bottling their own wine and selling it directly to the public.

Both also pioneered the use of lower-cost wine brands in conjunction with their premium ones, so people could have a taste of Napa or Bordeaux without breaking the bank. “Luxury should not be unapproachable,” explained Emmanuel.

It was the 1976 “Judgment of Paris” that brought these men together. This event saw a pair of Napa wines take top honors in a blind tasting (beating one of Baron’s own wines), heralding the ‘arrival’ of Napa in the wine world. Baron realized California was a huge business opportunity, so in 1979 he partnered with Robert with the goal of creating an ultra-premium brand.

Opus One was the fruits of their labor, with the first vintage being produced in 1982.

The Difference Between Bordeaux and Napa

After our history lesson, Emmanuel discussed Opus One’s philosophy. This includes being able to drink your wine immediately, not wait years (sometimes decades) for the wine to settle down. “What are we known for in America?” Robert asked the audience. “Impatience!”

Emmanuel spoke about the scores they’ve earned from the fancy wine magazines but he didn’t dwell on them, comparing wine critics with music critics. After all, Led Zeppelin is one of the greatest rock bands of all time. But were they appreciated when they were touring? No!

He also went into detail about wine growing at Opus One and climate change as a whole. Opus One’s vines point true north to minimize the sun exposure, as they want a longer, cooler ripening season than a fast one that will cause their grapes to bake. Listening to this put me in wine-geek heaven.

Fire (and smoke taint) is another growing problem. While Opus One already harvested their grapes before the 2020 Napa fires broke out, they knew the reputation of a ‘smoke vintage’ could damage the brand. While Emmanuel loves their 2020 vintage, he wasn’t optimistic an Opus One flagship wine would be released from it.

It may seem all we did was listen to Emmanuel talk, in truth we were tasting wine the entire time. Four wines were poured over the course of the evening; three of their flagship “Opus One” wines and a wine from their second label, Overture. This being Cheesetique, of course we had small snacks to go with everything.

The wines:

  1. 2012 Opus One. Expressive nose; rich but not overpowering. Lots of dark fruit with a touch of granite. Blend of 79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Cabernet Franc, 6% Merlot, 6% Petit Verdot, and 2% Malbec.
  2. 2017 Opus One. Similar tasting notes but I thought with more complexity. Bottled sold at this particular event were in magnum, which (I didn’t know) increases their age-ability. 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Cabernet Franc, and 4% Merlot.
  3. 2019 Opus One. Initially I felt this was an obviously young wine but I quickly changed my mind. Complex but still with a nice fruit profile. Reminded me of what the 2012 would have tasted like in its youth. I later realized it had a similar blend; 78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc, 6% Petit Verdot, and 2% Malbec.
  4. Opus One Overture (NV). More approachable. Rounder. From more ripe fruit. This wine could be aged but is really meant to be enjoyed sooner.

I was really lucky to make this event; it sold out in 2 hours but my name was called from the waiting list. For those who weren’t as lucky there will be another event this summer.

Not only will you have the chance to taste these wines, you’ll be able to buy bottles at a comparative discount (but of course still ridiculously high…because it’s Opus One).

The Diversity of Sparkling Wine Blind Tasting

All of my blind tastings have a theme. France vs Virginia. Virginia Tannats vs The World. Cabernet Franc Comparison; ect ect. But it’s almost always a ‘like vs like’ event, even if the regions involved are different.

This time I mixed things up. It was still ‘like with like’ because all were sparkling wines of some sort. Yet it was a departure from my normal blind tastings as these sparklings were about as different as I could possibly make them.

Of our 9 wines, 6 of the wines were traditional-method and 3 were pet-nats. More importantly, all 9 were made with different grapes. We had everything from Albariño to Voskehat.

The Contenders:

  1. Keush Origins, 60% Voskehat / 40% Khatouni, Armenia (traditional method)
  2. Gomes Vineyard, Albariño, California (traditional method)
  3. Horton Vineyards Suil, Viognier, Virginia (traditional method)
  4. Chestnut Oak Vineyard, Sparkling Petit Verdot, Virginia (traditional method)
  5. Stinson Vineyard’s “Farmer’s Rest”, Mourvèdre, Virginia (traditional method)
  6. Hansen-Lauer, Riesling, Germany (Sekt, traditional method)
  7. Early Mountain Vineyard, Malvasia Bianca, Virginia (Pet-Nat)
  8. Guide Wine Chardonel and Peaches, Virginia (Pet-Nat)
  9. Raza, Trajadura, Portugal (Pet-Nat)

What we didn’t have were Chardonnay or Pinot Noir. That was intentional; I wanted to do ‘non-traditional’ wines, and the ones we brought fit the bill.

Obviously, I had help. I had hoped Rich Sullivan of Guide Wines would join us but he couldn’t make it. On the other hand, I had The Sparkle-ist Champagne Club, TheVAWineGirl, Cheers and Chews, and Kyle and Chris Zimmerman of QuaffwithKyle. They were happy to heed the call to help me compare these wines.

I put the pet-nats in the same flight but otherwise all the wines were randomized. We had two flights of traditional method sparklings and a pet-nat flight at the end.

As always – this event was the product of this day, with this group. We could have repeated it the next day and come up with different results. After the 3rd round, we paused for some charcuterie, sushi, and oysters.

We all voted favorite/next favorite/last favorite. 1st choice got 3 points, 2nd choice got 2 points, 3rd choice got 1 point.

Round 1 / Flight 1

  • Bottle #1: Keush Origins, 60/40 blend of Voskehat and Khatouni (Winner)
  • Bottle #2: Gomes Vineyard, Albariño (tied for runner up)
  • Bottle #3: Horton Vineyards, Viognier (tied for runner up)

Excellent start to the event. Each of the three sparklings had something unique about them. Many of us gravitated to the Armenian Keush from the get-go, so this round was more of a contest for the #2 spot between the Virginia Horton Viognier and the California Albariño.

We couldn’t get over how different these three were. It wasn’t just the tasting profile but the finish and acidity.

We picked the Keush as the favorite mostly because it was the most complex of the trio and reminded us of a blanc de blanc in terms of the complexity and brioche notes.

Bottle #1: Keush Origins. The nose presented notes of brioche, which I think caused us to automatically gravitate towards it since it was familiar to sparkling lovers. I found grapefruit on the palate; others said green apple. As it opened up it also had notes of peach.

It may also have been the oldest of the trio (and the day) which contributed to its complexity. I felt it was also ‘big’, which was mostly a compliment but I could see that as being a distraction as well.

Fun fact – this wine came from one of the highest elevation vineyards (5740 feet) in the northern hemisphere!

Bottle #2: Gomes Vineyard. I thought it had a lemon nose, although I heard everything from grapefruit to orange zest. Definitely grapefruit on the palate, maybe citrus as well.

We were in LOVE with the nose of this one. But at the same time, the finish left us disappointed. There was just nothing on the back end. The bubbles also didn’t last very long, comparatively speaking.

I do have to point something out; when I paired this with oysters (which didn’t happen till much later in the day), this was arguably my favorite wine of the event. Those flavors just absolutely popped out with the right seafood.

Bottle #3: Horton Vineyards. Faint citrus nose. Very lemon-y and maybe some minerality.

This was our crowd-pleaser wine. While the Keush I thought was ‘too much’ for some and the Gomes had nothing on the back-end, I felt this was the easiest to drink through-and-through.


  • Christina: 1/2/3
  • Kyle: 1/3/2
  • Lieven: 1/3/2. Loved the brioche and complexity. Loved the nose of #2 but it dropped off.
  • Lindsay: 1/2/3. Thought #1 was complex and was ‘never bored’ with it. #2 was very bright.
  • Matt: 1/2/3
  • Stephanie: 1/3/2

Round 1 / Flight 2

  • Bottle #4: Chestnut Oak, Petit Verdot (runner up)
  • Bottle #5: Stinston Vineyard, Mourvèdre (winner)
  • Bottle #6: Hansen-Lauer, Riesling (3rd place)

This was a really tough round to pick a favorite. If wines of the first round were different, this was REALLY different. What made it especially difficult is many of us had never tried these wines before, so we didn’t know what to expect.

There wasn’t any chart to rate ‘best’ here; it all came down to personal preference. Stinson came out as the favorite by a tiny hair, but a one-vote change could have resulted in a 3-way tie.

Bottle #4: Chestnut Oak Vineyard. We immediately noticed an orange tint to the color. On the palate there was a lot going on, which made it difficult to identify. Aromatic and flavorful.

Someone said the wine was ‘confused’ as to what it wanted to be, but ironically that wasn’t meant as a bad thing. It was just not what we’d expected from a sparkling.

Bottle #5: Stinson Vineyard. I found grapefruit on the nose and palate. Maybe a little yeasty? Others said they detected notes of white peach and lemon. Balanced. Some brioche notes.

I had lots of opinions on its complexity. Some felt it was well balanced but others felt there was just a lot going on, almost too much.

Bottle #6: Hansen-Lauer. One of the most acidic wines of the day. Mineral-y; someone mentioned it reminded him of a Greek wine. Some brioche notes came out eventually.

Not a lot going on for the nose, but overall a pleasant wine.


  • Christina: 5/4/6. Liked all of them, but for different reasons.
  • Kyle: 5/6/4
  • Lieven: 6/5/4/. Loved the acidity of #6, even if it wasn’t as complex. Thought #5 was good all-around, with depth and complexity.
  • Lindsay: 4/6/5. Felt food impacted the choices here.
  • Matt: 4/6/5. Tough choice. Could have gone for any of these. But since #4 was ‘big’ and different, that put it over the top for me.
  • Stephanie: 5/6/4

Round 1 / Flight 3

  • Bottle #7: Early Mountain, Malvasia Bianca (runner up)
  • Bottle #8: Guide Wine, Chardonel and peaches (last place)
  • Bottle #9: Raza, Trajadura (winner)

This was our pet-nat round. If I had thought about it more carefully I would have done this round first…but it’s a blind tastings, so where’s the fun in that?

Granted, pet-nats are sparkling wines. But make no mistake – there’s a world of difference between a pet-nat and a traditional method sparkling. I wondered exactly how different this round would be from the earlier one, but there was no mistaking the difference.

Pet-nats are fun, easy drinking wines for when you just want bubbles. So putting them at the end of a round of ‘serious’ traditional method sparklings did them tasting notes a disservice. After we took a food break we revisited some of them and enjoyed them more just for what they were.

Bottle #7: Early Mountain Vineyard. Pale gold color. “Pithy” was mentioned. I thought it had a peach cider quality to it.

Bottle #8: Guide Wine. Bold gold color. I swore the nose reminded me of walking into an apple orchard. I thought I detected some faint hops.

Bottle #9: Raza. The cloudiest of the trio. Little bit of peach but more stone fruit. Had some grassy-ness to it initially. The bubbles also lasted the longest.

We seemed to gravitate towards it because it was the most like a méthode traditional sparkling.

  • Christina: 9/7/8
  • Kyle: 9/7/8
  • Lieven: 9/7/8
  • Lindsay: 7/9/8
  • Matt: 9/7/8
  • Stephanie: 9/7/8

Round 2 / Final

  • Bottle #1: Keush Origins, Voskehat and Khatouni blend (winner)
  • Bottle #5: Stinston Vineyard, Mourvèdre (runner up)
  • Bottle #9: Raza, Trajadura (3rd place)

We took a food break after the 3rd round. The wines that didn’t go to the finalist round were finished off with a mix of sushi, oysters, stuffed clams, and charcuterie.

Our palates were getting fatigued at this point so no real tasting notes.

In the end, Wine #1/Keush was the winner of the day. We were enthralled with its complexity and brioche notes. It seems there’s just something about brioche that screams ‘sparkling wine’, so whenever we detected it, that became our favorite.

Wine #5/Stinson Mourvèdre was the runner-up. I asked winemaker Rachel Stinson Vrooman about it, and she explained that the decision to make it was completely based on necessity.

It’s from the 2020 vintage, which was the year they got heavily frosted. Mourvèdre survived since it’s a late-budding varietal so it was the only block they didn’t lose.

Even so, Rachel struggled on what to use it in. She loved the flavors, and the low ripeness made it a good candidate as a sparkling. It was such a hit they’ve been making it ever since.

  • Christina: 1/5/9. Loved the brioche notes of #1
  • Kyle: 1/5/9. Thought #1 was the most complex.
  • Lieven: 1/5/9. Liked the acidity and complexity of #1
  • Lindsay: 5/1/9
  • Matt: 5/1/9
  • Stephanie: 1/5/9

Lessons learned:

It’s tough to write up a ‘lessons learned’ in an event that by default was always meant to be experimental. Most of these wines were brand new to us. I had no expectations what to expect, so there wasn’t really any benchmark meant to be reached.

But breaking it down, I’d say this event demonstrated two things.

First, there *really is* a huge diversity in sparklings. If you’ve never tried an Armenian wine, try it! Mourvèdre; seriously, who would have thought? Sparkling Petit Verdot? Get out of town!!!

Second, for as diverse a lineup we had, our palates seemed to gravitate towards the familiar. Wines that were stylistically similar to traditional method sparklings – especially ‘familiar’ blanc de blanc or blanc de noir nearly always won out over ‘non-traditional’. If it had brioche, it went to the top of the list of favorites.

These factors worked against the pet-nat round. In retrospect I really should have done pet-nats totally separately, but was curious how they stood up in a comparison. Sadly they didn’t – but it’s not their fault.

On their own I think we would have enjoyed them more, but coming off a round that included some excellent traditional method wines we seemed more down on them than they deserved.

Capstone Vineyards

If there was a prize for great neighborhoods to open a winery, Capstone Vineyards would be in the finalist round. With Crimson Lane Vineyards literally next door and Linden Vineyards down the road, this town is something of a winelovers mecca.

These wineries all recognized something crucial; these hills have great soil. New owner Theo Smith put it this way; “With dirt like this, making wine is easy. All I have to do is not screw it up.”

Capstone opened in February 2019, although it’s been so under-the-radar few people knew about it. That was by design; founders Dave Adams and Andrea Baer only made one small batch of wine from their 2015 and 2016 vintages (produced by Jim Law at Linden, no less). All subsequent harvests was sold to Early Mountain Vineyards (EMV). They accepted visitors by appointment only, slowly selling off their remaining stock but not making more.

EMV labeled all of Capstone’s fruit under a series of vineyard-specific bottles. This is high praise; EMV knew this was a quality vineyard, and this limited production seemed to sell out so fast that non-members like myself couldn’t get their hands on anything.

Eventually Dave and Andrea decided to move on. Both Theo and EMV were interested in purchasing the vineyard, but eventually the owners decided to go with Theo. Capstone changed hands in December 2022.

The first thing that visitors experience is a long, steep driveway to the small tasting room which overlooks the vineyard. The vines are south facing, which maximizes sun exposure. The steep slope tops out 1500 feet, so it has excellent drainage. Right now, they have 12 acres of mostly Bordeaux varietals planted (with room to expand), plus some rows of Roussanne, Chenin and Muscat Ottonel.

The tasting room is tiny, but some improvements have been made. One of Theo’s first moves was to install a new deck and put some tables outside. Now it’s a lot easier to take in the fantastic view, which includes a look at Avenius vineyard just a few hills over. Theo expects to eventually build a new further up the hill, but making a wine production facility takes priority.

Theo greeted me and poured a glass of sparkling before running off to take care of another customer. Eventually things settled down enough to take me through a tasting, where I was able to pepper him with questions. Turns out that he’s from Nova Scotia and originally had a job in the cancer research field. But Theo wasn’t so keen on office life and eventually made his way into winemaking.

Local winelovers may recognize his name; until very recently Theo was the winemaker at nearby Rappahannock Cellars for over a decade. Theo described his time there as a fantastic learning experience, overseeing its transition from a 6,000 case/year facility to one making over 30,000 cases/year (plus adding a sparkling program).

But being a winemaker is one thing; being an owner seemed the natural evolution of the job. So when Capstone became available, he jumped at the opportunity.

Right now Capstone is only serving 4 wines; two of the original 2016-vintage red blends (one Cabernet Franc-heavy, the other Merlot-heavy), a sparkling he made from Monticello fruit, and a still-unlabeled Chenin-Chardonnay blend.

Of the lineup, my favorite was the Chenin blend, which had a delicious creaminess to it. The runner up would be either the 2016 Fielder’s Choice but the sparkling was nice as well.

As 2023 will be his first vintage using Capstone fruit, it will likely take a while for them to make their own wines. But the Chenin blend was promising, and I’m hopeful Capstone will have some great whites coming out in another year.

Theo seemed especially psyched about his future sparklings. Rappahannock had a great sparkling program and he learned directly from Claude Thibault. With a background like that, things seemed really promising.

Right now Theo is running the entire tasting room by himself, so things were a little hectic. But he knows he has a great location, so he’ll get more help as the word gets out.

* This is an update to my January 2020 blog on the same location, but with the previous owners.