An Introduction To Virginia Wine

Virginia has the distinction of being both one of America’s oldest wine regions and an emerging one. The first wines produced in the Thirteen Colonies were grown in the late 1750s at plantations near the Chesapeake Bay. Decades later, Thomas Jefferson established himself as America’s foremost oenophile due to his love of French wine and doomed attempts to grow vines at his estate in Monticello.

Today, Virginia has over 300 wine brands and almost 4,400 acres of vines. While 82% of these vines are vinifera (mostly Bordeaux red grapes and Chardonnay), Virginia wine is increasingly looking outside Bordeaux varieties to guide the state’s future.

Virginia is also punching above its weight in terms of quality. In 2022 Wine Enthusiast announced it was dropping emerging areas around the country. Virginia made the cut (along with California, Washington, Oregon and New York) despite making less than 0.3% of the nation’s wine production.

Yet relatively few people have heard of Virginia wine, despite these laurels. That’s because of a combination of two intertwined factors; price and production.

Most Virginia wineries make under 3,500 cases/year; only a handful produce more than 40,000 cases/year. The boutique nature of the business means wineries seldom achieve the economy of scale necessary to compete in the $25 and under market. Even if they wanted to distribute, limited production means there’s little to spare.

Fortunately, the industry’s proximity to some of the nation’s wealthiest counties makes agro-tourism a strong driver for growth, which is why most Virginia wine is sold in the tasting room. Over 100 wineries are just over an hour’s drive from D.C. or Northern Virginia. More are located in the scenic Shenandoah Valley, historic Charlottesville, and beyond.

Virginia is geographically and arguably stylistically a middle-ground between California and France, but local winemakers are quick to point out the state’s unique growing conditions makes copying either of these areas nearly impossible.

Probably the most daunting challenge is the state’s hot, humid weather, abetted by copious amounts of rain. The best-performing varieties have qualities which mitigate the resulting rot and disease pressure, so grapes with thick skin and loose clusters are favored. Likewise, vineyards with excellent drainage are a must.

This has resulted in the widespread adoption of hardy grapes, with Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot the most planted reds. Ironically, Virginia’s two most popular red varieties are ones Bordeaux considers minor blending grapes.

Other popular grapes tend to be site-specific. Cabernet Sauvignon typically only achieves ripeness when planted on rocky soil, while fragile Pinot Noir is only found in a handful of ‘goldilocks’ vineyards that possess just the right conditions. Fortunately, Merlot does well in Virginia’s clay-based soil, and Chardonnay is a reliable workhorse (as long as there’s no late spring frost).

Meanwhile, many obscure warm-weather varieties are gaining prominence. Two decades ago Virginia helped lead a worldwide renaissance in Viognier, a Rhône grape once threatened with extinction. More recently it became the world’s second-largest home of Petit Manseng, a high acid grape found in southern France. Tannat is gaining recognition in national wine competitions, and sometimes added to give blends color and tannin. Even Albariño is finding a home.

Virginia isn’t tied to any particular style. If it grows well here, someone is likely making a wine out of it.

So – if you’re looking to try a Virginia wine, what should you get?

Old World style expressions of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, or Bordeaux blends can be found at Virginia’s better-known producers, such as Barbourville Vineyards, Linden Vineyards, and Michael Shaps. But people looking for something uniquely reflective of Virginia should try its single-varietal Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Petit Manseng, or Viognier, found all over the state.

That said, it’s unfair to pigeonhole Virginia into just a few categories. In the past year alone Barboursville’s Fiano won best Italian White at the 2022 San Francisco International. Muse Vineyard’s Roussanne was Best White in Show at the 2023 San Diego Wine and Spirits competition. Three of the past four years Trump Winery’s sparklings earned Best in Class wins at the San Francisco Chronical wine competition. The list goes on.

If there’s one take away for Virginia wine, it’s this is an industry that knows how to innovate. One local winery remarked how Virginia attracts ‘real’ winemakers, as they’ve learned to adapt to massive weather swings not just year-to-year but even within the same season. Virginia still considers itself a young wine region, but its producing results.

2023 Virginia Governor’s Cup Recap

At the conclusion of a packed gala, Governor Glen Youngkin awarded Delfosse Vineyards and Winery the 2023 Virginia Governor’s Cup for its 2021 Screaming Hawk Meritage (50% Petit Verdot/30% Cabernet Sauvignon/10% Cabernet Franc/10% Malbec).

Located in the town of Faber, Delfosse (aka Mountain & Vine) is a good 30-minute drive from Charlottesville and part of the Nelson 29 Wine Trail. It’s a beautiful location, and I’ve long thought Delfosse has done an especially great job with their red blends.

The Screaming Hawk’s dominant component is Petit Verdot. While this grape does great in Virginia as a single-varietal wine, it’s becoming just as popular as the star component of red blends instead of its traditional place as a blending background singer. Over the past decade PV has largely supplanted Cabernet Sauvignon as the variety winemakers rely upon to contribute tannin and body.

2023 Virginia Governor’s Case

  1. Delfosse Vineyards and Winery, 2021 Screaming Hawk Meritage (Cup Winner) (50% Petit Verdot/30% Cab Sauv/10% Cab Franc/10% Malbec)
  2. 50 West Vineyards, 2020 Petit Manseng
  3. Barboursville Vineyards, 2021 Vermentino Reserve
  4. Barren Ridge Vineyards, 2017 Petit Verdot
  5. Jefferson Vineyards, 2021 Petit Manseng
  6. Jefferson Vineyards, 2019 Meritage (45% Merlot/40% Petit Verdot/12% Cab Franc/3% Malbec)
  7. Mountain Run Winery, 2021 Petit Verdot
  8. Paradise Springs Winery, 2021 Petit Verdot
  9. Pollak Vineyards, 2017 Meritage (60% Cabernet Franc/24% Merlot/16% Petit Verdot)
  10. Trump Winery, 2019 New World Reserve (45% Merlot/30% Cabernet Franc/15% Petit Verdot/10% Malbec)
  11. Trump Winery, 2016 Blanc de Noir
  12. Williamsburg Winery, 2019 Petit Verdot Reserve

Albemarle CiderWork’s Orchard Blush, their first cider rosé, took the prize for top cider.

This year’s Governor’s Case focused on varieties which perform exceptionally well in Virginia, especially Petit Verdot (4 entries) and Petit Manseng (2 entries). Around the world these grapes barely get noticed, but they are leaders in Virginia. Notably, all four of the Case’s red blends (from Delfosse, Jefferson, Pollock, and Trump) have at least some PV.

In fact, only 2 wines in the Case didn’t use a grape named ‘Petit’: Barboursville’s Vermentino Reserve and Trump Winery’s Blanc de Noir. The Vermentino made its sixth entry into the Case over the past seven years. Trump winemaker Jonathan Wheeler contributed his third consecutive sparking to the Case in as many years.

Looking outside the Case, this year saw a record 142 Gold Medals spread amongst 614 entries. Half the medals went to red blends (29), Petit Verdot (24), Cabernet Franc (17) and Petit Manseng (11).

Initial Take-Aways

1. Hidden Gems Win Big – Delfosse, Mountain Run, and Altillo: I’m happy to see smaller, sometimes more out-of-the-way wineries get recognized for the great things they do.

Delfosse scored their first Governor’s Cup win. It shouldn’t be a surprise; they’ve earned 6 Gold medals at the Cup in 3 years; 3 of them in 2023 alone. It’s the definition of an ‘underrated’ winery.

Mountain Run also had a big night. Located just outside Culpeper, I believe this was their first-time submitting wines in the Cup. They did fantastic for their first Cup rodeo, scoring 3 Golds and a place in the Governor’s Case for their Petit Verdot.

While the wine is under Mountain Run’s label, the PV that went into the Case was actually produced by Eric Schenkel of Altillo Vineyards in southern Virginia.

Altillo sells fruit and makes many of Mountain Run’s wines (as well as other wineries), in addition to their own estate wine. Few wineries are as off the ‘beaten path’ as this one is.

If there’s a “Lesson Learned” here its winery-lovers need to explore more, or they’ll miss great wineries like these three. It’s all too easy to stick to better known wine trails in Charlottesville and Loudoun or stick with famous producers like Michael Shaps or Mattieu Finot.

But for all their fame, few ‘big names’ wineries that are perineal contenders got into the Governor’s Case. So take a chance to get out to smaller places; Virginia is full of ‘hidden gems’ like these.

2. Petit Verdot For the Win: If there’s a grape that dominated this year’s competition, it’s Petit Verdot. Full Petit Verdot wines took 24 Golds this year, almost as many (25) as the past 4 Governor’s Cup competitions combined. 4 of these wines went into the Case; another record high.

PV was a component of the Case’s 4 red blends as well. The winning Delfosse 2021 Screaming Hawk was made with 50% PV. The other three bottles contained anywhere from 15%-40% PV.

This grape’s popularity has exploded over the past decade. In 2021 Virginia had 173 acres in the ground, but as of 2021 with 445 acres it is now easily the 3rd most planted grape in the state (after Cab Franc and Chardonnay).

3. Petit Manseng is the Cup’s ‘Runner Up’ Grape: 11 PMs took Gold; 2 of these went on to places in the Case. Both were new records.

Much like Petit Verdot, Petit Manseng is a grape that thrives in Virginia’s terroir. With thick skin and loose clusters, Petit Manseng don’t mind the state’s humid weather. A decade ago there was only 68 acres in the state. But as of 2021 that number grew a whopping 161%, making it the 9th most planted variety in Virginia.

Honorable Mentions:

1. Hybrid Grapes: No case entries (yet), but table wines made with hybrid grapes had a banner year.

Chambourcin and Vidal earned three Golds each, and Chardonel took home another Gold. The count is higher if you include dessert and sparkling wines made with hybrid grapes.

Hybrids rarely get a lot of love in major competitions, but I’m hopeful this will change over time. Not only are wine drinkers becoming more accepting of hybrid grapes, but winemakers are also willing to treat them with the same dedication they show vinifera.

2. Diversity of Grapes & Styles: Rosemont Vineyards & Walsh Family: I was really happy to see some favorites of mine get recognized, especially for wines/styles that are new to the Cup.

Walsh’s Chenin Blanc is the first wine of this variety to earn Gold at the Cup. Rosemont’s Chambourcin-based Sparking Extra Brut Sparkling Rosé also took Gold.

I mention these wineries not just because they are great, but they demonstrate the breadth of grapes and styles Virginia has the capacity to produce. I’d never heard of Chenin in Virginia until a few years ago. Now, 5-6 wineries offer one.

Sparkling wine has likewise taken off in the state. While producers including Trump, Veritas, and Thibaut-Janisson produce excellent Methode Champenoise-style wines, the ease of producing Pét-nat and Charmat-style wines has made these styles popular with smaller producers.

3. Cabernet Franc: No Case entries, but 17 Golds isn’t bad. It’s the most planted grape in Virginia for a reason.

4. Gold…Lots of Gold: 142 Gold Medals was a new record. Judges emphasized how every year the quality of the entries has improved.

King Family rocked with 7 Gold medals, Paradise Springs took home 6 Gold (and winemaker Rob Cox made 2 Gold-winning wines for Williams Gap), Pollock and Trump both earned 5 (and spots in the Governor’s Case), and Michael Shaps won a boatload of Golds.

Just as importantly, smaller wineries also got due recognition, including (but not limited to) Narmada (4), Bluestone (3), Delfosse (3), and Mountain Run (3) bringing home major hauls.

Virgina Wine Punching Above its Weight in Major Competitions

If the Virginia wine industry is to grow, it needs to increase its brand recognition. One way to do that is for Virginia to showcase its wines at major wine competitions.

Wins at such competitions burnish their winery’s reputation, but it’s more than that. Honest critical feedback from judges (which isn’t a given in all events) help winemakers hone their craft. Good press also shine a light on the Virgina wine industry as a whole.

Tales about Virginia’s big wins isn’t a matter of local wineries boasting amongst themselves. When Wine Enthusiast reduced the number of wine regions it covers, it’s a tribute to local quality that Virginia coverage was retained (alongside California, New York, Oregon, and Washington State) even as the publication dropped other emerging regions including Maryland, Michigan, and Texas. This for a state that produces less than 0.3% of the nation’s wine production.

Some of these award-winning wines can be found at the Virginia Governor’s Cup or smaller regional events, but not always. Low inventory and financial costs usually force winemakers to be choosy, limiting their ability to participate at multiple venues. The former is especially important given most Virginia wineries make under 3,500 cases/year.

Even so, the prestige of participating in certain events sometimes makes the cost worth it. Ankida Ridge’s pinor noir received a huge boost after it became the first Virginia winery to be invited to the International Pinot Noir Celebration (IPNC). Chateau O’Brien helped raise tannat’s profile in Virginia after it became one of the few American attendees at the Concurso Internacional Tannat Al Mundo award, the premiere event for tannat wines.

Some of these wins are in varieties that Virginia is becoming closely identified with, such as cabernet franc or petit verdot. But most of these wins use traditional Bordeaux grapes, and several others trophies are for varieties that are rare even in Virginia.

This list is not meant to be all-inclusive but does list a fair number of national and international competitions Virginia wine has participated at during the most recent wine judging season. For brevity I only list wines that scored Best in Show, Best in Class, or Double Gold awarded since August 2022.

2022 American Wine Society Commercial Wine Competition

  • Granite Heights 2017 Cabernet Franc (Double Gold/Best in Class)
  • Three Creeks Winery 2021 Petit Manseng (Gold/Best in Class)
  • Doukénie Winery 2019 Petit Verdot (Double Gold)
  • Horton Vineyards Cotes d’Orange (Double Gold)

2022 Atlantic Seaboard Wine Association (ASWA)

  • CrossKeys 2019 Blanc de Noirs (Best in Show)

2022 International Eastern Wine Competition

  • Bluestone Vineyards 2019 Cabernet Franc (Double Gold)
  • Bluestone Vineyards 2017 Blue Ice (Double Gold)
  • CrossKeys Vineyards 2020 Joy White (Double Gold)
  • Pearmund Cellars 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon (Gold/Best in Class)

2022 International Women’s Wine Competition

  • Grey Ghost Vineyards 2019 Reserve Chardonnay (Best in Class)
  • Narmada Winery 2019 Cabernet Franc (Best in Class)

2022 TexSom

  • Pearmund Cellars 2021 South River Vineyard Petit Manseng (Best in Class)

2023 San Diego International

  • Muse Vineyards 2021 Roussanne (Best White in Show)

2023 San Francisco Chronical Wine Competition

  • Trump Vineyards 2016 Sparkling Reserve (Best in Class Brut)

2022 San Francisco International Wine Competition

  • Barboursville Vineyards 2021 Reserve Fiano (Best Italian White)
  • Bluestone Vineyards 2017 Blue Ice (Traminette) (Best In Class, Ice Wine)
  • Barboursville Vineyards 2021 Sauvignon Blanc (Double Gold)
  • Barrel Oak Vineyards 2021 Pinot Gris (Oregon fruit) (Double Gold)
  • Bluemont Vineyards 2021 Signature Petit Manseng (Double Gold)
  • Ingleside Vineyards 2019 Petit Verdot (Double Gold)
  • Jefferson Vineyards 2019 Jefferson’s Own Estate Reserve White Wine (Double Gold)
  • Maggie Malick Wine Caves 2020 Kaleidoscope (Double Gold)

A Guide to Chocolate and Wine Parings

If you write about wine long enough, it’s inevitable you’ll eventually write a Valentines-themed guide on chocolate and wine parings. Well, here’s mine!

Chocolate and wine are delicious on their own but are a tough pair to match. But here are some tips on how to do it.

To read the full article, click here.

Wine & Country Life: Linden Vineyards

My latest article on Linden Vineyards is now published – and it’s the cover story of the print version of Wine & Country Life!

Sometimes I feel like my social media can be nicknamed the ‘Jim Law Fanboy Club’ because Linden wines are featured so often. As a wine writer I try to cover multiple areas, and too much fanboying on one winery makes it tougher to cover everything else.

That said, it’s tough to overstate Jim’s influence on Virginia wine. He’s idolized by his fellow winemakers and his Hardscrabble Journal blog has a wealth of information on the growing season, pruning techniques, and ‘mentor wines’.

In our interview we covered everything from how he found the Virginia wine scene to his thoughts on hybrid grapes (not precluding more but hasn’t planted anything beyond Vidal), Linden’s test vineyard (fingers crossed we may see Fiano in the future), the ‘vine-soil relationship’ (drainage is essential so you need to plant on the right soil), and why he prefers ‘wine grower’ not ‘wine maker’.

Fortunately, there’s plenty here for non-wine geeks. Not many people know how his father’s chance sampling of a Chablis wine was the starting point for his love of wine, and how he strongly considered going to Oregon but instead chose a Shenandoah winery named Tri-Mountain because he loved the idea of exploring what was (and to an extent still is) virgin terroir.

To read the current issue (page 24)

Meet the New Owners: Barrel Oak, Fox Meadow, and Sunset Hills

It never ceases to amaze me how people are willing to pursue a dream in the wine industry. But Kavelle and Ken Bajaj of Barrel Oak Winery, Amanda and Whiticar Darvill of Fox Meadow Winery, and Chris and Katie Key of Sunset Hills Vineyard all took the plunge in 2022.

While no two stories of ‘why I bought a winery’ are the same, they often rhyme. For the Darvills and Keys, their first dates were at wine tastings. For the Kavelle Bajaj, it was her farm roots. For all of them, it’s a love of wine.

I’m really looking forward to how these new owners elevate Virginia wine.

Click the link below –

The 2022 Virginia Wine Year In Review

As 2022 closes Virginia has (by my count) 266 winery tasting rooms, 31 cideries, and 11 meaderies. It also has over 26 brands that sell their wine/cider/mead to the public but lack a physical tasting room.

11 new wineries (plus 2 tasting rooms from existing wineries) opened in 2022, a number on par with annual growth in the Virginia wine industry. An additional 5 wine brands opened for direct sales or can be found at a partner location (notably Walsh Family Wine, which hosts ‘Bar Takeovers’ for small brands that lack a tasting room).

6 wineries (Castle Gruen, Dry Creek, Five Oaks Vineyard, Hunt’s Vineyard, Thatch and Whitebarrel) closed, will close, or rebranded in 2022.

2022 also saw a number of major wineries being sold, with new owners at Barrel Oak, Capstone, Sunset Hills/50 West, and Fox Meadow. These come in the wake of the sale of Three Fox Vineyards and 8 Chains North, which changed hands in 2020 and 2021, respectively.

2022’s Major Trends and Events

1. Growing representation in local winemaking: Melanie Natoli of Cana Vineyards made history in 2022 by becoming the state’s 2nd female Virginia Governors Cup winner (and its 1st under the Cup’s post-2011 rigorous judging system). Maggie Malick and Rachel Stinson Vrooman also had wines selected for the 2022 Governor’s Case.

Not to let be outdone by its neighbor, Maryland winemaker Lauren Zimmerman of Port of Leonardtown joined Melanie by winning both the Maryland Governors Cup and Comptroller Cup, her state’s two highest wine awards in 2022.

These women are part of a cohort of female head winemakers and assistant winemakers who are gaining major name-recognition. All told, around 15% of all head winemakers in Virginia are female.

Representation by Black–owned wine brands also grew this year. Fifty Leven and Shockoe Wine joined the small but growing group of local Black-owned wine brands, which also includes Delaplane Cellars, Preston Ridge, Sweet Vines Farm, and Vintner’s Cellar of Yorktown.

2. Climate change: Jim Law called 2022 ‘climate change on steroids’. While climate change is hardly a new topic, this year included a number of high-intensity weather events which punctuated the extent of this trend. At worst, the type of dramatic weather fluctuations seen this year portent what Virginia’s ‘new normal’ may become.

For much of Virginia, 2022 see-sawed between hot, sunny days and short but intense summer storms, bookended by frost warnings in April and a hurricane in late September. Winegrowers looking at the rainy weather forecast in July had good reason to be concerned.

Fortunately, mid-summer’s capricious weather gave way to far more favorable conditions in August to September, turning what could have been a tough vintage into a very favorable one for large parts of the state.

Some years – such as 2017 and 2019 – are fondly looked back as strong vintages, while others like 2011 and 2018 are ones most winemakers would prefer to not dwell on.

But the answer regarding the 2022 growing season might be summarized as ‘it depends’, all depending on a vineyard’s specific microclimate.

3. Labor Shortages: Many wineries had significant challenges in staffing. This had a number of impacts, both in the tasting room and the vineyard.

Those hopeful for a return to pre-COVID bar-side tastings were likely disappointed. While health concerns and consumer demand for take-away flights played a part in this decision, this pivot away from bar-side tasting is largely a product of limited staffing, which precludes many wineries from servicing a full bar of customers as they did in the past.

These shortages also impacted vineyard operations. Frequent rain resulted in a high-vigor growing season, so pruning was especially time-consuming. When hurricane Ian arrived, some vineyards struggled to bring in their fruit with the labor at their disposal.

Those with full time labor were able to endure these challenges more easily. Those who did not encountered delays in vineyard work or harvesting.

4. The Common Wealth Crush Company and “garagiste” winemaking: This November Ben and Tim Jordan announced their new custom winemaking facility, capable of producing up to 30,000 cases/year. This business is especially designed for smaller winemakers who lack their own facilities.

“Contract winemaking” already exists in Virginia, but that term is usually associated with business such as Michael Shaps Wineworks who do the entire winemaking process for their customer.

CWCC differs in that it allows winemakers to make their own wine. As Tim Jordan explained, “People do it at their employer’s wineries and sometimes they can get their friends to let them do it. But what almost always happens is that you grow out of it, or the winery facility grows its production and kicks you out. There’s not really a dedicated facility that allows a winemaker to start a brand, do the project, make the wine they want, the way they want, and be confident they’ll be able to stay there.”

This business model comes at a good time as the number of ‘small batch’ wines has dramatically increased over the past several years. Winemakers including Jake Bushing, Mattieu Finot, and Ben Jordan have long championed “garagiste” style wines, but they’ve been joined by Jocelyn Kuzelka and Megan Hereford of Daring Wine Company, Tim Jordan’s Star Party, Kent Arendt’s Boden Young, Rich Sullivan’s Guide Wine, and others.

CWCC also plan of having a tasting room at their Waynesboro facility to serve these brands, allowing customer to sample wines from Midland, Lightwell, and Star Party.

5. Small Batch Wines more popular than ever: “Garagiste” winemakers are a large part of this group, but this trend goes beyond independent operators.

I use “small batch wines” as a catch-all term to cover a large group of different wine ventures, including everything from collaborations between different wineries, independent brands that lack a permanent home, to off-brand labels at established wineries.

One recent example is the ‘Sun Room’ collaboration between Corry Craighill of Septenary Vineyards and Nate Walsh, where each winemaker took a batch of Malvasia Bianca grapes but made a wine in their own style, yet sold as a 2-pack. Another is the Odd Bird series by Lee Hartman of Bluestone Vineyards.

The common denominator between these ventures is they tend to focus on the creative aspect of winemaking, often featuring unusual blends, uncommonly used winemaking styles, and/or unique branding.

Expect more of these type of off-brand ventures in the future, as winemakers look for ways to flex their creative muscles.

6. Vermouth gaining traction: Rosemont and Flying Fox have made vermouth for several years, but the field of local vermouth-makers expanded this year with the addition of botanical wines from Artemisia Farm, Walsh Family Wine, and Joy Ting.

While this beverage is usually thought of as a drink mixer for bartenders, local vermouth sales have largely been to customers who use it as a sipping drink. Many of these producers also focus on local ingredients, sometimes expanding beyond wormwood as a bittering agent.

Wineries, Brands & Tasting rooms that opened in 2022:

  1. Artemisia Farm & Vineyard (no tasting room, but found at NOVA farmers markets)
  2. Bluemont Station Farm Winery (Bluemont)
  3. Boden Young (no tasting room, but found at Walsh Family Wine)
  4. Burnbrae Vineyards (Lynchburg)
  5. Caihailian Vineyard (south of Afton)
  6. Chapelle Charlemagne Vineyards (new tasting room in Flint  Hill)
  7. Daring Wine Company (no tasting room)
  8. Droumavalla Farm (north of Leesburg)
  9. Everleigh Vineyards (Mineral)
  10. Kalero Vineyards (Hillsborough)
  11. Lake Front Winery (Buffalo Junction)
  12. Mount Fair Farm (Crozet)
  13. Nookesville Winery (no tasting room)
  14. October One Vineyard (new tasting room open in Leesburg)
  15. Star Party (no tasting room)
  16. The Barn at 678 (Barboursville)
  17. Wind Vineyard at Laurel Grove (Tappahannock)
  18. Woodbrook Farm Vineyard (Orange)

Upcoming Wineries expected to open in 2023

  1. Blevins Family Vineyard (Scottsburg)
  2. Crimson Lane Vineyards (Linden)
  3. Domaine Fortier Vineyard (Loudoun)
  4. Fallen Tree Vineyard (Crozet)
  5. Haunted Winery Vineyard (Amelia)
  6. Seven Lady Vineyards at Dover Hall  (west of Richmond)
  7. Silverdog Vineyards (Linden)
  8. Southwest Mountain Vineyards (Keswick)

Wineries that closed or closing in 2022:

  1. Castle Gruen
  2. Dry Creek
  3. Hunt’s Vineyard
  4. Thatch Vineyard (rebranded as part of Michael Shaps)
  5. Shenandoah Vineyards
  6. Whitebarrel

2022 Loudoun Wine Awards Showcases Both Wine And Teamwork

The Loudoun Wine Awards hosted its 2022 event at the Lansdowne Resort and Spa on Friday, October 14th. Melanie Natoli of Cana Vineyards took home the Winemaker of the Year award, while the 2021 Albariño made by Scott Spelbring of Bluemont Vineyards won the Chairman’s Grand Award.

But the evening’s real winner was the Virginia wine industry as a whole. In a business that can be tough and competitive, Virginia wine stands out for its teamwork.

This sense of community was evident throughout the event. While guests enjoyed a 3-course dinner and extensive tasting of Loudoun County wines, they seemed just as eager to rub-shoulders and take selfies with owners, winemakers, and fellow Virginia wine lovers.

Multiple winners including Melanie and 2022 Winegrower of the Year Michael Newland made a point to recognize their coworkers and mentors, with both thanking Doug Fabbioli of Fabbioli Cellars for giving them their start in the industry.

“I am a Loudoun made winemaker and I’m proud of that,” said Melanie during her acceptance speech. “I spoke from the heart to my tribe. I put on a dress because it was a special night, but I wore slippers on my tired harvest feet because I’m home with my people.” Earlier this year Melanie also won Virginia’s 2022 Governor’s Cup, becoming the 1st female winemaker to win the award in the past 20 years.

“This event really showed how communal and convivial Virginia wine is,” said Neal Wavra, owner of Field & Main Restaurant and the event’s Competition Director. “Not only did the awardees thank their teams and mentors, but the people who were thanked were in the room.”

Virginia Wine Increasingly Thinking Outside The Box

Bill Hatch, President of the Loudoun Wineries Association and owner/winemaker of Zephaniah Farm Vineyard, called Loudoun County “D.C.’s wine country”, based on the presence of over 40 tasting rooms just over an hour from the city.

Loudoun wineries entered 139 wines into the competition. 15 Gold medals were awarded to 8 Chains North, 868 Estate Vineyards, Bluemont Vineyard, Cana Vineyards & Winery of Middleburg, Carriage House Wineworks, Doukenie Winery, Maggie Malick Wine Caves, Three Creeks Winery and Williams Gap Vineyard. 112 wines also won Silver.

Loudoun County is nearly tied with Charlottesville in terms of acres of vines planted. While it’s long been associated with grapes traditionally grown in Bordeaux and Burgundy (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and others), relative newcomers Petit Manseng and Albariño are also finding a home in the area.

The rising quality of Virginia wine is largely due to two factors. On one hand, vineyards are increasingly dialing-in on grape varieties and clones that do well locally. On the other, there is a growing level of expertise in the Virginia winemaking community.

To Dominique Landragin, owner and founder of D.C.’s Cork & Fork and one of the wine judges, the evolution he’s seen in Virginia wine from 1993 when he left Prince Michel Vineyard & Winery to today is easily apparent.

“When I look back on the Gold medals earned by Virginia wines, they used to be 100% single varietal. But this time I see a lot of blends, especially Merlot and Petit Verdot. I thought there was an amazing improvement.

I was especially impressed by the Albariños. It takes the humidity very well. Petit Manseng also. I’ve seen a few promising Syrahs as well. The Cabernet Francs here don’t have the vegetal character we find in the Loire; it’s very exciting.

The industry is really coming together, the mom & pop wineries and the professionals. In the beginning there were no professionals. But now, Michael Shaps makes some great wine!”

Neal was also impressed by the growing variety of wines in the region. “A few years ago Albariño wasn’t even a category. Last year was the first time it was its own category, and this year it was the winner.”

Scott Spelbring of Bluemont Vineyard, who took home the trophy for his 2021 Albariño, also had high praise for this grape.

“Albariño is a prolific grower but not a great yielder. We usually get 2-3 tones an acre. It’s one of the first we pick, usually in early September. We’ve grown it since before I started in 2016, and I’ve made it every year.

It has great acidity, but we’re not afraid to experiment. This wine is mostly cold fermented in stainless steel, but we also add in 2 barrels that are fermented using native yeast.

I think a lot of consumers are aware of Albariño but it’s not well known on the east coast. But we’re starting to step outside the box of Merlot and Cabernet Franc.

Petit Manseng is a grape where sweet or dry, you never know what you’ll get. But Albariño is such a great wine out of the box, because we know what to expect.”

Loudoun Wine Awards Competition Results


Chairman’s Grand Award | 2021 Albariño from Bluemont Vineyards

Winemaker of the Year | Melanie Natoli, Winemaker, Cana Vineyards

Winegrower of the Year | Mike Newland, Vineyard Manager, Walsh Family Wine

Wine Ambassador of the Year | Nancy Deliso, Owner, 868 Vineyard

President’s Award | Aimee Henkel, Owner, Lost Creek Winery & Echelon Wine Bar


Best Albariño: 2021 Albariño, Bluemont Vineyard

Best Bordeaux Blend: 2019 Furnace Mountain Red, 8 Chains North

Best Chardonnay: 2020 Chardonnay, Cana Vineyards

Best Cabernet Franc: 2021 Cabernet Franc, Williams Gap Vineyard

Best Hybrid Red: 2018 Three Captains Red, Zephaniah Farm Vineyard

Best Hybrid White: 2020 Mandolin White, Doukenie Winery

Best Merlot: 2019 Russ Mountain Merlot, Walsh Family Wine

Best Petit Manseng: 2020 Petit Manseng, Williams Gap Vineyard

Best Petit Verdot: 2020 Petit Verdot, Carriage House Wineworks

Best Red Vinifera: 2020 Cabernet Sauvignon, October One Vineyard

Best Rosé: 2021 Rosé of Cabernet Franc, Sunset Hills Vineyard

Best Sauvignon Blanc: 2021 Sauvignon Blanc, 868 Vineyard

Best Viognier: 2020 Viognier, 868 Vineyards

This article can also be found on the Old Town Crier website.

2022 Finger Lakes Trip

The Finger Lakes American Viticultural Area (AVA) is a wine region that I can continually return to. There are almost 150 wineries in this region, plus plenty of wine bars and hiking trails. This was my 2nd trip but I’ll be back.

The Finger Lakes is almost certainly the best-known AVA on the east coast. Ancient glaciers widened existing river valleys, creating deep crevices that would eventually become the 11 lakes we know today.

These glaciers also deposited a diverse assortment of rock and soil around the region. Old rocky soil is especially good for vinifera, as not only is it porous (grapes don’t like wet roots) it forces vines to struggle for nutrition (struggling vines produce good fruit). These deposits of limestone, shale, gravel, and silt play a major role in the area’s ‘terroir’.

Western shore of Keuka Lake

While soil is important, the lakes play an even more central role. These bodies of water act as temperature sponges, absorbing heat during the day and radiating it back to the shoreline. Without these lakes alleviating upstate New York’s cold weather, viticulture here would be impossible.

This combination of moderated weather and favorable soil creates excellent conditions for cool-climate grapes. The best vineyards are along the edge of these lakes, especially their deepest portions. Not coincidentally, this terroir is similar to that of the Mosel, Germany’s most famous riesling-producing wine region.

My 2019 trip was done with limited knowledge of where to go. This time I planned my trip more carefully, focused on select clusters of wineries around Seneca, Cayuga, and Keuka. Most of these tastings were drop-ins, but we also visited a number of reservation-only venues. My family and I stayed at a long-stay residence in Watkins Glen, on the southern shore of Lake Seneca.

While our trip was centered around wine, I was happy to discover an assortment of non-alcoholic options were also available. Many involved activities on lakes themselves, including kayaking and cruising. But my favorite non-winery excursions were hikes in local state parks, especially those that possessed waterfalls.

Over 5 days I visited 21 wineries. It sounds like a lot (and admittedly it is), but the tastings are often so slim that you can visit multiple locations and not get a major buzz. Nearly all had moved to a model of providing self-guided flights (often but not always pre-selected), but a few larger wineries took reservations for guided flights.

My greatest take-away was that riesling has far more range than I anticipated. The most enjoyable visits were locations that had wines from the same vintage but grown at different vineyards, each with their own terroir-driven personality.

It’s difficult to rank-order 21 wineries – especially since some blended together despite my best attempts at note taking – so instead I sorted them in groups. Not coincidentally, my ranking system can be seen in how much wine I purchased (or not at all, in many cases) during a visit.

Except for the top 3 venues, wineries in the same tier are ranked about the same and listed in alphabetical order.

Being in a lower tier didn’t mean I didn’t like them. To the contrary, I can honestly say I didn’t visit any ‘bad’ wineries during my trip (I should note I also planned very carefully, avoiding party-centric locations). I admit I’m biased towards smaller wineries where I had more personalized service. I also was specifically looking for riesling and sparkling wine, so red-focused wineries didn’t get rated as well as they probably should have been.

The Top Tier (#1-3) of my wine-visits are definitely listed in rank order. The downside to these particular wineries was all were in out-of-the-way locations or had limited visiting hours (and Kemmeter was reservation only). But they made up for that with not just outstanding wine but guided tastings which provided a significant educational component.

1. Kemmeter Wines (NW Seneca): This 6-acre vineyard was an amazing find. The tasting room is tiny and only open 3 afternoons a week (and closed Sundays). But I bought more wine here than at any other winery.

They are only open by appointment and have a maximum capacity of 6 guests. Yes – the tasting room is that tiny!

I enjoyed my visit so much I decided to write a separate blog so I don’t miss any details. Because of that I’ll keep this entry short.

Owner/winemaker/vineyard manager Johannes Rienhardt lead a tasting that consisted of 5 wines; a pair of rieslings (dry and off dry), a pinot, a pinot blanc, and a pinot rosé. I bought several of the dry rieslings and the rosé (which didn’t last the evening). The dry riesling was the best of the entire trip.

Johannes also had us play ‘guess the off-dry riesling’ and I guessed wrong. Turns out both were dry, although the one from the 2014 Vineyard could have fooled me. The two are grown on different types of soil and one location produces riper fruit. The density of the wine gives the illusion of sweetness. He fooled me but it was a great learning experience.

You can also order dumplings from his wife at their store outside; order first and pick them up later. Warning – they don’t have a public bathroom!

2. Forge Cellars (East Seneca): One of the smaller locations of my trip, with 40 acres of vines and a production of 10,000 cases/year. I loved the vineyard-specific rieslings (8 at this one place alone!), the view, and overall ambiance.

I highly recommend getting an appointment for a guided flight, which is as much about wine education as it is a wine tasting. But fear not, those who randomly drop-in can still enjoy a self-guided flight while sitting on the patio. They also had great cheese boards, plus excellent jamón.

Their “Classique” riesling is their best-known wine (and was definitely good) but it wasn’t my personal favorite of this visit. But I did leave with 2020 Freese (riesling) and 2020 Tango Oaks (riesling), both of which were among the best wines of my entire trip (right after Kemmeter).

3. Six Eighty Cellars (West Cayuga): A very small (and brand new) producer with only 20 acres under vine. The wines were accompanied by light bites.

One thing that made them unique is their special focus on winemaking using a variety of fermentation vessels. They had your standard oak barrels and steel tanks, but they also had amphoras made of sandstone, clay, concrete, and terra cotta.

The small size of the winery meant we had very personalized service. Highlights included a mineral-driven 2020 Grüner Veltliner (made in a concrete tulip), an outstanding 2019 Riesling, and the flora, soft, and fruity 2020 Pinot Noir (made in sandstone). I left with some riesling.

My second tier (#4-7) wineries are ranked about equally. Every winery in this group had a solid lineup with several standout wines, and usually had other attributes (like food or service) that made it an overall excellent tasting experience. All are definitely must-try locations. All are in alphabetical order, not ranked in preference.

4. Hermann J Wiemer Vineyard (SW Seneca): One of the larger wineries in the area, with 131 acres under vine between HJW and their other property, Standing Stone Vineyards. HJW has their own estate vineyards plus they manage other people’s vineyard. They make around 35,000 cases/year between HJW and Standing Stone.

HWJ’s tasting experience is different from their neighbors in that they don’t have set flights. Every pour was separately charged, so you can get as many or as few as you want. My group didn’t have a tasting room associate with us, but it wasn’t overly busy so we still had lots of attention.

They had an excellent selection across the board, but my favorites were the 2020 Magdalena Cab Franc and an especially outstanding 2009 Cab Franc they brought out just for me. I wanted to like their biodynamic riesling, but just couldn’t get into it.

5. Heron Hill Winery (SW Keuka): This was one of the larger and lovelier venues of my trip. Heron Hill makes 30,000 cases/year, plus have 40 acres under vine between 2 vineyards. They also source fruit from elsewhere.

I admit I’m biased in describing this visit because it gave me a chance to catch up with winemaker Jordan Harris, who I knew from his time in Virginia. Jordan gave my family and I a very extensive tasting, I suspect including several not on the menu.

But my assessment of his 2020 Cabernet Franc and 2020 blaufränkisch needs no special boosting; both were excellent and I left with three bottles of the cabernet franc to show off to my Virginia friends (edit: one was enjoyed with dinner and another went home with mom for her birthday). Also shout-outs to the 2020 Pinot Noir (very fruit forward nose and easy drinking), his rosé, and the 2020 Chosen Spot red-blend.

6. Keuka Lake Vineyards (SW Keuka): One of the most underrated wineries in the area. So good that I made an exception and allowed myself a visit despite having been here in 2019.

Small to mid-sized by FLX standards, they have 40 acres under vine and make 2-3,000 cases/year. Three tasting flights were available, now served in an old barn. I went with the “Terroir Red” and “a mix of the “”Terroir White”.

I LOVED their natural yeast vignoles pét-nat, which was the first wine I opened when I returned home. Their 2017 ‘Rows” dry riesling (complex, mineral driven, maybe lime notes), 2013 dry riesling (peach notes and honey, made with wild yeast), 2018 KLV Red (a table red with hybrids foch, vincent, and de chaunac, very good!), and 2019 cabernet franc were also excellent (some pepper, slightly fuller bodied than I often see.)

They also grow leon millet and make an orange wine. This is one of the few places where I genuinely enjoyed their wines made with hybrid grapes, which are rarely a favorite.

7. Weis Vineyards (East Keuka): Another rare repeat visit for me. It also helped that Dave McIntyre (wine writer for the Washington Post) was aghast at even the possibility I skip it. So back to Weis I went. Reservations recommended.

Weis has 40 acres of vines (mostly hybrids) but most of this estate fruit is sold locally. No word on the number of cases/year they make, but all of it uses locally sourced fruit.

My favorites included their 2021 Dry Riesling (nice and crisp), 2021 Wizner Select K (K for Kabinnet, more mineral-y and a tad sweet), and 2019 Merlot (great balance!). Also good were the 2020 Schulhouse red (an easy drinking blend of mostly Chancellor, plus 10% Cab Sauv, named in honor of the school house the tasting room now occupies), and dry rosé (nice balance).

I felt this tasting experience was more upscale than most other FLX locations. As for flights, out of 15 or so options you can pick 5 but can order more. I liked this method since it was sort of a ‘build your own adventure’ style. We had a tasting room associate guide us through our wines.

The third tier (#8-13) had above average wines in all of them, and oftentimes they had great food, service, and/or an amazing view. All in this group are equally good and listed in alphabetical order, rather than ranked in any order.

8. Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery (SE Keuka): The granddaddy of Finger Lakes wineries. Guided tastings are by appointment only (and go fast, apparently), but you can also randomly visit and stay in their courtyard to enjoy a self-guided flight.

I go more into detail on their background (and the Finger Lakes in general) in my 2019 trip report so won’t repeat too much. But suffice to say that any trip to the Finger Lakes is incomplete without a pilgrimage here.

“Dr. Frank” is one of the largest Finger Lakes wineries, making over 75,000 cases/year. While Dr. Frank has 60 acres under vine at their main estate plus 20 more acres at Seneca, most of their fruit is purchased locally.

This place has a large tasting menu, with all of their bottles being solid in quality and well-priced. I wasn’t personally moved to buy any particular bottle but I did especially enjoy their toasty Celeb (Sparkling Riesling) with brioche notes and their 2021 Dry Riesling.

Small dishes are also available.

9. Red Newt Cellars (SW Seneca): Mid-to-large sized winery. 20 acres under vine but another 100 leased. They make 24,000 cases/year, 1/3rd of which was devoted to their most popular wine, the off-dry ‘Circle’.

They were recommended to me because of their extensive collection of older rieslings. Multiple flight options were available, but I went with the Dry and Riesling flights. I think this is going to need a return visit since there was a lot left off the menu I never tried.

I really enjoyed their especially well balanced 2013 Dry Reserve (no saline notes, oddly enough) and the 2013 Bullhorn Creek, which was unusually for its spice and herbal notes. I noted how the Circle had a ton of action up front.

10. Red Tail Ridge Winery (West Seneca): A mid-sized location with 35 acres of vines planted. This includes several varietals you don’t often see including teroldego and lagrein, red grapes normally found in northern Italy. No notes on their production but was told its mostly estate.

I did the sparkling flight plus sampled a few others. Red Tail seemed to have one of the largest sparkling programs I encountered on the trip, and their pét-nats were especially good. The NV “Rebel With A Cause” (50% Terodego/25% Langein/25% Dornfelder) was probably my favorite, with the terodego red the runner-up.

11. Ryan Williams Vineyard (SE Seneca): This was one of the larger wineries in the area. I didn’t get the number of cases they produce but was told they have 120 acres of vines. They also have a BEAUTIFUL tasting room with a great view of Seneca.

One standout element of my visit is they also have a full-service kitchen. Had I known I would have been brunching here all the time, although their lunch menu looked equally appetizing.

I tried the white and red flights, with my favorites being the very textured 2018 Chardonnay and soft 2017 Cabernet Franc. They also had a pretty good sauvignon blanc that was clean, fresh, and quaffable.

12. Sheldrake Point Winery (West Cayuga): An unexpected gem! Wineries along Cayuga are further away from the main tourist trail so they tend to be smaller, but this location stood out as a very classy venue with a lot of great wine and tasty light bites. The view and service were great.

Their wine is 100% estate, with 66 acres under vine. Ironically, they only make 7 or 8,000 cases/year (most of their fruit is sold).

My family and I shared three flights; ‘All about Aromatics’, ‘Cool Climate Reds’, and ‘Library Reds’. Favorites included the 2017 “BLK3” Pinot and 2013 Pinot, the latter of which was more tannic than I expected.

Mom said their 2012 Gamay (with 17% Syrah) was very much a ‘eat stake and put me to sleep wine’. I though the “Acid Head” riesling had an interesting sauv blanc quality to it, while the 2019 Reserve was very tropical, with notes of passion fruit.

13. Wagner Vineyards (SE Seneca). Part of me wanted to be turned off by their large scale, commercial-winery vibe, but they won me over with great wine and service (and beer! and food!).

Wagner produces 60,000 cases/year and have 240 acres under vine, which makes them the largest grape distributor in the area. They have a very nice (and busy) tasting room as well.

I thought their 2017 Riesling was really good; minerally, light, and easy drinking. Apparently, Wine Enthusiast magazine thought so as well, since it chose this as one of their Top 100 affordable wines. The 2020 Riesling Caywood East Dry was my second favorite.

My fourth tier (#14-18) selections all provided pretty good wines. Some might have a standout I really enjoyed.

14. Atwater Vineyards (SE Seneca): While probably mid-sized by FLX standards, their 50-acre vineyard charges ahead with an exceptionally diverse vineyard consisting of 19 varieties. Among the hard-to-find vines planted are syrah and a bunch of hybrid grapes including reval (a hybrid of chardonnay).

This place should get an award for one of the nicest views of the trip. It’s not that far away from Watkins Glen, so I’d have totally hung out more here on a slow day.

No particular wine sang out to me, but I did like their apple-note 2021 “Bubbles” sparkling riesling and 2020 Pinot Noir, which was made unfiltered and with minimal-intervention. I bought a bottle of the pinot just because it subverted my expectations of what a pinot should be like.

15. Fox Run Vineyards (West Seneca): This was a mid-sized location with 52 acres under vine and a production of 20,000 cases/year. They also had one of the best kitchens in the area, which by itself makes it a must-stop. The family and I enjoyed a great selection of sandwiches, salads, and personal pizzas.

The wine lineup didn’t disappoint either. My favorite was their Reserve Riesling (and I bought a bottle) but I also thought their “Silvan” Riesling was pretty good. Not sampled here, but back home I’ve also had a really nice meritage blend (not on the menu here, unfortunately).

16. Hosmer Winery (West Cayuga): A mid-sized location, making 10,000 cases/year using 72 acres of grapes.

Hosmer is especially known for their dry reds plus their sauvignon blanc. They also have a petit verdot and lemberger (aka blaufränkisch), both of which were hard to find in this area. My favorite wine was a blend of cabernet franc and lemberger.

17. Ravines Wine Cellar (NW Seneca): This was one of my first visits of my trip and helped set the tone of the rest of the visit. Ravines is on the larger side at 30,000 cases/year from 4 vineyards, plus 130 acres under vine.

Several flight options were available, but my favorites were their dry sparkling riesling (which had a tad botrytis which made it interesting), plus their 2020 cabernet franc.

18. Shalestone Vineyards (East Seneca): I feel weird listing Shalestone so low because it’s definitely a nice place, and wine lovers who are red-focused would love it. It’s last in this group simply because of alphabetical order, and in a lower tier because I wasn’t focused on reds on this trip.

When I asked why the focus on reds my server explained “We only make wine we really want to drink”. They were also one of the smaller producers in the area, with only 6 acres under vine and a production of 1,200-1,500 cases/year.

That said their 2019 cabernet franc was one of the best in the Finger Lakes; aromatic with soft pepper notes. They also have a syrah and saperavi.

Last tier (#19-21) didn’t have any particular wines that tickled my fancy. In some cases, this was simply because they were unlucky enough to be the place I visited at the end of the day when my palate was tired.

19. Anthony Road Wine Company (West Seneca): They make 12,000 cases/year and have 100 acres under vine. I don’t have great notes on the visit, but I did notice the Devonian White blend (chard/riesling/pinot gris) and vignoles off-dry.

20. Magnus Ridge Winery (SW Seneca): Another winery on the larger end of the scale. It was unique in that they had cheese/food pairings with their wine flights. The most interesting combination was a traminette paired with wasabi.

21. Missick Wine Cellars (West Seneca): Formerly known as Bellangelo, they rebranded a few years back when the new owner decided he wanted this place to be his legacy. They came highly recommended by Dave McIntyre of the Washington Post, so I had to try it. Missick makes 5,000 cases/year; not sure on the number of acres under vine.

Of the 4 flight options available I went with the “Staff Pick”, with chenin (!) as an add-on. At this point my wallet was in conservation mode, but I did think the ‘Foreword’ red blend made with 5 hybrids (foch, baco noir, marquette, dechaunac, chambourcin) was interesting enough to buy a bottle. It turned out to be my only purchase of a wine made with hybrids the entire trip.

Getting to Know Virginia’s Assistant Winemakers

My article on several of Virginia’s Assistant Winemakers is now published for the #OldTownCrier.

Link below:

When Melanie Natoli of Cana Vineyards was handed the 2022 Virginia Governor’s Cup wine competition’s highest award, Doug Fabboli of Fabbioli Cellars was there to witness the event. Doug had a personal interest in watching Melanie ascend the stage; she was his Assistant Winemaker a decade earlier, one of a long roster of people he’s mentored in the Virginia wine industry.

Melanie’s journey demonstrates how today’s assistants are tomorrow’s leaders. Many also have their own projects which deserve attention.

Not only are these young winemakers introducing new ideas, their progression is changing the industry’s demographics. A number of today’s Head Winemakers such as Chelsey Blevins, Christopher Harris, and Corry Craighill got their start elsewhere in Virginia before moving to their present gigs.

Kent Arendt, Assistant Winemaker for Walsh Family Wine & maker of his private label Boden Young

What drew you to winemaking? “My last job was in data analysis. I was always interested in wine, but I didn’t think much about it until 10 years ago. But the more I enjoyed wine the more interested I became in the details; like how different wine is regionally, why it tastes so different, why different winemakers use different styles.

So in 2016 I decided to give it a try. I’m the kind of person who needs tangible results in his work. I interned in Washington State and worked a harvest at a big facility. When I came back, I realized that’s not the kind of place I want to work at. So I applied to an ad from Nate Walsh and was his first hire.”

Describe your role of an Assistant Winemaker: “Winemaking is 90% organization and cleaning and 10% winemaking. But being an assistant varies depending on the winery. For us, the Head Winemaker becomes more and more hands-off in the cellar work as the business grows.

I do much of the day-to-day cellar work. Nate will have a list of things to do and I work through that list, whether it’s running the lab, checking sulfur and acidity levels, topping up barrels, maintenance of equipment, and getting ready for bottle. And cleaning, cleaning, cleaning.”

What parts of the business are you in charge of? “Anything that happens in the cellar is done by me or scheduled by me. I meet with Nate on almost a daily basis to talk about what’s going on in the cellar.

But the best part is the farming. A big part of what makes Virginia wine special is the farming.”

Do you have any side-projects of your own? “Nate creates an environment that is conducive for small projects. I make a wine named Boden Young. Boden translated roughly as “Soil” in German. Albariño is one of those varieties that I’ve enjoyed for a long time and I’m excited that it’s picked up in the past 5 years. I’ve made 43 cases of albariño and 38 of viognier.”

Katrina Buccella, Assistant Winemaker at Paradise Springs Winery

What drew you to winemaking? “I originally went to Virginia Tech to study veterinary medicine but fell in love with microbiology and food sciences. That led me to their fermentation course.

Five years ago I interned at Rocklands Farm Winery (in Maryland). I had the chance to do every step in the process from planting a vineyard, to harvesting grapes, to making wine, to sales. I’ve also worked in New Zealand and finished my UC Davis winemaking program.

I love the cyclical nature of winemaking. It spoke to something older, and winemaking is so much more soulful.” 

Describe your role of an Assistant Winemaker: “I’m basically Rob’s (Rob Cox, Head winemaker at Paradise Springs) right hand. He makes the decisions in the cellar, but I’m in charge of the estate vineyard. It’s only one acre but it’s a well taken care of acre.

In the production facility I do the barrel maintenance, upkeep of the barrel room, punch down, racking, but most of all cleaning. I also do a lot of the laboratory tasks. It’s a small team so it’s all hands-on deck.”

What has been your career path to become a winemaker?: “I’ve heard of so many different ways to get into this business. But there’s no one way, you just have to be moved to take it. As long as you have the drive and ambition and a little science smarts you can go far.” 

Are there any specific parts of the winery you are in charge of?“Rob asked me if I had any project ideas and I suggested a pét-nat. So we’re planning on making 80 cases using seyval blanc. It will be a cool first for Paradise Springs. 

I’m hoping it will be more of a natural fermentation pétnat, but we haven’t made any final decisions. I’d like to be as intervention free as possible but I won’t know what will happen till I’m in the thick of it!”

Ashleigh White, Assistant Winemaker for Glen Manor Vineyards

What drew you to winemaking? “I was still in school for biology with a concentration in ecology when Jeff (owner/winemaker Jeff White of Glen Manor) opened the winery. After I graduated I was doing different internships but I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. Jeff offered me a position in the tasting room in 2014, and the next year I moved to a full time job in the vineyard and then in the cellar.

Being a winemaker blended different parts of my degree; being outside in nature as well as growing into the winemaking. I also got to work in different cellars around the world which was exciting.”

Describe your role of an Assistant Winemaker: “Jeff makes the decisions and trajectory for what will come for the year and I work alongside him learning things like making picking decisions in the vineyard. I’m kinda his shadow, learning his approach to processing the fruit and monitoring the fermentation.”

What has been your career path to become a winemaker?: “I would say do multiple internships; you gather knowledge from different winemakers. I learned you can do the same job 5 different ways and none are wrong but you learn to pick and choose what works for you best.

I’ve worked in New Zealand, Australia, British Columbia, and California. I miss the traveling, I miss learning. But the experience is always worth it. I’d like to keep traveling but I now feel like I need to stay put.”

Are there any specific parts of the winery you are in charge of? “It really depends; every week is a bit different. I’m in charge of managing our Instagram account, and this year I was in charge of blending trials for our 2021 red blends. I’ve also been leading our research into future varietals, like warmer climate reds.

We also did a bit of carbonic maceration for the first time, which was my idea. The color was really pretty. We did the blending trial for our rosé blind and we all ended up liking it. Jeff is open to trying new things.”