I love visiting small boutique wineries. Since grapes don’t grow in ugly places, all wineries, big or small are beautiful, but small boutique wineries are so quirky and full of personality. I was in-state for the purpose of visiting some Virginia wineries when Mother nature decided to dump a foot of snow, which for the southeast is much more than they are used to having. To put it in perspective this is a place that closes school with just the forecast of potential snow. A few inches is paralyzing to them. After two days stranded inside, I was eager to head out and explore, when the next day brought beautiful blue skies and 55 degree weather. I checked on line and the wineries were saying open.
I selected two wineries in the Crozet Virginia area, which is just about 15 minutes outside of historical Charlottesville, where the state University is located. This area of Virginia is rich with great little wineries, many of which I have previously covered like White Hall, and King’s Family. A 2015 article in Bloomberg Business, “The World's Next Big Wine Regions”, had Virginia as #2. For those visiting from out-of-state, or country, there are several beautiful and historic B&Bs, and the Charlottesville airport does have commercial and private jet access. On this trip I had selected two wineries, Grace Estate and Stinson Vineyards, that are just a couple minutes apart from each other, with very different “feels”.
5273 Mount Juliet Farm Crozet, VA 22932 www.GraceEstateWinery.com
As we pulled into Grace Estate the perfectly plowed paved (paved is an unusual luxury to many of the boutique wineries) road curved through the vineyard and if you glanced upward, at the top of the mountain there was a large estate house, with big clearings, offering spectacular vistas. Currently the tasting room is on the ground floor of the estate house, however they have plans to build a new tasting room down closer to the entrance. As we drove up the long driveway, there were people taking advantage of the foot plus of power snow and sledding groups spotted the topography. As we arrived at the main house there were workers shoveling show and a kid building a snowman. A man driving a big John Deere snow plow, jumped out to greet us. He said they were preparing to open the tasting room, but that the staff had not yet arrived do to the snow. He asked us to wait and he would unlock the tasting room for us. Letting us in, he gave us our first pour, and said he did not usually do tastings. I was a little apprehensive about what I would learn from the snow plow driver. It turns out that he was Jake Busching, the master winemaker for Grace Estate.
The Grace family is an old money family, that like most of their demographic, have multiple homes and live globally. Currently they are in Europe while their kids finish high school. That leaves Jake the most senior onsite personnel. All entrepreneurs know that they have to roll up their sleeves and fulfill any job that needs being done, from CEO, to chief bottle washer, or in this case snow plow driver. Jake was originally from Minnesota and so snow was in his blood. He has worked in the Virginia wine industry for 17 years. Prior to Grace Estate, he was at 3 other local wineries.
The tasting is $7 for 8 wines. I enjoyed them all. It started with a 2013 Viognier with a light crisp citrus taste that would pair well with food. Next was a 2013 Chardonnay aged in 20% steam bent French oak (so not a strong oak taste) with a light honey and caramel taste. The 2012 Le Gras Cuve
was my least favorite with a .8 Rs it was the sweetest of the wines. They transitioned with a 2013 La Gras Rose made with 80% Merlot, that was not the traditional provincial rose style. The first red in the tasting was 2012 Cab Franc. Followed by my favorite of their reds, which was a 2012 Merlot. I have not always been a fan of US Merlots, but Virginia is starting to make me rethink that. This was a medium bodied dense fruity wine with cherry, chocolate and black licorice. It had a long smooth finish. The next wine was a 2012 Le Gras Baril Bourdeaux blend of 30% Petit Verdot, 30% Malbac, and 40% Cab Franc. This wine is too young now, but should age beautifully for those looking to cellar it. The last wine was a 2012 Petit Verdot with a leather and tobacco finish. Of the wines on the tasting my favorite whites, in order of preference, were the Viognier and their Chardonnay, and my favorite reds, were their Merlot and Le Gras Baril blend.
As a luxury marketer I really appreciated their loyalty to building a luxury brand name. They did not pander to the lowest common denominator, as many of the local winery must for survival, by making sweet wines for the unsophisticated local palates. Virginia being new to the global wine arena, and do to the lack of any serious distribution, must rely on foot traffic. I am told that about 30% prefer the sickening sweet wines drunk by high school kids at prom, and many of the local wineries will make a couple of inferior products, so not to lose the foot traffic. But most small local wineries do not have the deep pockets of the Grace family. I feel that this decision to have their name only associated with quality, will serve them well in branding in the long term.
The tasting room, as it is currently located in the main estate house, is nicely appointed. There are a couple of big comfy over stuffed leather couches in front of a fire place. Several small tall tables with chairs, and the bar area for tastings. Outside the tasting room there are several picnic tables, where in better weather, guests can sit and drink wine while enjoy a vista that goes on for miles. I would recommend a visit to the Grace Estate winery. I enjoyed their product, and I recommend trying to visit while the tasting room is still located in the main house. I have not seen the plans for the news tasting room, but I am confident that the new tasting room, expected to open May 2015, will be done with good taste. I am told that it will have a fireplace inside, a large seating area and tasting bar, a VIP area, large deck, and grounds with a picnic areas. Their wine club will offer access to other parts of the estate as well. With the exception of the quirky snow day circumstances, Grace has a more establish sophisticated feel.
4744 Sugar Hollow Rd, Crozet VA 22932 Phone: 434.823.7300
I won’t say it is not fun to go to the big wineries in France, Italy and even California, but most of my wealthy fan base has been there, done that, and been there, done that again. What is of interest is exploring the new and often eclectic world of the boutique wineries. It is of more interest to serve a great small batch wine that their guest won’t get anywhere else, than to serve the big famous names, with distribution, that they can drink every night. Virginia offers the perfect place for those that enjoy the sport of finding treasures in boutique wineries.
Stinson is a perfect example of the character that small boutique wineries have to offer. This father/daughter team, making wine out of a souped-up, added-on-to 3 car garage on their property, are building a good name for themselves. Scott and Rachel took their inspiration from “garagiste” wineries of France, in both their wine-making techniques and the winery itself. Focus is placed on European-style wines that emphasize subtlety and complexity rather than power and super-ripeness of West Coast wines. The wife/mother, Martha, manages the property. She and her daughter raise hens and sell the fresh eggs from the tasting room shop. They also sell grass-fed beef, farm-raised pork and chicken, local produce, and garden fresh herbs. Stinson Vineyards is definitely a family run operation. Visitors get to talk with the “hands on people” that crafted the art. Their garage is only open for tastings Thursday thru Sunday.
It was a beautifully clear sunny winter day, the day and night just after the heavens had dumped a foot of white powdery snow, that I ventured out to explore what Stinson had to offer. When I first arrived they were not yet open. Their driveway had not yet been plowed. I left to try a larger neighbor winery and returned an hour or so later. As snow days are, things were a little discombobulated. Martha, who normally works outside, and clearly not as comfortable about talking the nuances of the product, was filling in for the absentees. She was warm and welcoming and very pleasant to deal with. She extended herself and really tried to please, which made up for her lack knowledge about the specifics. (Photo: Vernette & Martha) Later Scott rolled in, and I could hear him talking to another group of tasters, and he was clearly more adept at this role.
I could see the tops of chairs and tables peeking out of the snow in an outdoor area facing the vineyard. Inside there is not a real lounging area, or fireplace, so in winter it is best to plan on just doing a tasting. They offer a limited, but more interesting than most, selection of cheeses & charcuterie in their frig, and you can get a warm mini baguette, to accompany it, to consume with your wine out on the deck.
The Piedmont House at Stinson Vineyards was built in 1796, and expanded to current size in the 1840s. Legend has it that General “Stonewall” Jackson stayed at the house during his Valley Campaign of 1862. Anchored by this historic house, the total property now consists of 12 acres of which the vineyard block occupies 5. Stinson Vineyard are neighbors to Grace Estate.
The daughter/wine master, Rachel, recently married into another VA wine family and they created “Mariage” a Bordeaux blend, blending of both vineyards fruits. This wine was served at their wedding, and each winery got 1 barrel to sell, so very limited quantity. It sells for $34.99/bottle. Although there were several wines that I really enjoyed, this was my favorite, plus it had a nice story behind it. This was among the bottles I took home. Don’t wait, this one won’t last long.
The other wines on the $7 tasting were: 2013 Chardonnay, (I am not a huge US Chardonnay fan, but I really enjoyed this one). It was very crisp and refreshing and had only very gentile caramel tones from oak, much more like a European wine. When I take home a Chardonnay, that says something. The next white I liked much less. It was a Viadal Blanc which was way too sweet, as the name ‘Sugar Hollow’ forebode. Moving into their reds, they offered a lovely 2013 Merlot with concentrated red berry, dark cherry and plum. Their Meirage was a blend of 38% Merlot, 25% Cab Franc, 25% Petit Verdot and 12% cabernet Sauvignon. This one was pleasant now and would cellar very well. Both the Merlot and their Meirage were very enjoyable. Stinson offered one 2010 red wine, La Tour d’Afton, from another winery, Turk Mountain Vineyards in Afton, VA, a small little winery that uses no commercial yeast or enhancers. It was a blend of 40% petit Verdot, 20% Cabernet Frac, 20%Merlot, and 20% Malbac. This was full bodied, deep rich fruit and bold tannins. This was $34.99/bottle and I recommend this as one of your take away treasures. The tasting closed on a 2012 Petit Manseng late harvest wine. They offer 5% discounts on 6 bottles and 10% on case +. Of the seven wines in their tasting, 5 were worth taking home.
I was really impressed by the number of exceptional wines that this little boutique offered. Bottle price range from $23 to $35 (except for their one ‘Sugar Hollow’ that is $14.99). If you can’t make it there in person, treat yourself and go to http://wineshop.stinsonvineyards.com/wines-and-clubs-c1.aspx and order online.
- I have set up for both Jake Busching of Grace Estate, and Rachel Stinson will be guests on VinVillage Radio this spring. VinVillage is the #1 rate wine and dine show on the world leader of web radio. It is a weekly, Tuesday talk show, with a global reach. Look for announcements on dates from VinVillage’s, the wineries’, or my social media.
A 2015 luxury industry report by NetBase covered the best blogs globally for covering the pertinent luxury news. It contained a combination of both blogs for luxury professionals, which constituted the majority on the list, and a few that are actually read by the end user the Ultra High Net Worth consumer. Lorre White’s blog LuxGuru.Typepad.com ranked highest of the blogs that reach the wealthy customer, and #3 of all luxury blogs globally.
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Lorre White, has been a international luxury marketing expert for over 2 decades and is the founder of White Light Consulting an international luxury marketing consulting firm working with luxury brands to reach the world's wealthiest. She is the only internationally recognized luxury media personality “The Luxury Guru”. Lorre frequently contributes to luxury magazines globally, including having had her own monthly column in Portugal’s #1 rate luxury magazine with over 1.2 million subscribers. For more information just Google her name. Twitter:@Lorre, Follow her on FaceBook (personal, public figure and Group pages), or sign up top left under the photo www.LuxGuru.Typepad.com.
Forbes Article "What People Don't Know About Lorre White" :http://www.forbes.com/sites/anthonydemarco/2013/01/17/what-people-dont-know-about-lorre-white-the-luxury-guru/