A Swing through the Charlottesville Wine Country


Visiting the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia on our Anniversary

Kelly and I recently celebrated our Anniversary this October by staying at the Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, WV.  On the way home, we had some spare time and decided to take advantage of it by taking a small detour through the Charlottesville, VA area.  We often frequent the vineyards and wineries up in NOVA, so this was a nice change of pace.  On the docket for today’s adventure…

Greenbrier Resort Room Wallpaper

Yes, that’s the real wallpaper as Kris shows it off with a glass of Champagne

This blog post doesn’t include a review of the Greenbrier, but I’m going to at least share that we had an amazing time.  This immense resort is filled with so much U.S. History and we hesitate not in recommending it for a romantic getaway if you have the time.  Have you ever seen The Shining?  So many times, I kept expecting to see two twin girls in the hallway…or a boy riding a big-wheel around.  The décor is traditional to its history.  Over the top gaudy, but I’m not going to lie…it works.

King Family Vineyards

Located in Crozet, VA, this was our first stop.  It actually worked out well because they open at 10:00 AM daily and we got there shortly after.  As well pulled up to the Vineyard, we were very pleased with its appearance.  Big farmhouse/barn architecture, gorgeous rolling hills, beautiful landscape, and grape vines extending well beyond.  Right away we were excited.  As we neared, we were surprised at how many people were already there.  Additionally, their parking lot was HUGE.  We knew what this meant.  It’s a very popular destination for wine lovers in and around the area.  We parked the car and walked right up.

As we walked up the sidewalk, we came to a sign that directed wine tasters to wait at that spot.  Shortly later a polite employee asked if we were wanting to do a tasting, which of course we acknowledged.  She escorted us into the building and took us up to a tasting table.  I think it was at this moment that I began to have some pause.  I’ll get to this a little later.

We stepped up to the bar where the pourer offered us up some of their 2017 Viognier to start.  As most Virginia wine enthusiasts are aware, 2017 is predicted to be an amazing vintage for VA wine and I was excited to try some of it from King.  Kelly is normally not a fan of Viognier, especially those that are oaked, but I am, as I’m drawn to the acidity and its floral notes and flavors.  A nugget of information… when they are aged in non-oak containers, the floral-ness of the wine disappears for me.  This wine was aged in a combination of stainless steel, new French oak, acacia, and concrete.  Tasty…yes.  The style I prefer in a Viognier, no, but very enjoyable.  Kelly seemed to like it more than me because it didn’t have that floral-ness, which I crave so much.  On we went.  We had a white blend (Chardonnay, Viognier, and Petit Manseng) called Roseland, a Chardonnay, Cab Franc, and finished with their Meritage.  I felt the pours were a bit small compared to other places I’ve enjoyed.  I’m not there to get drunk… but I like to taste and re-taste a little to see how the flavors evolve.  In this case, it was difficult.  Regardless, everything was good, but for me, nothing stood out.  We typically buy a bottle or two…or three… from each place we visit and I struggled to pick something.  They also had a Rosé they call Crosé and a Right-Bank Bordeaux style blend called Mountain Plains (40% Cab Franc, 40% Merlot, and 20% Petit Verdot).  We showed interest in these two wines, but the pourer said they are not on the tasting menu and went to pour for other people.  Begrudgingly, not wanting to leave empty handed, we bought a bottle of the Crosé and Mountain Plains blind.  They sit in our wine cellar for a future date, so stay tuned… You can expect to see these on the Virginia Wine Tasting Notes page here at A Complex Crush.

As long as it took you to read the previous three paragraphs is about how long we spent tasting the wine at King.  It was a production, impersonal, and rushed.  Tasting wine is about the experience.  Good wine with a bad experience simply tarnishes things for me.  On the flip side, we have had some “bad” wine, but with an engaging and interesting pourer, the experience was fantastic to the point we’d return because it was fun.  Wine is meant to be enjoyed…with your family, friends, and strangers you meet.  For this specific visit, we were in and out within 10 minutes, barely spoke a word to the pourer, and felt rushed.  I’m glad to give them the benefit of the doubt though and hope a future visit proves more positive.  Regardless, the facility and grounds were gorgeous and King is one of those vineyards you can arrive and spend the whole day enjoying yourself.

Early Mountain Vineyards

Prior to visiting Early Mountain, we had heard a number of good things.  I believe the 1st time we heard it mentioned, it was from a manager at a very popular Northern Virginia winery.  I’m intentionally leaving this person anonymous, but he (that’s the only clue you get) mentioned to Kelly and me that if he wasn’t working where he was, he’d definitely want to work at Early Mountain because of what they are doing with their wine, their vision, the tasting room, the experience, etc.  We have a lot of trust and faith in this person’s opinion and added Early Mountain to our list of places to visit.  A few months later, our good friends we go wine tasting with, were coming home from the Outer Banks in NC, and decided to go through Charlottesville on the way home.  They stopped at a few different places, Early Mountain being one of them.  While in the car driving home, we got a text that said something along the lines, “and we joined another wine club.” … Early Mountain.  We tend to like the same wines as our friends and decided we needed to schedule a visit sooner than later and decided that we’d do it on the way home from the Greenbrier.  Shortly before leaving on our weekend excursion, I was listening to WTOP News on the radio and I heard a teaser, “A Virginia winery has made Wine Enthusiasts final list for best American Winery.”  You can read the nominations for all the categories here.  I’ll be honest, I thought I was going to hear RdV or Stone Tower, but then after the commercial break, I heard it was Early Mountain.  With that, I went online and read what they had to say.

Early Mountain’s massive facility for tasting, food, and banquets

“Founded in 2012 and co-owned by Jean Case and her husband, AOL co-founder Steve Case, Early Mountain Vineyards, in Madison, Virginia, has received notable recognition for wines that show the state’s terroir in its best light. Chosen for this year’s Governor’s Cup to represent Virginia wines, Early Mountain is helmed by Winemaker Ben Jordan, who’s creating a collection of elegant, award-winning wines that are raising the bar in the exciting and emerging Virginia wine landscape.”

OK… enough background… Early Mountain is just a mile or so off Route 29, so it’s easily accessible and is just north of Charlottesville.  As we drove up, we were very pleased with the surroundings.  Beautiful hills, vines, farms, barns, etc.  The tasting room and facility were large, impressive, and totally appropriate.  Interior was a combination of modern and rustic.  As we entered the facility, we were greeted nicely by a couple of young girls and they asked whether we were here to taste, have some drinks, get a nibble, etc.  We let them know we were planning to do some tasting and she escorted us to the bar and set us up with one of the pourers.


Inside the tasting room at Early Mountain Vineyards

There were a couple of different options with respect to our tasting.  We, of course, choose the more comprehensive tasting…and the one with plenty of reds!  Truth be told, I think we tried about 12 different wines on this visit.  We really enjoyed their Rosé, which is advertised as 73% Merlot, 18% Syrah, 7% Malbec, and 2% Cabernet Franc.  It was dry, crisp, and refreshing with subtle hints of strawberry and peach.  Kelly got the peach far more than I, but I really enjoyed subtleness of citrus.  Perfect for a hot summer day.  We also enjoyed their Five Forks, which is advertised as a Sauvignon Blanc blended with some Petit Manseng.  When we got to the reds, I’ll be 100%, there wasn’t a single one that we didn’t like.  We tried 2016 Foothills, 2016 Shenandoah Valley Cab Franc (looks like this is sold out, but I do have a link to the 2017 vintage), 2015 Novum, 2014 and 2015 Eluvium, 2015 Elevation, and finally, the highlight, 2015 Rise.

The plan isn’t to break down each of these wines in this article.  As mentioned, all were delicious.  We left with three bottles.  The Cab Franc, Elevation, and Rise.  Simply put, the Cab Franc is an excellent representation of what Virginia Cab Franc should be.  Not tannic… smooth…  Fruity.  This wine doesn’t spend as much time in oak as other wineries leave their Cab Franc.  Not a big wine, but one with plenty going on.  The Elevation is a wine-club only release.  I tried this after trying the Rise and in my opinion, it was like a baby Rise and 1/3 the cost.  I say this because if my memory serves me correct, the blend is very similar.  Rise is advertised as 57% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc, 14% Petit Verdot, 14% Tannat.  We also learned that only the best of the best grapes are used for this wine and there’s not a lot of it.  With that, you can expect a higher price as Rise comes in at $95 per bottle.  That may turn people off, but considering not a single other wine Early Mountain produces is over $40, I have zero problems at all.  What I really like about Rise when comparing it to other blends in Virginia is that it uses Tannat, which is not one of the Bordeaux grapes.  Tannat adds a lot of structure and tannin to the wine.  You can expect dark fruits to showcase themselves along with non-fruit flavors like cedar.  Early Mountain did tell us to look for notes of mint, but I didn’t pick up on any.  Regardless, it’s a beautiful wine and one that sits in our cellar for a date many years down the road as they said it could be shelved until 2030.  One last nugget of information.  While there, we learned the Rutger de Vink, owner of RdV Vineyards, had recently come into Early Mountain, purchased 6 bottles of Rise and left.  The one thing I like about the Virginia wine community is that the different wineries and vineyards embrace, support, and learn from one another.  Rise has made a splash in the Virginia wine community and others want to know what it’s about.

So, in conclusion, our trip to Early Mountain was a huge success.  Our one-hour visit was so much fun.  We loved the grounds, the people who worked there and their stories, the facility, and of course their wine.  Even their logo is fantastic and it translates into their simple and elegant labels.  A quick 2 cents on labels. That’s what a label should be.  Crazy labels with a lot going on are trying to attract you to the wine.  I’ll let the wine do the talking, thanks.  We look forward to our next visit, which is already planned for a not so distant date (12/17/2018).

Gray Ghost Vineyards

Gray Ghost Winery

Gray Ghost Winery Sign

Our final stop on this trip home was Gray Ghost.  Long before I got into wine, I went to Gray Ghost for a friend’s birthday party.  This party was a trip to some local wineries in one of those limo buses.  By the end of our trip, the bus was filled with all her friends standing, dancing, singing, and enjoying the inebriated state they were in.  My memories of Gray Ghost were simple.  I liked it.  I liked the name, the owner, and the experience.  Fast forward 10 years and I was curious to see whether my opinions still held true.

Gray Ghost is a much smaller facility than that of Early Mountain and King.  When pulling up, you see a small cottage surround by a number of vines in every direction.  We parked around back and made our way into the tasting room.  Immediately we were warmly greeted by a couple of their staff and asked whether we came in for a tasting.  We acknowledged and took a place at one of their bars.

We saw the list of wines that were being poured and nearly all were white wines and the list was extensive.  Probably 12 or so wines and only a couple reds.  Each wine was poured with an explanation and story… both we enjoyed.  We blew through the list in a matter of minutes and had the option of adding a dessert wine at the end, which we did.  It was a result of the pourers using those special tops that pour a predetermined amount of wine into each glass.  I hate those!  The problem I had was it was so little wine, it wasn’t even a single sip.  I really struggled to get to know each wine.  In retrospect, I should have ordered two tastings for each of us.  Heck, the price of the tasting was only $5, so I really should have.

I really don’t like saying negative things and try to be supportive of the Virginia wine industry, but I left feeling very unfulfilled.  I didn’t get much of a sense about what Gray Ghost was all about.  I’m sure there are some wines that I would love.  Yes, I’m more of a red drinker, but I can appreciate the heck out of many white wines, and to do that, I need to be able to taste, reflect, and taste again.  Seeing all their wines with medals and ribbons meant nothing when the pours were so small.  I do want to reiterate that the staff was nothing but friendly and polite.  Maybe my experience was impacted by the previous and very successful stop at Early Mountain.  Who knows?  I hear so many good things about their wines.  I would have liked to have experienced some of it.  I will definitely give them another chance in the future and hopefully, it was just an off day.

So, that’s about that.  We headed home, unpacked, sat on the couch, took a deep breath, and relaxed.  Only 12 more hours until I have to go back to my grown-up job.