Do You Know, Ah Shenandoah?

Do You Know, Ah Shenandoah?

If you are familiar with Virginia Wine and have spent some time tasting in the state, you are familiar with certain popular areas and the better known wineries. When someone speaks of wine regions in California, most people think Napa or Sonoma. When someone mentions Oregon, people think of Willamette; when New York is mentioned, Finger Lakes is first thought of. Every wine region has a “better-known” region.

For Virginia, a lot of wine enthusiasts know Charlottesville as the wine region with good terroir, winemakers, etc. It is often referred to as the “Napa” of Virginia, although if you ask vineyard managers, winemakers, and winery owners, that is not a great comparison in the sense of environment, terroir, and climate. However, that is a topic for another blog. There are other areas that do not get the attention they might deserve, for they have excellent terroir, climate, and winemakers and/or owners that appreciate and are cultivating from that. One such area is the Shenandoah region. 

The wineries in and around the foothills of the Shenandoah Valley encompass a lot of the same attributes as does the Piedmont region in Italy and eastern France. They enjoy limestone and or rocky soils, cool temperatures, and most are protected by the mountains that create a rain shadow, allowing cool air, but blocking potential damaging winds, frost, and hard rain.

Randy Phillips, owner of Cave Ridge Vineyard, had the right idea when he sought out his property. He searched for a vineyard site with the grapes in mind, not with the intention of having a winery. His sole purpose was, and still is, to grow the best quality grapes to produce wines that make sense for the area. Unfortunately, some purchase winery sites with aesthetics in mind, and although they may have the best intentions to have wines that are purchase-worthy, they have their goals slightly askew. If you want to produce good wines in Virginia, you have to select a site and the grapes that are best suited to that location. Virginia is very challenging, to say the least, for growing vinifera, and if the terroir does not fit the variety of grape planted, the wine will reflect that. Mr. Phillips is growing grapes that make sense with the terroir, and the wines reflect that! His Gold Medal-winning Fossil Hill was selected this year to be in the Governors Case for the 2024 Governor’s Cup Competition, as well as 2022 winner of the Cup in the Shenandoah Cup Competition. It is the classic Bordeaux blend; 60% Cabernet Franc, 20% Petit Verdot, and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. When his Cabernet Franc has enjoyed a stellar vintage, he will create “Red Silk,” the label adorned with a lady embellished in a lovely red gown, or in this year’s case, a Kimono.

Another place worth visiting while exploring this beautiful area is somewhat new. Star in the Valley, named after the gorgeous night sky in the area, is another vineyard and winery growing grapes and making wine with terroir in mind. The soils are shallow, rocky, and well-drained, and they have recently added a new element to care for their vineyard, a two-ewe crew. Yuri and brother Shep are Heritage Babydoll Sheep. Their small size makes them perfect to clean out the grass and sucker shoots around the vines.   At an elevation of over 1,000 feet, it is protected from the harsh elements. The location is the driest area of Virginia ensuring healthy, ripe fruit. They have been tailoring their wines according to that environment. The views are stunning, and the wines match its beauty, all of which are labeled with names like Starset (Cab Franc Rosé), and Astronomer (an “orange wine,” created from Vidal). The farm has always been in the family, although not always a vineyard, and is enjoying success in small-batch wine production. They were voted best winery in Shenandoah in 2020 and 2022, and their Chardonel received a gold medal in the 2023 Governors Cup. All of their wines show great balance and everyone who visits is bound to find something to enjoy while gazing at the expansive scenery.

The two mentioned are not the only wineries worth visiting. There are Muse Vineyards, with winemaker Tim Rausse, who has a fabulous Gamay—something rare to offer here in Virginia; Michael Shaps latest winery, Shenandoah; as well as The Winery at Kindred Pointe; Wolf Gap and several others are worth checking out! This blog is not long enough to mention all of the beauties in the area, nor did it list a lot of great wines created here, but hopefully it was enough of a teaser to encourage an exploratory trip.  Next time you are bound for a Virginia wine tour, consider heading toward the beautiful Shenandoah wine region. Wine tasting is not the only activity to be found. There are breweries and distilleries, plus the Route 11 Potato Chip factory, hiking and antique-ing. 



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