October is Virginia Wine month, and in honor of that, we revisit a winery that was highlighted last year—one that seems to have found just the right spot to not only grow grapes and make award-winning wines, but the right venue to focus on a passion. Virginia is a challenging area for growing vinifera grapes. This state brings bi-polar weather, with constant changes, pests, mold and mildew, and ever-changing terroir across the state. Some wineries have had to resort to adding events to recoup costs. It not only takes the right spot, but the right people, with the passion and determination to be successful in this industry.
It took several years to find just the right spot for Hark Vineyards. The first 70 acres was purchased in 2015. The Harks have a genuine passion for the outdoors and Virginia wine. That passion flows into each bottle of wine, beginning in the vineyard, and continuing to the care of the vines and the artistry of the winemakers. The Harks have chosen a team of people who apply that same level of passion to their craft.
Aaron Hark was in the right spot when he met Jake Busching. They met during a viticulture class, and realized they both shared the same perspective on what it takes to make a successful vineyard in Virginia. Jake is not only very experienced with soil and vineyard management, he is also a very skilled and respected winemaker for over 25 years. Jake joined the team, first as consultant, and would quickly move to become head winemaker. Jake’s portfolio includes Pollak Vineyards, Grace Estates Winery, Michael Shaps Wineworks, Jefferson Vineyards, and Keswick Vineyards. In 2016, Chardonnay, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc were planted. Later, Petit Manseng was added. The first vines were planted in 2017, and ground-breaking for the production facility and winery happened in 2018. By this time, Jake was head winemaker, and he brought in a long-time collaborator, AJ Greely, as assistant winemaker, who quickly transitioned to Cellar Master.
Doors were open to the public in 2019, with a larger tasting room in the plans. 2020 brought on challenges, with COVID taking over, and the larger tasting/event space, never broke ground, which may have been a sign—a sign to stick to the true passion and purpose the Harks intended to fulfill, which is to focus on making “really great wine!” They do not intend to be an event venue, but instead, a destination for wine.
Jake Busching departed after setting the stage for success, to focus on his own label (Jake Busching Wine) and AJ Greely took over the stage. AJ has spent a decade in the industry, having worked with some of the best winemakers in the state. She is quite happy to be at home at Hark. She is often heard saying, "They're gonna take me outta here feet first.” AJ has served on the board of the Virginia Vineyards Association since 2020, and is the current Treasurer. She is actively involved in the Virginia Wine Research Exchange, as well as other organizations assisting and promoting women and minorities in the Virginia Wine Industry.
This year, in particular, AJ is quite excited! The 2023 harvest is “Fantastic,” according to AJ. She graciously stepped away from punchdowns (with grape must coated hands) to give us an update on how things are going, “While the grapes came in one month, (almost exactly to the day), harvest is I n the cellar and continues for at least three weeks, if not longer. Our harvest for 2023 will be, again almost exactly to the date, eight weeks in total.” Reid Dougherty, who will be pouring for you this weekend, also added that they were able to bring in over 65 tons of estate-only fruit in the last two months! It's Hark's largest haul, and the quality of the fruit is the best they have seen since the epic vintage of 2019. They are beyond excited for the potential of the grapes! Currently, the last pressing (Petit Verdot) is happening, and next week, they press off the Cabernet Sauvignon. This vintage will include Pinot Gris, Vidal Blanc, Chardonnay, Petit Manseng, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Cab Sauv. He also shared with me some exciting news! Be on the lookout for a teeny bit of Roussanne that came from a vineyard a few miles down the road. When it was discovered to be available, it was a no-brainer ... it's Roussanne!
Reid will be pouring the following, this weekend at City Vino: