What’s Still OPEN? First, everyone wants to know what will remain open during the extensive renovation of the infrastructure of “The Hall” as fondly known by neighbors. Full Cry at Keswick Golf Club, the resort’s golf course will remain open. The golf course layout was rated #3 “Best Courses You Can Play in Virginia” in Virginia in 2016 by Golfweek magazine. U.S. Designed by World Golf Hall of Fame architect Pete Dye, Golf Digest’s ranked “Full Cry” as one of the prestigious “Best New Courses for 2015”. Appropriately named, the term “Full Cry” refers to the eager cry of the hounds when in pursuit of their prey, fitting for avid golfers although they have to keep their enthusiasm more subdued ;-). Keswick Hall is located in the heart of Virginia’s Hunt Country, located just below the hills of the Southwest Mountains; scenic byways lead you past vineyards such as three time Governor’s Cup award winning Keswick Vineyards and historic plantations. The resort will be fully open in 2019 and will be perfectly timed to enjoy the Keswick wines produced from the outstanding 2017 harvest.
Other benefits still available are the Spa, Fitness Center, driving range and member’s pool. The Pavilion pool with it’s infinity design will be closed only temporarily and you will still be able to enjoy the chaise lounge view over the golf course after a relaxing swim.
Second, What to expect in RENOVATIONS:
With parts of “The Hall” construction dating back over a century, there has been a great effort to hire the right firm to retain the historic elements and character which keep it on par with resorts like The Greenbrier, The Jefferson and The Homestead. H7 Holdings LLC, owned by Robert and Mollie Hardie, selected the design firm of Hart Howerton to oversee the renovation which will include attention to the roof, plumbing, heating and air conditioning as well as modernization of furnishings and finishes expected by present day traveler demands. The renovations will be an added bonus for tourists and locals and we look forward to seeing the final result!
In the MEANTIME: We are proud to call it to the attention of equestrians, golfers, tennis players and individuals seeking a luxury lifestyle in a gated community just minutes from Charlottesville; currently we have exclusively listed the residence at 849 Club Drive in Keswick Estate. While there are building lots for sale in the neighborhood, this estate home was built with a focus on creating a timeless property that evokes images of a country estate in England with the contemporary conveniences and luxuries of the current generation. Exceptional in design, architecture and landscape, this is a truly unique property on the east coast sited strategically on 2.39 acres with 7,382 beautifully finished square feet and a delightful Hartley Botanic greenhouse imported from the U.K.
Fun Note: the hounds of the Keswick Hunt Club can be seen on their walks through the community and the location of this particular home is an easy walk or golf cart ride to the amenities at Keswick Country Club and Keswick Hall. Please feel free to contact Bob & Tricia at 434-882-0824 to schedule an appointment to view this lovely home.
It’s been two months since I wrote Part One of this post!
Procrastination and life has a way of interfering with sitting back at a keyboard with a glass of wine and reflecting on how blessed we are to live in such a beautiful part of the world. It actually took the Republican National Convention to spur me on to writing. Kerry Woolard, General Manager of Trump Winery, spoke last night at the RNC and Eric Trump is slated to speak this evening. I have Kerry to thank, along with the staff at Trump Winery, for making our stay exceptional. Oh, and by the way, this is not a political diatribe, it just got me thinking. This is about an over the top Bed and Breakfast in Virginia wine country, just a short drive down the road from the historic Monticello, Ashlawn ( James Monroe’s home), Dave Matthew’s winery Blenheim Vineyards, peach and apple orchards and our own charming downtown Charlottesville.
In thinking back over our stay, I pondered as to why it was such an impressionable overnight and several reasons came to mind.
One: As children we hear stories and read fairy tales about princes and princesses, castles and sumptuous living, but only a few people actually experience the daily lifestyle of the rich and famous. This was an opportunity to slip into that world, for a night or a weekend or a week.
Two: Trump does have the letter “T” everywhere and guess who has the same initials? So, when they handed us the remote control for the gate to the property and I kept seeing the “T” everywhere, well, it kind of did feel like home. The fact that the manor house has only (only!) ten suites, and due to the limited number of guests on our stay, my sister actually started calling it her home. Conversations began with “ I’m so glad you could come to visit me” and along with plenty of bubbly wine and giggles, we did make ourselves quite at home.
Three: The approach through the vineyards and traversing through the rolling countryside with pastoral vistas, I was reminded of early 1800’s paintings of England in particular, a landscape by English Romantic painter, John Constable of Wivenhoe Park an English landscape park, and the estate of the Rebow family.
Four: Elegance permeated the property with two 1760 handmade Waterford crystal chandeliers, the elaborate ornamental rococo mantle in the dining room, the soaring 22 foot ceiling in the living room, hand-painted wallpaper designed in Paris and painted in India, garden statuary and formal rose gardens plus the Steinway grand piano- all speak to a lifestyle of days gone by and made this home outstanding.
As I said, we were totally impressed!
So that night, we slipped on our slippers like The Twelve Dancing Princesses by the Brothers Grimm (except there were only four princesses in this story) and danced and traipsed through the halls of the mansion down to the private theater, complete with freshly popped popcorn, loads of candy bars and BYOB Trump Sparkling Blanc de Blanc.
Okay, so maybe we don’t look like princesses-we felt like princesses.
Showing pictures of our “Pajama Party” at the Albemarle Estate, I really wanted you to see how much fun you can have at the estate and it would’t be complete without sharing about our evening in the private theater. The room was used in the 1980’s to screen first release films and currently, state of the art surround sound and HD projection. For about $20 per person, you can reserve the theater for your group .
You’ll have the theater to yourself with tons of movies to choose from (you get to select only one though), all you can eat Reese’s and it’s really close to the indoor hot tub, sauna and outdoor pool area if you decide to do something else. I fell asleep and missed THE END but we had a short walk to our opulent suite and sweet dreams.
The Morning After
I think the pictures speak volumes…it was a heavenly wake-up and the formal breakfast/brunch was artfully presented.
Afterward, we took advantage of the cool morning air, a bike ride and further exploring the property…
A special thanks to my sweet daughter/photographer, Jillian Curran of Lumina Boston Photography, the pictures were too many, too wonderful to include all in this one post.
Friday afternoon, one week before Christmas, a pot of stew simmering on the stove and a glass of crimson Cabernet Sauvignon smiling at me next to my laptop. The last thing I need to do is write a blog post. Still haven’t finished shopping or writing Christmas cards, but I can’t help reflecting back over another wonderful year living in the Virginia wine country. If you live here or visit Central Virginia,I encourage you to pause long enough to appreciate the Blue Ridge mountains, the exquisite neon pink, fuchsia and purple sunsets, the rows of vineyards crossing slopes between country estates and the hospitality of our local wineries. So stop… carve out a little time… and enjoy…
Highlights that stand out over the seasons of 2015 were sensory experiences I will not forget. Thank you to Claude Thibaut, winemaker and friend, who graciously helped us showcase the elegance and entertaining value of our clients home for sale in Northern Albemarle county. It was a sparkling day in January with crystal blue skies, ridges of mountains in the background and fireplaces warming us as Claude poured flutes of Thibaut-Janisson Extra Brut. The home was a house of celebrations and what better way to exemplify it then offering Thibaut-Janisson bubbly for our agents and guests to enjoy during the tour. And yes, the home sold and there is a new owner; I hope they are toasting in the New Year with TJ Extra Brut!
The second highlight was a quite grand event- the official ribbon cutting at the Albemarle Estate, 98 pastoral acres and the 23,000 square foot, 45 room mansion. Strategically purchased by Donald Trump at a fantastically low $6,700,000 price after having already secured the Kluge Estate Winery and portions of the vineyards surrounding the property. Thanks to good friend Mark Norman, President of World Wine Marketing and Kerry Woolard, General Manager of all operations at Trump Estate, I was invited and able to see the opulent interior and manicured Italianate gardens of Albemarle House!
In Trump style (pardon the cliché) guests as well as local dignitaries gathered in front of the manor, newscasters in place poised with microphones as the chop-chop-chop sounds of the highly recognizable private helicopter landed yards away from our seats. Introductions followed including Eric Trump, Donald’s son who has taken leadership of Trump Estate Winery as President and Kerry Woolard, General Manager. Both have impressive credentials and since taking over the foreclosed property have placed the Trump name significantly on the map in Virginia wine country.
**Another separate blog post devoted to Albemarle Estate will follow soon, extolling the details and beauty of the property, especially as a remarkable fairy tale wedding venue and luxury B & B.**
The third and final highlight for me was a return trip on December 10th to the fully operational Albemarle Estate for a Virginia Wine Chat event hosted and moderated by well known popular wine expert and blogger, Frank Morgan of Drink What You Like and Jonathan Wheeler, Winemaker for Trump Estate Winery. Jonathan has been with the estate since 2006 and it was interesting hearing his explanations and joining in the conversation as questions came from not only the small group of guests, but also participants via Twitter and Ustream using the hashtag #VAWineChat. Virginia Wine Chat is a virtual participation event for busy wine lovers to gather, share and learn in the comfort of their own home (or wherever they may be at the scheduled moment). Started in 2013 by Frank Morgan after realizing the interest and opportunity for social media oenophiles to meet virtually. Make plans to participate next month if you aren’t already involved.
Greeted by the Trump management and hospitality team, we were immediately offered our choice of two wines, a Viognier and a Sparkling Reserve. Bubbles trump every time for me-pun intended.
Appetizers were delicious with my favorite served, mini gluten-free crab cakes! Yummy with the crisp sparkling wine! Strolling through the elegantly appointed rooms accented with tasteful Christmas decorations, we made ourselves at home (oh my gosh!) and settled in to the Library, a combination room including leather tufted sofas, fireplace and billiard table and served by the adjacent bar. Hospitality abounded throughout the evening and we proceeded to the event itself. Note:pinching myself, could get really used to this!
The wines featured were a 2009 Blanc de Blanc, 2009 Sparkling Rose, 2014 Chardonnay and the pre-release 2014 Meritage. All were very good, the Meritage was a little young and needed more time to develop ( they already know that) but well received. I think we had a consensus that the overall favorite, and by the way, we all asked for a second pour, was the 2009 Blanc de Blanc-effervescent and citrusy with a nice light yeasty influence.
If you haven’t finished shopping like me, check out the “Gift Shop” at Trump Winery for some last minute Christmas or New Years ideas. Hint to my husband, hope he reads the blog…
Cheers to the end of 2015, an excellent vintage in my opinion =)
Food, Family, Celebrations, Shopping! It’s the holidays and the pressure is on to entertain, so why not make life easy? Here are some ideas of upcoming events at our local Virginia wineries. Beginning with Black Friday ( I prefer Green Friday if you’re hung up on the sales aspect of the season) at Grace Estate Winery and enjoy the ambience and views in Western Albemarle from the new tasting room. From November 27th-29th and take advantage of the 20-30% discount on three different wines.
Tired of leftovers? Take your friends for a nice country drive on Friday Nov 27th 6-9pm where the Beatles cover band Abbey Road Unplugged will be at Glass House Winery, and Two Brothers food truck will be servin up their fantastic southwestern style eats, so come hungry, too. You can still bring a picnic if you like, but the food truck is fantastic, just so you know. No cover, no outside alcohol, no reservations.Buy some delicious gourmet wine infused chocolates while you’re there! Tastings served throughout (noon-5:30).
Head to Keswick Vineyards and spend some time getting up close and personal with Keswick Vineyards 2015 vintage with Winemaker Stephen Barnard as you get to experience a barrel tasting of this very promising vintage!
Taste exceptional wines including Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Chardonnay and Viognier as they develop and mature in the barrel. There will be 8 sessions, Saturday, November 21st, Sunday, November 22nd, Saturday, November 28th, and Sunday, November 29th from 10-1pm and from 2-5pm each day. You will also have the opportunity to purchase “futures” of these wines at a discount during the barrel tastings!
SHOPPING and SANTA
On November 28th and 29th “Deck the Halls” atEarly Mountain Vineyards To celebrate the holiday season, from 11:00am to 5:00pm. On Saturday, Two Wishes (if you haven’t heard them you’ve really been missing out!), and on Sunday, The Olivarez Trio with our friend Jeff Cheers, will be providing holiday music throughout the event. Enjoy horse-drawn carriage rides, photos with Santa, cookie decorating and shopping for gifts from a wide variety of local artists and artisans .We went last year, it was lots of fun and ran into friends out with their visiting families.
Celebrate the holiday season on December 9th 6-9 p.m. with Pippin Hill’s Executive Chef Bill Scatena! Learn to entertain with small festive bites great for your next holiday party! Tickets will also include a cocktail demo that will explain how to mix flavors to create the perfect holiday drink!
MASKS and BUBBLES!
On New Years Eve Veritas will be hosting their annual Masked Ball, an elegant event featuring wine and hors d’oeuvres followed by a five-course winemaker’s dinner at 8 p.m. in Saddleback Hall. There will be dancing until midnight, when the masks come off and the champagne flows! Breakfast follows at 12:30 a.m. So bring your mask and your dancing shoes to have great food, wine, and fun to bring in the New Year 2016. Tickets are $175/person.
For any of these events, please plan ahead, call now for reservations at the links provided.
Cheers to You and your Families as we ring out 2015 and celebrate the New Year 2016, Clink!
Weather forecast on 4th of July: good chance of rain and upper 80’s, almost didn’t leave the house, who needs another muggy day…change of plans and headed to Western Albemarle county…best decision ever!
Since we’re real estate agents and sometimes find carving out personal time difficult, we tend towards spontaneity. This spontaneous choice found us on the patio at Stinson, overlooking ripening vineyards and the bucolic valley below the Blue Ridge Mountain skyline. Listening to Charlottesville’s own homegrown New Orleans style jazz band of Chickenhead Blues completed the experience. Recently the musicians have been discovered in New Orleans and a majority of their scheduled gigs are now in Cajun country.
As far as selecting wine, we chose the 2012 Meritage, which would have been perfect on a cooler day or in the evening with a steak, but in accordance with the warmish weather we moved on to the Sauvignon Blanc. I now have a new favorite Virginia wine and since have encountered other wine lovers who feel the same. Father and daughter winemakers, Scott and Rachel Stinson have invested in, not one, but two concrete eggs to ferment wine in and this wine is done in a combination of stainless steel and the concrete egg, achieving a delicious grapefruity, white peach flavor followed by a mineral finish for a refreshing result. The concrete egg is a whole other story!
It’s been on my calendar to make it for their Tailgate Thursday nights event held weekly until September 3rd, and we’re running out of time to take advantage of the TWO Big Green Eggs and Weber grill. Bring your own meat for grilling, grab a blanket or chairs and picnic in a family, dog friendly venue and kick off the weekend early. No time for grocery shopping? Local meat from The Rock Barn and Free Union Grass Farm can be purchased and thawed by calling ahead. Now, pick your favorite wine to pair and it’s a cookout. Can’t get too much easier than that.
While the Champagne region of France claims the name, other countries including the United States of America are establishing their own reputation using traditional Chardonnay grapes as well as Pinot Noir to make sparkling wine. The average bottle of Champagne contains enough carbon dioxide to potentially produce 49 million bubbles, some say even more. Watching the bubbles shoot upward is quite mesmerizing, recalling childhood memories of bubble lights on Christmas trees. This has sparked a new tradition in our family of opening gifts with a chilled bottle of Champagne or a Brut Rosé from Soter in the Willamette Valley of Oregon (very welcome gift from my sister).
Virginia has now placed itself on the sparkling wine map courtesy of Claude Thibaut and his Thibaut Janisson sparkling wines. Originally from Champagne, Claude has traversed the globe popping coks, perfecting his dosage and selecting only the best grapes and juice for his wines. He brought his expertise in the “methode champenoise” to Kendall-Jackson, Jordan and Iron Horse wineries in California as well as Champagne Veuve Devaux, Bar sur seine, France and Yarra Bank, Victoria Australia, where his wines were voted “Best of the Best” in the 1995 Australia and New Zealand Wine Guide. He partners with Manuel Janisson of Janisson et Fils, a well know family of Champagne makers in Verzenay, France. Claude originally was enticed to Charlottesville by Patricia Kluge of Kluge Estate Winery and is now owned and operated by Donald and Eric Trump. I am particularly fond of Claude’s latest T-J Extra Brut!
We were recently gifted with a bottle of Barboursville Cuvee 1814 Brut wine which was excellent. Side note: after pouring the wine there seemed to be very few bubbles and within a short period of time an explosion of bubbles occurred. The wine was well received by all! I look forward to serving it again.
Following traditional holidays like Christmas, New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day, Champagne drinking may hit a slump but any time is good for serving sparkling wine. It’s like the slogan, Orange Juice, It’s Not Just for Breakfast Anymore! Watch these three wineries (Trump definitely included) as well as other Virginia wineries for future vintages!
Being first is nothing new to Donald Trump and, in this case, timing is everything.
Known for associating their brand with luxury and the finer things in life, the sound of a popping cork and tiny effervescent bubbles racing to the top are symbolic of this latest of Trump ventures. Trump blew into the Virginia countryside in early October 2011 with a clapping helicopter entrance and media show announcing his arrival onto the Monticello AVA scene and in a flash set in motion the transference of ownership from Kluge Estate to his namesake.
With 95 acres of grapes dedicated to sparkling wines, the 2014 harvest began as a “crunch to the crush”. The consumption of Champagne and sparkling wine has been on the rise and Trump Winery was poised to meet that demand. After an unseasonably cool Summer, little rain and hot August days approaching, the time to pick the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes for sparkling wines was quickly upon us in the Charlottesville area. Due to their micro-climate, location and a desire to have a more acidic grape desirable for sparkling wines, Trump is one of the earliest vineyards in Virginia to start picking grapes (as early as August 7th). If we got rain too soon, as was in the original forecast for the 9th and 10th of August, the grapes could become saturated affecting the sugar (brixx) level which is so critical. Harvesting grapes at night and into the cool morning hours is ideal for a champagne style wine. Vineyard managers believe that night harvests result in grapes with better sugar levels and acidity. It is also easier on the workers who are hand picking without having to labor in the heat of the day.
On Sunday August 10th, accompanied by my husband and our daughter ( our photographer) we set off for a visit to the Trump Winery tasting room. The transformation from Kluge Estate was quite apparent with the Trump logo everywhere emblazoned on polo shirts, on chocolate bars looking newly minted in silver and gold and on the black shirted tasting room team attending to the guests. Even the bathroom fixtures appear gilded!
Business is certainly thriving at Trump and the tasting room filled rapidly, but not before we had quick assistance from lovely Judi Bowers, opening a bottle of the Trump Brut Sparkling Rosé 2009 to taste. Great choice, Judi! Armed with our Champagne glasses and an ice bucket we headed outdoors.
One of the best decisions ( in my opinion) made at the tasting room since Trump had taken ownership was opening up the vista off the larger outdoor patio. Previously the outdoor space had been surrounded by trees and dense natural foliage obscuring the view. Now a picture-postcard, artist-inspiring view draws guests out to rough picnic tables with a pastoral scene of vineyards and a lake in the distance. Just off the patio and tasting bar is a garden smelling ripe with tomatoes.
The salmon colored sparkling wine paired beautifully in taste and appearance with our selection of a rustic bacon lettuce tomato sandwich and a Caprese salad of heirloom tomatoes. We savored the experience and our glass of Brut Rose before heading out on the hike across the road through the vineyards. As we approached the vines seemed to come alive with the rustling sounds of invisible workers hidden below the vines laughing and singing as they selected the best clusters of grapes to clip. Moving rapidly up the rows and bringing in the bunches of grapes was a pleasure to watch.
Listen and perhaps the next time you pop open a bottle of sparkling wine from Central Virginia you may hear some of the laughter and song in the rising bubbles!
We hope you enjoy your next bottle of Trump bubbly as much as we did.
Visions of warm sunny days, leisurely two hour lunches drawn out with conversation, an aproned waiter pouring bubbles into your champagne glass and soft music beckon us back to the Old Country. If you’re like most wine lovers from the United States, it is a dream to visit the birthplace of wine making, Europe. France, Italy and Spain are the most sought after destinations, followed by Germany, Portugal and Greece.
Thomas Jefferson was just so inspired during his travels to France, thus beginning the New World efforts of cultivating grapes to make wine. He started his vines on the slopes of Monticello, his mountain top home, overlooking Charlottesville, Virginia. Richard Leahy has written a wonderful book, Beyond Jefferson’s Vines, about the history of this endeavor and the more recent explosion of vineyards in Virginia. I especially like the praise offered by John Hagarty, www.Hagarty-on-Wine.com, “Richard Leahy has woven a rich tapestry of Virginia’s wineries and winemakers. If Jefferson could peruse this book a satisfied smile would surely grace his countenance because his dream of quality Virginia wine has been fulfilled. This volume will be referenced often for those seeking to better understand the Old Dominion’s wine ascendency. A riveting and rewarding read.”
Recently, I travelled “across the pond” in the company of my mother, to visit my sister currently living in Provence. The movie, A Good Year, with Russell Crowe and Marion Cotillard, , is one of my favorite movies and the film location of Bonnieux, Vaucluse, France was just a little southeast of Carpentras, where we made our home base. Maison Trevier, the delightful maison we stayed in, is within the walled village of Carpentras, around the corner from a wonderful fromagerie, La Fromagerie du Comtat. Grab a baguette, some home made fig preserves, olives and truffles from the market and you are in heaven. As I walked into the jardin of Gina Trevier, owner of Maison Trevier, I could almost hear the music from the soundtrack from A Good Year 🙂
I was accustomed to our lovely tasting rooms at the wineries in Virginia. Many of which supplement the costly production of wine on the east coast by building fabulous event sites for weddings and celebrations. Not all are like Pippin Hill Farm, Veritas, King Family Vineyards or Early Mountain Vineyards with their beautifully appointed celebration halls (which are quite gorgeous!) many are smaller, more intimate and not quite as opulent. Afton Mountain Vineyards has a wonderful outdoor covered space, complete with blankets and space heaters to enjoy the view even when it’s cold. They have a perfect spot with a contemporary arbor for weddings plus one of the coziest tasting rooms. See my post http://cvilleuncorked.com/2011/10/15/afton-mountain-vineyards-revisited/ for more about Afton Mountain.
Each winery around the Charlottesville area has it’s own personality. Some are dog friendly like Keswick with it’s Yappy Hours on Sundays but also known for fabulous weddings with a plantation feel that Scarlett O’Hara would have loved. Some are tropical and create gourmet chocolates like Glass House Winery and seating under the glass conservatory jungle of banana trees. Pollak Vineyards sits below the mountain overlooking a pond and has offered fly fishing lessons in the past. Mountfair does weddings on a smaller scale and many of the wineries offer live music on weekends. Veritas has their Starry Nights, outdoor fire pits and a bandstand. King Family Vineyards hosts Polo matches and an annual benefit for breast cancer, the Pink Ribbon Polo Classic coming up on June 20th, 2014. None of this takes away from the fact that Virginia is producing award winning wines that rival the wines of the Old Country. Southern hospitality abounds and you won’t be disappointed in visiting a tasting room in Virginia.
By contrast, the wineries and tasting rooms we visited in France were small, most do not charge a tasting fee and can limit you to three tastings, unlike Barboursville Winery (with it’s 5 Star Dining at Palladio) or Horton Vineyards where you taste quite a large selection. Not to be outdone by the ruins at Chateauneuf du Pape, Barboursville has their own ruins of Governor Barbours home, designed by Thomas Jefferson himself. In Chateauneuf, you can taste in a Cave, a small room under ground where you may taste from several different wineries or in the main tasting room for Chateauneuf du Pape that even sells souvenirs. The French term for tasting is “degustation” so look for a sign that includes the term. ‘En vente directe‘ indicates that they have direct sales and “vin a’ emporter” means they sell wine that you can take with you.
In Gigondas, my favorite village of the trip, we visited a more contemporary tasting room with very small bottles in a test tube style presentation, where you may taste many vintages and some world class wines. It was a bit like stepping up to the counter in a store than tasting at a bar, but they had an amazing selection of wines.
The smallest winery we visited was Clos de Trias in Le Barroux and the winemaker’s home really did remind you of A Good Year, family owned and operated, this winery is one of the few 100% organic, biodynamic wineries in the world. With the family Great Dane, Tauro, sneaking in to watch us barrel taste, it was the best wine tasting on our trip. The wines were excellent and we had a wonderful tour by Paige Carnwath and my sister, both who’ve bottled, pumped, picked and tasted for the wine maker, Evan Bakke.
If you want to taste wine and make an effort to converse about your tasting in France, explore this link for French wine tasting terms. It’s like the old adage, when in Rome…
Whether you venture out to wineries in France or Virginia, the wine community is a big family, facing the same obstacles of weather, and uniting to support each other. Both countries appreciate wine from bud break or bud burst to the final product, so go, enjoy and savor the experience wherever grapes are grown.
Crystal skies, frosty winds coursing the rows of dormant grape vines anchored on slopes of the Virginia piedmont….feeling the snowy terroir under hoof… it was a beautiful day.
Whether you’re a horse lover, wine lover or outdoor enthusiast, a ride on horseback through the Virginia vineyards appeals to the romantic in all of us. Don’t believe me? Gentleman, ask your spouse or girlfriend if she would like to venture out on horseback, escorted by a professional guide and finish at the tasting room of one of three spectacular award winning wineries. Ladies, ask your husbands, boyfriends, girlfriends or bridesmaids if they would enjoy a private tour like I just described….exactly! Which is the same reason that I arranged for my sister ( fellow oenophile-fancy name for wino) and I to do just that!
Veritas, King Family, Pollak Vineyards and Glass House Winery all snuggle up to the backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains with views that arguably beat Napa Valley hands down. All three wineries have joined with local cowboy, Ashton Beebe and his Indian Summer Guide Service, to provide a sensory experience that shouldn’t be missed. If you have any apprehensions about riding, no worries here, these horses are accustomed to the terrain and easy as can be with any novice rider.
We selected Veritas Winery for our tour and would have gladly hit all three if time had allowed. Two Socks, Beau and Murphy (Quarter Horse Pintos) were brushed down and ready for our ride. Ashton had requested the lovely Chloe Hodson, Manager of the Farmhouse and Retreat at Veritas, to join us for an education about the grape varieties, the terroir and the history of Veritas. We mounted and set off towards the slopes above Veritas casually chatting, getting accustomed to the gait of the horses. In a matter of moments, we had established a connection-multiple connections-between the four of us. Chloe immediately tripped to the fact that her boyfriend, Elliott Watkins, assistant winemaker to sister Emily Pelton and originally from the U.K. , graduated from Plumpton College in England, for wine making, the same school that my sister is attending for her WSET. I knew Ashton’s family from years before where we attended church together. Small world!
The ride was comfortable, horses snorting in conversation with each other, and we continued to ascend the slopes. Should you have any reservations about riding, Ashton will put you at ease and the horses follow each other, easily used to mountain trail rides. I wanted to take pictures with my camera, no easy task when you’re trying to relax and just take in the moment; but Ashton was riding, reigning single handedly and snapping pictures with his own camera. A nice surprise and we lapsed into just savouring the experience. At the highest elevation on our ride, Chloe pointed out a slope where future vines would be planted and quite possibly be tended on horseback due to the steepness. It was at this point that I felt like I was in Montana, in another era, bygone days and away from the hustle of business, cars and crowds.
Following our ride, we entered the tasting room with it’s soaring ceilings and the “cork LOVE” display playing off the slogan Virginia is for (wine) Lovers. Chloe and Elliott walked us through the extensive line up of wines produced at Veritas. Two wines of special note were first, Elliott’s baby, a 2013 Rosé, which my sister is taking back to Plumpton College to brag on his winemaking skills. It was fun sampling wine with Ashton and getting the guided tour of the cellar and doing some barrel tastings.
The other was the Kenmar, made with Traminette grapes ( a hybrid of Gewurtztraminer and Joannes –Seyve (JS) from Cornell. Emily’s Veritas 2005 Kenmar brought national attention to this young female winemaker as the winner of the Judge’s Choice Competition at the 2007 National Women’s Wine Competition in California. Chloe explained the history of this wine, named in remembrance of her grandparents, Kenneth and Marjorie who passed away during 2001, the year of their first vintage. Her grandmother enjoyed sweet wines and asked that one be made to her taste, thus the Kenmar was born. As Chloe shared the sweet story about her grandmother, we couldn’t help but get teary eyed along with her. My favorite wine was the Harlequin Reserve Chardonnay 2012, a little oaky, buttery and served later at home with our favorite cedar planked Alaskan salmon. I admit that I do like creamy chardonnays…what’s wrong with that?
Chloe Guides the Wine Tasting
Our tour culminated at the winery, off horseback, (no drinking and riding despite our posed photographs to show off the link to the vineyards). If you can arrange a horseback tour of the vineyards, try to arrange it during the weekdays when the tasting room is quieter and you can sit by the grand fireplace or really take your time learning about the wines. I cannot recommend this enough and look forward to the soonest opportunity to ride along again. Contact Ashton to arrange your vineyard tour at 434) 531-9679, he DOES answer his phone 🙂
If you want to create the ultimate package, horse back rides, massages courtesy of Blue Ridge Massage Therapy , yoga, cooking classes, spa treatments and staying at the Farmhouse call 540-456-8100 for rates and reservations. Chloe is hands on in this area and can coordinate your visit with various pampering and adventures for your indulgences.
Living in the midst of Virginia’s hunt country has it’s perks. One of the nicest, aside from the scenic backdrop of rolling hills, miles of painted four board fences and Gone With the Wind sunsets, is the pageantry of the horses and hounds. Just a short distance down the road from the popular Keswick Vineyards in Cismont, Virginia is a must do for Thanksgiving.
At 10 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning the church bells toll and the annual Blessing of the Hounds is celebrated as an outdoor service at Grace Episcopal Church established in 1742. This prayer service was first held on November 28th, 1929 and is a well loved tradition that “dates back to the eighth century when St. Hubert ( the son of the Duke of Aquitaine) was hunting on Good Friday and saw a stag with a luminous crucifix between it’s antlers. He allowed the stag to get away and ultimately founded a monastery where he bred the black and tan hounds. He later was canonized by the church as the patron saint of hunters”.
Formal fox hunting attire is elegant and functional. The uniform consists of scarlet colored coats worn with white breeches or black blazers with buff breeches and both always worn with a black hat and black riding boots. Stock ties accentuate white shirts and are protective and functional. In case of an injury, the tie can be removed and used as a tourniquet, sling or bandage and pinned using the simple stock pin.
This has become a family tradition on Thanksgiving, all bundled up with warm clothes, a cup of hot coffee and standing huddled with others awaiting the entrance of the horses and hounds. The horses and hounds arrive promptly clip clopping with their riders in fox hunt regalia under the shadow of the Grace bell tower. The hounds rustle around, responding to their masters direction and sniffing for some of the treats tossed from the riders on horseback. Horse tails swish, snorting sounds and frosty breath in the cold morning air while the voices softly sing anthems of patriotism. It almost seems as though the animals are hushed by the quiet notes of America the Beautiful and My Country Tis of Thee.
The sun rises above the tower of Grace Episcopal Church and the crystal clear blue skies provide a brilliant contrast to the vivid scarlet coats, while we reflect with thanksgiving on the blessings we take for granted the rest of the year. If you haven’t been before, I highly recommend It. The children will love it and it’s great family time.