Prince Michel Vineyard & Winery is a proudly woman-owned winery in Leon, Virginia. It was founded in 1982 by French entrepreneurs Jean and Sylviane DeLuc. Current owner Kristin Easter bought the already well-established winery and has maintained its standard of excellence for nearly two decades. The 70-acre property includes a winemaking facility, a tasting room and brewpub. Should you want to spend the night they also have four luxury suites available for accommodation.

Visiting Prince Michel Winery

About Prince Michel Winery and Kristin Easter

Easter bought the property in 2005 and strongly believes in staying involved in the processes of the vineyard. She keeps a close eye on the industry, attending expositions and events. She also visits wineries on her many travels to keep tabs on new and emerging trends. She even hand-picks all merchandise available in the Prince Michel gift shop, where the tasting room is located. Recently, she and her team have been moving in new and exciting directions. After bringing in new CEO Reo Hatfield, they hired award-winning winemaker Bryan Jones. The team is excited about Jones’ ideas for revolutionizing their winemaking process. “This is definitely a new era with a new vision,” Easter says. As for her favorite Prince Michel Vineyard wine, “I enjoy the Viognier with a spicy pasta cream sauce.”

Women-owned and run, Prince Michel Winery combines vineyard lodging and exciting new winemaking techniques.
Prince Michel Winery Owner Kristin Easter, Photo © Robert Radifera

The winery’s beautiful barrel room has seating for over 100 people. It boasts tasteful events both public and private, plus a wine tasting area in the gift shop. The property also offers four beautiful suites for those who want the chance to stay on-site at a luxurious Virginia wine country property. They have an intimate wedding package for couples looking for a Virginia winery wedding.

They also maintain a brewery and taproom called Tap 29 Brewery & Pub, providing beers, live music and a full menu. The ethos of the space is to create a peaceful, calm and inclusive atmosphere and to always be respectful of their customer base. Tap 29 is open seven days a week so that anyone who likes can stop in and spend quality time with family and friends while sharing a delicious meal.

Prince Michel Winery’s New CEO Reo Hatfield

Phot of Reo Hatfield, the new CEO of Virginia's Prince Michel Winery.
Reo Hatfield, Image by The Daily Progress Courtesy of Prince Michel Winery & Vineyard

Reo Hatfield first worked with Prince Michel Winery in 2019 as a consultant and was thrilled when Easter asked him to come back as CEO. His 50-year history in management gives him an excellent insight into the workings and growth of industry, and his service on city council and the police reserve allow him to connect with people as well. Hatfield’s pride in the winery is evident. He strongly believes that everything, from interpersonal relations to business-level management, should be run with heart and compassion.

Hatfield has a strong faith in the foundations and history of the winery and its potential to grow and expand even further, contributing to the greater Virginia wine industry as a whole. “Prince Michel’s foundation is second to none,” he said. “We have the equipment, the storage, the cold tanks, the grape crush equipment capable of any level of grapes for ourselves and any winery or vineyard that needs crushing. We’re proud to be part of the Virginia group of vineyards and wineries…we are in competition to a degree, but by the same token it’s Virginia as a team of wineries that is succeeding. We believe that as a team we can help each other grow and provide the best product in America.”

“2024 is Prince Michel’s primary year of growth,” Hatfield added. “We are very proud of our past but we want to enhance our future…Bryan [Jones] is bringing 20 years of experience, leadership, confidence and award winning talents as we have always had and want to continue. He is bringing new wines to our business to give our customers new wines to enjoy and share.”

One thing Hatfield and Easter are determined to push forward is the implementation of an internal wine tasting group. This group consists of various people from all sides of the business to account for all different tastes. Easter’s motto is “the best wine is the wine that tastes best to YOU.” Their ultimate goal is for their customers to be happy, especially their club members, who have supported them throughout their endeavors. Prince Michel Vineyard & Winery has also introduced a Wine of the Year. The inaugural vintage is a sensational chocolate wine appropriately named Decadence, the winery’s top seller.

Get to Know Prince Michel Winery’s Winemaker Bryan Jones

What is your professional background? Awards? Where did you learn winemaking? Where have you worked in wine?

Photo of winemaker Bryan Jones in the barrel room at Prince Michel Winery
Winemaker Bryan Jones, Image Courtesy of Prince Michel Winery

My love for wine started in the 90s. I went to visit a friend in Missouri, and we used to hop in the jeep, pack lunch, and start hitting the wineries. I fell in love with sitting outside and having a nice picnic with some wine looking over the river basin in Missouri.

I was more of a beer guy at the time—I made my own beer at home, and I did not particularly care for the wine at first. It had to kind of grow on me, but once it did there was this connection to the product itself and the lifestyle that went with it. The more I learned about it, the more interested I became. So I started Wine Day at my house. Every Sunday people would come over and they would bring one bottle, and we would explore. This went on for five years, and it grew from three people to anywhere from 45 to 60 people.

I started volunteering alongside my mentor John Pitcock at Talon Winery in Lexington, Kentucky. I then followed him to a winery in Richmond, Kentucky called Acres of Land, then Harkness Edwards Vineyards and Winery in Winchester, Kentucky. John and I ended up consulting for Lovers Leap Vineyards and Winery, which was what we considered to be the pinnacle in the state due to its 30-acre vineyard planted with 20-year-old European grape vines as well as hybrid grapes and American grapes. These mature vines we well known in the state for producing solid-quality grapes. It was like a dream come true. I was with Lovers Leap for 12 years and given the opportunity to hone my skills as their chief winemaker working together with their team developing their line. I did all their label design work in Adobe, which I had to teach myself. I’ve judged local competitions. I’ve kind of run the whole gambit—I’ve done grunt work all the way up.

Who has been a mentor to you along your wine journey?

When I first started out, I owned a retail aquarium store. My knowledge of water chemistry was profound, and wine is 85 percent water. I know how to work with pH and how to understand what is going to happen down the road with water as it changes. So that transferred directly over and the wine thing was enhanced by, believe it or not, that store.

I encountered John Pitcock when he came into my store to buy fish for his aquarium. When he mentioned to my employees he was the new winemaker at local winery , they told him, “Oh, you have to talk to my boss, he’s insane about wine.” We met and talked, and he wanted to use my Wine Day group as a tasting panel to help him with his projects at a local winery. He brought wines that he was working on, and we were quite brutally honest with him. The vines that he was working with were very young and making the first harvest off a 4-year-old vine into something spectacular is not an easy task. Plus, we knew nothing about local grapes, so it was a learning experience for us.

It ended up being a connection that grew from that point. I told him, “Hey, if you ever need any help. I’ll work for free.” I just wanted to be a part of it. He had a consulting company called Vinessence and I got a nice education working with him at different wineries. He and I would go to vineyards that were experiencing trouble of one kind or another and we would help them finish things up.

So, I did that for 10 years, working in the trenches. Kentucky wine at that point was still very much in its infancy but I had a pretty good idea of what the world expected from wines. I used that experience to help start to make world-class wines with local grapes. I’m excited to now be working with such a well-established winery, Prince Michel Vineyard & Winery.

Do you consider winemaking more an art or a science and why?

I consider winemaking to be the perfect combination of science and art. Understanding your medium is very important. For instance, if you’re going to paint with watercolor, you’re not just going to lay brush to paper and expect things to go well. Unless you know the medium and you know how to guide the medium to paint the picture you’re trying to paint. Wine in this instance is like the paint. And when you blend it together, you guide it, and you’re trying to paint a picture. The more variety that you have, for instance, having stainless-aged wines along with barrel-aged wines, different toasting levels on the barrel, different wood, you create variety. And by creating all that variety, like we do at Prince Michel Vineyard & Winery, you’re giving yourself more colors to work with.

What achievement in viticulture/winemaking are you most proud of?

There’s a Cabernet Sauvignon I was able to age in barrel for 8 years and help it develop. It’s a Kentucky Cabernet Sauvignon, which is extremely rare and quite good. And then in 2012 (a severe drought) we had a vintage year where Kentucky got some hot, dry weather for about 12 weeks, and the Cabernet Sauvignon and the Cabernet Franc vines loved it. They produced some of the most beautiful fruit I’ve ever worked with; it was one of those things that just fell into place perfectly. Then to be able to develop an entire lineup for a winery and make sure all the wines on the list stand alone was an amazing experience.

“I consider winemaking to be the perfect combination of science and art.”

Aging something that long in barrel is a wonderful thing to be able to be a part of. To pick that fruit, take it eight years down the road, design the label for the bottle…this wine was filtered by gravity and time, so it went into a bottle by hand, unfiltered and then was corked and dipped in wax. The entire product was under my influence; that was a definite check on my list of things to accomplish. The reward was getting to watch sales increase, to watch the wine club grow and hearing people say that they didn’t know Kentucky wine could be like this.

Another personal goal for me has been to become a sommelier. In October of 2023, I passed the test, so that was another thing to check off my list of things I wanted to do for myself.

What are you excited about at Prince Michel Vineyard & Winery?

What I’m most excited about is taking the wines at Prince Michel Vineyard & Winery to a new level of quality and variety. And I’m very glad to be a part of the Virginia wine industry. It has a great reputation worldwide as a grape-growing and wine-production region for the eastern half of the United States. To come here and to be immediately supported and welcomed was more than I could have possibly asked for.

Prince Michel winery

I think that Prince Michel Vineyard & Winery is having a rebirth in a way. There’s excitement here. We have a strong team of people with multiple talents, and I do believe that the sky is the limit here, so it’s going to be something to watch. I think we’re going to raise the company up in a lot of different ways. There’s new life, there’s energy here that is very positive. We all know that we’re working towards the same goal and we support each other. I’m just very happy to be a part of it, to be honest. We’re very serious, we’re going to do new, exciting things, so it’s definitely worth watching.

Are there any new plantings anticipated, what are the details? New varietals to watch for from the barrel room?

We’re sourcing grapes from Virginia vineyards. Some are at a nice high elevation, so they’re closer to the sun, protected from the coldest part of the air, and they’re well drained. They will produce beautiful European grapes. So, we’ll source European grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Merlot and then some whites like Chardonnay, Viognier and Pinot Gris.

We’re going to bring those in from growers that we contract with. We’re also going to be putting in some new vineyards on our property. As far as what we will grow, we’ll have to talk about together as a team.

Do you have a favorite Prince Michel Vineyard Wine? What is your favorite food & wine pairing?

We’re working on the new Dry Red blend right now. It will be a Bordeaux style blend. I’m excited about this wine because it’s something that Prince Michel Vineyard hasn’t had for a while and it’s very popular.

In regard to pairing wine with food, they say if you’re having a light meal, have a light wine, if you’re having a heavy meal have heavy wine. That keeps it really general, but it puts you in the ballpark and then you can kind of play with the micro-adjustments on your own.

For example, I like sushi, and I typically will drink a light beer with sushi. But recently I’ve switched over to a light white wine like Prince Michel’s Harmony white blend, and the experience has been greatly enhanced by the acids. This wine has a brightness to it that pairs so well with most sushi rolls, because the acids really open up flavors. That is a fun summertime pairing.

Tempranillo, on the other hand, is one of my favorite red grapes. If you’ve not had a beef tenderloin with a deep, dark Tempranillo you should try it. It is very ripe, dark and deep, but it still has a brightness to it that will have the power to open flavors in your food. If you have a nice dark crust on a beef tenderloin and then that beautiful tenderness on the inside, a Tempranillo is going to hang with that meal and enhance the flavors significantly.

One of the things that I like to try to do is dispel the mystery and make people comfortable with wine. Just because someone else has terminology that they can use that you don’t doesn’t mean you’re not experiencing the same thing. Learning how to express what you’re experiencing with wine and food is something that takes a little time, but the experience is the same. So, don’t be intimidated by that kind of thing. You’ll likely find pairing foods with wine is an enjoyable exercise in the enhancement of the joy of life and quite an adventure . ~

Virginia Wine & Country celebrates elevated living in Virginia Wine Country. Virginia Wine & Country Life is a semi-annual luxury print magazine with a full digital presence. The Virginia Wine & Country Gold Book is an annual guide to the top award-winning wines, wineries and experiences in Virginia Wine Country. The annual Virginia Wine & Country Wedding Planner is an art book of elegant Virginia weddings. Virginia Wine & Country tells the stories of Virginia wineries, the farm-to-table movement, luxury travel, entertaining, art and the elegant country lifestyle. Ivy Life & Style Media also provides branding, web design and PR services for the wine industry.