The first annual Taste of the Monticello AVA Red Wine Showcase was a spectacular evening for food and wine enthusiasts. Limited tickets were open to the public. Attendees could taste many of the amazing red wines that represent Central Virginia and the Monticello AVA, many of them gold medalists. Chatting with winemakers and the teams creating some of Virginia’s best wines created a fascinating opportunity to learn more about Virginia winemaking from the experts and discover what makes their red wines exceptional. Outstanding varietals and blends are being made at wineries across Virginia, especially in the reds. This year’s Virginia Governor’s Cup winner was Cana Vineyards and Winery of Middleburg for their 2019 Unité Reserve. The wine is their signature estate red blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. The 2022 Monticello Cup winner was a signature Bordeaux style blend, 2019 NINETEEN, by Wisdom Oak Winery.
The Showcase celebration of the finest red wines of the Monticello AVA was a special evening for enjoying the Spring weather at the beautiful Eastwood Farm & Winery. Participating wineries included Keswick Vineyards, Hark Vineyards, Horton Vineyards, Chestnut Oak Vineyard, Thatch Winery, Eastwood Farm and Winery, Montifalco Vineyard, Cardinal Point Winery, Delfosse Vineyards and Winery, Reynard Florence Vineyard, and Barboursville Vineyards. Delicious appetizers and a charcuterie spread prepared especially by Eastwood Catering, paired perfectly with the red wines being tasted.
Taste of the Monticello Wine Trail Red Wine Showcase at Eastwood Farm & Winery. Keswick Vineyards showcases a Cabernet Sauvignon to the left. Bottom right, Athena Eastwood tastes a rich fruity red with Wine & Country Life’s marketing consultant Jenny Stoltz.
A Visit to Eastwood Farm & Winery
Eastwood Farm and Winery is a beautiful farm winery located in Charlottesville along Route 20 South just 5 miles from the Downtown Mall. The Eastwood team brought in their first harvest in 2018 making them one of the newer members of Virginia’s burgeoning wine industry. The picturesque property sits along the west side of Carters Mountain ridge where apples and pears have flourished for generations and the hillsides are well suited for viticulture. Driving into Eastwood Farm and Winery, you first encounter The Barn, their indoor tasting room, a fully renovated horse facility. It boasts a spectacular copper bar, leather couches and farm tables all flanked by an airy veranda perfect for enjoying your wine tasting with a sweet breeze. Beyond, the outdoor tasting room, a festive sailcloth tent overlooks a large, terraced lawn and enjoys mountain views. The indoor facility is open year-round, while the outdoor terrace bar is open April to November with picnic tables and Adirondack chairs. Guests are also welcome to hike alongside the wildflower meadow up to a breathtaking overlook.
Eastwood Farm and Winery is the realization of a dream for the Eastwood family, which includes four generations of Eastwood women. Athena’s two daughters, Megan Velie Taub and Hannah Velie are also co-founders with Jeremy Christian who serves as director of infrastructure and assistant winemaker. All the “Eastwood Women of Wine” are hands-on at the winery. Even Hannah’s young daughter loves to help with harvest. In addition to traditional wines made from their more than 10 acres of Viognier, Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet France and Cabernet Sauvignon (in both the Monticello and the Shenandoah AVAs), Eastwood Farm & Winery also offers their unique White Blend, made entirely from apples and pears. Eastwood received 4 Gold medals in the 2022 Virginia Governor’s Cup for their Cabernet Franc, Meritage, Merlot and Blanc de Blanc. They also received 4 Silver medals for their Viognier, Chardonnay, Chardonnay Reserve and White Blend. The White Blend has medaled every year since their first submission to the Virginia Governor’s Cup in 2019.
Charlottesville Wineries Making Award-Winning Red Wines
This year’s Monticello Wine Trail Awards saw an exceptional number of high quality red wines with only 3 of the gold medals awarded to whites.
According to Richard Leahy, wine expert and author of Beyond Jefferson’s Vines, “I’ve found the 2017 vintage to be excellent for Virginia red wines, with a consistent vintage character of ripe black fruits, a touch of forest floor, and long smooth tannins. The 2019 vintage is even better, with juicy, forward bright red fruits, then smooth tannins and fresh acidity on the finish.” He added, “I am very excited about the 2019 vintage – this is the best in maybe 20 years”.
Below, learn more about the wineries participating in the first annual Taste of the Monticello Wine Trail Festival Red Wine Showcase and learn what makes their red wines so delicious. The Trail events this week come at a challenging time for area vineyards who have been battling low night-time temperatures to protect the delicate early vine buds. Keswick Vineyard’s winemaker and Monticello Wine Trail President, Stephen Barnard, arrived to give his talk straight from the vineyard where his team is working hard to mitigate temperatures to protect the vines. In 2021, a Mother’s Day frost caused damage to area grape yields and, without a doubt, Monticello AVA vintners are looking forward to getting past mid-May when the vineyards should be safe from any more cold snaps.
“I’ve found the 2017 vintage to be excellent for Virginia red wines, with a consistent vintage character of ripe black fruits, a touch of forest floor, and long smooth tannins. The 2019 vintage is even better, with juicy, forward bright red fruits, then smooth tannins and fresh acidity on the finish.”
Tastings Notes for Top Monticello AVA Red Wines
Barboursville Vineyards 2014 Octagon and 2019 Nebbiolo Reserve
Daniele Tessaro, associate winemaker, poured the 2014 Octagon and the 2019 Nebbiolo Reserve, both gold medalists in the Monticello Cup 2022. Barboursville Vineyards led by the talented winemaker Luca Paschina, is the most awarded Virginia winery on the local, national and international stages. Their Octagon is perhaps the finest expression of Virginia terroir to date, crafted as a blend of the finest harvest of estate grown varietals, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot. Their Paxxito, a passito style wine, won the 2021 Virginia Governor’s Cup.
At right, Barboursville’s Vineyards Daniele Tessaro shares their much-awarded Octagon.
Cardinal Point Winery’s 2019 Clay Hill Cabernet Franc
Winemaker Tim Gorman, winner of the Monticello Cup in 2017, poured his 2019 Clay Hill Cabernet Franc. Cardinal Point Winery’s Cabernet Franc was a Top 3 Red in the 2022 Monticello Cup Awards. It is made exclusively from fruit grown by viticulturist Bill Pelton at Clay Hill Vineyard closer to Charlottesville and expresses terroir well. It features the bright fruit nose and spice finish of past vintages. Aged over a year in American barrels, the oak component is still mellowing.
Chestnut Oak Vineyard’s 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, 2017 Chestnut One
Aged 20 months in oak, this Cabernet Sauvignon is rich and full bodied. Black cherries and slight pepper feature in a lingering palate presence concluding with well integrated, tannin’s. This lovely wine by Chestnut Oak Vineyard also won 2019 East Meets West Wine Competition—Gold and 2021 Virginia Governors Cup—Silver. The second Chestnut Oak to win gold in the 2022 Monticello Cup is their 2017 Chestnut One, a hearty blend of Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine won a Gold in the 2020 Virginia Governors Cup and Silver at 2021 San Diego International Wine and Spirits Challenge.
Delfosse Vineyards and Winery 2020 Go Go Girl
The European-styled terraced terrain of Delfosse Vineyards and Winery was established in 2000, just 30 minutes from Charlottesville. The terracing, hugged between the hills provides unique wine-growing conditions and the elevation for both flavorful wine and beautiful views. Go Go Girl is a dry, approachable blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (50%), Malbec (25%), and Petit Verdot (25%). Its brambly fruit, savory palate, and mouthwatering finish make it the perfect go-to wine. 2022 Monticello Cup gold medalist.
Eastwood Farm and Winery Meritage Reserve
The Eastwood Meritage Reserve is a smooth, dry, full-bodied blend of classic Bordeaux varietals. Notes of plum, cherry and vanilla are predominant on the nose and palate with a velvety finish.
Also on Eastwood’s tasting table were their Cabernet Franc, a dry, medium-bodied, earthy red wine, aged for 20 months in French and American oak barrels, with notes of rich cherry, peppercorn and roasted coffee bean, and their Merlot, a dry, medium-bodied, fruity red wine aged for 21 months in French and American oak barrels, with notes of blackberry, black cherry, and spice.
Hark Vineyards 2019 Merlot
Associate winemaker AJ Greely poured the 2019 Merlot, a gold winner in the 2022 Monticello Cup. Hark Vineyard’s wines are estate grown and bottled. The first harvest at their 80-acre Free Union property was in 2017 on second year vines. The 2019 Merlot tastes of savory herbs, black cherries and cola. Barrel aged 16 months in French and neutral oak under the guidance of lead winemaker Jake Busching.
At right Hark Vineyard’s AJ Greely discusses winemaking with a guest.
Guests sampled a variety of award-winning red wine Caitlin Horton shares Horton Vineyards red wines and talks about her Gears & Lace Series.
Caitlin Horton, the third generation of the pioneering wine family, attended the showcase to share a variety of red wines including some from her creative Gears & Lace Series. At age 28, Caitlin may be Virginia’s youngest winemaker. It is a powerful legacy to build upon with several notable awards for Horton wines, including the 2019 Governor’s Cup, the Eastern Seaboard’s Association Monteith Award in 2022 and many others. They have also won acclaim for having excelled at working with Viognier, Virginia’s official state grape.
Caitlin’s grandmother Sharon Horton won the Monteith Award, becoming only the second Virginia vintner in history to achieve the honor. Caitlin herself spent the evening pouring Horton’s Pinotage, a peppery and smoky red wine that is gaining traction amongst wine fans. This is just one of Horton’s large selection of wines to choose from.
Leahy has this to say about Caitlin’s success: “I like what she’s doing with her Gears & Lace series. My favorite so far is her Pinotage rosé; very bold and smoky, great for barbecue food, and a nice departure from the very pale Provencal style…she’s confident and doing original things and following in her grandfather Dennis’ footsteps.”
Montifalco Vineyard 2019 Piney Mountain Meritage
Montifalco Vineyard is a farm winery in Ruckersville led by owner and winemaker Justin Falco with Dr. Denis Nekipelov managing the vineyard. Montifalco grew up in California and learned wine making on the West Coast before establishing his winery in Virginia. Their Piney Mountain Meritage is a blend of Merlot (40%), Cabernet Sauvignon (40%), Cabernet Franc (20%) with Petite Verdot (10%). Tastes of blackberry, cassis, Bing cherry, peppercorn and allspice.
Montifalco Vineyard poured tastes of their 2019 Montifalco Piney Mountain Meritage.
Reynard Florence Vineyard
A small family owned and operated vineyard featuring hand-crafted wines made from vinifera varietals. The owners of Reynard Florence both hold certificates in Enology and Viticulture. The European style wines are small batch with attention to expressing the terroir of the Monticello AVA. They make wines of estate grown grapes in the style of the Bordeaux and Loire regions with careful attention paid by the winemaking team from bud to harvest. Petit Manseng is their feature grape and they also grow Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache.
Gavin Baum has led winemaking at Thatch Winery (formerly First Colony) with general manager Jason Hayman since 2017. With the firm belief that great wine is made in the vineyard, the emphasis at Thatch Winery has been on honing viticulture practices. Baum is a Charlottesville native with a deep appreciation of the Monticello AVA terroir. He began as a field hand at the nearby Sugarleaf Vineyards (now Wisdom Oak Winery) and has worked in every aspect of the industry and studied wine every day since.
Keswick Vineyard’s Winemaker and President of the Monticello Wine Trail Stephen Barnard Introduces Showcase
The Monticello Wine Trail and a History of Charlottesville Wineries
Thomas Jefferson first planted grapes at Monticello, dreaming that one day Virginia would produce world-class wines like those he enjoyed collecting from Europe. He struggled with disease pressure and the next big advance happened for Virginia wine when Dr. Norton developed a domestic non-foxy native grape that was impervious to phylloxera. Norton’s work contributed to the Monticello Wine Company winning a gold medal in Vienna in 1873 and a Silver in Paris in 1878. Grapes from those medals came from the current Monticello AVA and earned Charlottesville the nickname, “Capital of the Virginia Wine Belt”. Progress was stymied by prohibition, the Great Depression and the World Wars.
In 1976, the well-respected wine leaders, the Zonin family of Italy, established vineyards at Barboursville, ushering in a new and vibrant era for Virginia wine. More vineyards, research, innovation and many harvest seasons have built Virginia and the Monticello AVA into a region recognized for excellence in winemaking.
Today, the Monticello Wine Trail, a subset of the Jefferson Wine Grape Growers Society, boasts more than 30 member wineries who are all within 25 miles of Charlottesville and producing wines consistently ranked highly in state, national and international wine competitions. reflecting the high level of quality that has been achieved in the AVA. Open Virginia Wine Day is coming soon – consider making yours an award winning bottle. ~
JENNIFER BRYERTON is Co-Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Wine & Country Life. She is an avid gardener, home cook and wine-taster. She enjoys learning about Virginia viticulture and sharing the story of our local farm-to-table makers.
R. L. JOHNSON is our co-publisher and creative director, Robin Johnson Bethke, who began her career as a professional photographer in Los Angeles before moving into graphic design and art direction when she relocated to Charlottesville in 1994. As our company’s co-founder and visionary, she enjoys all aspects of the publishing process from story conception to graphic design to photography. Her work is often seen in many of our publications.
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