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  • Grapes Of Strath

    Saturday, October 19, 2019

    HARRISONBURG — Lee Hartman, wearing purple stained grey pants, was working on a batch of Cabernet Franc following the end of harvest season. In a room filled with 4,000-liter tanks holding several tons of wine, the last rounds of fermenting wine in barrels was arriving.

    One of the largest tanks held 12 tons of Moscato — Bluestone Vineyard’s most popular wine out of the 24 offered. It’s believed to be the only winery in Virginia to produce Moscato.

    “We sell 60,000 bottles of wine a year on and off site, but majority on site,” said Hartman, a wine maker at the vineyard.

    Bluestone Vineyard is one of 30 wineries in the Shenandoah Valley, joining nearly 300 across the state, to celebrate the 31st annual Virginia Wine Month, which falls in October.

    Virginia Wine Month celebrates the growth of Virginia’s wine industry — the sixth-largest wine producing region in the United States, generating $1.37 billion in economic impact and more than 8,000 jobs, according to a press release from Gov. Ralph Northam’s office.

    While the number of wineries in the Valley are only a small fraction of wineries state-wide, the region is receiving more attention due to its ideal climate for vineyards.

    Annette Boyd, director of the Virginia Wine Board Marketing Office, said the Shenandoah Valley usually gets less rainfall than other areas and due to climate change, the area is getting warmer, allowing for a longer growing season.

    Boyd said Barboursville Vineyards also grows Moscato, but they do not bottle it as a varietal, leaving Bluestone Vineyard the only vineyard to bottle its own.

    Hartman said it takes six people and a hose-fed truck to bottle a case every 20 seconds. For red wines, the process takes longer due to the wine aging in barrels for an extended period of time.
     

    “It is all about balance when putting together wine,” Hartman said. “Everything needs to be balanced.”

    Hartman said the reward for working 80 hours a week will pay off in a few years, but the recognition is already pouring in as Bluestone Vineyard received eight silver medals and four bronze medals at this year’s Governor’s Cup.

    Every year, Virginia wineries submit their selected wines for the chance to be featured in the Governor’s Cup Case. Wine is scored on appearance, aroma, flavor, overall quality and commercial suitability and judging can last several days.

    This year, more than 60 wines received a gold medal for the Governor’s Cup, including the Valley’s own Brix and Columns Vineyard, which received gold for its White Brix and McGahey Red Reserve.

    “It is a fairly prestigious award,” said Stephanie Pence, owner of the vineyard in McGaheysville. “And we really invest in our quality of wine.”

    Pence said the McGahey Red Reserve is one of the winery’s signature items, as well as the White Brix.

    “The McGahey is aged in French Oak barrels for 18 months and is a blend of Petit Verdot and Merlot,” Pence said. “It is a full body red that has a soft and round finish.”

     

    Pence said when people drink the McGahey, they will get notes of cherry and smoke followed by hints of dark stone fruit.

    If the selection of wine isn’t enough to suit visitors’ fancy, then either the view or the two Great Danes, Wyatt and Winston, could.

    “We are a very warm and inviting atmosphere and it doesn’t feel like work here,” Pence said. “We are an all-winery family that believes in supporting local communities.”

    The exceptional harvest this season also benefited CrossKeys Vineyard, which just finished building a new facility to increase its production from 8,000 cases to 15,000 cases per year.

     

    “This year was one of our best years we have had since planting in 2001,” said Saam Bakhtiar, director of operations for CrossKeys Vineyard. “The vines are starting to mature now.”

    With 32 acres of vineyard, wine produced at CrossKeys is 100% estate grown, said Bakhtiar. Since the winery’s first production in 2006, CrossKeys has won 107 international and local awards, including seven silver medals and one bronze medal in the 2019 Governor’s Cup.

    Bakhtiar said what makes CrossKeys different than other local wineries was it being family owned.

    “We are a family-run business with other things intertwined like the bistro, tasting room and production,” he said. “Our hospitality is also a big one.”

    Bakhtiar said he was happy October was Virginia Wine Month as it is a busy time for visitors traveling to the Valley. He added that the winery is promoting different discounts for wine throughout the month to keep visitors coming in.

    Josh Gooden, economic development and tourism coordinator for Rockingham County, said some of the top activities for travelers visiting wineries fall right in line with activities within the county.

    “Shopping, rural sightseeing and historical sights are abundant in Rockingham County,” Gooden said. “Close proximity to numerous small businesses like the Dayton Market, agritourism attractions like the Mt. Crawford Creamery and White Oak Lavender Farm and outdoor recreation opportunities in Shenandoah National Park and Massanutten Resort compliment and cross promote the area wineries.”

    In a collaborative effort between seven localities from Winchester to Rockingham County, the Shenandoah Spirits Trail was created to promote wineries, breweries, cideries and distilleries in the Valley.

    “Being within a two hour drive time of Washington D.C. also is an advantage for our area wineries,” Gooden said.

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