Lake Anna Winery – Two Generations of Virginia Winemaking
In what may be an indicator of vitality of the Virginia wine industry, Lake Anna Winery is one of a growing number of second generation farm winery operations. In Lake Anna’s case the second generation has been in charge for over a decade. Such long term ownership provides a fuller understanding of not only the vineyards and weather patterns but also a richer business perspective.
The story of Lake Anna Winery began on a business trip to FranceFrance in the Spring of 1981. While traveling through the French countryside, Bill Heidig noticed that the climate and soil conditions of certain grape-growing regions were similar to those on his Spotsylvania farm, and an idea began to take root.
In 1983, two years after Bill’s initial interest, the Heidigs planted more than 2,000 Seyval Blanc and 250 Cabernet Sauvignon vines. Three weeks later, on an extremely hot weekend, they planted 1,000 Chardonnay vines.
The Heidigs learned first-hand how much care grape vines require. Each vine has to be trained to grow straight up a stake. As only a single shoot can be allowed to grow, laterals must be pruned constantly, and the vine’s initial fruit clusters have to be removed as they form. When the vines finally reached the first wire of the trellis, the Heidigs celebrated trading the painstaking work low to the ground for painstaking work they could do standing up.
The first commercial sale came after the 1984 harvest when the Heidigs sold one-half ton of Seyval Blanc grapes to a Virginia winery. With the vines’ cooperation the yields rose steadily while Bill and Ann continued to expand the vineyard. In 1984 and 1985, they planted additional Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, and in 1988, after the memories of planting and nurturing had faded, they planted 1,000 Merlot vines. By 1988, over 28 tons of grapes from over 10 acres were being picked for delivery to several Virginia wineries—that were turning their grapes into award-winning wines. The Heidigs decided the time was ripe to make Lake Anna Winery a reality.
Fast forward twenty years to 2000 and upon the dawning of a new millennium, Bill, who ran the vineyard and had been sharing the winemaking duties with his wife Ann, decided it was time to turn back the chronological progression of the winery. He felt they could either scale back to just growing grapes and selling them primarily to other wineries as in the 80s, or see if any of the four children had any interest in taking over the business.
Two sons, Jeff and Eric were thrilled with the idea. The brothers purchased the winery and for the last dozen years, Bill has managed the vineyard, with Jeff and Eric owning and operating the winery business.
Tasting through Lake Anna’s portfolio two wines stood out – Totally White and Spotsylvania Claret. As non-vintage products, the winemaker is not limited in vintage his blending decisions.
In the winter months many folks tend to shy away from white wines in favor of full bodied reds; what a shame. The refreshing nature of a well-crafted white wine is better suited to welcoming the gang back from sledding than the tannins of a big chewy red wine.
Lake AnnaTotally White Wine is a great example of a versatile and refreshing wine that is welcome in any season. A proprietary blend of Chardonnay, Vidal Blanc and Seyval Blanc, the label on this wine takes solid aim at wine writers stating “No green apples. No ripe peaches. No tropical touches. No subtle hints.”
Ignoring the label description (and perhaps a thinly veiled insult), the wine presents a light straw almost goldenrod color. The nose is filled with butter, honeysuckle and a hint of lemon zest. The attack is much more muted and round than anticipated with excellent balance. The midpalate expands to showcase white pear, fig and ripe banana. The finish is clean and satisfying with vanilla bean undertones.
Winter pairings for this wine include grilled chicken and fish as well as vegetable lasagna. I chose to pair with stuffed seafood ravioli in an Alfredo sauce.
The winery is housed in a converted (1940s era) dairy barn located on the Heidig farm. As a part of the aptly named “Heart of Virginia Wine Trail”, Lake Anna celebrates its geographic location and the area’s rich history. With such rich historical touchstones, Lake Anna was a ready participant in the 150th commemoration of the Civil War with its Spotsylvania Claret.
Because of its strategic location between the Confederate and Union armies, several major battles were fought in the county; including ones at Chancellorsville, Fredericksburg the Wilderness, and Spotsylvania Court House, one of the bloodiest battles of the war. More than 100,000 troops from both sides died in the county.
Virginians are very respectful of both sides in the war and this Claret is a testimony to the bravery of the all the men who fought in the “time of great unpleasantness”.
In the glass this wine features a deep red brick hue. The aromas include both licorice and plum notes. The attack is relatively firm with plum and rose petal influences. The wine really hits its stride on the midpalate with medium bodied tannins and elements of red cherry and black pepper. The finish lingers nicely with hints of leather, allspice and smoke. This wine has enough strength to stand up to any braised beef or lamb but I choose to pair with spicy Italian dishes such as spaghetti with red peppers.
Working with veteran Virginia winemaker Graham Bell provides Lake Anna with an experienced palate and perspective. BellBell said, “We all make wine pretty much the same way, but often it is just a matter of doing the right things at the right time, whether in the vineyard or the winery, recognizing the signs and knowing what they mean and where things are headed, and what to do about them. It may be very little, but very important.”
In May and June, Lake Anna Winery is home to the Virginia Renaissance Faire. Patrons are provided the opportunity to discover the magic of the age of chivalry and romance as the Renaissance comes to life. Virginia Frolic among nobles and fools, merchants and peasants, minstrels and dancers. Artisans, craftspeople, and food merchants fill the property in a day overflowing with fun and history.
Through hard work, determination and a touch of luck, the Heidig family has established Lake Anna Winery as one of the premier destination wineries in the state. With the second generation at the helm, the future is as bright as that 1981 Spring day in France that launched the dream.
Hometown: Richmond, VA
Item that is always in your fridge: Ice Cream (freezer counts?)
Most challenging wine pairing and how you solved it: Pork Chops, Seyval Blanc
Best thing about the Virginia Wine Industry: True Camaraderie among wineries
Worst thing about the Virginia Wine Industry: Weather Conditions
Favorite Bumper Sticker or saying: Virginia Makes Wine, NAPA makes auto parts
Comfort Food: Meatloaf, macaroni and cheese, succotash
Most embarrassing moment: “There have been so many I can’t pick one”
Most over rated virtue: Potential
Favorite Wine (yours or anyone elses): Lake Ana Spotsylvania Claret
Written by: Neil Williamson
Neil Williamson is the Chairman of the Virginia Wine Club Tasting Panel, and Editor of The Virginia Wine Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org