Kilaurwen Winery – Relaxing in the Blue Ridge
Too often passion is confused with excitement. Passion is significantly deeper and richer than mere excitement. This long burning passion is evident in the relaxed, understated wines and tasting room of Kilaurwen Winery.
Located about 35 minutes North of Charlottesville, Kilaurwen is a small intergenerational winery with hand crafted vintages of distinction. The winery is about eight miles from the Shenandoah National Park. The proximity of the park can create some wildlife challenges for the vineyards including the often grape hungry turkey, deer and bear.
Bob and Doriene Steeves had been traveling the U.S.29 corridor for many years as their three daughters attended Mr. Jefferson’s University of Virginia. Their interest in growing wine was piqued when Bob saw a typewritten newsletter ad for a seventy acre Greene County farm with a small vineyard. The transaction closed within two weeks of his spotting the ad. In 1994, the Steeves became Virginia vineyard owners.
For sixteen years, Bob and Doriene worked the vineyards and provided fruit to many award winning wines including Governor’s Cup Gold Medalist Stone Mountain Vineyards. The vineyards have expanded since 1994 now totaling ten acres under vine. Planted to Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Riesling, plans are now being considered to add Vidal, Chambourcin and Malbec.
At the suggestion of many, including their winery clients, Bob and Doriene opened Kilaurwen in 2010. The winery name is an amalgamation of the names of the daughters all of which are still involved in the winery operations.
Many do not realize the amount of work (pruning, hedging, leaf pulling, spraying etc) that is involved in growing high quality fruit. Perhaps the most labor intensive months of the wine growing year is harvest. Early ripening fruit starts to come in late August with the bulk of the varietals maturing in September and October.
Regardless of how far the children move, harvest is family time at Kilaurwen. One can easily see a father’s pride and admiration as he recalls the many harvests the children and grandchildren have helped bring in. One of the many stories Bob shared, recalled a gullywasher of a harvest rainstorm, the saturated grapes weighed heavy on their wires and the trellis poles in the vineyards started to give way. Daughter Wendy joined her parents in the pouring rain gathering and pushing in stones to reinforce each of the pole’s foundation and quite literally save the harvest.
The Kilaurwen tasting room is best described as functional with understated beauty. The high ceiling and vast number of windows in the small space makes the room feel like an extension of the outdoor space. The month of my visit the wall featured the watercolors of Eloise Giles, a well known local artist. Bob explained that the Greene County Art Guild provides a new artist each month to grace the tasting room.
Many of the tables in the tasting room are repurposed wine barrels. Not content to simply roll out a few barrels as hightop tables. Kilaurwen filled the barreltop with corks and tasting notes and then covered with glass. Along the far side of the tasting room, two older grapevines rest as a testament to the room’s connection to the vineyards just up the hill. The west side of the tasting room features an well positioned but small tasting bar. With space for five or six, the size of the bar promotes discussion among tasting patrons and the winery owners.
Just outside the tasting room door is a grassy knoll that is clearly designed for picnicking. Wrought iron furniture adds an element of elegance to the natural beauty.
Part of the Monticello Wine Trail, Kilaurwen currently is pouring six different wines; three whites, two reds and a wonderfully dry rose’. While each of the wines is lovely and expressive in their own way, my two favorites were the 2012 Riesling and the 2009 Cabernet Franc.
The 2009 Cabernet Franc features a somewhat misleading lighter than average red hue in the glass. The deep, dark, full and jammy nose has strawberry and rhubarb highlights along with an undercurrent of raspberry. The silky attack has strong dark chocolate notes and a hint of red cherry. The full round midpalate continues the chocolate tones and includes more dark stone fruit. The finish lingers nicely with light tannins and spice.
Originally from Germany’s Rhein and Mosel river valleys Stacy Slinkard explained the other white grape, “Riesling is one of the wine world’s “new” sweethearts, enjoying double-digit market growth and culinary affections worldwide. Its food pairing versatility and refreshing palate appeal are among the top reasons for this renewed love affair”.
Kilaurwen’s 2012 vintage is a great example of the high level of aromatics that can be achieved in a Virginia Riesling. With a light straw yellow color, the nose of this wine is full of tropical notes including passion fruit, apricot, pineapple and mango. The fruit forward attack is well balanced with strong summer peach undertones. The midpalate continues a floral/tropical theme with honeysuckle, mango and papaya. The finish lingers with bananas and just a hint of cinnamon.
Between wine festivals, weekend tasting room hours, winemaking and tending the vineyards, the Steeves are busier in retirement than most folks are during their regular careers. With the help of their extended family, Bob and Doriene Steves spent sixteen years establishing one of the finest vineyards in Central Virginia. Today, with the help of their family they are fast making a name for Kilaurwen winery across the Old Dominion.
Written by: Neil Williamson
Neil Williamson is the Chairman of The Virginia Wine Club Tasting Panel and the Editor of The Virginia Wine Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Vintner Profile: Bob Steeves, Kilaurwen Founder
Hometown: Beacon Falls, Connecticut
Comfort Food: Peanut Butter
Item always in your refrigerator: Wine (of course)
Best thing about the Virginia Wine Industry: Congenial and filled with good guys (for the most part)
Worst thing about the Virginia Wine Industry: The amount of sprays we need to do in the vineyard.
Toughest wine to pair: Rose’
Favorite wine (yours or anyone else’s): Kilaurwen Riesling
Favorite saying: “We are in the wine business for the wine, not the business”