Eco-Friendly Virginia Wineries To Visit On Earth Day

Eco-Friendly Virginia Wineries To Visit On Earth Day

Most people think of Earth Day as a celebration of fresh air, clean water, and the goodness of a healthy environment. To others, it’s a time to reflect on the importance of being good stewards of the land. I like to think of it as a time to appreciate the bounty of the earth…and more specifically…the fruit that makes my weekends a lot more fun than they otherwise would be.

I’m talking about wine grapes, of course.

Talk to anyone who works at a Virginia winery and they’ll explain that great wine starts in the vineyard, where winegrowers do everything they can to convince their vines to grow ripe clusters of Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and all their other friends. To them, EVERY day is Earth Day.

But there are several wineries that set themselves apart when it comes to sustainable practices. They take measures ranging from building their tasting rooms out of recycled material, using solar energy, and practicing environmentally-friendly farming techniques. Lots of wineries take these steps…but these places go the distance.

So here’s a salute to several Virginia wineries who go above and beyond. Remember them when spring comes and we can (hopefully) enjoy an excursion outside!

DuCard Vineyards

DuCard (Photo credit: Matthew Fitzsimmons)

I often wonder if a winery’s convenience is inversely proportional to the quality of its wine. It makes sense – if it was super easy to visit, then wineries would have little incentive to provide a high quality product. The fact that DuCard inspires such loyalty despite being nestled in the Shenandoah Mountains demonstrates they are serving something special.

“Off the beaten trail” isn’t a euphemism; it’s the literal truth. DuCard is along the same road that takes you to Old Rag Mountain and White Oak Canyon. In fact, lots of patrons are hikers unwinding after a long excursion. As you can imagine, visiting here is one of the prettiest drives you’ll find anywhere in Virginia.

DuCard is also very “Green”, and I’m not just talking about the scenery. The entire place is solar powered, to the point they sometimes sell electricity back to the local power grid. They also emphasize the use of organic materials over chemical sprays and process wastewater using their own artificial wetland system. You can charge your TELSA or other EV there, no ‘charge’ to you, while you enjoy the wines and atmosphere. Even the cutlery is bio-degradable.

Being sustainable is commendable, but they also take pride in another word: authenticity. Except for their Traminette all of their wine is made with fruit grown from their own 17 acres of vines. But what makes their vineyards extra-special is these aren’t just grape vines – it’s a classroom for Piedmont Community College students studying viticulture!

I’m a big fan of DuCard’s wines, but my favorite is their Petit Verdot – a bold red that grows especially well in Virginia. The Virginia Governor’s Cup competition seems to like it as well; their 2014 vintage earned a Gold medal two years ago, and their 2017 took another Gold this past February. Also check out their Norton-based port-style wine and Viognier.

Make sure you say “Hi” to owner Scott Elliff and tasting room manager Marty Mitchell when you visit!

Fifty-Third Winery and Vineyard

Fifty-Third (photo credit: Fifty-Third Winery)

Located halfway between Richmond and Charlottesville, Fifty-Third (formerly known as Cooper Vineyards) is so named because – wait for it – it was the 53rd farm winery in the state. David and Susan Drillock purchased Cooper in 2015 and gradually made it their own.

The new name wasn’t their only adjustment, as around that time the Drillocks hired Chelsey Belvins as their assistant wine maker. A former ‘Wine Librarian’ at Barboursville (which has to be the best library title ever), she’s now head wine maker at Fifty-Third. This year she took Gold for her 2018 Viognier at the Virginia’s Governor’s Cup.

It’s not often you see a winery boast as much as they do about their tasting room, but the praise here is well deserved. It doesn’t just look good, it has a “LEED Platinum” certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, the first on the east coast and second Platinum vineyard in the country.

I went over the checklist that granted them this certification and it was impressive. Solar panels, geothermal heating-cooling, pellet stoves, recycled wood, rainwater collection. They even offer bicycle storage, showers and changing rooms so people can ride in.

The huge variety on the tasting menu gives you a tremendous bang-for-your-buck. If I had to pick a favorite, it would be their Viognier/Chardonnay blend…but their Cabernet Franc is a close second. But the most popular bottle (aka the ‘wine that built the tasting room) is their “Noche” chocolate wine. Let me tell you; I’m not a chocolate wine drinker, or a sweet wine drinker in general. I’ll make an exception to this. It was rich and desert-y, kinda like eating a chocolate cheesecake.

Loving Cup Winery & Vineyard

Loving Cup vineyard view (photo credit: Matthew Fitzsimmons)

All wineries work hard at minimizing the use of chemicals, but Loving Cup is the only Virginia winery that can claim to be certified organic. Given there are nearly 300 wineries in the state, you can imagine what an accomplishment that is. “Eco-friendly” is an understatement here.

Loving Cup is located off Route 29 just outside Charlottesville. Although this area is packed with wineries, they couldn’t be more different from some of their larger neighbors in appearance and style. After you pass Dr. Ho’s Humble Pie you turn onto a long dirt road, which winds around until you are rewarded with a view of their 150-acre farm. All vineyards are farms by definition, but somehow that term feels more accurate here.

Winemaker & vineyard manager Karl Hambsch was inspired to plant an organic vineyard after seeing all the chemicals used in today’s farming. That isn’t meant to be a slight to those who use these techniques; chemical spraying is standard practice around the world and Virginia’s humid climate makes them even more important. Karl simply decided this process wasn’t for him. So after a lot of research he planted his first vines in 2008, beginning the long process of having both a certified organic vineyard and winery.

Unfortunately being organic comes with a tradeoff; you won’t find your ‘standard’ wine varietals like Cabernet Franc, Merlot, or Viognier here. Instead they use grapes that are naturally more resistant to disease and Virginia’s quirky weather. Don’t fear a wine like Marquette just because you haven’t tried it before! I’m looking forward to trying their first sparkling wine; hopefully it will be as good as the Apple wine I had on my first visit.

Dog owners – rejoice! You can bring your pups inside (on a leash). Try their “Dudley Nose” Rosé, as a portion of this wine’s proceeds goes towards a local no-kill animal shelter.

Helping Your Local Winery During The Coronavirus

Casanel Vineyards’ curb-side wine pickup (Credit Casanel Vineyards)

Wineries around Virginia are changing their operating procedures due to the impact of the COVID-19 virus. It’s a scary time for all of us, but those in the service industry are amongst those hardest hit. Even wineries that aren’t voluntarily closing down may be forced to do so to facilitate social distancing.

Their tasting rooms may be closed, but Virginia wineries are still open for business!  there are still ways to get your bottles of Virginia wine! Many are offering special deals, ranging from free discounted shipping, curb-side pickup, or home delivery. You can also participate in a virtual wine tasting or purchase gift certificates to use down the road.

Please support your local winery community. Contact a favorite and see how you can help a small business.

Click here fFor an updated list of wineries that are offering specials check out Virginia Wine In My Pocket – vawineinmypocket.com. (curtesy of Virginia Wine In My Pocket).

Picture #10 Subject: Chateau O’Brien owner Howard O’Brien personally delivering wine to thirsty customers (Photo credit Chateau O’Brien)

Picture #11 Casanel Vineyards’ curb-side wine pickup at their winery (Credit Casanel Vineyards)

Author: Matthew Fitzsimmons is a wine blogger well on his way to visiting nearly every one of Virginia’s 300 wineries. Track his progress on https://winetrailsandwanderlust.com/.

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