Meet Northern Virginia’s Newest Wineries
By Matthew Fitzsimmons
Meet Northern Virginia’s Newest Wineries
While Charlottesville is usually considered the heart of Virginia wine country, Northern Virginia is rapidly catching up. Over a third of the 250 or so wineries in the state are located within an hour of the beltway, the highest number of any Virginia wine region. NOVA also recently overtook Central Virginia as the largest grape producing region in the state. With statistics like this, you’d think the market for locally-made wine would be saturated.
But year after year, the Virginia wine scene has defined expectations and grown at a brisk pace. Since 2018, over 40 Virginia wineries have opened their doors, many of them in Loudoun or Fauquier counties. Several more are expected to open in late 2021.
It’s not just the number of wineries that’s growing; the size of their tasting rooms and features they provide have grown as well. Many of these new locations are designed to accommodate large crowds or provide amenities such as breweries or Airbnbs that are rarely found in other wineries. Several also boast mature vineyards, or have strong partnerships with existing businesses to source their wine.
Firefly Cellars opened at the end of May, making it (at least temporarily) Loudoun’s newest winery. Its owners are the Pierleonardi family, who already own a pest management company but were looking for a way to channel their passion for interacting with customers. So, when Hunters Run Winery along Charles Town Pike became available, they couldn’t resist the opportunity and a new business was born.
Fans of Hunters Run would be shocked at the upgrades to the property. Among them were a complete refurbishment of the tasting room, landscaping to build an outdoor space, expansion of the parking lot, and the creation of a European-style cellar for special tasting events. Fortunately, the building’s coziness and charm was left intact.
Perhaps the biggest change was the addition of an Airbnb, making it one of the few Loudoun wineries with this option. Although it’s only been open a few months, the Cottage is already nearly completely booked until October.
Another thing they didn’t change was the winemaker, Randy Phillips of Cave Ridge. This is fortunate because Randy has been growing grapes for over 20 years and makes wine for several Virginia wineries, in addition to his own award winning location. In fact, most of their wine is based on fruit grown in the Shenandoah Valley, which is arguably the best wine growing region in the state.
Amongst his more popular wines here is Firefly’s Illumination white blend and their cabernet franc. But if there’s a single standout, it’s their Chambourcin, a hybrid grape that grows well in Virginia. While most Chambourcins are fruity, this one is full bodied, dry and spicy. Since opening, it’s been their most popular wine – a surprise given the best-selling wines at most places tend to utilize vinifera (European-style grapes).
Firefly allows children and leashed pets in the outdoor area, but not indoors.
The Winery at Sunshine Ridge Farm
Sunshine Ridge Farm opened this spring along the shores of Lake Manassas. Owners Maria & Tom Rafferty bought the property with an eye for building a new home, but felt the space gave them the opportunity to do something hospitality related as well. Fortunately, their friend (and future business partner) Tom Schrade was looking to do something similar, so they were able to team up and build Sunshine Ridge Farm.
The defining feature of the farm is the amazing view of the lake, which surrounds it on almost three sides. Their expansive lawn is full of picnic tables so visitors have plenty of space to themselves. Even the tasting room is designed to take in the view, with large garage-style doors which open up towards the lake.
Sunshine also serves beer in a room styled after an Irish-style pub. Right now Cedar Run Brewery makes the beer, but Sunshine will brew their own in the future. Favorites include the Trice Ax Stout, Farmhouse Saison, and the Light Lager.
Ashton Lough of the Winery at Bull Run is their winemaker. While Sunshine is planting a quarter acre of Vidal Blanc, most of their fruit will come from 11 acres leased from Bull Run’s vineyard in Rappahannock or purchased elsewhere.
Make sure to try Ashton’s Meritage and Chardonnay. The former has a nice complexity to it, and the later hits the right balance of new and neutral French Oak. But the most surprising wine is their Norton. The 20% merlot they use cuts through the ‘foxy’ characteristics often found in this variety; it’s a Norton for those who don’t usually like Norton.
Add some food trucks, music, and maybe lounge chairs, and Sunshine Ridge is a one-stop-stop for all your recreational needs. But leave the kids at home – this is an adults-only experience. Fortunately dogs are allowed outside.
Williams Gap Vineyard
Residents of Round Hill are very familiar with Williams Gap Vineyard, which opened this May. The vineyard is situated just north of town, along a stretch of farmland between Route 719 and Williams Gap road. Many can see the vines from their backyard.
Williams Gap may be brand-new as a winery but its roots as a vineyard go deep. Owner Jack Sexton is a semi-retired veterinarian by trade but he’s had a long term goal of having a winery, going back to 1983 when he bought the first track of land. Since then, he’s expanded the property to 200 acres.
But good wine starts in the dirt, so Jack started the vineyard long before the winery became a reality. For the past 15 years Jack sold his now 35 acres of grapes to local winemakers. Ten varieties of mostly vinifera grapes are planted with space to plant more.
A few years ago the family decided it was time to build their winery, and they went all out. Williams Gap definitely boasts one of the best driveways in the state, which gives you unparalleled views of the vineyard until arriving at the red barn-style tasting room. The two floor building is stunning; the type of place you wish you could live in. Polished wooden floors, lots of table space, and a huge fireplace decorate the first floor. Even more space awaits upstairs in their adult-only area.
Tasting manager Bridgette Smith proudly explained the winery has since become something of a local watering hole – in fact, most visitors are their neighbors. When your neighbors are your best customers, that’s a sign you’re doing something right.
Right now Rob Cox of Paradise Spring is making their wine, but eventually Williams Gap will do their winemaking on site. Their Petit Manseng and white blend (made with Petit Manseng & Vidal) wines are truly outstanding, but judging from their Instagram comments their Merlot is the biggest hit. In addition to these, their petit verdot-heavy 2019 Fieldstone red blend just hit the menu.
Williams Gap is family friendly and pets are allowed outdoors. If you can’t find parking, no problem – they have valet service.
If these three new wineries aren’t enough, be sure to watch out for the opening of Old Farm Winery in Aldie this summer.
Author: Matthew Fitzsimmons is a blogger who has visited nearly every winery in Virginia – most of them twice. Track his progress at http://www.winetrailsandwanderlust.com