Sweet Vines Make Fine Wines
By Matthew Fitzsimmons
This December, the Virginia wine industry welcomed Sweet Vines Farm as its newest member. But for owner/winemaker Seidah Armstrong – Sadie to her friends – it’s all about going back to her roots. After all, she’s one of a handful of local winemakers who can trace their winemaking lineage back multiple generations.
Sadie loves to tell the story of her maternal great-grandmother and great-great grandmother, both of whom made wine using muscadine grapes. While not as popular as its European Vitis Vinifera cousins, this indigenous American variety was widely grown until the early 20th century and still popular among home winemakers due to its natural aromatics, high yield, and resistance to disease.
Although her background is in the field of education, Sadie caught the wine-bug in 2009 and started to make wine on her own. But a few years ago this hobby turned into a calling, so she and her husband started searching for property to pursue winemaking full-time.
“I didn’t find this place – it found me,” Sadie explained while we toured the farm, located in rural Unionville. The main building is a former residence she and her family turned into a tasting room. Fortunately, Chateau MerrillAnne is only 10 minutes away and Lake Anna is just south of here, so they have the makings of a mini wine trail.
As for the farm, the winery has lots to offer despite being open for a short time. Outside you’ll find a gigantic chess board and fire pit ready for visitors. Sadie and I spent a lot of time chatting at her Ancestors Garden. Saying the farm is warm and adorable is an understatement.
Sweet Vines sources grapes from the former Oak Crest winery, but they have 1 acre planted here with 3 more on the way. In keeping with family tradition, these vines include plantings of muscadine, her ‘ancestor’ grape. But don’t be fooled by the name; while sweet wine lovers will likely enjoy her “Typo” cinnamon-flavored dessert wine and muscadine, she is also serving a chardonnay and wine from the now-closed Hammerstone Cellars.
Sadie also has several fruit-based wines. “Summer Evening”, a strawberry-lavender wine made from plants grown on the property. But my favorite of the day was her “Pearolicious”, a pear wine that while dry had a “fruit sweet” quality to it.
Sweet Vines Breaks New Ground – But Black-Owned Wineries Still a Rarity
Sadie has another claim to fame; out of the state’s 300 establishments she’s the first Black female winery owner, and part of only a handful of Black-owned wineries in the Mid-Atlantic.
The importance of this milestone isn’t lost among the local wine community. Blacks are vastly underrepresented in the American wine scene, in everything from ownership, the diversity of tasting room staff, to wine writing. According to a 2019 survey of 3,100 wine industry professionals by SevenFifty Daily, only 2% of the wine industry identified as Black. The high starting cost of professional certifications and greater difficulty in securing business loans are cited as among the greatest bars for entry.
The Virginia wine scene doesn’t fare much better. While members of the local wine industry have observed a slow-but-steady increase in Black wine drinkers over the past decade, the lack of Black wine professionals and limited marketing outreach creates a disincentive for even greater patronage.
More industry representation would help but it’s not the only issue Black wine lovers face. Blacks are more likely to avoid asking wine questions out of fear of being talked down to, which causes them to miss out on the educational component of wine tastings. But even for those well-versed in wine, Black patrons face the reality that local staff are more likely to assume they know nothing about the subject. So it’s little wonder this community is among Sadie’s most vocal supporters.
Still, change is afoot. This past year also saw the opening of Fifty Leven wine, a wine brand owned by Kindra Dionne, a local Black entrepreneur mentored by Doug Fabbioli of Fabbioli Cellars. Delaplane Cellars and Vintner’s Cellar of Yorktown recently became Black-owned businesses, and Preston Ridge has long been Black-owned. In the scope of only a few years, Virginia went from having a single Black-owned winery to several.
None of this is lost on Sadie. Yet at the same time, she emphasizes her background is irrelevant to her winemaking. The two of us tasting through her lineup and the wine is worth your time. So whether you want to toast to a bit of Virginia wine history in the making or you just want to kick back and enjoy a tasty beverage, you should definitely visit.
Author: Matthew Fitzsimmons is a blogger who has visited nearly every winery in Virginia – most of them twice. Track his progress at https://winetrailsandwanderlust.com/.
Sweet Vines Farm Winery
14376 Tower Road