Greenhill Vineyards & Winery – Raising The Bar for Virginia Wine
By Matthew Fitzsimmons
Middleburg’s Greenhill Vineyards holds a unique place in Virginia wine lore. Not only is Greenhill breaking new ground in showcasing Virginia wine to a national audience, it continues a legacy which forever changed the wine business in the United States.
Prior to David Greenhill purchasing the property in 2013, this historic farm was known as Swedenburg Estate Vineyard. Founded in 1988, Swedenburg was one of Virginia’s first wineries. Not only did these Virginia wine pioneers demonstrate vinifera could find a home in the state, they created the blueprint for today’s ‘agro-tourism’ model whereby wineries focused on selling directly to visiting customers.
But these customers discovered a problem. While they could stock up in person, those who wanted to order from out of state were out of luck. That’s because the 21st Amendment allows states to regulate alcohol, leading many to ban shipments from out of state wineries.
Owner Juanita Swedenburg argued this amounted to a violation of the Constitution’s Commerce Clause and took her case all the way to the Supreme Court. In 2005 it issued a 5-4 decision that such laws amounted to protectionism, leading to the direct-shipping model the beverage industry use today.
After his purchase David rebranded the property as Greenhill Vineyards; no doubt his surname foreshadowed his future role as a farmer. Yet his attraction to the estate is easy to understand. The farm includes 128-acres of landscaped property, a natural pond, and an 18th century manor house that for a time was Greenhill’s member club house.
Many Virginia wineries like to brag about their fancy tasting building. Step aside; Greenhill has bragging rights of likely being the country’s only winery with a tasting room that literally pre-dates the country’s founding.
With this background it’s not surprising Greenhill aims at providing a more upscale, adults-only wine experience. “Classy” is likely the first thought that comes to mind when visiting the new tasting building, which is reminiscent of a French country house.
While the main tasting room is lovely, Greenhill has an abundance of places to relax. Visitors can enjoy the long covered patio overlooking the vineyard, or a table at the extensive outdoor seating area. Members can go upstairs to what feels like a cozy den, or join an event hosted at the manor house. If you’re lucky, you might get a peek at the barrel room.
During a recent visit I hoped to meet winemaker Ben Comstock. Unfortunately he was out of town but for the very best reason – Ben was taking their top-level wine club members on a personalized tour of central Virginia, including visiting their vineyard in that area.
Fortunately I was able to chat with General Manager Jed Gray and Tasting Room Manager Sydney Smith, who were able to fill me in on all the details.
I learned that Greenhill’s wines are made from their 30 acres of vines, almost evenly split between their estate vineyard and their property in Amherst County. While Greenhill’s main focus is on highlighting Virginia’s terroir, France must not be far from their mind. According to my wine associate, even their wine barrels are “All French, all the time”.
As you would expect from a winery that draws inspiration from the Old World, they have an excellent assortment of French varieties. My favorites included their chardonnay, red blends, and Champenoise–style sparklings. Greenhill even has a new chenin blanc, one of only a handful of Virginia wineries to grow this grape. One friend blind-tasting their 2019 Philosophy petit verdot-heavy red blend claimed “It tasted like a sonnet.”
But perhaps the most remarkable element is how Greenhill doesn’t just aim to impress local visitors. For years they’ve been demonstrating the quality of Virginia wine on a national stage.
While the Greenhill team loves to tell the story of how their 2013 Blanc de Blancs was part of the 2016 Oscars swag-bag, more impressive is their track record at the San Francisco Chronical Wine Competition. Wine enthusiasts are likely familiar with the name; it’s one of the largest and most prestigious wine competitions in the United States, showcasing around 6,000 entries.
For the Virginia wine industry to grow, consumers outside Virginia need to recog
nize the quality of wine being made here. This makes major industry events crucial to Virginia wine’s future. Winning big at major wine competitions isn’t just a win for Greenhill, it’s a win for Virginia.
And Greenhill has been winning it big.
In 2022 Greenhill won Best in Class for their 2019 Philosophy, The year prior they won Best in Class for their 2019 Petit Manseng. In 2020 they earned Double Gold for their 2018 Chardonnay. This is in addition to a roster of other awards, local and national.
General Manager Jed Gray explained, “Competing in national wine competitions is an important aspect of our marketing strategy and creates broader value and respect for the quality of wine we are focused on making each year. The national recognition awarded to our wines from a prestigious brand is something that resonates with customers and adds tangible value to our wines and brand.”
Have you visited Greenhill lately? If so let us know what you think!
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/.