Hidden Gems of Virginia Wineries
By Matthew Fitzsimmons
This February, Governor Glen Youngkin awarded Delfosse Vineyards and Winery the Virginia Governor’s Cup for its 2021 Screaming Hawk Meritage. This petit verdot-heavy red blend took top honors in the Governor’s Case, which showcase the event’s best scoring wines.
What made this event unusual is that many of the industry’s most famous winemakers didn’t make it into the Case. It’s not because King Family, Michael Shaps, or Veritas aren’t making the stellar wine they’ve long been known for. Instead, wineries that are further off the beaten path such as Delfosse and Mountain Run Vineyards gave the most famous names in Virginia wine a run for their money.
If there’s a lesson in all this, it’s that you don’t need a famous name or central location to make it into the big leagues. You just have to make great wine.
There’s a term I like to use for wineries like these: “hidden gems”.
The extra time it takes to find such locations make them particularly rewarding. While large venues can wow you with amazing views and chateau-like tasting rooms (and don’t get me wrong, many hidden gems have those too), wineries at the furthest ends of the wine trail keep visitors coming back by focusing on the basics: great wine and service. And isn’t that what visiting a winery should be about?
Virginia is full of ‘hidden gems’; these are just a few. Get out there and find the rest for yourself.
When it comes to ‘hidden gems’, the Shenandoah Valley sits on a wealth of riches. With low levels of rainfall and high elevation, the valley has a strong argument as the best wine-growing region in the state.
The Shenandoah Valley is already a road trip for most Virginia residents, but Jump Mountain takes things to a whole new level. Located in the hills roughly between Staunton and Lexington, Jump Mountain is one of those places you need to map out in advance since your GPS signal may fail you on the way there.
But don’t let that dissuade you! In addition to growing cabernet sauvignon and tannat on the hottest slopes of their vineyard, owners Mary Hughes and David Vermillion grow vines not easily found elsewhere in Virginia, such as refosco, grüner veltliner, and lagrein.
Refosco is particularly fascinating as it’s one of the oldest grapes still used to make wine. Jump’s “Livia” refosco-heavy blend is named after the wife of the Roman emperor Octavian who once extolled on the benefits of drinking wine.
Rogers Ford is one of the best wineries most people don’t know about. Located between Fredericksburg and Culpeper, the winery is housed in a two hundred year old farmhouse converted into a tasting room. Visitors don’t come here for wine as much as they visit to relax.
Owner/winemaker Johnny Puckett makes a dizzying array of wines for such a small venue, including an orange wine, bourbon barrel port-style, and a late-harvest “First Frost” vidal blanc. Even traditional favorites like chardonnay have a southern hemisphere twist.
Rogers Ford has another claim to fame; they made Virginia’s first petit verdot. While now one of Virginia’s most popular single-varietal wines, decades ago petit verdot was considered strictly a blending grape.
Johnny’s father recognized this grape’s potential and bottled a full varietal petit verdot in 2000. Today, petit verdots are among Virginia’s most awarded wines, and Roger Ford’s PVs should be recognized as some of the best.
Calling Rosemont a hidden gem is something of a misnomer. It’s a well-respected name in Virginia wine, despite the fact that most people familiar with the winery have never taken the trip to southern Virginia to visit in person.
Those ‘in the know’ have likely met Aubrey and Justin Rose pouring at the Mount Vernon wine festival, seen the scores of Justin’s signature Kilravock red blend in Wine Enthusiast, or sampled Rosemont wines as part of Early Mountain Vineyard’s “Best of Virginia” flight. The really lucky ones may have sampled Rosemont’s vermouth or its Gold Medal-winning Extra Brut sparkling.
True wine-lovers, however, take the trip to Bracy to sample these wines first-hand. The farm has been in the family since 1858 and was revitalized as a winery after the Roses sought advice from vineyard consultant Lucie Morton on what to plant. Today, they have a mix of hybrids and vinifera, including some tannat which Justin uses to power up his red blends.
While all vineyards are by definition farms, some wineries reflect their rural roots more than others. Located in scenic Patrick County (not far from the border of North Carolina), Stanburn is one such location.
Family patriarch Nelson Stanley planted his first vines in 1999, intending to source to local wineries but later making wine on his own. Today, Stanburn has a mixture of hybrid and vinifera grapes, including a small section of barbera.
Stanburn also has a secret weapon – winemaker Jocelyn Kuzelka. Jocelyn not only makes wine for Stanburn, she’s a cider maker and co-owner of Daring Wine Company, one of Virginia’s only 100% female-owned wine businesses. You can find Jocelyn and co-owner Megan Hereford selling wine at farmers markets in Charlottesville.
Wind Vineyards at Laurel Grove
Vineyards probably aren’t the first thing that come to mind when thinking of Essex County, but a visit to Wind Vineyards may change that. The area is part of the Chesapeake Wine Trail, which produces some of the best oyster and wine pairings in the state.
Wind earned a Gold medal for its chambourcin at the 2023 Governor’s Cup competition. Such recognition is rare for hybrid grapes, as many judges tend to turn their nose at anything that isn’t vinifera. But as climate change wreaks havoc on low-elevation vineyards, chambourcin and other hybrids may be the wave of the future.
Wind also boasts one thing that’s totally unique in Virginia wine – it hosts a monster truck show every year, with one of the trucks driven by the owner/winemaker. Take that wine snobs!
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/