Hoos in Virginia Wine?
By Cameron Vest ‘15
Charlottesville and her surroundings boast 35 of the state’s 300+ vineyards. Not surprisingly some of the best are led by UVA alumni. We spoke with eight about their vineyards, their love of Charlottesville, and how their UVA experiences shaped the wineries they’ve built.
But first, let’s set the stage. Twelve years before the University of Virginia was established, Thomas Jefferson undertook another grand project which would end up changing the landscape of Charlottesville, of Virginia, and of the American East Coast arguably as much as the University itself–the planting of two vineyards, stocked with vulnerable vinifera cultivars, on the southern grounds of his home estate, Monticello.
Historians at Monticello believe it’s unlikely that Jefferson ever pressed a Monticello Vintage. Luckily for the oenophiles among us, however, descendants of Jefferson’s vines, graduates of Jefferson’s University, and skilled vintners from all over the world have come together to make Charlottesville the heartland of Virginia wine.
For a full listing of Charlottesville’s top wineries, click HERE.
Wineries led by UVA Alumni
Ox-Eye Vineyards — Susan Wingo Kiers ‘85 & Harriet Kiers ‘19
Valley Road — Stan Joynes, Col ‘77 Law ‘81
Lovingston Winery — Stephanie Wright ‘04
King Family Vineyards — James King ‘07
Rosemont Vineyards — Stephen Rose ‘77, Justin & Aubrey Rose ‘04
Jump Mountain — Mary Hughes ‘87
Septenary Winery — Sarah and Todd Zimmerman, ‘90 Curry & Law respectively
Afton Mountain Vineyards — Elizabeth ‘84 & Tony Smith Darden ‘87
1. Ox-Eye Vineyards — Susan Wingo Kiers ‘85 & Harriet Kiers ‘19
Ox-eye Vineyards, named for the blooming wildflowers that spatter their farm in early summer, is the loving labor of Susan Kiers (Col ‘85), her husband John Kiers, and now of their daughter, Harriet. Their wines are 100% estate grown on their 100-acre farm, which currently has 25 acres under vine. The Kiers bought their Augusta County farm in 1996 after some soul and soil searching in the Charlottesville area. They settled on the Shenandoah Valley because of its rich terroir and unparalleled growing opportunities for some of their favorite cool-climate varietals. Varietals currently under vine include two Burgundian varieties (Chardonnay and Pinot Noir), Cabernet Franc (made in the Loire Valley style), hybrid Traminette, and three German/Austrian varieties, including Susan’s personal favorite, the dry but citrusy Gruner Veltliner.
Entirely family owned and operated, with husband John serving as the head winemaker, Susan running the Tasting Room, Harriet, a 2019 Chemistry graduate, positioned to take over the vinting operation, and the other Kiers daughter, Olivia (Col 2012) helping with some label design, visitors to Ox-eye will feel invited into the Kiers family. Their Tasting Room is tucked into a bustling corner of Staunton’s historic Wharf district, and visitors can enjoy a bottle on the patio before taking a walk through the quaint town’s main drag. Susan Kiers is no stranger to wandering, and fondly recollects taking the long way to classes during her time at the university to bask in the beauty of Grounds. Susan and John were drawn back to Charlottesville by memory and sentiment but asked how her UVA experiences inform their winery, Susan said “Thomas Jefferson felt Virginia was ideally suited for growing wine grapes. We like to prove him right!”
2. Valley Road, Stan Joynes Col ‘77 Law ‘81
Valley Road is the brainchild of not just one but multiple one Hoos, including Stan Joynes, who several years ago joked in a Daily Progress interview that the founders have 16 graduate and undergraduate degrees among them — “not one of which is related to growing grapes.” The sheer intellect of their powerhouse team shines through in their winery, however, and more than any of the wineries on this list, Valley Road exemplifies the erudition of the Virginia wine world. Everything they do is done well, with careful attention. Their motto is “Great people, Great wines, Great views” and they’ve got all of those in spades.
While each of the founders has his or her own set of reasons for loving Charlottesville and Charlottesville wine, Stan and his wife Barbara’s motivation into Charlottesville and Charlottesville wine was a natural extension of their family life. Simply put, UVA knit the Joynes family together. Married in mid-life, each with two children under 10, Stan, Barbara, and their kids bonded at Scott Stadium, cheering for the Cavaliers year after year. They built their home in Wintergreen in 2008; the kids went to school (two to UVA!) and they began to make friends in the wine and cider world — most notably with Ellen and David King, founders of King Family Vineyards. Their education in Virginia wine came the way, I suspect, of yours and mine — from drinking it.
While Stan jokes a lot about his college memories, he is serious about his wine, his friends, his family, and his relationship to the University and Charlottesville. His father was a Wahoo, and Joynes grew up with a classic portrait of Jefferson above the mantle. Jefferson to Joynes was never a hero, but the father of the age of reason- and a “complicated, imperfect man just like I am.” His daughter, now clerking for a judge in New Orleans, grew up with a copy of the Statute for Religious Freedom on her bedroom wall, and says she didn’t realize until she was in law school that the statute didn’t hang on the bedroom wall of every kid in Virginia.
Stan speaks lovingly of the transition from the cutthroat legal world to the cooperative environment demanded by Virginia viticulture- the “barn-raising” mentality of the wine world. That mentality is reflected in the way that Valley Road operates — it is, essentially, the meeting of many great minds to make great Virginia wine.
3. Lovingston Winery, Stephanie Wright ‘04
The story of Lovingston Winery is a story of legacy. Stephanie followed her father, Ed Puckett (Mcintire ‘69) to UVA after a dyed-in-the-wool UVA childhood. Ed and his wife started Lovingston in 2003, while Stephanie and her brother were students at the University. It’s hard to rank the UVA spirit between our Cavalier vineyards, but it bears mentioning that the only thing a Lovingston harvest has ever been planned around is a UVA home football game.
Lovingston Winery is named for the town of Lovingston, the county seat of Nelson County. Their tasting room is a wide, open space that overlooks the vinting and barrelling operations; the bones of the winemaking process are not only visible, but featured. Visitors to their tasting room know exactly what they’re drinking, where it came from, and how it was made- they encourage guests to walk around the facility, ask questions, and give honest feedback.
Stylistically, Lovingston deviates from many other Virginia wineries. They make a lot of Bordeaux varietal-based wines such as Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot,. They also produce a bit of Chambourcin, Chardonnay, Seyval Blanc and Petit Manseng, and are the only vineyard around producing the relatively rare South African varietal Pinotage. They also famously produce the Rotunda Red, a favorite wine for many Charlottesville enthusiasts.
4. King Family Vineyards, James King, 2007
King Family is one of Charlottesville’s oldest and best known wineries — and for good reason. The King family is an embodiment of Charlottesville — always welcoming, always innovative, and never loath to lend a hand in any way they can. Founded in 1998 by James’ parents, David and Ellen King, King Family is so named because the family name “created a drive to ensure that we would make a great product every year.” As it happens, they do.
King Family has grown exponentially in the past two decades, starting with 8 acres of Viognier and Merlot and now totaling just under 50 acres, which still can’t provide enough for the incredible demand that King’s production requires — they source all their additional grapes from the monticello AVA and have helped several other vineyards get their start. Merlot is still a favorite of King Family, and it goes into three of their flagship wines — their Meritage, the single varietal Merlot, and their aptly named Crose Rose, for their hamlet of Crozet. The Crose Rose in particular has become a true Charlottesville staple.
King is also home to Roseland Polo, and hosts free-to-attend matches from Memorial Day through October. Arguably, no Charlottesville experience is complete without a Polo and Picnic day at King Family.
Part of the 2006 National Championship winning UVA lacrosse team, James King returned to Charlottesville and joined the family business after two combat deployments as a logistics officer in the US Marine Corps. He brings his team making mentality, family values, and broad logistics experience to the family winemaking operation, saying “whatever actions you take across the spectrum of operations can greatly influence the finished product.” King serves that spectrum of operations throughout Charlottesville and the Charlottesville wine world- not just through their top-tier winemaking, but through the experiences they provide to families who visit their vineyard, and the relationships they foster within the Charlottesville community.
5. Rosemont Vineyards, Stephen Rose ‘77 and Justin & Aubrey Rose ‘04
The family farm at Rosemont Vineyards, built in 1858, is nearly as old as the University itself. Located just north of the North Carolina border, Rosemont is a fantastic day trip for Charlottesvillians and North Carolinians alike. With the help of world-renowned viticulturist and family friend Lucie Morton, the vineyard was planted in 2003, in part to save the family farm, and it certainly has. Rosemont has become a delightful blend of early American style, traditional winemaking, and a state-of-the-art production facility befitting Stephen and Justin’s UVA chemical engineering degrees. A wide variety of wines, mostly in the French-American style, are produced on their 450 acre farm, about 26 acres of which are currently under vine. Their wines range from Extra Brut Sparklings, to robust reds, and even some dessert wines. As favorites, Stephen’s picks out their Syrah, Justin chooses the Petit Verdot (which is used in their signature Kilravock), and Aubrey fluctuates between Rosé in the Spring and Summer, and Merlot in the Fall and Winter.
While each of the Roses attest to the University’s influence in shaping character, they all acknowledge provenance in Justin and Aubrey’s meeting at the end of first year, leading to their eventual marriage. The family now enjoys coming back to Charlottesville for the food, the memories, for Tom Deluca inspiration, and to pour for fellow Wahoos at annual Reunions.
6. Jump Mountain, Mary Hughes `87
Mary Hughes knows beauty. More precisely, she knows natural beauty, and how best to cultivate it. As she should — she earned a degree in Landscape Architecture at the A-School in 1987 and now serves as the University’s landscape architect, spending her time preserving the beauty of grounds while also tending to the rolling hills of Jump Mountain, the vineyard she owns with her husband David.
Jump Mountain is located approximately an hour from Charlottesville and just west of Lexington upon the mountain’s epic flank so visible to travelers. Their vineyard currently has about 4,000 vines on 3.5 acres. The area is especially good for growing their Gruner Veltliner, an Austrian grape that holds up to the late frosts that many area vineyards have felt the sting of in recent years.
Jump Mountain is a small vineyard with a family feel. They offer tastings by reservation only, and pour them themselves — an intimate experience which can be hard to find as Charlottesville becomes a mecca for east-coast wine connoisseurs. The reservation policy exists for a simple reason — Mary and David, when not pouring, are hard at work in the vineyard.
Mary recalls the splendor of graduating on the Lawn and now enjoys returning to grounds. She prizes the new Memorial to Enslaved Laborers, and is moved when seeing others interact meaningfully with the memorial. Her foray into the wine world began in Paris on an undergraduate year abroad, where she “picked up the wine bug,” and realized that vineyards are a “particularly beautiful land use.” She and her husband are graduates of the PVCC Viticulture program, which, she asserts, helped them become the winemakers and vineyard stewards they are today.
7. Septenary Winery, Sarah & Todd Zimmerman 199O M.Ed Curry and Law, respectively
Todd and Sarah Zimmerman met while in graduate school at the University, left to pursue their careers, and, like so many UVA grads, “vowed to come back one day.” In 2014, they made good on that promise. Septenary Winery, located on the grounds of historic Seven Oaks Farm, is one of Charlottesville’s most picturesque estates. Once owned by Coran Capshaw of Dave Matthews Band fame, the estate dates back to the 1800s, where seven white oaks once stood in front of the main home- thus the name, Seven Oaks Farm. In 1954, six of the seven trees, which were each named for a Virginia-born president, were felled by Hurricane Hazel. The one tree left standing, of course, was Jefferson. Septenary’s name is a homage to these seven great oaks.
Seven of the farm’s 109 acres are currently under vine, planted with Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Viognier. The vineyard focuses mainly on Bordeaux style reds and Viognier, Chardonnay and Rose. Visitors will enjoy sipping wine on the back porch- quite literally the Zimmerman’s backyard- overlooking the infinity-edge pool, vast green lawn, vineyard and The Blue Ridge Mountains. Septenary is exquisitely designed to be a warm, serene environment with eminently enjoyable wines. Corry Craighill, Virginia native, UVA grad and decorated winemaker, has joined Septenary’s team and will be bringing her unique Wahoo flair to the new vintages.
8. Afton Mountain Vineyard, Elizabeth and Tony Smith, 1984 (Col.) and 1987 Darden, respectively
In pursuit of a new project, Elizabeth and Tony Smith acquired a modest 11-acre vineyard in 2009. Their terra firma, Afton Mountain Vineyard, was first planted in 1979 in the first wave of the modern Virginia wine movement. In little more than a decade, the Smiths have expanded their landholdings, doubled their grape production, earned numerous awards, and introduced onsite lodging.
Like many destinations in Nelson, you enter Afton Mountain from above, affording an impressive view of their eleven vinifera varietals under vine. Of these, Elizabeth counts their Chardonnay, Petit Verdot, and Albariño among her favorites. While their viticulture reflects ambitious breadth, their discipline remains close to fundamentals learned at UVA.
“My years as a Hoo reinforced my strong personal commitment to integrity,” Elizabeth says.
“Knowing that I was held to a high standard as an undergraduate and that we live and work in a community that still holds that standard is important.
In the highly regulated environment that we work in (agriculture, alcohol production, alcohol retail sales) it’s also a small and strong community of wine producers and the associated regulatory agencies that we work with. Our staff, our customers and the agency reps know that we are committed to operating our business with high standards and respect for the land that we farm and the wines we produce.”
Elizabeth also reflects thoughtfully on time and place, how Virginia’s wine promise contains a limited promise. “The topography of this area does not lend itself to massive vineyard sites and corporate ownership, so customers know that they are enjoying handcrafted, small-production wines that are often farm-to-table.”
And isn’t this the ideal? Yeoman farmers carefully cultivating grapes in modest vineyards that yield an exquisite taste within verdant hills? Welcome to Monticello Wine Country!
We can attest not only to these UVA alumni’s wine-making talents but also to their social skills! Where you find one wahoo, you’re bound to find another. Give these vineyards and vintners a visit, and let them guide you to your next stop.
Cameron Vest is a 2015 graduate of the University and a connoisseur of Charlottesville culture. She’s visited no fewer than 25 different area vineyards but won’t tell her favorite.