“When you’re an everyday guy doing it as a devotion, you’re not in it to make mediocre wine- you’re trying to make the best d*mn wine you can.”
– Scott Elliff, Owner, DuCard Vineyards
I was sitting at a two-top table in Travinia, munching on a charcuterie plate with a coworker, when he looked up at me and said “You know what I love about this town? In less than thirty minutes, you can feel like you’re in a whole different world.”
Coming from the Tysons area, the idea that thirty minutes can get a person more than a few miles from their front door was utterly foreign to me, but we got our check, drained our glasses, and in twenty minutes were sitting in the shadow of the mountains outside Devil’s Backbone. It was the beginning of a love affair. I knew grounds like I know my mother’s face, but the idyllic countryside and many beloved breweries and wineries surrounding Charlottesville were still uncharted territory. That was a year ago, and I’m still exploring.
Most recently, we had the distinct pleasure of darting up 29, rush hour gathering behind me like a thunderhead, and getting away to the pastoral elegance of DuCard vineyards.
The drive to DuCard is one to take slowly, with the windows down and the sunroof open. Choose a sunny day, or a windy one, or a stormy one- the vineyard is protected by the same rolling mountains that are home to White Oak Canyon and Old Rag. You’ll weave along Popham Run, a lively creek that drains the whole area and was, on this particular Friday, babbling contentedly, and zip through Tolkien-esque tunnels of lushly green trees, until you pull through the vineyard, flanked by a field housing little Shetland ponies happily munching grass and tossing their fetlocks at passersby, and up to the tasting room. The vineyard provides ample parking, right between the vines and the bridge (over Popham creek) to the tasting room. A few things of note, right off the bat: DuCard is by far one of the best stewards I can imagine for this sylvan acreage. Much of their power is solar, and they’re the only vineyard I’ve seen with an obvious charging station for electric cars. A sustainable vineyard, they hold the award for the Greenest Winery in Virginia. From limited chemical use on their lovingly tended grapes to the reclaimed barnwood that comprises their bar and flooring, or the poplar taken from the back 40 to raise the tasting room, their respect for their natural home is evident in everything they do.
Hand-in-hand with their commitment to environment, the men and women behind DuCard winery are committed to community. We had the opportunity to sit down with owner Scott Elliff, who poured a few of his award-winning wines and greeted a slew of patrons by name. His wife, a UVA law grad, was enjoying a glass with customers, employees, and friends just a few tables away.
The two purchased the property 17 years ago to escape from the bustle of their DC-area lives. The 40 acre estate and comfortable country home had a large, unmaintained apple orchard. Being the environmentalist that he is, Scott originally sought advice from an agricultural advisor, wanting to save the old apple trees. Unfortunately, the orchard had gone too long without a tender, and the trees were mostly inviable. The advisor mentioned, almost offhand, that old orchards tend to make great vineyards. Scott took the comment and ran with it.
The first vines were planted in 2000, and the fruit was sold to Rappahannock Cellars for about 5 years. The wines started to win awards- and then kept winning them. And so DuCard’s wines- Scott’s “hobby gone wild” were born. Their winemaker, Julien, came to DuCard on a three month internship from Bordeaux. That was ten years ago, and Julien, still going strong at DuCard, was kind enough to sit with us and share a glass of his art. Given the opportunity, I might also spend the next ten years frequenting DuCard’s tranquil patio. We were invited, on the spot, to one of the vineyard’s special events the very next evening- a night of stargazing, astronomical education, and, of course, a bottle of wine.
The staff is small, and controls every stage of the winemaking process, from planting through harvest and production. Partnering with PVCC, DuCard offers a hands-on viticultural course for community members, sharing their devotion to wine with Charlottesvillians of all kinds. Nearly all the grapes for their wines come from vineyards they own or operate — there’s virtually nothing in the process they haven’t controlled — except for Mother Nature, of course, which provides challenges for them and everyone else in this crazy, fun industry. Ducard is “manic about the quality of everything,” and it shows- every wine we sampled was complex, rich, and divine.
DuCard is everything a Virginia winery should be. It’s got pizazz, it’s got passion, and it’s got good people. Whether you’re looking for a day out, a new experience (their events calendar is jam packed with everything from vertical tastings to murder mystery dinners) or a space to relax on your way up or down 29, we guarantee that DuCard is a winery to love.
Finally, if you want to check out DuCard Vineyards for free (!!) grab a copy of the guide from any one of our 300+ distribution points, and see the DuCard ad in the Wine/Brews section!