Sunday, April 7, 2013

Remembering original Virginia wineries

As we launch into winery season, a pause to remember Virginia wineries that have shut their doors (by choice or otherwise) is in order. When the blogmasters started their winery travels in the early '00s, these spots were among the few to choose from. It really is hard to believe that in the past eight years alone, nearly 120 new wineries have opened in the state.

Here is a map of the state's wineries taken from a 1987 article from the New York Times. Of the wineries on this map, only Piedmont, Naked Mountain, Prince Michel, Burnley and Barboursville remain open. Montdomaine continues to make wine but does not have a winery open to the public:

Most of these wineries closed simply because the owners/winemakers yearned to retire; they had been making wine since the 1970s in some cases and certainly paved the way for the current crop of wine growers and vineyard owners in the Commonwealth. Others were not so fortunate and closed due to bad business decisions or, in one case, a media fueled scandal.

One of the original Virginia wineries was located near the center of wine action (the Monticello AVA): Oakencroft Vineyard. Owner Felicia Rogan is famous throughout the state as being one of Virginia's original movers and shakers. The vineyard and winery was located slightly northwest of Charlottesville and was the typical picture-perfect rural setting, complete with a pond in front that housed resident swans as well as the usual pond suspects (ducks, geese, herons).

Further north, off route 29 in Madison County, Christiansen Ridge winery made two admirable efforts in the winemaking business - the first in the early '00s and then later in the mid '00s. Unfortunately both attempts failed (the bloggers never got the full story, but based on discussions with other nearby wineries, the mistakes were financial). This was a winery complete with two guest homes - one was a large house perfect for weekend reunions or wedding parties, and the other was a small log cabin, absolutely inviting. This is a photograph of the grounds at Christiansen Ridge:

Close to Winchester, Deer Meadow Vineyard specialized in chardonnay and had a tasting room located past a potpourri of old home furnishings (we didn't want to label them "junk...") and was about as remote and over the hills and far away you could get in northern Virginia. Apparently the owners simply lost interest and zeal in winemaking and found the venture to be too costly.

Near Old Rag Mountain, Smokehouse Winery wasn't really a winery but a meadery, and based on comments by other winery fans as well as nearby wineries, Smokehouse was a one of a kind place with a one of a kind owner. Why he decided to get out of the business depends on who you talk to, but he was the first location dedicated to mead (an elixir made with honey), so for this reason alone we must raise a glass.

Oasis Winery, near Front Royal, was the location owned by the nutso Salahi family. These are the infamous "White House crashers." Even in 2004, when we visited Oasis, we were turned off the place. Their emphasis wasn't wine, but entertaining celebrities (pictures of celebs in their winery adorned their tasting room walls), and their limo business. As of 2011, the vineyards near the former Oasis tasting room were overgrown and sad-looking. Luckily, a few new wineries in the area opened since they shut their doors to make up for the loss, and perhaps Tareq Salahi will think about selling his vineyard to nearby Rappahannock Cellars or Desert Rose Winery.

Finally we must mention Farfelu Vineyards. Located near the aforementioned Oasis, Rappahannock Cellars and Desert Rose Vineyard, Farfelu, unlike Oasis, was a winery we sorely miss. The wine was excellent, well priced, and the grounds (complete with a nature trail and a pond, and bordering a lush evergreen forest) were perfect for daycations. From what we heard, Farfelu closed because the owners retired and apparently no one in their family wanted to pick up the reigns and continue with the wine business. They are missed. These pictures sum up the Farfelu experience:

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing the fond memories. We relocated from PA to Northern VA in the late 80's, and over the years discovered the delightful and often delicious experience that awaited adventurous travelers in Virginia Wine Country. We remember visits to many of the wineries (and Meadery)... We experienced Oasis when they were thriving (and still focused on the quality of the wine)... had a bottle from Oakencroft saved for a special occasion... and always made a stop at Farfelu to pick up a couple bottles of "Folly" (re-named as "Fou-de-Blanc"). A toast to fond memories, and a fantastic future for Virginia Wine!