Monday, September 14, 2015

A Tale of a Winery: Capitol Vineyards

Driving around the country roads that run parallel with and bisect Virginia state highway 55 in northern Virginia in late August (a state highway we've dubbed the "wine highway"), we decided to pay a visit to Capitol Vineyards, a spot that opened without much fanfare in spring 2011 (around the same time as nearby Cobbler Mountain Cellars).

Imagine our disappointment to see this once-promising place barren, with weed-choked vineyards, a deserted tasting cabin (which was a post office in a previous life and served as the main point of entry for the winery), and a sad-looking house near the back of the property. Clearly the location has closed, although their website and Facebook pages are still live (last Facebook entry last January), and Yelp does not list the location as being closed. If it was open, it sure didn't look it.

Capitol Vineyards began as an investment and experiment in 2009-2010 between several young adults who had jobs as interns and other positions on Capitol Hill (hence their winery name). The tasting room opened in spring 2011, with the release of several wines made from grapes from other vineyards (in Virginia as well as other states). The vineyards were freshly planted when we first visited, complete with the tubing:

The young lady who conducted the tour seemed a bit nervous but very friendly, and gave us a history of the property as well as their plans for the future: She and her other friends were going to convert the house in the back of the property (which nicely hugged the side of a mountain and was about as far away as you could get from civilization in Northern Virginia) into a bed and breakfast, and the location was going to host weddings, reunions and corporate events. We kicked back with a chilled bottle of one of their offerings, a nicely crisp Viognier, and enjoyed the natural scene (we were visited by not only a friendly tuxedo cat named Rex, but some fawn as well):

Since the Notebook's visit in spring 2011, we had been meaning to return, but were always mystified by the lack of state-issued highway grape cluster signs leading would-be visitors to their winery. Located off a narrow half paved/half gravel road in the Markham area of route 55, the place is a challenge to find, even with GPS. The winery opened around the same time as Cobbler Cellars, and as Cobbler grew in popularity, had their highway signs installed, and built their new tasting room, Capitol Vineyards was strangely quiet. We now know why.

The blogmasters had a long discussion about Capitol after seeing the state of the winery in late August 2015, and we'd be curious to hear from others who visited this location, particularly if anyone has information on what happened. Our speculation: Money ran out. The location was hard to find, their Facebook page wasn't very active, their wine was quite expensive, and their original ambition and enthusiasm may not have been enough to sustain them. That could have been the reason for the nervousness of the young lady who served us. We hate to see this happen to Virginia wineries, especially if it's a money issue and not a "the owner was a celebrity-obsessed arrogant asshole" (as was the case with Oasis) issue.

The state of Capitol Vineyards, as of August 2015:

Perhaps the soil was too tainted to grow grapes (which explains why another vineyard did not take them over). Perhaps the schedules of the investors were too harried (a fate that also befell Hume Vineyards, which also opened in 2011). 2011 cannot be designated a "cursed year," since Cobbler Mountain Cellars is doing so well. We wish the prior owners well and maybe some day, they'll take another shot at the winery business, maybe with slightly less ambitious (and costly) visions.