January 2015: The Notebook visits an unusual winery up a long gravel (and horrible pot hole-infested) driveway directly off route 50, about 3 miles east of Middleburg. Leaves of Grass Vineyards is the intriguing name, and their wines (grapes brought in from other vineyards around the Commonwealth) were good to excellent; the promise of another fine daycation spot in the stressful environment that is Northern Virginia. Their Cab Sauv, in particular, was delicious, bold and offering strong cedar and spearmint notes.
The tasting room was nestled inside a restored farm building, with inviting glass surrounding a third of the tasting room, which afforded views of the Piedmont foot hills. The owner/winemaker was initially not onsite the day we visited, so the gracious ladies behind the bar (neither of whom spoke English very well) took care of the tastings. We found out the family that opened the vineyard were from Russia, with the owner bringing over not only extended family members, but friends as well. The winery operation was going to be a life-changing affair.
Photos of Leaves of Grass Vineyards: Early 2015
The hosts were so eager to please, the tastings were larger than usual. When the owner finally arrived, he and his large (and friendly) German Shepard (appropriately named Hans) greeted us as well. The normally drab January afternoon turned into a wonderful occasion with fine wine; we both purchased several bottles.
Flash forward to November 2015: The Leaves of Grass sign off route 50 is replaced with a sign reading "50West Vineyards." We drive up the hill on the gravel road, pot holes now completely filled in. Mini Coopers adorn the parking lot (did we somehow beam ourselves to Cooper Vineyards near Mineral, known for great wine, a LEED-certified tasting room, and their annual Mini Cooper festival?) The Russian hosts are replaced with a friendly pourer wearing a Sunset Hills Vineyards shirt. Everything else about the location was as we remember it; the windows overlooking the hills, the outdoor patios, the abundance of sound-absorbing wood inside the tasting room, the absence of a live band (the latter being a major plus for us).
Although we didn't get the full story about what happened to Leaves of Grass and the previous owners, the data we did receive from both the pourer and Diane Canney (co-owner of Sunset Hills) was financial - a big issue for new Virginia winery owners. If adequate research is not done, several years in advance in many cases, the best intentions (bringing more fine wine to the state) could be met with at best disappointment and at worst, a total bankruptcy situation. We hope the latter did not fall upon the previous owners.
A nearby Mini Cooper dealership was having an event, which explained the numerous Mini Coopers in the parking lot. The tasting building at 50West is deceptive - it is much larger than its outdoor appearance would lead you to believe. The second floor was being occupied by the Mini Cooper folks, but the first floor and patios were open to others. The wines during our visit were all from Sunset Hills, which created no issues for us as their wine is fantastic. At some point during the day, blogger David reached into his jacket and pulled out two labels from Leaves of Grass, which were given to him during the January visit, since the friendly Russian hosts that day did not have a tasting sheet listing their wines. The labels were meant to remind the bloggers of their wine styles. If the state of Virginia ever opens a wine museum, these labels would make a nice contribution.
Sunset Hills plans to use 50West as a satellite tasting room and eventually, this location will have its own wine style and label. Sunset Hills has been a favorite of the Notebook since they opened in 2008. It will be nice to enjoy their wine in a less-crowded, less noisy atmosphere (as anyone who has visited Sunset Hills can agree about). A festive mood is great if you're entertaining friends, but sometimes you want a lower key afternoon.
If anyone has additional information on what happened to the owners of Leaves of Grass, please reply to let us know.