For our first monthly open monthly meet-up of 2023, we invited anyone interested to wine with us a Valley Road Vineyards in Afton, VA. Valley Road is one of those vineyards that lots of people pass by all the time, but haven’t visited, or that is seen squarely as a wedding and event venue.
One great thing about Valley Road is it has multiple spaces for groups. We reserved the lodge and got several bottles to try. Between flights and bottles, we were able to try most of the establishment’s 2023 Governor’s cup winners.
Valley Road’s winners include:
2019 Meritage (silver)
2019 Petit Verdot (silver)
2021 Cabernet Franc (silver)
2021 Chardonnay (silver)
2021 Torn Curtain (bronze)
Of these, people enjoyed the Chardonnay and the Petit Verdot the most, with the Meritage also being a favorite. The Torn Curtain is a blend of Chambourcin, Merlot, and Petit Verdot. What a blend, right? Most of us wanted a little more Merlot or Petit Verdot for a bolder flavor.
We agreed that the white wines shine at Valley Road and one of our favorites was the Fête Sparkling Viognier. We like to kick off with a sparkling and this was a hit. This sparkling was crips with citrus notes and just the right amount of bubbles. This was a 10 of 10 for us.
Another white that stood out was the off-dry Petite Manseng and Vidal Blanc blend, 2020 Mountain Glen white. This was such a treat for white wine lovers and sweet wine lovers looking to expand their pallates. Notes of honeysuckle, orange, and vanilla, made this a pleasure for all of the senses.
The Chardonnay was remniscient of a California Chardonnay, without some of the heaviness that Virginia Chardonnays can carry. The common sentiment was that Valley Road’s surpassed expecations for a Chardonnay from Virginia.
Now about the lodge. It is a small, private building that held about 14 of us. It has its own bathroom, a deck, and a sink and fridge. It is also equipped with a bluetooth speaker and a podium.
This as a fun experience and the staff was pleasant and attentive, as was the booking experience. We carried our own food, but the winery does have snacks you can purchase.
Brunch. The origins of the meal are disputed, but most agree it started in Britian as part of fox hunting tradition. It became popular in the U.S. in the 1930s with New Orleans claiming it was first to popularize the meal. Now people flock to the boozy meal in cities across America, but Charlottesville still hasn’t quite caught on.
As someone who moved to the area from the Northern Virginia/DC area a great brunch is one thing I miss most.
First, let’s be clear. Charlottesville has all you’d think any Southern city would need to excel at brunch. It’s a foodie city housing a large, public university. It’s surrounded by wineries, breweries, and distillaries. But it lacks brunch.
And I don’t just mean brunch in name. I mean brunch in vibe as well. Brunch with fantastic cocktails, a few locations with bottomless mimosas, a DJ, brunch with people presenting just as lovely as the menus and drinks.
There are two things that I believe contribute to the lack of brunch. One, Charlottesville is a pretty casual place. Extremely casual. Brunch is a casual meal. It was partially invented to offer a later meal option than breakfast for those who were out late on Saturdays. Even so, the most casual brunch spots inspire fashion and trends. Two, there is lack of resteraunt owners in Charlottesville who understand brunch and seek to attract a diverse crowd that is not only looking for great food, but a great overall experience.
This weekend we offered a brunch experience to our Wine Cave members in conjunction with Renee’s Boutique and Feisty Gourmet Catering. It included wonderful food and drinks, a shopping experience, and a playlist for us!
I wanted to offer Wine Cave members this experience because I feel it’s one they can’t get a lot of places in Charlottesville. Anyone else wishing for a brunch scene in Charlottesville? Would you attend if Black Women Who Wine worked to bring brunch to the masses?
In our last winery spotlight of 2022, we’d like to introduce you to Hardware Hills Vineyard. Located in Scottsville, VA, Hardware Hills was previously Thistle Gate Vineyard. The name changed after ownership of the winery changed in 2021.
We visited Hardware Hills as the third and final stop of our fall tour this year and everyone agreed on the desire for more time at this establishment. From start to finish, we had a great experience and the staff was wonderful. While there, we enjoyed the patio seating and enjoyed flights, sangria, a wine spritzer the winery was serving, and snacks.
A few wines still carry the Thistle Rock branding and name, while others are Hardware Hills. The Hardware Hills wines include a Harvest Rose, Sparkling Riparian Rose, River Bend Red, River Bend White, Petite Verdot, Merlot, Hillside Red, and sangria.
Some of the group’s favorites were the Hillside Red and River Bend Red, as well as the Thistle Gate Scott’s Landing and Chardonnay. The Scott’s Landing is a semi-dry blend that is 80% Seyval Blanc and 20% Chardonnay and was a favorite. The River Bend Red was also very nice and a blend of Petite Verdot and Chambourcin. Chambourcin is a hybrid grape that is proving to work overtime in plenty of Viriginia blends and this one is not an exception to that rule. As a Chambourcin fan, it gives balance to this blend and the result is a well-rounded blend with notes of black cherry and just the right amount of smokiness.
If you are looking for a smaller winery to visit where the staff if excellent, consider Hardware Hills. We will for sure be adding it to our list of future meetups so that more Virginia wine lovers can give it a try.
Black Women Who Wine is lucky to have so many amazing women join us who are also small business owners. This Small Business Saturday, we invite you to learn about just a few and to stay tuned for a business directory we are working on!
Renee’s Boutique Owner: Crystal Napier Crystal is a longtime supporter of Black Women Who Wine and the owner of Renee’s Boutiue, providing “clothing for the confident woman.” Body positive and size inclusive, Renee’s offers everything from personal styling services to shape wear.
The Etiquette Doctor Owner: Dr. Toya Corbett Dr. Toya Corbett is a career coach, public speaker, and etiquette consultant and expert offering services transformational training and culturally relevant experiences. She started attending Black Women Who Wine events in 2022 and is a Wine Cave member.
StickyNote Creative Owner: Bunmi Adeeko Collins Bunmi is an active member of the small business community in Charlottesville, striving to level the playing field for women entrepreneurs. Her business StickyNote Creative offers graphic design and marketing services.
Heart & Soul Fitness Owner: Nicole Hawker Heart & Soult Fitness is a new endeavor in Charlottesville, desiring to provide community fitness classes for those who desire to live a healthier lifestyle regardless of age and fitness level. You may have seen Nicole running with Prolyfyck Run Crew also!
In the fall of 2021, Tracey Love of Blenheim Vineyards reached out to me asking if I’d like to be a host for a new wine club the winery was planning for 2022, the Oenoverse. It was going to be a club to give a voice to a diverse array of wine afficionados and lovers not only so far as race and color, but level of experience talking about wine. I said yes.
Before Oenoverse, I hadn’t visited Blenheim since I first came of legal drinking age a year or two after it opened. I remembered it well. There were a lot of flies. It wasn’t especially lux. And the wine was okay. It wasn’t my first Virginia winery visit back then, those would have been Wintergreen Winery (which no longer exists) and Veritas.
I’m glad I gave Blenheim another try. Fast forward many many years, and the wine is well, beyond okay. It’s good. Winemaker Kirsty Harmon is just everything. Highly respected across all of Virginia wine. She admits to preferring whites over bold reds and often talks about how she enjoys making “approachable” wines. The tasting room has a lot of charm. In a nutshell, Blenheim’s evolution is a peek into the evolution of Virginia wine as a whole.
Other lessons learned, I’m a community person even if I’m not a collaborative person. The word collaboration scares me. Probably because I’m used to it in a corporate sense where I’d rather get things done on my own. Community is different though. It’s individuals coming together for a common cause with the intent of impact. And what an impact Oenoverse has had. Building off the flurry of wine diversity initiatives that came out of a general growth in diversity as the pandemic and racial unrest touched consciouses, the wine club and community has built partnerships with the the Veraison Project and our efforts in 2022 culminated with Two Up Wine Down, a wine festival in Virginia highlighting Oenoverse hosts and other wine enthusiasts of color from Virginia and beyond.
Next year there will be new hosts for Oenoverse, the second annual Two Up Wine Down, and I’m sure more. The role the first group of hosts will play going forward is unclear, but no matter what it is, I came, I saw I conquered. Cheers!
Wine caves are built into hillsides and a unique way to store and age wine. While there are only a few Virginia wineries with wine caves, they offer wineries a unique way to store wine and a visually stunning spectacle for wine lovers and vineyard visitors.
Sounds like exactly where we need to be! Enter Black Women Who Wine’s Wine Cave. The Wine Cave is a members-only space for Black women wining and on this last day of Virginia Wine Month, we’re happy to say we’ve invited inagural members and can’t wait to have others join us.
What does this mean?
As interest in Black Women Who Wine and its mission grows, we have been thinking of a way to streamline our RSVP process for monthly events, while rewarding those who regularly support Black Women Who Wine. It is from this desire that we are establishing inaguaral Wine Cave membership. Invites have been sent!
Wine Cave members will enjoy the following:
Early access to monthly meet-ups
Members appreciation events
Early access to Black Women Who Wine’s first ever fall harvest wine dinner to be held in Fall 2023
There are two wine caves – one for Central/Southern Virginia and one for Northern Virginia.
Can I join or particpate if I’m not a Wine Cave member?
So what does this mean for non Wine Cave members? Not too much, actually. Most events will still be open to the public, including pop-ups and tours. Membership to the Wine Cave will open annually year, starting in January 2024. Let us know you’re interested by joining us throughout the year in 2023.
Let’s keep building
This has been a great year for Black Women Who Wine. Let’s keep up the momentum as we strive to build a deeper wine community of Black women and friends throughout the state. It’s not possible without you and we’re extremely grateful.
This past weekend it happened! Blenheim Vineyards’ OENOverse wine club teamed up with the Verasion Project and local wineries to hold the first ever Two Up, Wine Down Festival. The event built on OENOverse’s mission of amplifying BIPOC voices in the wine industry whether they be wine professionals, enthusiasts, writers, or allies of those who are trying to make it in the industry as anything other than white.
Held at the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center (JSAAHC) in Charlottesville, VA, the event attracted wine lovers from all backgrounds from across the state. In some ways above all it reiterated what Black Women Who Wine already knows – that Black women have a thirst for more events that center them as serious wine lovers and part of Virginia wine and that they are consumers of this product (and would be even greater consumers of it if it was made more accessible).
In many ways this weekend was extremey gratifying for me. Black Women Who Wine participants and members showed up in full force, had a good time, and purchased wine. I, as the founder of the group, was there pouring. I hope I did my ladies justice.
There were so many important voices in the crowd that converged on the JSAAHC lawn, many of whom probably went unrecognized by local media and Virgina wine industry professionals because they are Black voices not often heard in this part of the state.
The other thing to point out, that I always point out, is the sheer buying power I experience at these events. From tickets to bottles, Virginia wine’s popularity is growing with this group of consumers as they venture beyond grocery store shelves and for others, as they see local wineries seeing and making space for them. It’s a great thing and the hope is that it continues with more wine makers and wineries coming along.
It was a special weekend for everyone who organized the event and those of us particpating, but I hope everyone who attended also felt how magical this moment was. Cheers to more moments like this.
This week I ventured back out to Merrie Mill Farm and Vineyards to try their wines. Until recently, Merrie Mill was serving True Heritage wines because what would have been its first harvest (2020) was lost to frost. Fast forward to 2022 and the winery has introduced four MMF (Merrie Mill Farm) wines – a Rose, Petit Manseng, Viognier, and White Blend.
The Rose has been available since early spring and I’d already tasted it, so I tried the Petit Manseng, Viognier, and White Blend. All three were excellent and I got a bottle of the Petit Manseng to bring home. Here are my thoughts on all of them.
Petit Manseng: Barrel-aged with 0.5% residual sugar, Merrie Mill’s Petit Manseng is what I think of when I think of the Virginia Petit Manseng I love. Pear, coconut, and the slightest floral finish makes this an easy wine to drink and love, even with its higher acidity. I can’t wait to pair this with shrimp, halibut, or even swordfish. Pairing this with Chinese or Vietnamese food will also be fun.
Viognier: Merrie Mill’s Viognier is making me believe in this grape again. One of my favorites, some other 2021 Viogniers throughout Virginia have been disappointing. This one hits every mark. More aromatic than some, this shows off Viognier’s signature florality. Slightly mineral, you get hints of stone fruits, orange, apricot, and peach. All of that and zero sugar. Pair this one with your favorite semi-soft cheese, paella, or chicken dish.
White Blend: This White Blend is 38% Chardonnay, 38%Viognier, and 24% Petit Manseng. There’s no star here, the grapes blend together to make a delicious blend sure to please a variety of palettes. Pair this with heartier fish dishes, autumn salads, or brussel sprouts.
Last week brought the opening of the much-anticipated The City Foxes wine bar and market in downtown Waynesboro, VA. If you’re familiar with Waynesboro, you’re probably aware that while more businesses are moving into the many empty spaces downtown, the stretch still remains largely abandoned and honestly, not always well-maintained. New businesses to the city hope to turn that around and are working with those already in the area to do so.
The City Foxes is anticipated because it is the only venue of its kind in the small city and because unlike some other wine bars in central Virignia and the Shenandoah Valley, it exclusivly carries Virginia wine. I honestly didn’t realize how unique this is until very recently an out of town visitor in search of a quick intro to Virginia wine pointed out most of the wine bars she could find in Charlottesville don’t carry any. I quickly thought about it and realized she was right.
At City Foxes, you can currently choose between three flights – a mixed flight, white flight, and a red flight. They also currently have 13 wines for sale by the bottle and glass and two ciders by the glass or bottle. There are also two beer options.
Four of us Black Women Who Wine went to check City Foxes out on its opening day. We went near opening at 4 p.m. and were glad to do so because a line quickly formed, though it didn’t get too crowded while there. We all go the mixed flight which includes Thibaut-Janisson Blanc de Chardonnay, Ox-Eye Riesling, Lightwell Survey Strange Collapse, and Barren Ridge Red Barren. I had the riesling and Barren Ridge Red Barren before, but the Lightwell Survey Strange Collapse and Thibaut-Janisson Blanc de Chardonnay were new to me. I loved both, but am so intrigued by Thibaut-Janisson. I’d heard of it before, but never tried any of their wines. Grapes are sourced from the Monticello AVA, but the wines are produced in Waynesboro. The Blanc de Chardonnay was divine, with notes of apples and peaches. It definitely ranks up there with the best Virginia sparkling wines I’ve tried and I’ll be going back to get bottles.
Aside from wine, the market portion of City Foxes also has local-made art, snacks, and small gifts for sale.
Overall, this is a great addition to Waynesboro’s offerings and I’m sure it will get plenty of visitors and attention from out of town.
Rumblings of a Black, woman-owned winery were already on tongues when I first started Black Women Who Wine. There were no signs of it in the works online, but there were some Black women in the Charlottesville area who said they’d had a sneak peak. That the owner was a former educator who owned acres and acres of land, ready to make her mark on the Virginia wine industry. That was 2019. Fast forward to August 2022. Fourteen Black Women Who Wine gathered to experience Sweet Vines Farm Winery for the first time. We’ve got the place to ourselves, the dj is playing, and at the heart of it all is Seidah Armstrong.
Armstrong is the owner and winemaker at Sweet Vines located in Unionville, VA. Unionville is a fitting location for her establishment. The rural community is part of a larger community rich in Black history-Orange County. To say she is pleasant is an understatement. She welcomed our group with literal open arms, weaving storytelling, music, and wine education throughout our tasting and visit. Ancestors seem to always be on her mind – as they are for all Black women, and she’s honored them with the Ancestor’s Garden on the property. Her affection for her business partner and husband flows throughout the establishment and gives visitors a welcome dose of Black love, even if it’s in passing as he goes about the business of continued improvements to the property.
She has plenty of sweet wines, but is adamant that wine is in the mouth of the beholder, that we should be open to trying new wines, that understanding pairing is essential, that we as Black women know our wine, how to taste, how to go into tasting rooms and taste with the best. However, her tasting room is like no other and she’s providing a tasting experience like no other in the state. She’s also making some damn good wine.
The tasting room
The actual tasting room is not huge at Sweet Vines, but it doesn’t matter. There’s space for inside seating, a huge deck, and plenty of lawn space. The property boasts lawn games, smaller spaces to enjoy and take pictures in, and yes, a pool. Each month Sweet Vines hosts events that exceed normal expectations for wineries. Crab fests, all-white dinners, reggae and go-go. Our kinds of entertainment, food, and joy. Things other wineries are afraid to explore. Things that frighten them becasue they will draw large crowds of Black customers. Things that aren’t refined enough for your typical Virginia winery. But believe me, it’s all refined, orderly, and doable here.
We had a private popcorn tasting with charcuterie at Sweet Vines. We got to taste nine wines, eight of which are for sale. While Sweet Vines does have more sweet wine offerings than other Virignia wineries, most were semi-sweet with little residual sugar.
Favorites among ther group were the Pearlicious, a dry, fruit-forward pear wine with notes of citrus as well; a strawberry lavendar wine; PYT, a red blend; a pretty good Chardonnay; and Big Poppa, a blueberry wine without an overwhelming blueberry or jam taste.
Sweet Vines sources grapes from the former Oak Crest winery and has also planted its own vines.
Why Sweet Vines (and Black Women Who Wine) matter
Do a quick search, and you’ll find a few local news stories and wine blog posts on Sweet Vines, but no references to it from state- or region-wide media. Not only is it the only Black, woman-owned winery in Virginia, it’s one of the few on the entire East Coast. So why isn’t it getting more attention from the Virginia wine world? Like most most “worlds” in Virginia (and other states) Virginia wine has a systemic race problem. It also has a systemic male power problem. As the industry, and maybe a handful of wineries, in the state see solutions to both, it’s easy for both to fix one problem, and not the other, by adopting a handful of Black men to fill the gap. I can name them all. But women, it’s not so easy. Black women fit less neatly in the Virginia wine box.
During our visit, Kindra Dionne, owner of the Fify-Leven wine brand based in Loudoun County, stopped by to visit her friend Seidah. It was a pleasure to meet Kindra, but it wasn’t lost on me that three women in Virginia wine were all gathered at Sweet Vines on this day and not at Family Reunion, the ultimate summer celebration of food, wine, and the upper echelon of Black people. Virginia wine didn’t go un-represented at the event’s second year, it was just represented by Black, male ambassadors. The juxtapositoin of the weekend made our visit to Sweet Vines all the sweeter. Cheers to Black women everywhere who are fine not being on the hamster wheel. To those who live to give experiences to other Black women. To those who refuse to settle to be part of the ordinary, what always was. This one’s for you. And so is Sweet Vines and Black Women Who Wine.