Sweet Vines is oh so Sweet

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.

Seidah Armstrong is owner and winemaker at Sweet Vines Farm Winery. She’s an anomaly in the wine industry not just in Virginia, but across the nation.

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.

The wine

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.

Winery Spotlight: Fifty-Third Winery and Vineyard

We held our July meet-up at Fifty-Third Winery and Vineyard in Louisa, VA, and it did not disappoint. Formerly Cooper Vineyards, Fifty-Third is well known for its rosé and other award-winning wines. In the 2022 Governor’s Cup, it took home silver awards for its 2019 Chambourcin, 2019 Merlot, 2019 Petit Verdot, 2019 Romulus, and 2019 Two Springs.

This was everyone’s first visit to the winery and we all agreed the wine was fantastic, as was the service. While the space is pretty small, our group of seven didn’t feel like crowded at all on a Saturday when business was pretty steady. There is limited indoor seating, patio seating, and seating at picnic tables or in the field where you can set up your own blankets and chairs.

Fifty-Third had a great variety of choices for all wine lovers and we tried reds, whites and sweet options. We were excited to try the rosé because we’d heard so much about them. Two are currently available – 2021 Barrel Aged Rosé and 2021 Gentle Press Rosé. Both medium-bodied with low acidity and beautiful coloring, the Genltle Press was the group’s favorite of the two (though we enjoyed both). With aromas of watermelon, strawberry, and cherry, it was a perfect rosé for summer sipping. Other standouts were the 2019 Norton, 2021 Chardonel, Rhapsody, and Sweet Louisa. The Rhapsody is a semi-sweet white wine with notes of honeysuckle and peach. Sweet Louisa is a sweet read (a rarity in Virginia wine) with notes of cranberry and dark cherries and flowers.

We carried our own snacks, but the winery does have meat, cheese, and other treats for sale.

The tasting room associates were helpful with providing us information on the wines and pleasant throughout setting up our visit and the day of. This was a ten of ten experience and we’ll definitely return.

Winery Spotlight: Meriwether Springs Vineyard & Brewery

Meriwether Springs Vineyard & Brewery is one Virginia vineyard that was a mystery to me until recently. While I’ve seen people post about it on social media before and knew about its Vineyard Workers’ Collective, that was the extent of my knowledge. After visiting, I can now say it’s a wonderful venue that deserves all the love it gets and more.

I first decided to inquire about having our Summer Kickoff at Meriwether due to its outside areas and the ability to accomodate a large group. The staff was great from the start of reserving space to the end of our event. Ed Pierce, owner of the establisment, met us as we we were coming in and offered to help carry items to our reserved area. If you look on Google and Facebook, you’ll see reviews noting how nice and hospitable the family that owns Meriwether is and these review proved true for my experience. He seemed genuienly grateful to have us there and we were grateful to have such a great space. We had our own personal wine in the woods in an area that boasted plenty of shade and seating.

Tasha with Ed Pierce, Meriwether owner

I think we were all surprised how good the wine was here. Currently, Meriwether has a 2019 Vidal Blanc, 2018 Chardonnay, 2021 Pinot Grigio, 2018 Petite Verdot, 2019 Rose, and 2020 Chambourcin. We tried all of the wines except the Chardonnay and Petite Verdot.

Our favorites were the Vidal Blanc and Chambourcin. The Vidal Blanc was crisp, light and citrusy, with the usual Vidal Blanc acidity. Notes of lemon combined with floral notes to make this a great summer option, which I’m sure is why it proved to be a favorite on a hot day. The Chambourcin was a real treat. Notes of black cherry, red fruit, and black pepper were identified and it had the most beautiful color and aroma. Definitetly try both of these if you give Meriwether a try, though nothing we tried would be a bad option. You can buy wine by the glass or bottle, no flights here.

Meriwether allows you to bring your own food and we did. You can also purchase wood-fired pizza on site and enjoy the brewery if you prefer beer. I also saw that they have some snack and drink options for kids.

If you’re looking for a more laid-back winery experience in the Charlottesville area, I highly recommend giving Meriwhether a try. It also has a bed and breakfast component.

Sipping in Sonoma

I recently visited Sonoma for the first time. Sonoma is a much larger county than Napa and is also home to a number of award-winning tasting rooms, vineyards, and wineries. I also visited Napa on this trip, but that’s for a different blog post.

First, the accomodations and planning. I put out the call late last year to see if anyone I knew was interested in a trip to California wine country and got two takers. A third friend that lives in San Jose met us in Sonoma. We stayed at the Inn at Sonoma. While not the most affordable option in Sonoma, I’d completely stay at this place again. The inn has nice touches like free breakfast and a wine and cheese hour daily. The rooms were spacious with high ceilings and modern decor, as well as a tv, mini fridge and fireplace. It was within walking distance of Sonoma Plaza.

So where did I go to eat and drink?

Fulcrum Wines

Our first stop right off the plane was Fulcrum Wines. Fulcrum’s small tasting room is located right off Sonoma Plaza. On a Thursday afternoon we were the only guests and the tasting room associate was nice and chatty. We tried one of the many Pinot Noir’s offered as well as the Brut Rose. California is known for its Pinots and this was a good one to start with. The tannins were not overwhelming and the notes of cherry and raspberry dominated, with hints of mineral notes as well.

Maya Restaurant

After visiting Fulcrum, we had lunch at Maya Restaurant. This casual, Latin American restaurant was home to one of my favorite meals. The mixed grill here was great as were the uniquie margaritas being served.

Sunflower Cafe

Our experience at Sunflower was a highlight. This is a great spot for breakfast or brunch and lives up to all of the great reviews it has. The outdoor patio dining area is surrounding by fruit trees and the Sunflower theme is everywhere. Boozy drinks and great breakfast are always a win.

Anaba Wines

On our last day in Sonoma, we visited three tasting rooms/wineries, with Anaba being the first. For overall experience, this ranked number 1 during this visit. The outside seating is beautiful and there is a fun, casual atmosphere here. There’s also a bocce ball court, which I loved. Tastings start at $40. Our tasting included the 2021 Turbine White, Rhône Blend; 2021 Grenache Blanc; and two Pinots. They also let us try one of the Chardonnays. The Grenace Blanc here was a grood break from all of the Pinots and Syrahs we’d had. Anaba also had food options and wood-fired pizzas, but we came here straight from brunch so didn’t try the food.

Gundlach Bundschu Winery

Our next stop was Gundlach Bundschu Winery. This was a fun option with outdoor seating, a wine cave, and a pretty good Charcuterie board. We did bottles instead of flights or tasting here and enjoyed the DJ, charcuterie, and truffle chips and truffle popcorn. Established in 1858, Gundlach Bundschu’s estate vineyards are located 35 miles north of San Francisco on the southwesterly slopes of the Mayacamas Mountain Range. It’s located at the southernmost point in Sonoma Valley and has a unique combination of steep hillsides and cool valley floor sites that allow it to grow a broad variety of grapes.

Sigh Champagne Bar

Located centrally in Sonoma, Sigh is a champagne bar where you can enjoy sips and frozen drinks. When we visited two of my friends had flights, one had frose, and I had a frozen Moscow Mule, which was really good. This is just a fun space to visit and enjoy some casual sips.

Frozen Moscow Mule

Wit and Wisdom

For our final meal in Sonoma, we went to Wit and Wisdom. It did not disappoint. The wine list did not disappoint and the food was some of the best we had during our visit. I had duck wings and the rolls as an to start and halibut as my entree. Everything was cooked perfectly. The halibut was delicate and seasoned well and was served with ratatouille. The atmosphere is one that could work for a girls night birthday which is what we went for; a date night spot; or a family dinner. The open air dining experience was a good one, with most of the area being enclosed.

Winery Spotlight: Mount Ida Tasting Room and Taphouse

I’ve been to Mount Ida multiple times, but have never put it on the blog, so here we are. Located in Scottsville, Mount Ida is comprised of multiple event venues and two neighborhoods of homes. It reminds you of just how much money is being poured into this area, and it’s beautiful. The Tasting Room and Taphouse consists of multiple seating options, bars inside and outside, and views that can compete with those of any other Virginia winery.

I love taking people here, because the reaction of first-time visitors is always one of complete awe that this space exists so close to the place they call home, the other reason is the staff is always attentive and the pours are generous. They also have a full kitchen which serves up quality food options.

The wine at Mount Ida is good. On my latest visit with Black Women Who Wine, I got the red flight they offer which included the 2019 Moonlight Red, Cabernet Franc, and the High Ridge Reserve Red. The Cabernet Franc Comprised of Merlot, Tannat, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Sauvignon, this choice is surprisingly easy to drink and well-balanced, with the tobacco aromas not overpowering notes of berries and cherry.

As far as whites, the Moonlight White (a white blend) and the Petite Manseng were favorites among our group. The winery also has two sparking options for those who are looking for sparking or want to celebrate a special occasion.

I’ve been here for pretty much everything – a day date, a work celebration, just stopping by after visiting other wineries, and now with the amazing ladies who joined Black Women Who Wine for our May meet-up. The venue served each occasion well, which is part of what makes it so great. This weekend was also a special case because the general manager accommodated us at the last minute due to a venue change, we had to make due to Blenheim being closed.

Mount Ida will always be one of my go-tos for out-of-town guests and event considerations.

Partnering Black

It’s 2022 and we’re all in this together, right? So why is Black Women Who Wine still going to great lengths to work with Black photographers and vendors and support Black businesses? One, it’s our party and we’ll support who we want to. And 2, this attention to Black-owned business is still needed. Unless there is an intentionality to work with Black vendors, many white-led organizations still intentionally (or unintentionally) choose vendors who look like them.

For me, I enjoy the soul and flavor that Black businesses add when working with them. From added touches to an understanding of expectations when it comes to event planning and curation, working with Black – and other partners of color – is always an experience set apart from others. There is a mutual affection and understanding that we’re working toward a goal and glad to help each other meet those goals. Many Black-led businesses and organizations get a great percentage of their business via word-of-mouth praise and community outreach. They give back so that whole communities benefit. Yet when white-led organizations are looking for services and products, their names are often looked over or not considered unless there is a person of color in the room.

Black Women Who Wine recently had a great photo shoot with Kori Price of Kori Price Photography, a fellow Black woman wining and winning. We look forward to partnering with other Black-led businesses as well this year and beyond.

We are currently looking to partner with local businesses on the following:

  • Swag bags for fall tour (set for October 15)
  • Transportation for fall tour
  • Cookies for summer kickoff (set for June 25)
  • T-shirts and accessories

If you’re a Black-owned business and would like to learn more, contact us at blackwomenwhowine@gmail.com.

Black Women Who Wine Loves Barren Ridge

For our April meetup we ventured to Fishersville, VA, to Barren Ridge Vineyards. Co-owner Angela Higgs reached out to invite us earlier this year and this visit was honestly one of the best tasting experiences we’ve had. Angela’s years in the wine industry shine through as she talks about the wines that her family business produces.

Everyone in our group agreed that Barren Ridge has something for everyone, and its Merlot was so smooth and well-balanced it made believers out of those who normally don’t enjoy reds. Angela joined our group at a table she’d prepared and walked us through what seemed like the entire wine list, including some not usually included in tastings. It was a real treat and she as the perfect host.

Black Women Who Wine at Barren Ridge

Now for the wine. We tasted the following:

  • 2016 Meritage
  • 2017 Port
  • 2018 Cabernet Franc
  • 2018 Merlot
  • 2019 Christof
  • 2019 Harmony
  • 2019 Red Barren
  • 2019 Touriga
  • 2019 Traminette
  • 2020 Rosé
  • 2021 Apple Wine
  • 2020 Vidal Blanc

That’s a lot of wine! Honestly, there wasn’t a bad choice, but of course we had our favorites. Mine included the Traminette, Meritage, Merlot, Harmony, and Red Barren. Traminette is one of my favorites and it’s harder to find wineries around here that produce it than in Northern Virginia. This one was pretty dry and citrusy, so somewhat different from others I’ve tried, but it was still enjoyable. The Merlot was one of the best Virginia Merlots I’ve had. It was surprisingly light with notes of cherry and some spice on the palate, finishing on a dark berry note.

The group agreed that the Touriga, Red Barren, Harmony, and Port were all excellent and some did enjoy the ice dessert wine, Christof. One of our attendees asked Higgs what wine she’d consider an aphrodisiac, she said the Touriga. Touriga Nacianal is another varietal we don’t see here very often, so this was a treat. On the palate you get hints of red cherry, raspberry and plum, with minimal spice.

Barren Ridge gets 5 of 5 stars from us and we’ll definitely be back.

Notes from Pippin Hill

Last weekend Black Women Who Wine got to once again experience Pippin Hill Farm and Vineyards. Pippin Hill first extended an invite to us last summer and was happy to host our first meet-up of 2022 recently. The significance of the Pippin Hill events are that it is the only winery that has fully sponsored any Black Women Who Wine event and we’re super grateful to them for providing the experiences.

Black Women Who Wine on the Hill

Located in North Garden, Va., Pippin Hill always tops the list of wineries to visit not only in Virginia, but on the East Coast. It’s beautiful for sure and is just as much a culinary destination as a wine one. While there we tried various dishes including pizza, buffalo cauliflower, charcuterie, sliders, and desserts.

Photo: Courtnee Durrett

We tasted reds and whites, with the reds being the standouts here. The Cannon Red, a blend of Cabernet Franc, Chambourcin, Merlot, Tannat, and Viognier, was highly drinkable with notes of blackberries and plum. Red Pump, another red blend was also a favorite. A bit spicier but also lighter than the Cannon Red, it also had notes of berries as well as peppercorn and tarragon. Both were pleasing on the nose and palate and didn’t leave a smokey aftertaste.

Other wine notes. The Rose here is good. Even those who don’t normally enjoy Rose reached a consensus on this. Of the whites we tried, the Zero White was the group’s least favorite. The blend made mostly of Vidal Blanc landed as the least favorite of the group. The white that ranked highest was the Petit Manseng. The crisp finish made this almost refreshing and I’m sure it is especially popular in the summer.

How to be a Black Woman Who Wines

How does one become a Black Woman Who Wines? We get this question all the time. Currently, there is no membership process or fee to join in with us. Anyone can show up to most monthly meetups and have a great time with us.

However, there are certain criteria you can fulfill to be considered part of our core group and receive the latest news and invites before anyone else, as well as priority registration and sign-up for tours and guided tastings with limited seating.

To always be invited:

  • Sign up to receive emails from Black Women Who Wine
  • Participate in monthly meetups.
  • Attend our annual Fall Winery Tour.

You do not have to live in central Virginia to participate in this group/organization. While most of our activity is focused on Central Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley, we also visit wineries in Northern Virginia and other parts of the state.

We hope to see you soon!

Enjoying the 2022 Fall Winery Tour

Why Wine and Cheese?

Today is National Cheese Lover’s Day. Many people love cheese, not just wine lovers, but have you ever wondered why wine and cheese is a “thing?” Surprisingly, a lot of it simply has to do with the historical close proximity of the two.

French and Italian wine regions are home to wines and cheeses. As pointed out here, the French Brie region is well known for Brie cheese, but also tannic wine varietals. The world over you can find Brie accompanying wine during visits to wineries and tastings.

As you may have guessed there is also a science to pairing wine and cheese. A 2012 study took a look at astringent and fat sensations.

Photo by Anastasia Belousova from Pexels