Mead in Maryland

Mead is truly an acquired taste…or rather you like it or you don’t. If you’re not a fan of sweet wine – or sweet things in general – you probably do not like mead. But what exactly is mead? In its simplest form, mead is created by fermenting honey and water. Most likely, you’ve had mead that also included hops, fruit, and/or spices included in this process.

After winning a Maryland Wine Pass via an Instagram contest, the first place I used it was Orchid Cellar Meadery and Winery. First, the name is misleading. While this establishment once apparently included a winery, it is no more, though I did see 4 bottles of what I assume is what’s left of the wine. There is also wine for purchase on the website.

Instead of wine though, there are two kinds of mead available – traditional mead and a line of single-serve sparkling mead concoctions from Elemental Mead Co. Tastings are offered for both. We did the traditional tasting, which included four mead varieties. As far as mead goes, these were really good. If you like mead or have never tried it and would like to, these are great to start with. I especially enjoyed the Monk, which included rose petals in the fermentation process.

I did try the Elemental mead, which is a sparkling mead beverage in a can. I tried the blackberry flavor. If you enjoy hard seltzer (or seltzer in general) – which I do not, this drink may be for you. Otherwise skip it. It’s not especially flavorful.

A highlight of the visit was the tasting room. As soon as you walk in the aroma of the mead and honey hits you and your experience starts before you taste a thing. It has plenty of space for groups inside and outside, is dog-friendly outside and the staff is knowledgeable, friendly and excited to introduce customers to mead. There is also some great artwork on display and for sale throughout the tasting room.

Virginia Governor’s Cup Trail: First Stop, Bluestone Vineyard

Over the weekend we started our quest to try some of the wines that took home gold in the 2021 Virginia Governor’s Cup.

Our first stop was Bluestone Vineyard. Bluestone is located in Bridgewater, Virginia, and thus part of the Shenandoah Valley Wine Trail. This was our first time visiting Bluestone and we chose it because it has a large variety of wines. It won gold awards in this year’s Governor’s Cup for three offerings.

  • 2019 Petit Manseng
  • 2014 Merlot
  • 2017 Chardonnay

Of these gold medal winners, we only tried the Petit Manseng. Petit Manseng is one of my favorite Virginia wines and this one ranked well among those I’ve tried. The others in the group liked it as well. This was a well-balanced offering and would satisfy those who like white, but not sweet wines.

Bluestone is not currently offering tastings, but you can purchase as many of these small bottles as you’d like to try.

Aside from the Petit Manseng, I also very much liked the Quartz Hill Red. It is described as “two-thirds Chambourcin and one-third Cabernet Franc. Great, easy drinking wine that goes with just about anything.” No lies here! This is a great red to gift and have on hand for guests.

Bluestone is not the most picturesque vineyard in Virginia, but I know I’ll visit it over and over again. It’s a great choice for beginners, a good introduction to Virginia wine and a great space for a casual day at a winery. The staff was helpful and very friendly.

Weekend Wandering

This weekend marked the beginning of spring, and while covid-19 remains a very real problem, the thought of enjoying wineries without freezing outdoors is nice. This weekend, we went in a different direction when thinking of Virginia wineries and visited Lazy Days Winery and Mountain Cove Vineyards. Lazy Days is located in Amherst, Virginia, and Mountain Cove is located in Lovingston, VA.

First, let’s talk about Lazy Days. This was our original destination because they have sangria and wine mimosas on alternating weekends. This weekend, there was sangria. The sangria was awesome and really, the rest of the wines we tried were too. We got flights for $12. The pours were large and the wines I tried were all great. If you’re looking for a grand, fancy experience, Lazy Days may not be fore you. But if you’re looking for a relaxed, kitschy environment with a great hostess and fun wine, Lazy Days is for you. There is limited indoor seating and an abundance of outdoor seating and open space. It’s also a plus that outside food is permitted.

Next, we decided to visit Mountain Cove Vineyards. It was on the way home, so we decided to give it a try. Mountain Cove’s claim to fame is that is is “Virginia’s oldest winery,” though a quick Google search reveals that Wilowcroft Farm Vineyards in Leesburg also garners that title.

Mountain Cove is a small operation completely off the beaten path. It’s remote (i.e. in the middle of nowhere) even for a Virginia winery. However, with $5 tastings, you can’t go too bad. The owner, Al Weed, greeted us upon arrival and seated us outside right away. He was nice and helpful the entire time and it’s obvious he loves Mountain Cove and embraces all who come visit it. There was only one other group of visitors there when we were. As with Lazy Days, Mountain Cove allows outside food. It also has space for RVs and campers, which I am sure many take advantage of during the summer. I have to admit, the wine wasn’t bad. The chardonnay was actually REALLY good. Not sure this would make my list for a girls day or date, but if you’re seeking solitude and the great outdoors, this could be your spot.

What is the Virginia Governor’s Cup?

Virginia wine is in the news as winners of the Virginia Governor’s Cup were announced recently. The annual competition is a big deal, but what is it exactly?

The Virginia Wineries Association hosts the competition annually in partnership with the Virginia Wine Board and the Virginia Vineyards Association. For the 2021 competition, 16 judges sampled 544 wines from over 100 Virginia wineries. The highest 12 ranking red and white wines will become the Governor’s Cup Case, with one bottle winning the “Governor’s Cup.” You can read all about the full rules of the competition and the judging criteria here.

There are Gold, Silver, and Bronze winners. View all winners.

For the first time ever, this year the creation of the 2021 Virginia Governor’s Cup Gold Medal Trail was announced.

From the trail’s website:

Follow the trail to taste the award-winning portfolios and discover the wines that embody the grace, grit and experimental spirit of Virginia. To sweeten the deal, we are offering a free Virginia Wine wine tumbler for checking in at 12 of our participating locations, while supplies last.

To participate in the fun is easy. There’s no app to download, just sign up and everything is done via text and email. Have fun and let’s see who gets to 12 first.

Winery Spotlight: Stone Tower Winery

Even though the pandemic rages on, many wineries are still working hard to give supporters a safe, get-away-from-reality experience. Stone Tower Winery in Leesburg is one. I visited Stone Tower for the first time in January.

If you know Leesburg, you know this winery is one that people constantly rave about. I understand why. With beautiful views and a more modern feel than some wineries, Stone Tower boasts “real” food (offerings beyond bread and cheese) and honestly, good wine. It is spacious, has decent parking, and you can tell that staff cares about your entire experience from start to finish.

Photo: wedding-spot.com

One of the best parts about Stone Tower is that it is 21 and up. Yes, you heard that right, no kids allowed. While some people see winery visits as a chance to get away with kids, I honestly do not and would actually like to see more 21+ wineries. As the parent of a 4-year-old, I enjoy winery visits as an adults only activity. And unless they are set up to welcome kids, most wineries just aren’t really built for it.

I reserved the cottage just a short distance from the winery for a night, so they set up an outdoor winery reservation for me when I reserved the cottage. This was great because on weekends the Tower View Tasting Room is open to members only. The other venue, Harvest Barn, is open for walk-in guests and flight reservations. You can learn all about visiting here. The safety precautions taken were top-notch and I liked that while I was there, there were no large groups present. My friend and I had a bottle of riesling, the charcuterie board, truffle fries and a crabcake sandwich. All of the food was wonderful and the charcuterie board included some unique offerings. The bottle of wine we had was fantastic. If you’re looking for a multitasking winery that is great for a girls day or a date with your significant other, Stone Tower is a good choice.

This board was a highlight.

A Letter from the Founder

“Wine with me.”

Thanks for taking the time to visit Black Women Who Wine. I’m passionate about where I live, work and play and wineries – and agrotourism in general – are a big part of that space.

Born and raised in Nelson County, VA, agriculture has been a big part of my life. However, only in recent years since I moved away in 2008, has the wine industry in Virginia seen the monumental growth that we benefit from today. But that’s a question, who benefits? Most low-income and low-wage workers in my native county would say they benefit very little from the booming wine industry. It can be noted that there are few brown faces in the industry.

So, now that I’ve returned to Central Virginia after 11 years, I’m interested in bringing some black and brown faces to these spaces. In the process, we’d like to influence marketing and messaging and create opportunities for dialogue with wineries and wine educators.

I don’t know a lot of people in the area, so there is no core group for this group. I’m just looking for like-minded ladies who love wine and have somewhat of an agenda…to create spaces and opportunities for sisterhood and equity in the world of Central Virginia wine, and beyond.

Tasha Durrett
Black Women Who Wine, Founder