Winery Review: Red Heifer Winery

This weekend some black women who wine had the pleasure of visiting Red Heifer Winery in Smithsburg, MD. Smithsburg is a little under 3 hours from Pennsylvania and about 3.5 – 4 hours from Virgnia. Red Heifer is one of the wineries included in those that are part of the Maryland Wine Pass.

The winery is close to the Catocin Wildlife Refuge and Zoo and some national forest/park areas and about 30 minutes from Frederick, MD, – where we enjoyed brunch before heading to the winery.

The winery is smaller, but has ample space for larger groups and groups of just two or three. We reserved a cabana, which in my opinon was worth the $30 it cost to do so, especially on a hot day. The cabana offers privacy and shade that otherwise isn’t easy to come by. There is no indoor seating available. Red Heifer is 21 and up, so it is a pretty peaceful spot. On Sundays there is live music.

Now for what you really care about, the wine! Eight wines are available to taste via custom flights and others available by the glass and bottle. Since the wine pass offers BOGO flights, we got two flights that included all of the offerings available via flights, so basically a dry flight and a sweet flight. The dry offerings included a vidal blanc, the Chardonel, a 2017 Cabernet Franc, and the 2018 Red Heifer Red. First the good. The Vidal Blanc was a winner and the Chardonel, which is a hybrid grape varietal of Chardonnay and Seyva, was nice as well. The Red Heifer Red is a dry blend of 90% Cabernet Franc and 10% Chambourcin aged in French oak. This was probably one of our least favorites. This was a bold red, but not a good blend.

The sweet flight we got consisted of the Blueberry Wine, Sweet Heifer, Catawba, and Red Heifer White. The Blueberry and Sweet Heifer are semi-sweet, while the Catawba is sweet and the Red Heifer White is a dessert wine. Of these 4, the Catawba, a sweet rose, was the favorite. We picked up the strawberry and lemon notes easily.

The Blueberry was a nice surprise. It was semi-sweet and tasted like a light, mild red table wine.

While there we also enjoyed wine slushies and tried the chacuterie board, which included watermelon, wasabi peas and some other unique offerings.

One thing I love about Maryland wineries is that they really offer a different experience than Virgnia wineries. They often offer more varietals, are often less kid-friendly (which I like), and in many ways just all around more casual. Red Heifer is worth if a visit if you want a fun outdoor experience at a winery with a large variety of wines.

Worth a Trip? Stable Craft Brewing

Wineries and breweries can be far away. They need space after after all. So before committing to a trip to what sometimes turns out to be the middle of nowhere, it is good to know if the trip is worth taking.

Over the past weekend, we visited Stable Craft Brewing in Waynesboro, VA. As with many wineries in the remote, rural localities of Virginia, you’ll definitely pass some Trump signs to get to this location. However, once there, the trip is worth it. Stable Craft is known as a spacious event venue and brewery that offers everything from stables you can visit to corn hole. There is plenty of indoor and outdoor seating. We went around 1 on a Sunday and the inside seating area was empty when we first arrived, as most patrons were outside.

First, understand the setup. You order everything at the register area as you come in and get your drinks there, while food is brought to your table. The drink menu included beer, sours and ciders. We tried a pretty good sampling and standouts included the watermelon sour, Brazen cider and blueberry blonde ale, and Just Peachy cider. Food members of our party had included the pulled pork nachos, grilled chicken salad, pulled pork sandwich, shrimp and crab hoagie and All-American burger. First, the portions of both food and drink are substantial. The shrimp and crab hoagie and pulled pork nachos won raves. The menu also includes some unique desserts. The banana pudding was a hit, while the bread pudding was topped with too much of a cream that we found took away from the dish. However, if that’s the only thing that could be improved during this weird time of dining out, we’ve got nothing to complain about.

It was pretty hot, so we didn’t explore too much, but we did play some cornhole and walk around the property. You are also able to rent a suite to stay the night, brew your own beer and take tours of Stable Craft, which would probably be a lot of fun. All in all, this is a wonderful place to have in our neck of the woods and we recommend it if you’re looking for a brewery that has something for everyone.

Winery Visit: Merrie Mill Farm & Vineyard

The three-day weekend is over, but for for some it was a four-day weekend. If any newish venue in central Virginia deserves taking a day off to visit, it is Merrie Mill Farm and Vineyard. Located in Keswick, VA, the location has become an Instagram darling for its eclectic decor and in lush color palette in shades of pink, gold and blue.

Walking in is like entering another world. It’s quite possibly the best-decorated winery in the state and it’s easy to see how much thought was put into the overall look and feel.

A member of the Merrie Mill team told us the artwork mostly consists of pieces from the owner’s personal art collection.

The actual building is quite simple consisting of a lower level that includes an extensive bar area, high top tables and a cozy seating area by a fireplace. Upstairs you’ll find a loft area that includes public restrooms and the door leading out to the the vine terrace.

We sat outside on the downstairs patio surrounded by views of more outdoor seating and mountains.

The Vine Terrace

Now, about the wine. According to the Merrie Mill website, in 2020 it lost its first vintage to a late frost. So for now, it is offering True Heritage wine sourced from different vineyards in the region. The flight offered consists of all of the wines available for purchase with the exception of the chardonnay. The 2017 True Heritage Viognier, 2018 Estate White Blend, 2020 Rosé, 2018 Estate Red Blend, and 2017 Petit Verdot we all lovely. Standouts were the Viognier, Rose and the Petit Verdot.

Rosé is usually not my favorite wine type, but if I had to pick one to drink, I’d choose this one. It was not too dry, but not sweet at all. It was actually refreshing on a hot day with notes of strawberry and watermelon.

The flight
We chose the chicken salad plate to snack on.

Just 30 minutes from Charlottesville and about an hour from the Shenandoah Valley, Merrie Mill is worth a visit, and another, and another.

Eat and Drink Red on Juneteenth

June 19th is Juneteenth. Widely seen as a regional holiday that people in Texas and some other southern states recognized, Juneteenth has come to the forefront nationally in recent years, partially due to the growing desire of others to learn more about Black culture and reckon with the Unites States’ racist systems and backbone of slavery.

June 19, 1865 – over two years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation and two months after Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House – is the day when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas in 1865 to take control of the state and ensure that all enslaved people be freed. The date is why most historians mark 1865 as the “end of slavery.” Texas made the holiday an official state holiday in 1979.

Juneteenth/Jubilee Day/Freedom Day celebrations often include music, prayer services, historical programs and recognition and of course food. So what food might a Juneteenth celebration include? Red food and drink are staples of Juneteenth celebrations, but why?

The color red symbolizes the blood and resilience of enslaved Black people, but also represents the hue of some of the foods brought from Africa. Red food and drink choices may include:

  • Watermelon
  • Hibiscus tea
  • Strawberry soda
  • Red velvet cake
  • Strawberry lemonade
  • Hot links
  • Strawberry pie and cake

Other norms of Juneteenth menus are BBQ, fried chicken, tea cakes, greens and other soul food dishes. If you are looking for a why to introduce your family and friends to celebrating Juneteenth, having a special meal and discussing the meaning of it is a great way to start. And who’s to say wine can’t be included, grab your favorite red and toast to Juneteenth and the enslaved Black people who built this country and continue to be left out of spaces and conversations about land use and more.

Winery Review: Eastwood Farm and Winery

Eastwood Farm and Winery is somewhat the new kid on the block. It opened in 2018 and due to the pandemic, many still don’t know about it. So, we decided to check it out and see what the buzz is about for a Mommy and Me winery day. We chose Eastwood for this particular event because it boasts kid-friendly options and has plenty of space to play.

Eastwood is located near some other wineries, including Thatch, Mt. Ida Reserve and Michael Shaps Wineworks in the Scottsville area of Albemarle County. The atmosphere at Eastwood was warm, with lush dark, neutrals inside and bright airy seating outside. There are several options for seating. The winery boasts indoor couch seating, an outdoor tasting room, veranda seating and picnic tables and adirondack chairs.

The winery offers flights, wine slushies, wine by the glass and bottles and snack boxes (including a brunch box and snack box for kids, as well as kids’ drink options). Outside food is allowed in the outdoor areas, but not inside the barn. Between us, we tried all of the wines available via flights. Standouts included the viognier, white blend, cabernet franc and raspberry rosé. The wine slushy was also fantastic and a great size.

Wine flight

The white blend was Eastwood Farm and Winery’s first wine, which was released in October 2019. This wine is made entirely from Virginia-grown apples and pears and was awarded a silver medal in the 2020 Virginia Governor’s Cup. It really is a refreshing offering and a great wine to buy a bottle of when visiting the location and sipping there. Our group also enjoyed the viognier a lot.

Eastwood Farm took home silver and bronze medals in the 2021 Governor’s Cup. It won silver medals for the white blend and raspberry rose and bronze for its 2019 merlot, chardonnay and Meritage.

It’s okay…to not like Rosé

Rosé. It’s trendy. It’s here to stay. I don’t like it. Rosé is made from red grapes, therefore making it a red wine (though with a much lighter hue). Just give me a full-bodied red. It’s more flavorful, has a higher alcohol content and is probably just a better wine.

I’ve tried to like rosé. I try it over and over again, hoping to one day understand why this is a choice wine variety for so many people. To date, I haven’t discovered one that I enjoy. Most are too dry for me. Some have an after taste I don’t like. Others seem flavorless or bland. So what determines the taste of a rosé? The type of grape used is a big determining factor in the taste and color of rosé, as well as the maceration period.

Even with all of this knowledge, I’m here to tell you that it’s okay to not enjoy rosé. More often than not, any rose I acquire ends up frosé. And I’m cool with that.

If you are a rosé fan, check these out these summer.

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.