So much talk and news is about the growth of wineries inLoudoun County to the point that the county now claims the slogan – “DC’s Wine Country”. Go Blue Ridge Travel’s staff thought it would be fun to explore the wineries on the Interstate 81 Corridor in the Shenandoah Valley.
One of the surprising things that we learned when traveling in the Shenandoah Valley is that the valley is the home of the 3rd oldest vineyard in the state of Virginia. Shenandoah Vineyards planted 5,000 vines in April 1976. Emma Randal, owner said, “When my husband, James B. Randal, Jr, decided to move to Virginia and start a winery, he contacted Virginia Tech for advise. They said that ‘you don’t grow wine grapes in Virginia.’ We did our own research. Our first wine we made in plastic garbage cans. It was terrible and we threw it out. We were tea-totters and knew little about good wine since we did not drink it. Our best resource was R. de Treville Lawrence III from The Plains, Virginia. Back in the 70’s, if you had wine at a party it was ‘some party’. One of the pluses of growing grapes in Shenandoah County is that it is the driest county east of the Mississippi. Our vines bud out later which means we have a missing a later frost hit.”
I look at Emma and say ‘yes’ to the future of getting older. Emma is 85 years old and still handles the running of her vineyard. “Once we had succeeded and were making award winning wines, it was Virginia Tech who called us to get our advice on how we had succeeded in planting grapes in Virginia,” said Emma.
“The way you learn is with time and experience. You try various varieties of grapes until you find the right grape for the soil you have,” said Emma.
Driving on the back road of Route 42 off of Interstate 81, Cave Ridge Vineyards sits on a hillside. As you drive up the driveway, you can almost reach out and touch the deep purple grapes on the vines. Randy comes from an agricultural background having grown up in the citrus industry. “To be in the agricultural industry, you have to be a ‘Type A’ personality having in your nature to risk both time and a financial investment in resources with no guarantee of success,” said Randy. ” There is a great deal of pride when you can put your label on a product that you have taken from a small plant vine to a finished bottle of wine.”
“One of the beauties of the Shenandoah Valley climate and soil is the variety of grapes we are able to grown here.” said Randy. Both Emma and Randy agree that the Valley wine is more European. “We are very similar to Loire, France”, said Randy. “We are more continental here as compared to the West Coast where the ocean has a large influence on the grape production.”
Many wineries in Virginia make wine from grapes they do not grow themselves. Neither Randy nor Emma agrees with this. “We only use our grapes.” If the word ‘Estate’ is on the label then only grapes from this vineyard are used to make the wine. “There is a real reward when you realize you have 12,000 vines on your vineyard which you touch at least eight times a year.” said Randy of Cave Ridge Vineyards.
Both Emma and Randy agree that wine is a ‘very social beverage’. They both enjoy meeting people who like wine. They also are watching Loudoun and Fauquier Counties with concern over some of the neighbor issues that are arising with the growth of more wineries. We have good neighbor policies here. We police ourselves closing all of our events at 10 pm. The primary purpose of our wineries is to make wine not hold events. We like our neighbors and they like us. Our hope is that will continue here in the Shenandoah Valley.
If you were not aware of the vineyards in the Shenandoah Valley, take a drive, check out the lodging options including the popular cabin locations, or the historic country inns and bed and breakfasts. Plus plan to attend the fall festivals or the county fairs.