This might be a year for wine lovers to remember, said Annette Boyd, director of the Virginia Wine Board Marketing Office. “Of course, it’s a big state,” she qualified, “but what we’re seeing mostly are wonderful harvests of white and red grapes, both in quantity and quality. We are really excited.”
Central Virginia vineyards mostly dodged the hurricanes battering their neighbors in southern states and are picking sweet grapes, undiluted by rainwater and full of flavor and sugar. The harvest was early, too, so most vineyards are nearing the end of harvest with rain expected to hold off as the last reds are brought in.
State viticulturist Dr. Tony Wolf said the warm spring weather locally caused early bud bursts and put this year’s grape harvest a week or two ahead of schedule and with more fruit than usual.
At King Family Vineyard, James King said grape quality there was excellent. In late September, they had just brought the Cabernet Franc into the sorting room. “We looked through it, and every grape was perfect,” he said. “Usually, you’ll see little imperfections, soft spots or imperfect berries that you pick out, but not this year.”
Wine is a significant business for Virginia. In 2016, sales of Virginia wine reached a record high with more than 556,500 cases, or 6.6 million bottles, sold.
Visits to Virginia wineries brought in more than $2.3 million in 2015, according to the Virginia Tourism Corporation, and wine sales at Virginia ABC stores grew by almost 10 percent in 2016, to a total of 13,000 cases sold.
“Community Scoop” Benefits CVFD
The first community scoop night at the Crozet Creamery was a success, said manager Erik Schetlick, raising $780 for the Crozet Volunteer Fire Department. Schetlick said that Morsel Compass and Crozet Coffee, other Piedmont Place businesses, also helped with the event. Volunteers scooped the ice cream and donated their tips, while the Crozet Creamery contributed 25 percent of every sale. “The place was packed, and the kids loved the fire trucks parked outside.” Schetlick said they had so much fun they want to do Community Scoops regularly, choosing different community non-profits each month.
Local Products star at Local Food Fair
Crozet Market’s local food fair September 23 presented area vendors making handcrafted food and drink, in home basements and kitchens as well as commercial facilities. Many of them were from our neighborhoods and hollows, and have a story to tell.
“Ten years and still growing”: that’s the slogan Wendy and Richard Harrison chose to celebrate the 10th anniversary of their Farm at Red Hill. The North Garden farmers are expanding, with a growing number of stores carrying their products and involvement in schools at every level in Albemarle County and Charlottesville, including U.Va.’s “Greens to Grounds” program. But they’re also still growing the tomatoes, peppers, ginger, turmeric and other ingredients for their line of salsas, quesos and hummus and packaged herbs. “We’re a farm first,” Wendy said as she handed out samples at Crozet Market’s “Local Food Fair” in late September. If your child grabs a container of hummus with fresh vegetables at school for lunch, chances are it was made at Red Hill. There’s a Facebook page for the farm, www.facebook.com/thefarmatredhill.
Just a Pinch
Also at the local food fair, Cass Cannon demonstrated how a little of her “Peg’s Salt” could wake up the taste of fresh vegetables. The name comes from her mother, Peg, who sprinkled a secret mix of herbs on just about everything she cooked. Cannon mixes up the salty blend in her Greenwood basement and has done so for the past five years or so. The salt can be found locally at Crozet Market and just about everywhere around here that food is sold. Check products and stores, or order online at www.pegssalt.com.
For those who developed a thirst from the salt and spices at the local food fair, Alan Hagen offered sips of Knight’s Gambit wines. The White Hall Vineyard owned by Paul and Maggie Summers grows Petit Verdot, Pino Grigio, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. At first, the 14-year-old operation sold its grapes to other wine-making operations, but now is able to sell wine under its label in local stores and at the vineyard. For directions and upcoming events, visit www.knightsgambitvineyard.com.
Bakery Prepares for Fall
Goodwin Creek Bakery’s John Hellerman handed out samples of seasonal Goodwin Creek granola flavored with fall spices. Goodwin, who owns the bakery with his wife Nancy, said that the operation has finally moved down the hill to their new facility, freeing the family home from clouds of flour and mountains of cooling bread. Besides the granola, the Afton bakery offers European and American farmhouse-style bread. They’re sold at area stores. Find out more at www.goodwincreekfarm.com.
Ragged Branch Distillery Opens
It was during the economic recession when builders like Alex Toomy wondered what to do next. “For a while we literally had nothing to do,” Toomy said. A time-honored, recession-proof profession occurred to him while talking with some friends. “Why don’t we make moonshine?” he asked.
He was curious enough to make a call to a friend in the know, who doubted Toomy’s aptitude for a life of crime. Then he called a legal operation to find out more, starting with Maker’s Mark because of their legendary master distiller, David Pickerell. The timing was great: Pickerell had just retired and had a real interest in advising small, craft distilleries such as the one Toomy envisioned. He guided the operation––which has two other owners, besides Toomy––from start to finish, and serves as a consultant.
Toomy has developed some massive projects, but “at heart, I’m a carpenter,” he said. He’s built the farm and tasting room structures, and he occasionally works on a house or two for friends.
Ragged Branch is distinctive because it includes a greater agricultural system. Corn comes from the 92-acre Ivy property and is ground daily. Locally grown wheat or rye is added and water comes from the farm’s well. “Nothing is wasted,” Toomy said. The nutritious residual mash feeds the farm’s cattle. Ragged Branch “bourbon beef”––prime cuts and ground beef––is offered for sale at the farm. Like wine, bourbon is affected by “terroire,” the soil, water and sunshine that’s specific to each area, so the bourbon distilled in Ivy will be different from that made in Kentucky, or even down the road in Virginia.
The tasting room offers outdoor seating with beautiful views, or visitors can sit indoors by the fire. Besides the rye and wheated bourbons, there are signature cocktails offered from Thursday through Sunday, starting at noon. “But someone will be at the distillery every day, if you want a taste there,” Toomy said. “Just come on in.”
Blue Mountain Brewery Turns Ten
It was a “crazy leap” ten years ago, recalled Blue Mountain brewmaster and co-founder Taylor Smack. “It was the start of the recession, there were only a handful of breweries in the state, it was not even legal to open a brewery and directly serve customers without also being a restaurant, and the majority of people were still not turned on to craft beer.”
Still, the intrepid beer-lovers took the leap, beginning with eight employees at the Afton brewery and restaurant. Now, there are three brewing facilities with 160 employees at the season’s high point, including the original location in Afton, the Blue Mountain Barrel House in Arrington, and South Street Brewery in Charlottesville.
But they’re not stopping there, Smack said. “We’ve brought a whole new level of energy to year ten.” The popular brewery has launched new projects at both Blue Mountain locations, and the owners are carefully bringing all their visual design in harmony with their identity.
The brewery has been accepted into the Virginia Economic Gardening Pilot Program, a program designed to enable companies with notable increases in revenue or employment to reach the next level of success. Blue Mountain Brewery was one of 12 Virginia companies selected for the program.
The anniversary celebration will include the release of five new specialty beers in corked bottles, ten days of live, local music, and giveaways each of the ten days, with discounts each day on a selected draft beer, including some original styles from the brewery’s early years. Bands that played throughout the years will help celebrate, and craft-beer dispensers throughout the state will offer “tap takeovers,” of Blue Mountain products.
“We’re hitting double digits with a bang,” said Smack, but he added that the leadership is focused on guiding the brewery’s future evolution. “So now here we are,” he said, “continuing to blaze our own path and jumping into the next ten years with more excitement than ever.”
The anniversary events at the Afton Blue Mountain Brewery will be from October 27 through November 5.
For more information, visit www.bluemountainbrewery.com, or the Facebook page at www.facebook.com/bluemountainbrewery/.
Local Shops Reduce Trash Footprint
Many local businesses quietly take steps to reduce packaging and other waste, while still complying with regulations that govern their products. At Piedmont Place, Smojo’s Beth Harley chose vegetable-based containers to serve her salads, transparent little bowls that break down quickly into compost. She also is glad to pour her freshly-made juice or smoothies into any clean containers furnished by customers.
Blue Ridge Bottle Shop sells growlers, and refills them with beer, cider or coffee; they reuse any box that comes into the shop to package items you purchase.
In North Garden, Loving Cup Winery offers sangria in reusable growlers. To save on bottles, King Vineyard hauls wine in kegs to select Northern Virginian buyers. And at the Crozet Creamery, you can get the perfect waste-free, package-free dessert: ice cream made on site, now in a waffle cone made there as well.
Wayland’s Crossing Tavern Opening
Wayland’s Crossing Tavern (in the former Public West in Old Trail) plans to open October 20 at 4 p.m., with a new look, a new menu and a live band outside. Manager and co-owner Kim Dillon said there will be some Irish-themed items like Cottage Pie and an Éirinn go Brách Burger, as well as other international and regional favorites.
Dillon said the Tavern is still hiring and potential applicants can find out more on the website, waylandscrossing.com.