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Meet Afton Mountain Vineyard | Darling on the Trail

“Everyone knows that Pinot Noir and turkey have been happy together on the Thanksgiving table for many years – but how about cranberry sauce and Pinot?!” Elizabeth Smith, General Manager of Afton Mountain Vineyards, is certainly in the holiday spirit – and so are we!

For our latest Darling on the Trail collaboration with the Monticello Wine Trail, we made our way up Afton Mountain for a beautiful November afternoon at the vineyard. With 360 degree views of the mountains, this Tuscany-inspired villa winery is truly a relaxing retreat.

In the words of Elizabeth, Afton Mountain wines are “reflective of the boundless beauty in which they are born and raised.” We couldn’t agree more. The Festa di Bacco is a wine rich in heritage, and the perfect red wine for those cold nights ahead. It warmed our bodies on the day of the chilly shoot, and the rich, red color paired perfectly with the autumnal tones of our styled looks.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post to see how we styled our outfits for this autumnal afternoon in the mountains of Afton! Today, meet Afton Mountain, from the vineyard’s rich history to the breathtaking scenery.

Q&A with Elizabeth Smith

You and your husband have personal roots here in the Charlottesville area. Give us a brief history of Afton Mountain Vineyards.

The first vines were planted in 1978 here at Afton Mountain Vineyards. At that time it was called Bacchanal Vineyards; we have a wine now (Festa di Bacco) that is an homage to the original vineyard [see the picture below].

The only wines commercially produced here have been Afton Mountain Vineyards. The tasting room opened in 1990 and the 2014 wines that we are currently pouring are our 25th vintage.

Photo by Megan Tiernan

When and why did you decide to found a winery here in Virginia? What about Cville and the surrounding area makes it ideal for wine-makers?

Tony and I purchased the existing vineyard and winery facility in 2009. We are both originally from the Cville area. We were looking into planting grapes on land that we already owned; realized that our land was not suitable for the type of grapes that we wanted to grow and so started the search for the best vineyard site, which led us to AMV.

Our rolling hills of the Piedmont and Blue Ridge are similar in many aspects to some of the great wine-growing regions of the world. Add in a little humidity and tropical storms just to keep us on our toes, and there you go.

Working together as a local wine community, we all share our knowledge of best practices in the vineyard and the winery, with the goal of creating the best wine not just for Virginia, but to compete at an international level as well.

Let’s talk Afton Mountain wine. Describe the types of varietals grown and the winemaking philosophy.

We grow 11 varieties of grapes for 16 total wine styles produced. We have the usual Bordeaux grapes such as Cab Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot; we have some less common varieties for Virginia such as Gewurztraminer, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Albarino and Cabernet Sauvignon. Our philosophy is driven by our vineyard. We spend huge amounts of time in the vineyard, hand-working the vines to produce the highest-quality juice possible. We focus on premium dry red wines, along with Chardonnay and the few white wines we produce.

Photo by Megan TiernanIn 10 words or less, describe Afton Mountain wine. Be creative!

Handcrafted, elegant, and refined. Lovingly produced by a very small number of hands, which manage the wine all the way from baby vine to ripe fruit, and from sticky, sweet juice to nuanced finished wine. Wines reflective of the boundless beauty in which they are born and raised.

What are 5 things people don’t know about the wine-making process?

  1. First and foremost, we are a working farm. Though our surrounding scenery is breathtakingly beautiful, we grow our own grapes and make our wine right here on the property.
  2. Winemaking is both art and chemistry. You can’t have one without the other.
  3. Quality wine starts in the vineyard. If you don’t have good grapes, it’s a real struggle to make good wine.
  4. There’s a lot of manual labor involved in running a small-production, high-quality winery. This is not an automated process.
  5. The smell of the winery during crush is a beautiful thing.

How have you seen the local wine scene grow over the past years?

Not only does the Monticello AVA produce the best quality wine in the state, wineries outside of our region that buy grapes from this area also produce award-winning wines. The “local” movement that Charlottesville supports so well is the perfect fit for our locally produced wines. Our proximity to the major metropolitan areas of Richmond, DC and Tidewater give us great access to folks who want to enjoy our beautiful bucolic scenery while enjoying delicious wine.

As an AVA (American Viticultural Area) the Monticello AVA is hugely collaborative, supporting winemaking trials in various wineries, roundtables for discussion of industry issues and generally providing the communication among its members as we work towards making our quality wines known to all.

Talk about the concept that “grapes don’t grow in ugly places.” (We agree!)

We trademarked that phrase in 2009. If you’ve been to visit us you’ll know why. But as you travel the world of wine, there are so many different and yet uniquely beautiful settings that are conducive to grape-growing. It’s a phrase that we hope encourages people to not only visit us, but to think about their wine experiences and appreciate the beauty that comes with winegrape growing regions of the world.

Photo by Megan Tiernan

What is your most popular wine? Why?

It depends on the season. Our Gewurz is a year-round favorite, perfect for Thanksgiving, and yet we’ll sell out of it before then. Rose’ is a summer favorite. Our most popular wine year-round is the Festa di Bacco, a super-Tuscan red blend of Sangiovese, Cab Sauv, Merlot and Petit Verdot. It’s very versatile and food-friendly, medium-bodied with bright acidity that makes it easy to pair with a meal or enjoy on its own.

Suggest one of your wines for the Fall season ahead. What makes it perfect for the changing seasons?

We just released our 2014 Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. These are the “big reds” of our fabulous 2014 vintage. They are full-bodied, smooth and rich. Perfect for chilly weather and good friends.

Share a recipe or favorite dish to pair with one of your wines.

Everybody knows that Pinot Noir and turkey have been happy together on the Thanksgiving table for many years – but how about cranberry sauce and Pinot?! Check out this recipe for a new twist on an old favorite.

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“Darling on the Trail” is a series in collaboration with the Monticello Wine Trail and the many amazing local wineries. Expect styled shoots on location and feature interviews with the wineries. All photography by Megan Tiernan and shoots styled by Linnea White, unless otherwise stated.

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