Reviewed by Lorre White, The Luxury Guru, an international luxury marketing expert.
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I was in-state for the purpose of visiting some Virginia wineries when Mother nature decided to dump a foot of snow, which for the southeast is much more than they are used to having. To put it in perspective this is a place that closes school with just the forecast of potential snow. A few inches is paralyzing to them. After two days stranded inside, I was eager to head out and explore, when the next day brought beautiful blue skies and 55 degree weather. I checked on line and the wineries were saying open.
Crozet Virginia is 15 minutes outside of historical Charlottesville, where the state University is located. This area of Virginia is rich with great little wineries, many of which I have previously covered like White Hall, and King’s Family. A 2015 article in Bloomberg Business, “The World’s Next Big Wine Regions”, had Virginia as #2 globally.
As we pulled into Grace Estate the perfectly plowed paved (paved is an unusual luxury to many of the boutique wineries) road curved through the vineyard and if you glanced upward, at the top of the mountain there was a large estate house, with big clearings, offering spectacular vistas. As we drove up the long driveway, there were people taking advantage of the foot plus of power snow and sledding groups spotted the topography. As we arrived at the main house there were workers shoveling show and a kid building a snowman. A man driving a big John Deere snow plow, jumped out to greet us. He said they were preparing to open the tasting room, but that the staff had not yet arrived do to the snow. He asked us to wait and he would unlock the tasting room for us. Letting us in, he gave us our first pour, and said he did not usually do tastings. I was a little apprehensive about what I would learn from the snow plow driver. It turns out that he was Jake Busching, the master winemaker for Grace Estate. He was originally from Minnesota and so snow was in his blood. He has worked in the Virginia wine industry for 17 years. Prior to Grace Estate, he was at 3 other local wineries.
The tasting is $7 for 8 wines. I enjoyed them all. It started with a 2013 Viognier with a light crisp citrus taste that would pair well with food. Next was a 2013 Chardonnay aged in 20% steam bent French oak (so not a strong oak taste) with a light honey and caramel taste. The 2012 Le Gras Cuvewas my least favorite with a .8 Rs it was the sweetest of the wines. They transitioned with a 2013 La Gras Rose made with 80% Merlot, that was not the traditional provincial rose style. The first red in the tasting was 2012 Cab Franc. Followed by my favorite of their reds, which was a 2012 Merlot. I have not always been a fan of US Merlots, but Virginia is starting to make me rethink that. This was a medium bodied dense fruity wine with cherry, chocolate and black licorice. It had a long smooth finish. The next wine was a 2012 Le Gras Baril Bourdeaux blend of 30% Petit Verdot, 30% Malbac, and 40% Cab Franc. This wine is too young now, but should age beautifully for those looking to cellar it. The last wine was a 2012 Petit Verdot with a leather and tobacco finish. Of the wines on the tasting my favorite whites, in order of preference, were the Viognier and their Chardonnay, and my favorite reds, were their Merlot and Le Gras Baril blend.
As a luxury marketer I really appreciated their loyalty to building a luxury brand name. They did not pander to the lowest common denominator, as many of the local winery must for survival, by making sweet wines for the unsophisticated local palates. Virginia being new to the global wine arena, and do to the lack of any serious distribution, must rely on foot traffic. I am told that about 30% prefer the sickening sweet wines drunk by high school kids at prom, and many of the local wineries will make a couple of inferior products, so not to lose the foot traffic. But most small local wineries do not have the deep pockets of the Grace family. I feel that this decision to have their name only associated with quality, will serve them well in branding in the long term.
Currently the tasting room is on the ground floor of the estate house, however they have plans to build a new tasting room down closer to the entrance to the Vineyard/Estate. Outside the tasting room there are several picnic tables, where in better weather, guests can sit and drink wine while enjoy a vista that goes on for miles. The new tasting room, expected to open May 2015, have a fireplace inside, a large seating area and tasting bar, a VIP area, large deck, and grounds with a picnic areas. Their wine club will offer access to other parts of the estate as well. I suggest including Grace Estate to your list of wineries to visit in Virginia. www.GraceEstateWinery.com .
Grace Estate – 5273 Mount Juliet Farm Crozet, VA 22932
Lorre White - http://luxguru.typepad.com