The last you heard from me, my friends, I had gone apple picking in Virginia’s beautiful Shenandoah Valley at Rinker Orchards. You may recall that the tradition is apple picking followed by winery hopping. In my desperate search for an apple orchard that still had apples, I had forgotten to look for nearby wineries! Spotty data service wasn’t much help either, so when I went to buy my apple cider pop (delicious way to cool down BTW), I asked the ladies if there were any wineries in the area. I was in luck! There was one literally down the street: Valerie Hill Vineyard & Winery.
Valerie Hill is a relatively new winery in Virginia, having opened last summer (2012). It is also the first winery to open in Frederick County, Virginia, about a half hour from winery spotted Loudoun and Fauquier Counties. The next closest winery to Valerie Hill is 20 miles south of town. I’m not sure exactly which winery this is, but to get to Valerie Hill I drove past Markham and Delaplane, which is home to several popular Virginia wineries like Barrel Oak, Vintage Ridge, Philip Carter, and Chateau O’Brien. If you are looking to escape the D.C./ NoVA crowds, which can be notorious on a beautiful day like the day I was out, the extra half hour is well worth the trip! Visiting Valerie Hill is like visiting the home of a friend…if you have friends that live in beautiful, historic homes that is, lol.
Although the winery itself is new, the home is not. The Manor was built at the beginning of the 19th century by a veteran of the American Revolution and named for the first owners mother (How sweet!). The home is beautifully preserved and has several public areas where you can enjoy a bottle of wine with friends. I did not get much of a chance to explore, as I needed to beat Sunday beltway traffic home, but of what I did see, I found absolutely beautiful. If you live close to the area or are vacationing close by, they have delightful sounding Fire-pit Fridays, where firepits are lit on the back patio and chili and cornbread are served, along with s’mores.
Chili, s’mores, and wine all fireside…how awesome does that sound on a fall night?
Valerie Hill offers nine wines, all of which you may taste for $8. The wines themselves are a collaboration with the winemaker of Veramar Vineyard and Bogati Bodega. Now I have visited my share of “new” wineries and I must agree with the other Virginia wine lover reviewers that have visited Valerie Hill. Valerie Hill wines do not taste like “newbie” wines. They definitely began ahead of the curve. I did not taste one wine that I disliked and I can only imagine how delicious the wines will become over the years as Valerie Hill continues to grow.
2012 Seyval Blanc
100% Seyval Blanc grown by Veramar, this crisp white is aged in stainless steel. From the nose to the palate, this wine is just bright and effervescent. As you bring your glass to your lips, you’ll breath in fresh grapefruit with hints of grass (the tasting sheet says lemongrass). When the wine finally hits your tongue, you’ll find it delightfully citrusy and clean. Definitely a wine to bring along to share. If I had had time to stay awhile, I probably would have bought a glass of this to enjoy the sunny day with.
This wine won a Silver Medal in the 2013 U.S National Wine Competition. Aged for nine months in neutral French Oak, the owners of Valerie Hill were looking for a hint of oak, not an overpowering oak. It worked! Although you will taste it, it is by no means overpowering in this nicely balanced wine. Like the Seyval Blanc, it is crisp and clean. I tasted juicy apple and pear and just an itty bit of wood from the oak.
2010 was a dry year. A dry year means lots of flavor! Compared to the 2011 Chardonnay, the 2010 has a bit more body and is bursting with fruit. A gentle acidity from juicy granny smith apple notes finishes into a toasty finish. Think the crunchy caramelized top of a creme brulee. This light charred flavor is courtesy of the toasted French oak barrels the wine was aged in.
2012 Manor House White
A blended, lightly sweet white, the 2012 vintage has 2.5% residual sugar and is comprised of 50% Vidal Blanc, 49% Riesling, and 1% Traminette (2011’s vintage was made of 80% Vidal Blank and 20% Reisling). I found this to be a very pretty wine. Sweet orchard fruits on the nose lends itself to the lightly sweet palate, which is nicely balanced with candied citrus peel and grassy undertones. Another great Virginia white to go with spicy Asian dishes, I was torn between buying a bottle of this wine and the following wine.
If you are one to buy a bottle of wine because of it’s label, you’ll definitely bring this one home. It’s beautifully girly with Victorian like cameos of the owners’ daughters when they were little girls. So sweet! This blush style wine is pretty yummy, too! At 2% residual sugar, Cameo is a blend of red and white grapes: Mouvdre, Merlot, Chardonnay, and Seyval Blanc. Each grape is aged separately and the wines blended together in the end to get a beautiful deep blush colored wine. The nose is bursting with sweet blackberries, and despite the hint of sweet, it has a nice herbal spiciness and a slight tartness from notes of pomegranate and red cherries. This wine would make a lovely sparkling wine (If only sparkling wine weren’t so expensive to produce!). I bought a bottle since it was made in limited quantities…and the label was too darn cute!
2012 Cabernet Franc
100% Cabernet Franc, this light bodied red (thanks to the very rainy year…remember Hurricane Sandy?) has all your favorite characteristics of a Cab Franc: bright red cherry, earthy pepper and tobacco, and even a bit of cinnamon. This wine is actually an early release. The wine I tasted had only been in the bottle for a mere two months as the 2011 vintage had run out. Come January/ February, you’ll probably taste a whole new wine!
2012 Stone Chimney Red
This deep garnet colored wine is a blend of 65% Chambourcin, 15% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Cabernet Franc. The sweet, jammy noise leads to a surprise as your initial sip will find a tart wine. Don’t worry, it mellows out after the first sip and your mind gets passed the, “but it smelled sweet!” thing. I think this wine would do best paired with food if you find it too tart. A tangy barbecue was suggested and sounds pretty perfect to me.
2012 “John Barron” Petit Verdot
Hold your horses, folks! For all you bold, in your face red wine lovers, this is Valerie Hills answer to you! Aged 12 months in French oak, this is not a fruit forward wine, but a robust, bold, dry, tannic wine. The tasting sheet says it all, pencil shavings (they have pencil shavings available to smell if you don’t believe them) and cedar with dark fruit. I prefer Old World style fruit forward reds, but still appreciated this wine. Steak, anyone?
100% Vidal Blanc, this dessert wine has 9% residual sugar and is aged in stainless steel. I loved that I could taste the pineapple as described in the tasting sheet, as often white dessert wines are more peach like and floral. Like the other whites, it a had a nice clean finish. I also liked that it had a lighter body than many dessert wines. No syrup here!