Satisfying the palette through the art of winemaking and a deep respect for the soil and the science that produces the experience
Winding through the final approach to my destination in Middleburg, Virginia, I couldn’t help but be caught up in the beauty of the land and the change in pace from my weekday norm. Even in early February, the landscape—filled with branches, wildlife, and endless skies—held tremendous warmth and the promise of a lush and inviting Spring to come. Just a short drive from the bustle of Northern Virginia exists another world blending the best of tradition with today’s modern luxuries. Enter Greenhill Winery & Vineyards.
I was greeted by Sébastien Marquet, a third-generation master winemaker and viticulturalist and the bounding enthusiasm of Ilus, the resident Pudelpointer, whose romping included a quick circumvention of the one and a half acre lake and a dash to the rows of beckoning vines. We began our tour at the original tasting building, a quaint whitewashed structure that has been intelligently renovated since David Greenhill purchased the property less than four years ago. Exhibiting an exquisite eye for decor, there are three primary rooms for intimate, private tastings or smaller functions. Cool greys, touches of burgundy red, equestrian and nature themes complement the otherwise rustic space, a pattern that I’ll learn is captured throughout the multi-venue property. In the larger conference and event space, a striking rug that is a map of Virginia sits beneath a massive oak table with high-backed leather chairs, and the windows open to a glorious view of the rolling countryside and outdoor vistas available for members and guests to relish. I easily imagined the weddings and celebrations that have graced this part of the property.
Just a short distance away sits the newly-completed building that houses the state-of-the-art European equipment and oak barrels that through the craft and science of wine-making transform the grapes picked within hours of reaching their peak ripeness and sugar content into their award-winning wines. Having entered through the spacious and lovely gathering room that is their new public tasting area—complete with bar, couches, high and low tables made of wood and industrial metal, comfy throws and accent pillows—modern rusticity takes on heightened meaning. Nothing has been overlooked; gleaming vats and “crushers” are visible through the windows behind the bar, while an extensive slate patio sits just outside the tasting room awaiting your pleasure. With room to accommodate a very large crowd, but designed to promote intimacy, the tasting room is available from noon to sunset for members and guests, except when reserved for private functions.
We next visited the heart of the “business.” Beyond the doors of the tasting room is a stunningly clean and streamlined processing plant for the delicate fruit of the vines. The temperature-controlled facility is immaculate and no expense has been spared in obtaining the finest equipment and storage capacity. But, what is unexpected and will take your breath away is the moment you step into the cathedral-like wine aging Barrel Room. With floor-to-ceiling rows of wine-laden barrels and an arched dome of braced wood towering overhead, the lone etched window at the far end casts its rays of light as if heaven-sent. Each batch is artfully labeled, tended with care, and rotated through to its perfect balance ready for bottling. Sébastien notes that winemaking is a spiritual process where we are simply tools to bring out the potential harvested from the earth and entrusted to our custody to bring to its fullest potential. The owner wants to capture that feeling in his signature room where guests are invited to hold your special event. Having studied theology and philosophy at Yale, David’s approach to life is a reflection of his beliefs.
I noticed some beautiful animals on the way down the drive and since learned that a special breed of cattle, Charolais from the Burgundy region of France, are being raised here. With 30% more meat by volume on the bone, this beef has been prized for generations for its flavor and texture. The focus on all-natural sustainable farming in all its products has resulted in a secondary industry here. A farm store adjacent to the modern Tasting Room building carries a selection of the finest cheeses, fruits, meats, and savories to tempt your appetite. Organic honey from their own hives and fresh herbs are cultivated by Greenhill. Some of these wonderful offerings found their way onto a delightful tray of treats to accompany my wine tasting.
But, I have gotten a bit ahead of the story. First there was another level of gorgeous rooms to discover, sophisticated but genuinely welcoming. Upstairs, above the public tasting room, are additional large yet cozy spaces in which to linger over a glass of wine, celebrate with a group of family or friends, or hold that executive retreat. Sit by the fire or gaze out over the 128-acre property from the upper outdoor veranda. Take a moment to appreciate the map of Paris that adorns one of the walls, or the branch-like light fixtures casting an inviting glow. Several of the art pieces especially caught my eye, and Sébastien proudly informed me that they are the work of his wife, Isabelle Truchon. David owns a dozen or so polo ponies, and their stories and accomplishments are woven into the décor. His partner, Rebekah Pizana has contributed special touches throughout as well, as this business family has lovingly created this place apart in the hills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
After our leisurely stroll through the main structures, we came to rest back in the main tasting room for a sampling of the wines themselves. A secret to the balance found throughout their wines is the reliance on barrels from France made by Sansaud that contain three times the tannins found in American Oaks, staged over their average ten year lifespan to deliver the optimal hint of woodiness to enhance the vintages. Although they do experiment with some American sourced barrels, they find that they can at times overwhelm the delicate flavor balance that they achieve with their quality wines.
We started off with a sparkling Blanc de Blancs Chardonnay that lingered delightfully after its crisp start. We sampled two more whites, one as light as air but with no cloying sweetness, and the other slightly fuller with a pleasing finish. The Bordeaux-style red Mythology that followed was delicious, a perfect accompaniment to many main courses. Earthy with medium tannins, it delivered a smooth and appealing richness that was just right. But for those seeking bolder flavor, still a Bordeaux rather than a deeper Cabernet, I particularly savored their Philosophy. With a long finish and tremendous body and structure, this was my favorite. I would be quick to offer this wine as an early start to the evening for those favoring reds while its full flavor would be appreciated! The smorgasbord of cheeses, fruit, fig spread, and bread that were so graciously provided gave all the more reason to linger as the afternoon light began to fade.
Greenhill has made it easy to become attached. Although their wine tastings are open to all and available a la carte, you can become a wine club member with complimentary tastings, discounts and special privileges with the purchase of a 12 bottle case of wine over the course of a year. Be among the first to sample their new wines and limited release vintages. For those seeking a barrel of their own, inquire about the Barrel Club.
For special occasions, Greenhill often partners with the renowned Salamander Resort & Spa just moments away. Greenhill can work with you to arrange your event of a lifetime for weddings, rehearsal dinners, corporate functions, and celebrations inside or nestled by their lake, trees, or vines tailored to your every wish come true. Their dedicated Event Manager, Jennifer Colon, will guide you through the process so that your event can be as effortless as it is unforgettable!
Special Appreciation to David Greenhill, Rebekah Pizana, Sébastien Marquet, and Ilus, who left his paws on my heart.